Thursday, October 12, 2017

"...What Prayer Does Not Dare to Ask"


I love the Collect from the Roman Church's Liturgy for the 27th week of Ordinary Time. It's a radical cry for the grace and mercy of God. He is such a Mystery of Love that His power to change our hearts, to forgive us, heal us, and transform us is beyond anything we can conceive, and His Tenderness is beyond all our hopes and anything we would even dare to ask for.

God loves us. Jesus has gone all the way for us in the mystery of His death on the Cross, far deeper than we can fathom. And He is risen, so that we might live forever in a joy beyond all telling.

Therefore let us take up the journey of life anew each day without being afraid, but rather with hope, with trust. And let us PRAY:

"Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
 Amen."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie: Humble, Free, True to Herself

As we Americans still try to process the horrible violence and destruction that exploded last week in Las Vegas, and that continues to haunt our society, my thoughts go back to the awful event that took the life of Christina Grimmie on this night 16 months ago.💚

Christina once said, "Humility isn't 'getting squashed lower than we deserve.' It's seeing ourselves accurately before God."

I am struck by the fact that humility, as Christina defined it here, is an expression of how she lived her life. It was this struggle to see herself accurately before God—to recognize and be true to her real self—that made her so free.

When people saw Christina Grimmie on YouTube, or The Voice, or in concert, it was not only her incredible talent that struck them. It was also her passion, her readiness to take risks, her zest for life, her freedom. People loved her because of it.

Even more, Christina gave us hope that we too could be free. We don't have to be musicians or celebrities to discover the unique, infinitely precious value that each one of us has as a person made by God and called to share His joy.

Christina showed us how to stand before God and let Him reveal to us who we really are. She sang and made music because she loved it; it was her talent and it was a special way that the fire of God's love touched her heart. She was trying to make it in the music business, but only by being herself, by remaining true before God.

It wasn't easy. But she stayed true. She stayed humble. She stayed free.

Because she lived in the light of that fire, we were able to recognize the flame in ourselves: the love that shapes us, that empowers us to live freely, that roots us in God and gives us worth.

Humility means seeing ourselves accurately before God. God is the source of our value. He created us. He redeemed us. We are precious to Him beyond anything we can imagine, and we can be confident that He will bring us to the fulfillment of our humanity and the freedom He gives to us.

Christina Grimmie made tremendous, beautiful music and enjoyed some success in her brief career (though not nearly in proportion to her creativity and immense talent). Her great hope was to be an inspiration to others in her art and in her way of living, by being true to herself before God, by putting God first and recognizing that without Him "all is vanity."

This was what made her so outstandingly free, so human, so joyful, so genuine, so hilariously funny, and so dedicated to the struggle to keep her integrity as a person and fulfill her vocation. She wanted to inspire us also to take the risk of being humble and experience the joy of being free. She wanted us to learn that our value as persons is not determined by other people's whims, narrowness, or caprice. She showed us that we are not defined by the dominant mentality with its ruthless ambitions, or by what other people say, whether they like us or not, whether we fit in with the trends, how we look, whether we are young or old, rich or poor, whether we succeed or fail...whether we live or die....

This final promise of freedom is not something we expected to learn from her so suddenly and so soon. It is a hard and painful thing, and it will take time to learn through the pain and the strangeness of her absence from ordinary everyday life. It is an absence that many people all over the world experience to some degree, because of her powerful capacity to sustain connections through audiovisual and social media. But it is distinctly intense and immediate for her family and loved ones. The anguish of grief is itself a sign of the inexhaustible preciousness of a human person.

Moreover, after 16 months we continue to be reminded of the awful fragility of this present life with all the looming dangers and ferocious powers bent on destroying it. These powers would have us live in terror and desperation, as slaves to whatever claims to offer temporary security.

But evil cannot overcome the one who is humble. In a world full of violence, the inspiration of Christina as a person continues to reach us and help us. For her life has not "ended" in nothingness. She lives as a person; her life has been completed and accomplished, and she stands, ultimately, as her true self, with complete accuracy before God.

She is with God, and has not been squashed or defeated. We are confronted with this mysterious reality, and we must learn to place our hope there for ourselves too, so that we might live here in freedom. She does not want any of us to give up.

Today more than ever, Christina Grimmie's witness encourages us all to remember—even in the midst of our sorrow—that evil and death do not have the last word on human existence.

Monday, October 9, 2017

October Heat Has Been Hard on Us

I'm sure lots of folks are having a hard time with this weird, persistent heat and humidity in the mid-Atlantic States so far this Autumn.

Sure, it could be worse. It's not hurricanes or wildfires.

But even the weather we're having can be hard on some people. We've had temperatures in the 80s for days on end, then it cools off, then it gets hot again.

The Janaro home is having a particularly hard time, because our central air conditioning and heating control system has broken down, and requires major and expensive repair. Sounds like a "first world problem," I know, but first world homes get very hot when their controlling gadgets don't work.

And to put it simply, there's no money to fix it. I don't know what we're going to do. The Lord has always provided for us in one way or another (often in unconventional and even wacky ways). I know that. I'm just sick and this is overwhelming to me.

I've been sick a lot this year. The heat, however, is making it very hard. I feel like my brains are being cooked.

In a couple of days the temperatures will go down to the 60s, but then they go up again over the weekend. The house never cools down really.

It will be cold soon enough, though.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Saint Francis (Digital Graphic Art)

HAPPY SAINT FRANCIS DAY!

"You know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bullets From the Sky: The Horror of "Anonymous Violence"

People captured live videos as an open air concert turned into a war zone. 
We awoke yesterday morning to the horrific news of a murderous shooting spree at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A gunman with long range automatic weapons fired for a sustained period of time from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel, shooting at the masses of helpless people below, killed 59 and injuring over 500. May God have mercy on them, and bring healing.

What a world we live in!😞

Bullets from the sky raining down on a crowd of 22,000 people. The gunman killed himself before police were finally able to locate and storm his hotel room. His motives and the causes of his twisted character remain unknown. The shooter was a 64 year old retired accountant and local resident with no ties to any terrorist organization. He had no police record and no known history of mental illness.

And yet, without any prior military training or law enforcement experience, this man constructed the perfect sniper's nest in a tall hotel building across the street from and towering over the concert venue. He apparently gave no signals of violent intent or indications of hostility toward anyone, even as he was stockpiling weapons and ammunition over the course of weeks and meticulously planning and preparing to unleash mayhem on a large crowd of his fellow human beings.

What manner of madness is this?

If it was not to send a message, not for politics, not for some unholy ideology, then WHY? Is it just some random incomprehensible killing spree? It would not be the first of its kind. There have been too many in recent years. We are threatened not only by terrorist attacks, but also by inexplicable unhinged rampages by seemingly ordinary people who arm themselves to the teeth and wreak havoc in public places.

They kill strangers for no clearly discernible reason at all. They don't leave notes, or publish manifestos, or wave flags and shout battle cries. They shoot others, then kill themselves, and leave little or nothing behind.

This is not to say that the victims or anyone else derived comfort from the crazy paper trail of the Columbine killers, the political ravings of the Unabomber, the wild maniacal video of the Virginia Tech shooter, or the blasphemous invocations of "Allah" by militant fanatics in the name of their Islamist ideology. Still, it's only human to search for a motive for murder, even a bizarre motive.

But even if the investigation of Sunday night's massacre eventually turns up discovering some twisted motive that we can even remotely comprehend, many other instances will still remain "cold cases," left with nothing but speculation and hearsay, and to feed the wild imaginations of conspiracy theorists.

Is this "the new normal" in our society? Must we come to accept that we live in a world where people just gun down other people for no reason at all, where people assemble arsenals and plan tactical assaults on others without even communicating why they consider these others to be "enemies" who deserve to die?

This is a horrible evil that we can all recognize and agree about. It requires us to give some serious, attentive consideration to what we can do to step back from the edge of the abyss of a culture of anonymous violence, of violence for its own sake.

May God help and be close to the victims of this monstrous attack. Lord have mercy on the dead, console their loved ones, and heal the many physical and mental injuries.

Let us not forget these people. They will continue to need much care, compassion, and solidarity from us long after this story is replaced on our Twitter feeds by more recent attention grabbing and too often distracting "news items."

In addition to known casualty numbers at the Harvest Festival, thousands of people endured an unspeakable trauma during the several minutes of shooting, as they tried to flee the scene or take cover without knowing where the bullets were coming from, and as they watched others die before their very eyes. These people will continue to need healing and support.

In the aftermath of the terror, we also heard many reports of heroic actions, of people carrying wounded, or shielding others with their own bodies. Some lost their own lives while saving the lives of others. Even as we were stunned by blatant evil, we also saw the manifestation of the beauty of heroic goodness and courage. The good is so much greater, more beautiful; it draws our hearts and tempers our fears and anxiety. Goodness does not cease to glow. It never gives up the struggle against human malice, because truth, goodness, and beauty are the shape of reality, of being.

Evil, therefore, will not have the final word. But this was an awful blow.

It is with sorrow that we reflect that events of cruel and ruthless violence like this one are perpetrated every day throughout the world. Whole nations are engulfed in violence. Our technology, our mass communications, our unprecedented mobility, and our capacity to produce material things have certainly opened new possibilities for doing good in the world, for showing solidarity and mercy to one another. They have also enabled the globalization of terror.

Even as we redouble our efforts to fight these brutal killings and to protect people, we know that we cannot "fix" the human heart with any of the tools of scientific progress.

Ultimately, our hope is in God. Jesus, have mercy on us, on all of us sinners.

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Puerto Rico in ruins, facing an escalation of continuing hardships


Meanwhile, we must not forget the continuing repercussions of natural disasters. This has a very specific claim on the attention on those of us who are Americans. Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the destruction wrought throughout the island by hurricane Maria.

There remains an urgent need for food, clean water, and the most basic human necessities as this territory of the United States of America and its three and a half million people endure an ongoing catastrophe.

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We entrust to the Lord all those who have died or who are suffering in these difficult times.💚



Sunday, October 1, 2017

Thérèse of Lisieux, the Girl Who "Died of Love"

"Mourir d"Amour." 

Today we commemorate one of the greatest leaders of God's Girl Squad, Thérèse Martin, "of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face," of the Carmel of Lisieux in northern France (not far from Rouen where her spiritual sister Jeanne La Pucelle, "Joan of Arc," gave her own young life nearly 500 years before).

Thérèse taught her sisters in Carmel about radical abandonment and trust in God's love. And it was through love that she endured spiritual darkness and the ravages of tuberculosis that consumed her young life on September 30, 1897. She died at the age of 24, right at the edge of the horizon of that strange pale dawn of the twentieth century.

Her simple written words and witness quickly became known through the Church in all the world. In the coming days of darkness, she shined her astonishing light so that those who came after her would be encouraged to persevere in faith and trust in God's mercy.

She still shines that light in our time.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mistakes

"If you make a mistake, get up again: 
nothing is more human than committing errors. 
And those same errors 
should not become a prison for you. 
Let us not be caged in by our mistakes. 
The Son of God came not for the healthy, 
but for the sick; 
so He came for you too. 
And if you make more mistakes in the future, 
do not fear, get up again! 
Do you know why? 
Because God is your friend."

~Pope Francis


Thursday, September 28, 2017

I'm Staying Alive, I'm Staying Here

Smile for the camera. 😊
I'm staying alive. I'm staying here...

At least, insofar as it is within my own power to do so (because ultimately I am in God's hand). I choose to live, and to do what I can, with what I have, for as long as it's entrusted to me.

This might not sound like much to say, but I know people are having a lot of difficulties. There's a lot of loneliness, even isolation, that people experience even (especially) in crowded and noisy places.

It's not easy to live. These are dark, turbulent, violent times.

The storms within ourselves rage out in fury against one another. All the new capacities we have to communicate with one another and share good things with one another are also new capacities we have to hurt one another, new ways of causing pain, of abusing one another, of torturing one another.

People can feel overwhelmed. Those who are already suffering in other ways can very quickly reach the point of feeling overwhelmed.

I often feel overwhelmed.

I know that this is a time of great suffering for the weak and afflicted. I beg you all, please, do not withhold your kindness and tenderness from them.

I also beg God that I might be tender, that I will not forget about the other person, that I will not forget to treat them as I would have them treat me. Of course we all fail in this, but we must struggle against it, give and receive forgiveness, move forward, let the Lord pick us up again and reconcile us as persons even if we disagree.

We must distinguish our best and most ardent convictions from the ultimately petty violent impulses each of us has to push the other person aside, to climb over them, or even to revel in the pain we inflict upon them. How easy it becomes to ruin even a good and necessary cause. How easy it is to turn it into an excuse to indulge our egocentric impulses, to defile even a great truth by using it as a weapon for our selfishness, our greed, our envy, our cruelty.

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In remembering the weak, those who are so easily overwhelmed, let us all remember that there are many different kinds of weakness and affliction, including much that we do not see in others.

People don't know how to talk about these kinds of pains. And it's hard for anyone to admit that they might break, that they feel overwhelmed.

I often feel overwhelmed. It's hard to admit that—not just to "say the words" but to actually, seriously admit it to others and to myself.

I am a weak man. This is first of all a statement of fact, not an excuse.

I am a sinner.

I am struggling with the most basic responsibilities that go with being a human person. At the end of every day I must go to God with sorrow for my sins and—placing my hope in the grace of God—with a renewed desire to live according to His will.

I have also been broken and pushed down by physical and mental illness, and I know how these illnesses are exacerbated by so many pressures that come from circumstances beyond anyone's control. I have had, in my life, a small taste of what it might feel like to become so overwhelmed, so afflicted, that one can no longer perceive the crucial difference between life and death, no longer judge what one is actually doing....

I have had enough of a taste, in the past, of this harrowing darkness in my own struggles that I can empathize with those who are overpowered by it. For this reason, I do have hope for those whose mental illness drives them to a strange and incomprehensible death by their own hand. Suicide.

I can empathize, but to anyone who is still alive I can only say, "please, stay!" It's worth it. You're worth it. This is not a cliché. This is just plain truth.

It's reality. It's why I'm still here.

Suicide is never the answer. Please, stay. God wants you here. Your life is a gift, more than you can imagine in your own awareness, especially in the darkness and pain, or the dullness, the withdrawal you feel pushed into, or whatever else it may be.

Suicide is never the answer.

I have also had enough of a "taste" of the horrible fallout that afflicts everyone in range of this human implosion. It shatters above all those who are closest to—who have the greatest love for—the one who dies in this way. But more and more people today are being scalded on some level, personally, by the concentric circles of this "spiritual radiation" poison.

Please, stay here!

Even if you think you hate everyone, this is not the kind of suffering you would ever wish upon them. It will not do anything to "close the gap," or communicate anything.  It will not help them to understand you, or care more about you, or somehow make you more "significant" in anyone's life.

You can only do that by staying alive. Ask for help. There are so many options, so many possibilities that can help you to stay alive, ways to overcome illness (or else to live with it, and even discover new things); ways to find the deeper meaning that your life really has, to find the value of your life that cannot be taken away.

Above all, there is the Mystery that holds your life. We say the word "God" in the most trivial ways, but He is here and He is shaping us for the moment when we will be ready to come before Him in the full realization of our life's unique meaning.

The day or the hour or the moment is not given to us to know. But if I am alive in this moment, then it has not yet come for me.

God is good. All the time. That means He will sustain us to live for Him, come what may. It's because of Him that I can say to you (and to myself), "Never give up!"

I know that God is giving me the strength to embrace my life. It's a stupendous gift, and I can only encourage everyone—however difficult the circumstances—to take the next breath that is given to you, and the life that has an irreplaceable value because you are a human person.

You are a gift from God to the whole universe.

At the depths of your unique self, He is there, He is giving you the gift of His image. He—the Mystery of Infinite Goodness and Beauty, beyond our comprehension but utterly worthy of our trust—makes you in His image.

You have a value that no one can take away from you. Even if you can't do anything but suffer, it is enough. It is more than enough: if you stay alive and stay with the God who gives you life, you shine brilliantly, brightly in the dark and destitute spaces of the world where no one sees the anguish and pain.

Your life is a light in the world. Just living it is an incalculable victory.

I don't know God's ways or the mystery of existence, but He is Love and He is bringing forth goodness and transforming nothingness into glory. He has already won the victory, and He plows deep into the deepest earth to fill it with His presence and destroy all evil.

Trust in Him. He is the strength that can work even through your weakness. Be His light!

I'm staying alive and I'm staying here, for as long as God in His wisdom gives to me.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Something Greater Than All Our Misery

We have heard much about different people's sufferings in these recent days, especially due to various natural disasters. My heart goes out to all of those who have endured terrible losses and who continue to struggle with hurricanes, floods, and the aftermath of earthquakes in recent days.

We are all moved by the stories and the images from these places.

We know too that beyond today's news are all the afflictions that sooner or later will burden every human being in this poor life. How do people endure living in this world? The impetus to keep going says something tremendous about the human person.

But the most striking thing is that even in the worst times, the light of compassion and solidarity is not extinguished. We encounter some who have the capacity to love from out of the midst of their own deepest personal pain.

This is a wondrous thing, like a miracle. It bears witness to a profound truth: that there is something greater in this world, something greater than all the implacable misery that presses down upon us with a weight that would suffocate our souls.

During His Passion, Jesus cried out to the Father, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This is very mysterious, but we know that on the Cross, Jesus has taken to Himself and borne for us and is present within every suffering that we endure, even and especially the suffering of feeling abandoned and alone, of the great open wound that is our anguish and that can do nothing but cry out.

Trusting in Him even as we cry out may bring no comfort, but the truth is that Jesus is here, that there is Love, that there is healing, that He has made a way through the darkest places.

The very fact that we believe this, even with the smallest glimmer of faith, is a sign that we are already beginning to be transformed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Shared Responsibility for the Human Family

"It is a sign of hope that the religions of the world are becoming more aware of their shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family. This is a crucial part of the globalization of solidarity, which must come if the future of the world is to be secure. 

"This sense of shared responsibility increases as we discover more of what we have in common as religious men and women. Which of us does not grapple with the mystery of suffering and death? Which of us does not hold life, truth, peace, freedom, and justice to be supremely important values?

"Which of us is not convinced that moral goodness is soundly rooted in the individual’s and society’s openness to the transcendent world of the Divinity? Which of us does not believe that the way to God requires prayer, silence, asceticism, sacrifice, and humility? 

"Which of us is not concerned that scientific and technical progress should be accompanied by spiritual and moral awareness? And which of us does not believe that the challenges now facing society can only be met by building a civilization of love?"

John Paul II
     (Pastoral visit to India, 1999)

Friday, September 15, 2017

The NEW "New Media"

Recently, I was watching a stream of one of those savvy young (i.e. "twenty-something") YouTubers (they're the ones who see what's happening right now). This kid was chatting naturally, and at a certain point casually referred to a story about some event that happened five years ago, and they said, "you know, that was back in the days of Facebook."

"...that was back in the days of FACEBOOK"! 😮 Just let that sink in for a moment. Now if you're well over fifty years old you've probably lost track of this whole business, unless you're an IT professional or a nerd who studies the philosophical dimensions of communications media.

If you're the "Facebook Generation," however, you're grappling with the trauma of being awfully close to (if not already past) the age of thirty. SCORCH! 🔥 It's hard enough worrying about being "old" (which, let me assure you, you are not). Now they're saying "back in the day" about Facebook? So Facebook is now "Old Media"? Crazy, huh. 

Ah, get used to it kids!😜 

But, seriously, there's more to this phenomenon than just your age. This is the ongoing communications revolution that began long before you were born.

The great pioneer communications philosopher (and the original nerd) Marshall McLuhan always knew that audiovisual multimedia interactivity was the ultimate trajectory of "New Media" —one of many terms he coined back in the early 1960s, when people were beginning to discover that television was connecting the world in new ways. McLuhan perceived that there was something inherently "involving" about the TV experience, indeed that the medium generated an experiential environment different from audio or print communication. He saw television technology evolving in such a way that the general population would ultimately become not merely consumers but also producers of audiovisual media expression. 

When I was growing up, we never imagined the possibility of everybody having their own personal TV broadcast channel! But the internet, the development of mobile devices, and platforms like YouTube have made this a reality within the past ten years.

Meanwhile, Facebook is rushing to catch up, as I'm sure you've noticed from the audiovisual platform they keep trying to develop.

Where will it all go from here? As we used to say "back in the days" of old fashioned television: STAY TUNED!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Towers of My Memory

This is me (yes, it is really me—stop laughing!) probably in the summer of 1983, on the Staten Island Ferry gesturing to the barely visible Manhattan skyline in the foggy distance. It's not just the picture quality here; I recall that it was this sort of cloudy day, though I can't recall who took the picture. Needless to say, we had no selfies back then.

Can you see the two exceptionally tall buildings through the mist, standing far above the others? I remember when those "twin towers" opened ten years earlier.

For a long time, they were just part of the landscape of New York.

During the course of many visits, I went up to the top and marveled at the amazing views. (It was fun to take visiting Europeans up there; in fact it's fun just taking them to New York, which is not like anything they've ever seen except in the movies). I hung around various parts of the buildings day and night, walked by them, saw them from many angles of the skyline, saw them from airplane windows....

It seemed like they would just be there forever. Like mountains.

The nightmare that took place 16 years ago was inconceivable for a large part of my life. We grew up imagining nuclear war (and those images are proving more resilient than I had hoped). But the primitive evil of September 11, 2001, along with the personal catastrophes and the heroism that followed, proved once again a very old truth.

It proved that the greatest power in the worldfor violence and destruction or for valor and courage and solidarityremains the human heart with its designs, its choices for good or evil, and its vocation that draws it to love and to hope and to begin again.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Foundation of Joy

During his visit to Colombia, Pope Francis is preaching a message of peace for a nation torn by fifty years of civil war, and for all of us:

Francis: "The Lord embraces all, and—listen to this!—all of us are important and essential to Him."


People in plaza, Bogotá, Colombia:  Large crowd cheering, waving colors, etc.

Francis: "During these days I would like to share with you the most important truth: that God loves us with the love of a Father who encourages us to continue looking for and desiring peace—that peace which is authentic and abiding. God loves us with the love of a Father. Shall we repeat this together?"

People: "God loves us with the love of a Father!"

Francis: "This is the foundation of joy."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

People Disappoint Us, But We Should Love Them Anyway

Goofy cartoonish picture of the author

When we love people, sooner or later they disappoint us. This can make us feel cynical about others and inadequate within ourselves.

Too often when somebody lets us down or distances themselves from us, we feel like this somehow reflects an "objective" judgment on our value as persons. On the exterior we might get angry and defend ourselves or lash out at the other person, or we might think critically of them, but on a deeper level it eats away at our sense of self-worth. It's like "they dumped me because I'm not worth it" and then we inwardly recite the litany of all our flaws, and the anxiety and depression "switches" get flipped, and we spiral downward. Well, that's the way I have been, anyway. It took many years for me to realize that that's just not reality.

This is reality: You are a person. You are a gift. You are made to love and to be loved. Your very existence is a gift to those who encounter you, and if you give yourself in love, in friendship, in compassion, you aspire to be received by another, to be embraced, to be loved. That aspiration is not selfish. It is properly personal. It might (usually does) get mixed up with selfishness to some degree, but the foundation is real and worthy.

In daily life, we offer ourselves to other human persons. But people (every one of us) are a mysterious intersection of temperament, problems, original-sin-based-wonkiness, a thousand quirks, hidden hurts and hidden preoccupations, and FREEDOM... all under the even deeper mystery of God's infinitely discrete, clever, and relentless grace.

We can't fix one another. We offer ourselves, and it's a risk... but it's also a victory, always. Real self-giving (ordinary daily self-giving) is always constructive. Sure, we're not perfect. We have to pray and open ourselves more to God's love, to work on our faults with persistence and patience, to practice courtesy in our relationships, to benefit from what others can teach us by their counsel and their example. If people turn away from us because we really have hurt them, we should seek to make amends and ask for forgiveness.

At the same time, self-giving love requires realism and balanced judgment; it must be distinguished from a kind of emotional dependency that constantly gets defined and degraded by the violence of an unloving person. Self-giving is founded upon a proper "self-possession" and, indeed, a proper love of self. It does not mean allowing ourselves to be reduced to being someone else's punching bag.

But in ordinary (non-dysfunctional) human relationships, there is something distorted about the consistent perception that whenever we are not adequately loved, it is entirely our fault. We shouldn't think that the reason for this experience is that we are defective or somehow less than fully human persons. This is often a feature of the pathology of depression, but our freedom is involved here too, in that we must not give in to self-pity, resentment, and discouragement, and begin to block off the love that God offers to us—especially the way He gives Himself through the feeble and often disappointing love of our brothers and sisters.

We are made for love and worthy of love. The hope of being loved by another is not an illusion or a selfish flaw. Jesus says, "Give and you shall receive." The gift of self is a mysterious outpouring, a self-"emptying," a "disinterest" not because by it we devalue ourselves, but rather because in it we grow beyond the incomplete "place" of ourselves from moment to moment. But our seeking is destined to be fulfilled.

In human love we experience a sign of this fulfillment, but also something that can only fall short—if for no other reason than that even the most perfect human love is less than infinite Love. So we experience one another, and the hope for a definitive fulfillment grows, patience widens our hearts, we learn to forgive and to be forgiven, to bear with one another and to help one another.

We do "lose ourselves" when we love, but the promise is that we will find ourselves, even through pain.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Happy Saint "Mother Teresa" Day!

Happy Saint "Mother Teresa" Day! 

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta (September 5, 1997). Those of us who remember her must pass on her witness to the generation that has grown up after her death: her enduring witness of love and compassion and reverence for the dignity of every human person.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Freedom and Friendship in Christ

Several very simple but supportive gestures of solidarity experienced in recent months have led me to ponder once again with gratitude the tremendous grace that is Christian friendship. 

This unique kind of friendship is founded on a unique kind of sharing of life, which St. Paul calls koinonia, and which we translate as "communion"—it is the communion of life in Christ, from its transcendent center to its many particular expressions. Because it really is a participation in God's love in Christ, this communion is not—in itself and by its own proper character—anything like a conformist imposition or an invasive smothering of the person (and insofar as we drift into this sort of reductionism in our living out of relationships with one another, we are not being true to the koinonia of Christian friendship). Our communion in Christ is a unity-in-diversity of persons; it is an interpersonal environment in which the special vocation of each person is discovered and flourishes. 

Since the person discovers his or herself and realizes his or her freedom through self-giving love, there is always a reciprocal relationship between the authentic realization of personal freedom and the building up of communion. 

Communion and liberation. They are inseparable. Thus Jesus Christ, who creates the definitive communion of life, fulfills the destiny of the human person and the human community.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Wonders of the Sun and the Terrors of the Storm


My heart goes out to all the people who are suffering in different ways from the furies of the weather in these recent days.💚 Here in the United States—only a week after the nation gathered to watch a strange and wonderful solar eclipse—a major population center has been paralyzed by a deluge from the sky.

The Weather Channel's website has had many, many pictures of the devastation wrought all along the region near the Gulf Coast of Texas. The aerial photo (above) of Houston underwater, taken by David J. Phillip for Associated Press, captures something of the surreal vastness of the massive flood that almost looks like a permanent alteration of the geography of this huge sprawling city. It's all the work of a hurricane with the deceptively benign name of "Harvey" dumping several feet of rain on Houston and its surroundings, overwhelming the area by brute force.

The waters will eventually dry up. But the human impact will remain, and the work of rebuilding homes, neighborhoods, and civic life in Houston will take years. For many people, the losses will never be replaced.

O this poor human life!😢 The things we build, the security and wealth we accumulate with such ingenuity and labor and anxious care: how fragile it all is.

Houston? No, Macao in China, flooded by a typhoon this week.
The ancient Chinese were no strangers to droughts and floods. For all the highly articulated order and ritual propriety of their Confucian system, the Chinese remained baffled before an "incomprehensible heaven," even what they sometimes called a "cruel heaven" that nevertheless—they were convinced—had its inescapable purposes.

The reference to China here is not simply to note that flooding is an ancient scourge. It also arises from current events: earlier this week, even as Houston and coastal Texas were deluged, an enormous typhoon hit the regions around Hong Kong and Macao on the other side of the world, bringing disastrous floods and sundering winds upon the people there. Indeed, disasters like Hurricane Harvey's washout of Texas—sometimes with far worse consequences for human life—happen all the time, all over the world. And human beings, from time immemorial, have grappled with the mysteries of the "heaven" above them, that enormous, awesome, usually-regular-but-occasionally-unpredictable space that seems to have so much to do with life and death. Today, our technological world has measured the "heavens" and developed a plethora of tools for analyzing and predicting rainfall, heat, cold, the flow of the winds, and even the movements of the sun and the moon.

Nevertheless, whether it is the wondrous phenomenon of last week's solar eclipse or the catastrophes of this week's floods, the vast environment that shapes our world still remains beyond our control. We fill the skies every day with airplanes, we connect with one another through the airwaves and via satellites, we send rockets to explore the moon and beyond, and yet...we are not the masters of reality.

A natural disaster is a terrible and painful experience for those in its path. It is also a reminder to all of us of the two aspects of human life that are so difficult to reconcile: its preciousness and its frailty. A serious meditation on human life often arrives at a kind of stoic resignation or fatalism. It can even tempt us to bitterness or a hardened cynicism.

Photo of partial eclipse taken through dark glass, on our porch.
How do we hold together the preciousness and the frailty of life? On the one hand, there is so much beauty that draws us; so much that makes life worth living to the full. And yet nothing we attain seems to last. Everything passes away. "All is Vanity," the old wise man says (see Ecclesiastes 1:2). But this is not the whole truth about life, and by itself it only leads us to an irresolvable dissatisfaction and sadness. It does not explain our hope.

Indeed, the project of life is one in which we are always seeking goodness, beauty, truth, justice, love—in a word, happiness, and not just for a time, but a fulfilling and enduring happiness. We struggle to build relationships and an environment where the goodness and beauty—the happiness—we seek can be experienced and fostered. At the same time, precisely within our most passionate attention to reality, we discover the need to "let go"—not because we suddenly find ourselves falling into an abyss of nothingness, but because we are touched by the wonder at the heart of reality, and our need to be open to receive the gift beyond all our efforts and understanding.

During the moments of the eclipse, everyone experienced a wonder that was beyond our control. Everyone was fascinated, and for all our efforts to measure it and take pictures, we knew there was no way to capture its surprises. We felt like children again, receiving a gift in joy and wonder.

For those rendered homeless by the floods in Texas and Macao and—no doubt—other places that didn't make the news this past week, "letting go" feels very much like having the good and happy things of life wrenched away by an accidental and capricious violence. Here people encounter something "beyond their control" but it hardly seems fascinating. It seems, rather, to jar the trajectory of their existence off what they thought was a stable path. They grieve for losses that are all too real.

Grief is strange and arduous and incomprehensible. But it too touches every human life, and it affects each person in a unique way. There is no simple way to "resolve" it. It is a long and mysterious path of "letting go and opening up" that unfolds in its own time, that must be borne and lived and endured. We can accompany one another and help one another in grief through solidarity and compassion, and the works of mercy that flow from them.

And will we discover, in time, that even grief endures by the light of wonder beyond what has been lost, by the hope of finding it again more fully, by the stubbornness of the longing that remains and secretly grows within us?

Partial eclipse in Virginia, on our porch, reflected through the tree shadows (left) and observed through paper projection holes by Josefina (right)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Augustine Speaks to God, and Writes a Book for All of Us

Today we remember the great Saint Augustine, the man who found Jesus and in following Him chose to abandon his profession as a rhetorician, and his aspirations to "make beautiful and compelling presentations using words."

Then, in one of history's great ironies, Augustine told the story of how he found Christ, and in so doing he crafted one of the most beautiful and compelling presentations using words that has ever been written.

He addresses his words to God, and yet, in writing this singular work of literature—his Confessions—he teaches human beings from every place and time about the hearts they possess, full of yearning, deceived by sin, and longing for salvation, healing, and peace:
"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You....Who shall bring me to rest in You? Who will send You into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace You, my only good?.... Behold, the ears of my heart are before You, O Lord; open them and say to my soul, 'I am your salvation'. I will hasten after that voice, and I will lay hold upon You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed" (Confessions, Book I).
Throughout his account and up to its decisive moment, he crafts an unparalleled poetic expression of human desire, failure, and struggle, and above all the joy of encountering God through Jesus Christ. These words are classic, and it doesn't seem that we can ever ponder them too much:
"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).
It may seem crude for a secondary source to try to recount the conversion of Saint Augustine, and yet people have been doing it anyway for well over a thousand years. Though they cannot replace or reproduce anything like the original, they have their own modest reasons for attempting to take the measure of some aspect(s) of this towering man.

I have participated in the ongoing effort to write about Augustine in what was just the second article of my regular column in MAGNIFICAT, "Great Conversion Stories" (the column has now been running nearly four years with more to come). My article on Augustine appeared way back in the January 2014 issue of this beautiful monthly journal of prayer, meditation, readings, and art (you can subscribe by clicking HERE).

Since I get new readers all the time, I thought I would share again this (poor quality but legible) reproduction of the column:


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Experiments in Graphic Art: The Cartoony Flower


Here I attempted to use a cartoon style photo editor, supplemented by the usual photo editing software that I have in my toolkit, in order to produce this... well... cartoony flower.

One would think by the way these applications present themselves that it would be very easy. But it actually took some time and considerable effort to get the particular structure and the corresponding colors that I wanted for this image. It was, in fact, harder than I thought it would be to produce this modest result.

Whatever its merits, it has gone through a process from being excerpted from my camera photograph to a series of precise edits with filters and adjustments but also using the tools "by hand" (still gotta use a mouse to "draw" and click for certain things). Though never touched by a real pen or pencil, it's entitled—in the broader sense in common use today—to be called an experiment in "graphic" art.😊

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Courage to be Seen

I'll take this opportunity to get the blog up to date with my more recent experiments in computer graphics and the artistic presentation of text.

This is a simple format with some filtering for an excerpt from a text of Pope Francis. These are, once again, challenging and crucially formative words for anyone who follows Jesus Christ:


That crowds a lot of words into a square, of course. I was working with the ideal shape for an Instagram post. Perhaps it's a bit much for Instagram; I often still think in the text, font, and page formatting of the late twentieth century. I'm a rather old dog who is trying to learn a few new tricks, slowly.

Here below is another arresting passage from a homily of the Pope that I arranged in conjunction with an image. This passage is shorter and more visually engaging:


And then there's this text, with colors and geometric patterns:


I also have a couple of Scripture texts in graphic form using various editorial techniques:



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Their Death is NOT Just a Statistic

It keeps happening. This strange, violent, awful way of dying.

I refuse to be reconciled to it, as if it were some phenomenon of social science or an unavoidable fate for certain people.

I keep trying to write this post, but I can't find any adequate way to talk about it. There really isn't an adequate way.

We live in tumultuous times. Our immensely powerful and stressful world pushes forward with a relentless force that continually multiplies itself, enlarges itself, leaping over limits of speed, annihilating space, defying gravity, racing in all directions. We are all riding behind this wild engine, gasping for air and grasping for a place to hold on. We don't really know who's driving or where it's going. Perhaps we are lucky enough to have learned some tricks for hanging on to this crazy train.

But people face all kinds of challenges and make a lot of mistakes. Some of these challenges are complicated by mental disorders that become more exacerbated by this wild ride. They are slipping and having trouble regaining their footing.

They're falling off the train. Too many of them are falling off the train. (But what is "too many"? One is too many!)

From all the noise and the scramble, they find no peace. They only fall into the cold stillness of the ground. And they are hardly noticed.

Suicide has become a statistic.

It will never be just a statistic for me! There are too many names and faces, too many people I love who have been devastated by this awful thing. Too many people who have been lost, or who have had their loved ones ripped away from them.

I know the trajectory of Depression, and how its internal chaos can connive with the recklessness of a toxic environment. I know that we must never give up hope. We must hope in the infinite mercy of God, and recognize all the factors that can diminish or eliminate culpability when a person does something that brings their life to an end.

I have a precious friend for whom I keep that flame of hope burning. Let us keep those flames burning, even though it means that our own hearts will continue to be struck and scarred by the heat.

Let us grieve and hope for our loved ones, and stand in solidarity with others who have lost their loved ones. At the same time, we must recognize that suicide is a disaster that stands at the end of a chain: often a bizarre and complex chain that has lots of links (and we must do as much as we can to understand and try to unhook those links). Still it is a chain that is held by the hand of the Enemy of the human race.

We must oppose this Enemy without compromise. Jesus tells us clearly: the Enemy is a liar and a thief! No compromise. Suicide is never, never the answer...to anything.

Dear suffering people, it is good that you are here. Stay!💗 Don't give up. Talk to someone about it. You matter, believe it, you matter so much more than you think!

For the rest of us: Understand that there are people among you who suffer. Some of them are young people who seem so full of vitality, or successful people, or people who seem so strong. They suffer in secret. Be ready to welcome with kindness and compassion any person who shows you their pain.

Other people suffer more openly, and we are tempted to think the unthinkable. The horror! We must resist this temptation with all our ardor.

The only true response to suffering is love and compassion (which includes every effort we can muster to alleviate the particular pains and suffering of a living human being). No matter how dire their circumstances may be, however, we must not let any human person ever think that the "solution" is to end their own life, much less should we provide the means and assistance for them to do so.

Worst of all is the social "normalization" of suicide, either through negligence or through the endorsement (by law and social mentality) of anyone making the terrible mistake of ending their own life. We must never say to any human person, "your life has no value." This is a lie! It is treason against humanity, the failure of love, the mockery of justice, the icing-over of the human heart.

And do we think we can allow this to become the norm, and somehow limit or control it? Right now, the weak are struggling to find a place to stand. In a cold world of fake compassion and icy hearts, the weak will fall and fall and fall. Indeed, we who are strong, who hold power, will push them.

The statistics will rise. And if our eyes remain dry, the stones will weep.