Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Guadalupe Touches People One by One

On this beautiful day of celebration for all the peoples of America and for the whole world, we rejoice in the very special companionship that Jesus has shared with us. That companionship was dramatically reaffirmed nearly 500 years ago, in the gift that the "little Mother" gave to a poor indigenous man in Mexico.

To put it another way, on December 12, 1531, the Virgin Mary took the world's first "selfie," which she shared with Juan Diego, and all the rest of us. But the pictures we take are only shadows compared to this uniquely vivid, mysterious, enduring, scientifically inexplicable image.

It seems to have a vitality, powerful yet gentle; a presence that a superficial observer can easily ignore, but that reaches out in a personal way to those who spend time with her with open hearts. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe has remained with us all through the unfolding of modern history. But she has come to touch people one by one, to draw us into her tenderness.

She wants us to give her our burdens and sorrows and to listen to her so as to discover in a new way that each of us is loved, personally, intimately, by her Son Jesus.

Each one of us matters. Each one of us has a purpose.

Above all, each one of us is the child of a good God who will not fail us in time of need.

Our Merciful Mother gives us Jesus her Son and our brother. And she knows and cherishes each of us as his brothers and sisters, as her own children, and she attends us with great compassion throughout our lives.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, pray for us. .

For many years this print of the image has presided over our dining room table

So much symbolism, but also much that is intimate and personal. When I posted this on Instagram today, it appeared on my page right next to my previous post, which was a picture of a young woman who also has her hands folded and her head bowed, full of gratitude, who also shared herself with others and even said (in the accompanying text) "I feel like a mother to you." Obviously this is a coincidence, and not much of a coincidence at that. For all that, I didn't plan it, and it struck me in a personal way. Behind the big theological term "spiritual maternity" there is a great reality which some are called to live in a special way. They share in the pattern of Mary's maternal solicitude for us even if they don't know it directly. Why not? Really, nothing is a "coincidence" in God's good providence. God is good, all the time. That same picture is directly below this blog post.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "God Gave Me Each of You for a Reason"

Today marks two and a half years since Christina Grimmie's life was taken. On the night of June 10, 2016—during an open meet-and-greet after her show in Orlando, Florida—she opened her arms to welcome yet another person, another face she'd never seen before, another stranger she was called to meet with love...

The stranger shot her four times, once in the head and three times in the chest, before turning his gun on himself. She was 22 years old.

Human reason reels in trying to make any sense of this horror. Even now, we still have no words... But consolation for Christina Grimmie's murder—and even a glimmer of a different kind of light that we cannot ignore—still reaches us from the most unexpected of places, from Christina Grimmie herself.

Two years prior to that fatal night, she wrote a special note to "Team Grimmie," her frands. She said some extraordinary things in that note, and she would repeat many of them again. More importantly, her life was true to these words, right up to the very last moment...

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Helping One Another to "Discern What is of Value"

"And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless
for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God."

~Philippians 1:9-11  .

I have a particular love for this text and its indications for the Christian vocation in the Church and in the midst of the world.

Saint Paul prays that the love of the Philippians might increase "ever more and more" with knowledge and, indeed, with "every kind of perception" so that they might carry out a very crucial task: "to discern what is of value" in life and thereby bring forth "the fruit of righteousness."

There is much to be learned from meditation on this text. Jesus tells us, "Do not judge" and this is crucial, because each person belongs to God, and God alone knows their heart, their degree of moral responsibility, and His own plans to draw them to Himself.

But it is something different to practice "discernment." By the grace of the Spirit, and reason enlightened by faith and vivified by love, we can engage concrete realities in our own lives and give guidance to others (above all those entrusted to our care in various ways).

We are called, and given the grace, to discern "what is of value" as we journey through life. This is certainly important for our own lives. But it also suggests one important component of how we look at others and even the world at large. It's easy for us to fall into a pattern of looking at other people and trying to see what's wrong with them. We are inclined to search for their faults and for ways of behaving that are objectively sinful, then to reduce their identity to these negatives, and judge them rashly in our hearts (if not in our gossip-filled conversation).

Discernment, however, takes a different approach when looking at others. It is not blind to their faults and gives full weight to the hindrances of sin in their lives (knowing well enough how sin hinders all of us), but it does this within a larger perspective, as only one part of a broader focus.

Discernment seeks out "what is of value" in a person's life; it tries to discover (as much as possible, with great humility and respect for the person) where God is working to draw forth or enrich their heart's desire for goodness and beauty, their soul's search for truth and wisdom.

Discernment requires us to listen to the person, to allow them to talk about themselves and tell their story. It not only listens to their speech but also watches the way they treat others and the way that reality fascinates them and draws them beyond themselves. It looks for signs of how and where God is working. This is not to imply that such "signs" are going to be easy to find or to understand—God's action is essentially hidden, but by listening to a person's own words, to their story, and watching the way they respond in ordinary situations, discernment can at least gain some useful insights and learn something about "who they are" and "what matters to them" in life.

Then, in a crucial part of the process, discernment asks in prayer, "Lord, how do you want me to foster your work in this person's life? How can I be your instrument to build up the good, or at least to enliven and increase the desire for the good in them, so that they might draw closer to you?"

What kind of graces does a person hope to receive in this prayer? They seek graces associated with fraternal charity and the spiritual works of mercy, and for help in using the virtue of prudence elevated and further enlightened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit called "counsel."

Of course, some people may have a more particular gift, a "charism," for grasping the concrete good and helping others to see it more clearly and move toward it. A gift for discernment makes a person helpful to others. It is not a licence to be obtrusive, nor does it bestow psychic powers to read minds and predict the future.

Let me be clear: it is extremely rare for a person to have the extraordinary charism of "reading souls," and that is not what discernment aims for in any case. Ordinarily a person who claims such power should be avoided, especially in light of recent disasters in the Church caused by situations where the "cult of personality" dominated the interior lives of others. Genuine Christian relationships should enrich and deepen the experience of freedom as a gift from God that inheres in the inviolable core of every person.

The stories of a saint like Padre Pio "reading souls" have some measure of credibility in the context of his whole extraordinary life. Such stories are particular episodes that have been reported among many other remarkable occurrences. Padre Pio himself was a rare kind of saint, a wonderworker whose extraordinary charisms were bestowed on him for the good of the Church and the service of his brothers and sisters (and please note well: acknowledging the credibility of these remarkable gifts does not mean endorsing as true every story or rumor that circulates about Padre Pio on the internet).

Above all, Padre Pio was a saint, a man who loved God and human beings and whose holiness of life drew people to seek him out. He did not "advertise" his special gifts and he always humbly submitted to restrictions imposed by ecclesiastical authorities (even when they weren't fair). He called himself "a poor friar who prays," and his biggest "external" aspiration and concern was the building of a very special hospital called the "Home for the Relief of Suffering." He never wrote a book. He never went on a speaking tour. We have his own words from discrete correspondence. His humility was profound.

This digression about Saint Padre Pio (and certain misconceptions that might try to cite him as an example) is intended to point out that in seeking discernment we don't seek these kind of extraordinary powers. We seek to open our minds and hearts to the delicate breeze, the "still, small voice" of the Holy Spirit who works among us, and for a strengthening of practical reasoning informed by faith and assisted by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. With reference to others, discernment aims to serve them by helping them (without any kind of psychological manipulation, with profound respect for their freedom) to discern God's will in their life. Also, it entails helping to build up and nurture in them the love of whatever draws them closer to God, whatever is truly "of value" in them insofar as we are given to recognize it.

Obviously discernment is concerned with sinful behavior and never approves of evil. But by calling on God, being attentive, and loving what is good—what is "of value" here and now in a person's life—a discerning approach seeks to help the person in their particular struggle with evil, their need to resist sin. "Admonishing the sinner," even in the most basic rhetorical sense, requires attention to what might really be a useful or even comprehensible warning for a person. Genuine discernment will allow more space for God to shape a necessary admonition to the need of a particular person and to His grace.

Beyond that, however, a discerning approach can open us up to being instruments of God in building up, supporting, and serving one another on the journey we are making together toward our final fulfillment in Him. We are united as members of one Body in Jesus Christ. He wants to give us abundant graces to help one another. There is no need for some artificial structure here, no need for special meetings where people sit around criticizing one another or making rash claims that "God told them that you need to do x or y." No, that quickly becomes a strange and manipulative situation.

The terms used to describe our relationship in Christ are "brothers and sisters." We can exercise discernment as we seek together "what is of value" within the connections and bonds that develop organically among Christ's members. The relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ remain human relationships that grow in particular places and along the various and sometimes bumpy roads of human communities. They require the appropriate regard for the dignity of persons that allows space for the development of genuine and mature human friendships.

"Friendship in Christ" must not be a label we misuse or devalue. It is real human friendship informed by Christian love. Friends can help one another in the work of discerning God's will, by a humble but very real charism of the Holy Spirit that takes shape within the friendship as a human reality—a reality that is all the more profoundly human in the measure in which it is imbued by grace. Christian friendship is the life of faith vitally realized within a genuine human friendship; it is warm and familiar (in different ways, and not without the flaws and quirks that characterize all human things); it is respectful, trustworthy, well grounded, open beyond itself, and inserted into the life of the local and universal Church. It is the foretaste of a communion of persons destined to last forever.

Indeed, such friendship is in itself a thing of great value.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Friday, December 7, 2018

God is Always Good, But He's Not Always "Easy"

God is good. All the time.

He really is. We can't even begin to imagine how wildly overflowing, diffusive, and gratuitous He is in His goodness.

This is the very reason why His ways can seem strange and difficult to us. He sees the whole fulfillment of His goodness in eternity. We don't. We journey through space and time, often with anxious, faltering steps, sometimes through heavy winds and fierce storms, sometimes in a moonless night.

We can get pretty disoriented, and wonder what's going on.

God is good. And He is true to the promise He has whispered in our hearts, and to the fullness of His revelation of that promise through Jesus. But He didn't promise it would be "easy."

He calls us to follow Him on the narrow path. He wants us to trust Him.

God is not easy with us. Though I'm sure He's much "easier"—kinder, more patient, more merciful, and more just—toward us than we are toward ourselves, and toward one another.

Nor should we be surprised that we do not understand His ways. God Himself is beyond our comprehension. He is the Mystery. He is never captured or grasped.

But He is trustworthy, and if we stay with Him, we will begin to understand the meaning and value of life and created things and the world and the peculiar moment of history He has entrusted to us.

He is merciful. He is faithful. He loves us. Indeed, He is with us!

This is what we are preparing to celebrate during the Advent season: He has come to dwell with us.

He has come, the One who creates and sustains our very being, our intelligence, our freedom. He has come, the One who is the ineffable source of the miracle that manifests itself everytime one of these strange little material entities in the universe says, "I am a 'someone'" and when it sees another speck of cosmic dust like itself and says, "You are a 'someone'!"

He has come, the One who makes our mysterious, otherwise inexplicable personhood real, vital, and so intimate that it is truly "our own." He comes to be with us, to be close to us, to fulfill to the end His fidelity, His mercy, His love for us.

He has come: Jesus.

He, the Eternal Word, took flesh in the womb of a woman, the always-and-all-holy woman He chose and prepared to be His mother. Jesus born of the Virgin Mary.

He has come to dwell with us, to make us His brothers and sisters. He wants us to be with Him forever, to share with Him the fulllfillment of all things, and above all to share in His own inexhaustible life, His glory, His joy, His love.

This is not "easy," but we don't really want "easy"; we want to be moved, to live beyond ourselves, toward a reality that is mysterious and great and good.

He comes, who encompasses and surpasses all our aspirations. Let us take time, in these days, to make room for Him in the center of our hearts, of our lives. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Melody of a Creek

Tuesday was cloudy and chilly, but I felt a bit perkier than usual so I decided to hang out at a nearby natural body of water called Happy Creek.

I got as close as I could to the water, and, I'm pleasantly surprised to say, did not fall in! (I have a long record of falling into water going back to toddlerhood, but not in a dangerous way, just inconvenient and klutzy.)

For many years I was an avid fisherman, and I even had a small boat I used to take on the Shenandoah River. I loved those days and I'm glad for all the experiences and memories of that time.

Now, I'm blessed to be surrounded by natural beauty all year long, and I have different kinds of adventures taking walks with my camera, or even just exploring the front yard.

Some days are better than others, of course. I only brought my phone to the creek, but I still took a few pictures. Then I decided to get a sustained bit of video footage of the creek. It's not high quality, but I'm too old to be picky.

Figuring there are a few other people who might want to watch a video of gentle flowing water and listen to the music of a creek, I posted it to my YouTube channel:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Near the Year's End: My (Late) "Mid-Life Crisis" Goes On

Hello December my old friend... #Dark!
It is finally December 2018. Some years seem to just fly by. Not this year. For me, it feels like last Christmas was ten years ago. So much has happened. In many ways, life has shifted into a new phase. It's a human thing, it's a natural phase as kids become adults who are suddenly much more independent, and parents become aged and infirm and much more dependent.

That's why it's called "middle age," I guess.

But I'm nearly 56 years old. With the body of a 96 year old (of course that's hyperbole, but there are days when it seems rather close to the mark). It's a bit late for middle age, perhaps. And on top of that, we still have an almost-16 year old and a 12 year old at home. We are by no means "done" with the full-on parenting gig. Eileen and I joke that we've finally become "the normal American family." That really is a joke; the other three are still in and out plenty. But John Paul is a Senior in college (i.e. "university") and in six months he graduates. More uncharted waters coming. Help! (Actually, I'm sure he'll be fine. He won't be rich—at least, not right away—but he'll do fine.)
With my parents, I just hope they know how much we all love them, and that we're ready to do whatever it takes and deal with whatever comes. Well, I should say we're as ready as we can be; we have to trust God in front of the uncontrollable possibilities that may lie ahead. But that's true about all of life. We are not the masters of reality. But we are a family, and the Lord has given us a lot of grace to stick together through many unforeseen things. May He enable us to persevere.
We need that grace and that trust every day, both for our parents and for our kids. Gosh, the adventure of adolescence has not even begun for Jojo. 

Growing up, there was just me and my brother. My parents were only given the two of us (though we were a handful). When I turned 12 years old, do you know how old my Dad was? He was 39 years old.


I wouldn't mind being a few years younger and a lot healthier and more energetic. But that's daydreaming.

And I can't live the daydream of become a quiet retired scholar, either. My own body and brain aren't even up to that. But, really, that's never what I wanted to be anyway.

For now the flood keeps coming. "God keep my head above water."

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Charles de Foucauld in His Own Words

Blessed Charles de Foucauld's feast day is December 1, the anniversary of his martyrdom at the hands of a desert militia in Algeria in 1916. The man who called himself the "little brother" of Jesus and the "universal brother" of all people had lived as a contemplative and servant of the poorest of the poor, the nomadic tribes, their slaves, and anyone who sought him out.

Not only did his spiritual ideal become the basis for the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus (and then the Little Sisters) within a generation of his death; he also was the first in a series of witnesses in Algeria who lived a mission of charity and solidarity with the people, as Christians living together with Muslims in dialogue and mutual respect. During Algeria's civil war at the end of the last century, many of these would also suffer martyrdom at the hands of radical Islamist factions.

A group of these martyrs in Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine (whose story was so beautifully presented in the 2010 film "Of Gods and Men") and Bishop Pierre Claverie, will be beatified this coming week.

The spiritual family of Brother Charles continues to grow in so many ways, with the humble, quiet persistence that accompanies and signifies the transcendent power of Christ's love.

Quotations of Blessed Charles de Foucauld:

"Above all, always see Jesus in every person, and consequently treat each one not only as an equal and as a brother or sister, but also with great humility, respect and selfless generosity."

"Our entire existence and being should shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Our entire person should breathe Jesus. All our actions and our entire life should proclaim that we belong to Jesus."

“We do good, not by what we say and do, but by what we are, by the grace which accompanies our actions, by the way that Jesus lives within us, by the way that our actions are Jesus' actions, working in and through us."

"I want to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and nonbelievers, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. Already they're calling this house 'the fraternity' (khaoua in Arabic) -- about which I'm delighted -- and realizing that the poor have a brother here -- not only the poor, though: all men."

"What is there in common between heaven and me -- between its perfection and my wretchedness? There is your Heart, O Lord Jesus. It forms a link between these two so dissimilar things."

‎"Let us concern ourselves with those who lack everything,...those to whom no one gives a thought. Let us be the friends of those who have no friends, their brother."

"The love of God, the love of men, that is my whole life, that will be my whole life, I hope. When we can suffer and love, we can do much, the most that one can do in this world."

Prayer of Abandonment:

I abandon myself into your hands.
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Saint Andrew and the Unity of Christians

Happy Saint Andrew's Day!

In the classic icon, we see the two brothers embrace: Saint Peter and Saint Andrew. It is an especially meaningful embrace that represents for us today a hope for the healing of some very old wounds. Today, especially, we pray for unity between Christians East and West.

St. Andrew "the First-called" is greatly venerated in the East, especially by the see of Constantinople, which traces its origin to him. Since Andrew was Peter's brother, and the one who "introduced" him to Jesus, undoubtedly he prays for full unity among all who bear apostolic succession, in communion with the successors of Peter in Rome. Let us therefore also pray for unity, on this special day for churches West and East, Latin Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, and Orthodox.

Catholic Christians know that the successor of St Peter is specially entrusted with the ministry of unity of all the churches. But we want other Christians to understand that the Pope is only a minister. He represents Christ as the chief shepherd of the whole flock, and he is given the responsibility and the capacity to carry out this ministry. But he does not replace Christ or substitute himself, as though Christ was somehow "separated" from the Church after his Ascension, and the Pope considered himself to be another Divinely appointed authority, with some sort of weird power independent of Christ.

The Pope is a "vicar" (i.e. representative) of Christ whose ministry to "represent" the primacy of Christ extends properly to the whole Church. His office doesn't subtract from the authority of the other bishops in their particular churches; on the contrary he is called to strengthen and confirm his brother bishops in faith and communion.

The Universal Church remains under the headship of Jesus Christ himself, present and active in the power of his glorified humanity, in the giving of the Holy Spirit, in the sacraments, in the immense outpouring of graces of every kind that guide and gently transform our lives and that also work secretly in the heart of every person to draw them closer to him, and also through the ecclesial ministry of the Pope and the bishops in union with him—flawed, weak, sinful human beings who nevertheless are called to this particular service for the good of all.

I love the Kontakion for St Andrew's feast day in the Byzantine Liturgy:
"Let us praise for his courage Andrew the Theologian, first Apostle of the Savior and brother of Peter, for in like manner as he drew his brother to Christ, he is crying out to us: 'Come, for we have found the One the world desires!'"
Note: For the East, "Theologian" does not refer to just any blockhead like me who happens to have studied and taught and written stuff about Christian doctrine and ideas. A "Theologian" is someone with a profound knowledge of God that is founded on the special supernatural illumination and grace of the Holy Spirit.

The term, as a "title" used in liturgical prayer, is reserved for a very few extraordinary figures. But we can all be "theologians," in the sense of living by the light of the Spirit and his gifts, and letting that light deepen our faith and understanding.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Mysterious Bond That Unites Us

Many times we've heard words like this: "We are all brothers and sisters. We are a family, living together on this small and precious planet, our little 'earth.' We all really do depend on one another."

We think we know what all of this means, but in fact we have barely scratched the surface of the profound concrete reality of existing as persons-in-relation to one another, called to the fullness of life as a communion of persons.

The "human family" is not a cozy, tame little idea. If someone hurts, we all hurt.

It's crucial that we learn to see real life more in these terms. The world today is full of crises, full of pain, and we cannot forget that this is "our" pain. However we may try, we cannot escape being affected by it. In this respect, today's world—even with all its intense and complex problems—does not present a radical departure from perennial human experience. In fact, the human family always shares a profound bond of suffering. We all share a common affliction.

We also share a common hope.

We share a source of unity that is greater than everything that divides us, and greater than every fear.

Advent approaches. For Christians this is a special season of preparation, of making room in our hearts for the coming of the One who is that Source, who has come in the flesh to dwell with us, to be close to us, to be close to every human person and the whole human race.

He loves us. How can we not love one another?

In the days to come, we would do well to pray and "fast"—i.e. voluntarily embrace some sacrifices within our daily routine—so that we might be more ready to receive His love.

Thus we will also begin to see truly our brothers and sisters in the one human family, to remember our common suffering, our existential poverty, our dependence on God, and the mysterious bond that unites us in our journey to Him and sustains us in a posture of compassion for one another.

We must beg the Lord to change our mentality and transform our way of looking at the world and all of the problems and the dangers, and all the evil that has already been judged and vanquished.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tumbling Tumbling!

Nothing to panic about. Sometimes you just bump into one small, annoying problem after another, and suddenly it's evening!

It doesn't help that evening comes so early this time of year.

It's a haphazard feeling. But it's only a feeling, a rather "normal" one actually. It's refreshing to have a normal cognitive-emotional experience for a change (well, sorta normal...).

And LOOK it even inspired me to create this, ummm... art. ish. thingy....😜

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Digital Fuzzing and Blobbing and Dabbing

We have been making a lot of graphics and digital art these days, while not doing much writing. The reason is probably that I'm just a little obsessed with it lately.

In any case, I'm trying to make the most of what's left of the seasonal color, before this sort of thing gets really old:

I must say I worked hard on abstractly sculpting that tree and its environs. Meanwhile, photography is capturing the last big yellow maple leaves. This was a few days ago. By now these are already on the ground:

Last week there were still a few trees where the leaves had more or less dried up into a rusty brown while still on their branches. Not very good for photos, but raw material for some fuzzing and blobbing and dabbing with digital tools. This is nice:

One evening we had an exceptionally pretty sky above the Blue Ridge. Even the phone camera could get this look:

Meanwhile, I'm catching up on correspondence, working on articles, reading, and -- of course -- MUSIC! Advent approaches, with time to prepare the heart for Christmas.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Music From Our Own Day...and Something More

I have extended my celebration of "Music Day" (the Feast of St Cecilia).

Regarding contemporary music, I cannot forget this amazing young woman who had such a great heart, so full of music and song and love that gave itself away to the end, who died doing what she had done so many times after her concerts: welcoming a stranger with open arms....

She sang, she loved, she didn't hide the reason why she did it all, the One to whom she belonged.
🎵💚💚Christina Victoria Grimmie (1994-2016).💚💚🎵

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy "Music Day" AND "Thanksgiving" in the USA

For my friends in Argentina and other parts of Latin America, as well as in general Catholic tradition that honors Saint Cecilia, this is Día de la Música ("Music Day"). 

Even non-religious people in Latin America honor music and musicians on this day. ¡Feliz Día de la Música!

And, of course, we in the United States of America are grateful for EVERYTHING today (including music, though more attention is given to turkeys on the fourth Thursday of November😉).

Therefore, let us proceed without delay to pictures of FOOD!!! Below we have (1) my full plate; (2) serving dish with fresh green beans and mushrooms; (3) the amazing cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries and other fruits.

I don't deserve such a wonderful wife and family who have prepared such a feast, but I am grateful to God for them, and grateful to them beyond anything I can express. HAPPY THANKSGIVING! (There's still pies coming later.😉)

Aaaand then came the pies:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Archbishop Begs Forgiveness From His People

"Authority in the Church is not command, but service...

"To my shame, as a pastor, I beg forgiveness from you, my community, that I have not been able to carry out, as your servant, my role as bishop.

"I am not a master, I am not a boss, I am not an authority that imposes itself. I want to be God’s servant, and yours.

"I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all [of you], even those who are going to kill me."

~Saint Oscar Romero of the Americas (1917-1980),
Archbishop of San Salvador and Martyr.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Feeling Dark Inside? It's Okay to Ask for Help

Yep, it's DARK at 5 PM.

The long and early nights of late Fall and early Winter can trigger other kinds of darkness for some people. They have a really hard time with these seasons.

Sometimes people can feel "dark" inside themselves during any season, even in the noonday sun. The darkness lasts for whole days, weeks, months....

And there's no shame in admitting it, and seeking psychiatric and/or psychological help. Yet people in general, and especially my fellow men, too often fail to get help. They don't even try to get help. Often they don't want to admit that they need help.

Now let me be clear (especially to my digital homeboys): I totally get why you feel this way.

I didn't know that there was "no shame" in acknowledging the debilitating and dangerous reality of mental illness. First my whole life had to crash. and. burn. Then I got help, not because I found the strength to do it, but because I was such a wreck that there was nothing else I could even pretend to be able to do.

I came apart. I'm grateful that there were people in my life who knew what needed to be done to begin putting the pieces back together, so that I could start to move forward with help, on a different kind of path, a difficult path, but one that has opened up beautiful and unexpected possibilities.

In the process, I learned a lot. I learned that there is no shame in getting help. 

We are all broken on so many levels, in so many ways. Sometimes our very strengths, the specific places of our particular talents, are also broken places. The physiological aspect of our humanity is fragile and often besieged by more than we can bear without sustaining damage. Today, we know very little about the sheer neurological stress of being immersed constantly in an artificial environment of immense technologically "extended" powers of perception, engagement, and mobility.

The human organism is resilient but also limited and subjected to affliction. Women sometimes understand this better than men; if nothing else, they live with monthly cycles that can be accompanied by various difficulties but in any case cannot be ignored. Men (especially young men) can more easily fall into the illusion that they are complete masters of their bodily reality, including emotions and psychological processes. They are confident that they can overcome obstacles.

And they are ashamed when they fail to do so.

Certainly women and men both are called to self-care and self-control, to the task of overcoming difficulties and weaknesses in order to live more fully.

Nevertheless there are times when you simply cannot overcome an obstacle. You cannot even deal with it ... at least, not on your own. Whether it be physical or "mental" (neurobiological, trauma-induced, whatever), you are afflicted beyond your control. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Illness, including mental illness, affects the lives of countless people. It's just another way of experiencing the fragility of being human.

But you don't have be alone with the burden of it. It's okay to talk about it with someone you trust. It's okay to ask for help.

Don't do what I did. Don't wait until you crash. 

Don't live in denial or self-medicate or over compensate with a frantic blur of external activity. You may "look great" to other people, but the affliction just gets worse, and does damage not only to yourself but also to those who are closest to you. You can't do it without help. The crash will come sooner or later if you don't try to get help.

Trust me, you don't want to crash.

I survived. Too many people, however, don't make it. It becomes a catastrophe that radiates terrible pain and trauma to everyone who cares about them.

When you are struggling with depression, bi-polar disorder, or some other crippling mental disorder, you must be brave. But the brave thing to do is not to hide it or bury it or try to "tough it out" by yourself. The brave thing is to open up, get help, fight for the help you need to stay alive and to live deeply for your own sake and for those who love you and need you.

You are needed, wanted, and loved.

Faith can play a role here, not as a substitute for necessary treatment and therapy, but as an impetus to face something beyond your control, to persevere in seeking help, and even to begin to "discover the gift" that is being fashioned for you (and for the world) by the Redeemer whose power transforms our fragility from within.

And always remember that the Lord will walk with you and give you the courage to be vulnerable, to find him through the help of others, to take the risk of being human.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

He Embraces Every Human Person

Jesus, on the Cross,
you wholly embraced every human person.

You alone have given yourself completely
to each one of us
in a singular and particular fashion.

And you alone understand the special mystery
and unique dignity of the individual human being,
because your emptying of yourself
has made "room" for every human person in your heart.

Guide our steps, Lord.

Draw us to yourself.

Draw us by the inexhaustible beauty and goodness
of that total gift of your love for us.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Great Gertrude

I'm a day late for the incomparable GERTRUDE THE GREAT (one of my all time favorite medieval women), whom we celebrated yesterday. But ... better late than never!

"O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth" (Saint Gertrude).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Snow and Sun in Late Autumn

After a couple of inches of snow fell during the night, the skies cleared for an exceptionally bright sunny crisp cold day. It's a special treat to see the remaining Fall colors jump out against a shining snowy backdrop.

I got out for a bit today to feel the sun and enjoy the unusual views. And I took a few pictures:

Then I decided that as long as I was out there, down in the field under the big Sugar Maples (still sporting some green), I might as well upload a video too:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What Would I Be Without Jesus Christ?

Is it "worth it" to follow Jesus Christ?

The answer would seem obvious for a Christian, and yet we often feel the rub of questions like these. We are always in need of deeper conversion to the Lord, and a richer, more full adherence to Him.

What can I say? Following Christ is worth it to me because He is the One I have been made for. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the fulfillment of all things, and my person exists to be in relationship with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit: the One God who is Love beyond all imagining, who has created me for a participation in the communion of His trinitarian life. In the deepest sense, this relationship is the meaning of "me"—it's why I exist.

But this is not just theology.

Life is teaching me, slowly, that this is true for everything, even in this world. Sure, He gives meaning to all my aches and pains and neuro-wackiness, my illnesses, my problems, my feeling overwhelmed and exhausted - I say enough about all that in other posts on this blog.

But, really, what would I even be without Christ?

He has given me a beautiful life, and the people I love—my wife, my children, my family, my friends—as well as my desire to go further beyond myself to find the good in others and connect with their humanity because of His love that saves humanity.

All the good belongs to Him: the sky and the air, philosophy, poetry, and music, the stars, peoples, cultures, food, everything that is good is from Him and for Him and redeemed by Him.

Without Him I have nothing. Without Him I don't know the meaning or value of anything; without Him I am lost.

But it's not just "good for me." It matters because it's true. But let's remember that "truth" is not the same thing as ideology. Ideology demands a stubborn self-willed adherence to something we make up on our own, a humanly contrived scheme that we think will fix the world if we can sell it to enough people or force them to accept it. The "tl;dr" of twentieth century history should be: "The imposition of ideology does not work. Even if it begins with noble aspirations, it ends badly: with concentration camps, gulags, killing fields, starvation, war..." If only we could just learn this, even a little bit.

But the real truth is not like ideology. It's not about grasping for power and manipulating or suppressing other human persons. The real truth makes us free.

Ideology only makes us partisans of a program, and we become narrow and contentious and blind to our own flaws. We have to be careful not to turn Jesus Christ into an ideology. Certainly He leads us to see the world in particular ways, but they are His ways. He is the truth. He opens us up to reality, to the adventure of really living and the risk of really loving.

Jesus is the Truth in Person, the Truth who has given Himself for the salvation and transfiguration of the world. And we know that everyone in the world lives by seeking Him (whether they know it or not). We who are Christians, who are blessed—by grace—to know Him, are called to share Him and to continue to seek to know Him more.

Because He is Infinite Love, we must never think we have "enough" with Him, or that we have anything more than the beginning, the foretaste, the first fruits that should just deepen our desire to seek more and to love more.

What else is there?

As St Peter says, "Lord, where else could we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God" (see John 6).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

November Blues: Dark in the Afternoon

November afternoon. Too dark, too soon! Hey, possible song happening here.🎶🎶

I always wanted to do an album. Call it something like "Professor of Blues." "Hard Knocks College." "I Ain't Hip and I Can't Hop."😉