Sunday, June 20, 2021

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Father's Day, 2021. [The picture is of "Papa" reading to two of his granddaughters in 2012.] 

Today is the third Father's Day since my father died in 2019. I felt like "writing to him" nevertheless, not to be weird or anything, but trusting that in the great unity of Christ's body, the Church, some kind of "communication" remains possible and real - perhaps more real, more intimate, than we know:

Dear Dad/"Papa" - we miss you so much, but we know you are still close to us and continue to care for us. We continue to pray for you and carry you in our hearts with firm hope in Jesus Christ's victory, and His promise of eternal life to those who trust in Him and follow Him.

Please help Mom as her condition continues to weaken. Be with us as we try to accompany her in the time to come.

Dad, I feel so helpless, sometimes. I feel so confused. "Growing old" once seemed like a gentle thing, but it has its own mysterious inner pain and strangeness. Elders endure in silence so much traumatic change in their own capabilities and sometimes in their living environment. And their (50+ year-old) "children" are thrown into confusion, too. 

We "kids" don't know how to respond well to the sudden "neediness" you display. You were always there, always sources of love, attentiveness, and giving that we took for granted (like the sky and the earth). We did not know how much we had failed (in many ways) to love you and be grateful for you in all the days of our lives. In the end, in front of your most dramatic expression of your own "need" - your own fragile humanity - we prove to be weak companions. We try to "solve your problems," but we are afraid to suffer-with-you in the silence of that which is beyond all solutions of this world.

We don't even know "how" to suffer with you. We don't know "from within" these last steps of the human experience (probably because we are not yet "ready" for them), but still we want to stay with you even if it's awkward, inadequate, apparently "useless." Perhaps it is by embracing our own sense of inadequacy - by suffering it - that we draw closer to you. In this kind of suffering, prayer becomes very real - prayer becomes like breathing.

Now, I don't know "how" to help my mother, how to love her, how to accept that there is so little that I can do for her. I'll do what I can ... and offer everything to God (though I'm a mess). I go to Jesus and beg Him to lift us all up in His mercy (and to keep me from falling apart).

Dad, I love you. Our Mom was the light of your life. Help us to care for her now.

May the Lord bring us all together forever, at the end of all our journeys and labors and suffering, when every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more separations, no more agony and incomprehension, no more grief, no more sorrow, no more death.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Life and Death and Everything in Between

My 82-year-old mother's physical health has begun to decline more precipitously in the last several weeks. Though there doesn't seem to be any unusually imminent cause for concern that she is dying, she has been considerably weakened since being hospitalized for an infection last month.

After she broke her ankle in October 2019, she moved out of the condo in Arlington, Virginia to an Assisted Living Facility in the same area. It was supposed to be "temporary," until we were able to arrange for her to live with us in Front Royal (some 70 miles West). But Mom - who has long suffered from various chronic illnesses - was unable to recover her mobility after the injury. Then the COVID-19 crisis derailed everyone's plans. Meanwhile, Mom fared pretty well in her private residence at the facility (assisted by its ample staff) and decided she wanted to stay there permanently.

We are used to our mother finding creative ways to adapt her lifestyle in the face of decades of various illnesses. But now - although her mind remains alert when she is awake - her physical condition is much worse than it has ever been. Her cardiovascular system is weakening. She is an octogenarian, of course, who has never had a strong (physical) heart (whereas - as anyone who knows her will agree - her personal heart , the source of her human vitality, her freedom, and her capacity to love, has always been as strong as a lion). A heart condition may have something to do with why she fell, lost consiousness, and broke her ankle, and why she lacked strength for rehab. 

Right now Mom is very weak and exhausted physically, and the trajectory of her condition - especially since her recent hospital visit - suggests that she doesn't have a long time left with us. We are satisfied with her medical team, and have a good rapport with them. Right now she still eats well, and takes an especially lively interest in her grandchildren. But she sleeps most of the day, and can only handle short visits from us (and brief phone calls). Her most frequent words to us are, "I love you." I think that her great soul is finding peace, after a long life and many struggles - fighting the good fight, and so often rising to the occasion despite her own pain and the hindrances of her many illnesses. She still needs lots of prayers, of course, and all the love we can give her.

Personally, I find myself in a bewildering place in these days, with emotions of sorrow and anxiousness but also joy and expectation. I'm "stretched" across several generations of my own family. My mother is suffering, and this concern dominates my emotional space, but also mixes in with other happenings. On Tuesday, Eileen and I will celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Our daughter Lucia recently got engaged, and preparations for a wedding next June are already in the works. Then, of course, the granddaughter is all set to make her "grand" debut, out of the womb and into the light of day. John Paul's wife Emily is due around July 10. I will be "Papa" (grandfather) to this new baby who might live to see the 22nd century. 

I'll write more about these events as they occur. They are all important. They are changes for all of us (along with the "changes" I am discovering in myself as I proceed to transition into the stage of life that I call "Young Seniors"). I find myself in front of "life and death and everything in between," which is an awkward way of expressing this emotionally dizzy condition. I am grateful, overall, because there is so much reason for gratitude.

Meanwhile, I am trying to prepare myself to accept my mother's death when it comes (which could be in a week or a couple of months or a year or more), and also to prepare for whatever she may need between now and then. We don't know how her remaining time will unfold, and what kind of care she may need. (I pray that she will be will be with us long enough to kiss her great-granddaughter, and even spend some time with her.)

I said that I'm trying to "prepare myself" for all this, but I don't know how. This is a time when the Mystery who holds our lives is palpably evident precisely in what is most profoundly transcendent, what is most beyond our comprehension. We understand particular things and do particular actions, but it is clear that these efforts (though necessary) are inadequate. Ultimately a mysterious personal event is going to take place for my mother that will "complete" her life in all its facets, drawing her to fulfillment, but also involve that strange and painful "rupture" from this life, from being "with us" in this world. Through faith, hope, and love we know that we don't "lose" her ultimately - but to "find her again" we will have to endure the suffering of human separation and its process of grief.

This is something I cannot possibly control. For the moment, I do what I can, and then I pray. Where else can I go? Without God, the extremity of the end of life would appear absurd. Nihilism would be inevitable. Even with faith (and erudite theological explanations), it can be very hard to avoid feeling deflated and discouraged when the life of someone you love is being stripped away.

Suffering and death drive down to our very bones the tragic aspect of life, even for us who firmly believe that this tragedy is not the end of the story

We believe that Something Has Happened in human history, not to take away physical death nor remove suffering but to transform them from within, to fashion out of them the ultimate ways of love, the path through which what is mortal is clothed in immortality.

God did not make death. He planned to draw us to Himself in a more simple and tender fashion, still mysterious of course, but in a way that we could have followed like children who grow through education (in the most profound sense of the word). 

But the human race rejected God's way. We turned away from the Mystery, and chose instead to exalt ourselves by our own power, by grasping at the illusion that we could define ourselves and control our relationships with one another and the world. We, who were made for the Infinite, chose to put our trust in our own finite, limited power. It was the original sin by which the human race "nullified" God's "original gift," and shrunk away from the true human destiny, impoverishing humanity for all who came after, rendering human existence an apparently insoluble riddle.

God did not make death. We humans - His children - chose death at the beginning of human history. We chose the limits, the frustration, the pain, the solitude of death - and this tragedy became our heritage from generation to generation. We have no way of "fixing" ourselves.

But God continued to love immensely the human family He created. He only permitted us to stray because He had a more wonderful way of restoring and renewing us. God did this not by "taking away" the experience of death. Rather, God took human flesh, He entered our broken history, He became our brother and He Himself suffered death.

He passed through death and beyond death. He rose to eternal life, and we are called to join him "if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:17).

It's not easy to remember all of this in the midst of the seemingly overwhelming and "totalizing" experience of dying, or of losing a loved one. But it remains true. It may not always comfort us (though sometimes it will). Nevertheless we have to hang on to this mystery of salvation, these transforming events and the One who has accomplished them. Prayer is the way to "hang on" - even allowing our indigence, our agony, to become prayer. God is our Father. He loves us. He hears us, He is working, He is bringing forth a greater love from our powerlessness, our nothingness. 

We will still have much grief and many sorrows. It's part of being human in this present world. But the Lord didn't say to us, "Do not suffer." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Luke 12:7, Rev 1:17, et alia).

In the hard moments, the sorrowful moments, the incomprehensible moments, the desperate moments, the final moments, God is with us.

He is with us in the anguish, the awful solitude, the flesh and blood of all of it.

He is Jesus, the Father's Eternal Word and the son of Mary, our God and our brother. He was born in Bethlehem, walked all the roads of our human life, worked a trade, spoke God's word with a human voice, felt hunger and thirst, healed the blind, the lame, and the sick. He revealed God's love and was put to death by us because we preferred our own narrow insipid loves, our covetousness, our grasp for our own power to control life and shrink it to our own measure. But His love was greater. He bore all our sins, our sorrows, our sufferings. He died, but in dying He destroyed the power of death, and rose in a transformed, indestructible, but also fully human life. He lives, and draws us to Himself, to eternal life, to a New Creation where God will be all, in all.

All of this is real. It remains real even when we don't feel it, even when it seems strange and incomprehensible. We must hold on to Jesus, and let Him hold us. Jesus will carry us through.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Sweet Start to the Day!πŸ˜‰

As Jim Gaffigan says, "No one wants to admit that they had CAKE for breakfast. That's why muffins were invented!"πŸ˜‹

Sunday, June 13, 2021

It's Good to See the Steeple of Our Church...

Happy Sunday! Summer is in the air. ⛅️🌳

The future is in God's hands. At the present moment, I am grateful to see the steeple of our church regularly again. 

Circumstances still vary significantly in different places in the world regarding the status of COVID-19 and the continuation of public health restrictions, but in our mid-Atlantic region in the USA most of them have been lifted. We have been able to go with our whole physical persons to Sunday Mass, to worship together, to sing the responses in the liturgy, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist in the "fullness" of the sacrament of His love. 

He has sustained us through our trials, remains with us, and gives us hope that the future - whatever it may bring - is the road that takes us to our Father's house.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Pearl of Splendor

Just as the Mother of God is the unique human companion of her Son Jesus in His earthly mission and in her share in His glory, so also His particular feasts in the liturgical calendar are usually followed by days dedicated to Mary and her singular participation in His saving love. For the Saturday, June 12 celebration of the "Immaculate Heart of Mary," the Pope had another brief, beautiful reflection posted on Twitter and Instagram in various languages.

Here is what we read in English: “Mary’s heart is like a pearl of incomparable splendor, formed and smoothed by patient acceptance of God’s will through the mysteries of Jesus meditated in prayer” (Pope Francis).

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Boundless Love of the Heart of Jesus

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus allows us to dwell with particular focus on the ineffable love of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, that He offers to the Father and to us through His humanity. The Son loves us with His human Heart so as to accomplish our redemption and to "incorporate" us into His love for the Father.

The love of the Heart of Jesus saves us and empowers us as "adopted" sons and daughters in God's kingdom. 
The foundation of Christian life is God Incarnate, who touches our humanity concretely with His love. The Gospel text for the day (John 19:31-37) presents the love of Christ's Heart as the radical source of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Indeed, through the Eucharist, He Himself reaches us here and now as the One who loves us and gives Himself wholly to us.

The boundless love of the Heart of Jesus "surpasses knowledge," and 'pours out' all through history to accomplish the Divine plan. He draws us, frees us from our sins, renews us, incorporates us into His Mystical Body, and engenders a new kind of love in us for God our Father and for one another as brothers and sisters.

Here are some texts from the liturgy that struck me especially:

In the SECOND READING, Saint Paul speaks to the Ephesians: “I kneel before the Father, whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

The PREFACE to the Eucharistic Prayer bears the title: THE BOUNDLESS CHARITY OF CHRIST. "It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For raised up high on the Cross, he gave himself up for us with a wonderful love and poured out blood and water from his pierced side, the wellspring of the Church's Sacraments, so that, won over to the open heart of the Savior, all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation."

Both options for the COMMUNION ANTIPHON allude to Christ's life-changing, transforming love as incarnate and sacramental:

"Thus says the Lord: Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. Streams of living water will flow from within the one who believes in me" (Cf. John 7:37-38). 

Or: "One of the soldiers opened his side with a lance, and at once there came forth blood and water" (John 19:34).

The PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION expresses our desire that Jesus's love might change the way we see all of reality, the way we love the persons through whom He calls us to grow and move forward in this life's journey toward fulfillment in Him: 

"May this sacrament of charity, O Lord, 

make us fervent with the fire of holy love, 

so that, drawn always to your Son, 

we may learn to see him in our neighbor. 

Through Christ our Lord."

The COLLECT for the day invokes the "overflowing measure of grace" that comes from this open, total gift of this human heart - the Heart of Jesus - and "the wonders of his love for us."

On social media, Pope Francis encourages us to have confidence in Him: I invite each one of you to look with confidence to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to repeat often, especially during this month of June: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, transform our hearts and teach us to love God and our neighbor with generosity” (Pope Francis).

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie After Five Years: An Indestructible Love

πŸ’šAfter five years, Christina Victoria Grimmie's light shines on, gently and discretely, growing brighter, bringing warmth and strength to many wounded hearts, and still "reaching" new people, "meeting them" and touching their lives. 

The love that animated her life, through which she gave herself in the moments of all her days, right up to the end, is an indestructible love. It is the love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" - the love that "never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).πŸ’šπŸ’š

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!

If you're from our area of the mid-Atlantic region in USA, I know you've seen too much of the "17 Year Cicada Invasion." I apologize. Others may have heard that these bugs are everywhere! After 17 years of preparation, they finally emerge from shells like this one (it's pretty cool for a picture, I think). They are swarming all over the place during these brief weeks of their adult life, presumably mating, while they make noise and generally annoy human beings (otherwise they are harmless). Soon they will start dying everywhere. It will be a feast for Reepicheep if she has a taste for 17-year cicadas. 

I remember them from 1987 (when I was a grad student) and 2004 (when I was still an active teaching professor and father of a bunch of little kids who must have been spooked out - I don't recall any particular kid crises but they doπŸ˜‰). Now it's 2021. The next generation of this breed of cicadas will appear in 2038. 

I hope I'm still around in 2038, but NOT because I have any particular desire to see these bugs again!😝

Monday, June 7, 2021

Can We Build a "Plastic Paradise"?

We are passing through the end of an epoch, a time in history which has for several hundred years self-consciously called itself "the modern world." By this was meant not simply the "most recent" period of history, but in fact the decisive period of history, the period by which all events of prior history were to be measured and valued. The modern epoch saw history as a progression that was fulfilled in itself, in particular, in the rationalist, self-sufficient human being of the post-Enlightenment Western world.

Here, it seemed, humans had finally become conscious of themselves in a fully adult way, at the center of a world divested of all mystery, penetrated by human knowledge and rendered malleable to the benevolent energy of human creativity. We appeared destined to create a thoroughly "anthropocentric" milieu, a world entirely subject to our power to master its resources and shape them in the service of our ideas about humanity's advancement and our conception of what it takes to satisfy human needs and desires. We were prepared to construct a "plastic paradise" from the raw material of an otherwise meaningless reality. We considered it our responsibility to organize the stuff of the material universe in a rational, meaningful, and satisfying way.

Hmm, well... it's becoming clear to everyone that things are a bit more complicated than all that.

In these days, we have lived through the sudden chaotic spread of COVID-19 and the only partially successful, tenuous efforts to stop it. We also see the continual uncovering of political and social tensions that modernity naively thought had been resolved: the persistence of racism, militant forms of nationalism and other versions of partisan divisiveness, brutal wars, genocides, millions of refugees in desperate conditions, human trafficking on an enormous scale, and - among the affluent and "comfortable" - an ongoing dissatifaction with life in general, increasing isolation, and an ever-more-complicated obscurity regarding what it means to be human, and what constitutes the uniqueness of human personal identity. 

These have only been some of the more recent circumstances indicating that the "modern" project (which is in the irreversible process of falling apart) has lacked something essential for an adequate relationship between the human being and reality as a whole. Nevertheless the ideological narrative of modernity, with its promises of inevitable and benevolent "progress," has been enacting the drama of its final death scenes on an epic scale. For more than a century, the dominant pretentions of the modern West have spread throughout the world and have been generalized into a global mentality even as their apparent coherence has been imploding. 

We can recognize all of this without being reactionaries. We must affirm the many wonderful, unprecidented positive achievements of the modern epoch, and their unique contribution to human history. The ideals of human dignity, freedom, and progress - as well as the hope for a better future and a more fraternal, peaceful world - must continue to inspire us. But realism comes first.

We must face the fact that human life as a whole - lived out within the context of a greater reality - is much more profound than our manipulations and our ideological schemes. We have acquired vast amounts of information about the world and learned to subject things to human needs in a way that has genuinely improved life (in certain respects) for countless people. Yet we find that solving problems inevitably creates a new context that contains possibilities for new problems. These new problems rapidly rise up to confront us. Presuming our own mastery over reality, we change some things (for better and for worse), but mostly we rearrange the elements of our environment in a way that is beneficial in some respects but that cannot resolve or eliminate all problems, much less the dramatic, challenging, and arduous nature of human existence. Sometimes we presume to "fix" small problems but in the process we unwittingly create monstrous new problems. Thus we live in a world of technological enhancement thanks to the processes of harnessing energy from the earth's resources. We also live in a world of enhanced warfare, of weapons of mass destruction, of nuclear arsenals - as well as a rapidly corrupting and dangerously damaged natural environment.

We must realize that reality is not simply "plastic," but has an essential givenness and opens up to signify an ever greater Mystery, which we are invited to contemplate and collaborate with. We are called not to the absolute mastery of rationalist domination, but to intelligent, wise, discerning service to the truth, goodness, and beauty in the world.

How are we to carry out this service in the emerging new epoch, in the midst of people (including ourselves) with enormous ambitions wielding all the vast power that has been unleashed? There are no prepackaged solutions or easy answers to this question. We need to grow in our humanity, in an authentic awareness of our being human persons called to live in communion, and as caretakers and collaborators in the development of the rich potential and manifold fruitfulness of the material universe that has been entrusted to us. We certainly need human reason's practicality and ingenuity - now more than ever - but these must be more fully integrated within the whole scope of our intelligence, with its capacity for wonder, attentiveness to signs of meaning and value, and humility and patience as we journey over the mysterious paths of life. We need to seek wisdom, not as a conquest of the world by our own power and our urge to dominate and control reality, but as integrated personal insight for which we work with discipline and sacrifice, acquiring what we can while also hoping to receive the deeper wisdom that we need for the fulfillment of our lives - to receive it as a gift. 

This is an arduous task, especially for those of us who are accustomed to the illusion of unrestricted dominance over things by the power of our material wealth and our access to what we expect to be easy and infallible technological means to construct our fantasies and solve our problems. Have we ever really trusted this false sense of control? Look at the deep anxiety that gnaws away our insides even as we desperately distract ourselves from it with displays of vanity and false celebrations of our own power and apparent outward success. COVID has given many of us a taste (a reminder) of our own fragility. Perhaps we can set off on a new path.

Let us make a new beginning in the search for a truly adequate wisdom, and if necessary let us begin again and again each day without becoming discouraged. Though we must never give up, we should not be surprised if we are required to endure new difficulties and fresh setbacks in the years ahead.

Indeed, this world that is not "plastic" is also not Paradise. It is a world where the line between good and evil passes through every human heart, which will therefore never be perfected entirely by any human technical activity. It is a world in need of something it cannot give itself. Indeed, we are people in need of something we cannot engender within ourselves by any power we possess or knowledge we acquire.

After all, Paradise has been lost, and in any case was never meant to be the definitive fulfillment of creation. But in the face of mounting dangers and uncertainty, and all the cumulative wreckage of the past, we can still maintain a most firm hope. We know that the way forward passes through great trials and obscurity, but also abundant gifts which bring healing and transformation. We know that our path is the path of redemption.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Remembering "Tank Man"

June 4, 1989. Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. 

(Never Forget.)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Uganda "Martyrs Day": A Time to Grow in Faith

Since the feast of Corpus Christi is moved to Sunday on the USA's calendar, we deferred to the weekday liturgical texts and their particular feasts. Thus we shared once again in what is a very special holiday for Catholics in East Africa. 

The Uganda Martyrs are commemorated today, the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow royal pages on June 3, 1886. There are also other martyrs during this period who are grouped into today's feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the Beatification proceedings in the 1920s. 

(The image here is the official icon from the canonization of 1962.)

These martyrs are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years. Ordinarily, millions of pilgrims come to the Shrine at Namugongo (build on the place where the young martyrs gave their lives). But for the second consecutive year, the live, in-person celebration was drastically limited by public gathering restrictions related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Only 200 representative pilgrims were present at the Shrine for this years celebration, while millions more participated via television or internet-streaming. Uganda has (for Africa) a relatively sophisticated communications infrastructure. I myself participated in the Martyrs Day celebration "in real time" in 2019 from my home in the USA by way of Uganda NewsTV's YouTube channel. See this post HERE for an account of that experience, which seemed quite remarkable at the time; little did I imagine how crucial these media connections would soon become for Ugandans and everyone else, not only for holidays but for every day - for months and months at a time - to facilitate even our sense of local ecclesial unity in a time of crisis.

For Ugandans, who are so close to the memory of these martyrs, being confined to a mediated celebration "from a distance" was probably a deeper suffering than anything I can imagine. As a first-worlder who grew up in comfort and is well-accustomed to "watching life on television," I wonder if my own humanity is sufficiently vital and focused to really appreciate this kind of enforced remoteness from a sacred celebration so interwoven with one's own life and Christian identity (such as Martyrs Day is for Ugandan Catholics). Still, whatever the difficulty, the media resources clearly were a help for them this year.

In his homily, the bishop who celebrated the liturgy this year at Namugongo expressed the sorrow and also the meaning and value of bearing the burdens of what is (let us first-worlders not forget) still an ongoing global epidemic:

"This year, we assemble under exceptional circumstances. A slim number of the faithful are here physically. The multitudes are at home in virtual attendance. Not that they wished to stay away and watch television or listen to radios or indeed switch on social media platforms. No, it is because the Covid-19 pandemic has dictated and forced us into this terrible situation. We look like the dismembered body of Christ. We are scattered, but it would not be right to say we are in disarray." Rather, "in faith let us embrace this opportunity as guidance from the Holy Spirit that we should all spiritually internalise the example set for us by the Uganda Martyrs, that is, their deep faith, deep charity and of loving God to the point of shedding blood" (Bishop Silverus Jjumba of the Diocese of Masaka, presiding at the liturgy at the Namugongo Shrine, June 3, 2021).

Here is the Collect Prayer for the feast day:

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Light and Colors of June

Ah, plants.🌱 They don't change from year to year, and yet they always surprise!πŸ™‚πŸŒΏ 

Below, from left to right, we have (1) reddish tinted peony; (2) and (3) “mock orange” blossoms - which means that we won’t get any oranges here; (4) “witch-hazel” buds, which will flower later in the year; (5) out-of-control vines on a lush green maple tree; (6) white rhododendron flowers, which bloom later than the more exotic-looking purple ones.πŸŒ³πŸ’

Finally, at the bottom, there is a brief video from yours truly, who couldn't believe it was still light at 9:00 PM. The "Summer Season" has begun (broadly speaking), but I love especially these bright evenings before it gets too hot.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Saint Justin "Martyr" Witnesses to the Truth of Jesus Christ

My "Conversion Story" in the January 2014 issue of Magnificat was dedicated to the saint we honor today, known to history as "Saint Justin Martyr." It was a long time ago ... a phrase which applies in more than one way here (relatively speaking). 

For Justin, it was nearly nineteen centuries ago. He is the first Christian philosopher, and one of the first Church Fathers to pass on a substantial body of writing, as an apologist and as a descriptive witness to the already “traditional” liturgical and sacramental practice of the second century Church. His writings give further support to our conviction that the Church of Jesus was “Catholic” from the very beginning.

Clearly, Justin was an ancient Christian witness. He comes to us from “from a long time ago.” But, as I said above, there is another sense of a “long time ago” connected with the article I am presenting below. January 2014 has started to feel (in the context of the brevity of a single lifetime) like it was a long time ago. So much has happened in life since then. Still, there are things that remain consistent. Among them is the fact that I still write this monthly column of conversion stories for Magnificat - nearly a hundred have been published thus far, about people from every place, every historical period, every cultural background, people diverse in every way but all sharing a common humanity and all encountering the same Person, Jesus, from whom they received the fullness of life.

After nearly eight years of writing this column, I still find these stories fascinating and enriching.

Here is the conversion story of Saint Justin:

Saint Justin Martyr gives us a personal account of his conversion in the second century. He shows us that from earliest times, the appeal of Jesus corresponded to the most urgent desires of human reason and the human heart. In the first chapter of an authentic second century account called The Dialogue with Trypho, Justin gives his testimony.

Justin was born around the year 100 in Syria, from pagan ancestry. At an early age, he dedicated himself to the task of philosophy. To become a philosopher in late antiquity was not an academic exercise. It meant a dedication of one’s self to the search for truth. The young Justin perceived in the depths of his soul the need for the ultimate truth, the desire to lay hold of “the reason which governs all.”

He followed several different philosophers, but found that none of them understood the meaning of life. Then the Platonists awakened him to the possibility of a Mystery that transcends material things. He concluded that the meaning of life could only be found by escaping from the physical world and raising the mind to the contemplation of Divinity.

And then something completely unexpected happened to the young philosopher. It was his custom to walk alone by the sea so that he could devote his mind to the solitary effort of finding God. But on one of these walks, he met a Christian. This encounter would change Justin’s whole life. The Christian convinced him that the human mind could never know the mystery of God by its own power. The truth was that God had spoken, and revealed and given Himself in human history.

What is striking is that not only was Justin convinced by the discussion (which he represents in some detail in the Dialogue). His heart was drawn through this encounter with the Christian. He perceived, by grace, a way of understanding and living that was new: “But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me” (Dialogue 1).

It is also clear from another of Justin’s works, the Second Apology, that the Christians had already touched him by their witness of martyrdom, even before his decisive encounter with the man by the sea. Here he tells us that while he was still a Platonist, he heard many false accusations about the Christians, such as the common charge that they killed people in rituals and ate their flesh. But then he saw how the Christians had no fear of death or any other tortures, and he concluded even then that Christians couldn’t possibly be evil (see II Apology, XII). He was struck with wonder by the freedom of Christians, and their attachment to Christ even in the face of death.

Thus, Justin embraced God's gift of Himself in Jesus Christ and joined the “friends of Christ,” the Church. He went to Rome, where he proclaimed Christ as the true philosophy. The philosophers of the past had only fragments of truth. Jesus revealed the whole truth in Himself, and thus fulfilled the human search for wisdom and happiness. Saint Justin’s writings preserve precious testimony to the life and worship of the second century Church, and he earned his surname through his martyrdom in the year 165.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, / as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

God is Love. God has come to save us and share with us His ineffable Life. God wants us to be with Him forever.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Flowers

As we head into this last weekend in May, it's time for FRIDAY FLOWERS!!🌹🌼 The white peony is blooming in the neighborhood, as are the rose bushes. Those pink field flowers too, and - lastly - some kind of tree. End of May pretty.☺️

Thursday, May 27, 2021

How We Become RICH In The Holy Spirit

On Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis gave a very significant homily on the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Advocate. These words - especially the "three points of advice" that the Spirit gives us on our daily vocational path - point the way forward for us as Christians who live for the glory of Christ in the Church and in the world today. Here are selections in bold text, from the Vatican website.

The Paraclete is the Comforter. All of us, particularly at times of difficulty like those we are presently experiencing due to the pandemic, look for consolation. Often, though, we turn only to earthly comforts, ephemeral comforts that quickly fade. Today, Jesus offers us heavenly comfort, the Holy Spirit, who is “of comforters the best” (Sequence). What is the difference? The comforts of the world are like a pain reliever: they can give momentary relief, but not cure the illness we carry deep within. They can soothe us, but not heal us at the core. They work on the surface, on the level of the senses, but hardly touch our hearts. Only someone who makes us feel loved for who we are can give peace to our hearts. The Holy Spirit, the love of God, does precisely that. He comes down within us; as the Spirit, he acts in our spirit. He comes down “within the heart”, as “the soul’s most welcome guest” (ibid). He is the very love of God, who does not abandon us; for being present to those who are alone is itself a source of comfort....

Let us go another step. We too are called to testify in the Holy Spirit, to become paracletes, comforters. The Spirit is asking us to embody the comfort he brings. How can we do this? Not by making great speeches, but by drawing near to others. Not with trite words, but with prayer and closeness. Let us remember that closeness, compassion and tenderness are God’s “trademark”, always. The Paraclete is telling the Church that today is the time for comforting. It is more the time for joyfully proclaiming the Gospel than for combatting paganism. It is the time for bringing the joy of the Risen Lord, not for lamenting the drama of secularization. It is the time for pouring out love upon the world, yet not embracing worldliness. It is more the time for testifying to mercy, than for inculcating rules and regulations. It is the time of the Paraclete! It is the time of freedom of heart, in the Paraclete.

The Paraclete is also the Advocate. ... for he is “the spirit of truth” (John 15:26). He does not take our place, but defends us from the deceits of evil by inspiring thoughts and feelings. He does so discreetly, without forcing us: he proposes but does not impose. The spirit of deceit, the evil one, does the opposite: he tries to force us; he wants to make us think that we must always yield to the allure and the promptings of vice. Let us try to accept three suggestions that are typical of the Paraclete, our Advocate. They are three fundamental antidotes to three temptations that today are so widespread.

The first advice offered by the Holy Spirit is, “Live in the present”. The present, not the past or the future. The Paraclete affirms the primacy of today, against the temptation to let ourselves be paralyzed by rancour or memories of the past, or by uncertainty or fear about the future. The Spirit reminds us of the grace of the present moment. There is no better time for us: now, here and now, is the one and only time to do good, to make our life a gift. Let us live in the present!

The Spirit also tells us, “Look to the whole”. The whole, not the part. The Spirit does not mould isolated individuals, but shapes us into a Church in the wide variety of our charisms, into a unity that is never uniformity. The Paraclete affirms the primacy of the whole. There, in the whole, in the community, the Spirit prefers to work and to bring newness. Let us look at the apostles. They were all quite different. They included, for example, Matthew, a tax collector who collaborated with the Romans, and Simon called the zealot, who fought them. They had contrary political ideas, different visions of the world. Yet once they received the Spirit, they learned to give primacy not to their human viewpoints but to the “whole” that is God’s plan. Today, if we listen to the Spirit, we will not be concerned with conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and innovators, right and left. When those become our criteria, then the Church has forgotten the Spirit. The Paraclete impels us to unity, to concord, to the harmony of diversity. He makes us see ourselves as parts of the same body, brothers and sisters of one another. Let us look to the whole! The enemy wants diversity to become opposition and so he makes them become ideologies. Say no to ideologies, yes to the whole.

The third advice of the Spirit is, “Put God before yourself”. This is the decisive step in the spiritual life, which is not the sum of our own merits and achievements, but a humble openness to God. The Spirit affirms the primacy of grace. Only by emptying ourselves, do we leave room for the Lord; only by giving ourselves to him, do we find ourselves; only by becoming poor in spirit, do we become rich in the Holy Spirit. This is also true of the Church. We save no one, not even ourselves, by our own efforts. If we give priority to our own projects, our structures, our plans for reform, we will be concerned only about effectiveness, efficiency, we will think only in horizontal terms and, as a result, we will bear no fruit. An “-ism” is an ideology that divides and separates. The Church is human, but it is not merely a human organization, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus brought the fire of the Spirit to the earth and the Church is reformed by the anointing of grace, the gratuity of the anointing of grace, the power of prayer, the joy of mission and the disarming beauty of poverty. Let us put God in first place!

Holy Spirit, Paraclete Spirit, comfort our hearts. Make us missionaries of your comfort, paracletes of your mercy before the world. Our Advocate, sweet counsellor of the soul, make us witnesses of the “today” of God, prophets of unity for the Church and humanity, and apostles grounded in your grace, which creates and renews all things.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Father Who Loves Us

In the face of every obstacle and difficulty, we have reason for hope. The Gospel is "good news" for humanity, for each one of us. We must remember this goodness, let our lives be embraced by it, and bear witness to it.

In this vision of evangelical joy and its significance for every person, the Popes in my lifetime have remained remarkably consistent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Power, Pandemics, and "Lyme Disease Awareness Month"


COVID remains the epidemic of particular concern in these days and weeks. Yet the month of May is still "Lyme Disease Awareness Month." I hesitate to say much about this mysterious disease that has cast a long shadow over a great portion of my adult life. I don't want to scare anyone, because my peculiar condition dates back to the late 1980s and to extensive exposure to ticks while trekking through the woods of my beautiful Shenandoah Valley and this portion of the Appalachian Mountains called the Blue Ridge.

But there was little or no "Lyme Disease Awareness" back in the '80s (outside of New England), and I was particularly incautious in some of my youthful adventures. There was no practical possibility for the initial signs of the infection to be diagnosed or properly treated, and by the time the more perplexing stage of the disease had developed and (in my case) become debilitating, I could only fight it into what is (I suppose) "remission," and follow what is in some ways a more subdued lifestyle so as to keep it there.

It hasn't been easy. Doors closed in some areas of my life, but windows opened. The condition has been "manageable," and although it has brought some external limitations and some sorrow, these are small in the light of the many joys of my years since 2008. Here I speak for myself only. Many people suffer far more than me, and my heart goes out to them.

We still don't know much about Lyme Disease, but we know a lot more than we used to, and we are more "aware."

So remember to be aware! It's Springtime, which means check for ticks after outdoor activities; if you develop early symptoms of infection, get treated with antibiotics as soon as possible, and you will very probably be fine. It seems to me that, for whatever reasons (possibly immune system related, possibly with a genetic basis?), many people get the Lyme bacteria from tickbites but never develop any significant symptoms, or only very mild symptoms. The medical community still has lots to learn, and there is important research work being done. To become more aware of Lyme Disease, resources are available from places like the Global Lyme Alliance (click HERE).

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in some places in the world. Many parts of the United States of America, however, appear to be getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. Over 50% of the adult population in the USA is fully vaccinated, and numerous States are revising or even lifting entirely their complicated structures of legal prohibitions, restrictions and public health "recommendations" regarding gatherings, social distancing, wearing masks, etc.

The Governor of Virginia is removing most restrictions effective May 28th, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend. People are looking forward to the prospect of their lives getting "back to normal," which is understandable. But the consequences of this whole experience will take some time to work themselves out. 

Really, the Pandemic and its global social repercussions have been just one particularly intense manifestation of the tumultuous transitional period of human history we are all living through. Having accumulated an enormous quantity of information on the processes of the material world, humans of the emerging new epoch have taken the reigns of material power into their hands in an unprecedented way. COVID-19 has pointed out that unpredictable consequences can arise from our use of material power - in this case, that our construction of a vast and interconnected technologically-driven infrastructure can facilitate the unexpected, rapid spread of new diseases. 

Suffice it to say, we should recognize the fact that technological development will not generate utopia. No doubt, we will continue to learn that the undeniable goods of material development will also give rise to new and complex problems. We cannot deny that the increasing crisis involving the global ecosystem continues to loom large over the world, demanding attention not only from scientific techniques but also from a deeper human wisdom.

No matter how extensive and gigantic our power becomes, no matter how clever our technological manipulations, we will never be the self-sufficient "masters of the universe" that some people dreamed about in the anthropocentric philosophies of recent centuries.

One way or another, reality will always continue to challenge us and impose limitations that hinder or even prevent us from doing some things we want, while also surprising us with opportunities and gratuitous experiences that are beyond anything we had planned or anticipated.

We must still do our best to understand and make use of what is given to us. This does not mean we must sacrifice the true greatness of our aspirations. It means becoming free from pompous, grandiose, violent illusions of constructing the total scope of our lives by our own power. It means engaging life intensely according to our own gifts and possibilities, in collaboration with others, with mutual esteem, with patience, and with the humility and hope that open us to receive the ultimate measure of our fulfillment as a gift. This is the human way to use power, to love reality, to practice restraint, and to exercize stewardship over what has been entrusted to us.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Maria, Mater Ecclesiae

Pope Francis recently established the Monday after Pentecost as a feast day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of "Mother of the Church," a term which signifies especially the role entrusted to her by Jesus at the foot of the Cross, when he gave her to John the Beloved Disciple (and - with him - all of us) to be his mother (see John 19:25-27). It also points to the whole of the beautiful and gratuitous role Mary carries out in the history of salvation. 

As our Mother, she collaborates in a singular way with her Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh - a way, of course, that is entirely subordinated to His redeeming and transforming grace. Mary's universal motherhood is indeed a special gift of Christ's grace as He redeems us through His Incarnation and Paschal Mystery (which we have celebrated in these months), and as He continues to work in the Spirit to bring us to our fulfillment in the Kingdom of the Father, the New Creation. Mary's maternal tenderness extends to each of us and to the whole Church. Just as we find her gathered with the Apostles and all the other disciples in the upper room when the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, so we find her on every moment of our journey toward the fulfillment of our vocation. Mary's motherhood is supernatural yet also most profoundly human in the way it makes us brothers and sisters of her Son Jesus. She remains with us in her maternal tenderness and solicitude, and her advocacy of our total need for God's love, our total dependence, to which He responds with a miraculous superabundance (as we see at the wedding feast at Cana - cf John 2:1-12).

A summary of the scope of Mary's motherhood as a special sign and gift of the power of God's love is contained in today's liturgy, in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church: "Receiving your Word in her Immaculate Heart, she was found worthy to conceive him in her virgin's womb and, giving birth to the Creator, she nurtured the beginnings of the Church. Standing beside the Cross, she received the testament of divine love and took to herself as sons and daughters all those who by the Death of Christ are born to heavenly life. As the Apostles awaited the Spirit you had promised, she joined her supplication to the prayers of the disciples and so became the pattern of the Church at prayer. Raised to the glory of heaven, she accompanies your pilgrim Church with a mother's love and watches in kindness over the Church's homeward steps, until the Lord's Day shall come in glorious splendor."

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost: Come Holy Spirit!

 Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit!✝️πŸ”₯ #Pentecost #EasterSeason #NewLife

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Made New in Holiness of Mind

The Lord is compassionate. He reaches down to lift us up.

In this season, I "have been brought" along this mysterious path that is my life, my vocation which is to journey toward Him, to journey with Him, to desire eternity and seek His glory, hidden in the circumstances of each day.

The "things of the past" and "former ways" are being "left behind." Indeed, "new mysteries" lay before me in this new moment of my vocation, my call to live for the glory of Christ and in Him to be "made new in holiness of mind."

I don't understand what this "holiness" means, and I know that I'm a long way from attaining it. Following along with my accommodation and application of the meaning of this prayer, I know that what the world needs - what my world needs, desperately - are transformed minds, minds of simplicity that see things as they really are and follow God's will, trusting in Him and His goodness amidst all the complicated, difficult, flawed, inspiring, beautiful things that lie ahead.

This transformation of our minds is the work of the Holy Spirit, who shows us the glory of the Risen Jesus whose light shines through into all the depths of existence, all the moments of history, all the paths of traveling through this life, every space (no matter how remote, no matter how desolate), every beat of every human heart.

Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus is our brother. God is "Abba" - He is our loving Father and we are His children, brothers and sisters in Christ, called to love one another. Come, Holy Spirit! Make us new in holiness of mind! Give us hearts to seek His face, and to see one another in new ways.

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Light of the Holy Spirit

As Pentecost approaches, the light of the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and deepens our love.

Monday, May 17, 2021

A Tribute to My Friend Tom Sullivan

Today we "went to" the funeral of a dear friend of more than thirty years, Tom Sullivan. (I use quotation marks because — like so many other events over the past year — we "went to" it virtually, via livestream. But I was very grateful for this and various other virtual connections over the past two weeks.)

Tom died of cancer last week. He was 60 years old. I have been trying to write these thoughts about him, but I kept procrastinating (something Tom would understand), but then also rewriting and changing parts of it and adding stuff. Nothing I say here, however, will be adequate to the memory of such a rich friendship.

Eileen and I got to know Tom very well through the Communion and Liberation movement. We were blessed to have him as one of my groomsmen at our wedding (which was almost 25 years ago). I went through a lot of old “snapshots” from that day looking for a good picture of him. But Tom was not a camera hog. (The best old pictures of him are from 30-ish years ago, shared by my friends, and they are nearly all funny group pictures.) All I could find from our wedding were a few general multi-person pictures, in which details of him can be seen in the background. This is the reason for the “mug shot” I have posted here, an attempt to digitally enhance a photographic glimpse of Tom, in the shadows, looking uncomfortable in his Tux (it was a very hot day). The truth is that no "still picture" can adequately represent his irrepressible personality and his enormous generous intelligence.

I hadn't seen much of Tom over the last decade, and he had been living in Houston for the past five years. Yet we had that kind of long-standing, deeply-rooted friendship full of common experiences and the mutual awareness of being on a journey together toward the fulfillment of life's meaning. I know we could have easily "picked up" communication at any moment, and (especially) gotten together personally without awkwardness and with lots to share from the intervening years.

If there is a "downside" to this kind of friendship, it is only in the way it can so easily be "taken for granted." Human adulthood seems to reach a kind of "plateau" that stretches out over several decades. Really, there is something of an illusion in all of this, but its a surprisingly stubborn illusion. You attain a kind of "status" (through your profession, your vocational life-commitments, etc.) which brings to some resolution the restlessness of youth. Once you're married, raising a family, and/or engaged in your life's work, you feel like you've reached a "level of life" that is just going to continue "forever" (or at least "for a long, long time"). Even in today's tumultuous world where we are constantly moving and changing places, jobs, interests — not to mention breaking vocational commitments, escaping responsibilities, or enduring traumatic interruptions and upheavals — we still retain some sense of this underlying "plateau" which we just take for granted as "normal life." 

Meanwhile, the years fly by (tempus fugit, "time flies," — like all the classical human proverbs — has more experiential depth than we realize when we are young). And our middle-aged expectation that everything will always stay the same is frequently upended. The "plateau" is in fact a bumpy, twisting, turning, difficult but beautiful stretch of terrain on life's journey. We need to pay attention to the beauty. The difficulties, however, will be hard to ignore. The truth is that life, at every stage, is full of challenges and transitions that take us by surprise. In today's world, age 60 is still "too young to die," but it does happen. Nevertheless, we're not expecting the death of friends and colleagues from our own generation. We still "feel" like we're 30, at least in some respects, and we have felt that way for the past 30 years. It's too easy to take things (and people) for granted.

More recent and more characteristic pic
This digression is a very long way of saying that I regret having "lost touch" with Tom in recent years. It was not from a lack of basic affection, but simply from the distraction that causes me to ignore so many other important things in life. Sure, I have been sick, he was far away, I am not a "telephone person," he was not on any social media, etc., etc., etc. but still, I regret my "forgetfulness." Tom's friendship has been a great gift in my life which I did not sufficiently appreciate. Still, I am grateful that we were able to accompany him — however "remotely" — in his last days, thanks to “real-time” updates from mutual friends who were at his bedside at the hospice in Houston, and our corresponding “real-time” prayer. 

Our prayer, of course, unites us through the definitive, unfailing, ultimate reality of “interpersonal communication” which is the “Mystical Body of Christ.” Jesus has been “lifted up” on the cross (cf John 12:32), in the resurrection, in glory, in the Spirit, in the life of the Church stretching through all of space and time. Jesus “draws all to himself” (cf John 12:32), making us members of His Body through our adherence to Him in faith, through Baptism and the Eucharist, the Sacraments and the life of the Church, and for us in the particular realization of ecclesial experience conveyed through the charism of CL. This communion is real and vital and transforming beyond anything we could establish by our efforts alone. Nevertheless, communications media can be helpful in serving to enrich our awareness of being united in Christ, and enable us to express it in new ways. It’s something I have been discovering (not without difficulty, frustrations, and mistakes) over the past 12 years, and something we have all been learning about since the Pandemic of 2020-2021-...202? and all its limitations on so many ordinary interactions.

Belonging to one another "in Christ" is a unity that transcends even the strange separation of death.

Here again, I seem to digress ... but not really: in any case, Tom would not only be pleased with my abundance of words, he would egg me on to even wider spheres of digression without ever losing the thread that holds them all together. He and I would follow this thread, but since others reading this might get confused (understandably) or even bored, let me get back on topic.πŸ˜‰

Tom Sullivan had a special gift for friendship, as many tributes have indicated. He was one of those rare people who was a great talker (oh boy, could he talk!) but also a great listener. I should know, because I can also talk (though I'm not as good at listening as I'd like to think). We had so many conversations about faith, politics, philosophy, culture, media, history, movies, music ... usually all of these themes would come up in a single conversation that was never organized but also never aimless.

Tom was a fountain of information about ... everything, and his interesting words and observations were always on hand. Back in the early days of the Internet, we used to joke that we could “surf” Tom just like we could “surf the web.” Just throw a word at Tom —  any word — and he would talk about it. But he was not dull like a dictionary (I’m sure he could have verbally covered the dictionary but that wasn’t his style). He had anecdotes, witty observations, news stories, cultural references and it all came streaming out in a rapid yet articulate fashion. 

So, for example, if you said the word “orange,” he could take you on a journey from Florida to California to Brazil, consider the controversy of organic versus GMO, ponder what makes the best tasting oranges... and then maybe jump off to “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland (“orange” being the color of the Protestants) which would lead to U2, new wave music bands in Great Britain, distinctions among the factions in European politics, two or three really good books you have to read, and..., and... you might find your way back to “orange” at some point (say, in a consideration of the best cocktails that use orange juice).

I remember getting together for breakfast on a Saturday morning with Tom and another friend at one of those nice Washington DC cafes that were a “new thing” back in the ‘90s. It was pretty early, before 9AM. There we were, three brainiacs getting breakfast and talking and talking and getting refills of coffee and talking and talking and getting more coffee and talking... and then we saw people coming in and receiving different menus. It was lunchtime! Talking (and listening) takes a lot of energy, and we were far from “finished,” so we went ahead and had lunch. And talked and talked and totally outlasted the lunch crowd. We did leave, finally... probably because the place didn’t serve dinner!

There was one time when Tom and I were forced to stop talking. It was because we suddenly faced a battle for survival against the forces of nature! This story — gosh! — they could do a whole documentary on the Weather Channel using just our experience. It was the first weekend of January 1996 (if you're old enough you might remember the famous northeastern USA "Blizzard of '96"). 

That weekend we had some kind of regional CL pow-wow at a retreat center near the very end of Long Island. Montauk Point was nearby, and New York City was more than three hours to the west. Lorenzo Albacete was there, and he was "Lorenzo-ing"(πŸ˜‰) all day Saturday, while occasionally we heard increasingly ominous weather reports about an incoming snowstorm. Lorenzo somehow got out of there Saturday night (maybe by helicopter, I don't know), but we all decided to leave "around noon" on Sunday. When we set off from Montauk, there wasn't a flake to be seen. Tom and I had driven in his car. Other friends had taken various other cars. We thought we'd get through okay and beat the storm (which was really a moment of collective irrationality on all our parts, or at least it was "wishful thinking" — getting stuck in Montauk didn't seem like a viable option). But not even the weather forecasters were expecting what ended up happening.

Yes, like THIS!
We drove for more than two hours and it was easy-peasy. I'm sure we talked about all the problems of the world during that time, while the snow started to trickle down. Traffic was moving normally, at first. Then came more snow. And more snow. And more snow. But the highway was full of cars and they kept driving, so we kept driving. Around the time we reached the Staten Island Freeway, it got crazy! It was like the sky just started dumping buckets of snow. Traffic came to a virtual standstill on this packed highway. There was no way to get off the road, and no where to go. We would drive a couple of inches, and then I would have to get out of the car and clear several inches of snow from the windshield. Tom and I looked at each other and said, "we're gonna die out here!" So it was just basically "Hail Marys" after that. We just kept crawling and clearing the windshield, crawling and clearing the windshield. It was 1996 so we didn't have cell phones or GPS or a clue as to where we were. Finally an exit ramp appeared in the midst of the squall and we found ourselves in some area of Staten Island, on streets where plowing had been attempted but at best it turned the streets into ice sheets. The car was like 99% out of control, just sliding wherever there was space for it to go.

And then, shining up in the sky, we saw a sign. It was an amazing sign that gave us hope! Red letters glowed in the sky and they said "STATEN ISLAND HOTEL." (New Yorkers, if you drive in this area, you've seen this many times, because it's on top of the tallest building around, a Holiday Inn [and you're a long way from the skyscrapers of Manhattan]). I don't remember how we managed to get to the parking lot (the angels must have carried the car). A bunch of our friends ended up stranded in the same place. But the hotel had plenty of rooms. And there was a bar (πŸ˜‰πŸ»πŸΊπŸ·πŸΉ). We all ended up stuck in this hotel for three days. Three to four feet of snow had fallen all over the region. The whole East and Mid-Atlantic were basically closed — it was ... COVID-esque ... at least in the sense of everyone being confined and everything being shut down. The hotel even ran out of bread and started serving toasted hot dog buns with breakfast. Thankfully, however, the bar did not run dry.

Anyway, Tom would tell the story better than I am. After 25 years, it's a humorous memory. It was a rare experience with Tom that did not involve vivid conversation.

Tom was full of so much varied knowledge, but I want to stress that he was not a “show-off.” He was really interested in all these things, in what they revealed, in the questions they raised. He took you on an adventure of inquiry along the scattered and cluttered paths of his mind, but you never felt “lost.” There was focus at the heart of it all; Tom was driven by the search for meaning — indeed the need for meaning, the hunger and thirst for meaning, and the confidence that there was meaning — that things ultimately didn’t fall apart. They came together and found their peace.

His peculiar awareness of particular facets of reality was especially surprising when you realized how much he knew about you, your needs, you special interests, your likes and dislikes, and how much he valued you as a person. Here his penetrating knowledge was not looking at your faults, much less for material for gossip. It was entirely dedicated to concerned and courteous service, affirmation, and generosity. His friendship for you was deeply particular, yet there were many other people that he also cared for — each in a manner suited to them. 

He often surprised me this way. Sometimes he even reminded me of things I had forgotten I was interested in. And his awareness of my interests led to gestures that corresponded to it. There were, of course, often books and articles recommended and even procured. But what I especially appreciated was how Tom was always attuned to my love for music. Indeed, he shared it, and — like me — he was interested in affirming positive elements in contemporary popular music (while not ignoring the overall decadent cultural context that so often compromised or distorted other elements that pervaded the music scene).

Yeah, really young Sarah

When I returned to the States after a year in Italy, the first CD I bought was by a young Canadian artist (very young at the time) who was just beginning to get attention in the U.S.A. I went home, popped on my headphones, and put Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Toward Ecstasy into the CD player. I don't know if you kids today can appreciate what it was like to hear for the first time some of these wonderfully innovative sounds that artists were introducing in the early '90's. Anyway, this album knocked my socks off! (I still think it was her best...) I told Tom and, well, he had known about her since her earliest stuff in Canada, and had interviewed her and written two articles for his newspaper (his work there was actually related to the editorial page, but he would also do articles on music and the arts on his own time, and the paper would publish them — much to their advantage, I think). Anyway, some months went by and Sarah's star was rising rapidly. She and her band came through DC to play the sold-out Warner Theater (she was still playing smaller venues back then). Tom called me up and said, "I've got two free tickets from her management because of my articles. Wanna go?" Row 12, right in the middle. If we had been any closer we would have been on stage. Great seats for what was a music show (not an exotic circus like some concerts can be). But Tom remembered my appreciation for the young Sarah McLachlan. It seems like such a small, insignificant thing when I write about it here, but it expressed his particular friendship in a manner that stands out in my memory, and that represents countless other gestures that were basic features of Tom's approach to people.

Another time had to do with a group that had also made a ripple in the early '90's music scene. They were called The Innocence Mission, and Eileen and I were both big fans. They kept making good music even after the "music spotlight" had moved on to other styles (styles that were cheaper, flashier stuff, alas...). The Innocence Mission was still recording and touring clubs in the later '90's and came to the DC area. Tom had an idea: "let's interview them for the CL magazine" ... and he also had the connections to make it happen. Tom and Eileen and I ended up spending a delightful hour backstage with Don and Karen Peris (husband and wife, guitarist and lead singer), and we wrote a very appreciative article that was published in the magazine.

How do I keep this tribute to Tom Sullivan from turning into an article about music, or politics, or "all-the-things"? What a rich life this man lived, even though he had little of value in material goods and was disorganized with the few things he did have. His clutter was legendary (in this he was a kindred spirit, if not an inspiration, for me). But he always (eventually) found that book or article or whatever it was he wanted to share with me. His many "ordinary" gestures of companionship added up to a kind of attentiveness and self-giving that had an "extraordinary" quality.

As I look back, I wonder if this capacity for friendship might have been a special gift from God — indeed, I think Tom was a powerful example of a particular “opening up” of Christian hospitality (as an expression of mercy, a work of mercy) that the Lord sometimes gives to people who live their baptismal vocation as single persons in the midst of the world. Without any particular “consecration,” without even a determination “never to marry,” but simply with the daily intent to follow Jesus within the circumstances of life as they are here and now given to them, many single Christian men and women have the freedom of time and attention that permits them to practice a great “hospitality of heart” toward those around them. Single people also have been created to love and to be loved. This is a real vocation. It is a special gift, and one much needed in this time of so much alienation, loneliness, and interpersonal violence.

I don’t know why Tom never married. Many single people in their older years may feel that they have “missed out” on a full human life, that they are failures, that there is something “unlovable” about them. (And it’s no comfort to them to tell them that many married people also feel this way.) Single people have fewer spaces to hide from their own vulnerability. It is a kind of poverty, but by God’s grace it takes the shape of the poverty of the Beatitudes. It is blessed, and leads to further blessings when it becomes a special capacity for being merciful.

Tom was a merciful man. He accompanied people. It meant everything to him, of course, that he was loved by Jesus with a love that was concrete and expressed in the Church and through the ecclesial charism of CL. He didn’t allow this to be reduced to a place of “safety,” or an exclusive club; rather he sought to share this love within the whole range of human particularity that he dealt with every day, and among many friends, co-workers, writers, political and cultural figures, and a great variety of people he met as a newspaper staff member, writer, journalist and editor, and as an administrator in publishing and academia.

He gave greatly from himself. Yet people who spoke to Tom near the end of his life remarked on his simple expressions of gratitude for the love they had given to him. Tom Sullivan was, and remains, much loved by all of us, and he remains a sign of Christ's enduring love. Of course, those of us who remain in this world miss his earthly presence. Even when we believe that Jesus has conquered death, it remains mysterious to us. It is obscure, and causes sorrow.

Goodbye Tom, old friend! 

Lord, grant him eternal rest, and the joy of eternal life through Jesus Christ, in the communion of saints. Grant that we may all be together with You forever, O Lord. Have mercy on us!

If we grieve, that does not mean that we lack hope. Grief is part of the journey of this life, and we have tears that only God can wipe away.