Thursday, November 15, 2018

What Would I Be Without Jesus Christ?

Is it "worth it" to follow Jesus Christ?

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

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

But this is not just theology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else is there?

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

November Blues: Dark in the Afternoon

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Francesca Cabrini: Saints Show Us the Way

Much has happened since the last time we celebrated Mother Cabrini's feast day. She has special concern, no doubt, for her adopted country of the United States of America. She knows we are a young nation—a nation of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. She knows our limits and also where we need to be stretched, and the challenges that lie ahead. She knows the troubles in the Church in America and in our society today.

We should invoke her assistance at this time, with confidence.

Saint Francesca Cabrini, missionary and tireless servant of the masses of destitute immigrants in the USA at the beginning of the twentieth century, understood real people. She knew how to deal with everybody. She was able to light a fire inside people's hearts.

What was her secret?

Trust in God. Love for Jesus Christ. Prayer and the sacraments. Perseverance beyond the point of "crazy." Prayer. More prayer. Patience, in spades. Willingness to ask God for everything and to do whatever God put in front of her. More prayer. Loving people, ignoring their pretentiousness and/or their self-doubts, and waking them up to how they could serve the Lord and overcome evil with good. Never giving up on loving God and doing good. Knowing when to be persistent and when to be flexible. Total abandonment to Christ. And...did I say prayer?

We can sum it up in one word: Sanctity.

Holiness. It sounds impossible because it is impossible—it is impossible for human beings to do on their own, or even dream about doing. But God makes it possible; God, who came to be with us in Jesus Christ.

We need saints today.

We need saints like Francesca Cabrini to see the real needs of our own time and let Christ work through them. We are all called to be saints. It starts with prayer and trust; the more we open our own hearts to God, the more He will enable us to recognize what He is doing, by His grace, in the hearts of others.

Also, this generation needs some extraordinary saints, like Mother Cabrini or like Mother Teresa or John Paul II (the saints who were the light of my youth). I think we should pray to God to raise up among us these special kinds of saints, who will be inspirations and examples for our children, and who will help us all to live our faith with hope and joy whatever obstacles we might face.

They are already among us, certainly, but we need more of them. We need saints who we can see and hear, who are alive with love. We need to see what love looks like in this world today, and how love can embrace us with our problems, our wounds, our need for healing and renewal.

I know for sure that I can't figure this out for myself. I need help. Don't you?

Let's ask for help: Lord, grant us saints for our time, and make us saints.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day 2018


Remembrance Day 2018

One hundred years ago,
November 11, 1918,
at 11:00 AM,
the guns of "The Great War" fell silent,
finally.
The red poppies grew 
over the ruined fields
and the graveyards of a generation.
A terrible war was over,
but the violence of war still burned
in human hearts,
as it does to this day.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie's Prophetic Tattoo: "All is Vanity"

The tattoo "all is vanity" on CG's right forearm. [Credit
to whoever originally took this awesome picture
.]
"All is vanity."

Christina Grimmie got a tattoo on her forearm shortly before trying out for Season 6 of The Voice (where she would deliver her now legendary jaw-dropping, four-chair-turning "blind audition," which still frequently makes "top-ten-greatest-ever" lists for these music competition shows).

It was the text of Ecclesiastes 2:1 written in English but using the "Elvish script" invented by J. R. R. Tolkien for his epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings. This combination exemplifies Christina's way of spontaneously integrating her whole life ("food, music, and video games, all raised up and united in Jesus," she once said).

Her struggle to be in the world without being of the world had many facets. Surely there were times when going to Hollywood, into the heart of the big American music/entertainment industry, in order to share her immense talents while being true to her faith and her humanity must have seemed as daunting as Frodo's task of bringing the One Ring to Mordor to be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.

But Christina Grimmie knew that life is a fight, in the sense that it engages us in a battle to build up and accomplish the good, and overcome obstacles that thwart goodness or try to destroy it (i.e. evil). This doesn't mean that life has to be grim all the time. On the contrary, life is a challenge, an adventure, a chance for heroism, a responsibility to give and receive love.

Every person is unique, and exists for a reason—to fulfill a calling, to become fully the person that God created them to be. We know that life aims for greatness. Sometimes it can be very hard; other times it can be lots of fun. But in order for life to flourish, it needs to be focused.

That's why Christina put the phrase "All is vanity" on her forearm. She explained it in terms of staying focused. She noted that it was a reminder to her to "keep God first" in her life. It was also to help her remember that she should never allow any kind of fame or success to make her puffed-up, egotistical, or self-absorbed. She didn't want her life to get "out of focus." She didn't want to be distracted by the vanity of merely temporary and superficial things that might make her forget her fundamental vocation to love God through Jesus, to love her family, her friends, and her frands, to give of herself through the gift of music.

No doubt Christina was distracted plenty of times, just like we all are. Her faith (helped by the expression etched on her arm) would help her to put things back into perspective. It served her right to the end, and it still provides us with a chance—beyond our sorrows—to appreciate the enduring achievement of her life, and to stay focused in our own lives.

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Here I would like to share some of my own reflections inspired by this prophetic phrase, and by the way it helped keep Christina Grimmie focused on giving of herself in love and becoming the person God called her to be. She shines on as a bright beautiful light for us all in these times:
The phrase "All is vanity" doesn't mean that life has no value or purpose. But what it means is that ultimately we can't keep anything. Life in this world is not meant to last. It's meant to be given away, to become love. Otherwise its promises fade, they disappoint us, or they get stolen from us.
We're on a journey. It's a beautiful, joyful, magnificent journey, but it's also violent. This is because we have an enemy who wants to steal everything. This enemy has tremendous power—power to deceive us, to connive against us and cheat us, and to take and even destroy everything we have. "All is vanity." But the enemy can't keep us from giving it all away, from turning ourselves and all we have into a gift of love.
Love can't be stolen, because it has already been given away.
All this sounds too painful, overwhelming, inconceivable. How can we possibly love like this? How can we do this, give like this?
But here is the good news: Someone has already come and has done it all.
Everything belonged to Him. He gave it all away. He gave it to those who wanted to take it away from Him. He who is Love, came to be with us, to win the victory of love in our flesh, so that we could become gifts of love in Him.
"All is vanity"... because its value is really (and only) to point us toward the Someone for whom we have been made. In Him we will find, forever, everyone and everything dear to us in this life, and more: we will find all the love we ache for. We journey through this life, with and through limited realities, toward an Infinite fulfillment.
It hurts a lot, this life, because our souls are being stretched for the Infinite.
The One who loves each and all of us never intended for bad stuff to happen in this world, but He lets it happen sometimes. He lets it happen because in order for us to love Him and one another, He had to make us free. We can't be forced to love, and that means we are free to turn away from Him, to become lost in the vanity of things-without-Him, and thus to bring forth violence against one another.
He allows the abuse of freedom and its incalculable consequences and all the seemingly unbearable distress that this entails for life in this world. But He doesn't allow it to prevail in the end. He permits it only because He has a plan to turn it inside out and bring forth something good and beautiful beyond anything we can imagine.
God is good, all the time. But it's hard to see it. We have to be made bigger, so He "stretches" us and it hurts terribly and we feel like we're going to break. He knows what He's doing, but it's hard sometimes and it takes time.
We must be patient with ourselves.

Friday, November 9, 2018

"The House of God is the True House of Humans"

Today we commemorate the completion and dedication in the year 324 of the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist on the Lateran hill, in Roma! (I have many memories of this beautiful place.)

Building a church to bring people together in the presence of God also deepens their unity with one another. "The house of God is the true house of humans," as one famous author puts it.

"Where people just want to inhabit the earth by themselves it becomes uninhabitable," he continues. "Nothing more is built up where humans only want to build by themselves and for themselves. But where...people let themselves be claimed by God,..where they pull back and part with their time and their space [for Him], there the house of the community is built, there...the impossible on earth becomes a present reality. The beauty of the cathedral does not stand in opposition to the theology of the cross but is its fruit. It was born from the willingness not to build one's city by oneself and for oneself" (Josef Ratzinger).

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Seasons Give Rhythm to Life

I got out for a bit on this beautiful sunny November afternoon. Wind and cool weather have been stripping the leaves off many of the trees that were so full of color just over a week ago. We are left with a carpet of leaves on the ground and more wide open sky above us.
.



Here is another 60 second video that I made this afternoon from my ongoing series. This is Episode 6 of My Front Porch. I'm in a bit more of a lively mood than the last time. The post is on my YouTube channel:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Where Has My Life Gone?

It's getting dark as I lay here in bed typing this out on a tablet. I can't avoid a sense of melancholy.

Where has my life gone? What have I done with it all? How could I have wasted so much of this tremendous gift?

God has been so good to me. He has carried me like a little child. He has shielded me from so many dangers. He asks so little of me, and even that is only so that I might grow in likeness to Him, and find fulfillment in Him.

Instead, I sleep in His hands, and then wake up and run in little circles on His huge palms, ignoring Him as much as I can, begrudgingly giving Him little bits of time and some half-hearted attention.

I know I'm messed up. My humanity is skewed, tilted, off balance, cracked. I'm an emotional infant. I have an immense mind so full of aspirations and so prone to devouring itself. I'm driven by great desires and hindered by a strange paralysis.

I want to love other people. I do, but I'm also afraid of them.

Sometimes I am so angry at space and time and limits. I am angry with my own weakness. The great wound in my life, beneath it all, is something that I don't understand. It seems deeper than myself. Will I ever find healing?

"Why then do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you look down on your brother or sister? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Romans 14:10).

I have no grounds for condemning any person or for "looking down on" any person. I must remember to forgive so that I might be forgiven, to be merciful so that I might obtain mercy.

As the day draws to a close, as the night of life's end draws near, God's mercy is my only hope.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Days of Brilliance

     And suddenly, Autumn bursts out everywhere!🍁










A few days of brilliance, but now they are already falling. Still, there are some late "bloomers" to come in this brief "Second Spring"—the big maple trees and a few others.

We'll look forward to them.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Fullness of Joy



All Souls Day.

In November we remember the faithful departed.

We are deeply connected to one another, all of us who dwell upon this little earth, and all those who have come and gone before us—from whom we have our lives and who contributed to the cultures and environments that have formed us.

For all their failures, frailty, and weakness, they have planted the seeds of goodness in our hearts. May we all rejoice forever in the harvest with its unending fruition.

Lord, grant eternal rest to all our beloved dead, and bring them into the fullness of your joy.

"If we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also
live with Him.
We know that Christ, 
raised from the dead, 
dies no more;
death no longer has power over Him"
(Romans 6:8-9).

Thursday, November 1, 2018

All Saints and All Souls

Today is All Saints Day. Tomorrow is All Souls Day. So I have posted this graphic text:


I can think of a few that I've got a "pretty good feeling" about, though it won't prevent me from praying for them tomorrow (and every other day). May all those who have gone before us be brought by the arms of God's merciful love to the eternal joy of His embrace.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October 1918: A World at War Longs for Peace

2018 has been a hard year, and it may yet get worse.

With all the violent events in the world today and the many difficult challenges we face in daily life, it's easy to forget the past. And yet historians have the important task of helping us to remember, not simply for the lessons to be learned but above all because it is natural for human beings to commemorate the past. We are linked to our ancestors whose particular circumstances and decisions have had a fundamental impact on our world today—on who we are and how we live. It is good to remember, to celebrate what has been accomplished and mourn what has been lost.

It may seem ironic that the conflict that was nearing its end a hundred years ago was known at the time (and for a short period thereafter) as "The Great War." But its immense destructiveness had no prior parallel in human history.

In the Fall of 1918, the forces of Britain, France, the United States, and many other allies were engaged in what would prove to be the final campaign in Europe (known as the "hundred days"). At the time, however, there was little hope of the war ending in 1918. Though the Western Front was finally rolling back, the allies didn't know how desperate the situation was in Germany itself (where social disorder was increasing and government change was imminent). So the fighting continued, and the fighting was fierce.

Indeed, October 1918 was when United States military forces were finally engaged extensively in combat. The U.S.A. had done much already since 1917 to support its allies economically and militarily (by providing armaments and enlarging the ranks of allied soldiers). For the Americans, however, the great massive bloody brawl of combat didn't start until September 26, 1918, with 22 divisions and 1.2 million soldiers in the north of France taking up a 47 day "battle" known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Reckoned as a single event, it remains the deadliest battle in U.S. history, with more than 26,000 killed (nearly half the death toll of American military in the entire Vietnam War).

It was a small number compared to an entire generation of millions of European men who had been thrown against one another month after month for four years. The huge U.S. army pushed back the German line in this region until the political collapse at home led to a rapid capitulation by Germany to Allied terms for the Armistice of November 11.

The immediate problems facing Europe, of course, were far from over.

The unprecedented scope, the sheer numbers of those involved, the magnitude of the events of 1914-1918 stretched over the whole world. Soldiers came from all corners of the earth to fight in Europe, Africa, Asia Minor and the Middle East.

People had already begun to speak of this unique drama as a "world war," though it was not common to assign it a "number" in 1918. People hoped that it would be the only war of its kind, that the human race would find ways to ensure that this nightmare would never return.

In fact, in only took twenty years for this "Great War" to acquire the more prosaic designation of "World War I." Future historians may look on this whole period (the 20th century and beyond) as the era of violence, tumult, and tireless technological invention that introduced for the first time in history a "fully interactive" world.

We know only too well today that this instantaneously interactive, globally interconnected world is a dangerous place. At the same time we know that it can be the source of much enrichment, leading to a deeper awareness of our common humanity expressed in a multitude of physical differences, ethnic traditions, styles, and cultures.

For better or for worse, the destinies of the earth's peoples are woven together in ways far more intricate than anyone could have imagined 100 years ago. For better or for worse, our responsibility for one another is greater than ever.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Chiara, the Girl Full of Light

Today, the Focolare Movement and the diocese of Acqui celebrate the memorial of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, and all of us who love her may surely join them in prayer and in our hearts.

This Italian girl, who died after a long, agonizing struggle with bone cancer in 1990 (just short of her 19th birthday), allowed Jesus to give her a share in the suffering of His "cry of abandonment" from the cross. Thus He perfected in her a vast love that seeks out those who suffer, especially those who are furthest from Him and most in need of Him.

So great and enduring is this love that—six and a half years ago, and less than two years after her beatification—she even found me.

Thank you, dear Chiara Luce Badano for "tapping me on the shoulder" on that day (and on many days since then) and offering to be my friend. Thank you for praying for me, listening to me, helping me to see the goodness and share the suffering of others, introducing me to new friends in places I never would have expected to find them, and for the surprises: when you tap me on the shoulder and say, "Look, look, look! There! There is the light of Christ. There is the love greater than death!" Thank you.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Twelve Years Later: The Josefina Story

When I posted on social media about Josefina's 12th birthday, I realized that a dozen years is no small period of time.

I have made many new connections and acquired new readers since our youngest child was born. Many of them don't know the crazy story of the first year of this irrepressible kid's life. From the beginning, she was small in size but with a personality big enough to fill the room.

Josefina was "supposed to be born" in December, so when Eileen began having what seemed like the early stages of labor on the morning of October 26, 2006, we called the doctor. They didn't think anything unusual was happening. "Still," they said, "why don't you come in and we'll make sure...."

It's a good thing we went in that morning.

By the time Josefina was born a few hours later, the hospital had already detected her undeveloped intestinal tract, and we knew she would need major surgery (although it was hard to imagine what that could mean). In view of the emergency situation, I baptized her right away. The chaplain arrived some minutes later and administered Confirmation, which in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church is given to babies who are in danger of death.

Before long our tiny daughter was behind glass in an enormous, technologically decked out mobile incubatory contraption in order to be transported immediately to Fairfax Hospital for emergency surgery, where the neonatalogists amazingly connected her intestinal tract, using surgical techniques that were truly marvelous. She was then set up with an intravenous feeding tube and given her place in the "NICU" (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We were told that when the operation healed and she began digesting normally, we could bring her home. The original estimate was that it would take three weeks.

But Josefina kept having setbacks. Weeks turned into months. She wasn't healing properly. In March she needed another emergency surgery. There were some scary points as the time stretched on. There were infections and breathing complications. My mother-in-law came from California to take care of the house and kids while Eileen drove every day to Fairfax to be with Josefina. We will always be grateful to all of our extended family members and friends who helped us in countless ways.

My wife once again proved to be heroic.❤

I was still working full time as a teaching professor at the college. My health had been good for a while up until then. Indeed, I had had a lengthy remission, and was in great shape until the strain of all this started to wear me down again. I would go to Fairfax Hospital with Eileen as often as I could, and I took videos so that the other children could see their sister (older children were not allowed in the NICU).

Recall that, way back in '06, I needed a digital video camera that used micro "digital video cassettes." I would then use a special "DVD Burner" to transfer the video to a disc (we called it "burning a DVD" in those primitive days). Then we could watch the videos on our analog television using a triple-color-corded hooked-up DVD player. I was like "Wow this is the future, man!" (Meanwhile, I also had my rather uninteresting "cell phone" in my pocket, for phone calls. Period.) I did my best to make humorous and happy videos for her siblings who were 9, 8, 6, and 3 years old. It wasn't difficult, because the "subject matter" was so cute! (We still have all those DVDs, though we haven't watched them for a long time.)

Josefina charmed everyone with her enormous eyes and dimply smile. She was adorable, but also fragile. The problems, and the length of time it was taking to resolve them, baffled even the doctors. After nearly seven months of the tension of living this way, everyone was exhausted and I was headed for another major relapse. The whole experience contributed to the subsequent ruin of my health (which I have written plenty about elsewhere). It was an extraordinarily difficult, uncertain time for us all.

But Josefina made it. She finally came home on May 16, 2007, still weighing only ten pounds. She started out with a nasal-gastric feeding tube, but soon she was on her own. She needed a special formula, had some digestive problems, and a moderate asthmatic condition for the next few years, but everything was fine after that.

By now, she has been eating a normal diet for most of her life. She is still on the small side, and looks younger than 12 years old. But she's in good health, and she has so much to give and is so very much loved by us all.

It was, indeed, a long time ago. Many things have changed since then. Many circumstances have been hard and some have seemed impossible, but the Lord has led us through them, or He has at least enabled us to endure them without losing confidence in Him.

I'm so grateful for Josefina. It has been a tremendous gift to have her and her three sisters and brother with us in our journey through life. Family life is our vocation. It has many joys and many challenges, but they constitute what God asks of us. They are the way that He is drawing us to Himself, according to His wisdom and love.

Really, we cannot control our lives in this world. (Through affluence, humans tend to forget this.) Of course, we must try to make prudent decisions and plans for the future as far as we are able to judge its probable courses and potential dangers.

But we are not in control. Our possession of things is fragile, and our passage through time radically unpredictable. Really, we must hold on to God's plan, with prayer and hope, because He brings good out of everything.

Happy Birthday, Josefina. We love you!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"My Front Porch" on a Sunny October Day

I have been trying to get outdoors, if nothing else for Vitamin D infusions (a.k.a. sunlight πŸ˜‰☀️). Some days lately I haven't felt much like moving.

But recently I was on the porch on a pretty Autumn afternoon, and I thought, "Why not do an episode of My Front Porch?" Sure.

For it to be Instagram-able, I had to keep it under sixty seconds. I was a bit tired. The result is not very articulate, but it qualifies. Here, then, is Episode 6 of My Front Porch:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I Don't Like to Think About Lyme Disease

September and October are always rough months. Now that it's been a couple of weeks of more-than-usual exhaustion and aches, I have to assume that I'm having some kind of flare-up of Whatever-the-Heck. This is something different (with a different pattern of symptoms) from the Major Depression and/or OCD that I have struggled with periodically since I was ten years old.

I would like to consider my long, tortuous battle with Lyme Disease as something "in the past." I don't like to talk about it or even think about it these days. Lyme Disease comes from a bacterial infection that can be transmitted by the parasitical "bite" of certain kinds of ticks. Without prompt and proper treatment, it can develop into a serious, persistent illness. (Actually I recently wrote a longer description, including links for further information, in a post about Avril Lavigne's new song, "Head Above Water," inspired by her own experience with Lyme Disease. See HERE.)

I first recall having a series of the classic early Lyme symptoms (which don't always occur) in 1988, though I didn't know the meaning of them at the time, nor did my doctor. People in Virginia had hardly even heard about Lyme back then. The infection was unresolved and quite possibly boosted by subsequent tick bites in the years leading up to more widespread health deterioration and finally diagnosis in 2004 and subsequent treatment. 16 years is a very, very long time to go without any treatment. I would hope that something like this would never happen today.

Still, we did treat it intensively for a couple of years. We threw everything at it, conventional medicine, experimental stuff, dietary stuff, you name it. I saw all the doctors and did all the things and spent all the money over a decade ago. We beat Lyme Disease. Didn't we?

Well, kind of.... I have adjusted my lifestyle and continued with a basic protocol that has been helpful to me (in dealing with my own issues in the context of my own larger health needs). As a result, I'm managing this thing and keeping it in remission... mostly, kind of.

Periodically, "it" comes around with something of its old vigor and pokes me. It takes a few weeks to get things back to mostly-under-control, and then we go on. It's just as well that it's not more than this. I have enough other problems to deal with.

When I speak or write about my health, I usually emphasize my lifelong problems with mental illness, because they are (in some sense) deeper and more difficult for me, and because I have been able to articulate these experiences in ways that others can relate to; I have been something of a voice for others who can't speak for themselves. Mental health advocacy is very necessary, as is any encouragement I can give to people who are suffering. I'm not always up to it, but I do my best.

It's ironic. For me, at least, mental illness—with all its lingering stigma—is easier to talk about than Lyme Disease.

A lot of folks are spooked by Lyme. They have heard stories about people being crippled or even dying, about how awful a disease this is (and it can be, or become such, especially when it's long neglected). Some of my old students, colleagues, and friends remember seeing me in pretty bad shape. They were scared for me, and maybe sometimes a bit scared of me. A sick person is a reminder of how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and that's a scary thing.

But then there are periods of time when a person with Lyme Disease "looks fine," and folks think, "Why are they always complaining about being sick?" Just because you don't see their sufferings, however, doesn't mean they aren't sick. And Lyme is shape-shifting, unpredictable, variable, chaotic, and so often invisible to others. No wonder it's hard to talk about. The whole business is so complicated.

It's also controversial in the world of medicine and healthcare. There are controversies about diagnostics and treatment and complimentary therapies. And Lyme doesn't help by being so elusive and perplexing.

I have some post-traumatic stress from the so-called "Lyme Wars," frankly. Many people have been earnestly examining the vast unknown realms of this freaky, tick-borne multi-pathogenic disease that is spreading all over the world and often doesn't "follow the rules" in terms of who gets it, how badly they get it, or how much they can be "cured" of it. The medical experts and health researchers have developed different theories, and they have often ended up fighting with one another like dogs fighting over a bone.

People suffering from Lyme end up being the bone. It's no fun being the bone. In fact, it can be quite traumatic. I have found all of this very hard to handle.

The general situation of things may be improving, however. There are continued advances in more sophisticated scientific research. Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread, and the more it impacts people, the more urgent and insistent becomes the call to move things forward. Not everyone who crosses paths with Lyme Disease has the kind of wider profile of psychiatric illness that I do. Quite the contrary. Lyme strikes physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy people all the time; it causes sudden and strange collapse and debilitating illness for people who are normally strong and full of energy.

These people generally can't be bullied into self doubt or put off by being told that it's "all in their heads." They can't be plausibly accused of trying to find excuses to shirk their responsibilities. They are not even looking for sympathy. They have been inexplicably knocked off their feet and pounded in their heads and many other places all over their bodies. They want to get better.

I do still have the-part-of-my-brain-that-works and I had a good amount of physical energy before I got sick. After all, I didn't get Lyme Disease by sitting in the library. I got it hiking off trails through the woods in the Blue Ridge mountains and following deer paths along the river looking for good fishing spots in my beloved, beautiful, tick-infested Shenandoah Valley. So I can sympathize with how people accustomed to vigorous physical good health and a high-energy lifestyle feel about being pained, drained, and wiped out by this bizarre sucky disease.

They are taking the lead in advocacy. They include parents of once healthy but now afflicted children, as well as successful adults in many fields who have gotten sick themselves or taken care of loved ones who are sick—athletes, business and professional people, entertainers, artists, musicians, including some internationally famous celebrities. I'm very grateful for these people.

I can do my small part, within limits that I have found can become an occasion to focus on a few worthwhile activities, and to discover new forms of constructive creativity. I have very little advice to offer (other than directing people to resources such as the Global Lyme Alliance). I want to support people, listen to their stories, empathize, and encourage them as best as I can.

For the present, I had better be sure to get the necessary rest, hoping that the present episode will be resolved according to the usual pattern for me. Of course, there has been nothing "usual" about this year of ongoing stress and sorrow. If things get worse or new problems develop, I'll have to face them. But I am determined to resist the temptation to be fatalistic and cynical.

I won't give up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Gift of a New Life

Being Christian is not an 'identity' we construct by our own power; rather it is the gift of God in Jesus Christ—it is 'grace'; it is the gift of a new life in which the Spirit empowers us to love God truly, and to love one another.


"God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love he had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ (by grace

you have been saved),
raised us up with him,
and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come
he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace
in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus for good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them"
(Ephesians 2:4-10).

Monday, October 22, 2018

Forty Years Ago Today: "Do Not Be Afraid"


"The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth" (Saint John Paul II, October 22, 1978).

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Message of Marshall McLuhan

Often considered the founder of the academic discipline of "Media Studies," Marshall McLuhan coined many terms and phrases that have become common over the past half-century with the explosion in the development of communications technology.

He is often noted for declaring that "the medium is the message." This provocative and paradoxical statement was McLuhan's way of calling attention to the fact that the communication of a message, in reality, is not simply the pure transference from one mind to another of intelligible content; a message is conveyed through forms of mediation (media) that create an environment within which communication takes place.

On the left, we have reproduced a segment of the cover of McLuhan's 1967 book The Medium is the Massage. Wait..."massage" with two "a's?" I just said "message" before. But look closely at the title. Is it a mistake? 

What appears to be a typo in the book's title was actually an ironic twist on the famous phrase, which McLuhan employed to refer to an increasing phenomenon of the 1960s, namely, the constant immersion of people in the media technology of television and advertising. These "non-linear," surrounding, "involving" presentations of rapid images and conceptual associations massage us (manipulate us?) consistently throughout the day. Our minds adopt "positions" or change them, through being "worked over" in ways we don't even notice.

That was in 1967. McLuhan died in 1980, but he predicted the broad outlines of the ongoing 21st Century communications revolution, including the development of portable and widely accessible interactive multimedia technology. Whatever gadget you are using to read this today, it would not have surprised him.

McLuhan's project was to understand how media work, and the impact on human experience of "new media" (his term, which he originally intended as a reference to what are now "old media" systems like television and computer data). He was primarily descriptive and exploratory in his methodology (as is suggested by the title of his groundbreaking 1964 book Understanding Media); but when his studies spilled over beyond academia into popular culture in the late 1960s, McLuhan himself became something of a "media celebrity," and was often taken as an advocate of that which he intended to describe. 

In fact, he was anything but the ultra-hip utopian futurist prophet some might have wished him to be. McLuhan was a firmly grounded realist. He saw both the potential and the great dangers of new media technology, the gains and the inevitable losses and possible perils it entailed for the human experience. He was inclined, in fact, to be more pessimistic about what he saw emerging in "the global village" (another McLuhanism). He hoped that a thorough understanding would assist a more conscious, reflective, responsible, and balanced use of media—that it would lead to the cultivation of a media ecology (a project all the more necessary and urgent in our time).

Though it is not well known, McLuhan's methodology was grounded in a worldview much deeper than media studies, psychology, or even the academic disciplines of the sciences and humanities. While still young, he had entrusted his entire life to that super-exemplary, fundamental, definitive, mysterious and fully human mediator who is Jesus Christ crucified and risen, living in His Catholic Church.

Here is the story of how that came about:



Friday, October 19, 2018

Off into the Sunset?

Here's some digital art by me. It's a sunset.

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I might slow down on posting, or post less often, in the coming weeks.
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I'm having a rough time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Feels Like the Middle of October

For the record, here is the Janaro Estate, mid-October 2018. Last Friday was the first "sunny-and-not-roasting-hot" day of the season. (In fact it was a beautiful day.) No Fall foliage yet down in the Valley. The angle of the sun on the house at 3PM, however, is different from summertime, for sure.



It_was looking kinda "Summery" over on the side of the house on Friday, with lots of sunshine but (finally!) cooler temperatures.



These maple leaves in the breeze look like they have no plans to "fall" anywhere. HOWEVER (see pic. 2)...



...a close inspection reveals that "the process" is beginning... πŸ˜‰


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Courage of Saint Oscar Romero

Lately, many of the entries on my blog have focused on specific people who I think are worth noting for a variety of reasons. These people are very different—not surprisingly there are saints and popes, but there are also scientists, rock stars, politicians, baseball players, and my own dear father.

They are different in many ways, but they have in common their humanity, their courage in different circumstances and on different levels, and in most cases their afflictions and/or deaths.

I am deeply moved by people who show courage in the endurance of affliction, people who do well—sometimes even to the point of heroism—that which is so awful and overwhelming to me, which I can only manage very badly.

I admire courageous people.

I admire the courage of newly canonized Saint Oscar Romero. The Archbishop of San Salvador was martyred in 1980 because of his persistent preaching of the gospel of Christ's justice and love against oppression of the poor by the criminal oligarchy of the long suffering nation of El Salvador.

Romero, however, challenges anyone who tries merely to admire him. He insists that we too can and must be courageous, not from our own innate capabilities, but by being instruments of Jesus and letting His power work through us.

For me—a man who loves too much my own comfort (and just because sometimes I lack certain comforts doesn't mean I'm detached from them)—Romero is a provocation. The more I study him, the more provoking he is.
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He did not seek political power, much less revolution. What he preached, fearlessly, was the need for real, concrete justice for people who had a right to it. He preached the love of God, but he knew that his flock could not respond to God's love and at the same time ignore (much less condone or participate in) the systematic abuse of human persons made in the image of God. 
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Because Romero's episcopal ministry was animated by this prophetic realism, he defied worldly classifications. It was evangelical courage that enabled him to think and act outside of everyone's boxes. He followed Christ intensely: being entrusted with ecclesial authority in a country that was already on the threshold of a horrific civil war, Romero followed the narrow path even though it meant being misunderstood by some and hated by others.

He followed Jesus Christ and was faithful to Him. He trusted in Him. He obeyed Christ and loved Christ in the Church. And for Oscar Romero, "Christ in the Church" was found in the Eucharist and the sacraments and prayer, in unwavering fidelity to Catholic teaching and tradition, in communion with (and loving obedience to) the Bishop of Rome, and in the faces of the Salvadorian people entrusted to him, especially the poor who were denied their basic rights as human persons and subjected to all manner of injustice, humiliation, and violence.

Romero saw Christ with simplicity of heart. We are the ones who make it so complicated. Still he had much to say that is provocative, even today, to those of us with divided hearts. Christ died for all of us, even for those of us who cripple ourselves by trying to serve both God and mammon.

We especially need Christ to liberate us from this illusion, to open our eyes to see that He is the Lord of history who is present in our lives and who leads us to our destiny in the glory of God. Romero's life and his martyrdom will help us to find this freedom.

Saint Oscar Romero of the Americas, pray for us!

What I have below is a collection of some Romero quotations that I have been meditating on recently. I may continue to add to it for my own reference. These are words that give some sense of his convictions about the relationship between real faith and real life, the fulfillment of this life in eternity, and the integral reality of the Church in the world. They indicate the way he lived and the way he died. His living and dying have much to teach us, now more than ever.
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Saint Oscar Romero, Quotations:

This is the meaning of Eucharist, the living presence and the life giving presence of Christ in person here in history. The primary and most important person who is present during the Mass is Christ on the altar. Therefore each time that we come to Mass it is he, Jesus Christ, whom we come to hear and follow and love.

When we leave Mass, we ought to go out the way Moses descended Mount Sinai: with his face shining, with his heart brave and strong to face the world's difficulties.

Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the Church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.

Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim Church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a Church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.

The Eucharist...looks ahead to the future, to the eternal, eschatological, and definitive horizon that presents itself as a demanding ideal to all political systems, to all social struggles, to all those concerned for the earth. The Church does not ignore the earth, but in the Eucharist she says to all who work on earth: 'Look beyond!' Each time the Victim is lifted up at Mass, Christ’s call is heard: 'Until we drink it anew in my Father’s kingdom.' And the people reply: 'Come, Lord Jesus!' There is a hope. They are a people that march to encounter the Lord. Death is not the end. Death is the opening of eternity’s portal. That is why I say: all the blood, all the dead, all the mysteries of iniquity and sin, all the tortures, all those dungeons of our security forces where unfortunately many persons slowly die— all of this does not mean that they are lost forever. There is an eschatological horizon that illuminates all this darkness and that enables truth and justice and victory to sing. This eschatological horizon will be the definitive triumph of all those who struggle for justice and love.

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The Eucharist nourishes all of the just claims of the earth because it provides a true horizon. When individuals or groups want to work only for the earth and have no horizon of eternity and do not care about religious horizons, they are not true liberators. You cannot trust them. Today they struggle for power, and once in power, tomorrow they will be the worst repressors if they have no horizon that goes beyond history to sanction the good and the bad that we do on earth. That way there can be no true justice or effective work on behalf of the just demands of people.

When we speak for the poor, please note that we do not take sides with one social class. What we do is invite all social classes, rich and poor, without distinction, saying to everyone let us take seriously the cause of the poor as though it were our own.

Each time we look upon the poor, on the farmworkers who harvest the coffee, the sugarcane, or the cotton... remember, there is the face of Christ.

There is no dichotomy between man and God's image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God's image.

We suffer with those who have disappeared, those who have had to flee their homes, and those who have been tortured.

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A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call.

A Church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed —  what gospel is that?

With Christ's light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation, in mere human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man, who dies on the cross to cleanse God's image, which is soiled in today's humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful.

When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.

How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt, and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country. Salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin.

It moves one's heart to think: Nine months before I was born there was a woman who loved me deeply. She did not know what I was going to be like, but she loved me because she carried me in her womb. And when she gave me birth, she took me in her arms, because her love was not just beginning - she conceived it along with me. A mother loves - and that is why abortion is so abhorrent.

I don’t want to be an 'anti,' against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.

Authority in the Church is not command, but service...To my shame, as a pastor, I beg forgiveness from you, my community, that I have not been able to carry out, as your servant, my role as bishop. I am not a master, I am not a boss, I am not an authority that imposes itself. I want to be God’s servant, and yours.

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

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Let us not develop an education that creates in the mind of the student a hope of becoming rich and having the power to dominate. Let us form in the heart of a child and young person the idea of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and giving oneself to others.

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We are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.

If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person’s measure.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The "Roberto Clemente Doodle" Brings Back Memories

Roberto Clemente, "El Magnifico," was honored on today's Google Doodle for Hispanic Heritage Month.

I saw him play live a couple of times when I was a boy in Pittsburgh, and followed him day by day on the radio, in the papers, on televised games. He was a splendid player, and it was impossible not to feel his larger-than-life personality.

It was New Years Day 1973 when we heard the news of Roberto Clemente's death on my Dad's radio. One of baseball's best players was personally supervising relief efforts to Nicaraguan earthquake victims because—since he was so admired and loved in the Caribbean—Roberto knew that he (and perhaps only he) could hold back corrupt Nicaraguan government and military agents' greed and guarantee the delivery of emergency supplies to the people.

However, the overloaded and poorly-maintenanced plane that he was accompanying crashed over the Atlantic ocean.

It was so sad and tragic, but also deeply moving and so much like him to give his life for others.

Not bad for a ten year old boy growing up with a man like Roberto Clemente for a hero. None of us where who were kids in Pittsburgh in those days will ever forget him.

He was indeed "The Great One."

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "Keep Moving Forward!"

"Team Grimmie, you guys Rawk!"


On_September 18, 2014, Christina Grimmie made a video on her YouTube channel answering questions from frands submitted through Facebook and Twitter.

She was in the midst of a huge period in her career, and there weren't as many "Grimmie Thursday" cover videos as before. But she didn't distance herself from Team Grimmie; on the contrary, even as her circle of frands grew larger, Christina found new ways to use social media to share herself as an artist and a person.

On this video, what we encounter is four minutes of "Christina being Christina" (even though there is some editing). Fame and recognition from her magnificent run on Season 6 of The Voice did not go to her head. She remained her inimitable self, encouraging, kind, ever-wise, full of common sense, goofy, and hilarious (and so she continued to the very end).

Watch the whole video now if you wish. It's not particularly "extraordinary" in comparison to her other videos. But I just happened to watch it recently, so I'm using it as the basis for a few reflections.

Like I said, it's Christina being herself. Her current single at the time, "Must Be Love," gets a plug near the end (not one of my favorites of hers --the one and only song she released with Island Records) but then she pops in again after that.

There are some special things here: she gets a request to sing "anything" and so she sings... impromptu, no gadgets, no singing mike... and it just shows again, however briefly, that the beauty, versatility, pitch, and tone of her voice are all totally her own. It's a fact that I never get tired of being amazed by.

And it's a video "from home," no frills.


People who don't know Christina might just think, "Oh, she's just promoting her new single." Of course, promoting makes sense (even though most folks watching this video were already going to buy it). But that's not the main point.

Actually, do you know what I love especially about this video?

The garbage can.

There it is, behind her shoulder, jutting half way out, just sitting there. Just like it would be "in real life." Because this was a piece of "real life." It's a sign of openness, I think. She didn't worry about "the set." She just opened up her own environment and shared it.

Christina's videos are endearing because of the "stuff in the background," which is just her stuff, pieces of her life. Starting from 2009 with "Sonic the Hedgehog." Sometimes on the livestream, she would eat popcorn or some other snack. She came at you from right out of her own life.

While she did plenty of posting on short video venues (Vine, Snapchat, Instagram), YouTube and the livestreaming YouNow allowed her to "hang out" with people at greater length. The archives of these videos are more than precious relics of the past. She still communicates through them, just as she does with her music.

People read books by writers who lived hundreds of years ago, and they say, "This book had an impact on my life!" A communication from the past reaches a person and touches his or her life in the present.

I believe that Christina's videos also communicate in this way. It's not just the spectacular singing. It's the simple, humble, ordinary things: her way of carrying herself, her joy, her almost "authoritative" confidence when speaking about life or encouraging people, her genuineness, her sense of humor.

And this communication remains available to us. We can still learn new things from her about being human. Indeed, she has much to teach us.

I do lots of research on communications media and their impact on the psychological environment of human persons. I watch lots of videos and other media posts, and it's common to find them generating a stressful, superficial, cynical, rude, and bullying environment of negativity.

Even with a researcher's "distance," I can get worn down by these kinds of media presentations. When I need to just "clear my mind" a bit, find some human space, some "mental fresh air," I go watch some Christina Grimmie videos. She always comes through. She is a real human being, giving herself and her art.

She is loving. It's an environment of love and encouragement that she generates.

And I believe that her real, individual person lives, now -- taken up into the mystery of God, yes...the God who is Infinite Mystery, and also the God who has revealed Himself as Infinite Goodness and Love. We might dare to think that she is aware of us now (in God, who is without limitations), that she cares, that these gestures of love "from the past" are still given, even renewed, by her, so that we can know the touch of God's love, and continue to move forward enriched by the gift of her life and of the person she is, now, loving us from God's heart.

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I conclude with this little piece of Grimmie's common sense wisdom. Thanks, Christina! πŸ’š


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Abundance of God's Love is Greater than Our Sins

I am a sinner.

I do not say this as a clichΓ©, but as a simple statement of fact.

I am also a Catholic Christian. I have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, renewed by the Holy Spirit, and made a new person in Christ, a child of God, an heir to eternal life. I have been restored by Christ through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation for those times when I rebelled against my loving Father and went my own way, only to see my proud illusory schemes dissolve into disappointment and misery.

I have learned that by trying to ignore God's creating and redeeming love and his radical outpouring of himself, his giving of himself for me, I do violence to the very foundation of my own person. Adhering to him is the only way I can be true to myself.

I don't trust my own ideas or my own power. I trust in Jesus Christ.

Still, I am a sinner.

There are those sins the Catholic tradition calls "venial sins" which hinder and perhaps even cripple but do not break off our relationship with God.

My daily life is full of these "slight" sins: the facade that I think of as "myself" is largely a construction of vanity, of "benevolent" intrigue, fibbery, excessive love of comfort, the desire to please people, laziness, coldness, negligence and evasion, sharp-edged words, impatience, complaining, sentimentalism, distraction, and--of course--that ill-governed curiosity about events and people into which rash judgment and gossip inevitably creep, wearing a thousand conceptual disguises.πŸ˜‘ I'm not complacent about all of this. These sins injure me as a person and injure others. They are hindrances to the fullness of union with God, and sooner or later they will have to be cleansed away by the Refiner's fire, Love's fire.

I struggle against these sins; I want to grow in love and to do God's will, but part of me is pulled in the direction of trying to cut some kind of a deal with him.

It's easy for me to forget that he's the Infinite Lover who makes me and sustains me, who first gives me myself and then gives me himself. A worldly image seeps through the corners of my mind and tries to distort the reality of God, painting him as just a "big power" in the universe who confronts me "from the outside" with some (more or less arbitrary) prohibitions and demands. My diplomatic temperament inclines me to negotiate, as though the ultimate meaning of life is to save one's own skin. I do not believe this, but I recognize it as part of a toxic atmosphere around me that can stir up what remains in me of the effects of the "original lack-of-trust" that afflicts humanity.

It's not surprising that serious Christians (far more serious and dedicated than me) still commit many "venial" sins. So much of this behavior is rooted and woven within our complex, partly inscrutable subconscious dispositions. They engage our freedom in obscure, partial ways that aren't sufficient to constitute a willful rupture in our relationship with God, but that deserve some measure of blame.

Even after Baptism unites us concretely with the death of Christ, frees us from original sin and previous personal sins, and makes us children of the Father and heirs to the kingdom, we Christians are still... kind of a mess. We must keep working with the grace of Jesus that comes to us from the cross. He embraces our entire life on the cross, so that our whole humanity might be healed and transformed. The work of becoming conformed to his total self-giving death continues throughout our lives, as we "take up our cross" and follow him. It can be hard, but we must persevere in hope, with confidence that God is good, and that he carries us through it all in his love.

We certainly can't become obsessed with a preoccupation to make ourselves perfect. God knows how we need to be healed, and the path of growth is through cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, spiritual guidance, and the powerful grace of the sacraments--especially frequent encounters with Jesus who heals and strengthens us through Confession and gives us himself, substantially, in the Eucharist.

This slowly changes the way we see reality; it empowers us to recognize the presence of our loving God in every circumstance. We change more profoundly when we begin to recognize, concretely, that the gift of God in Jesus Christ is the heart of all reality, the meaning and value of everything. In recognizing him, we begin to want him and to love him more that our foibles and insecurities and our anxious attachment to ourselves.

I am a sinner. I don't know myself. I cannot find complacency just by looking at myself. "Who can detect trespasses? From my secret sins deliver me, O Lord" (Psalm 19:12). I am a sinner who stands before God in need of his mercy. I recall the venerable words of the ancient prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

We are all sinners, but the love of God has been revealed to us. This is the foundation of our confidence and our joy. We pray to the God who has poured out his love for us in Jesus, with confidence in the power, wisdom, and mysterious fruitfulness of this love. We struggle with our still-somewhat-messed-up inclinations, and we repent of our sins and endeavor to make amends while growing in the knowledge and love of God. We do the best we can with what God entrusts to us, using our understanding, freedom, and energy to adhere to him in a cooperation with his grace that shines light on our fragility, our total dependence on him, and the wondrous power of his love to transform us. Then, beyond the horizon of our own limitations, we abandon ourselves to his infinite mercy.

We find confidence in God and a living hope for eternal life when we live and grow in this relationship with him. "Do not be afraid," Jesus says. The abundance of God's love is greater than our sins. Indeed, his love is greater than anything in us. Even the sanctity that we share in, the supernatural heroism that he empowers us to achieve in union with him, doesn't measure the "size" or the "limits" of his mercy.

These things I find so beautifully expressed in this remarkable prayer that is the Collect for the present week in the liturgical year:

"Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and 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.
Though 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."