Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Year Later: The Faces of Parkland

Here are the faces of the 17 students, faculty, and staff who died ONE YEAR AGO in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

It's a gesture of humanity to look upon their faces, honor their memories, and (at least) call to mind and heart the incomprehensible grief their families continue to bear

For me, a moment of silence, sorrow for them, and anguish in the face of the violence that seems to grow more brazen and open and ruthless - in so many ways - in our poor world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Grammys 2019: A "Victory for Victoria"

I don't know if I have written about this remarkable young artist yet on the blog. She won two Grammys on Sunday night.
Tori Kelly's recognition is the best thing about the 2019 Grammy Awards. Her unique Gospel album is at times intense, at times introspective, at times serene, but the pervasive "vibe," if I may call it that (and why not?) is JOY.

I will write more about her. TK has more new Pop/R&B music coming out in the months ahead. Meanwhile Hiding Place is a beautiful and enduring event, a celebration of music that touches our souls and gets us to move our feet.

Thank you, Tori, and also Kirk Franklin and all of the incredible musicians and singers who participated in this superb project.❗🎶⭐

Monday, February 11, 2019

Mary, Our Mother, Truly Cares For Us

February 11 is the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and the "World Day of Prayer for the Sick." It's a day that has this special dedication, so that we might remember to pray for sick and suffering people every day, in particular those who have been entrusted to us. There are many kinds of healing that our merciful Mother Mary accomplishes in our lives, for we are all much in need of healing. 

Occasionally there are miracles. Usually, God's good and loving care, accompanied by Mary's maternal intercession, works mysteriously to bring us the profound healing we many not even know we need. His (and her) priority is always our ultimate, definitive destiny of eternal life. Still, Mercy embraces the integral good of the person, and the One who became human and loves us with a human heart is close to us in all our needs. 

In His goodness He has also given us the gift of Mary's particular tenderness. The mother of our Savior is our mother. This does not imply that the love of Christ is "not enough" in itself for our salvation. Quite the opposite. Christ's love is super-abundant, and out of this immeasurable richness He associates Mary's maternal love in all that He does for us. 

How beautiful, how intimately human it is, that Jesus - in making us His brothers and sisters - gives us His mother Mary to be our mother. 

And she is truly a mother to us. She cares, specifically, for each and every one of us. We can bring everything to her, because we are her children, and she will deepen our confidence in the Lord and carry us through even the most inscrutable difficulties in life, keeping us close to her Son. 

We are never orphans.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie, Always Grateful...

She was always grateful.💚🎵

Today marks 32 months, and Christina Grimmie's circle of frands keeps growing.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Mystery Comes Close to Our Flesh and Bones

"The Absolute, the Mystery, is Father.... This truth that Christ has revealed does not diminish the Absolute. Rather, it deepens our knowledge of the mystery: Our Father who art at the depths, who art in heaven, Our Father who art in my profound roots, Thou who art now making me in this instant, who generate my path and guide me to my destiny! You can no longer retract after hearing these words of God. You can no longer go back. But, at the same time, the mystery remains, remains more profound: God is father, but he is father like no other is father. The revealed term carries the mystery further within you, closer to your flesh and bones, and you really feel it in a familiar way, as a son or daughter. There is no one who respects the sense of truth and is as devoted to his father as when the father is an intimate companion" (Luigi Giussani).

Friday, February 8, 2019

Winter Scenes

We've had warm days and cold days, sunny days and snow days, and some brilliant sunsets already in the first six weeks of 2019.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Digital Scriptorum: Secrets Revealed!

Actually, it's more like "a few hints" ... or, rather, a look at the rabbit holes of digital doodling I go down when I'm stretching the right side of my brain. Indeed, this is more like a record for my own reference in the future, since I don't expect that many folks will actually read it.

But you're welcome to read, skim, browse, whatever. This is my workshop, and sometimes more, but in any case I'm happy to keep an "open door."

Yesterday, I posted a setting for some verses from Psalm 17 on my Instagram and such. It wasn't particularly interesting or bold. But such posts often come from within a peculiar experimental process using the very limited tools I have available to me on a Samsung tablet.

It begins with a text and a basic background on a sketch page, some basic fonts, a few lines....

The exercise is one of technological doodling, in which an OCD brain is taken out for "psychological walk" like an excitable puppy on a very long leash. I also learn about continually developing possibilities in digital graphics (cheap ones, anyway). It's not the most efficient way to learn, but if you like even one design or photo art project that I have posted, it comes out of a process like this.

The mood is "chill." I'm listening to some music. I flip the colors and start brushing and smudging, using basic filters, and making a mess, like this:

This is not going anywhere special. (I will "ruminate" on the text a bit; that's one of the reasons why I like to work with Scriptural texts.) Then I take it for a spin through one of the "art applications" that mixes colors and blends in peculiar ways.

Things can start to go in a "psychedelic" direction:

It_looks like graffiti at this point. I feel like going off the text and into geometric patterns, so I paint over the verses with green and blue, and put it into an app that breaks things down to patterns and shapes.

I do want to create patterns that look interesting:

Circles. We always end up with circles. How do I get "out of the circle"? Alter the colors some more, and pull out and manipulate different shapes:

We're NOT going to keep changing colors and running these shapes through the "kaleidoscope" all day. Just a few times (e.g. first picture below). We can also smudge with the "water" simulator, crop, stretch, squeeze, and then "frame it" with a blurred background (second picture):

Okay, hmmm. Well, all this can be filed away; some things might get turned into text-breaking pictures for future ponderous blog posts.

What am I doing? Ah, the verses of the Psalm.

Back to basics. Put a steeple on the left (from a photo of St John's) and the text beside it:

That's nice, after I touch up the background a bit. If all I wanted to do was generate a "meme," I could have done this in a few minutes. But I want to experiment with some other shades and "settings" too:

That works okay. But too much white. This text is powerful and "fiery." Let's try heating things up:

Whoa! That could go somewhere, but I would need other tools (and probably the laptop) to get what I'm aiming for here. Not today.

I actually posted something colorful but not too colorful, just tinged with a rusty red ... "for precious is their blood in His sight" ... in any case a post provides some proximate goal and caps things off. It makes it possible to STOP this exercise, for now:

Enough of this. It's time to get back to my books.😉

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A History of Witnesses from All The World

Paul Miki, baptized at the age of five, was one of the early fruits of Saint Francis Xavier's mid-16th century mission to Japan. He grew up to become the first Japanese to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and he preached and witnessed to the Lord among his own people. Many Japanese became Christians, especially in the southern port city of Nagasaki and the regions surrounding it.

At first the Imperial government permitted the new community to grow, but the situation became complicated when other Europeans arrived who also called themselves Christians but who sought their own interests: material gain, cultural and territorial invasion, robbery, and rivalries fostered to gain their own political power.

As a result, the Japanese authorities turned against the foreigners and their "foreign god"--thus began the process of expelling Europeans and all their influence, with no distinction between what was evil and what was good. Paul Miki--a native of Japan, full of love, a servant of everyone, a threat to no one--was condemned to be a scapegoat (along with a few other European missionaries and a group of Japanese lay people, including children). They were tortured and crucified on February 6, 1597. As he was dying, Saint Paul Miki urged his countrymen and women to know and love Jesus, and he forgave his executioners.

The impact of this event was shattering but also profound. By the mid-17th century all priests has been driven out or killed, and many more Japanese faithful were martyred or ritually renounced Christianity. But for nearly 300 years, a group of lay people in the Nagasaki area remained faithful to Jesus. Without the priestly ministry, without the sacraments of the Eucharist or Penance (but certainly not without the desire for them), with only Baptism, the Bible, a catechism, and a liturgical calendar, they passed down the heritage of their faith in Jesus and lived the life of His Church as best as they could. When Japan reopened to the West in the 19th century, European Catholic priests were permitted in the country again to minister to other foreigners. The priests did not approach the native population. Nevertheless, to their astonishment, they were sought out by the seventh generation of this Nagasaki community that had kept the faith but also hungered for the fullness of ecclesial life.

There are so many tremendous stories--real stories about persons, communities, families, and generations all through history and all over the world--that are vivified by these otherwise very diverse peoples' conviction about and adherence to one man. Among all the billions of humans who have lived, why is this one man so unique, so compelling, that people love Him more than life, more than everything?

Recall that yesterday was the feast of third century martyr Saint Agatha of Catania. Today celebrates these Nagasaki Martyrs of 1597 -- twelve hundred years later, over ten thousand miles away, these 26 men, women, and children were brutally tortured and murdered. Their "crime" was the same as Agatha's: they all loved the same man, and knew themselves to be loved by that man, in such a way that all the violence brought against them by the powers of their societies was not able to tear them away from that man.


Who ever heard of such a thing in all the history of the world?

But it's easy enough to ignore it, if we don't want to see it. There is no spectacle here. These are the stories of people, poor people, where encountered Jesus, who were changed, fulfilled, and transformed by Jesus. They were given a share in His love that saves the world: the love that forgives enemies, that endures all things, that bridges the abyss of death: the love that never fails.

The people who follow Jesus in the Church (bearing His promises with all their own weakness and failures and even betrayals) are the means through which He chooses to give Himself in this world, to "extend" His resurrected life and His unconquerable redeeming love to every place and time, through all of history. It is through these people that Jesus meets Agatha, the Japanese Christians, and countless poor and forgotten people in the streets of today.

Love communicates person to person. Love communicates new life to persons who share that life with other persons. The sacraments are the gestures through which Jesus guarantees the concreteness of the the foundation and continuity of the encounter with Him. But the living of this new life penetrates the whole story of each person and their relationships with others. This is what gives us the great story of God's People journeying to fulfillment in Him, the remarkable "history of the Church"--all the more amazing in the endurance and continual renewal of Jesus Christ's presence and the power of His love in these fragile vessels of people who follow Him (and in spite of the malice, violence, and manipulation of those who pretend to follow Him while actually betraying Him).

Jesus is here. He stays with us.

The history of these martyrs--these men and women in whom His love was fulfilled to the end--is our history. It is the heritage of all humanity, of every person. It has been entrusted to us in the Church so that we might share it with all the world.

That's what love does. It shares. It gives itself away. It generates life. It brings new life. We who have been so much loved... do we not long to be poured out and given to others so that this love will abound? We're hindered by many things, by our preoccupations, by fear. The field of our own lives seems small. Let us not think this means our love should be small.

These stories inspire us to trust in Jesus, to let His love be the measure, to begin to live a little more His love as a gift and a witness to one another, and in the particular circumstances and places that constitute our "world" each day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Brave Young Agatha of Sicily

For all the time that has passed, humans haven't changed very much. When men in positions of power want to abuse women, they have the means to cause them great suffering.

The traditional stories about the third century virgin martyr Saint Agatha of Catania emphasize the brutality of the abuse visited upon her by lustful, dominating, and idolatrous men. But these men of blood did not understand her singular dedication, soul and body, to the true God and true Man, Jesus Christ.

Just as in the past, so also now and in the future, human violence and fury will pass away. The Love of the Lord will endure forever. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Feast of the Presentation

Happy Feast Day: Forty Days after Christmas, Jesus comes to the temple and reveals Himself to those who awaited Him with great longing.

"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).

Above, a traditional Byzantine icon. Below, details from Mosaic of the Presentation in the Temple, by Marko Rupnik. I LOVE his work!❤➕   .

Friday, February 1, 2019

Every Good Thing Will Be Fulfilled

Almighty, all good, all merciful God,
Our Father who loves us,
send your Holy Spirit into our hearts
with his creative and transforming love.
Come Holy Spirit,
work within me, and every person.
Come with your all-powerful gentleness
to touch,
to open up,
to heal and liberate
those deep, dark, unacknowledged spaces
in my heart,
and in the hearts of so many people,
where we are afraid of the Father's love,
afraid that we will lose ourselves
if we let God love us "too much."

Give us greater trust in you right here,
right in these places where we try to resist you
because we fear you will just overwhelm and annihilate us,
because we fear losing ourselves and finding nothing,
because we are terrified and don't know why,
because we are just anxious in the dark
and know not what we are doing or where we are going,
or because we are simply too attached to our own ideas about life:
our own measure,
our own narrow,
definition of who we are.

O Lord, you search for our hearts,
but we try to hide from you their most secret places
where we store away the difficulties of believing:
all the incomprehensible losses of people we loved,
the begging of prayers that seemed swallowed
by a vast emptiness and never heard or returned,
and all the hard obscure perplexity of faith's winding path.
We wonder why you are so silent amidst all the noise of war on earth,
why you permit all this evil,
why there is all this colossal pain that crushes people,
why life is so hard and inscrutable.

Here too we secretly keep our troubles
with the whole mess of our stunted human heritage
as children of Adam's dysfunctional family,
still sinning, struggling against stupid sin,
and the lingering impulses toward vanity, conceit, envy, lust;
the craving of easy satisfactions of mind and body;
the downward pull of comfortable negligence, and mediocrity
covered over in endless diversions and distractions.
We are Adam's kin down to the bone:
broken, burdened, limping, dull-minded,
weak, sick, hungry, off-balance, crazy -- even we,
who are members of your Son's body, washed,
initiated into new life,
and tasting the promise, in hope.
Blessed hope, sustaining hope,
often thinly stretched weary hope
so burdened on so long a journey.
Slow seems the healing
and the growing as your children,
through Jesus (still a great joy indeed, a sustaining joy,
but the center of it all remains a mystery,
for which we do not yet have eyes).

We don't even see these dark spaces in our hearts.
We are afraid, Lord, to let you enter the places
where we are hidden from ourselves.
Here are hardened scars of deep wounds:
the lacerations of our own failures
and the stabs of betrayal by others,
the vestiges of resentment,
all the disappointments,
the few hollow successes,
the persons we loved who fell short,
but only because they were weak, like us;
the sorrow over the fleeting years of life,
the long bittersweet ghosts of so many memories. 

And sometimes in the darkest depths of our hearts,
we hold in ourselves and wrestle with secret silent laments.
Without words, but groaning as if to say, "Lord
why did you make me?
"Who am I? Why do I matter?
"Lord, why did you give me freedom, when all I do
is use it to screw things up?
"Why does the Infinite One care whether or not I love him freely?
"Can't you just fix me to do your will automatically?
"Why do all my efforts end up being fake,
or at best still tainted with the hundred-little-lies 
of my petty hypocrisy and self-love?
"Why do I see the evil in the world but still connive with its edges?
"Why am I so pathetic?"
We know all the answers to these questions from our faith,
from its tradition, teaching, preaching, and theology,
and we believe them and acknowledge them firmly.
But here in the dark places of our hearts,
we suffer the apparent dissonance of mysteries,
we feel what seems like the sharp edge 
where deep mystery intersects with life,
we suffer impatience with reality and ourselves,
we are impatient with God,
with the fact that the Infinite Mystery is Infinite Love.
Our hearts groan, "Why am I free? Why do I sin? 
Can't you just make me good? 
Without all this long wandering? 
Can't you just make me happy? Like a little child?" 
"Yes," says God, "but you are ambitious to be a 'grownup,' 
to make yourself good by your own power, 
so I am letting you learn that your power is not enough...
with freedom you can then turn back, 
and discover that I love you even more, 
and you will find a new childhood, a deeper happiness..."

Thus it stands for us, sinners who beg for God, yet tremble
that he might come too close to us,
that Infinite Love might love us "too much"...

Love is a terrible thing, relentless against all that hinders it.
But God's love is good. God is always good.
We must remember this.
I must remember this when I look at myself,
when I worry within myself after 56 years,
as the arc of life bends toward the horizon of a setting sun.

There is strange death, approaching,
no longer appearing to me like the remote end of past generations,
or the rare, odd, accidental tragedy of youth.
Death is on the threshold of my house of many years.
I am in the infancy of old age
when weary heartbeats can stop suddenly in a moment,
or beat and beat on 20, 30, 40 more years...

Lord, you alone know this mystery,
this disjointed and jarring ending of life
that is happening for some of us now,
for others soon,
for others later.
Death is entirely mundane and scarcely noticed in the world,
but supremely significant and utterly personal
for each one of us.
Lord, this event that will finally establish who I am, forever...
its coming seems like a rolling of the dice!
Perhaps I shall die before I finish typing this sentence.
...Only now can I be sure that I'm still breathing.
Perhaps I shall die tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month.
Or perhaps years of new, great, and arduous work are still ahead of me.
Perhaps a road of venerable old age stretches before me,
with an abundance of joys,
with unimagined new cares and responsibilities,
with--finally--achievements I have dreamed of all my life.
Perhaps with harsh miseries too:
a terminal illness to break my nerves,
or a slow decline, new unremarkable infirmities,
quiet suffering, powerlessness, humiliation.
One way or another, however, I will have to face the end.
I will die.

Dear God, my poor faith tells me that I am in your loving hands,
that your mercy shapes (especially) this last moment for me,
with infinite wisdom and utterly personal love.
Still, death is strange. I don't know what it is like,
when it will happen,
what trials it will require me to endure,
what temptations might rise up in that unparalleled last second
(Lord grant me perseverance to the end!)
or what period of purgation,
what intensity of ultimate refining fire I must pass through
to reach you, my Father,
when you come rushing forth lovingly to meet me.
I host fast to you, God, in firm hope,
I entrust everything to your goodness and mercy.
I pray for the grace of a good death, through your Son Jesus.

And God forgive me, your foolish child,
but I still love this life here and now.
I love it too much.
I cling to it anxiously even now
because I am a weak and sinful man (Jesus, save me!),
but also because there is so much good here,
even though it's always changing and passing away.
There is so much that remains to be accomplished.
My wife by my side to love and cherish,
children still to raise and help,
then later to encourage and counsel,
and make a special grand-place in our hearts
for the new generation (Lord, grant us this gift).
There are my tenderly beloved, utterly frail father and mother
to care for and comfort and suffer with,
and my brother, our kids' terrific uncle,
lifelong comrade and friend,
the only person who really knows how to tell me
when I'm being stupid.
There are the seasons, the trees, the wonder of a green leaf,
sunrise and sunset, magnificent stars, rivers and creeks
and ancient hills.
Good food, and wine,
friends and conversation;
friendship, indeed, that grows deeper with the years.
Then there are these talents of my soul: there is
and images, patterns and shapes and colors
to craft together in so many ways,
and words to build poems,
There is this mind, my searching mind,
finally beginning to see pieces of wisdom,
beginning to see what is worth passing on, worth teaching...
"Be a teacher!
Be a teacher!
You will be a great teacher!" (L.G.)

Yet none of this guarantees a single hour more of this life,
and I know that in whatever comes there will also be mixed
more disappointment and pain,
more failures together with the good.
O God, I know that in you (and only in you) every good thing
will be fulfilled,
that nothing will be lost,
that these good seeds sown in life will bear fruit.
But have pity on me, Lord,
for seeds are all that my eyes know.
I trust in you, and I hope to live forever in this fruition.
Please sustain me, O God, in my weakness
and work according to your wisdom and mercy
to open the depths in my heart where I still worry,
where there is still fear, irrational, foolish fear,
as if you who are Goodness and Love itself
could oppose all the good and loving realities of my poor little life.
God, you are always good.
Take my whole heart,
take my fears,
and take my sins away.
Never let me run after anything in this world in such a way
that I would crave attachment to it rather than you.
Never let me be separated from you.
Have mercy on me now and at the hour of my death.

Come Holy Spirit,
come with your goodness and love
to the deep dark places of my heart,
where I hide from you with my sins and my wounds,
my lack of trust in you, my disappointments,
my fear of death.
Come Holy Spirit to these places
to heal and transform me,
to make me new and whole.

Jesus, you are the One who truly knows the mystery of "me."
I have been created through you and for you,
the Word,
the Only Son of the Father through whom all things were made.
Jesus, Lord and God, you give me my very existence in this moment.
You love me more than I love myself.
You have taken hold of my life.
Never let me be separated from you.
I don't know myself,
but you know me.
On the cross you understood me.
You suffered the whole depth and measure of me.
You knew my sins and sacrificed yourself for them
and for all the sins of the world.
You knew and you embraced my terrifying fragility, my weakness, my fear.
You know the road of conversion and freedom for me.
You are that road.
You have died on the cross that is me,
and you are rising in me in a love that heals and transforms,
a love that wants with infinite ardor to bring my life
to fulfillment and fruition,
to make me the person you have always willed me to be.

What else matters? I can only be grateful,
and allow gratitude to spring up in me,
gratitude for everything:
beyond all that I do not understand,
all that troubles me in the present moment,

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Make of my heart all gratitude and love for you forever.
Jesus I trust in you.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Christina Grimmie Passes Four Million YouTube Subscribers

Dear friends, the late Christina Grimmie's original YouTube channel needs only 124 more subscribers to reach 4,000,000.❗.

Go to her channel and SUBSCRIBE. 

It doesn't cost anything, ever. It's a chance to be part of history, and to support one of the truly bright lights in the crazy world of YouTube. 

SUBSCRIBE! 😊 🎶 Click here:

This is the channel Christina began nearly 10 years ago, as just a 15 year old kid from New Jersey who loved to sing and play Zelda (she never even changed the name - it remains "zeldaxlove64"). Her vocal and musical talents were extraordinary and continued to develop right up to her tragic death at the hands of a deranged gunman after a concert on June 10, 2016. Today the channel is maintained by her family in her memory, and posts occasional posthumous material.

You've heard the story from me many times already. You know how much I have come to love and admire this amazing young woman and her long-suffering, courageous family ... and not just because of the music.💚  .

Below is a very early "description" she posted in the "About" section of her channel. In spite of all her subsequent successes, she never changed this description during her lifetime.  .

I can't help thinking that, somewhere deep down, she had a sense from the beginning of what she was doing. It was a risk she had the courage to take, and to persevere in amidst many difficulties. In any case, as the last sentence of the "description" shows, she knew why she did it.  .
"I'm a full on Christian, by the way. Jesus is my Savior and I looove Him and sing for Him."
She knew the One who made it worthwhile to sing, or make music, or have fun playing Zelda, or start her own channel on YouTube and post content on what was still a new and unusual medium. He is the One who makes life worthwhile, who suffuses ordinary circumstances and things with His grace, so that they become the opportunities and the humble bearers of His extraordinary love. He is the One who can make even a brief life beautiful and worthy of remembering. He is our Savior, our Hope.  .

From the start, she knew Him. She loved Him. She sang for Him. Full on...

Sometime around 8:00 EST this evening, the Christina Grimmie channel passed the mark of 4,000,000 subscribers. It is a tribute to her pioneering efforts and the endurance of her legacy.💚  .

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why is It So Hard to Just "Be Together"?

There is a great and very necessary mode of loving in which people discover the value of just be-ing together.

Too often we think the only reason to actually be with others is to accomplish a common work. We get together in order to do things, and then we go back to being (more-or-less) solitary individuals.

We feel awkward and inadequate just "being around" a person if we don't see any way of being useful to them. This feeling is especially acute when we find ourselves with people who have problems or are suffering. What can we do for them? This question might raise intense, complex, even frightening emotions.

Of course, many of us have some sense of "just being together" through the fullness we experience in the company of a spouse, family members, and very intimate friends. When we are with these persons, things we do together and ways we help one another are "built-in" to the dynamic of being together. In a healthy companionship many interactions become almost "natural"—which doesn't mean mechanical and meaningless but quite the opposite: it means the habitual realization of freedom in integrally human gestures of self-giving full of personal vitality.

Suffering, however, raises a distinctive kind of challenge even for these relationships. When someone we love endures a great and debilitating suffering, we may find ourselves running out of ideas for how to "help" them. We suddenly feel incompetent, and might think we are "letting down" our friend or loved one. This is most difficult when we really can't do anything (or anything more) to resolve their problem or help them.

Here we need to see the value of "just be-ing together." We can remain with them, and recognize that our sense of being powerless is linked to their own utter vulnerability in suffering. The bond of love and friendship that unites us means that their pain is going to affect us. Just by staying with them, we can live the very precious gift of friendship, and affirm its reality. A true friend can "share" and accompany the pain and struggles, anxiety and suffering of their friend by an empathy that draws on the bond of the relationship itself.

This can mean just being with a friend even when there is no immediate thing we can do or say, because there is no "solution" and there are no words for what is happening. Still, we can be together, we can be with them, we can be present in solidarity and love.

This is more difficult than we might think. We have a kind of natural inclination to distance ourselves from another person who is suffering, especially when we feel like we can't fix their problem, ultimately because it forces us to face the deeper levels of our own radical "helplessness," the fundamental limits of our resources as finite persons. That's very hard, because we tend toward wanting to possess and control the circumstances of reality (even in relationships). Deep down, we live with the assumption that we are self-sufficient.

This is what makes us tend toward a hyperprotectiveness of the total environment of ourselves and those we care about. We want to build a fortress out of life so we can be safe. Why?

Because we are afraid.

The more we are fixated on "keeping our lives," i.e. measuring their meaning according to our own limited measure, the greater our fear.

Too often in our society today, people know only their own measure. They don't want to see their limits, beyond which their interpretation of reality loses coherence, and (so it seems) all meaning and value slip away. People distance themselves from anything or anyone that interrupts their distracted preoccupation with the apparently controllable aspects of reality and makes them face those radical limits.

People are very afraid.

And it is terrifying to be helpless and alone and losing something (or someone) into the void of an ultimately meaningless universe that is not held in the hands of Infinite Love. People are secretly afraid that life has no permanent meaning, that love doesn't win in the end, that everything is swallowed up by nothingness.

Those of us who believe in Jesus and worship God also feel this fear and sense of helplessness, because ultimately we walk by faith in the One who is true, good, and beautiful, but who is also the Infinite Mystery. Faith does not "resolve" the mystery of God or of reality; it brings it close to us and gives us a path and a reason to hope even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Mystery has entered our history and made the path for us. Jesus didn't say He had come to explain the often difficult ways and obscure challenges of our lives. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He says, "follow me" not to form an exclusive club, but (among other things) to draw us more intensely into the experience of being human, all the way to the Cross.

So even in faith we feel this great fragility of being human, this sense of "helplessness"—but we learn that it is rooted in our need to live in dependence on something greater than ourselves (on the One who lovingly holds our destiny and accompanies us and every human being). Even in the anguish of our lives and the intense feeling of fear and loss, He is opening a path for us and a "space" inside us so He can lead us and shape for us a good and beautiful fulfillment that we cannot yet "understand."

We live in the world with a HOPE for a transcendent fulfillment in which everything that is real and good is transformed, and therefore "nothing is lost." Often we can't see what this means for our concrete aspirations, circumstances, and relationships, or why there is still so much experience of frustration and loss (so much of the incomprehensible element of "sacrifice" that we don't grasp even when we know it's necessary).

We don't see the whole meaning of it; indeed, we see very little in the obscurity of faith. But Jesus sees. He has endured it all and He is risen. He lives (indeed He is) the fullness of being human and He stays with us... even in the unbearable silence of our incapacity to fathom our own weakness.

Jesus knows that we will forget and fail, become afraid and run away, just like the disciples in the Gospels. He will seek us and find us, like the Good Shepherd that He is, and approach us with His open heart full of forgiveness and renewal.

But how beautiful it is to remember Him, and find courage in Him to love and be a companion to another human person, to be with that person with their inexpressible pain.

Life is an immense, beautiful, mysterious gift. We must do our best to be good stewards of the wonders entrusted to us, to act prudently and responsibly to improve our own lives, our families, our communities. We must recognize and build up the good.

But we are not the source of goodness and meaning. We do not control reality. We are not masters, but servants.

We don't need the power to build the world to our own measure, to grasp what we determine to be good for us and flee from (or make war against) what we think threatens our self-asserted power. God alone is good. What we do need is the experience of being loved by Him.

Jesus has come to give us God's love.

And when we know we are loved by Him, we become instruments through which He can bring the experience of being loved to others.

The giving and receiving of love through helping one another is especially needed in these tumultuous times. We need to offer a true attentive love for the particular person, the way we know God loves us. There is much of just "being-with" others in this love, unabtrusive accompanying, listening, being present—with the remembrance of God's love and our destiny of being transformed in Him, Jesus.

For this we must pray a lot, from the heart, worship, love Him, bring everything to Him. From prayer, we can shape all of life into prayer, into loving Jesus. And we need the Church and the sacraments (the concrete "moments" in which the Lord breaks in, even physically, to touch the history of our lives). We need to insert our lives within the time of the Church and walk the incarnate path of ecclesial life, patiently, because learning to love takes time.

We forget Jesus. I forget Him 99.9 percent of the day. But in the Church we are reminded, and we can open our hearts and allow His grace to transforms us, in His time and according to His goodness and love.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Rhododendron: It Stays Green and it Never Gives Up

RHODODENDRON, I salute you! You endure everything. 

You are gobbed by snow, encrusted with ice, tossed by winds and wilted by bitter cold all through the Winter. But with a little sunshine you perk right back up and spread your ever-GREEN leaves in triumph. 

You are tough, but you have beautiful flowers. You make me smile!😊

Sunday, January 27, 2019

World Youth Day 2019: Far Away, Yet Close to Me

This past week, young people from all over the world met with Pope Francis for the "World Youth Day" festival in Panama (Jornada Mundial de la Juventud in Spanish, hence the "JMJ" logo). I was able to follow the progress of the events, not only from news reports, television, and live streaming, but also in a more particular way through the Instagram Stories posted by people I know who attended the events.

Those brief personal "reports" from friends in Panama were precious things. They were new channels through which the grace of the "JMJ" extended itself to distant places, including my "place" thousands of miles away physically but close in the heart and soul.

It also meant even more to me to follow this year's JMJ events, since they coincided with the twentieth anniversary of my first pilgrimage to Mexico and my first visit to Latin America in January of 1999. The occasion of that trip was also a papal visit of Saint John Paul II. Although it was not World Youth Day, John Paul's itinerary included two large public events that I was able to attend. The spirit of Panama this past week, with its distinctive Hispanic openheartedness and fervor, brought back memories of those days. 

Youth festival pilgrims, streamed via Vatican Media.
And then, of course, I will always love the WYD gatherings because of my own experience of the festival (again with John Paul II, who founded it) all the way back in 1993. I know how great the experience can be for young people, and the grace that works so deeply in these days.

Finally, the joy was more personal for me because of the presence and involvement of a number of my young friends who are dedicated to "Música Católica"—an emerging movement of outstanding Hispanic Catholic Christian artists who make contemporary Praise and Worship music (very beautiful, stirring, prayerful music) for appropriate Catholic settings. Through Instagram stories and messages, I was able to communicate with some of them during the week, learn of their experiences, offer prayer and encouragement, and receive the assurance of their prayers. It was a very special time of living the mysterious unity we share as brothers and sisters and "members of Christ's body," a unity that bridges physical differences, that transcends nations and cultures even as it enriches them and enables us to share them with mutual appreciation.

To my beautiful friends from Argentina, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and many other places in Latin America: "¡Muchos Gracias!" I am learning to love the Spanish language (and to understand more, with less help from Google); and I am also learning to love (though I can't understand it😉) "whatever-that-language-is" that people from Buenos Aires speak (😉😉--just joking, jaja). It's the very distinctive Porteño "accent"...

As long as I'm on the topic of "people from Buenos Aires," the most famous of all the Porteños was in Panama to give of himself to young people, encourage young and old alike, and above all to preach the Gospel. Here are some very moving words (in Vatican trans. English) of Pope Francis, from last night's vigil:

Papa Francisco streaming to my screen via Vatican Media.

"The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. 

"That life is not salvation up 'in the cloud' and waiting to be downloaded, a new 'app' to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still, less is it a 'tutorial' for finding out the latest news. The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. 

"The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown. He is the first to say 'yes' to our lives and our history, and he wants us to say 'yes' along with him.

"Saying 'yes' to the Lord means preparing to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity, and often enough too, with its conflicts and annoyances.... It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws. 

"Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or 'distilled,' yet no less worthy of love. Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner. He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.

"Why did he do this? Because only what is loved can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed. 

"The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.

"How hard it is at times to understand God’s love! But what a gift it is to know that we have a Father who embraces us despite all our imperfections!"

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Crisis of the New Epoch: Power Without Wisdom

We are living through a large, complex social upheaval that has been taking place over the course of the last two centuries. This upheaval is of historic proportions, and involves all the factors (good and bad) that are weaving together the histories of diverse peoples into the first "global epoch." One of the driving and defining forces of this still-emerging new epoch has been the dazzling, unimaginable progress of mass technology—the human capacity to manipulate material realities in nearly every facet of life.

This gigantic emergence and vast dissemination of human power, however, has not found a corresponding deepening of the wisdom necessary to judge how it can be used in ways that serve the whole good proper to human persons. The vocation of the person in the world has a terrestrial dimension (to contribute to caring for creation and building up history) and at the same time and inseparably an ultimate dimension, to journey through this world with a responsibility and tenderness for others and for all things in relation to a transcendent destiny.

In these tumultuous times, however, we have access to immense powers (and are caught up in the use of those powers, as individuals and as a society) but we don't have the necessary wisdom to know what kind of activity is worth doing. We need a deeper wisdom that perceives the dignity of human persons and the central purposes of human life—with its fundamental orientation toward transcendence, its responsibility toward present human needs and the heritage of future generations, and its task of intelligent and attentive stewardship over the natural environment.

Without wisdom, our powers have no measure. We continually enlarge and use these technological "extensions" of our physical capabilities in ways that are grandiose, but that may also be reckless. If we don't know why life is worth living, or are not at least seriously committed to engage the distinctive value of the human person and the full range of goodness in the created world, we degenerate to inconsiderate motivations rooted in selfishness, tribalism, greed, and envy.

We cannot deny that we live in a world of many wonderful possibilities and many tools of unparalleled utility. At the same time, every aspect of human life bears marks of accelerating complexity, confusion, and affliction. To cite the most obvious example: While human beings have never had such material wealth as some of us have today, other human beings suffer from unimaginable levels of poverty and degradation. Efforts to resolve this inequity by changes in the structures of power or by empiricist economic schemes may appear to "work," but they usually generate new (and even worse) problems.

This is inevitable in a globally interconnected world insofar as we try to "govern" power by the exclusive exaltation of technique to the neglect of an integrally humanistic and genuinely ecological wisdom. When we lack wisdom—when we fail to engage reality in all its factors and recognize the full scope of the good—it's not surprising that we don't know how to focus our power to determine the ways of constructive activity (or restraint) that are called for in real circumstances, or gage the importance of the consequences of what we do. Power without wisdom leads, inexorably, to violence.

Many people have begun to realize that we need this wisdom, and are searching for it in various ways. But so many of us are intoxicated by our enormous powers and captivated by the illusion that they bestow on us unrestrained and easily acquired "freedom." We are willing to allow them to rage wildly, serving neither the temporal good of this world nor our destiny of eternal life with God. We thus reduce ourselves and others to objects in the vast field of material things we control (or try to control). We struggle to manipulate one another or openly oppose one another as rivals in the fight for power—as self-contained, striving individuals or as members of exclusivistic "tribes"—rather than living in friendship and cooperation as persons-in-communion. Or we try to lose ourselves in attachments to whatever spectacles of power or ingenious schemes captivate our fancy.

We lack wisdom and we don't seek wisdom. We are fools. Gigantic, titanic fools.

This is not a pretty picture of the human race. Certainly, it's only part of the picture. After more than a half of a century of life experience, I have lost most of my naive optimism. But I have also learned not to underestimate human resilience. Humans are both fragile and tough. We are full of surprises.

Here, however, I am stepping back from my usual method of seeking out and highlighting truth, goodness, and beauty wherever I find it—however small, tenuous, or submerged in ambivalence it may be. Here I am outlining the shadows rather than the light. (The "shadows" generally have more bearing on my strange poetry rather than my usual efforts to write encouraging prose.)

I cannot ignore the enormous danger that we humans face if we do not rise to the occasion and affirm the fullness of our humanity in these times, in the midst of the furious emergence of the new epoch.

I should say that we will only "rise to the occasion" if we permit ourselves to be lifted up and opened within the depths of our spirit, the core of our person, by the gift of a Wisdom greater than our own.

This is where I place my hope.

Outside of this hope, we can talk about our "values" and about the importance of "spiritual things," but practically speaking we live like materialists, and we are becoming a materialist society on an increasingly monstrous scale. We measure real human worth by the quantity of power a person or group exercises over material things, a power that grows on the strength of technological cleverness and pours into the bottomless hole of human cupidity, aimless curiosity, and the endless cravings of covetousness.

Corresponding to our insatiable hunger for things is the demand for "open possibilities." This entails an illusory flexibility which we think allows us to toy with and then escape from permanent commitments. We fail to see how this attitude distroys our personal lives and hurts everyone around us, how it fragments society, how it impoverishes future generations.

What is the use of an ideal of freedom that is afraid to realize itself in the commitment of the person, as person, to real life and real love? Aimless "freedom" is bent toward disconnection: we are led to believe that "freedom" means being free to grow continually and exponentially in material power, possessions, comfort, and security; free to accumulate unencumbered experiences; free of commitments or a sense of responsibility for the future; free of the demands that others make of us in real human relationships; free to do whatever we want, to be autonomous, to use other humans in temporary combinations and then return to our own radical isolation, to be unconcerned, unbounded, self-defined, alone...

Where will such "freedom" lead us? It will make of our poor selves a desolate landscape where the winds of fear will blow relentlessly and our distractions will increasingly elude us and eventually flee, leaving in their wake an unmasked, inescapable, terrible loneliness.

I have lived long enough to see the trajectory of this false freedom, how it leads to sadness, to the monstrous poverty of the person surrounded by material riches. I have recognized again and again in myself this inclination toward "disconnection" that seems to fill the atmosphere of wealthy societies in our time. It has caused incalculable damage that has hindered the human maturity of whole generations of people—with significant variations, of course, for different persons depending on circumstances and their own connivance in this mentality, but in a way that has left everyone "bruised." The First World's "poverty of loneliness" has not only exacerbated perennial human forms of violence within human relationships; it has opened new dimensions and new contexts for the crippling psychological experience of trauma (a topic that deserves further consideration in another essay).

In any case, we who have been wounded cannot fill the hole in ourselves, the emptiness of our uncommitted lives, with pseudo-connections forged by the same logic of power that has isolated us. We are easily manipulated by manufactured "identities," inflamed "causes" and angry reactions, or this phenomenon I have called "tribalism." This term doesn't refer to traditional tribal societies (except as a caricature of them). The "tribalism" of the new epoch is a kind of social alchemy where our common fears, interests, lusts, and desire for vengeance are melded together by demagoguery into an irrational ideological partisan group. It has the worst insular features of a "blood bond" without any real, concrete human connections such as those that were traditionally the basis of "clan loyalty." Instead, the new post-modern tribe is united by ideology (or "imagology" - made out of manipulative images) dressed up in pseudo-familial garb (including, by extension, nationalist or racist or class-based or any variety of "identity banners" that reduce human persons to unnatural pieces of enthusiast, belligerent, power-seeking groups). These tribal collectives grow, thrive, defend themselves, and make war according to their own bizarre common imaginings and their technologically enhanced "instincts."

We have seen these things happen before in the turmoil of this emerging epoch. We don't want to see them re-emerge in full force on a global scale. In our times, we must be determined to be human persons, to respect and honor one another, to take the risks of love and commitment, of freedom and responsibility, and to seek wisdom

Friday, January 25, 2019

Twenty Years Ago: A Beautiful Experience

TODAY, January 25, 2019, is the 20th anniversary of my first pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It coincided with Saint John Paul II's fourth visit to Mexico, and the publication of the synodal document Ecclesia in America.

It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had.

It was an absolutely CRAZY day, but with a gratuitous peace at the heart of it all.❤️ I'll try to write a longer blog post, maybe tell the whole story... soon.

Today I am full of gratitude to Our Merciful Mother.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Saint Francis de Sales: "Why Do You Worry?"

Today is the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

You gotta love this man.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Day of Prayer for Unborn Children, their Mothers, & Our Society

The Catholic Church in the United States of America marks January 22 on the liturgical calendar as a "Day of Prayer and Penance for Legal Protection of the Unborn." This corresponds to the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that effectively struck down all laws against abortion in the USA. This removal of legal protection, or even the possibility of establishing laws, was an act of colossal social irresponsibility.

Let us be honest to the testimony of our consciences, and call these things by their proper names, not shirking from what we know is really going on.

Abortion is the direct killing of an innocent human being, the child in the womb of his or her mother. It is an act of violence against the mother, who is severed permanently (in this world) from the person of her child. Regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, the child is a person created by God and entrusted to another person, a woman who is given the precious, intimate, irreplaceable relationship of being mother to that child.

Very often a "crisis pregnancy" occurs in the context of a dysfunctional family situation or outside of any stable family connections. The immediate organic community of father, mother, and children is broken or never existed in the first place. Nevertheless, the conception of a new human being still engenders the primal and essential human relationship of "mother-and-child." A pregnant mother in a crisis is, simply, two people who need help. Depending on the circumstances, they may both continue to need help long after the child is born, and they will certainly need connection to human community and the experience of solidarity with others.

We must not push away, banish, or marginalize the mother and child. Instead, we should spare no effort in this society to create environments where this fundamental interpersonal relationship is supported and permitted to grow. This is a task that makes claims on the mother's wider family and friends, local communities, constructive institutions on various levels, and, if necessary, government assistance. This also includes incorporating (in ways permitted by circumstances and the personal safety of mother and child) the relational responsibilities of the child's father.

But this is not what we do.

Instead, we have retrenched more deeply into the malaise of our own social isolation, and -- in a stunning perversion of the language of personal freedom -- we absolve ourselves of responsibility, solidarity, and real compassion for the mother and her unborn child and replace it with the ideological assertion of "a woman's freedom to choose."

She has "the right to choose..." we say in this society. She is "free to choose..."? What? What are her choices? Here is a strange silence, an awkward pause, a lack of articulation among our people, who are otherwise so easily given to voluminous speech about everything. But the object of this allegedly "autonomous" (but in fact terribly lonely) choice is left dangling in our social discourse. It's an awful sign of our desire to evade the fact that we are presenting mothers with the option to have their children killed in the womb. They are "free to choose" this option; indeed it is facilitated and encouraged by our social environment. In fact, more and more, it seems that mothers facing difficulties are expected to make this choice.

And so the mothers go to the killing centers, whether burdened by great fear or psychological pressure, acting with varying degrees of reluctance and/or indifference, or deluded by a false sense of empowerment. Their choices here are irrevocable, and they have to live with them (forever...if it were not for the presence of a Greater Love, and the possibility of forgiveness).

Do we even care about these women, these mothers and their disappeared children?

Certainly. That's why some of us want legal protection for the unborn and for their mothers. Right?

In order for laws to endure in a stable manner, however, they need at least a chance of taking root in a society. What would have to change about the way we live in order for this to be possible?

I do not think that legal protection of the unborn (and the equity and compassion their mothers need) can be a lasting achievement for this society unless we all change our way of viewing our own lives and our relationships with persons, as well as our assessment of the relative purposes of material things, and our appreciation for the common good of our society.

The "normalization" of abortion has been a monstrous catastrophe. Let us remember, every abortion kills an innocent and defenseless human being made in the image of God. Presently, the "first world" is virtually unanimous in proclaiming that the freedom to choose abortion is a basic human right. Today we remember with great sorrow the role the USA has played in helping to spread this delusion.

We pray and do penance for all these things, and for our own complicity in this ugly culture of death. Legal abortion has been a catalyst in the proliferation and expansion of the death culture, but it also emerged from a long existing and broader malaise and continues as a brutal symptomatic expression of a violent society in which we all participate, dragging one another down in various ways, making war against one another in deeds, in speech, in the thoughts of our hearts. This is no way to foster a culture of life.

Reform always begins with myself. I need to change, to be converted, to see reality and respond more truly in the way I live my life. I am a selfish, sinful man. Lord, have mercy on me.