Saturday, September 30, 2023

A “VLOG” at the End of September

Happy End of September! 

I have made a Vlog post, in which I reflect for a few moments with you all after my evening walk. I really should make more videos. I should just “get over” my feelings of awkwardness talking to the camera, and my fear of being “boring” or not having a sufficiently pre-packaged “message” or speaking so slowly through my “brain fog.” I have many observations and a little understanding to share, and I’m over 60 so I should just get-it-out-there using all varieties of accessible media but not worrying too much about a “slick show.” As ever, I’m inspired by the immortal words of G. K. Chesterton: “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

I’m in an odd mood in this video, probably because I have been studying too much about Maoist China lately, going through memoirs of political prisoners, etc. (currently reading the prison letters of Wei Jingsheng, former Red Guard and then famous “Democracy Wall” dissident in 1979). 

My life as an invalid can sometimes feel a “little bit” like “solitary confinement” in a prison — but, of course, it’s not like what these guys went through. I’m not being interrogated, tortured, pressured to make false confessions and implicate other people I know in any false “crimes.” It’s not that bad! I’m studying and forming my own mind, and I’m trying to find ways to open up more and share with you the things I’m learning (mostly, I’m learning things that make me realize how little I really know).

Anyway, here’s a chat which is rambly, but stick with me.  It all ends in a very encouraging way:

Friday, September 29, 2023


Happy Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael — the angels whose names we know from Sacred Scripture.

Jesus said to Nathaniel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Remembering Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement”

Nine Years Ago
— On September 28, 2014, police fired tear gas at a peaceful protest in Hong Kong Central. For Hong Kongers, this was an unprecedented act of aggression by the region’s once-highly-respected and up-until-then-independent police force against its own people. In response to police violence, millions took to the streets in the ensuing days and weeks in what became known as the “Umbrella Movement.” 

Inspired by Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests earlier that year, Hong Kongers remained in the streets for more than two months, demanding political reforms as they saw their “guaranteed” special autonomous status being eroded by mainland China’s Communist PartyState. After peacefully disbanding in November 2014, the movement continued to work through the social and political process, only to be thwarted again and again by the increasing encroachment of Beijing’s “Lawfare” tactics, which ultimately led to the struggles throughout the city in 2019. The Pro-Democracy movement won an overwhelming victory in the November 2019 District Council elections, but—as we all know—other circumstances soon arose that “cleared the streets” globally. While the world sought solutions for a global crisis, Beijing imposed a new “National Security Law” in Hong Kong on June 1, 2020. The Repression of Hong Kong began in earnest.

There needs to be a dialogue about Hong Kong’s future, but dialogue is impossible if people are forbidden to speak freely. Let us remember this day, and pray for those who have been silenced, and especially for those who are in prison or on trial because their efforts to be heard were met with violence and repression.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Happy Birthday Avril Lavigne: Sing Your Heart Out

Happy 39th Birthday (‼️) to the enormously talented, funny, rowdy, sometimes reckless, always great-hearted Canadian singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne. She’s also a fellow Lyme disease survivor who has done much to spread information and awareness about this illness, and support others who are struggling with it.

Avril is currently busy with many things (I can’t keep up with her). Her musical creativity is her greatest gift, and when she reaches down deep she can make powerful songs that seem simple but resonate profoundly thanks to her uniquely versatile and evocative voice. No one in the world sings like her. Two decades ago, she sang with real-life candor about being a teenage girl—about liking boys, of course, but also about the whole spectrum of enthusiasm for life, wondering about the future, dreams, awkwardness, loneliness, searching for human connection, and the discovery of existence as an awesome adventure that is “anything but ordinary.”

“Dear Avril, there are still songs not yet written that no one but you can sing. Give your great voice to those songs that express the whole range of struggles and joys and questions of your life today. Don’t give in to cynicism, but find the wonder and fascination and urgency of what life offers you now. Ask that question, ‘is it enough?’, and then sing your heart out. You can sing these songs like nobody else. And not just power ballads (of which you already have some of the best ever); go ahead and rock ‘n roll it — make some “noise,” not just in anger, not for vengeance, but with the energy and enthusiasm that will help the rest of us to wake up. Your voice has a strength and a clarity and a quality that shapes words so that they stick in our heads.

“Wishing you many more happy birthdays…”

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Thousand Days of Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai

If I suffer for the right cause, it only defines the person I am becoming. It can only be good for me to become a better person. If you believe in the Lord, if you believe that all suffering has a reason, and the Lord is suffering with me ... I’m at peace with it” (Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong democracy activist, former publisher of the Apple Daily, Prisoner of the Chinese Communist Party-State).

Today Jimmy Lai marks 1000 days in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison in Hong Kong. He is presently serving a sentence of five years on trumped-up charges regarding his newspaper supposedly violating a lease agreement, but that’s just a warm-up for whatever Beijing is really planning to inflict on this courageous 75-year-old whose newspaper published the truth about Hong Kong’s struggle for freedom over the past decade.

He still faces charges of “subversion” under Beijing’s “national security law” which the CCP imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 in order to crush the further advance of Hong Kong’s popular Pro-Democracy movement. The Brave New China of Xi Jingpeng uses different tactics to smash those who refuse to conform to its agenda of building a total surveillance society and a neocolonial, neo-fascist commercial empire. Rather than mowing down dissenters with the tanks and guns of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, China’s current Party-state wages “Lawfare.” Beijing has invaded Hong Kong with the implacable hydra-headed monster of its bureaucracy. When the CCP speaks about the “rule of law” what they really mean is that they rule using their “laws” interpreted and administered by their system without public transparency or accountability. Its a 21st century version of old Imperial China’s “death-by-a-thousand-cuts.”

Jimmy Lai has spent nearly three years in prison, waiting for a trial that continues to be delayed—a show trial that is guaranteed to produce another prison sentence that will last the rest of his life. He waits along with hundreds of other political prisoners, including Joshua Wong—the 26-year-old activist who has been fighting for the freedom of his city since he was a teenager in 2012 —and others who may disappear into the notoriously inhuman Chinese prison system that has tortured and brutalized so many dissidents in the past. The world must not forget them.

They will not suffer alone. The young ones, if they embrace the call of interior non-violence—if they refuse to hate their captors, their torturers, and those who hold power—they will be shaped by a freedom that is irrepressible when it lives by love, and one day they will emerge as men and women prepared for leadership, prepared to change their beloved city and all of China. They must endure in hope that China will change, that the nightmare of repression will end. Their suffering will not be in vain. Indeed, the many Catholics and other Christians among them (including Joshua Wong and 2014 Umbrella Movement leader Benny Tai) know this by their faith in Jesus. May He sustain them, and all their compatriots who in suffering for the sake of what is right are carrying out a great work of mercy.

Then there are the elders. Jimmy Lai escaped from Chairman Mao’s dystopian reign when he was a boy, and took refuge in then-British Hong Kong. He worked hard and used his creative energy to build a successful business in the British colony and became a full British citizen. Long a supporter of his wife’s Catholic faith, Jimmy Lai was finally baptized in 1997, within a week after the colony was handed over to mainland rule under an agreement that was full of promises of “autonomy” for Hong Kong. But we know only too well that Leninist fascism always puts the iron grip of Party control first, that it lives by lies and broken promises.

As a British citizen, Jimmy Lai could have easily left Hong Kong when the persecution began in 2020. But he chose to stay, to continue the fight, knowing that for him it might well end in suffering. He finds the grace of courage, and he sees the meaning and value of the road ahead, because he knows in faith that “the Lord is suffering with me.”

[*Digital portrait of Jimmy Lai (above) based on news photograph. Credit to original photo owner—used for educational purposes only in this personal weblog. Art by JJStudios.]

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Friday, September 22, 2023

Autumn is Here, and It’s Wet!

Happy Fall 2023. (…or Spring, if you’re Down Under.) We have arrived at another equinox.

Unlike the rest of the planet, here in “The Valley” we had what seemed like an unusually mild summer. 

But it has been very dry. Thunderstorms came like splashes of water on thirsty ground, but they didn’t help the water levels. The lawns have hardly needed mowing all summer. Then, after surprisingly bearable temperatures throughout July and August, we finally had a big heat wave at the beginning of this month.

Now we have arrived at the nearly three-quarter-mark of the year. The temperatures have plunged and the skies have opened. The seasons are “shifting gears” again.

My joints ache. Arrgh! They hurt!—which is not exactly “news,” although getting older is not helping.

They will trouble me especially until the brisk air of October comes in to stay. Wet weather is the worst for the old “rheumatism,” but I shall manage as best as I can while we finally get relief from the drought.

I love Autumn. I’m not too thrilled about the shorter days, especially the earlier evenings. Still, the best weather of the year (at least in my opinion) comes to our area in the next three months. Fall colors are not usually dramatic, but they vary throughout the season and combine with the changing angles of sunlight to create many colorful vistas.

I shall post some “natural” photographs (is there even such a thing?—that’s another question for another day). But photos are a form of media that seem best suited for “catching” nature as she puts on her own show.

But I shall also permit those Autumn colors to inspire my art. It will be fascinating to watch where they lead me.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Jesus Calls Matthew… and Each One of Us

Happy Saint Matthew’s Day! It’s time once again for our annual contemplation of “The Call…” painted in 1600 by that Master of Shadows and Light, Michelangelo Merisi da CARAVAGGIO! I am still “shook” by this painting as much as when I first saw the original in Rome, 30 years ago.

The painting expresses something of that great mercy that Jesus brought into the world, that healing mercy, that inexhaustible mercy, God’s mercy. He calls Matthew to follow Him, to stay with Him, to trust in Him. Christ’s mercy penetrates the darkness of Matthew’s life of sin and engenders something new within Matthew’s heart, an attraction that awakens his true desire and draws him to Jesus. In following the call of Jesus, Matthew is converted. 

The Pharisees’ condemnation of their behavior didn’t change sinners or give them hope. What changes them is the presence of Jesus—Mercy incarnate—the Divine Physician, the Savior who calls sinners to follow Him and be freed and made new by His love. 

He calls Matthew the tax collector to be one of the Twelve Apostles, His chosen witnesses for the foundation of the Catholic Christian people. 

He calls each one of us—no matter how messed up we are, no matter what our sins are, no matter how impossible it may seem to us that we might ever change our lives—He calls us all through our time in this world, every day, every moment. With infinite love and mercy, He implores us, He begs us, “Follow me, stay with me, trust in me.” He wants us so much, because He loves us with an immeasurable love. We who wallow in our sins, fixated on ourselves and tying ourselves in knots—what if we allowed ourselves to hear His voice? What if we looked up to see His face? Why not follow Him? He is the One for whom we have been created. He is our happiness and fulfillment. And He is here.

If we stay with Him, we will change, we will be healed and transformed. Mercy opens up within the depths of our souls a new “space” of desire, a hope that He will save us, that we can be with Him forever because He has come to be with us. The more we follow Him, the more He draws us to love Him, and the more we see all of reality in a new way, the true way. The “conversion of Saint Matthew” is the fruit of his encounter with Jesus Christ who calls him. It is enough to say, “he got up and followed Him” (Matthew 9:9).

Thus we read in today’s Gospel:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ He heard this and said, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners’” (Matthew 9:9-13).

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Birth of the Church in Korea

Today is the feast of the 103 Korean martyrs canonized by John Paul II in 1984. The remarkable story of the beginnings of Christianity in Korea—along with an account of the conversion of one of them, Saint Mareuko Jeong (in older transliterations “Mark Chong”)—appears in my column in this month’s Magnificat. Here is the text:

Saint Mareuko Jeong Eui-Bae is one of the 103 Korean martyrs whose feast we celebrate on September 20. He is among some 10,000 Koreans who gave their lives for Christ during multiple fierce persecutions in the mid-19th century. Most were ordinary lay men and women, but some were also from the educated classes and the nobility. We know enough about the high-ranking nobleman/scholar Mareuko Jeong to appreciate the particular drama of his conversion.

Korean cultural life flourished for many centuries, creatively appropriating ancient Chinese literary and religious traditions into its own independent society. But by the end of the 18th century, the 500-year-old Joseon dynasty was in deep decline, and dependent on Qing-dynasty China. Meanwhile, the Joseon Neo-Confucian State had become a religious/political structure of rigid social hierarchy, with the monarch at the center, followed by the noble and scholarly classes, and with many of the common people reduced to a status of virtual slavery.

It was the scholar-officials who began searching for ways to reform this ossified society. In frequent diplomatic trips to Beijing, they met “Westeners” (including Catholic priests) and obtained books on developments in Western science, technology, philosophy, and religion translated into Chinese. Thus arose the “Sohak” movement—groups of scholars who studied “Western learning” and discussed its possible value for reforming Korean society. For most, it was mainly an intellectual examination of various Western ideas, but a few were drawn specifically to the Catholic faith. Yi Sung-hun was baptized in Beijing in 1784, returned to Korea, and baptized a few of his compatriots. By the time the first priest arrived in 1795 there were 4000 baptized lay Catholics waiting for him.

There was also aggressive opposition to the new teaching. The Joseon royal house and their Neo-Confucian supporters viewed Christianity as a threat to the Korean social order. Worship of One God in Jesus Christ undermined the religious/superstitious system of rites offered for the monarch and the hierarchical continuity of clan and family. Christianity preached that God was the Father of all people, who were brothers and sisters with a common destiny in Christ regardless of their origins and social status. Among the scholars who abhorred the new Christian teaching was (Mareuko) Jeong Eui-Bae.

Born in 1794, Jeong was an established professor of Chinese literature and defender of the status quo when persecution broke out in 1839. By that time the French Foreign Mission Society had sent a bishop and two priests to Korea. In 1839, Jeong Eui-Bae witnessed the brutal mutilation and execution of Bishop Laurentius Imbert, Father Peter Maubant, and Father Jakob Chastan. (They are also among the 103 martyred saints.)

The 47-year-old scholar had seen death many times. But in these three men Jeong saw something completely new: an astonishing joy in the face of torture and death. Jeong was growing old in a society where death was covered with shadows. His studies gave no hint as to how to face death, much less to embrace it with the joy he saw on the faces of those missionaries that day.

Disregarding his honorable station, Jeong obtained and read forbidden Christian books and met the people who believed in the One written about in those books. Glimpsing there the Source of hitherto unknown joy and hope, the long-cynical old professor was totally converted. He was baptized Mareuko (Mark) and devoted his newfound zeal and intellectual skills to working as a catechist and caring for the sick. The poor humble people whom the former aristocrat had once scorned he now served with love until his own martyrdom in 1866, at age 72.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

San Gennaro

Happy "Janaro Family Feast Day"! Buona Festa di San Gennaro! 

Today is the Feast Day of the Great Ancestor of the Janaro Clan, the original Saint Januarius, fourth-century bishop and martyr. I'm sure he must, somehow, be related to us, what with the "Benevento" and "Naples" regional traditions and all... or there must be some connection, because "Janaro" (with the "J") is a variant in old Neapolitan dialect of "Januarius." Both of which are derived from the mythical Roman god "Janus," the "guardian of the gateways" and all places where people come in and go out (note that "January" is the first month, the end of one year and the beginning of another).

Thus I hypothesize. 

In any case, according to Legend (and I should know, because I made up the legend) he is the patron saint of the Janaros. 


Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Mid-September brings the ancient liturgical celebration of the “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” (September 14), which is linked to the fourth-century reclamation and first public development of Jerusalem as the center of Christian pilgrimage.

The locations of the death and resurrection of Jesus became accessible for the first time to pilgrims from all places thanks to Emperor Constantine’s official tolerance and increasing public favor of Christianity, along with the work of his mother Saint Helena, who found the original sites and the relic of the True Cross that had been preserved over several centuries of pagan Roman administration of the city.

These places matter to us because God entered human history, died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead there, not thus becoming restrained by these places and moments, but rather establishing Himself as the Center of the fulfillment of history and the radical origin of a new creation, as the Redeemer and Lord of all times and places, of each and every one of us.

The Cross of Jesus is exalted, not with a merely worldly glory, but with the glory beyond anything we can imagine, the endless glory of the God who wants to give Himself to us, the God who is Infinite Love.

Monday, September 11, 2023

September 11: “Hatred of the Human”

"It was not Jews, it was not Christians,
it was not Westerners, it was not Easterners.
There were all of these people at the World Trade Center.
What did they have in common?
Their humanity.
That was their offense. That was the object of their hatred.
This was hatred of the human."
~Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, commenting on 9/11 in an interview with Frontline, 2002.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Christina Grimmie: Held Up “With Love”

In addition to my nature scenery, faces like this one make me want to persevere in working hard with digital graphic art, in the possibilities it offers for portraiture. As I mark seven years and three months honoring Christina Grimmie, I’m inspired and grateful for all the music she shared with us.

We recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of Christina’s second album, With Love, and its beautiful title song. May the One about whom she sang this song “always hold her up” in the presence of that Love which overcomes every evil and all forms of violence.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The “Russo-Ukrainian War” Must Not Be Forgotten

The “Russo-Ukrainian War” (as it’s being called) is more like the First World War than anyone expected a major clash in Europe in the 21st century would look like. There are many obvious differences, of course: for example the prevalence of unmanned drones in bombing raids. Death and destruction fall anonymously from the air often enough to keep ordinary Ukrainian people constantly anxious and alert. But the front lines of battle are on the ground, and they move slowly and at great cost. Something like trench warfare has made a strange comeback.

What else are we witnessing here in addition to Ukraine’s struggle for the just cause of reestablishing its own legitimate territorial borders? Are we still in “the early days” of an as-yet-unimaginable global war? It has gotten no easier to predict how military conflict may yet escalate, or what future geopolitical problems might emerge from the current situation. These are some of the many obscurities of “the fog of war.”

With an estimated 500,000 casualties and millions of ordinary people brutally driven from their homes and into exile, the present war of Putinist Russian aggression in Ukraine has more than enough carnage to distinguish itself as a significant historical phenomenon (how awful it sounds to classify so much suffering in academic terms!). 

Not surprisingly, it is becoming more difficult to package the news about the war for the typical Western “information consumer.” But no one should forget or make light of this awful war and the suffering it is causing. I am convinced that there can only be a fully “just peace” when Russian leaders repent of their crimes against humanity, not only in this present war, but over a century of crimes perpetrated against Ukraine, against the peoples of Eastern Europe, and against their own people. 

Our Lady of Fatima has promised that “Russia will be converted,” and that humanity will be granted a “period of peace.” We do not know how this period of peace will unfold. It may well be that Russia’s historic riches of culture, religious humanism, and spirituality will be renewed after Russia’s conversion (which must include the effort to make amends for its crimes and the irrevocable and unambiguous renunciation of the criminal regimes that have afflicted so many over the past century). Today’s war criminals must humbly submit to punishment by legally constituted international courts; let them not be met with vengeance, but with appropriate justice that might also become a road of penance and conversion for them. 

Some day, a renewed Russia will hopefully play an important role in shaping a more peaceful world. But the true greatness of Russia is rooted in the centuries of people who followed Christ in simplicity and humility, who were willing to bear their burdens, poverty, and afflictions with a passionate love for Christ and His Gospel. The greatness of Russia is not expressed in nostalgia for the monstrous reign of Stalin. Nor is it served by the sham traditionalism of Putin that is so flimsy that it cannot hide the will-to-power and the nihilism that operate beneath its surface.

Russia’s conversion must pass through a period of penance and self-limitation (as Solzhenitsyn insisted in his open letter to the Kremlin leadership in 1973). But the West must not see Russia’s (increasingly inevitable) decrease in worldly power as a cosmic endorsement of its own vapid, negligent, decadent, and often cruel lifestyle. The West must also be converted before we lose the last fragments of the “civil society” that allows for our most basic freedoms. We must cease our arrogance and corruption, our wasteful self-indulgent “splendid feasts” while the Lazaruses of our world long for the crumbs that fall from our tables.

We must all pray for the grace of conversion, and the grace to recognize and love Christ “in all things and above all things.” Jesus Christ is the Lord of history and He is present now in our lives, in the world, begging for our love. Each of us must seek to reform our own lives through the working of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus, to make reparation for sins through union with His most compassionate Heart, and to beg for peace for all the peoples and places that cry out from the pain of violence and destitution.

May God have mercy on Ukraine and its people, on Russia, on Western nations that have grown fat and lazy and ignorant of God instead of using their abundance to perform works of mercy, and on all the poor, helpless, crushed peoples all over the world. May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The “Flood” of Digital Graphics: HELP!!

Among many developments in “AI” technology, the graphics revolution is one that I see happening day-by-day, week-by-week. New ways to digitally create and manipulate images are continually becoming more accessible to the public. 

I have been trying to use digital technology to be artistically creative, but the flood of new things is overwhelming right now. Electronic media do not set “natural limits,” and at present they are pushing in the opposite direction. If digital artists do not set their own limits, they will not succeed in being creative—in actually making a work that is finished. They will be caught in the vortex of an endless video game. 

That is one reason why I like to post my work online (even if I’m not satisfied with it). It’s one way of giving finality to a project. Perhaps I should start aiming for a “print,” ultimately. Even open a shop to share my work concretely. There’s no substitute for three dimensionality—something you can hold in your hand. 

It should be noted that all this is a current weird extension of the perennial struggle of the artist in any medium. Piles of unfinished canvases, sheets and recordings of unfinished or half-finished music, fragments of poems—there’s nothing new about any of that. What’s new (and an added stress for the nervous system) is the additional “layer of mediation” that electronic technology opens up, which apparently increases power and versatility but also increases “distance” from the created object(s). Even the clutter of your not-entirely-discarded efforts can be “stored” in the digital cloud.

This is marketed as making creativity “easier.” It certainly facilitates banality, frustration, self-deception, vanity, and wasting time. But it cannot substitute for attention, focus, patience, intense effort, or discipline. To create a work of beauty—an analogous expression of Beauty (however humble)—is never easy.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Monday, September 4, 2023

September is Here Again

The month of September 2023 has begun.

The new academic year is already well launched, but in the USA and other countries the “Labor Day Weekend” brings the vacation season to a close. Eileen and Jojo are back to school. And once again I feel a bit “lost” to the transitions and changes of routine that for many years set the rhythm of my life.

I continue the pattern of life that chronic illness has set for me — a kind of surreal form of “house arrest” that is not terribly burdensome. I have my books and access to information and communications technology on a massive scale. Aside from battling a bit of depression, my mind remains very much alive and engaged on many things. Almost every day, I have a segment of outdoor activity, where I walk the grounds around our house and in the neighborhood. I have not tired of our little patch of earth. I work with digital art for a portion of each day, and read and write during another portion. We watch some television in the evening. I pray, and try to “participate remotely” in one of the many live-streamed Masses available on YouTube throughout the day. Then, each Sunday, I go to Mass — my big outing of the week — and family usually gets together on Sunday afternoons.

I get tired easily, and then things are not so clear. Usually I have to nap every day.

I’m beginning my 60th September (I can’t possibly be 60, can I?). Half a lifetime ago, I was in the process of moving to Italy. Yes, that was 1993 … that’s what 30 years ago feels like. Ah, Roma! You will forever be “my home.”

Exhausted. But there is so much to do, so much that I want to do. I have spent a lifetime refining my ability to understand and share my gifts. What will become of those efforts? Something still burns within me — something that, it seems, still needs to grow and be cultivated to bear fruit.

I pray and pray, knowing that everything is in God’s hands.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Pope Francis in Mongolia, Knocks on China’s “Wall”

I don’t know how an 86-year-old man does it. 

The pope has undoubtedly natural reserves of energy, notwithstanding the knee problems, the sciatica, and other internal problems. But grace builds on nature, and the animating force that has driven Francis into one of the world’s great deserts is an evangelical love for the people of Mongolia.

There are only a few thousand Christians among three-and-a-half million Mongolians, many of whom still lead nomadic lives but also carry the memory of their forebears who built an immense empire throughout China and Central Asia in the 13th century. It was a starkly ambivalent empire, bringing total destruction upon those who resisted its conquering armies, but also a measure of peace and civil and religious tolerance to places that that submitted and became tributaries.

While it flourished, the Mongolian empire made relatively safe the vast East-West overland trade route, a long and perilous way held together by an archipelago of oases. For a time in the Western Middle Ages, a “line” of communication and exchange was opened that stretched from Venice to Beijing.

This memory, however, was not the purpose of Francis’s visit. Today Mongolia is a scantily populated “periphery” of the global landscape. Its people are easily ignored. But they are people, human persons, each one of them loved by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. This is enough for the Holy Spirit, whose inspiration Francis is committed to discerning and following.

It also happens to be the case that Mongolia today shares a border of some 2000 miles with the north of the Peoples Republic of China. The significance of this border in the playing-out of events in the 21st century and beyond is impossible to determine today. But when Pope Francis walked through the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar he came closer than any of his predecessors to the soil of the historically great, currently enigmatic “world” that is China.

China is also much loved by God, and destined to play a pivotal role in the emerging epoch. Like his confrere Saint Francis Xavier, Pope Francis reached the threshold of China. He “knocked” on the doors of its metaphorical “Great Wall” (not far from the remains of the actual Wall on classical China’s northern frontier). May the Lord grant that others will follow, building bridges of communication and understanding, opening up the paths of the Holy Spirit, the way of evangelization. We hope that the next encounter between East and West will be marked by an enrichment of the fullness of Catholicity, rather than by an explosion of another cataclysmic war.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

“…A Different Perception of Things…”

It is so easy to become divisive, belligerent, and self-imposing (individually or “tribally”) in a fragmented society. It is also easy to become fatalistic, cynical, apathetic, withdrawn, or confused and afraid. How can we live in a true way, true to our own humanity, our freedom, our “selves” here-and-now, today?

We waste so much time trying to define ourselves by limited proposals and perspectives, by human ideologies that insulate us from facing our own radical vulnerability; our need to ask the question that pervades everything in life and that is infinitely deeper than ourselves.

The foundation for engaging reality is not an ideology we have to construct, or membership in the “right party” among all our ever-more-divided and exclusionary partisan factions. The foundation is a Person to whom we belong in a relationship of abandonment and trust — and we are empowered to belong to Him (within the depths of our freedom) because He has given Himself to us in His infinite Love, and He is with us now. It is okay if we don’t “understand” things, or feel “overwhelmed” by things. We can ask Him, stay with Him, follow Him — an He will change us and cause us to grow in new ways, into the inexhaustible spaces of His wisdom and love.

Adherence to the Person of Christ makes you a new creature, who has "the dignity, the certainty of your destiny and the capacity to operate in a new and more human way." This new humanity means "A different experience of the sentiment of yourself, a different perception of things, a different emotion of the presence of others, a different impetus and density in relationships, a different gusto in the troubled dynamic of work, an outcome that was inconceivable, unimaginable before" (Luigi Giussani).

Thursday, August 31, 2023

One More “Summer Sunset”…

One more “Summer Sunset” as August 2023 comes to an end. The weather was unusually pleasant this month (but we still need rain).

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Maria Knows Her “A-B-C’s” —And Sings Them Too

This video with Maria is already a few weeks old, but I still want to post it. She’s even better now with her letters. Smart little girl.

The video is on a “private” setting, which means you need to use the link below to view it on YouTube. Do you know that this was the original intention of the inventors of YouTube back in the early 2000s?—to set up a platform on the internet that enabled people to share videos with their friends via an embedded link. Video files were getting too big to attach directly to email, so YouTube was meant to be a website where you could upload larger videos and then share them with your email friends. Click the link, go directly from email to the video. That was all it was meant to do.

But people using YouTube discovered that they could do more than just share videos on emails with their friends about their children or grandchildren. They could share videos that they created with the whole world.

The rest, as they say, is history.

As for me, I still like the convenience of sharing a video link on my little blog. The “Next Big Thing” is probably being invented right now; we humans, after all, are clever and full of surprises. 

But let’s focus on how clever (and how cute) my granddaughter is:

Monday, August 28, 2023

“O Beauty, Ever Ancient, Ever New”


"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace" (Confessions, book X).

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ukraine and the “Power of Love”

August 24th marks the 32nd anniversary of Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence from the former Soviet Union. For the second year in a row, this national day will be observed by Ukrainians in the face of the ongoing full-scale invasion of their country (and occupation of parts of it) by Russian armed forces controlled by the Moscow dictatorship of former Soviet K.G.B. agent Vladimir Putin.

As Ukraine continues to fight in self-defense and for its right to national integrity according to its internationally recognized borders, these words from last year’s Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church continue to point to the what must remain the authentic spirit of Ukraine’s struggle:

“These days, we ask ourselves: what gives us the strength to fight and resist an enemy who outnumbers us ten times in military power? If we correct the very question — ‘who’ gives us power, then the answer becomes obvious. God gives us strength, because He is the Lord of strength. Why? Because we love! The power of Ukrainians is the power of love. Our soldiers are guided by the principle of not hating others, but love for their own children, loved ones, parents, friends, land, native streets, dawns, fogs... Love is manifested in tireless work of volunteers, in generous donations of millions, in sincere silent prayer. And in this love we have already won.

“This moral high ground should be preserved. We will finally win only when we continue to love, when we do not deviate one iota from the biblical formula for this victory:
‘We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. He who does not love is in death’ (1 John 3:14). Love creates heroes, and hate creates criminals. The cruelty of war is dehumanizing, so we, as a nation defending itself and the Church uniting the people into Christ's family, must make every effort to preserve our dignity and humanity, without in any case stooping to the inhumanity and atrocities of the aggressor. Let's protect the hearts of our soldiers from evil, so that they remain warriors of light and goodness! Let's take care of our hearts! Let's turn our anger and resentment into courage, indomitability, true wisdom and the victory of God's truth. St. Paul exhorts ‘Do not let evil overcome you, but overcome evil with good’” (Romans 12:21).

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Deer in the Field

In the evening, the deer cross the open fields. Beginning with a base of a low-visibility photograph in the twilight, I used tools (applying and adapting filters and doing detailed work “by hand”) to create a digital art portrayal of one of the deer, nibbling the greenery.

Brought to you by JJStudios:

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The “Lowly Servant” Who Became Our Queen and Our Mother

“You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God” (Isaiah 62:3).

On this day — the “Octave” of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary — the Western Church honors the “Queenship of Mary.” She became the Mother of the Lord of all creation, the Lord of all history, not by exalting herself but by giving herself as a “lowly servant” of the Lord and His wonderful and mysterious plan for our redemption.

"He has looked with favor on His lowly servant. / From this day all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48).

The “yes” of Mary was humble and courageous, because she trusted in the God who loves the poor, the God who cherishes the value of every human person — especially those we tend to ignore, those who seem insignificant, powerless, forgotten. 

"The Lord raises the lowly; he humbles the wicked to the dust. O sing to the Lord, giving thanks; sing psalms to our God with the harp" (Psalm 147:6-7). 

Mary believed in the promise of the God who is Infinite Love, the promise that Love would triumph over sin and evil. Thus God’s love took flesh in her womb, came to dwell with us, to save us, to transform us and make us His brothers and sisters. She became His Mother, and our Mother.

Remembering Him and staying with Him under the tender maternal gaze of Mary, we will remember that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we must love one another, forgive one another, show mercy to one another.

"Mary, ever-virgin, most honored Queen of the world, you gave birth to our Savior, Christ the Lord" (Antiphon, Feast of the Queenship of Mary).

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Difference Between “Firmness” and “Rigidity”

In his Angelus address for August 20, Pope Francis used the Gospel example of Jesus healing the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) as an opportunity to distinguish between the virtue of firmness and the anxiety-driven, dysfunctional attitude of rigidity. This is most illuminating, especially because it pertains to practical judgments about how we live in relation to others, how we regard the person in front of us and attend to his or her real needs, how we are challenged to love the person beyond our own preconceived projects. 

“This is what God is like: he is love, and the one who loves does not remain rigid. Yes, he or she stands firm, but not rigid, they do not remain rigid in their own positions, but allow themselves to be moved and touched. He or she knows how to change their plans. Love is creative. And we Christians who want to imitate Christ, we are invited to be open to change. How good it would do our relationships, as well as our lives of faith, if we were to be docile, to truly pay attention, to be moved in the name of compassion and the good of others….

“The docility to change. Hearts docile to change….

“We can ask ourselves a few questions… For example: Am I capable of changing opinion? Do I know how to be understanding and do I know how to be compassionate, or do I remain rigid in my position? Is there some rigidity in my heart? Which is not firmness: rigidity is awful, firmness is good.”

Firmness is good. The truth revealed by God through Jesus Christ has a firm hold on those who trust in Him. The truth doesn’t need us to build walls around it or be constrained by our narrow-minded fears and insecurities. Rather, firmness of truth flourishes and becomes more fruitful when we are docile to the Spirit of Truth, who changes us and opens our hearts to the creativity of love.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Some “Wonderful Things”….

I noted last week that there are “some significant and wonderful things happening in our family life” — by which I mean events that naturally evoke feelings of gratitude (even though, in its depths, every moment of this life is a gift and a mystery: a gift of Love and an invitation to grow in love, to grow beyond ourselves). Don’t worry, I’m going to write more, but for now I just want to let one of these “cats out of the bag.” Here is a picture of Maria. Lately, she’s started wearing shirts like this….

But what could it mean? Hints: (1) stop scrolling; (2) read what it says on the shirt; (3) think…. 


Maria has a little sister, whose face she will see before the end of this year. In other words, her Mommy is having another baby girl… in/around December. Obviously, this is not “news” for family and local friends, but this is my first time posting about it… or I should say, about her.

Christmas 2023 is going to be especially beautiful (and busy) for the Janaro family!😊⭐️

Thursday, August 17, 2023

August Has Big Clouds But Little Rain

More from the “Summer Skies 2023” series (or whatever I originally called it). “Thunderclouds rolling into an August evening.” 

That one is quite “impressionistic” with its dark colors, but what can I say? These clouds have made an “impression” on me, invading the space of the waning sunlight late in the day.

The fact is that—while we’ve had thunderstorms and dramatic skies all summer—actual rainfall has been way down. “Happy Creek” is not so happy these days. You could walk across it and barely get your feet wet. Old fashioned boring but steady rain would be welcomed around here.

#ShenandoahValley #DigitalArt #JJStudios

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Virgin Mary is “Queen of Media”

The Blessed Virgin Mary. Gave us a “selfie” long before it was cool.😎 

Happy Feast of the Assumption of Mary (or “Dormition” for Byzantines☦️🙂).

#Assumption #Dormition 

#Guadalupe #SheHasABody

#SharingResurrectionOfJesus #HopeOfOurResurrection #CatechismInHashtags

Really, Mary is the O.G. of “social media influencers.” Well, it might be irreverent to refer to Mary as the “O.G.” of anything—the popular abbreviation for the phrase “Original Gangster” is commonly used to refer to people who were the real inspirations and originators of popular trends, but it doesn’t imply any negative or criminal activity. The kids these days use it as a term of respect. Or they used to…I can’t keep up with the “latest” lingo.🙄 Anyway, Mamma Mary, please forgive me—you know what a fool I am!

Mary assumed body and soul into eternal life joined her risen and glorified Son, and in them the Kingdom of God—the New Creation—has already begun in its fullness and in all its implications for human destiny. Mary lives in her glorified body as a sign of hope for all of us. She also provides her maternal love and “makes herself present” in special “visible” ways to individuals and peoples within this present history of space and time.

Such phenomena take various forms (when they are authentic, which is always subject to the judgment of the Church), but Mary has a beautiful way of establishing herself in particular places so that her children have an abundance of ways to draw close to her. Some great shrines are dedicated to the locations of Mary’s prophetic apparitions, through which she has given guidance to peoples and nations and (e.g. Lourdes and Fatima) the whole human race. 

Then there are countless Marian icons (pictures and—in the West—statues) that Catholic and Orthodox peoples have held dear through the ages. They have sought and obtained Mary’s special maternal protection at the many Marian shrines, or through copies of Mary’s images and icons revered in their own homes. Think of Our Lady of Częstochowa (Poland), Aparecida (Brazil), Knock (Ireland), La Vang (Vietnam), Ostrobramska (Lithuania, Poland, Belarus), Vailankanni (India), the Virgin of Kazan (Russia), the Virgin of Volodymyr (Ukraine), and many more.

Then, of course, there’s Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the Merciful Mother who “dwells” at the center of the Western Hemisphere and communicates her love and solicitude through an inexplicable image that radiates from a 500 year old cactus fiber cloak.

We struggle to invent and master technologies that we think might “extend” our interactions with others and express our love (though, sadly, we all-too-often use them to express everything but love). Let’s look to the intercession of Mary, who lives bodily in the light of God’s glory and finds countless ways to stay connected to us, her children. She needs no technology to communicate with us, and always gives us the love that leads us to the heart of Jesus her Son, our brother.

This is the only real social network—the unity brought about by the Holy Spirit, the unity of our sister-and-brother-hood with Jesus in the Father’s house, the union with God our Creator who loves us and wants to transform us in his likeness. This is what lasts forever. How can we serve the building up of this communion while using the human networks we work with in this life, with all their flaws and disappointments and opaqueness? Our Blessed Mother Mary will help us.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Saint Maximilian Kolbe: Love Triumphs Over Sin

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

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Where is God’s Strength in My Weakness?

Presently, I am lying in my bed, writing this on my iPad. I have spent a lot of time in my bed lately, taking the weight off pain, trying to “manage my discomfort,” or else just being exhausted. I have been ill most of this Summer. In addition to the usual periodic flare-ups of arthritis and myofascial pain, I seem to be afflicted by a mental exhaustion—and a kind of paralysis in communicating that has made writing more difficult and at times renders me perplexed even in speech.

And, yes, I am forgetting things more and more. It may only be “brain fog,” but it’s more than usual.

Not much of this is surprising. My “mood” has been low, although on a deeper level I have a “joy” that has received great encouragement from the encounter of Pope Francis with young people at World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon. There are, in fact, many things for me to rejoice about right now; some significant and wonderful things are happening in our family life. I’ll share more details on these things soon.

I haven’t done much with social media, other than sharing some artwork. I haven’t been posting links to my blog lately, although I have tried to keep writing all through July and August thus far. There are a some articles and also some useful resources, so I will have to find a way to “catch up” with my Facebook contacts and also on X (the site formerly known as Twitter). Ay ya yaiy, “X”!🙄 -

Ironically, my “right brain” (the creative side) has been engaged frequently by the ever-expanding visual techniques of AI, which I am determined to make use of—insofar as I am able—as a new kind of “material” out of which genuine forms of art may be fashioned. I don’t know how much success I have had thus far in making anything that is beautiful or evocative—it seems to me that I’m still in the midst of my “ten thousand hours” of learning a craft. In any case, even this work tires me out rapidly.

We have also had to wrestle with a series of very stressful circumstances this Summer regarding my wife’s work. For now, things appear to be resolved. But the stress of this ordeal was frequently intense, and I feel like it might have “taken a few years off” what’s left of my already-battered-up, overstressed, strange and unpredictable life.

I have lots to say about my East Asian Studies and Media Studies projects, but I haven’t been able to put anything “together.” But my studies slowly move forward. My monthly column in Magnificat is sometimes torturous to write, and yet—as of now—I haven’t given up on it. I have learned so much from this work over the past 10+ years, and I have had a special opportunity to share stories of people from all over the world and all through the past 2000 years of history whose lives have been changed by their encounters with Jesus through the Church. It’s a real challenge to “condense” these stories into two page articles, but the resulting brevity is probably part of what draws people to read them. It takes some surprisingly intense effort to write short pieces that are focused—that are both rich and concise. This work has been a great blessing. But some months are very hard, and sometimes I feel like I’m being pushed way beyond my limits, and far too close to going “over the edge.” I don’t really know how to convey what I struggle with here: I love researching and writing my “Conversion Stories” column but it also just wipes me out.

Right now I’m living with a lot of weakness, and if there is strength offered or built up by anything I do, I cannot perceive it. I fear that I might be becoming languid and discouraged—but I think that the sense of purpose, the desire to press on, to live “for the glory of Christ” remains the motivation that prods and provokes me every day. Wherever I find the hindrances of my own peculiar afflictions—not to mention my ordinary human limitations and follies, distractions, rashness, fear, misjudgments—in other words, wherever I find the hindrances of my own weakness, I know that I can only offer this weakness. I can’t become discouraged because I see no purpose to it, no achievements springing forth from it. If God’s power is made perfect in weakness, it happens in mysterious ways that I believe are real even if I don’t see them (yet). Perhaps mostly it’s the Spirit’s power working to heal and transform—in His time—all my broken places, His work of making something new out of the train-wreak-of-a-human-being that I am after 60 years and 8 months of life.

I pray for a deeper gratitude to God my Father—for everything, and for a greater compassion and mercy toward my brothers and sisters, near and far. I desire to be this way, and cannot make myself this way by my own power. Jesus, save me! Come Holy Spirit! I desire and I ask God. I try to walk in the darkness and I fall down. To get up and try again, I need Him to increase my desire and my plea for mercy. I am totally poor in myself. I am a “need,” a cry for mercy that is nevertheless full of hope because He is here. Jesus. He has come to be with us and walk with us. This is what matters.

Okay, I’m really tired now.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

“These Last Strands of Man in Me…”

“Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, 
   not choose not to be.”

~Gerard Manley Hopkins (Poem 40, Stanza 1)

Not without reason is this poem (usually titled “Carrion Comfort”) regarded as one Hopkins’s greatest. It has more depths in the ensuing stanzas, but I find a resonance with this first one in this moment. These are words that speak at the extremity of desperation, where the poet discovers something more fundamental in the core of the heart: the desire for be-ing, all the more vivid through his exhausted negative expression.

Our being is a gift and a promise, and even in our darkest moments, they draw us to endurance. The One who gives us being gives us also the seemingly fragile tenacity that is in fact a supernatural strength. It empowers our freedom to embrace hope and stand firm against despair, to “not choose not to be.” .

This is the only reasonable position for a human being on the journey of life (and we recognize that many people who take their own lives do so because their reason is blocked or distorted by psychological pathology). The reasonable position of our hearts is to never give up.