Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Painful and Beautiful Summer



We  had three really lovely days way down south on the Atlantic coast last week. It had been more than ten years since I had last seen the ocean. Josefina had never been to the beach in her entire life. It was a happy, unexpected coincidence of circumstances that opened the possibility (and determined the location) of this last minute trip.

I'm really glad we went, and it was lots of fun.

It was also much too far away, and I'm totally pooped. The traveling really wore me out.

I'm slowly arranging some pictures and I will share them here soon, along with more specific details. Right now I'm just trying to recuperate a little.

It all fits in, I guess, with these recent months, this painful and beautiful summer. The pain of this time seems obvious enough on various levels: my own pain, the pains that are tearing apart my friends and weighing down my country and the world, the bloodshed and the "aftermath" that remains for the afflicted when everyone else has moved on to the next preoccupation.

The beauty, however, is veiled and mysterious. I can't really describe what I mean or even why I mention it at all. But I can't deny it. It's my faith and my hope and the love that they generate, drop by drop from the dry stone of my soul.

It's so hard.

I can't take refuge in sentimentalism or platitudes. They don't hold up. Nothing shields me from this cold, hard, real beauty.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saint Bernard: 800+ Years of Witness to God's Love

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux died on August 20, 1153. That's 863 years ago if my arithmetic is correct. Yet he left a mark on Christian history that remains fresh and vital even today, his feast day on the Roman calendar.

Bernard de Fontaines-les-Dijon was a young nobleman who left all his wealth to join a radical new monastic movement. The movement was trying to recover the ancient Benedictine tradition of living in prayer and solitude, in poverty and by the work of their own hands.

These radical monks dwelt in the wild marshland of a place called Citeaux (from the word forcistern), near the border between medieval France and Burgundy. They were ragged and unknown when Bernard first came to them, but they were dedicated to living by the original rule of Saint Benedict. They had gone to work clearing and draining the swamp, and building a humble dwelling place to worship and pray and labor. In and through Bernard, these small seeds planted by the founding monks bore a remarkable fruit.

Though he was not the founder of the great religious order that came to be known as the Cistercians, Bernard's presence, his dedication, his wisdom, and above all his radiant holiness were fundamental to the order's explosive growth in the 12th century. He became counselor to popes and kings, peacemaker, preacher, teacher, and guide along the paths of Christian life.

His sermons, letters, and commentaries remain classics. No one since Saint Augustine had spoken so profoundly and so eloquently about the love of God, and the grace by which He enables us to love Him.

And thus he continues to speak to us today:

If one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.
For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him.
I know that my God is not merely the bounteous bestower of my life, the generous provider for all my needs, the pitiful consoler of all my sorrows, the wise guide of my course: He is far more than all that. He saves me with an abundant deliverance. He is my eternal preserver, the portion of my inheritance, my glory.
Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He has given me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. 
He is all that I need, all that I long for.

"My God and my help,
I will love You for Your great goodness;
not so much as I might, surely,
but as much as I can.
I cannot love You as You deserve to be loved,
for I cannot love You more
than my own feebleness permits.
I will love You more when You deem me worthy
to receive greater capacity for loving,
yet never so perfectly as You deserve of me."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

In All Things and Above All Things

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

~Collect for this week (20th week of "Ordinary Time") in the Roman liturgy.

This is one of my favorite prayers in the whole liturgical year. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mary: The Beginning of the New Creation

Today the Church celebrates the solemn feast of the "Dormition" (the "falling asleep") of the Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, at the end of her earthly pilgrimage. The detail from the icon shows Mary "born" into eternal life, assumed into the fullness of glory in soul and body. Here the Mother is portrayed as the infant, carried by her Son, which expresses the mystery of her entire existence from the beginning.

She has always been fully His, and so she remains, glorified with Him entirely, united with His presence before the Father in the Spirit.

Mary, the New Eve, is with Jesus, the New Adam, in the fullness of the New Paradise, the beginning of the New Creation.  The young girl from Nazareth who said "Yes" to God has gone before us and thus remains with us as our Mother, the Mother of Mercy.

Mary's total transfiguration and definitive realization in soul and body with her Son is the dawn of the eschaton. Mary's  splendor is the beginning of the complete realization of God's loving plan for the world.

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

Let us pray that the Mother of God might be gratefully acknowledged, honored, and relied upon by every human person, because her tender maternal love embraces each one. Let us pray especially that all baptized Christians will recognize that she is their Mother, and allow her to lead them to the fullness of Christian faith and life.

Holy Mother of God, protect us. Watch over all your children, especially those who are suffering, those who are poor and persecuted. Pray for us always, that Jesus might draw us all into the final fulfillment of the Kingdom, so that we might dwell forever with the God whose Love renews all things.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 14th

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. This is a reproduction of a written manuscript of a poem I wrote 27 years ago, on August 14, 1989. A typed transcription of the poem follow beneath it.

When Kolbe stepped forward to offer his own life in place of another prisoner, he said, "I am a Catholic priest."




August 14th
I am the guardian
unworthy
of the flesh and blood that I command.
I stand
extended
from world's edge to windowless walls,
the quarry-block place markers 
around my becoming-all-things.
I am a mother's graceful, sweet breath
dissolving
like fine, penetrating mist
against your broken, burned skin.
I am the witness
stepping out of place
away
beyond the trembling assembly 
of bony finger-clutched this-moment,
toward the timeless returning unto dust of you
and you
and you.
Forward!
step forward...
                           ...out of place
for I am
your sacrifice.


--August 14, 1989

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Maturity and Forgiveness: Growing in a Great Mysterious Life

I sometimes say that I am "old" or "washed up" but I know it isn't true. All I have to do is reflect upon some of the many experiences I am having together with other friends and colleagues over the age of fifty.

Life is an ongoing journey. Often I still feel like a kid inside, and I think there's something real about that. I don't think we "outgrow" things but rather we "grow into" new things, deeper things. Our whole lives are "still alive"--the good things can continue growing, and the failures can heal because we can find forgiveness if we are willing, also, to forgive.

At our age, we either begin to move humbly toward wisdom or we begin to fall into disappointed resignation, cynicism and bitterness. I'm always trying to sort out these motivations, and, honestly, I think they are usually muddled and mixed up as I live through these days and years in my life.

So I throw myself upon the mercy of Jesus, and I try to remember that I must keep forgiving other people. I must forgive every day.

And surely we have reached the age where we ought to understand concretely the need to forgive people, especially those close to us. We have enough experience to know their limits, to know that they can't give us everything we feel like we need from them. Nor can we be sufficient for the fulfillment of their hopes.

God alone suffices. He alone corresponds to our need. How can we not forgive one another when we are all beggars before Him? We are beggars, but there is no shame in embracing this poverty. We are poor because we are made for an infinite love, and He who is that Love fills to overflowing all the spaces we open up to Him.

In ordinary life it can be hard to be forgiving, but through it we can attain a renewed, mature innocence. Forgiveness generates healing, and keeps alive our hope and our capacity to be surprised by life, to see all the good there is in reality and in other people.

Maturity is a blessing. We're all still "growing up" in this great mysterious life. Time deepens our capacity to love (if we let it). I feel like I'm more aware of people as time goes on, and more aware of how many people are with me on this journey.

I have more empathy for young people with their fresh aspirations, sincerity, and restless energy. How great it is to see them grow. I also have a deeper appreciation for older people, who are wise and beautiful in so many way I never used to notice, and who deserve my attention and, indeed, veneration.

This is a good time to live, these later years of "middle age."

Really, we have so much to be grateful for. And still much to give.

It is our turn to be courageous in taking responsibility for our milieu, to be leaders, and we have to do our very best to rise to this challenge. We can only do this if we continue to grow humbly in maturity and forgiveness.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Olympics 2016

It's hard to believe that another four years have gone by and we have arrived, once again, at the Olympics. People all over the world are watching the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The modern Olympics--whatever may be their flaws--are a remarkable display of so much that is good in human beings, and they remind us of our common humanity and its most basic aspirations.

We cheer our athletes, who build something beautiful and awesome by the arduous work of developing their talents, strength, and skill. This requires intense training, total focus and dedication, and lots and lots of sacrifice. Here, people can clearly see the value of submitting to an objective discipline. People see the value of sacrifice. They are stirred to the experience of a kind of wonder.

But things of deeper beauty are not so evident. Many people don't see these things, and so they don't even understand why they are worthy of seeking, of effort, of sacrifice.

It is here that we must aspire to be champions. We must take the "field" of each day, and keep working hard and making sacrifices in order to live lives of deep beauty, so as to make truth and love shine in the world.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Transfiguration

Transfiguration.

"From the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'" (Matthew 17:5).

"All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).


Thursday, August 4, 2016

All is Vanity

Vanity, vanity, under the sun.
All is vanity.
And the day we die is better than the day we are born.

We toil away our days under the sun
while the birds of the air come and go,
filling the dawn and the day and the dusk
with carefree melodies we do not hear.
We do not listen to them
under the sun.

We toil away our blazing days
until vanity swallows us into the dark night,
and then deaf ears strain against the silence.
The birds are gone.
We long to remember the songs they sung
while we forgot to listen.
But we shiver in the wild wind
that passes through us in the night.
Exhausted from the toil under the sun,
our spent frame moves no more.
The dark wind flows freely and disappears.

Vanity.
All is vanity.
And the day we die is better than the day we are born.

We never listened to the birds.
We never listened to their songs.
We were delighted by their colors and cheer.
We watched them soar with free firey wings,
and we loved them.
We toiled under the sun and wrought metal cages for them.
We caught them and bought them
and sold them, two-fifths penny each.
But a few got away,
found sanctuary.
And others flew over our heads,
high and bright and lost in the clear light of the burning sun.
But we never listened.

Vanity.
All is vanity.
All our days under the sun,
grasping for the wind.
It blows through our hand
and we do not understand.
We do not listen.

Everything has its season under the sun.
As it passes away it whispers about forever
and our hearts beat to the breath of this whispering
wind,
yet we know not where it goes.
We dance, we laugh,
we weep, we mourn,
but we do not understand the birdsong.
So we toil and hoard our pieces of time
and we are not satisfied.
We know not quiet until the day we die
when secrets open to blinding light.

The birds are gone.
One day they fell from the sky and we forgot them.
We never understood their songs.
But not one of them is forgotten before God.
Not one of them falls
without being carried by the hand that fashioned it.

~Dedicated to the memory of Christina Victoria Grimmie, songbird, March 12, 1994 - June 10, 2016.



---------------------------------------------------



During an interview, Christina Grimmie displays the tattoo on her right arm with the words "All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jesus Said, "Take Courage, it is I; Do Not Be Afraid"



Here is the Gospel text from the liturgy for Tuesday, August 2. I love this Gospel passage. I am always learning from it. Read it and ponder it, and then I have a few reflections of my own to share, some words about how this Gospel is such a source of hope.

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

(Matthew 14:22-33)

First of all, let's put ourselves on that boat.

We all know this fear, don't we?

We are terrified by the storm. And God seems so distant. Where is He? Is He alone, on the mountaintop of His own ineffable transcendence? We are just weak little things, and the universe is vast and cold and seemingly empty.

"Where is God?"

We have learned that "God is Love," but we wonder why Love is so silent when the thunder is all around us. We struggle to believe that He really cares what happens to us. A similar story in Mark's Gospel has Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm, and the disciples desperately waking Him and crying out, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38).

"God, do You really care?"

We have all asked this question from our hearts, even when our faith tells us that it's not a fair question to ask the God who made us and who gives us our existence in every moment. It's not fair to a God who has proven His care for us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. We know that God is with us in the midst of the storm.

Still, we are terrified. We believe these doctrines of Christian faith (we really do!) but we don't see how they help us in our turmoil. They seem abstract to us, like ghosts. We need something more. We need to hear His voice.

"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27).

God is mysteriously present (He is "walking" on the stormy water, after all) but also humanly present. He is that man we know, with whom we share our lives, our friend. He is the man who gives everything for us, who pours out His life for us.

Jesus.

He gives us the capacity to recognize Him. And through the faith He communicates to us, He awakens our humanity and draws us to Him. He inspires us to the realization that He is not with us simply so that we can survive the storm; He is with us so that we can share in His life and His love, so that we can step out of our own fear and walk with Him in the midst of the storm.

Now let's put ourselves in Peter's place. We also know what it is to take these impossible steps, to begin to take the risks of love in faith, only to be overwhelmed by sheer force of the storm that surrounds us and the total inadequacy of our own humanity to endure it.

We start sinking. We panic. We feel completely powerless. In the midst of all of this new confusion, we must try, somehow, to remember that Jesus is still with us. Remember, so that we can cry out, "Lord, save us!"

This is, in a sense, the most fundamental prayer. We can't see Him, and we don't know what to do, so we just cry out from the midst of our own failed, ruined efforts, "Lord, save us!" And the very name of "Jesus" means "God saves."

He is with us, in Jesus, to save us, even before we cry out to Him. Through the woundedness of that cry, the "little faith" that is all wrapped up with so much fear and practical doubt, we let a tiny place be opened up in our hearts so that He can enter in to rescue us. And we need to be rescued again and again and again. Just like Peter.

"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

This is the question God asks us.

Not because He's angry with us or because He's tired of grabbing us and holding onto us in the midst of the storm. He wants us to ask this question to ourselves, so that we will begin to doubt less, so that He can make our hearts grow more.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

World Youth Day: Taking Risks For Love

More than two million young people from all over the world.
The "World Youth Festival" in Krakow concluded this morning with Pope Francis celebrating an outdoor Mass for some two million people. I feel very blessed to have been able to follow some of the events live and others later in the same day.

There is no substitute for actually being there (I shall never forget my own World Youth Day experience in Denver, Colorado in 1993). But there is a great opportunity to participate with the heart, and in very real way also with the senses, thanks to digital media.

The internet is a source of so many evils, and yet it can also communicate great goods. The weeds and the wheat continue to grow side by side in history in so many diverse ways.

Once again, Pope Francis was an outstanding witness to the Gospel. He challenged young people (and their elders) not to be satisfied with being comfortable, but to take risks and move forward in living our faith with love for God and others.

We must take risks!

It's not (honestly) the message I feel like hearing. I think I want nice, comfortable academic, family, and community circumstances and a level of behavior that keeps up the facade of being a reasonably good person (and certainly better than all those immoral people "out there in the world").

Problems? Sure, but I can ignore them or kick them down the road by blaming my illnesses--all the more convincingly (to myself) because there's some truth in that assessment. But there remains for me with every breath the challenge to be human, to be humble and poor and surrendered to God.

It's the challenge to love. To take risks!

Lord, I'm afraid. I don't know how to begin. And I would not even think of beginning were it not for Jesus, who is already here, now, loving me.

I want to love Him, to love Him more, especially when I see the love of others, when I see the joy of these young pilgrims, and the tireless, implacable witness of Francis.

And in these same times, in many places and in the midst of many horrors, we see also the love that embraces Jesus to the very end, that responds to the violence of enemies with the courage of a presence, a giving, and a forgiving that really shows (as μαρτύριον, "martyrdom," testimony) that death has been defeated by the love of this man, Jesus.

It is a testimony that gives us, here and now, a taste of the resurrection and strengthens our confidence in its truth.

This is what I really want, what I really long for, what I don't want to miss in life. Jesus, I want to trust You more. I want to love You more. Have mercy on me.

Pope Francis preaches about the mercy of Jesus at the final Mass of WYD 2016. Images from CTV stream.

Here are some quotations from Pope Francis's final homily at today's Mass:
"We have been created in God’s own image; Jesus has taken upon himself our humanity and his heart will never be separated from us; the Holy Spirit wants to dwell within us. We have been called to be happy for ever with God!"
"As far as Jesus is concerned...no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess.... He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you! In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable." 
"This is the secret of joy: not to stifle a healthy curiosity, but to take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away. When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit waiting around with arms folded. He offers us life."
"Don't let the soul grow numb, but aim for the goal of a beautiful love which also demands sacrifice. Say a firm 'no' to the narcotic of 'success-at-any-price' and the sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort."
The Lord "demands of us real courage: the courage to be more powerful than evil by loving everyone, even our enemies. People may laugh at you because you believe in the gentle and unassuming power of mercy. But do not be afraid. Think of the motto of these days: 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy' (Matthew 5:7). People may judge you to be dreamers, because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded. Don’t be discouraged: with a smile and open arms, you proclaim hope and you are a blessing for our one human family, which here you represent so beautifully!"
"Jesus...wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams. How greatly he desires that you bring all this to him in prayer! How much he hopes that, in all the 'contacts' and 'chats' of each day, pride of place be given to the golden thread of prayer! How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!"
View from the air of the millions who gathered for the Sunday Mass at Brzegi Common, Krakow.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Man Bears Witness to the God of Peace

Father Jacques Hamel, an 84 year old French parish priest, was killed while saying Mass on July 26 by two assailants. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Father Jacques was a man of peace and dialogue, loved and respected by both Christians and Muslims in Normandy. He is another witness in these turbulent times to the love that is greater than death.



Father Jacques could have "retired" years ago, but he chose to remain active, to stay with his people. In him we see, yet again, how simple daily acts of love are sustained by a heroism that reveals itself in embracing the ultimate sacrifice. A martyr is ready to "give all" at the moment of death because he or she has already been giving everything, giving and giving every day, answering the invitation to love God and others that is offered through all the days and months and years entrusted to each one of us.

The Catholic bishops of France have invited their nation to observe today as a day of prayer and fasting "for peace" in their country and the world. Many Christians and others of good will are joining them in seeking God's blessing and making sacrifices to open their hearts more deeply to His love.

Let us keep in our hearts this day and hereafter the witness of Father Jacques, his love for Jesus Christ to the end and his enduring hope that the compassion and mercy of God might shine forth and rescue human hearts from the cycle of violence.

"May we hear God’s invitation to take care of this world--to make it, where we live, warmer, more human, more fraternal" (Father Jacques Hamil).

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Francis at World Youth Day 2016



"The water that became wine at the wedding banquet
is a great sign,
for it reveals to us the spousal face of God,
a God who sits at table with us,
who dreams and holds communion with us.
It tells us that the Lord does not keep his distance,
but is near and real.
He is in our midst and he takes care of us,
without making decisions in our place
and without troubling himself with issues of power.
He prefers to let himself be contained in little things,
unlike ourselves,
who always want to possess something greater.
To be attracted by power,
by grandeur, by appearances,
is tragically human.
It is a great temptation
that tries to insinuate itself everywhere.
But to give oneself to others,
eliminating distances,
dwelling in littleness
and living the reality of one’s everyday life:
this is exquisitely divine."

~Pope Francis

This morning Pope Francis visited the monastery of Jasna Gora and the great shrine to the Blessed Mother in Czestochowa, Poland. The text above is an excerpt from his homily on John 2:1-11.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

World Youth Day 2016: Why Do They Come?

Millions of youth from all over the world are gathering together in an ancient city in Poland with a man from Argentina who is nearly 80 years old. They gather together in love, peace, and solidarity.

A phenomenon like this should cause any reasonable 21st century person to think and ask serious questions. The fact that we have grown accustomed to these gatherings doesn't make them any less amazing if we pay attention to what is actually happening.

What moves young people to do something like this? What in the world could possibly generate such a gathering?

An ideology?

A political faction?

An abstract story and a set of rules? A collection of sentiments? A general benevolence and vague hope for a humanitarian future?

Remember, we're talking about kids here. Actual young people with the energy and enthusiasm and possibilities to do all kinds of things. Why do young people get together? Why would a million young people get together? They gather because they expect something to happen.

It's not an ideology, or an institution constructed by our own power, or a nostalgia for the past.

That's not why they have come.

They have come together because of an event that really happened in history and that lives right now, an event that generates an encounter, that even today takes hold of human lives and changes them and makes them free.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Daisy in the Sun

This was a pretty popular picture I posted on Instagram and other social media accounts, so I might as well put it up here too.

It's quite simple, a daisy in the summer sun.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Still Alive On This Earth

Blue Ridge mountains of my home.
There are some mornings when I wake up surprised that I'm still alive. It can be a wonderful surprise or an anxious preoccupation, or (most often) something in between.

In any case, I have reached the age where I no longer simply take for granted that "one day will just follow upon another" for gazillions of years of a vast future. Such is the horizon of youth, even for young people who know that no one's days are guaranteed. We all feel especially the strangeness of death when it takes someone in the flower of their youth.

In many ways, I still feel young, and I'm starting to realize that "being young at heart" is more than a cliche. It is the task of gratitude, and it is the anecdote to the emotional immaturity that afflicts me and so many of my generation. It grows in tandem with a realism about the "normal" course of human life and the mystery of God's plan for each individual person's life that corresponds to his or her unique identity.

More and more, I have begun to feel the "vastness" of my own past, the volume of life that I have already lived. I am enriched by many memories even as I am haunted by the awareness of how much time I have wasted.

What remains ahead, especially for someone of my health? It's not something I want to dwell on. I can only do my best to take care of myself, and trust in God that the time ahead will be enough for me and for those who love me. The span of what is "enough," of course, remains a mystery. It always has been a mystery. It always has been a gift, and it is a gift right now.

It is a gift that I awaken to another day. Rather than be overcome by the creeping cynicism of my time of life, I prefer to reconsider and reaffirm my priorities.

Today, I have to judge. I have to act.

Jesus first, above all things, in all things. Jesus, asking for my love. I do love Him. I pray to recognize Him more, ignore Him less, love Him in action with less ambiguity and more simplicity and directness, love Him in all the ways He gives Himself to me.

Beyond everything that constitutes what we would call daily "spiritual" activities (which are essential for any Christian), my life still travels the roads of this world. Here I have to live my life and attend to my responsibilities. Though these mundane realities are themselves deeply charged with mystery, it is possible to articulate much about them, and to consider the duties, possibilities, and questions that they continue to provoke.

Most of life is in the little things, of course. Still, although I know I cannot number my days, there remain horizons that it's only reasonable to ponder. What do I see on this part of my journey, and how does it shape today and whatever days might follow from the merciful hand of God?

I am a man, a husband, a father, a companion to my wife, a paternal authority, guide, and example to my children. I am also--in various ways and to the degree that I am able--a help to others. Whether as a friend or mentor (or both), a supporter, or a source of encouragement, I recognize that on the journey of my life there are others who walk with me, and some who, in a particular way, have been entrusted to me, to the attention, affection, and solicitude of my heart. And I likewise have been entrusted to them.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, my family, my friends, and the many kinds of companionship that often arise in spontaneous and unexpected ways (especially in our times)-- all call upon my daily fidelity in truth and love, appropriately, with discretion, with purity of heart. Here I find the daily struggle to regard the person in front of me above my own selfishness and whims, my own power to manipulate, my own unresolved frustrations and anger.

And though I live with many limitations of health, I remain committed to responsibilities and goals of my profession. Disability (and consequent early "retirement") notwithstanding, I do what I can to keep writing and to live according to my vocation as a teacher and scholar, a "theologian" (God have mercy on me) and philosopher.

Nor do I wish to neglect the artist, poet, and musician that are rooted in my earliest years and that still stir in me. For too long I have set aside my artistry, but in my present circumstances and time of life I find it awakening once more. If nothing else, I want to support and encourage creative young people (starting with my own kids).

I know something of the peculiar suffering of artistic people and the pressures and stresses that often accompany their gifts. Words are the tools of my craft, and poetry is my art (though I find it very difficult). Music, which was as necessary to me as air in my youth, struggles to reawaken, if not through much diminished former skills, at least in the ear and the heart. Drama and cinema, as art and not simply "entertainment," call forth my appreciation and critical skill.

There is much to live for. Indeed, it is more than I can handle on any one day. The vocation of each person's life has its priorities, and I pray that I might attend to them properly and be less distracted. This too is a daily challenge and a daily struggle, full of trying and failing and beginning again. Always begin again. Never let discouragement win. Never give up.

I am surprised by each day, surprised by life. Sometimes it can be hard. Some days are harder than others. But I am glad and grateful to be still alive on this earth today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

VIDEO: "Deep Topics" Episode 1

Here is a short video which I have titled "Deep Topics," but if you look at who is peeking over my shoulder, you can guess that laughs are in store.




Sunday, July 17, 2016

Insecurity and the Search for Solid Ground

The human being has this terrible insecurity deep down inside of his or her life.

I know I do. Since I was a child, my introspection, obsessiveness, and anxiety have convinced me that I cannot trust in myself. I cannot be confident about my opinions of myself. I cannot be confident that I am seeing reality in the right way.

I don't usually feel very well-grounded. Often I suffer powerful anxiety that seems disproportionate to any immediately perceptible provocation. I try to "keep it to myself," but when it breaks through the surface it reveals to others (and to me) something of the fragility and anguish that remains in me, that I would rather ignore.

Although I have peculiar neuropsychiatric issues here, I don't think that this problem is unusual. We all deal with it on some level. We all search, sometimes desperately, for secure ground upon which to stand in reliable "safety," with a self-sustained confidence that gives us a sense of control over things.

For many years, I attempted to trust in a kind of "Christian ideology." I attempted to impose a conception of what was "necessary to be a good Catholic" on the awful ambiguity of my life. It required a fair amount of rationalizing, interpreting, and good old fashioned fibbing to stuff the mess of my life inside this box so that it would not haunt my sense of self-confidence.

Alongside of this, of course, God was at work, I was praying, seeking Him, and genuinely desiring (in however wobbly a fashion) to do His will and to trust in Him. Yet the ultimate uncertainty of my ideas constantly undermined my confidence.

Illness has forced me to face the need to rely on other people. Yet this reliance cannot become an escape from the responsibility of being a unique human person called to grow in understanding and love, to give of myself.

What a relief it would be to bury my freedom, and simply conform myself to the judgment of others. There is the temptation here to seek an unhealthy "safety" in the personalities of other people, to root myself in other people's coherence, as if the reason why I ought to follow the guidance of my wife, my doctors, my friends, my confessor and spiritual father is because they "have it all together" and I don't.

But this kind of attachment-based security doesn't hold up either, because it becomes clear enough--sooner or later--that the other people I put my trust in are weak human beings too, with flaws and limitations and failures of judgment. A crisis ensues in which my security crashes, or else it holds together only through a further irrational submission of my personality to the psychological and emotional manipulation of the (now increasingly domineering) others who seek from me a level of trust beyond what they deserve.

Nevertheless, I live in communion with these other people. We are called to help one another. How is this possible? Where are the roots of the trust that can enable me with all my fragility to live as a human person in communion with other human persons? How can I be confident and self-possessed in a real human community which is guided by the service of authority, by those who are called to assume responsibility for the common good, for its continuity with the past and readiness for the future?

The foundation of life, the dynamism of its expansion and vitality, is trust. Where are the radical roots of a genuine secure, human trust?

For me, there is only one answer. I have to trust in Jesus. This, for me, is not only a spiritual but also a psychological necessity.

I am grounded in Jesus. I cry out to Him and beg for that certainty, and to keep my life centered on Him. In the Church He lives as a Presence for me now: as a way, as gestures, as a companionship. And other persons are given to me by Him to help me to insert myself into that life. It is He who works through them. It is because of His love for me that I can trust them. Even if we make a mistake, I can trust that He is behind us to catch us.

Look at this great mystery: Christian Marriage. Let's be frank here: I drive my poor wife crazy. There is nothing surprising about that after 20 years. But through all the messiness, through the bond that holds us and makes us "one," Eileen and I do help each other.

And together we carry out the task of shaping an environment (kooky, flawed, but also--we hope--full of faith, hope, love, intelligence, and openness) in which our children are growing and maturing as persons.

It's not because we are coherent. It's because marriage is a sacrament. It's grounded in Him. 

From here, it becomes possible to perceive that my relationships with my other companions are grounded in Him, in the communion of saints; that my relationship with every human person is grounded in Him who is the Savior of the world; that my relationship with reality is grounded in Him who is Lord of all creation.

Beyond any pathological condition, there is that radical anxiety, that radical fear of uncertainty, that afflicts us all. The healing we all need comes from Jesus. This is why He says, "believe in me."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Kateri Tekakwitha: A Girl Who Still Shows Us the Ways of Love

On this feast day of the flower of North America, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), I'm posting the story I published two years ago in MAGNIFICAT (July 2014).

In every place and time, when the Gospel is preached, courageous young women rise up who follow Jesus with all their hearts. Their beautiful (and often mysteriously brief) lives are a shining witness, and their light brightens the path for those around them and for those who come after.



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You Are Precious to Him

"Jesus loves you always,
even when you don’t feel worthy.
When not accepted by others,
[or] even by yourself sometimes,
He is the one 
who always accepts you.
Only believe, you are precious to Him.
Bring all you are suffering to His feet,
only open your heart
to be loved by Him as you are.
He will do the rest."

~Mother Teresa

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Love and Mercy, Today, for the Whole Mess of My Life

We are more than halfway through this year of 2016. And I am already beginning to see the approach of my "mid-50s." There are so many memories to look back upon.

And I must face the truth: I have made a great bungle of my life.

I have failed at nearly everything, and when I have succeeded it has been by the energy of pride and ambition, the self-promotion of vanity and hypocrisy, the desires for what I want, for what pleases me and gives me comfort, for what gratifies my ego and fosters my sentimental illusions.

Illusions. So many illusions. But relentless time begins to make them crumble. I begin to taste the temptations of the later years of life: desperate self-justification, bitterness, envy, cynicism, despair.

However it may look to others or to my own self-deception, there can be no denying that my life has been a mess.

And I cannot use "illness" as an excuse. On the contrary, my greatest failures and (worse) hypocritical, posturing pseudo-"successes" are in the ways I have understood and responded to suffering.

But wait. Stop. Am I not a good man? I pray. I try, at least sometimes. I do believe the advice I have given to others, "Keep praying. Keep trying. Move forward. Never give up!" I haven't given up. Right?

I do try, and when I fail I get up and try again. But so often it's all just tepid. It's half-hearted. It's all tinged, everywhere, with selfishness. Yes, I have loved! But always there is, somewhere, the weight that pulls at least some of that love down from the level of a gift to the level of a transaction. I give of myself, but because I am expecting to get in return.

I have loved, really and honestly, but not with an entire purity of heart. There is always some part of my heart that is calculating and maneuvering so that whatever I good I do, it always ends up being about me.

Too often this selfish tinge is what gives energy to the motivation to love. When I can't see what's in it for me, my love is small and weak and driven by duties that I rationalize away as much as possible.

I look back on 53-and-a-half years of being a proud, irresponsible, vain, lazy, foolish man. It didn't have to be this way. My life could have been so much better!

I suppose it could have been worse, but I can't take credit for that. The grace and the calling and the beauty of God have been so abundantly showered upon me in my life. If I have accomplished anything truly well, if I have loved rightly and truly given myself at all (beyond the murky mixture of my own obscure motives), it is because of the action of this grace in my soul.

Grace and mercy.

What of all the failures of the past? God in His mercy will turn all of it to the good, if only I trust in Him and love Him, now, today.

My love will still be tinged with selfishness, but the miracle is the wonder, the fascination, the recognition and response to God that He begins to engender within my poor love by His healing and transforming grace.

The real story of my life is the mysterious story of what His grace and mercy are accomplishing in me as I beg for His presence, as I seek to adhere to Him and trust in Him and let myself be embraced by Him who has become flesh. Jesus Christ.

I am truly sorry for my foolish life and I am determined to keep trying to do better, to grow as a person, to grow in understanding and love and doing good. But my hope is not in any power that I can give to myself (I should know better by now), much less in an inventory of what I'd like to imagine I've accomplished in my long and mixed up past (God help me!).

My hope is in Him. My hope is in Jesus Christ. By His grace, I hope to adhere to Him whose redeeming love is greater than my weakness, who has loved me from the beginning, who never gives up on me.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Path in a Park

This image is from a photo that I augmented, edited, and recast in a "painting" style (sort of "impressionistic," perhaps), working with tools from Paint[dot]Net open photo editing software. If nothing else it's an artifact of one of the ways I use to relax my brain.


Monday, July 4, 2016

America: "A Renewed Spirit of Fraternity and Solidarity"



The United States of America turns 240 years old today. Today is a day for Americans to relax and celebrate and watch fireworks. It is also a day to be grateful to God for so many amazing blessings He has bestowed upon us.

I chose as my reflection for today a section of Pope Francis's speech that he gave at the historic convening of a joint session of the United States Congress on September 14, 2015, wherein he addressed crucial issues of our time involving religion and violence, freedom, solidarity, and cooperation in relation to the American experience. 
"A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
"But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.
"We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
"Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.
We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent.
"Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
"The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity, and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
"In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.
"Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
"Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).
"If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life."