Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

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

~Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Celebrating Through the Rest of August

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

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

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Your Promises Surpass Every Human Desire

"O God, who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love, so that, loving you in all things and above all things we may attain your promises which surpass every human desire. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Mary Lives!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Saint Maximilian Kolbe: The Inner Conflict

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

We Are Already a New Creation in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ground Zero August Ninth

Ground Zero August Ninth

by John Janaro

It was a single bright blazing 
luminous moment,
a brief foamy shiny speck of wave 
cresting on the giant ocean of time.

We did not mean to turn our heads, 
but the spark grabbed our gaze.
Our eyes fixed against the sky's edge.

And there was a flash on the horizon,
not like the sun's first hint of daily dawn, 
mild and sweet and seldom noticed.
No, there was a flash—full, furious,
splendid strange
a convergence of ten thousand suns.
The force fell on our skulls and stole our feet,
and we flew.

As eyes, ears, bodies spun through the air,
the clouds roared 
and white hot light swallowed the earth.

There was no time to dither or complain, 
to flee or to be afraid.
Everything disappeared; everything changed.

Everything, and yet...
there is a strange space of passage, still, 
inside this flashing moment.

For who calculates the division of an instant; 
who can fathom the depth of its duration?

Who knows how to measure the distance 
between the beginning of the end
and the end of the end?
What we know is that the moment has come, 
the time is at hand.

A moment of time burns us away
as fire rages in the wind.

~August 9, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

An Important Reminder From Saint Dominic

With his feast celebrated on August 8, the example and witness of the great medieval beggar, Dominic de Guzman, provide valuable instruction for us, all the more so when we dedicate our energies to the most worthy and noble of causes.

Dominic speaks here (in the text accompanying the image on the left) about preaching the Gospel, and his words pertain to the apostolic work of conversion. Here above all fruits grow out of humility, poverty, and love for God and our neighbor. 

But I think Dominic's words also speak to the spirit in which we must take up whatever just cause we are called to pursue, or whatever form of political or social advocacy.

Humility has different external forms. In certain circumstances, it requires vigorous and tenacious action for truth and justice and equity. Moreover, self defense and protection of others may require the use of material force, but never with violence in our hearts against the other person(s) as such.

Make no mistake: "whoever lives by the sword will die by the sword." Let us therefore always seek, by God's grace, to be men and women who build peace in the midst of our brothers and sisters, and who love God with confidence in His goodness.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Hong Kong: The Revolution IS Being Televised

Photo by May James / Hong Kong Free Press
‘The Revolution is being televised’ ...on YouTube and Twitter. 

As a “China-watcher” for some years, I am seeing something kinda new and significant in this Hong Kong “Summer of Protest.” 

Unlike the soul-stirring (and ultimately suppressed) student-led “Umbrella Movement” of 2014, there is no visible leadership here. In some places, 'conventional nonviolence' has given way to strategies inspired by Kung Fu philosophy, with guerrilla style disruptive tactics, savvy coordination via the internet, and surveillance-resistant anonymity, all of which enables current groups of demonstrators to have a remarkable degree of elusiveness and mobility. There have been some accusations of protester violence; but the obvious problem is police thuggery. Meanwhile, obsequious local public officials continue to dance to Beijing's tune.

Protesters have been taking to the streets on weekends since the beginning of June, when local legislation was proposed that would allow mainland China to extradite criminal suspects from the semi-autonomous former British colony. The legislation has been "suspended" (but not revoked), and protest demands have expanded to include the perennially controversial overall aspects of the current "One-Country-Two-Systems" arrangement.

This is a dangerous situation.

One thing seems clear regarding Hong Kong politics in the past decade: the kids are not buying it. They don't want their future to be some kind of new Soviet Union "with-Chinese-characteristics." The kids are taking enormous risks, dressed in black and wearing face masks, using 2019 technology in the spirit, bravery, restraint, and cleverness of classic Chinese martial arts heroes. Their opponent is a behemoth, but the kids ought not to be underestimated. Indeed, multitudes from every sector of Hong Kong society are calling for justice and respect for their human dignity. 

I don’t know how it will all play out, but if Beijing sends in the People's Liberation Army they will not find these protesters planted like sitting ducks to be shot down. They may instead be up against the ghost of Bruce Lee (with an encrypted cell phone). 

What will China do then? This is a dangerous situation, indeed. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


TRANSFIGURATION: Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history. On Mount Tabor, He reveals His glory as the light. Later, on the cross, He will reveal His glory as unconquerable love.

"O Christ our God, at the time of your Transfiguration on the Mount, You showed your disciples as much of your glory as they could hold. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, let your eternal light shine also upon us sinners. O Giver of Light, glory to You!"

~Troparion, Feast of the Transfiguration, 
Byzantine Liturgy

Monday, August 5, 2019

An Encounter with Him as a Living Person...

These words are from seven years ago, on August 5, 2012. The design I put together today. Jesus is the same: yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8).

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Reflections on Music and Musical Artists (Part 1)

Frequently on this blog, I write about musicians, performers, songwriters, composers, and various styles of music. In this post, however, I want to begin a series of reflections on what music is and what musicians are doing when they "make" music. 

These reflections will be general, ad-hoc, and variable. They are the thoughts of someone who is both a philosopher and a musician (as well as something of an "arts critic" and an avid listener who enjoys music). 

This means that my reflections will approach the topic from a variety of perspectives. I don't have (nor am I ready to attempt) any systematic "theory of music." I just want to verbalize some ideas and put them on the table. In doing this, I am trying to advance my own ongoing efforts to further refine and integrate many different considerations, impressions, and experiences of music as a fundamental facet of life.

I love how music shapes sound into a “language” that connects people because it expresses in a concrete way the many facets of the human experience, especially the mysterious longing for transcendence that “cannot help” leaving its mark on every authentic artistic endeavor. 

I listen to lots of kinds of music, seeking to discover the urge for beauty that gives it life. Often it is a search for “gold in the mud,” because music frequently reaches us within a context that harnesses it (and tries to use its affective power) to serve complex purposes - including distracting entertainment spectacles, ideological agendas, and emotional manipulation. 

The “language” of music is true in that universal, undifferentiated, multidimensional sense that pertains to the intuition of beauty. But music can be presented within a context that twists its diverse nuances into the service of lies: propaganda, political brainwashing, moral degeneration of various kinds, social/ cultural experimentation that attacks human dignity, or else just cheap superficiality posing as depth (which is essential to powering the engine of consumerism).

Still, there remains the ineradicable human need for beauty, even in its most primitive or elemental forms. Sound has a vast spectrum and an enormous "plasticity," yet the crafting of sounds insists on their being "gathered together" in some manner of resonance. 

The artist makes music by incorporating sounds into his or her own quest for the resonance of audible reality, for its "coming together" (in various forms) as an artifact within the universe of being. Every artist endeavors to make beautiful artifacts that "contain" and communicate something of the trajectory of the universe toward integration, and of the interior personal struggle toward an enduring fulfillment.

The resonance of music expresses, in so many different ways, the drama of the cry of the human heart for something "beyond," something greater - for a fulfillment corresponding to the whole expansion of freedom, for beauty. 

I think we can hear an echo of this cry in the work of any musician who is trying to be a real artist, though it may be partially obscured, muted, or buried under the imperfections and conflicting preoccupations that may accompany their work. 

We can discover these audible echoes of the heart even in some contemporary music artists who are rather caught up in the excesses of their enlarged ego, which - under a gigantic (but also fickle and fleeting) spotlight - craves attention, celebrity, ongoing relevance and - of course - lots and lots of money.

Real artists today are seekers of beauty amidst the turbulence in which they so often find themselves in this epoch. In every age there have been poseurs and charlatans who invade the world of creative expression. And today they are (like everything else in our time) bigger and noisier than ever. It’s not always easy to identify the real musical artists or to recognize the sounds of their searching. I hope God’s grace and my years of experience have begun to give me the wisdom to listen well (and perhaps help others to listen, and to make their own music).

...to be continued...

Saturday, August 3, 2019

"Deepening the Sense of the Mystery"

"Christ does not resolve the drama of the 'I,' eliminating human desire, but, rather, exalting it, deepening the sense of the mystery. What kind of solution would be one that ended up flattening desire or suppressing it? .

"Instead, those who acknowledge Christ see their humanity brought beyond all imagination. For this reason, the deepening in us of the sense of mystery is the sign of His presence" 
(Fr. Julian Carron).

Friday, August 2, 2019

Summer Days

I have spent a lot of time indoors this Summer, because of the heat and humidity. But I get out, and have taken a few pictures.

We have had house shaking, power breaking afternoon thunderstorms.

...and some lovely, cooler, clear weather, like the day Eileen and I went to Wolf Trap (I still have to write more on that wonderful evening of music).

We have a few summer flowers, like this Asian immigrant, the hibiscus ("rose of Sharon") that blooms throughout the summer in this area.

...and the sun still sets pretty late in the evening.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ignatius and His Soldiers of Love

The 16th century was a mess. It was the first real "globalization" of history, but too often it was driven by pride, avarice, and the lust for power.

Still, in the turmoil of that time, God was at work. Among other things, He gave this man a charism, and through him a "company" arose, and the Great Commission was taken up with a new awareness. The followers of Ignatius of Loyola truly carried the gospel into the whole world.

They still do. Jesuits have had their problems, but the grace of the charism of Saint Ignatius is always stronger, always renewed.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Only Jesus Really Knows Us

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).

Do I really believe this? Do I really know what it means to trust in Him?

Jesus claims that He is the reason why I exist, that I was created so that I might be His brother, the brother of God the Son, the Word made flesh. In union with Him, I become a child of the Father in the Spirit.

This is why I exist; this is the foundation of my identity and destiny as a created person. God made me because He wanted to love me and to give me the power to love Him. I was created so that I might be raised up to share in the life of the Trinity. I was created by Eternal Love, so as to rejoice forever in Eternal Love.

And this is true for absolutely every human being without exception. It is at the very core of the humanity we all share. Every person is, by the mystery of God's mercy, on a path of life that leads ultimately to an encounter with the gift of God's love - and this means an encounter with Jesus, even though so many know nothing about Him right now. 

This is why our lives and words witness to Him, Jesus, always, even as we respect people of other religions, engage in dialogue with them, and learn many great and precious things from their stories of seeking truth and longing for goodness and beauty, from the genuine wisdom embodied in their cultures and traditions, and from the mysterious ways God has drawn them and worked in their lives. 

As we accompany others, collaborate with them, live in friendship with them, and witness to them, we are servants of the grace of God at work in them and in us.

Jesus wants to share His burning love with others, through us. Jesus wants everyone to meet Him and to discover that He is the only answer to the search for meaning and the yearning for love that God has fashioned in the depths of every human heart. 

Only Jesus really knows us; only He can answer for each one of us that unique, unfathomable question, “Who am I?”

Monday, July 29, 2019

Martha Said, "Yes, Lord. I Have Come to Believe..."

Today is the feast of Saint Martha.

Don't get down on Martha. Yeah, there was that time when she was so preoccupied with throwing a good dinner party that she didn't seem to recognize the uniqueness of the Guest.

But she also had that glorious moment when He revealed Himself to her and she responded with faith, and called Him by name.

It was a singularly difficult moment during the time of grief and mourning following the death of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived, Martha went out to meet Him. She was full of a wild expectation that she didn't understand, but it moved her to go to Him.

The result was one of the most beautiful accounts in the gospels, an encounter in which the drama of each of our lives is illuminated. The dialogue of Jesus and Martha sums up the history of our prayer - our seeking, asking, listening, responding to Him.

This text is worth the pondering of our hearts:
"Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said to him, 'I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world'" (Jn 11:21-27).
She believed. But what does it mean to "believe in Him"? It means to adhere to His Person with a faith vivified by hope and love, to trust in Him.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Burning of Grief and Love

This is a strange time of life.

Lately, as I go through the "usual day," I keep bumping into things that remind me of my Dad: a picture, an old book, some music, or even some things not directly connected to him - common things like ivy (because Dad always trimmed the ivy and kept it neat along the side of the house I grew up in).

When this happens, a whole line of memories gets tapped, and with them come a variety of emotions that I don't even understand, and the awareness of the deep presence of a person in the history of my life, and an apparently gaping absence of that person "here-and-now" ... though not entirely. Past and present seem almost to merge for an instant, and I feel a sense of melancholy, but also peace.

Is this "grief"?

It hasn't shaken my faith, though it has made me more aware that faith depends on God's grace and that it adheres to mysteries beyond my comprehension. Clearly, faith does not provide a cheap escape from the pain and the strangeness of grief. I am grateful for my faith, which is a gift that takes me beyond myself. It brings consolation, but it is also the adherence of a frail human being who lives within the fragility of the present, with the fluxuations of internal and external changes from one moment to the next.

It's a mysterious experience that, sooner or later, everyone passes through.

We miss the people we love so much! When people die, they seem to vanish from the realm of everything we know from our experience of life, all that we see and feel and touch, all that we can measure and analyze scientifically or engage with on an ordinary practical level.

But there is still love - a light and a fire greater than the sun and all the stars. Stars burn out, but love burns through to something more, something larger than this universe and its limits. When I say "I love you" to my Dad (I feel dizzy and lost in the fog of all this, but still "I love YOU, Dad!") and whenever we say "I love you" to those who have passed away from this life, our hearts "find them" in their very reality as persons; and our hearts know that they are living in a new way.

They live in the Universe of Love, which our eyes are not designed to see (at least, not yet) but our hearts know it.

Our hearts long for it!

Maybe the pain of grief is part of our own "burning through" (beyond the limits of what we now know and measure) to that definitive world, that definitive life that our hearts whisper about, that is the promise of all our efforts to grow as persons - that Universe where Love is everything, where the embrace is all-sustaining, all-fulfilling, and never ends.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Splashdown 50

FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY was "The Splashdown," i.e. the "returning them safely to earth" part of the historic journey of Apollo 11. 

And, once again, we all watched on TV.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mary Said, "I Have Seen the Lord"

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, called ἰσαπόστολος in the Byzantine tradition ("Equal-to-the-Apostles") for her original witness to Jesus's resurrection:

Jesus said to her, "go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'" (John 20:17-18).   .

Sunday, July 21, 2019

July 20, 1969 - A "Giant Leap" Indeed

Fifty years ago, three human beings traveled from a beach in southern Florida to the moon, a voyage of a quarter of a million miles. Before the end of the day on July 20, two men would walk the lunar surface.

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," said Neil Armstrong as he planted his boot firmly on the dusty, unearthly ground.

"Beautiful... Magnificent desolation," said Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, a few moments later as he stepped down from the lunar module to become the second human being to walk on the moon.

Sixty miles above the lunar surface, orbiting the moon (about once every two hours) was Michael Collins, pilot of the Command Service Module. Though he didn't get to walk on the moon, he had the essential task of carefully attending to the larger traveling spacecraft and the rockets, which were the only way any of them would get back home.

Meanwhile, a six year old me was on earth, fascinated, and - along with hundreds of millions of other people all over the world - watching it all happen on television. I remember it vividly, hearing the beeps and the crackles of earth-to-moon and moon-to-earth audio, and seeing a fuzzy but unmistakable image of an astronaut going down those steps. My parents, my brother and I watched it in our living room, on our black-&-white TV (we didn't have a color TV yet). People from my generation or older remember, and can tell you where they were and what time of night or day it was when they saw the "giant leap" on TV.
But even as we watched history being made on July 20, 1969, we all participated in another historic moment on earth, and most of us were unaware of its radical nature and fundamental importance for the coming decades: we were watching the first ever global live television broadcast.

Over the past fifty years, the communications technology that accompanied the Apollo mission has developed in ways no one could have imagined, so that now billions of people interact on a global level every day. People today develop and share multimedia content, and are able to "broadcast," "live" (in real time), in a manner accessible to the whole world, right from the palm of their hand.📲

This "giant leap" - for better and for worse - has transformed the global village into a global interactive network, a "global commons" with immense possibilities for discourse and learning, but also immense spaces for getting lost, and for the post-modern tribes to gather, define themselves, and wage war against one another.

...coming soon, more on this topic! 💻🔊📲📡🌐

Saturday, July 20, 2019

"Man on the Moon"

"Man on the moon! Whew... oh boy! Oh boy!"

~Walter Cronkite, CBS News television studio, 4:17 PM E.D.T., July 20, 1969

Friday, July 19, 2019

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Today was the funeral of Patrick Keats, Professor of English Literature at Christendom College, who recently died of cancer.

Christendom is the small American university with which I am affiliated, where I taught in the classroom for many years before my illness, and which my children now attend (John Paul recently graduated).

These are just a few words of farewell to Pat. It's all I can manage now. I'll write at greater length soon. I have more good memories of this superb man than I can begin to articulate at this time. 

I'm quite "behind" in the task of putting recent losses into writing. Another beloved colleague at our school, Kris Burns, passed away the day before my father. I have much to say in her honor too, when the storm-of-everything this year settles down a bit (I hope). Indeed, I haven't yet been able to write an adequate tribute to Dad. Perhaps it will all just come in bits and pieces. It's a lot easier to write theology or historical or biographical essays than it is to find the words to say "goodbye" to people one really cares about.

This difficulty remains even when one knows that the "goodbye" is not forever. It's not the last word.

Pat was my friend for over a quarter of a century. He was a great colleague, and a huge help to me personally in my own most difficult days. He was also a professor to the Janaro kids, and producer/director of theatrical productions in which they participated. 

In a small institution full of "large personalities," he was always focused on the students, the community, and his work, which he carried out cheerfully and - it seemed - tirelessly. He was also a loving husband and devoted father. He was a man of strong principle, balanced judgment, and discretion, with a fine sense of humor and - above all - abundant charity.

He was a pillar of our local community. It is not a formality to say that he will be greatly missed. 

Rest in peace, Pat. May God give you the unfading crown of glory. You served Him well. Our prayers remain with you always, and especially for your courageous wife Lily and the kids.

God's ways are mysterious. He Himself is the Infinite Mystery. But He is the Mystery of infinite goodness and love. He permits evil in the world, only so that the mystery of His love might work a greater good. This must be the truth; yet these are hard words for our small humanity. In the face of our own suffering, they leave us gasping for air. 

If all we had was an abstract theory, a metaphysical theodicy, we wouldn't even be able to begin to bear it. But we know that the love of God embraces us through the heart of Jesus Christ, who has taken all our sufferings upon Himself and made them His own. He goes before us, He accompanies us, He is with us in everything we endure; He is transforming us and calls us to the fullness of His love and joy.

To Him we entrust our friend and brother Pat Keats, in the hope of the resurrection.   

"The Lord is good to those who trust in Him, to the one that seeks Him" (Lamentations 3:25).

Thursday, July 18, 2019

To All Caregivers: THANK YOU!❤

I just want to shout out to those who care for the sick on this celebration of Saint Camillus. The care you provide is a blessing for the world. I have received a fair share of it, and I have watched you give care to people I love. My gratitude is beyond expression, but I extend it to all of you who dedicate yourselves to this merciful work. God bless you! #HealthcareWorkers #Nurses #Doctors #Caregivers #AllOfYou

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Worldliness" Fails to See the Goodness of Things

I have continued to ponder the distinction between the "attraction" for "worldly goods" which Saint Bonaventure identifies as the root of avarice, and the personal understanding and engagement of the things of space and time that largely constitutes the ordinary human vocation.

This is an important distinction that Bonaventure certainly recognizes. He articulates elsewhere his theology of material creation in terms of a highly original (Augustinian inspired) symbolic mystical realism. This unmistakably Catholic Christian realism about the goodness of all created things is a basic theme for Bonaventure (see e.g. Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum I:14-15, usually found in English translation as "The Journey of the Mind to God"). It is entirely different from pagan neoplatonism, gnostic spiritualism, and especially the dualism and vilification of material reality put forth by Bonaventure's contemporaries in the Albigensian sect.

Genuine Christian faith entails the conviction that created things are good. As humans, we are meant to be "attracted" by the good in creatures, drawn to desire and love them, and drawn toward God through them, drawn to love God preeminently, who is the source and fulfillment of the being and goodness of created things.

The problem is not "attraction" in itself. The problem is the mess that sin has made of our humanity. It is not that things themselves are evil; rather it is our sinful self-obsession, our drive to construct the foundation of our selves in things that we control by our own power, that skews our perception of their essential, gratuitous fullness.

We become "worldly" (and avaricious) insofar as we willingly blind ourselves to the reality of the world as the place where embodied persons give and receive love in a multitude of "incarnate" gestures and expressions. Our "worldly desire" perceives only "worldly goods," things only insofar as they are subject to our own grasping and manipulation.

Thus we do violence to the world God has created in the gift of His love. We covet, take, steal, hoard, violate, and destroy things because we refuse to receive them and give them. When we forget the gift of God, we cannot engage reality: we don't know how to "possess" things with freedom, to learn from them, deepen them by "collaborating" with their riches and marking them with the seal of our own personal creativity, and thus being able to give of ourselves through them. We are the ones who have brought evil and destruction into the world; we have made the world a deceitful, harmful, dangerous place.

But God loves the world. He loves us. The Father reveals the depths of this love by sending His Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh, who dwells among us, accompanies us, dies for us (and thus stays with us even through death) so He can raise us up, heal us, and transform us by joining us to Himself and drawing our hearts to Him.

In following Him we rediscover all the created things of the world in Him. We begin to see ourselves and all things as having their true meaning in Him and for Him. There is nothing reductive about this, because reality is ultimately personal and interpersonal. The encounter with the Person of Jesus is decisive because He fulfills and transcends (in infinite depth) every person and every thing.

In Him, our lives and everything on our earthly path is transfigured. Even though it doesn't often seem that way, as we trudge through the many difficult and lonely days in this life, we hold onto the truth in love and hope, through faith in Jesus who has gone before us in death to resurrection. Thus we learn to engage the world passionately, attentively, but with peace and joy in our hearts, because we know that Jesus Christ has saved the world.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Saint Bonaventure: "Follow the Poverty-Stricken Christ"

Every year, in the middle of July, when his feast day rolls around, I think, "Gosh, I haven't read Saint Bonaventure since... like... last year." So I look something up. I have some books - including a couple of those volumes in English that the Franciscans published years ago - on one of the few shelves in the house that actually stays organized.

The Seraphic Doctor, the great medieval Franciscan and contemporary of St Thomas Aquinas, can be appreciated in many theoretical ways, but we are missing something fundamental if we never get burned while reading him.

Bonaventure is a fire. He is like a burning bush. You wonder if you can look upon the flame in him and continue to live.

Maybe this is why I only read him once a year.

Here are words written seven and a half centuries ago that cut through the differences of history and context and speak directly to us today.

Below are some excerpts from chapter III of De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores, a short work written for the edification of the Poor Clares. I felt the heat from the fire of these words today. In their light I see what a hypocrite I am, what a mediocre half-hearted lukewarm Christian I really am. At the same time, they also awaken in me the desire to be changed. Bonaventure is emphasizing that defining accent of the Franciscan spirit: poverty. But he didn't use this sort of terminology; he simply preached about the poverty of Jesus.

Granted, his words are directed to cloistered nuns, but that doesn't mean that they have no relevance for people living in the world. Bonaventure is convinced that the example of Jesus should inspire not only consecrated persons, but all Christians to a love of poverty.

We argue and scheme and wring our hands about our society today, our social problems, and the "need for change." How often do we consider the possibility of cultivating in our own lives the simplicity, trust, and poverty of spirit that pervade the Gospel and the witness of the saints?

It is a possibility, because God makes it possible for us. We fall short because we fail to respond to His love for us. He wants to kindle a fire in us but we remain cold. And sad.

Bonaventure exhorts us to ponder the humanity of Jesus in meditative prayer. The more we remember this man who reveals and communicates the love of God, the more He will draw us to Himself, change us, set us aflame.

Excerpts below from chapter III of Bonaventure's small treatise for the Poor Clares - De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores - are given in bold type. My occasional comments are in regular (non-bold) type. Read his words carefully. Ponder what strikes you. Go to the Gospels themselves and meet the poor Christ, hear His calling, speak to Him from your heart, and let God have space to work within you.

"Christ was born poor, lived poor, and died poor. Realise and bear in mind that Christ gave you this wonderful example of poverty in order to induce you to become a friend of poverty. Our Lord Jesus Christ was so poor at birth that He had neither shelter, nor clothing, nor food. In lieu of a house He had to be content with a stable. A few wretched rags did duty for clothes. For food He had milk from the Virgin's breast. It was meditation on this poverty of Christ that roused the heart of St Paul and caused him to exclaim: 'You know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might be rich' (2 Corinthians 8:9).

"St Bernard, speaking of this same poverty, says: 'An eternal and copious abundance of riches existed in Heaven. Poverty, however, was not to be found there. It abounded and was superabundant on earth. Alas! Man did not know its worth. The Son of God, though, loved poverty, and desired it, and came down from Heaven and took it as His own possession in order to make it precious in our eyes' (Sermons I, 5).

[Bonaventure often cites Church Fathers from the first millennium such as Augustine and Gregory the Great, but he also draws deeply from the incomparable witness of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a relatively contemporary figure (12th century) who had a great influence on the evangelical renewal of the times, and who also has a lot to say to us. We will look at him next month; his feast is August 20.]

"All His life long, Jesus Christ Our Lord was an example of poverty... He was so poor that oftentimes He did not know which way to turn for a lodging. Frequently, He and His Apostles were compelled to wander out of the city and sleep where they could. It is with reference to such a happening that St Mark the Evangelist writes: 'Having viewed all things round about, when now the eventide was come, He went out to Bethany with the twelve' (Mark 11:7)... In similar strain St Matthew writes: "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head' (Matthew 8:20).

"Added to the poverty of His birth and life was the poverty of the death of the King of Angels... Look at His poverty as He dies. His executioners stripped and robbed Him of everything He possessed. He was robbed of His clothes, I repeat it, when the executioners 'divided His garments between them, and for His vesture cast lots' (cf Matthew 27:35, Psalm 22:19).

"He was robbed of body and soul, when as He succumbed to His most bitter sufferings His soul was separated from His body in the pangs of death. His persecutors deprived and robbed Him of His divine glory when they refused 'to glorify Him as God,' (cf Romans 1:21) and instead treated Him as a common criminal. 'They have stripped me of my glory,' complains holy Job in a moment of prophecy (cf Job 19:9).

"Drawing a lesson from the compelling example of Christ's poverty, St Bernard writes: 'Think of the poor man Christ! There is no house for Him at His birth, so they lay Him in a manger, between an ox and an ass. Look at Him wrapped in wretched swaddling clothes! Think of Him a fugitive on the rough road to Egypt! Think of Him riding on an ass! Think of His poverty as He hangs on the cross' (Sermons III, 1)."

Then the text invites us to consider our own anxiety over status and possessions, and how far removed this is from the poverty of Christ. We worry about temporal things. We are preoccupied with the concerns of this life. Our lives are so much taken up with grasping for worldly success and security, and fear of failure and deprivation. Why?

"Did you never read, did you never hear what Christ the Lord said of poverty to His Apostles? It occurs in the Gospel of St Matthew. 'Be not solicitous, therefore, saying, what shall we eat, or, what shall we drink. Your Father knows that you have need of all these things' (Mt 6:31-32)... [You are encouraged to be free of anxiety and to trust in God:] 'Cast, therefore, all your care upon Him, for He has care of you' (1 Peter 5:7).

"Since the fatherly care and solicitude of God for us is so intense, should not our anxious longing for temporal things cause us to marvel? Should it not astound us that we are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things? Why, when God occupies Himself with our welfare, do we trouble ourselves so about things of wealth and things of little concern?

"I can find no other explanation than that we have become avaricious. Avarice, avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation, has taken hold of us. We may assign no other reason than that we have turned away our affections from God, our Salvation. The fire of Divine Love has become extinguished in us. We have cooled. Love for God has frozen within us. If we were really fervent and had really stripped ourselves of earthly things we should follow the poverty-stricken Christ. Men when they become excessively hot are accustomed to strip themselves of their clothes. The proof of our want of love and of our great coldness is the attraction which worldly goods possess for us."

Obviously, those of us who live in the world might be perplexed about how to "manage" the "attraction to worldly goods" that seems inseparable from living a robust and serious human life, and fulfilling our responsibilities not only to ourselves but also to temporal history - to our families, our communities, our societies. Indeed, being a Christian in the world is complicated and "divided" and calls for the seemingly paradoxical posture of being in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world. 

I can't resolve that paradox. Part of the special grace of the calling of Bonaventure's Poor Clare nuns (and all those in consecrated life) is the radical simplicity of its form of life. Yet he feels the need to preach to them about worldliness and the dangers of "avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation."

Clearly, we are all called to cultivate self-discipline and the virtues. There is no place for mediocrity, for trying to "play it safe." We lay people are called to engage the realities of the world. Asceticism is necessary. Virtue is necessary.

But Bonaventure wants to remind all of us of the essential focus of every vocation: the love of God. We are made for God, and the things of this world are good and beautiful because they reflect God's glory. When we forget God, we lose the basic dynamic that guides the journey of life with all its achievements and sufferings. We fall into desperation and "are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things." 

We all struggle with this forgetfulness. The good news is that the Word who is God has become flesh so that He might dwell among us.

Jesus came to be with us, to accompany us through life and to die for us so that He could stay with us even in death. He frees us from sin and brings healing through His life and above all His sacrificial death on the Cross. His resurrection is our hope. In Jesus we "find" God in our lives, and "remember" Him again and again.

Saint Bonaventure therefore exhorts us all to follow Jesus Christ, to follow in a spirit of poverty and humility the poor and humble Christ.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Christina Grimmie: A Companionship that Never Ends

Remembering Christina Grimmie this month, with words from her most recent posthumously released song, "Hold Your Head Up." It's an upbeat song with a special kind of positive message, one that strikes me as founded on the hope for a companionship that never ends.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 11: Saint Benedict's Universal Feast Day

Happy Feast of Saint Benedict to all Benedictines, oblates, and the whole Benedictine spiritual family throughout the world!

Today commemorates the translation of St. Benedict's tomb and relics to the Abbey of Fleury in France in the year 660 (to protect them from Lombard invasions of Italy). The Abbey of Fleury was an important pilgrimage site for over a thousand years. Its monastic community was dispersed by the French Revolution but the monastery remained in existence throughout the 19th c. period of French anticlericalism. The community of monks was restored in the 20th century. The current Roman calendar marks this day as Benedict's feast to insure that it can be celebrated by the whole Church. The date of his death (March 21) always falls during Lent; nevertheless it remains a Solemnity on the Benedictine calendar and is a III class feast on the 1962 calendar followed by the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. Don't be confused. Just have a blessed and happy day!

We are well instructed by these words preached 11 years ago on this day by then-Pope Benedict XVI. On this feast, we pray for an abundance of grace to vivify his current "monastic" life of contemplation and hidden service of love: 

"St. Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, feast of St. Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Sun Sky"

Here is "Sun Sky," - abstract piece in digital medium. By JJ.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Long Live the Queens! (U.S. Women Rule the World Cup)

They did it!

Dang, this team is a great team.

When it comes to the world stage, the United States Women's National Team is, arguably, the "team of the decade," not only in the beautiful game of soccer, not only out of all U.S.A. teams, but just THE Team of the Decade. Period.

It's just my opinion. It's a little bit of what fans do, in sports, when they humorously put on a just-for-fun show of "smack talk." (So take it easy, Italian friends; this is all in the spirit of nice American fun. Capito?😉)

And, yes, I'm biased. Of course!

Note also that I said "the world stage" - which means international play, so don't be talkin' 'bout your New England Patriots here. (😉)

I'm also referring to exclusively team sports, not sports that have "team" and "individual" events (e.g. track, swimming, gymnastics - where we have seen some awesome individual and team performances).

Have I made sufficient qualifications? Probably not. Or perhaps too much? It's the occupational hazard of the philosopher: we can't say anything without a mountain of qualifications.

So I'll say it simply: FC United States Women's National Team is the Team of the Decade. They are the great team of international competition in the 2010-2019 era.

What makes a team "great"? Well, winning is certainly a big part of it. Skill is a big part of it. But, let me speak personally - as a fan, who was a hapless player of every team sport in my youth but who nevertheless kept trying, who had better luck with golf and distance running but didn't stick with those sports, whose best sport through the years has been fishing, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s (the significance of this should be obvious ... #SteelCurtain #Franco #MeanJoeGreene #FourSuperBowls #LetsGoBucs #Clemente #Stargell #WeAreFamily), who is now a happy fan of the sporting efforts and accomplishments of my children from basketball to volleyball to karate and - I'm happy to say - girls' soccer.

What makes a team "great"? Intangibles (all the little clutch plays that no one even notices). Dedication. Hard work. Cohesion.

And also, personalities (some inspiring, others peculiar or "colorful" - a great team is not the same thing as a choir of angels and saints). Their personalities are "on the table," but they know how to pull together. Between games and seasons, there can be friction even to the point of drama, as long as they are able to rise above it on the playing field (or "the pitch," as it's known in soccer).

Then there's a kind of indescribable magic that sparkles when they play together and that catches fire sometimes, unpredictably, often enough in the big moments of games, so that you're always on the edge of your seats. You know that anything can happen. Over the course of a decade, you find that you have collected a whole bunch of memories of epic, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments when beautiful, wonderful things happened.

A great team is exciting. They win big, but even when they lose, they pour their hearts out so that you can't help loving them even more. You also know that they'll be back.

Team of the Decade. Players come and go over the course of ten years, though there are usually a few who remain to carry the banner of continuity. Individual players have their various problems, opinions, situations, attitudes, whatever. But this is strictly about the game. It's about how they run and and pass and kick, how they play together, how they make things happen on the pitch.

The Janaro family enjoys watching sports, and we have had a lot of fun being fans. Not everybody likes every sport, but we do appreciate "the big stages," especially the Olympics and the World Cup.

In recent years, the women's soccer team has been consistently amazing and inspiring, from the dazzling comebacks and heartbreaking loss in the final of World Cup 2011 to Olympic gold in 2012 and then to back-to-back World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019. This year's team was a juggernaut. They were on the level of the 1927 New York Yankees, and they made sure their opponents knew it. I didn't think they were being cocky. They were confident and they enjoyed playing the game. They took their opponents seriously, so that even if they didn't play their best game, they found what it took to win.

Of course, the Washington Capitals' championship run in 2018 was our all-time sports high point as a family (even though not everyone likes hockey). Mom, John Paul, and Teresa even went to the victory celebration on the Mall. But over the course of the decade, the Caps (and the Nationals in baseball) have given us plenty of disappointments too.

The Women's soccer team has rocked the whole decade. We want to shout out a huge "thank you!" to all the champions past and present, to Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Christine Rampone, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo (hush! - she was an incredible, insanely good goalkeeper!), Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Kelley O'Hara, and to so many others (this is just a select list) including 24 year old Rose Lavelle who danced with the ball and then pounded it home with a brilliant left footer in the 69th minute of this year's final match.

We can look forward to seeing her, along with many other talented young players, in the future.

Congratulations to our United States Women's National Team. We don't have royalty in the U.S. government, but we (we the people!😉) are certainly free to bestow noble titles on those who have reminded us of the nobility and beauty of our humanity, of the richness of life even when we play.

With this in mind, only one thing remains to be said. This team rules; they have earned the honor of being called "Queens of Soccer."

Long live the Queens!