Friday, February 22, 2019

Luigi Giussani: The Real Deal

Monsignor Luigi Giussani died 14 years ago today after a lengthy illness.

It does seem like a long time since 2005. We are now well into the 21st century. A generation of children have grown up since those days (including our three oldest). Yet the impact of Father Giussani's long life of Catholic Christian witness continues to grow.

This picture shows Giussani as I remember him nearly thirty years ago, with his big earthy face and gravelly voice, his pile of books and his emphatic gestures, his wisdom and his passion: a "teacher of humanity," John Paul II called him. He certainly taught mine.

In an era full of religious pretenders, Giussani was "the real deal." He was a humble man and a true father in Christ, a man who spent a long and often challenging life pointing to Christ, whose personal counsel I will always treasure and whose witness continues to be vital to my own life.

Last month was the eighth anniversary of this blog. The very first post in January of 2011 was a quotation from him that I like to recall, not because it's "his words" but because it helps me remember who Jesus is, and why I exist, and what is really at stake in life - why it's worth it to live every day.

"He was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty, he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy" (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [two months before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI], from the homily at the funeral of Luigi Giussani).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

February in Virginia: A Comedy in Three Acts

It's not unusual for any given forty eight hours to be so meteorologically crazy this time of year in our beautiful state. So the past few days haven't been surprising.

Nevertheless, I chronicled the ups and downs and precipitation changes in three posts on my social media accounts. In the end, there is some humor in it, and something like heroism from some plucky, all-weather plants.

[1] February 19:

[2] February 20:

[3] February 21:

What can I say? The Rhododendron ROCKS!😉

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rose Study Number 8

Here is my first "Rose Study" of 2019, which makes use of an original photograph and a wide variety of digital media tools for alterations, color, shading, texture, and setting. We call it "Rose Study Number 8."

Monday, February 18, 2019

Why is it So Hard to "Ask For Help"?

"There is no shame in 'asking for help,'" we always say to one another. And we are sincere in this conviction. We know this should be true, and we are learning more and trying harder to respond with awareness of this truth.

And yet, so many people refuse to ask for help. There are lots of resources available that provide various forms of assistance to people who find themselves impoverished by physical and/or mental sufferings. But too often we don't ask.

Why does it seem so hard to ask? Certainly, it is humbling to be open about our needs, especially the ones that are easily concealed. But sometimes we hold back and keep things inside - hiding or denying even very desperate circumstances - because we have this feeling that there is no point to it, because people can't give us what we really need, what corresponds to the whole scope of ourselves and is mysteriously expressed in even the smallest individual needs. Indeed we feel fear that potential helpers will despise, abuse, or simply ignore us - that they will fail to perceive what is fundamental to us.

There is something authentic that underlies this feeling, even though it is too frequently misinterpreted as indicating the total futility of turning toward others or relying on them in any way. This can lead to an overall imprisonment in isolation, or to the proud or foolish refusal to seek any kind of help for our practical needs.

Nevertheless, what is genuine here is the sense (however obscure) that we are more profound than the quantitative sum of our particular needs. However sick, disabled, poor, or otherwise needy we may be, we are human persons - unique, worthy of respect, and with our own radical capacity to give and share a reality of immeasurable value which is our selves. In fact, the acts of "giving-and-receiving-help" take place in the realm of interpersonal relationships.

"Asking for help" is really hard, therefore, not only because of our pride, but also because we know that no one can ultimately "solve" our problem - we cannot be attended to, "fixed," and dispatched in such a way as to disregard or dismiss the (personal) preciousness and mysterious fragility of our selves as persons with our particular humanity. Our need for practical help is important, but it is not sufficient in human terms to just have our immediate practical needs taken care of without any experience of being engaged as persons.

There are reasons why people feel degraded by "depending on charity" and one of them is that they can feel reduced to mere objects of the energy and generosity of others. This is something distinct from a lack of gratitude for the help of others. Rather, it arises when other people use "the poor" as a means to feel satisfied with their own generosity (or their being "charitable"); when their "help" - though very real in meeting a momentary need - communicates a sense of superiority and justifies their distance from the persons of the poor, and their complacency with the exclusion of the poor "to the margins" of interpersonal participation in human society.

It is important to realize that the poor know (on some level) when they're being used. They take what is given to them, but often they harbor resentment toward their benefactors. They feel degraded and robbed of their dignity.

That is why "help" shouldn't just be "external" only (even when concrete physical needs are involved). Take a simple and obvious example: the need of the human person for food. Here we can see concrete ways to help people who lack food. Such people are obviously "poor," and we can take initiatives to help them even before they ask.

But is there the danger that such initiatives might fall short of being fully human?

We can feed the poor the way we feed a dog. We can even provide food with smiles and kind words, but it would still be like feeding our dogs if it is done without a vital awareness of our common humanity or the gifts and deeper burdens they have to share with us.

But the benefactor may be perplexed here. What else can be done?

It is not possible to reduce to a simple pragmatic formula or set of rules how to respond to the sufferings and the needs of another human person. The human need for food (an example which seems so quantifiable) is always the need of a human person - it is a physical need, but also a need for something more.

Hunger has a story, a personal story. It is linked to other difficult and tragic circumstances in the vocational journey of a human person. It bears the wounds of desperation, exclusion, failure, and - all too often - injustice.

These are overwhelming problems, and they are personal to each of "the poor." Clearly, we must help these persons with love. But how?

The art of being human is a continual learning process, and perhaps we feel we don't know how to love persons in need (or how to love this particular person in the context of the help we give them for this particular need). We can ladle out soup and distribute bread all day and still fall short in love! This does not mean we should give up this work or whatever other kinds of help we offer to people. Rather, it is already the beginning of something new when we realize the deep deficiency of our efforts to "do works of mercy." In this way, we begin to discover our own poverty.

It changes our perspective: we the "helpers" do not stand in any kind of personal superiority over the ones we help. The greatest need - to give and receive love - is something we all share.

For those of us rich in material things, skills, knowledge, energy, etc. this can be a surprising and humbling discovery. But this humility allows us to begin to see the person in need of help as a person humbled, a person like us.

Indeed, our needs and our sufferings are deeper than the reach of any projects or solutions. As persons we have to share one another's burdens - and that is hard for us in our culture to understand because it doesn't seem to yield a "product" that we can measure; it goes beyond the calculus of "results," and it is messy and awkward because it is interpersonal.

Sharing our gifts and burdens is the "stuff" of relationships; it builds unity between persons in freedom. It engenders solidarity and compassion. It is the source of authentic human community.

Community - in the full sense of persons-living-in-communion - is what we all desperately need.

But community is a reality that is lived, not a thing we can produce. Our best practical efforts are necessary, but not sufficient, for community to exist and be sustained. Indeed, when people try to "make" community like a product, they inevitably make conflict. It turns into a constant fight over whose ideas about "how to do it" should be used. And that's the best case scenario; much worse is when a group or individual become dictators to whom everyone must conform.

Real human community is the hardest thing in the world. In front of this great need we are all profoundly poor. We must "ask for help" from a source greater than ourselves; a source that doesn't impose some degrading, reductive, mechanical solution that flattens us, but rather corresponds to the depths of each of us and all of us, a source that gives and empowers our freedom and enables us to grow.

Within this great seeking of the source of ourselves and our common humanity, we will begin to find more adequate ways of taking care of people in their particular needs. We will grow in wisdom.

If we want to build up an environment where people really do feel encouraged to "ask for help," there are many ways we need to grow as persons. Here we are looking at one of those ways. We are recognizing that we must grow in the capacity to be more open about our own suffering. This is not easy. But even when we admit that acknowledging our fragility and our need for love is hard for us (and it is hard), we have already begun to open up our lives. We are learning about love and the suffering that love entails: both active loving and the openness to receive love from others. (The "suffering of love," when freely embraced, is called sacrifice. This is a fundamental mystery of life that we will consider more fully in another article.)

We are learning to help one another.

It is difficult for all of us to live this way, to live as persons in communion, to share one another's burdens. It takes patience and work, including patience with ourselves. This follows a path of "gradualness" - it is a complex human thing that grows "organically" (according to our growth in wisdom, not as the simple application of a technique or the imposition of an ideology). And, of course, it is something built up through respect for human dignity and freedom.

Finally, it is a life we receive from the One who is the source of our existence, our value as persons, and our aspiration to be together - the One we seek together, who is the source and fulfillment of everything. We must turn to Him to ask for help. He who is Love will form us in the ways of love.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Roots That Reach The Stream

"Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit."  .

~Jeremiah 17:7-8

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Year Later: The Faces of Parkland

Here are the faces of the 17 students, faculty, and staff who died ONE YEAR AGO in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

It's a gesture of humanity to look upon their faces, honor their memories, and (at least) call to mind and heart the incomprehensible grief their families continue to bear

For me, a moment of silence, sorrow for them, and anguish in the face of the violence that seems to grow more brazen and open and ruthless - in so many ways - in our poor world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Grammys 2019: A "Victory for Victoria"

I don't know if I have written about this remarkable young artist yet on the blog. She won two Grammys on Sunday night.
Tori Kelly's recognition is the best thing about the 2019 Grammy Awards. Her unique Gospel album is at times intense, at times introspective, at times serene, but the pervasive "vibe," if I may call it that (and why not?) is JOY.

I will write more about her. TK has more new Pop/R&B music coming out in the months ahead. Meanwhile Hiding Place is a beautiful and enduring event, a celebration of music that touches our souls and gets us to move our feet.

Thank you, Tori, and also Kirk Franklin and all of the incredible musicians and singers who participated in this superb project.❗🎶⭐

Monday, February 11, 2019

Mary, Our Mother, Truly Cares For Us

February 11 is the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and the "World Day of Prayer for the Sick." It's a day that has this special dedication, so that we might remember to pray for sick and suffering people every day, in particular those who have been entrusted to us. There are many kinds of healing that our merciful Mother Mary accomplishes in our lives, for we are all much in need of healing. 

Occasionally there are miracles. Usually, God's good and loving care, accompanied by Mary's maternal intercession, works mysteriously to bring us the profound healing we many not even know we need. His (and her) priority is always our ultimate, definitive destiny of eternal life. Still, Mercy embraces the integral good of the person, and the One who became human and loves us with a human heart is close to us in all our needs. 

In His goodness He has also given us the gift of Mary's particular tenderness. The mother of our Savior is our mother. This does not imply that the love of Christ is "not enough" in itself for our salvation. Quite the opposite. Christ's love is super-abundant, and out of this immeasurable richness He associates Mary's maternal love in all that He does for us. 

How beautiful, how intimately human it is, that Jesus - in making us His brothers and sisters - gives us His mother Mary to be our mother. 

And she is truly a mother to us. She cares, specifically, for each and every one of us. We can bring everything to her, because we are her children, and she will deepen our confidence in the Lord and carry us through even the most inscrutable difficulties in life, keeping us close to her Son. 

We are never orphans.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie, Always Grateful...

She was always grateful.💚🎵

Today marks 32 months, and Christina Grimmie's circle of frands keeps growing.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Mystery Comes Close to Our Flesh and Bones

"The Absolute, the Mystery, is Father.... This truth that Christ has revealed does not diminish the Absolute. Rather, it deepens our knowledge of the mystery: Our Father who art at the depths, who art in heaven, Our Father who art in my profound roots, Thou who art now making me in this instant, who generate my path and guide me to my destiny! You can no longer retract after hearing these words of God. You can no longer go back. But, at the same time, the mystery remains, remains more profound: God is father, but he is father like no other is father. The revealed term carries the mystery further within you, closer to your flesh and bones, and you really feel it in a familiar way, as a son or daughter. There is no one who respects the sense of truth and is as devoted to his father as when the father is an intimate companion" (Luigi Giussani).

Friday, February 8, 2019

Winter Scenes

We've had warm days and cold days, sunny days and snow days, and some brilliant sunsets already in the first six weeks of 2019.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Digital Scriptorum: Secrets Revealed!

Actually, it's more like "a few hints" ... or, rather, a look at the rabbit holes of digital doodling I go down when I'm stretching the right side of my brain. Indeed, this is more like a record for my own reference in the future, since I don't expect that many folks will actually read it.

But you're welcome to read, skim, browse, whatever. This is my workshop, and sometimes more, but in any case I'm happy to keep an "open door."

Yesterday, I posted a setting for some verses from Psalm 17 on my Instagram and such. It wasn't particularly interesting or bold. But such posts often come from within a peculiar experimental process using the very limited tools I have available to me on a Samsung tablet.

It begins with a text and a basic background on a sketch page, some basic fonts, a few lines....

The exercise is one of technological doodling, in which an OCD brain is taken out for "psychological walk" like an excitable puppy on a very long leash. I also learn about continually developing possibilities in digital graphics (cheap ones, anyway). It's not the most efficient way to learn, but if you like even one design or photo art project that I have posted, it comes out of a process like this.

The mood is "chill." I'm listening to some music. I flip the colors and start brushing and smudging, using basic filters, and making a mess, like this:

This is not going anywhere special. (I will "ruminate" on the text a bit; that's one of the reasons why I like to work with Scriptural texts.) Then I take it for a spin through one of the "art applications" that mixes colors and blends in peculiar ways.

Things can start to go in a "psychedelic" direction:

It_looks like graffiti at this point. I feel like going off the text and into geometric patterns, so I paint over the verses with green and blue, and put it into an app that breaks things down to patterns and shapes.

I do want to create patterns that look interesting:

Circles. We always end up with circles. How do I get "out of the circle"? Alter the colors some more, and pull out and manipulate different shapes:

We're NOT going to keep changing colors and running these shapes through the "kaleidoscope" all day. Just a few times (e.g. first picture below). We can also smudge with the "water" simulator, crop, stretch, squeeze, and then "frame it" with a blurred background (second picture):

Okay, hmmm. Well, all this can be filed away; some things might get turned into text-breaking pictures for future ponderous blog posts.

What am I doing? Ah, the verses of the Psalm.

Back to basics. Put a steeple on the left (from a photo of St John's) and the text beside it:

That's nice, after I touch up the background a bit. If all I wanted to do was generate a "meme," I could have done this in a few minutes. But I want to experiment with some other shades and "settings" too:

That works okay. But too much white. This text is powerful and "fiery." Let's try heating things up:

Whoa! That could go somewhere, but I would need other tools (and probably the laptop) to get what I'm aiming for here. Not today.

I actually posted something colorful but not too colorful, just tinged with a rusty red ... "for precious is their blood in His sight" ... in any case a post provides some proximate goal and caps things off. It makes it possible to STOP this exercise, for now:

Enough of this. It's time to get back to my books.😉

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A History of Witnesses from All The World

Paul Miki, baptized at the age of five, was one of the early fruits of Saint Francis Xavier's mid-16th century mission to Japan. He grew up to become the first Japanese to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and he preached and witnessed to the Lord among his own people. Many Japanese became Christians, especially in the southern port city of Nagasaki and the regions surrounding it.

At first the Imperial government permitted the new community to grow, but the situation became complicated when other Europeans arrived who also called themselves Christians but who sought their own interests: material gain, cultural and territorial invasion, robbery, and rivalries fostered to gain their own political power.

As a result, the Japanese authorities turned against the foreigners and their "foreign god"--thus began the process of expelling Europeans and all their influence, with no distinction between what was evil and what was good. Paul Miki--a native of Japan, full of love, a servant of everyone, a threat to no one--was condemned to be a scapegoat (along with a few other European missionaries and a group of Japanese lay people, including children). They were tortured and crucified on February 6, 1597. As he was dying, Saint Paul Miki urged his countrymen and women to know and love Jesus, and he forgave his executioners.

The impact of this event was shattering but also profound. By the mid-17th century all priests has been driven out or killed, and many more Japanese faithful were martyred or ritually renounced Christianity. But for nearly 300 years, a group of lay people in the Nagasaki area remained faithful to Jesus. Without the priestly ministry, without the sacraments of the Eucharist or Penance (but certainly not without the desire for them), with only Baptism, the Bible, a catechism, and a liturgical calendar, they passed down the heritage of their faith in Jesus and lived the life of His Church as best as they could. When Japan reopened to the West in the 19th century, European Catholic priests were permitted in the country again to minister to other foreigners. The priests did not approach the native population. Nevertheless, to their astonishment, they were sought out by the seventh generation of this Nagasaki community that had kept the faith but also hungered for the fullness of ecclesial life.

There are so many tremendous stories--real stories about persons, communities, families, and generations all through history and all over the world--that are vivified by these otherwise very diverse peoples' conviction about and adherence to one man. Among all the billions of humans who have lived, why is this one man so unique, so compelling, that people love Him more than life, more than everything?

Recall that yesterday was the feast of third century martyr Saint Agatha of Catania. Today celebrates these Nagasaki Martyrs of 1597 -- twelve hundred years later, over ten thousand miles away, these 26 men, women, and children were brutally tortured and murdered. Their "crime" was the same as Agatha's: they all loved the same man, and knew themselves to be loved by that man, in such a way that all the violence brought against them by the powers of their societies was not able to tear them away from that man.


Who ever heard of such a thing in all the history of the world?

But it's easy enough to ignore it, if we don't want to see it. There is no spectacle here. These are the stories of people, poor people, where encountered Jesus, who were changed, fulfilled, and transformed by Jesus. They were given a share in His love that saves the world: the love that forgives enemies, that endures all things, that bridges the abyss of death: the love that never fails.

The people who follow Jesus in the Church (bearing His promises with all their own weakness and failures and even betrayals) are the means through which He chooses to give Himself in this world, to "extend" His resurrected life and His unconquerable redeeming love to every place and time, through all of history. It is through these people that Jesus meets Agatha, the Japanese Christians, and countless poor and forgotten people in the streets of today.

Love communicates person to person. Love communicates new life to persons who share that life with other persons. The sacraments are the gestures through which Jesus guarantees the concreteness of the the foundation and continuity of the encounter with Him. But the living of this new life penetrates the whole story of each person and their relationships with others. This is what gives us the great story of God's People journeying to fulfillment in Him, the remarkable "history of the Church"--all the more amazing in the endurance and continual renewal of Jesus Christ's presence and the power of His love in these fragile vessels of people who follow Him (and in spite of the malice, violence, and manipulation of those who pretend to follow Him while actually betraying Him).

Jesus is here. He stays with us.

The history of these martyrs--these men and women in whom His love was fulfilled to the end--is our history. It is the heritage of all humanity, of every person. It has been entrusted to us in the Church so that we might share it with all the world.

That's what love does. It shares. It gives itself away. It generates life. It brings new life. We who have been so much loved... do we not long to be poured out and given to others so that this love will abound? We're hindered by many things, by our preoccupations, by fear. The field of our own lives seems small. Let us not think this means our love should be small.

These stories inspire us to trust in Jesus, to let His love be the measure, to begin to live a little more His love as a gift and a witness to one another, and in the particular circumstances and places that constitute our "world" each day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Brave Young Agatha of Sicily

For all the time that has passed, humans haven't changed very much. When men in positions of power want to abuse women, they have the means to cause them great suffering.

The traditional stories about the third century virgin martyr Saint Agatha of Catania emphasize the brutality of the abuse visited upon her by lustful, dominating, and idolatrous men. But these men of blood did not understand her singular dedication, soul and body, to the true God and true Man, Jesus Christ.

Just as in the past, so also now and in the future, human violence and fury will pass away. The Love of the Lord will endure forever. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Feast of the Presentation

Happy Feast Day: Forty Days after Christmas, Jesus comes to the temple and reveals Himself to those who awaited Him with great longing.

"Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
'Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed'"
(Luke 2:34-35).

Above, a traditional Byzantine icon. Below, details from Mosaic of the Presentation in the Temple, by Marko Rupnik. I LOVE his work!❤➕   .

Friday, February 1, 2019

Every Good Thing Will Be Fulfilled

Almighty, all good, all merciful God,
Our Father who loves us,
send your Holy Spirit into our hearts
with his creative and transforming love.
Come Holy Spirit,
work within me, and every person.
Come with your all-powerful gentleness
to touch,
to open up,
to heal and liberate
those deep, dark, unacknowledged spaces
in my heart,
and in the hearts of so many people,
where we are afraid of the Father's love,
afraid that we will lose ourselves
if we let God love us "too much."

Give us greater trust in you right here,
right in these places where we try to resist you
because we fear you will just overwhelm and annihilate us,
because we fear losing ourselves and finding nothing,
because we are terrified and don't know why,
because we are just anxious in the dark
and know not what we are doing or where we are going,
or because we are simply too attached to our own ideas about life:
our own measure,
our own narrow,
definition of who we are.

O Lord, you search for our hearts,
but we try to hide from you their most secret places
where we store away the difficulties of believing:
all the incomprehensible losses of people we loved,
the begging of prayers that seemed swallowed
by a vast emptiness and never heard or returned,
and all the hard obscure perplexity of faith's winding path.
We wonder why you are so silent amidst all the noise of war on earth,
why you permit all this evil,
why there is all this colossal pain that crushes people,
why life is so hard and inscrutable.

Here too we secretly keep our troubles
with the whole mess of our stunted human heritage
as children of Adam's dysfunctional family,
still sinning, struggling against stupid sin,
and the lingering impulses toward vanity, conceit, envy, lust;
the craving of easy satisfactions of mind and body;
the downward pull of comfortable negligence, and mediocrity
covered over in endless diversions and distractions.
We are Adam's kin down to the bone:
broken, burdened, limping, dull-minded,
weak, sick, hungry, off-balance, crazy -- even we,
who are members of your Son's body, washed,
initiated into new life,
and tasting the promise, in hope.
Blessed hope, sustaining hope,
often thinly stretched weary hope
so burdened on so long a journey.
Slow seems the healing
and the growing as your children,
through Jesus (still a great joy indeed, a sustaining joy,
but the center of it all remains a mystery,
for which we do not yet have eyes).

We don't even see these dark spaces in our hearts.
We are afraid, Lord, to let you enter the places
where we are hidden from ourselves.
Here are hardened scars of deep wounds:
the lacerations of our own failures
and the stabs of betrayal by others,
the vestiges of resentment,
all the disappointments,
the few hollow successes,
the persons we loved who fell short,
but only because they were weak, like us;
the sorrow over the fleeting years of life,
the long bittersweet ghosts of so many memories. 

And sometimes in the darkest depths of our hearts,
we hold in ourselves and wrestle with secret silent laments.
Without words, but groaning as if to say, "Lord
why did you make me?
"Who am I? Why do I matter?
"Lord, why did you give me freedom, when all I do
is use it to screw things up?
"Why does the Infinite One care whether or not I love him freely?
"Can't you just fix me to do your will automatically?
"Why do all my efforts end up being fake,
or at best still tainted with the hundred-little-lies 
of my petty hypocrisy and self-love?
"Why do I see the evil in the world but still connive with its edges?
"Why am I so pathetic?"
We know all the answers to these questions from our faith,
from its tradition, teaching, preaching, and theology,
and we believe them and acknowledge them firmly.
But here in the dark places of our hearts,
we suffer the apparent dissonance of mysteries,
we feel what seems like the sharp edge 
where deep mystery intersects with life,
we suffer impatience with reality and ourselves,
we are impatient with God,
with the fact that the Infinite Mystery is Infinite Love.
Our hearts groan, "Why am I free? Why do I sin? 
Can't you just make me good? 
Without all this long wandering? 
Can't you just make me happy? Like a little child?" 
"Yes," says God, "but you are ambitious to be a 'grownup,' 
to make yourself good by your own power, 
so I am letting you learn that your power is not enough...
with freedom you can then turn back, 
and discover that I love you even more, 
and you will find a new childhood, a deeper happiness..."

Thus it stands for us, sinners who beg for God, yet tremble
that he might come too close to us,
that Infinite Love might love us "too much"...

Love is a terrible thing, relentless against all that hinders it.
But God's love is good. God is always good.
We must remember this.
I must remember this when I look at myself,
when I worry within myself after 56 years,
as the arc of life bends toward the horizon of a setting sun.

There is strange death, approaching,
no longer appearing to me like the remote end of past generations,
or the rare, odd, accidental tragedy of youth.
Death is on the threshold of my house of many years.
I am in the infancy of old age
when weary heartbeats can stop suddenly in a moment,
or beat and beat on 20, 30, 40 more years...

Lord, you alone know this mystery,
this disjointed and jarring ending of life
that is happening for some of us now,
for others soon,
for others later.
Death is entirely mundane and scarcely noticed in the world,
but supremely significant and utterly personal
for each one of us.
Lord, this event that will finally establish who I am, forever...
its coming seems like a rolling of the dice!
Perhaps I shall die before I finish typing this sentence.
...Only now can I be sure that I'm still breathing.
Perhaps I shall die tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month.
Or perhaps years of new, great, and arduous work are still ahead of me.
Perhaps a road of venerable old age stretches before me,
with an abundance of joys,
with unimagined new cares and responsibilities,
with--finally--achievements I have dreamed of all my life.
Perhaps with harsh miseries too:
a terminal illness to break my nerves,
or a slow decline, new unremarkable infirmities,
quiet suffering, powerlessness, humiliation.
One way or another, however, I will have to face the end.
I will die.

Dear God, my poor faith tells me that I am in your loving hands,
that your mercy shapes (especially) this last moment for me,
with infinite wisdom and utterly personal love.
Still, death is strange. I don't know what it is like,
when it will happen,
what trials it will require me to endure,
what temptations might rise up in that unparalleled last second
(Lord grant me perseverance to the end!)
or what period of purgation,
what intensity of ultimate refining fire I must pass through
to reach you, my Father,
when you come rushing forth lovingly to meet me.
I host fast to you, God, in firm hope,
I entrust everything to your goodness and mercy.
I pray for the grace of a good death, through your Son Jesus.

And God forgive me, your foolish child,
but I still love this life here and now.
I love it too much.
I cling to it anxiously even now
because I am a weak and sinful man (Jesus, save me!),
but also because there is so much good here,
even though it's always changing and passing away.
There is so much that remains to be accomplished.
My wife by my side to love and cherish,
children still to raise and help,
then later to encourage and counsel,
and make a special grand-place in our hearts
for the new generation (Lord, grant us this gift).
There are my tenderly beloved, utterly frail father and mother
to care for and comfort and suffer with,
and my brother, our kids' terrific uncle,
lifelong comrade and friend,
the only person who really knows how to tell me
when I'm being stupid.
There are the seasons, the trees, the wonder of a green leaf,
sunrise and sunset, magnificent stars, rivers and creeks
and ancient hills.
Good food, and wine,
friends and conversation;
friendship, indeed, that grows deeper with the years.
Then there are these talents of my soul: there is
and images, patterns and shapes and colors
to craft together in so many ways,
and words to build poems,
There is this mind, my searching mind,
finally beginning to see pieces of wisdom,
beginning to see what is worth passing on, worth teaching...
"Be a teacher!
Be a teacher!
You will be a great teacher!" (L.G.)

Yet none of this guarantees a single hour more of this life,
and I know that in whatever comes there will also be mixed
more disappointment and pain,
more failures together with the good.
O God, I know that in you (and only in you) every good thing
will be fulfilled,
that nothing will be lost,
that these good seeds sown in life will bear fruit.
But have pity on me, Lord,
for seeds are all that my eyes know.
I trust in you, and I hope to live forever in this fruition.
Please sustain me, O God, in my weakness
and work according to your wisdom and mercy
to open the depths in my heart where I still worry,
where there is still fear, irrational, foolish fear,
as if you who are Goodness and Love itself
could oppose all the good and loving realities of my poor little life.
God, you are always good.
Take my whole heart,
take my fears,
and take my sins away.
Never let me run after anything in this world in such a way
that I would crave attachment to it rather than you.
Never let me be separated from you.
Have mercy on me now and at the hour of my death.

Come Holy Spirit,
come with your goodness and love
to the deep dark places of my heart,
where I hide from you with my sins and my wounds,
my lack of trust in you, my disappointments,
my fear of death.
Come Holy Spirit to these places
to heal and transform me,
to make me new and whole.

Jesus, you are the One who truly knows the mystery of "me."
I have been created through you and for you,
the Word,
the Only Son of the Father through whom all things were made.
Jesus, Lord and God, you give me my very existence in this moment.
You love me more than I love myself.
You have taken hold of my life.
Never let me be separated from you.
I don't know myself,
but you know me.
On the cross you understood me.
You suffered the whole depth and measure of me.
You knew my sins and sacrificed yourself for them
and for all the sins of the world.
You knew and you embraced my terrifying fragility, my weakness, my fear.
You know the road of conversion and freedom for me.
You are that road.
You have died on the cross that is me,
and you are rising in me in a love that heals and transforms,
a love that wants with infinite ardor to bring my life
to fulfillment and fruition,
to make me the person you have always willed me to be.

What else matters? I can only be grateful,
and allow gratitude to spring up in me,
gratitude for everything:
beyond all that I do not understand,
all that troubles me in the present moment,

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Make of my heart all gratitude and love for you forever.
Jesus I trust in you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Christina Grimmie Passes Four Million YouTube Subscribers

Dear friends, the late Christina Grimmie's original YouTube channel needs only 124 more subscribers to reach 4,000,000.❗.

Go to her channel and SUBSCRIBE. 

It doesn't cost anything, ever. It's a chance to be part of history, and to support one of the truly bright lights in the crazy world of YouTube. 

SUBSCRIBE! 😊 🎶 Click here:

This is the channel Christina began nearly 10 years ago, as just a 15 year old kid from New Jersey who loved to sing and play Zelda (she never even changed the name - it remains "zeldaxlove64"). Her vocal and musical talents were extraordinary and continued to develop right up to her tragic death at the hands of a deranged gunman after a concert on June 10, 2016. Today the channel is maintained by her family in her memory, and posts occasional posthumous material.

You've heard the story from me many times already. You know how much I have come to love and admire this amazing young woman and her long-suffering, courageous family ... and not just because of the music.💚  .

Below is a very early "description" she posted in the "About" section of her channel. In spite of all her subsequent successes, she never changed this description during her lifetime.  .

I can't help thinking that, somewhere deep down, she had a sense from the beginning of what she was doing. It was a risk she had the courage to take, and to persevere in amidst many difficulties. In any case, as the last sentence of the "description" shows, she knew why she did it.  .
"I'm a full on Christian, by the way. Jesus is my Savior and I looove Him and sing for Him."
She knew the One who made it worthwhile to sing, or make music, or have fun playing Zelda, or start her own channel on YouTube and post content on what was still a new and unusual medium. He is the One who makes life worthwhile, who suffuses ordinary circumstances and things with His grace, so that they become the opportunities and the humble bearers of His extraordinary love. He is the One who can make even a brief life beautiful and worthy of remembering. He is our Savior, our Hope.  .

From the start, she knew Him. She loved Him. She sang for Him. Full on...

Sometime around 8:00 EST this evening, the Christina Grimmie channel passed the mark of 4,000,000 subscribers. It is a tribute to her pioneering efforts and the endurance of her legacy.💚  .

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why is It So Hard to Just "Be Together"?

There is a great and very necessary mode of loving in which people discover the value of just be-ing together.

Too often we think the only reason to actually be with others is to accomplish a common work. We get together in order to do things, and then we go back to being (more-or-less) solitary individuals.

We feel awkward and inadequate just "being around" a person if we don't see any way of being useful to them. This feeling is especially acute when we find ourselves with people who have problems or are suffering. What can we do for them? This question might raise intense, complex, even frightening emotions.

Of course, many of us have some sense of "just being together" through the fullness we experience in the company of a spouse, family members, and very intimate friends. When we are with these persons, things we do together and ways we help one another are "built-in" to the dynamic of being together. In a healthy companionship many interactions become almost "natural"—which doesn't mean mechanical and meaningless but quite the opposite: it means the habitual realization of freedom in integrally human gestures of self-giving full of personal vitality.

Suffering, however, raises a distinctive kind of challenge even for these relationships. When someone we love endures a great and debilitating suffering, we may find ourselves running out of ideas for how to "help" them. We suddenly feel incompetent, and might think we are "letting down" our friend or loved one. This is most difficult when we really can't do anything (or anything more) to resolve their problem or help them.

Here we need to see the value of "just be-ing together." We can remain with them, and recognize that our sense of being powerless is linked to their own utter vulnerability in suffering. The bond of love and friendship that unites us means that their pain is going to affect us. Just by staying with them, we can live the very precious gift of friendship, and affirm its reality. A true friend can "share" and accompany the pain and struggles, anxiety and suffering of their friend by an empathy that draws on the bond of the relationship itself.

This can mean just being with a friend even when there is no immediate thing we can do or say, because there is no "solution" and there are no words for what is happening. Still, we can be together, we can be with them, we can be present in solidarity and love.

This is more difficult than we might think. We have a kind of natural inclination to distance ourselves from another person who is suffering, especially when we feel like we can't fix their problem, ultimately because it forces us to face the deeper levels of our own radical "helplessness," the fundamental limits of our resources as finite persons. That's very hard, because we tend toward wanting to possess and control the circumstances of reality (even in relationships). Deep down, we live with the assumption that we are self-sufficient.

This is what makes us tend toward a hyperprotectiveness of the total environment of ourselves and those we care about. We want to build a fortress out of life so we can be safe. Why?

Because we are afraid.

The more we are fixated on "keeping our lives," i.e. measuring their meaning according to our own limited measure, the greater our fear.

Too often in our society today, people know only their own measure. They don't want to see their limits, beyond which their interpretation of reality loses coherence, and (so it seems) all meaning and value slip away. People distance themselves from anything or anyone that interrupts their distracted preoccupation with the apparently controllable aspects of reality and makes them face those radical limits.

People are very afraid.

And it is terrifying to be helpless and alone and losing something (or someone) into the void of an ultimately meaningless universe that is not held in the hands of Infinite Love. People are secretly afraid that life has no permanent meaning, that love doesn't win in the end, that everything is swallowed up by nothingness.

Those of us who believe in Jesus and worship God also feel this fear and sense of helplessness, because ultimately we walk by faith in the One who is true, good, and beautiful, but who is also the Infinite Mystery. Faith does not "resolve" the mystery of God or of reality; it brings it close to us and gives us a path and a reason to hope even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Mystery has entered our history and made the path for us. Jesus didn't say He had come to explain the often difficult ways and obscure challenges of our lives. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He says, "follow me" not to form an exclusive club, but (among other things) to draw us more intensely into the experience of being human, all the way to the Cross.

So even in faith we feel this great fragility of being human, this sense of "helplessness"—but we learn that it is rooted in our need to live in dependence on something greater than ourselves (on the One who lovingly holds our destiny and accompanies us and every human being). Even in the anguish of our lives and the intense feeling of fear and loss, He is opening a path for us and a "space" inside us so He can lead us and shape for us a good and beautiful fulfillment that we cannot yet "understand."

We live in the world with a HOPE for a transcendent fulfillment in which everything that is real and good is transformed, and therefore "nothing is lost." Often we can't see what this means for our concrete aspirations, circumstances, and relationships, or why there is still so much experience of frustration and loss (so much of the incomprehensible element of "sacrifice" that we don't grasp even when we know it's necessary).

We don't see the whole meaning of it; indeed, we see very little in the obscurity of faith. But Jesus sees. He has endured it all and He is risen. He lives (indeed He is) the fullness of being human and He stays with us... even in the unbearable silence of our incapacity to fathom our own weakness.

Jesus knows that we will forget and fail, become afraid and run away, just like the disciples in the Gospels. He will seek us and find us, like the Good Shepherd that He is, and approach us with His open heart full of forgiveness and renewal.

But how beautiful it is to remember Him, and find courage in Him to love and be a companion to another human person, to be with that person with their inexpressible pain.

Life is an immense, beautiful, mysterious gift. We must do our best to be good stewards of the wonders entrusted to us, to act prudently and responsibly to improve our own lives, our families, our communities. We must recognize and build up the good.

But we are not the source of goodness and meaning. We do not control reality. We are not masters, but servants.

We don't need the power to build the world to our own measure, to grasp what we determine to be good for us and flee from (or make war against) what we think threatens our self-asserted power. God alone is good. What we do need is the experience of being loved by Him.

Jesus has come to give us God's love.

And when we know we are loved by Him, we become instruments through which He can bring the experience of being loved to others.

The giving and receiving of love through helping one another is especially needed in these tumultuous times. We need to offer a true attentive love for the particular person, the way we know God loves us. There is much of just "being-with" others in this love, unabtrusive accompanying, listening, being present—with the remembrance of God's love and our destiny of being transformed in Him, Jesus.

For this we must pray a lot, from the heart, worship, love Him, bring everything to Him. From prayer, we can shape all of life into prayer, into loving Jesus. And we need the Church and the sacraments (the concrete "moments" in which the Lord breaks in, even physically, to touch the history of our lives). We need to insert our lives within the time of the Church and walk the incarnate path of ecclesial life, patiently, because learning to love takes time.

We forget Jesus. I forget Him 99.9 percent of the day. But in the Church we are reminded, and we can open our hearts and allow His grace to transforms us, in His time and according to His goodness and love.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Rhododendron: It Stays Green and it Never Gives Up

RHODODENDRON, I salute you! You endure everything. 

You are gobbed by snow, encrusted with ice, tossed by winds and wilted by bitter cold all through the Winter. But with a little sunshine you perk right back up and spread your ever-GREEN leaves in triumph. 

You are tough, but you have beautiful flowers. You make me smile!😊

Sunday, January 27, 2019

World Youth Day 2019: Far Away, Yet Close to Me

This past week, young people from all over the world met with Pope Francis for the "World Youth Day" festival in Panama (Jornada Mundial de la Juventud in Spanish, hence the "JMJ" logo). I was able to follow the progress of the events, not only from news reports, television, and live streaming, but also in a more particular way through the Instagram Stories posted by people I know who attended the events.

Those brief personal "reports" from friends in Panama were precious things. They were new channels through which the grace of the "JMJ" extended itself to distant places, including my "place" thousands of miles away physically but close in the heart and soul.

It also meant even more to me to follow this year's JMJ events, since they coincided with the twentieth anniversary of my first pilgrimage to Mexico and my first visit to Latin America in January of 1999. The occasion of that trip was also a papal visit of Saint John Paul II. Although it was not World Youth Day, John Paul's itinerary included two large public events that I was able to attend. The spirit of Panama this past week, with its distinctive Hispanic openheartedness and fervor, brought back memories of those days. 

Youth festival pilgrims, streamed via Vatican Media.
And then, of course, I will always love the WYD gatherings because of my own experience of the festival (again with John Paul II, who founded it) all the way back in 1993. I know how great the experience can be for young people, and the grace that works so deeply in these days.

Finally, the joy was more personal for me because of the presence and involvement of a number of my young friends who are dedicated to "Música Católica"—an emerging movement of outstanding Hispanic Catholic Christian artists who make contemporary Praise and Worship music (very beautiful, stirring, prayerful music) for appropriate Catholic settings. Through Instagram stories and messages, I was able to communicate with some of them during the week, learn of their experiences, offer prayer and encouragement, and receive the assurance of their prayers. It was a very special time of living the mysterious unity we share as brothers and sisters and "members of Christ's body," a unity that bridges physical differences, that transcends nations and cultures even as it enriches them and enables us to share them with mutual appreciation.

To my beautiful friends from Argentina, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and many other places in Latin America: "¡Muchos Gracias!" I am learning to love the Spanish language (and to understand more, with less help from Google); and I am also learning to love (though I can't understand it😉) "whatever-that-language-is" that people from Buenos Aires speak (😉😉--just joking, jaja). It's the very distinctive Porteño "accent"...

As long as I'm on the topic of "people from Buenos Aires," the most famous of all the Porteños was in Panama to give of himself to young people, encourage young and old alike, and above all to preach the Gospel. Here are some very moving words (in Vatican trans. English) of Pope Francis, from last night's vigil:

Papa Francisco streaming to my screen via Vatican Media.

"The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. 

"That life is not salvation up 'in the cloud' and waiting to be downloaded, a new 'app' to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still, less is it a 'tutorial' for finding out the latest news. The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. 

"The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown. He is the first to say 'yes' to our lives and our history, and he wants us to say 'yes' along with him.

"Saying 'yes' to the Lord means preparing to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity, and often enough too, with its conflicts and annoyances.... It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws. 

"Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or 'distilled,' yet no less worthy of love. Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner. He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.

"Why did he do this? Because only what is loved can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed. 

"The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.

"How hard it is at times to understand God’s love! But what a gift it is to know that we have a Father who embraces us despite all our imperfections!"