Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Simplicity of "Papa Benedict"

On this day, eight years ago, we said goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI as his retirement took effect. We watched him take a helicopter from Saint Peter's Square after a moving final encounter with people there and all over the world via television and the internet.

Eventually, after a time at Castel Gandalfo, Benedict would move into the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican to begin a new phase of his own personal vocation, taking up a life of prayer and solitude which continues even to this day. It is a genuinely hidden life, entirely detached from the office and active ministry of his successor Pope Francis, yet enduring as another special way of "serving the Church."

And we still benefit so much from the treasury of wisdom Benedict XVI gave us in the teachings of his papacy. Even with all his learning and erudition, his aim was always simple: to point to Jesus, to encourage us to trust in God's immense love for us, and to allow God to transform us in Jesus and raise us up to the measure of our vocation to eternal life.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Confucius Remarks on the Stages of Life

Lately, a notable passage of Confucius - found in the first part of the Analects, near the beginning - has made a fresh and unexpected impression on me. 
Though I am for the most part decidedly not "caught up" with Confucius's indicated age levels (no "perplexities" by age 40? seriously?), I am provoked by his characterization of the decade of life that I have nearly finished (having reached the age of 58 last month). It may touch on the peculiar struggles and challenges of this transition from "middle age" to "seniorhood." Here is the whole quotation, beginning with the significance of the age of 15:
"At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. 
"At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities.
"At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven.
"At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. 
"At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart;
for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right."

When I turned 50, I thought it was a big deal (read the post from 2013😉). I wasn't entirely wrong. It was supposed to be the age where people finally begin to get a vital, "naturally experiential" grasp of the larger perspectives of life. It's almost inevitable, because by age fifty we have lived a good chunk of life, and we start to "see" what our grandparents were always talking about (and what our parents may still be talking about).

Speaking as a philosopher, this might be what the Master is getting at when he says, "at fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven."

But it was not until age sixty, Confucius says, that he "heard them with a docile ear." It's one thing to start seeing what your life is all about, but another thing entirely to say "yes" to that understanding, to be at peace with how your life has worked out and what remains to aspire to (in terms of life in this world, with its relative concerns, which are real even if they are incomplete in themselves).

It is a challenge, emotionally and psychologically, to arrive at "docility" without veering off into cynicism and narrowing of the heart.

And how am I doing with all of this? Well, of course, the mercy of God in Jesus Christ brings a new and more radically hopeful dimension to everything, even our failures and weaknesses and disappointments. I am learning more and more how much I really depend on Christ's healing presence in my life.

Looking at things exclusively from the perspective of Confucius, however, I would have to develop a whole lot more docility in the next two years. I shall do my best...

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Knock and the Door Will be Opened

What could more worth reading and pondering on this blog post than the Gospel passage from the liturgy of February 25th?

"Jesus said to his disciples:
'Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; 
 
and the one who seeks, finds; 
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 

" 'Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

" 'Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. 
This is the law and the prophets.' "

~Matthew 7:7-12

There is also the Collect from the week, where we recognize once again that everything - even our good works - are founded on, sustained, and brought to fruition by the gift of God.



Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Melting and Moonlight

Here is some of my digital artwork from these sudden warmer days of thaw flowing into the creek, later setting suns, and the rise of February's full moon.



 

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Chair of Saint Peter

HAPPY FEAST OF THE "CATHEDRA" OF SAINT PETER.

Today we celebrate in a special way the unique Apostolic ministry bestowed by Jesus on Simon, to whom He gave the name "Peter." 

"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

From ancient times, the bishop's church in every local Catholic Christian community has been called "the Cathedral," not because it's especially large or fancy, but because it has the bishop's "chair" ("cathedra") from which he presides at the liturgy and which representes his ministry and the responsibilities of his office. Like many of the terms and archetectural features of the early Church, it was adapted from styles and practices of imperial Rome in late antiquity (such as the "chair" where officials heard and judged cases, which had practical as well as symbolic value).

What is essential is the bishop's vocation to the service of authority passed down to them from the Apostles and established by Jesus so that His followers would be united in faith and charity in every place and time. Of course, the Bishop of Rome (i.e. "the Pope") has the central responsibility for the whole Church as the successor of Saint Peter (who was the first bishop of the originally small and beleaguered Christian community in Rome and who was martyred on Vatican hill in the year 64).

[The actual, physical chair(s) have a long history. Pictured here is ancient relic in a byzantine/early medieval setting, kept within Bernini's famous reliquary in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.]

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Bright Skies, Frozen Ground

It's still pretty frosty around here. And cold! But evenings are getting "longer."

I'm staying warm (when I'm not out taking pictures) by keeping busy in my digital art "studio." I have been working on various things, including these two stylistically (and technically) diverse renditions of different perspectives on a dramatic 5:30-ish PM late February sky.




Friday, February 19, 2021

Lent 2021: May God's Love Convert Our Hearts

Once again the great season of Lent has begun
.

As we embark upon our journey toward Easter, we are charged with the task of calling to mind our sins with sincere repentence and taking up afresh the invitation to follow Jesus with renewed conversion of heart.

Christians claim that through the encounter and embrace of Jesus Christ we have come to know the love of God himself. If this is really true, why do we keep "forgetting" God's love and going back to selfishness, egoism, distraction, envy, and strife?

Every day we fail. Even those who aim the highest find that they fall short again and again. Should this be a cause for discouragement? Certainly not.

It should be cause for humility, for prayer, for turning and returning to the sources of grace, the places where Jesus "touches" us. Our faith makes especially clear the fragility of our humanity, our immense poverty, our utter dependence on God for everything.

The "good news" is that God's goodness and mercy are infinitely greater than our weakness, and that he has totally embraced our lives in Jesus. We must not give up, but on the contrary cling ever more fully to him.

Moreover - knowing the depths of God's love and our own frailty - we have all the more reason to look upon the struggles of every human person with compassion. Knowing God's generosity and our own vulnerability, we have every reason to forgive others when they hurt us.

We cannot be complacent. We must always strive to say "yes" to the love that God our Father pours out over our lives each day through the heart of Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Let us praise and worship our God who is Love, and beg for his love to change us, to turn us into lovers, and to show the wonder of his beauty through us on the roads of this world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Fashioned By His Grace...

I love this prayer for today, from the "Sixth Week in Ordinary Time" in the Roman liturgy, so I want to share it before the Lenten Season begins tomorrow. 

Once again there is the emphasis on GRACE in this prayer. We ask God to "grant" the gift of being "fashioned by his grace" into a worthy dwelling place for him - with "hearts that are just and true" - and we ask for this gift of healing and transformation, as always "through our Lord Jesus Christ..."



Monday, February 15, 2021

Prayer and "The Beloved"

Here are two different "digital designs" for a text from Pope Francis's Angelus message of February 14. Obviously, the words are much more important than my experiments in presentation.😉


And here are some roses!



Friday, February 12, 2021

Your Will Corresponds To My Destiny

Lord God, Creator of all that exists,
Infinite Mystery who gives meaning and purpose and fulfillment to reality,
I ask You to show me Your will,
and to give me the grace to do Your will.

You, my God, are the absolute perfection of Truth, and Goodness, and Beauty. 
Your will is Your Glory, the radiance of You who are worthy of all my love,
and Your will is entirely "for" my life, my true identity,
to shape me into the unique person You have created me to be.
Your will corresponds to my destiny, to the real "me" 
and there is no other possibility for me to be happy, fully human, truly fulfilled
except through free obedience to Your will.

And what do You will for me?
Yourself,
You, the Infinite Mystery, who are infinite inexhaustible Love:
Your will is to give Yourself to me,
pouring Yourself out in the gratuitous freedom of love,
revealing Your Glory by reaching down to me in my lowliness.

God who is Love,
Holy Trinity, One God.
Father, You sent Your only Son to dwell with us and save us.
Jesus, you took our humanity to Yourself.
You became our brother,
so that, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we might be transformed
as Your brothers and sisters, into children of the Father,
called and destined to share forever in the Glory of Eternal Love.

My God, I adore You, I give thanks to You, I love You, I trust in You. 
Jesus, I trust in You.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

"We Must Have Confidence in His Strength"

February 10 is the feast of Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict. February 11, of course, is the beautiful feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the annual World Day of Prayer for the Sick.

Facebook also reminded me of the profound words spoken by Benedict XVI eight years ago in his Angelus of February 10, 2013. The next day he announced his resignation from the papacy and his embarking on what has proven to be a long "monastic journey" which continues to this day. In Benedict's apparent "weakness," the strength of God is at work in hidden ways.



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Continuing to Remember the Person She Became...

I have a few more things than usual going on these days. But that doesn't mean I want to forget Christina Grimmie.

My own graphics, articles, and renewal of her memory have been consistent for me for over four years. It is my own participation in the vital legacy of this extraordinary young woman. Indeed, my monthly commemorations have a "history" of their own, which is highlighted for me by the various ways that the Internet reminds me of my posts from previous years.

Remembering how Christina's brief words and gestures struck me in the past "surprises me" today by showing fresh vitality and relevance to new circumstances and events in my own life. The love that inspired Christina's life always finds new ways to prove its value. 

Christina offered to Jesus in faith and love her great gifts of voice, music, and magnanimity of heart. In this way - expressing her spectacular, undeniable talent and dedication combined with her humble compassion and openness to every person she met - Christina poured herself out for her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and was able to share His love in the midst of the secular entertainment world.

In her 22 years on this earth, she made incredible music, inspired and encouraged people, spoke simply but with a depth of sincerity and commitment that gave life to her words, and lived the joy and the risks of a great love... Her total gift-of-self in her passion for music and her unconditional love for people was her witness to the glory of Jesus who is God dwelling among us and who gives meaning to everything.

Confident in His love, Christina was not afraid to love others. Her light shines brighter today than three years ago when I first posted the graphic I share again here. It is a light that will endure.



Monday, February 8, 2021

Josephine Bakhita, “Fortunate” Daughter of God

Today we celebrate a woman who was empowered by the love of God, and gives hope to powerless women, abused women, trafficked women, and oppressed women and men throughout the world. 

She was abducted from her African village and native people of South Sudan in the latter half of the 19th century. She never remembered her birth name, but the Arab slave traders had called her "Bakhita," which means "lucky." There was nothing that looked lucky about the horrible abuse and mutilation that she suffered for years as a slave in Northern Sudan, but then she was brought to Italy, found Christ, and was baptized Giuseppina Fortunata ("lucky"). 

She became a religious sister and for 40 years worked at the convent and among the people simply but with profound charity. She not only forgave her oppressors, but said she would kiss their hands if she saw them, because they brought her to Jesus (ultimately, in God's plan). She lived a heroic and exemplary life of confidence in God, with the strength and humility of an immense self-giving love and dedication to the practice of the works of mercy.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, you now live in the glory of God's beatifying presence. But in today's world we need you more than ever. Please pray for us, and for our many needs, with all the compassion you showed in your earthly life towards everyone who encountered you.

Pray for us to follow Jesus with ever greater trust and love as we journey through this world, that we may attain the joy of eternal life.

Pray for us to turn away from sin, and devote ourselves to the love of God and service to one another, that his glory may shine more brightly in our lives and be reflected throughout our communities, peoples, and societies all over the world.

Pray for an end to the many degrading forms of violence that plague our world, especially the oppression of the poor, human trafficking, and child abuse. Pray for all women, especially those who suffer from lack of recognition of their full and equal dignity as human persons created in the image of God.

Pray for all those who are endangered in various ways by the ongoing COVID pandemic and the many distressing consequences related to it. 

Pray for an end to racism, and for an overcoming of all the interpersonal and social evils generated by it. 

Pray for your native land of South Sudan, for those suffering persecutions, hunger, the ravages of war in Africa and through the world, for an end to all forms of slavery, and for respect for the dignity and beauty of every woman and every man.

Pray for our homes, families, children, elders, and all those entrusted to our particular care. Pray for our perseverance, that we will never give up searching for God's will, and that we will trust in him when he shows us the way. 

Pray for us, that we might love and forgive our enemies out of the conviction that God loves us and them, and orders everything in his wisdom and mercy to the good.

Friday, February 5, 2021

"Obedience" is a Scary Word

In my previous reflection about the Mystery who creates me, calls out to me, and brings me to fulfillment, I said: "What should I do? Obey Him."

Yes, obey ... That's a scary word, and it makes us feel like backing away or hiding. We want to do our own will. We want to be self-sufficient. We think that "freedom" means the unrestricted ability to do whatever we want, no matter what it is. We want to be the independent source of our own value. We also fear being "constrained" by the will of others; we fear that they will force their will upon us and use us to satisfy their own agenda. How can we "trust" anyone?

This, of course, has been a problem "from the beginning," as we well know.

But it's hard just to be alone with our "unrestrained freedom," and eventually we realize that we don't really know what we want to "do" with it. We want to "act," to choose in a way that makes us flourish and grow (somehow). Realistically, we need to "be involved" with other people and the reality of life if we want to use our freedom. We want to find a way that at least appears to get us closer to whatever-it-is that we want, and that seems to give us some security that we will be able to act (or be "part of the action") to obtain - and to keep - the "thing," the state-of-being, and/or the societal organization that will help establish and convince us of our own value. The world abounds with proposals for these kinds of "ways" and this kind of action, all of which require us to commit our freedom to some plan, some system, some method, some person who claims to know what is right (but who is really, ultimately, no different from us). Usually these proposals end up disappointing us, and we may become discouraged or even trapped in bad or dangerous living situations. 

Too often, these proposals for how live freely are very attractive on the surface, but they are not what they appear to be. They promise to enlarge our freedom, but they end up diminishing it and obfuscating our identity. We are tricked into a false enthusiasm that puffs us up for awhile, but ultimately collapses and buries us. Then, we find ourselves suffocating under this weight, but we are told to conform to the party line, to obey orders, and give over our humanity and our very lives to those who wield power...or else!

In today's world, we fear this word, "obedience," not only because we are stubborn and self-willed, but also because it is often misused to serve the claims of power. I refer here specifically to the pride and ideological and imagination-manipulative schemes of humans who impose their power on others, who are without a proper mandate to exercise authority (or who are exceeding that mandate). These "powers" are self-appointed and (often cleverly) self-assertive; they invade the space of our humanity by lies and violence because they lack genuine authority. They are not dedicated to serving the good of others, to using external material forces as resources to benefit the human community and the created world entrusted to our care. They value their ideas, systems, or "tribal" instincts rather than love for the human person or reverence for the freedom of the person. 

Our anxiety about "enforced conformity" is understandable. And we are especially vulnerable in these uniquely complicated times. We are living in this vast, enormous, frighteningly interconnected world of unprecedented material forces, naked ambition and stripped-open defenselessness, speed and excess in every direction, distracted interactions of multitudes and terrible loneliness, pressure for external success, alienation in a boundless sea where we fear drowning without ever knowing which way to swim for safety.

That same world has so many wonderful and enriching possibilities. Humans are aware of themselves in an unprecedented way as being dependent on one another. There can be a beautiful sharing of resources and marvelous new solutions to basic problems, as well as the opportunity to appreciate one another in new ways: to give and receive all over the world from our diverse cultural riches, personal talents, and expressions of beauty. There is so much good everywhere, so much good in people, in the beauty and ineradicable dignity of each person, in so many facets of their lives, their accomplishments, their institutions and communities, their cultures and social life. But there is also darkness and strangeness, weakness, duplicity, and a kind of radical insufficiency in everyone too... including ourselves! And there are incomprehensible people who conceal dangerous flaws, perverseness, even wickedness beneath an "exterior" that appears good.

And it seems that never before this global epoch has all of this goodness, badness, and ugliness been so shaken together, tossed about through immense changes, and spilled out all through this brave new world in combinations and circumstances and proximity and sheer quantity - in a way that is new to human history. How are we going to live as intelligent, free, loving, compassionate human beings in the midst of all this? 

We would be foolish to ignore the wisdom of the past, of accumulated human experience. We still can learn much from it. But we also need to find new ways forward. We need to find a deeper way of "possessing ourselves" and loving ourselves so that we can freely give ourselves within the context of challenges our ancestors never knew. We need a deeper awareness of our own human freedom and more profound and vital modes of human cooperation and solidarity. We need to learn to trust one another and to "trust reality" (and not become cynical in front of the goodness we see, but open and hopeful in front of it).  But how?

Perhaps that frightening, seemingly ambivalent word "obedience" is relevant here.

The fundamental point here is that we are talking about obedience to God. This is the real meaning of the word: to adhere to and follow the One who is the source of my freedom, of the uniqueness of my personhood; He is the one who generates the freedom that is really "mine," that awakens, searches, and longs to find its real fulfillment, the freedom to really "become myself" - in the inexhaustible love of being-in-relationship to the One who is Love.

Obedience to God's will. Let's be clear: this word does not signify the subjugation of my humanity and the abdication of my dignity to someone who exercises definitive power over me from a place that is extrinsic to my true self, and who would thus perpetrate violence against me. (It may be "God's will" to permit me to suffer violence at the hands of others, but my adherence to Him secures my inner freedom and promises meaning and goodness for me as its fruition.)

We need not fear obedience to God. He is not another threat. He does not crush us. He is not another "Boss." He Himself transcends, goes beyond, this whole world of powers and forces that rise up and pass away in the universe. He is the freedom of Infinite Love, who cannot debase us because He creates us, who cannot violate our freedom because He generates and opens up that very freedom that each of us possesses in the depths of ourselves.

His "will" is the design of His wisdom and love. His will is good because He is Good (all the time!). His will is the love that makes me to be myself and makes me a lover of Him and all my brothers and sisters and everything He has created, because He is Love.

He seeks us, He draws close to us, He "reaches down" to us. And the most astonishing thing is the unimaginable gratuitous gift that by being so humanly particular has touched every moment of human history and invested everything with new meaning: God has come, to share our humanity. He is here. He has come to dwell with us.

Only Infinite Love can overflow in such mysterious superabundance that He can enter the world, take our flesh, become human like us, save us, give Himself to us, call us in a total way without doing violence to us because He is Love, emptying Himself to become our brother, our companion in the flesh.

Jesus Christ, crucified, died, risen to imperishable life - the life that cannot be destroyed, the life He desires to share with us from the depths of His heart. He wins our freedom by "emptying Himself," by pouring Himself out in love, for us. He does not overpower us. He does not lie to seduce us. He looks at each one of us with love, and says, "follow me."

I want to obey Him. His will is the only thing that can correspond to my destiny; He knows the happiness that will correspond to me, and fulfill my freedom.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Welcome to February "Snow and Melt and..."

So it snowed on Sunday night and Monday. I know, snow-laden branches, you've seen it again and again. (Notice that it didn't really end up being all that much in our area.)


I felt lazy... I mean, I felt like being artistic! So I jazzed things up a bit in ze "studio virtuale." Just a little bit:


A not-quite-"instant" Instagram fan fave. Not too difficult, thanks to digital cheating ... err "techniques." (ha, really, it's cheating!😉)

Then I did an artsy take on the "look-at-the-overburdened-Rhododendrons" annual theme.


By Tuesday, the melting had begun. Now with sunshine and receding snow, my favorite Winter greens are back! Oh yeah! So tough.🌿 You just get unvarnished photos for their re-emergence, and then also some hardy ivy keeping its color going strong.

Snow white retreats for now. But it will be back...


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

He Knows “Me” Through and Through

Not my thoughts, but Your thoughts; not my will, but Your will be done

But why?

His will is unfailing truth and goodness, because He is Wisdom and Love. He knows "me," infinitely better than I know myself; He creates "me" and He is my destiny. And He is the Infinite One, who is all good and worthy of all my love.

What do I know of all this, really, profoundly, beyond all the words and ideas I think I have mastered? 

Very little, and that is so easily obscured or forgotten through most of my days. I know that everything exists for His glory, and that He is here for me, He loves me, He is faithful to His promises. I have seen enough in my life to know that I should trust Him. He convinces me, occasionally by great and clear events but most often by obscure signs; whatever the case, His grace strengthens my adherence, my hope that hangs onto Him, and it enkindles love for Him who is Goodness itself.

Most of the time, however, I am absorbed in my own plans, my ideas, or my emotions. I'm distracted. Still, He draws my attention to His loving presence, and He enables me to remember that He is the meaning of my life. I "rediscover" my need to pray for the grace to be more focused on Him.

My life is in God's hands. What do I know by virtue of my own understanding regarding the future: the future of a 58 year old man in the 21st Century? Will there be some joys, some shocks, some achievements, some pain? Probably. Perhaps. In what proportion? I don't know. 

What about death? Definitely

But when? And what happens, experientially, in that moment? Will I die slowly or quickly? Today, or in thirty years? Am I "ready"? Come Lord Jesus! Father, deliver me from the evil one! Mother Mary, pray for me in that hour... Then there is the judgment by the just Judge who is also Mercy, whom I hope to adhere to without wavering through what remains of my life and through death, united with Jesus who died for me - indeed who made my death His own, somehow.... through this mystery of His salvific love.

I don't "know" much about these things, beyond what I need to know in order to stay with Him, to take the next step in faith and trust (when I'm paying attention). But He knows. He knows everything. He knows me, entirely, exhaustively, with implacable, immeasurable love.

What should I do? Obey Him. Follow Him. Trust in Him. Not simply because I'm "terrified" of being without Him. For all the incoherence of my "decidedly-not-holy" life, I want to be with Him because He is "what-it's-all-about." Everything, including me, has been created for His glory. He is the source of all meaning and goodness. Moreover, He has made me a person. He generates the personal depths, the freedom and the responsibility, the "heart" that constitutes the uniqueness of who I am. He alone knows who I really am, through and through.

I am relationship-to-Him (as is every person). He makes me in His image. 

And He is Absolute Love. He is my Father.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

“A Light of Revelation”

[from Mosaic of the Presentation in the Temple, Mark Rupnik.]

Happy Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

It has now been 40 days since Christmas, when we celebrated the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh who has come to dwell with us, to reveal the glory of God and the immeasurable depths of His love for us. 

Today Jesus is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Here He is revealed to the faithful of the Old Covenant who have ardently awaited His coming. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, there are a few who recognize the baby Jesus as the Messiah in this joyful "epiphany," as Simeon testifies: "My eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of all nations. A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).

Then "Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'" (Luke 2:34-35).

Since Jesus is the "light of revelation," today is also a special day for the blessing of candles, "Candlemas." Two weeks from tomorrow we begin the liturgical season of Lent, in penance and preparation for the observance of that Holy Friday when Jesus takes our sins upon Himself... and the Resurrection of Easter Sunday. 

Christ is our Light in every darkness.

******************************************

At the beginning of today’s Mass, there may be a formal procession, where this beautiful prayer is used:



Monday, February 1, 2021

Illuminating Life's Path

Here is a text from a homily of Pope Benedict XVI on February 1, 2012 - the last full year of his pontificate:



Sunday, January 31, 2021

Ten Years of Blogging

Facebook reminded me the other day that another anniversary of the Never Give Up blog was approaching. It all began with a question:

A dozen or so people responded positively. That was quite a few responses on Facebook in those days (at least for me). So I began. I don't think I ever considered that I would still be blogging ten years later, or what it would all add up to (more than 200 posts a year).

Indeed, what does all of this represent? Part journal, part notebook, part scrapbook, part reflective journey through the events of a decade... it has been a "space" for many things. The possibility that other people might read or look at some part of what I post here provides some motivation for me to keep up the effort. I have invested in quite a few posts over these ten years a level of attention equal to what I would normally devote to "published articles" and there is a sense in which blogging is kind of like having my own "magazine."

Certainly, if I want to circulate my understanding, perspective, or opinion about something, the blog is an immediately accessible forum where I can put forth a serious effort and expect to reach a significant amount of interested readers. As a university professor, I am used to making presentations for small groups of people; thus, even a few readers are enough to "fill a classroom." I am not a publicist and do very little (beyond sharing links on my own social media pages and to my email subscribers) to "promote" the writing, personal photography, and digital artwork I post here.

The internet provides media platforms that have the potential to reach an audience of millions. Yet I don't aim this blog at a large readership. I remain here with more modest aspirations. Some posts are no more than simple observations, short quotations, funny pictures, or jokes. Sometimes a post can be a draft or a fragment of a project that needs to be continued, revised, and polished. Or a way of making accessible some personal reflections that might be useful to others. But there are also posts that approximate what I might present in a public lecture or are sufficiently polished to be "published articles" in the more old-fashioned sense. When I write, I always try to write well.
.
But I am content with a level of sharing my work here that is less formal: like what I might present in my own living room, or in a university cafeteria, or a classroom. Even if it amounts to nothing more than a "virtual office space" open to anyone to visit, with all kinds of resources and images tacked on virtual "bulletin boards" or piled in disorganized heaps, still I have found it worthwhile to continue "keeping the door open." ... Of course, the "open door" means that anyone can come in and have a look around. Ordinarily, however, this has been an advantage. Troublemakers are usually not much interested in bothering to make an effort here, but the possibility remains for those who might find something useful. And it means that some of my posts are more widely read than my articles in standard publications. Occasionally, things I have written here have reached thousands of people all over the world, receiving the kind of multiplication of publicity that the internet makes spontaneously possible (though I wouldn't say that anything has "gone viral"). Most of the time, this is due to the already existing "popularity" of the people or topics I happen to be addressing. My objective is to say something worthwhile or to work through my own thoughts and emotions; not to be trendy. I am grateful that there are significant groups of people who appreciate what I express and share it with others. It inspires me to be attentive to saying things that really do matter, and perhaps addressing aspects of common concern in a way that I am capable of doing because of my particular understanding and perspective, and my talent with words.

I do find that, after ten years, my themes and often the content of my reflections have not changed all that much. There are truths, reflections, and questions that are worthy of repetition. In these matters, I have the need to remember, renew my adherence, and ponder over and over. It's a form of discursive meditation, and I don't apologize for "saying the same things" over and over (but seeking greater depth). Often I find that I "rediscover" the enduring truths with a revitalizing freshness, and I am sure there are some readers who appreciate my sharing that with them (even if too many people in our information-content-saturated society find it boring).

First and always - in everything I write and in all my crafts, all my work, all my eating and drinking, all my joys and sufferings - I am searching for the face of Jesus Christ. I don't always mention him or make reference to him in these writings. But I have been loved by him, and embraced by him, and I know that he is the fulfillment of all things. He is the "answer" to all the essential human questions in front of the mystery of reality and ourselves.

Jesus is "the answer," but not an "easy answer." 

His embrace, his presence, his
steadfast love and fidelity, are known and followed (even "experienced" in an ever more convincing way) by the faith, hope, and love which his Spirit awakens and sustains in us. This is the gift of God's grace, given in the freedom of God's love, but also intended for everyone and even now "at work" mysteriously in everyone - even those who don't know Jesus or have left him - with the discretion and the persistence of Divine love always preparing "places" within the human person whom God has made for eternal life. 
Jesus therefore gives Christians confidence in himself, his redemption, and his promises so that we are able to live the whole drama of being human with the vital hope that he is drawing us to himself through every circumstance, that every good thing is purified, transfigured, and fulfilled in him. We search all the more passionately for meaning, side by side with our brothers and sisters in the human family with all their various ideas and conditions, within the (sometimes awful) depths of human experience, human aspirations, human questions, achievements, and sufferings. We long to see his face - the One who reveals God's love - in the depths of the mystery of life. This longing is only fulfilled in attaining our eternal destiny, but it begins now. It is the love that wounds us in this life, wounds us with longing, but also opens our hearts to solidarity and compassion with every human being.

That is why I write this blog. I am seeking the meaning and value of life, within life's circumstances: I am seeking the face of Jesus, asking to recognize his presence throughout life, and - by posting these words - inviting others to join me. That is my aspiration.

Everything human has a place here. Whenever the human heart awakens and begins to wonder (however obscure or overlaid with distorted preconceptions it may be), I want to be with that heart, somehow, because I love the One who is drawing those hearts and because he loves them with a unique, beautiful, tender love.

So I write about explicit features of the Catholic Church and "religious topics," but I also write about my family, about literature and cultural studies, about the dramatic times we live in at the dawn of the global epoch, about the challenges of unprecedented technological power, about nature and the flowers and leaves in my neighborhood, about media and communications trends, and about many kinds of people: the Pope, bishops, philosophers, workers, people fighting for political and civil liberties, people suffering from physical and mental illnesses (including myself), heroic people and people whose lives end in tragedy, ordinary people and people with great talents and oversized aspirations, sports superstars and the sports world, artists and musicians, rock stars, performers and celebrities, sinners and saints.

Some of these writings are better than others. By their nature blogs are "works in progress" - at least, blogs like mine which are places that permit "waters to be tested." The informality of my efforts here is underscored by the fact that I have never been paid a single penny for anything written for this blog. This is a place for my personal expression, my contributions to discourse at various levels, and my own search for meaning that I share as an educational gesture with anyone who wants to read what I'm writing.

As I said above, Jesus is at the center of everything, and my longing for him is what has moved me to blog over these past ten years. I hope that I have been faithful to him, and I hope that I will remain faithful.

The very first blog post is a quotation from Luigi Giussani that remains a continual reminder to me: "No gesture exists that does not involve the whole world. That's why we get up every morning: to help Christ save the world, with the strength we have, with the light we possess, asking Christ to give us more light and more strength."

Below are the first three blog posts from ten years ago, January 29-31, 2011. If you feel like squinting you can read them, or you can just see them on the bottom of the first page of this blogsite:

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Glory in His Gift

The brief beautiful Post-Communion Prayer from the past week expresses in a very simple way our radical and total dependence on God through Jesus Christ.

It's easy enough to miss the richness of such a short prayer, but it is worthy of attention, as are all the small ways that God gives us each day that enable us to love Him and share in His life.



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

"Still Life" (Indoors)

Since the outdoors has not much fun lately, here is an indoor plant. A "Still Life" by JJ. 😉


Monday, January 25, 2021

Our Lady of Guadalupe and Her Children "in America"

Chapel in Los Angeles Cathedral (art by Lalo Garcia)
It has been 22 years since my first "encounter" with Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Mexico on January 25, 1999. Many things have changed since that time, but my basic convictions from those days have only grown stronger.

I believe that we Anglo-American Catholics are called to a special solidarity with our southern neighbors, especially Hispanic Catholics. This conviction arises not only from historical and geographical circumstances, but also and in particular from the plea of the Pope and the bishops of this hemisphere 22 years ago at the Synod on America, which resulted in the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (1999) — I was privileged to be present in Mexico City when this document was promulgated, and my attendance at related papal events with Saint John Paul II and pilgrims from numerous countries has permanently imprinted upon me the deep significance of the need for solidarity among the peoples of "the American continent." And this solidarity is rooted in a particular way in our being placed — in common — under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I have made three times a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City; her presence on our soil is a special blessing that has never ceased to astonish me and fill me with hope; she is indeed the Mother of all who dwell here, in what she called "this land" back before there were any borders. For the "American hemisphere," in my opinion, Guadalupe is not just "another Marian devotion." It has a particular relevance. La Guadalupana is a unique sign for us especially (but not only for us, because the reality at the shrine is a living miracle; as an image of Mary, nothing like it exists — it is as scientifically inexplicable as the Shroud, and the only way to describe it is to say that it is the "presence" of Mary, as she told Saint Juan Diego, "build me a house," and "I will dwell there"). We in the United States of America must come to know Our Lady of Guadalupe, we should have her image in our homes and in our hearts, we should pray to her for healing of the ills that beset our country and our continent.


What I have just said is supremely relevant to the actual social issues in our country today, and to how we approach them. It is relevant to how we understand ourselves and our responsibilities toward one another. To be sure, Catholics who are citizens of the different nations of the American hemisphere have to deal "hands on" with many specific problems. It is only human that we find different viewpoints, different perspectives, and different concerns about the specific steps that we should take to move forward. Government officials, civil society, public opinion, and our various roles within society touch upon these problems in different ways. We each have particular responsibilities in life, and it is within our own fidelity to our personal vocations that we make our most constructive contribution to building up the common good. 

.

God became man. He wants to live the details of our lives with us, and bring forth with us the fruits of community, solidarity, healing, and peace. He wants to build up among us the social goal we seek: a culture of life. Even more, He Himself — present, acknowledged, celebrated, and loved — is the culture of life, because "He is life" and even those who don't know Him seek Him insofar as they seek the truth about life.


If we want a culture of life, we must first of all ask Him for life. We must pray. We all think that we already know this, but I don't think we really understand what this means for how we live and think and make decisions. I don't understand it. I will forget about God within five minutes after I finish writing this. But I think it has something to do with prayer being at the center of our decisions and actions, rather than floating around the periphery. In prayer is the awareness that we depend totally on God and that He is present, now, with us in Jesus Christ. This is at the center, at the core, at the depths of every moment and every thing. This is what it is all about. How easy this is to forget.

.

God gives us signs to help us remember. For America, one of the great signs is Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let's face it, Anglophone Catholics in the United States know very little about the concrete significance of this sign. This needs to change. She is our Mother, and she is there (if you go on pilgrimage there you will understand what I mean). Even if we can't visit her, we can honor her, we can recognize this extraordinary presence among us, who is closer to where we live than many of our own relatives.


I do not believe that we Catholics will succeed in any of our hopes for the future of the United States unless we place Our Lady of Guadalupe at the center. She didn't come here for nothing. She has a plan. The Virgin is very concrete — she is, after all, a woman dealing with little children. 

.

As we live our lives, and formulate, reconsider, and reformulate our opinions and engage in constructive dialogue with one another, let us first of all embrace La Guadalupana's "plan" for America: North, Central, and South — for all of us who live on "the land" which she has specially blessed with her maternal solicitude since the beginning of the modern epoch.

.

This "plan" is not a detailed program. Various conversations, ideas, and proposals for accomplishing the good in solidarity with one another will no doubt emerge from our commitment to take up the love of God and the love of our neighbor with a particular tenderness and awareness. For all of us, however, it begins with prayer, attentiveness, and openness to God's will.

.

It is fundamentally a matter of the heart. It is a matter of living as brothers and sisters of Jesus and one another in "the land," under the care of our Mother, formed by the guidance she gives us from her mother's heart.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Gift of Every Human Life


As we give thanks to God for the gift of human life, we pray that the laws of nations will recognize the human dignity and protect the lives of children in the womb, respect and support their mothers, show compassion to the poor and vulnerable, the persecuted, abused, and forgotten, and defend every human person from conception to natural death, through the whole course of their earthly sojourn. 

Every human person is precious to God. Every human person is worthy of love.



Friday, January 22, 2021

The Miracle of Human Life Becomes More Vivid to Me

This is my grandchild, taken from a sonogram several weeks ago. 

Of course, the "live sonogram" is always much more amazing, because it's a video and the child moves around (a lot!). 

It seems like only yesterday that Eileen and I watched in wonder the sonogram video of this child's father (it was 24 years ago, actually). 

Of course, no matter how old we are now, every single one of us "started out" this way!☺

What a tremendous mystery it is to be human, to be given the gift of life as a person - always worthy of love, care, affirmation, support, and protection - and to be entrusted to others, to relationships that span multiple generations, and by which each one of us is placed within a family, and introduced into the history of the whole human family where we are all brothers and sisters. 

We all belong to this great history, we are each called to take our place within it, to live and help one another as we journey through it, contribute to its heritage (even in the smallest ways), and finally pass beyond it to its fulfillment - which is our destiny because we are all children of God. 

As I get older, the miracle of human life becomes more vivid to me: I have been a vulnerable child totally dependent on others, a parent whose children depended on me, again a son whose dying father needed so much my love and active concern at the end of his life, and now embarking upon the road of yet another kind of presence and solicitude for my children's children, for this new child (whose profile in this picture indicates that the kid already has "the Janaro nose"😉). 

My own life has not always been easy. It has had a lot of suffering. But it has always been worth it. And when I fail (which is a lot!), it is always possible to remember what I know is real, what has value, and to begin anew.

Eileen and I want to say this today: "Dear precious grandchild, we love you!"❤

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Saint Agnes Witnesses to the Transformation of Life in Christ

She was not the first woman to sacrifice the possibility of marriage and motherhood in order to follow Jesus in a deeper way. 

But Saint Agnes gave physiognomy and voice to consecrated virginity as a marriage to Jesus, a singular spousal dedication to him that engages a woman's heart completely, beyond the competition of all human interests and even life itself.

The radiant life and sacrifice of a 12 year old girl in third century Rome, and no doubt her continual intercession thereafter, have fostered in the Church an awareness of the Church's own deepest life.

In an ancient liturgical antiphon, Agnes says: "I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his beauty." 

There are numerous stories about this extraordinary heroic young woman, but what is certain above all is the astonishing ardor with which she embraced martyrdom when it was imposed upon her. It was for her the culmination of the singular commitment and focus of her life, which was her response - empowered by the Holy Spirit - to the gift of the love of Jesus, experienced in a profoundly personal that raised up and defined the whole form of her life.

Saint Agnes was venerated from the beginning (right after her death) by the clergy and the people of Rome, and then throughout the Western Church and also in the Eastern Churches. This was not unusual for martyrs in the early centuries of Christianity. But there was another aspect of her witness that was radically significant for Christian and human history. Indeed, we must try to appreciate the fact that St. Agnes showed the world a kind of life, a freedom, an originality, a way of giving and loving that were new for human beings, and especially for women, in the long and tired history of the human race. She indicated that women are cherished, ultimately, in a way no one had ever imagined.

She displayed the transcendent passion, creativity, and freedom of belonging to Jesus. Her martyrdom was transfigured into a joyful procession in which she made haste to give her whole self to Jesus, not only fearlessly, but with the conviction that in him she would attain the super-eminent fullness of life: a life immeasurably beyond anything she could have attained naturally even if she had lived a long life on this earth. “What I longed for, I now see; what I hoped for, I now possess; in heaven I am espoused to Him whom on earth I loved with all my heart" (expressed in another antiphon of the ancient liturgy that honors her on this, her feast day).

Agnes's witness shines brightly on the fact that for the spouse of Christ, nothing is lost. The sacrifices that are made do not express contempt for the goodness of earthly life, but rather the ecstasy of a love that seeks the Source of all goodness, and thereby finds a hundredfold of fruitfulness even for the life of this earth.

St. Agnes, a young girl, a virgin and martyr for the love of Jesus Christ, thus lived with such fullness that her presence and solicitude continue to this day. For seventeen hundred years, women have followed her example and given their whole selves to Jesus, loving him as their Spouse in prayer and seclusion, and also by serving him in those in need.

We call them nuns and sisters. We even call them "mothers." Today, more and more, we call them our friends and colleagues too, whether in religious habit or as lay women who consecrate themselves in the context of the many new charisms that the Spirit is giving to the Church of our time.

They have sought God and followed the lamb. And in this giving of themselves, they have been the colossal protagonists, the shining stars of love and hope, the bearers of peace and compassion to this world as well.

Agnes stands as one of the pillars of the greatest "women's movement" of all time, and her witness today remains as compelling as ever. She gave up marriage on this earth and everything else even to life itself. And in Christ she became a true mother to generation after generation of daughters to this day -- of women who freely choose to give themselves away beyond the reckoning of this age, and thereby to find a fullness of life beyond measure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"An Anchor For the Soul"

This was an eventful day in my country. A peaceful and successful transition was achieved in the executive branch of our federal government.

Many unpredictable circumstances will contribute to how public affairs unfold in the coming months and years in relation to the various levels of USA government(s) and society. Obviously these matters will remain an ongoing source of attention, concern, constructive engagement when possible, and prayer for all of us here and throughout the world.

But more than enough has been said about these things. For our part as Christians, let us be always committed to truth and charity, to civility and dialogue, and to building up the good according to the responsibilties that have been entrusted to us in our daily lives.

For this, we have a firm place to stand, an "anchor of the soul" - Jesus, for whom we live. He has conquered sin and death, and as Lord of history he calls us to share in his victory, to place our trust in him as we live in our times, in our work, in our personal and social responsibilities, in our families and communities, as we endeavor to love God and our neighbor, struggle against obstacles, and endure suffering. 


This is also the Week of Prayer for Unity Among Christians, a matter of particular importance in these times of anxiety, uncertainty, and divisiveness that can pose a special challenge to our efforts to grow closer to one another in love, to be brothers and sisters.

In the Roman Catholic liturgy this week, the Collect is a simple prayer:

Less simple, perhaps, have been my attempts to virtually "illuminate" this prayer in my "digital scriptorium." Here are a few different examples that represent - if nothing else - a continuing learning process and a helpful exercize. In any case, appending them here allows them to be archived.