Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hidden Hopes Awaken

Jesus, let my heart feel the flame
of the fire of your ardor
for the whole world,
for everyone.

You love every single human person,
without exception,
especially those
who are the most lonely,
the most troubled and confused,
the most burdened with affliction.

You love those vast multitudes who do not know you,
but whose hearts have been made for you.
And you lead them in many secret ways
to the moment that lets them find you.

And you love especially
those who have known you,
but have fled far from you.

You search for them,
you call out to them,
and with all your Divine ingenuity
you find unseen chambers deep within their hearts
that may yet echo with your whispering.

You rouse their most buried, dormant, hidden hopes,
forgotten hopes or hopes unknown
that may yet awaken to their own hunger.

And I know this hunger.
It burns great holes in me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saint Katharine Drexel: Going to the Margins

March 3 is the feast day of Saint Katharine Drexel. She is, in fact, the only born citizen of the United States to be elevated to the honors of the altar in the Catholic Church. (Elizabeth Seton was born before American independence and Francesca Cabrini was born in Italy and became a naturalized American citizen.)

Heiress of a vast family fortune, Katharine Drexel did more than give alms to the poor. She dedicated her personal energies and all her wealth to building institutions that would change the shape of the society in which she lived.

Born in Philadelphia two years before the outbreak of the Civil War, Katharine Drexel’s life spanned nearly a century; she lived to see the United States move from the brink of disintegration to become the most wealthy and powerful nation in the world. During this period, however, her work was to found a congregation of women religious -- the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament -- specially dedicated to missionary activity among the poorest of America’s poor: the newly freed blacks and the increasingly oppressed indigenous peoples.

Mother Drexel for many years traveled widely through the deep South and the Southwest, dedicating her administrative talents as well as her financial resources to furthering the work of her order. She was especially concerned with the founding of schools for Native Americans and African Americans (in 1917 she founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the first African American Catholic college).

In the final twenty years of her long life, however, a heart condition forced the end of her journeying. Yet her labor during this time of suffering and what appeared to the rest of the world to be “retirement” was the greatest of all her works: Saint Katharine Drexel dedicated her remaining years to daily adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist, surrendering to Him all of her missionary zeal and love for the poor.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Josefina Talks About "Older People"

Josefina: "So it's mostly older people who live in this house."

Me: (Surprised by this unprovoked declaration) "Huh? What do you mean?"

Her: "Oh you know, John Paul, Agnese, Lucia...."

Me: "Haha, okay, I see what you mean. Older people, yes indeed, this house is full of really old people.... But what about Teresa?"

Her: "Well, sometimes she's older."

Me: "And of course your mommy and daddy don't even enter into consideration for this category. Mommy and Daddy are like beyond the horizon of any kind of oldness that you can possibly conceive!"

Her: Looks at me like 'I-don't-understand-what-you're-talking-about-but-I-know-you're-being-silly.'

     ...I thought about this for a moment and then I continued...

Me: "But wait, what about Daddy? Daddy is a grownup but he acts like a kid sometimes, right?"

Her: "Yes. You're the only grownup I've ever seen who acts like a kid!"

Me: "Well, I'm sure other little girls think their daddies act like kids sometimes, too."

I hope they do!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Remembering Benedict

I can't think of a better way to end the month of February than by reproducing here the full text of the tribute I wrote two years ago on this day. It was then that Benedict XVI took leave of us in order to enter a greater solitude.

We knew that the times to come would be dramatic, but we really had no idea. God had new surprises in store for us. Anyway, here's the article.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beyond All You Can Imagine


Here is my first real attempt to design a... well, exactly a "meme" but one of these verbal/visual presentations that are so adapted to Internet platforms.

The capacity to attempt such a design carries its own difficulties. The software has so many options that it's easy to spend hours trying to decide colors and sizes of letters and what blends best against the background. Of course, I'm far from satisfied with the final product.

Still, it's worth struggling and experimenting with a multimedia presentation, because here is a (very small) possibility to create spaces where beauty, truth, and goodness can come together.

What is the best approach, the best way to avoid "greeting card sentimentality" on the one hand and obtuse clashes between words and images on the other? What I have attempted here it simply to put together pieces from my real life, my own pictures and my own words: things that I feel the need to see and hear again and again.


In a way, this is something I need for myself. I need to print it and stick it up next to my bed. And perhaps the Lord will use such projects to open other people's hearts. That is my hope.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mercy Has the Last Word: Remembering Luigi Giussani

The tomb of Msgr. Luigi Giussani in Milan is visited each day by hundreds of people who
bring petitions and thanksgivings for favors received, which are recorded by the cause for
his beatification. The tombstone reads, "Oh our Lady, you are the security of our hope."

I have been thinking in these days of writing more of the story of the impact that Msgr. Luigi Giussani had (and continues to have) on my life. What he gave me has remained a focus for my life, a vocational commitment, and also the source of a suffering that I have been willing to endure, and -- at times -- even embrace.

But tonight, recalling the tenth anniversary of his funeral, I desire only to represent the compelling words I posted last year, along with the picture of his simple tomb. In an era of so much celebrity worship and personality cult (even in the Church), Don Giussani was something remarkable: he was the real deal.

He still is. I'm not the only one who thinks so.

The municipality of Milan has had to move Giussani's tomb to a more accessible place in the city cemetery to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims.

And I remember the man, the teacher, speaking with such passion in the years when he was still full of physical vitality, surrounded by a pile of dog-eared books on the desk and a bottle of mineral water.

He taught us the truth. He said things like these words:

"This is the ultimate embrace of the Mystery, against which man–even the most distant, the most perverse or the most obscured, the most in the dark–cannot oppose anything, can make no objection. He can abandon it, but in so doing he abandons himself and his own good. The Mystery as mercy remains the last word even on all the awful possibilities of history.
"For this reason existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ."
Luigi Giussani

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Asking For God's "Help"

You're probably wondering what Josefina's gripping hand has to do with God's help, or the scribes and Pharisees or anything else that the post below might address.

First, let me clarify that this is a reflection posted a week ago in Magnificat.

This is not the "Great Conversion Story" for the month (which I'll reproduce on the blog next month, since it's "St. Patrick") but rather a daily reflection, which I also have in the magazine from time to time.

Many people seemed to appreciate it when it came up last week, so I thought I would reproduce it here. If you read all the way through, the graphic might reveal its meaning. (Even though Jojo is older than the child indicated, she is not above throwing a tantrum... and she is certainly looked upon with love.)



Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Encounter, A Love Story, An Event

I am remembering once again with gratitude the Servant of God Luigi Giussani on the tenth anniversary of his death. It's hard to believe that it's been ten years already.

Fr. Giussani passed away on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, 2005.

Thus begins the commemoration within the next few months of a momentous series of events that took place a decade ago.

A little more than a month after Fr. Giussani's death, on April 2, 2005, his friend John Paul II joined him in the Father's house.

In fact, John Paul II had been too ill to preside at Fr. Giussani's funeral, and so he sent his most trusted collaborator, Cardinal Ratzinger, as his personal representative. On February 24, Ratzinger celebrated the funeral mass at Milan Cathedral and preached in front of thousands of people at the church and in the square, and countless others who were watching the funeral on Italian national television.

Many heard for the first time the simplicity and the depth of the preaching of the man who was about to become Pope Benedict XVI.

Here are a few of his words on that occasion.

Only Christ gives meaning to the whole of our life. Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event. [my emphasis]
This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also... through the “valley of darkness.”
In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ’s suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world’s Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a “valley of darkness,” to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Own True Face


Jesus, you have healed me
and raised me up,
filling my life with such undeserved joy,
with the foretaste and the hope of a fulfillment
beyond all imagining,
that is awakened by the smallest
and most humble moments of today.

Jesus, thank you for your forgiveness,
for your mercy, finding me in the deepest darkness,
your tenderness so gentle with my wounds,
your patience, waiting for me to stop running away,
your relentlessness, seeking me
all the way down my own long deluded, distant roads.

Jesus, give me complete and total trust in you.
Jesus I believe in your Infinite Love for me.

You thirst for me!

You thirst for me,
Even when I want to be satisfied
with something less than myself!

Jesus, make me the person you have created me to be.
Give me my own true face,
the face that I do not know,
but that you always see,
that you have always loved:

The face of my forever-joy.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Something Has Happened

We are going to die.

Let's just take our human hearts and confront them with this stark fact.

Each of us has a heart, with all its aspirations and desires, hopes and persistence, all its wanting and not yet being satisfied. Where does death fit into the picture?

If any of us were given a choice between death and total fulfillment of the heart -- that elusive thing called happiness -- we know what we would choose.

We want permanent happiness.

But everyone who has ever lived has ended up dead, and so will each one of us. Still, my heart -- that stubborn thing -- insists on wanting and seeking permanent happiness. The whole world lures us with the promise of happiness. But it is as if we are trapped and cannot get there.

Either our hearts and the whole universe are a lie, or happiness does exist, but we cannot achieve it, we cannot find it. As Kafka said, "the destination exists but there is no road."

Is this the dilemma? "Unto dust you shall return" -- is this the final word on human existence?

Is it?

"No," says the human heart. In the midst of conflicting circumstances and no perceivable hope, the heart still expects happiness. And so we keep on going.

Why?

There is a whispering in the depths of every human heart. Something has happened. No living human being has entirely lost the memory of the echo of that secret: Something has happened. Already the heart is hiddenly drawn forth.

Something has happened.

The mystery of grace opens the heart to this hope. And the eyes that look upon reality and history discover the fact that confirms it: A man has risen from the dead. He has himself died and destroyed death for all of us, and in rising has glorified the dust. This fact is called Christianity.

It is not Christianity unless it is a fact. A myth about a dying and rising redeemer to comfort our sentiments or symbolize some vague afterlife is not Christianity. Nor is Christianity the story of an ethical teacher who died for his beliefs and left us a lasting inspiration.

Christianity is a fact: Happiness became a man.

"That-Mystery-For-Which-Our-Hearts-Have-Been-Made" has become a man -- a man who lived and died and rose from the dead.

And this man gathered other men around him and began of movement of life in history that continues to this day -- an identifiable movement of life that can be seen and heard and touched: the "Church," ekklesia, the "gathering," the community of people who adhere to him through space and time unto this very day.

We have entered upon a season of remembering, but also a season of hope. We are moving toward death. We are returning to dust. But something has happened to the dust. The dust has been transfigured by Glory.

The truth, the reality, the fact about the dust is that it has been changed: even as dust, even as weakness and disappointment, even as frustration, even as death, it has been changed. It has become the road to happiness because Happiness Himself has taken it as His own.

My dust. He has taken my dust as His very own.

And I seek to walk in silence, to focus, to withdraw from distraction, to sacrifice ordinary comforts in order to listen more carefully to that heart where the whispering continues: Something has happened. Something has happened. Something has happened.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Remaining in His Hands

Yesterday we began the season of Lent 2015. We seek conversion, to turn away from our sins, to practice self-denial and charity, to pay attention to God.

We need this school in which we learn obedience to God. To listen, to open up, to follow God and to give Him space, to recognize our emptiness and offer it to Him so that He can fill us.

Obedience to God really is the easy yoke (even though it often doesn't seem that way). The reality of "God's will" is the love of our Father, and His gentle hands guiding us toward Him and protecting us from harm.

What do we achieve by escaping from His hands? Where are we going to go?

The Lord is merciful. He doesn't want us to run forever and get nowhere. He wants us to remain on the narrow path that He is crafting for us with His loving hands.

It is a narrow path, because it is the particular love that He has for each one of us, that corresponds to the unique personality that each of us possesses.

Each one of us is a person. Unrepeatable. Unique. Loved.

We are so precious and so profound: we do not know how dear and how deep we are, because we do not really know ourselves.

God knows us. His will is His wisdom and love for each one of us. He knows what is good for us, what will bring us joy.

Let us remain in His hands.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Our Mardi Gras Queen

We just got done with Christmas, and now it's Carnevale!


The "House Chef" gave her expertise to the Mardi Gras dessert, a "choco-flan" cake (Mommy helped "a little," I'm told). It was delish.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Twenty One Human Persons

These are the names of twenty one human persons.

Each name indicates a human face, a human life, interwoven with the lives of other humans: family and loved ones, communities, a people, a history.

These twenty one human persons died on February 13, 2015. I want to devote this space, today, to their names.

They deserve the honor of their names. They are the names of men, of our brothers:

1. Milad Makeen Zaky 

2. Abanub Ayad Atiya

3. Maged Solaiman Shehata

4. Yusuf Shukry Yunan

5. Kirollos Shokry Fawzy

6. Bishoy Astafanus Kamel

7. Somaily Astafanus Kamel

8. Malak Ibrahim Sinweet

9. Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros

10. Girgis Milad Sinweet

11. Mina Fayez Aziz

12. Hany Abdelmesih Salib

13. Bishoy Adel Khalaf

14. Samuel Alham Wilson

15. Worker from Awr village

16. Ezat Bishri Naseef

17. Loqa Nagaty

18. Gaber Munir Adly

19. Esam Badir Samir

20. Malak Farag Abram

21. Sameh Salah Faruq

These men were killed in Libya, along the shore of the Mediterranean sea, because they were members of Egypt's ancient Coptic Christian Church. Their enemies called them, "the people of the cross."

Their killers distributed videos and images around the world of their brutal murder, because the killers want to foment hatred, division, and fear among the peoples of the Middle East and around the world. They want to advertise for their own ideological agenda.

But we don't need their images, and we will not be driven to fear or hatred.

We Christians already have an image for the death our brothers died, and this image assures us that death has already been defeated, that death does not have the last word.

Love has the last word.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Virginia Meets the North Pole!

Oh yes, it was cold today. This is our coldest bout of Winter so far. I think the high temperature today was around 16 degrees with strong winds.

The sudden temperature drop basically means this for me:


Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. This weather bothers my rheumatism! And I'm beginning to realize (not just in the abstract) that it doesn't get any better as I get older.

Things weren't so bad this morning. The sun was shining brilliantly and it was about six degrees or something when we headed out to church. I bundled up for the two minutes or so that I would actually have to spend outside.

O heck, it didn't feel so bad. I decided to take a "selfie" to show off my smoothness in handling the cold.

"Hey, I got this! Six degrees, no big deal..."


"... with wind gusts up to forty miles an hour?! Oh, gosh! Maybe I should just get into the car!"


Okay, Winter, you win this round.

Just remember, I can still take pictures from inside the car, and no matter how cold it gets, evergreens are always GREEN! So there!

Look how beautiful and serene it is... from the passenger's seat, behind the window, in a warm car!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty YEARS of a Great and Mysterious Love Story

It is the Lord who shows us the real drama, and the real possibilities and mystery of a human relationship. That is why today I feel it worthwhile to continue my account of a very special and astonishing relationship between a man and a woman, a relationship far more radical and unusual than anything we see or hear about.

Several months ago, in Magnificat, I wrote about the conversion to Jesus and the Church of Jacques and Raissa Maritain, a remarkable young couple whose lives and search for the truth could not be separated.

And indeed, they continued for more than fifty years this relationship of loving Jesus together and bearing witness to Him. It was a passionate love story, deeply personal, and yet also wonderfully fruitful in the world. They touched so many of those around them, and drew them in to share in the "great friendship" with Jesus that they had found and were living.

Meanwhile they also made a great and lasting impression upon the world. Jacques became internationally recognized as a great philosopher (arguably the greatest Thomistic philosopher of the twentieth century), and also as a teacher, a prolific author, a man of public affairs, and an ambassador. Raissa's reflective nature led her to become a notable poet and writer, and though hindered greatly by health problems, she wrote through the years and also continued to be Jacques's most important inspiration, confidante, editor, and critic (when necessary she could be a very blunt critic, and he listened to her when she corrected his thinking).

Raissa's most famous works are the two beautiful memoirs (Les Grandes Amities and Les Aventures de la Grace) about her early life with Jacques, their conversion, and their years of spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and artistic partnership in France before World War II. Of course there's even more to the story after that, and some things were only revealed when Jacques published Raissa's Journal after her death, along with his own notes.

I believe it was one of the greatest human friendships ever.

As a marriage, it was unique... mind blowing, really.

It was a truly great marriage between two people who loved each other really and concretely, in every kind of circumstance and stress. But this marriage had at its core a very special commitment: something that strikes even Christian married people as strange and incomprehensible, and that is positively not recommended by the Church as an ordinary way of life in the married state.

It is a commitment that is possible in extraordinary circumstances and in the light of a very particular kind of vocation, and it must be rigorously discerned in spiritual direction to be sure that it is entirely free of any subtle contempt for the goodness of married life as a real means of sanctification. But Jacques and Raissa were deeply convinced of the God-given goodness and interpersonal beauty of the activity that they both felt called to abandon freely in sacrifice. They wanted to sacrifice this expression of love... for the sake of love. This was not an immature spiritual impulse or a failure of affectivity. This was a desire that had been growing in their hearts for some time, for a very special path they were called to follow.

Many people simply don't understand it, or even disagree with it. Certainly there is nothing "ordinary" about it even for Catholic Christians.

But the Maritains were called by Jesus in a singular, extraordinary way. It is impossible to comprehend, but at the same time the reality of this call for these particular people is evident; it is undeniable, in its fruits.

And this commitment between them was completely unknown to anyone else while they both lived (except those who gave them spiritual direction, who kept it in confidence as was their duty).

Jacques revealed the whole truth about their marriage and their decision only toward the end of his own life, and he emphasized that it was something very particular to their own personal Christian life together, their particular circumstances and the ever-greater love that Jesus continued to draw from their hearts. They believed themselves called to a mysterious love that Jacques called "mad love" -- the love of Jesus that draws people to sell everything and follow Him alone. At the same time, they experienced this as a "common vocation," to love Christ "madly," to sacrifice everything but to do it together and in the midst of the secular world.

After eight years of married life, characterized by an ardent physical intimacy that participated in and expressed, no doubt, their profound growth in faith, they felt called to a great renunciation. No doubt also, this possibility arose in light of the fact that they had no children, and it did not appear that they would be able to have children.

Finally, after much prayer, discernment, and direction, they took vows as Benedictine oblates and included therein something not required for a married oblate: celibate chastity. In their circumstances, without responsibility for a family, they could have chosen to part ways in this world, with Jacques becoming a monk and Raissa a nun.

But that is precisely what they did not choose to do, and herein lies the utterly radical and particular nature of the vocation they had discerned. They chose to live their marriage within this profound and secret commitment, to leap into the mystery of living the bond they shared in new ways unknown to them (and to us). So they consecrated themselves to pursue God alone (but also together) and lived thereafter in a celibate marriage.

They lived together in this way, as husband and wife, for fifty more years!

And everyone who knew them testified that they lived a relationship of profound unity, companionship, and fidelity to each other, while also possessing an openness that drew people from the milieu in which they lived, people of many faiths or no faith: intellectuals, artists, musicians, political activists, poets and writers.

The cultural world of France, and later America, found in them a unique kind of hospitality. Not a few of these men and women of the world converted, and the Maritains became godparents many times over. Clearly Jacques and Raissa lived a companionship that was both personally intimate and full of a humanity that radiated out to many others.

The Maritains, near the end of Raissa's life.
They lived what Raissa called, "Contemplation on the roads of the world."

In its particular sacrifices and as a form of married life, it is not a way that people should try to copy (really, people, don't try this out...).

It was simply something extraordinary, a unique grace that they were given.

For us married people it seems strange, like a distancing, a coldness, a breaking off of spousal love, an attempt to turn marriage artificially into a kind of religious life. And that is what it would be (and worse) if any of us presumed to take it up.

It was not meant to be a "form of life" that could be proposed in a general way to the Christian people. Rather it was a profoundly personal and interpersonal grace given to transfigure the lives of two particular people. As such it is, really, incomprehensible; it touches on the mystery of particular human persons and their relationship.

We can't really understand it.

But the more we "get to know" the Maritains from their own writings and the testimony of others, the more we can "see" the fruits of their "mad love" for Jesus (and for each other!). There is in them, unmistakably, something both awesome and tender, great and humble, incomprehensible and approachable.

We see the Mystery within the human. We see humans being transformed and at the same time becoming more profoundly human, more attractive with a love that reaches out to us and accompanies us.

Even though we are not called to imitate the dramatic life and relationship of the Maritains, it remains a witness to a Love that can change us even when it surprises us, a Love that can be trusted and followed because it leads to the depths of God and the realization of our own personal identity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mary, Friend of My Soul


Our Lady of Lourdes,
Immaculate Conception,
all holy, all merciful Mother,
bring us healing of mind, heart, and body.
____________________________

Mary, friend of my soul,
gentle light always in my darkness,
whispering voice of the promise of Eternal Love
awakening me from the stupor
of my all-absorbing, aching wounds.


Thank you for staying with me
in quiet constancy,
tending always the embers of hope.


Thank you for bearing with
and being with all this pain,
for holding in your heart
all of the wailing and the cries.


Like a vessel you gather together
the torrential rains of tears.


You bathe me with them
and their waters make me whole.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Force of Nature

What I sound like to my kids.
In the past four years I have written and written, here on this blog and on other media platforms. And though I'm not teaching in the classroom, I am always ready to talk about things that interest me and others, i.e. to have a conversation. I'm a pretty good listener (over the years I've become much better at really listening). But words always seem to be at hand, and if others are interested and listening I will talk. I will talk and talk and talk long beyond exhaustion.

I have an implacable desire to express myself, and to communicate the things that I experience and learn. The energy to shape words (whether writing or speaking) is like a force of nature in me.

And like everything in my nature, it is ambivalent.

It is the energy of seeking the truth, and of the desire to encourage others in the search for truth.

But it is also the energy of a show-off who wants to be admired, a clown who craves laughter, an acrobat who hungers for applause; it comes, in part, from the vacuum inside me that is desperately insecure, that wants approval again and again, that wants to take the feeling of being appreciated, consume it, and demand more.

It is human to want to be appreciated. But for me this desire is swollen and throbbing and itching in a way that can never be scratched.

I have so much to offer. I am intelligent, learned, experienced in life, and generous toward others. I have a pretty good sense of humor. I am ardent, earnest, devoted, intense, and sincere. But I am also vain, proud, and overly dramatic. And I am insecure, emotionally fragile, anxious, stressed out, overwhelmed. I overdo everything (just look at this list!).

Why am I this way?

The consequences of original sin, of course, are a fundamental factor in the division, distortion, and conflict that everyone faces in life. For me this is augmented by genetic predispositions, physical and mental illness, and the inherent psychological strengths and imbalance of an intelligent and creative personality.

Then I have 52 years of my own concrete human experience -- my (authentic though inadequate) love for God and others, my few accomplishments, my many sins, and all my struggling, failing, suffering, being hurt, and seeking God but too often failing to trust in Him.

There is this world of mistrust inside me, fortified with many weapons and many defenses, stubbornly persisting for no real reason.

I need to be changed, profoundly, in ways I don't even know; to be stripped down, remolded, and forged anew. Sometimes it feels like this is the deep and mysterious truth of what has been happening to me in recent years, in all of these amplified sufferings and confusion and deeper joys too.

A force of nature being forged into something new: this is a process that takes a long time.

It is the work that Jesus is accomplishing in me through the Holy Spirit. I try to work "with Him," but above all I have to surrender my self to His work.

He knows what needs to be accomplished.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sculptures of Brown Forests


----------------------------------------------

In Winter I see the hills all over the neighborhood.
Here I was struck by the variations
of hues in the sky
as the clouds slowly moved on,
and the trees gently swayed
in their sparse Winter dress,
tinged with the gold of an elusive afternoon sun.

*******************************


-----------------------------------------------

Most of the year, these branches
would hang heavy like a leafy curtain.
But in Winter, they draw back
to reveal distant hilltops.
And our Valley becomes wild and wide and open
like a great spacious plain
filled with sculptures of brown forests.

********************************


-----------------------------------------------

The creek shimmers and sparkles,
a liquid mirror of afternoon light.

********************************


-----------------------------------------------

And at six in the evening
comes the surprise of sunset
red like clay as it thickens into twilight
behind the shadowy hilltop vigil
of a solitary oak.

********************************

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Life is Walking on Water



Life is walking on water.

"Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’" (Matthew 14:22-31)

Like the disciples in this Gospel passage, we find ourselves on a journey. We're in the human "boat," and the wind and the waves of our lives are preventing us from getting anywhere.

It's dark. We're frustrated. There's weird stuff going on all over the place. We're barely afloat.

But then suddenly, we are surprised by a man. Not only is he moving freely. He's doing the impossible. He's "walking on the water" -- all the human problems that frustrate our plans and our designs are raging and he is right there in the midst of them. Yet they do not trouble or hinder him at all. He has complete freedom and mastery over everything that's threatening to sink us, but when we see him we are scared.

This is to be expected.

Jesus's disciples were scared when they first saw him walking on the water. They were first century Palestinians, children of Israel, not terribly well educated, and maybe a bit superstitious. In any case, they were "spiritual" men, so they were understandably scared that a ghost was approaching them.

"What the heck is this?"...they wondered. "It's not human; that's for sure!"

We are twenty-first century cosmopolitans -- global villagers -- and most of us know that there must be something more than just this physical world that we see, hear, and touch. Something is "out there" that we might "see" in strange moments, like after we die. Or this "something" has to do with certain deep experiences we have from time to time. We know this, because -- after all -- we identify ourselves as "spiritual" people.

But right now, we're in this capsizing boat -- the "boat" that is the place where we are actively engaged and concerned with life, where we place our hopes and expectations for here and now, where we look for concrete solutions. This is not the place for "being spiritual," we think. This is the place where we need to get down to business.

And business is not going well.

We are also superstitious, in old fashioned ways perhaps, but surely in subtler ways that we wouldn't readily acknowledge. We are afraid of something new happening in our lives, something good and beautiful that really challenges us and changes us but that is also beyond our calculations and our control.

So what are we going to do with this "someone" we now see, who is accompanying us in our lives, who seems to know us better than we know ourselves? What are we to make of this? How can we bear it?

And then he speaks: "Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid."

He is a man walking with us, a real "someone," a friend. We see that there are some among us who recognize him.

And we recognize him too. In his face we see the promise of life, the hope that moves us, the fulfillment that we have been trying to reach as we flounder in the waves of frustration and failure.

We recognize all of this in his human face.

This man is walking with us, and he is walking on the water that we fear is going to drown us. This man is with us and he is our friend. He is also offering us a possibility beyond our calculations and beyond our own power.

He says to us, "Come."

He says, "Trust me. Walk with me. Stay with me and you will walk on this water, you will do the impossible, you will walk and you will go onward and persevere even amidst the highest waves and the wildest winds. Come with me!"

He says even more to us through this Gospel story. He says, "Even if you get scared and start to sink -- you who are so small in your heart, with so little faith and so little trust -- I will catch you! I will not leave you alone. Trust me!"

This is the decision we must make every day. We hear him say, "Come!" And we must decide, we must choose to trust him, and to take that first step onto the water...

...and then the next, and the next. Step by step, moving, halting, struggling, sinking, letting him catch us and pull us up again, and then taking the next step....

Life is walking on water with him.

Friday, February 6, 2015

He Endured Everything



"We have a Lord who cries with us and walks with us in the most difficult moments of life.

He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced.

And beside the cross was his Mother.

We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say "Mommy" -- like a child does when it is afraid.

It is perhaps the only word we can say in difficult times -- "Mommy".


Let us look to Christ on the cross. He understands us because he endured everything.

Let us look to our Mother and, like a little child, let us hold onto her mantle and with a true heart say -- "Mother". In silence, tell your Mother what you feel in your heart.

Let us know that we have a Mother, Mary, and a great Brother, Jesus.


We are not alone."


~Pope Francis

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Hope of Everyone

Why is there a picture of a sofa here? Keep reading!
The Lord relies on our witness to communicate His immense love to the whole world.

"We are the Church," was the cool thing to say when I was young. Time has made it clear, however, that "we" have made rather a mess of things.

It would appear that Jesus is stuck with a sorry bunch of messengers.

Yet His love for each and every person is nothing short of miraculous. It is wonderful. It is transforming. And we are His witnesses. We want to be on fire with this love so that it can shine through. We want the change in our lives to show that miracles are possible.

Still, even those who aim high find that they fall short again and again. Should this be a cause for discouragement?

Certainly not.

The "miracle" that people can discover when they look at our witness is not that we're "totally perfect" (we're not even close). Rather, what they can see is that in the midst of all our real flawed human lives, something is different -- there is Something Else that gives us hope, "Something" (SomeONE) for whom we live... or at least we try to live for Him.

I look at myself and it's clear that I'm so obviously mediocre, vain, and lazy that there must be Someone Else at work in me. There's no way I would "make this up" by myself.

I would make up the ultimate comfy sofa. Oh yeah!

But this man Jesus? He is not something I invented. He is not "my idea." He is real and He loves me and it's so beautiful that it's changing me.

And He comes to me in the Church, with its sinful ministers and my sinful brothers and sisters -- clearly not because they're so great, but because He has promised to remain with us here, to give Himself here in this particular reality of history that is not a club or a nation or an empire but the hope of everyone, the "Universal" (Catholic) reality of redeemed humanity, the sign and instrument of Jesus's love for every person.

Monday, February 2, 2015

To Breathe the Gift of Air



-----------------------------------------------

Thank you, Jesus
for... 
         everything!

Everything.

How can I thank you for any less?
You are the Giver of every gift,
and the smallest, most unnoticed of your gifts
are great beyond all wonders.

Truly, a single breath of air
is food-filling, sustaining-source of time of living-alive.
One breath of air
means Life.
Now.

If only I saw clearly,
I would burst with thanks,
so that ten thousand worlds could not hold
the rivers of gratitude that would flow from me.

If only I saw clearly....

And you have come to live with us,
to breathe the gift of air with us.

Jesus, thank you for becoming our brother,
so that we might see clearly in your light,
so that your great glory
might be revealed to all of us
in the tiny breathing of a child
held by Mary's mothering arms.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Best of the Christmas Decorations




-----------------------------------------------

At the end of the Christmas season, I would like to put together on one blog post some of the decoration and ornament photographs I took over the past seven weeks.

Most of these have already been posted on various social media sites, but I want to bring them together here on one post, "for the record" as it were.

And there are always some readers (e.g. Mom and Dad) who didn't get to see them. So here is the "Christmas Review"...
















































------------------------------------------------------

The New Year is already moving along on its course. Soon it will be Christmas again.

I hope we will be merry all through the months ahead.