Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Is It Worth It "To Keep Living"?

The month of September is coming to an end. I know that various initiatives have been taken to raise awareness about suicide and its causes during what has been designated as World Suicide Prevention Month (particularly on the day of September 10).

Our friends at TWLOHA ("To Write Love On Her Arms," see my blog post here) have a designated theme each year, and this September the theme has focused on people deciding to stay alive, deciding not to give up.

Mental illness can be a relentless scourge that afflicts a person for reasons beyond their control. We recognize that it can reduce personal responsibility to the point where many suicides are not deliberate and fully free choices of self-murder. From a subjective point of view, death by suicide often is a consequence of the actions of desperate, compulsive, gravely depressed people. These people are afflicted by a complex and severe mental disability that hinders and distorts their perception of themselves and others, a disability with a significant neurobiological component that flares up and becomes crippling and degenerative because of negative experiences and the absence of medical treatment, adequate counseling, and/or basic human understanding and support.

Suicide prevention requires everyone to become more aware of the sufferings of people with depression and related illnesses. I have made an effort to share my own experiences with this (see, for example, my BOOK) and I think it is important to stress that the struggle to keep living is acute and ongoing in various ways and on different levels of severity for mentally ill people. For some people, staying alive is an invisible heroic achievement every day. Even those who are not facing such immediate and total danger, however, have peculiar hindrances that they struggle against as they try to move forward in life.

We all need to encourage and build up one another. Those who have been blessed with mental and emotional strength, however, have a special opportunity to share their gifts, to cultivate an active and affirmative support and service toward their afflicted brothers and sisters. Above all, we must all remember that the embrace of Jesus Christ brings an ultimate fulfillment to every aspect of our humanity, not by "solving" our human problems in some magic way, but by transforming us from within and making our gifts and our needs, our strengths and our weaknesses into paths toward communion. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the compassionate and the vulnerable alike experience the mercy that renews all things, and gives hope in the midst of the most incomprehensible circumstances.

As I ponder this interplay of vitality and fragility in the circumstances of life, I am reminded of the ways in which love proves itself both in the magnanimity of its human reach and in the (apparent) weakness of its mysterious self-emptying, through which it passes beyond the experience and understanding of this present age so as to win the victory that endures forever.

It brings to my mind a young woman with an enormous heart, who was drawn so powerfully by Jesus Christ that she seemed to want to embrace the whole world. She had a joy that poured itself out in music and in a tireless enterprise of connecting with people by all the means she could find.

Our beloved Christina Grimmie had a human strength and a gift for communication and encouragement. She also knew that she belonged to Jesus, and that all the value of her strength and talent came from Him. She was a very real person, with flaws, sensitivities, problems, and failures like anyone else -- very much an earthen vessel that nevertheless carried the treasure of Christ's love in a manner that communicated something of that love's heroic stature.

Christina knew that His love could sustain the human heart, and thereby foster healing and bring consolation and strength to those who struggled to keep living. In April of 2014 she made a very short, spontaneous video that took its point of departure from eating disorders and self-harm issues but opened up from there. Anyone could articulate these kinds of statements on a video, of course, but what she expresses here has a palpable authenticity because it comes from within the context of her whole life as a daily risk, an availability to the people she met, a passion for Christ and her music and the people to whom she gave the gift of her music.

In this meme I designed from the video, the first panel summarizes a slightly longer discourse, but the other two panels are her exact words that she felt were so urgent, so significant for affirming the value of all the people who were touched by her music, and indeed of every human person who might watch it. The video is still up on her YouTube channel along with everything else, but here is my graphic summary.

It is something that strikes me very much.

Christina never tried to sell her faith. When she did mention Jesus, it was to affirm a conviction that couldn't be expressed without an explicit reference to Him. Her own love, in its source and its urgency, its value and its significance as a gift to others, was inseparable from His love.

It requires a certain kind of audacity to tell people to love themselves and recognize the beauty in themselves 'because Jesus loves you... and I love you.' It requires a certain kind of audacity to express and give ourselves in a way that says to our family, to our neighbors, to everyone we meet, that it is worth it to keep living 'because I love you.'

This is the kind of love that is not afraid to open its arms to anyone, that is not afraid to open its arms because it always has confidence in the One whom it seeks to embrace. Such confidence engenders a real courage, a real audacity that is more powerful than all the harm that human beings can inflict upon others and themselves, more powerful than the violence that tries so terribly to negate it, but that cannot prevail in the end.

The world needs this kind of audacity. The world needs this kind of love.

22 year old Christina Grimmie in concert earlier this year. She would stay long after every show not only to sign autographs, but also to spend time, take pictures with, and listen to everyone who wanted to meet her. She gave lots of hugs and welcomed everyone. On June 10, 2016 she opened her arms wide for a stranger in the meet-and-greet line at the Plaza Live theater in Orlando, Florida. He pulled out two concealed guns and shot her once in the head and three times in the chest. He then killed himself. Murder and suicide, both shrouded in mystery. We'll never know the whole story of the killer, but Christina died doing what she did all her life: welcoming a person, risking herself, giving unconditionally, loving. It has been so awful, so shattering and devastating for her poor family, friends, and the large number of fans all over the world who interacted with her on YouTube and social media, that "Team Grimmie" about which she said, "we are one big family." So heartbreaking, and yet how can we deny that the world--desperately--needs more of this kind of love?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Cup of Java With JJ

Happy National Coffee Day!

You can celebrate with me over on my YouTube channel. Learn what JJ considers the perfect cup of coffee, and check out his special cream pitcher.

Drink up!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

God Never Stops Wanting Our Good

"There is no sin in which we may have fallen,
from which, with the grace of God,
we cannot rise up again.
There is never a person who can't be recovered;
no one is unrecoverable, because
God never stops wanting our good, even when we sin!"

~Pope Francis

Monday, September 26, 2016

It Is Heartbreaking to Bury Our Children

Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, his pitching dominance, his expressive face, and the wreckage of the boat.

Jose Fernandez, who came to the United States on a raft as a refugee from Cuba at age 15, who rose to become the ace of the Miami Marlins pitching staff and one of the most promising young baseball players of this generation, was killed along with two others in a boating accident on Sunday morning, September 25, 2016.

He was only 24 years old.

Lord, grant him and his friends eternal rest, and console loved ones, friends, Marlins fans, baseball lovers, everybody.

People have spoken of his ebullience and vitality on and off the field, his active presence in the community, his devotion to his mother and grandmother. He had grown up by the sea, and had risked his life three times to cross successfully the Florida Straits in order to take sanctuary in America. Not surprisingly, he was an avid deep sea fisherman who spent much time on the water.

But baseball was his greatest love, and he was an artist on the pitcher's mound. We just saw him on television last week pitch a masterpiece, shutting out our Washington Nationals, allowing only three base runners while striking out 12. We were tearing our hair out even as we were dazzled in admiration.

Who knew it would be his last game? I know that baseball seems utterly meaningless in the face of this terrible tragedy, but it was a human connection that brought us to know something of this young man.

I have reached the age where I look upon the younger generation with a father's concern (after all, this is my children's generation) and also a father's joy. We want young people to blossom, grow, flourish, do great things. We ourselves are full of memories which enable us to be mentors to the young and to rejoice in the continuation of the human adventure.

O God, it is heartbreaking to bury our children!

In these recent months we have seen the lives of young people with great talents and promising futures suddenly and ruthlessly broken off. Their particular abilities drew our attention to them, but these abilities were not the source of their value as persons.

Every young person is a fresh promise, a possibility for a unique unfolding of human life. And though we know that their future will be full of disappointments, we also know that it is a life worth living. And their freshness helps us to remember that in the present moment we too are young, we too are offered the possibility to be amazed once again, to awaken to something new, to love more deeply.

All the more shocking, then, to see the bright face of youth covered in a shroud. Vitality is turned to ashes by some seemingly capricious, random collusion of circumstances.

We weep for the fragility of life.

Life is made of wind, it seems. Everything is an evanescent mist. And yet this frail thing is the bearer of a boundless promise. We breathe each breath, take each step, risk everything because our hearts tell us that the promise of reality will be fulfilled.

I believe in the fulfillment of the promise. I believe in what you, O Lord, have done for us. But when a young man--only a few years older than my own son--is struck down in death, my faith passes through an abyss of sorrow. When a young woman--full of music and song, a role model for my daughters--disappears suddenly into silence, it's hard....

It's hard, Lord!

Faith must grow in these moments, because the shadows of the mystery of reality loom large. The frailty of everything we can see and hear and touch, and the smallness of everything we can do, become concrete in the experience of our own helplessness.

"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come,
Because man goes to his lasting home,
and mourners go about the streets.
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
and the life breath returns to God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities...all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 12:1,5,7,8).

All is vanity...all that we think we possess by our own power, all that we think we can make secure by our own cleverness or manipulation or avarice or violence. All is vanity...if we remain within our own limits.

And so we walk by faith, with hope that vanity does not have the final word. In that hope we entrust our departed young friends to the mercy of God.

Rest in peace Jose Fernandez (1992-2016). Rest in peace Christina Grimmie (1994-2016)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Loving One Another is Like Climbing Mountains in the Dark

We cause pain to people we love.

We all do this to one another. We hurt one another. Even when we are trying our best to avoid doing this, it still happens.

This is not to say that we shouldn't try our best.

We must keep trying, always striving to move forward. With God's grace we will grow. The harder we try, the less pain we cause to those we love, and the more we forgive, the more we are healed of the wounds that we have received.

We must try our best. We must struggle with this. God is calling us here. Jesus says, "Love one another."

Still, we must not be discouraged by the fact that we fail so much. We must get up and keep loving, and offer our weakness to God's mercy, trusting in His healing power that works in often hidden ways, but always with perfect wisdom, understanding, and compassion for who we are and for those we love.

God doesn't answer all our questions. He doesn't explain the deep paths of His mercy that is always at work in our lives. He asks us to trust Him.

He allows us to endure the profound pain of not being able to understand one another in so many ways. Our effort to love one another in this present life remains (in some ways) like climbing a mountain in the dark. We keep bumping into the rocks. We keep bumping into each other. In the darkest moments of this journey, however, God remains with us. He enables us to get up again and again, and to help one another, to forgive one another, and to keep going forward.

God is at work in the darkest places. Each of us must believe that Jesus died for me. "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me" (see Galatians 2:20). God is closest to us in our suffering, and He enables us to go forward and grow in love. As Pope Francis keeps saying, He never abandons us.

He stays with us and endures that "space of darkness" that we so often experience in our relationships with one another, that "space" full of pain and failure and vulnerability and resentment and guilt. That space of darkness that remains even with all of our efforts to love each other. That space of loneliness that we cannot fill up in ourselves and that we will never totally fill or satisfy in those we love.

We have been made for Him, and we need Him -- each of us individually, and in our relationships with one another. We need Him, and He has come to be with us, and His love is always greater.

Jesus on the Cross. For you. For me. For us together. For the world.

He is with us, with such tenderness, with total understanding and compassion, and He wants us to depend on Him.

We don't have to "understand" this. We don't have to feel this. We must trust in Him.

He hears our cry in the darkness. And when we fall and are in pain, we must believe that He is with us even though we can't see Him, and we must cry out to Him to lift us up.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When The Door Opens To Violence

"When human beings, the summit of creation,
stop contemplating beauty and goodness
and withdraw into our own selfishness,
when we think only of ourselves
and our own interests
and place ourselves in the center,
when we permit ourselves to be captivated
by the idols of domination and power,
when we put ourselves in God's place,
then all relationships are broken
and everything is ruined;
then the door opens
to violence, indifference, and conflict."

~Pope Francis

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Festival of Music and Joy

It has been more than two weeks since the Appaloosa Festival filled the Shenandoah Valley with music on Labor Day weekend. Though I haven't had a chance to write about it here, I have commented and posted lots of my own photographs on social media platforms. The joy and exuberance of the whole thing still resonates within me.

The Appaloosa Festival was a celebration of life.

It was a blast! Music all day on five different stages, lots of food, good beer, perfect weather, and plenty of friends we don't see often enough.

How could it not be fun?

But that doesn't get to the heart of it. The music is hard to describe. This was supposed to be a "Roots/Americana/Bluegrass/Folk" festival, and it certainly was all of those things. At the same time, the quality and variety of performers were striking, and a lot of what we heard was really a fusion of diverse genres, or a playful dance through and beyond all the genres.

But how can I put it more simply? Perhaps it's enough to say that the host of this festival is the "World-Music/Celtic/Americana/Bring-the-House-Down" band Scythian. For those who have seen and heard Scythian in concert, no further explanation is needed. Obviously not every band had the same musical style or explosive energy as Scythian, but what prevailed everywhere was the group's enthusiasm for music, infectious joy, and gigantic hospitality.

It was also loud.

The legendary Scythian

There were fiddles and banjos, upright basses, kilts, Irish and folk dancing, accordions, harps, and many other things. There were also electric guitars and basses, keyboards and drums, and amps that made sure everything could project a large sound.

It's not surprising that there was lots of fusion between traditional music and the whole range of contemporary electronic and rhythmic ensemble styles.

To put it more simply, the Appaloosa Festival rocked!

The Black Lilies

But there was also lots of space in the ample fields and camping areas of Skyline Ranch Resort. Plenty of room to get close up to the stages and feel the music, and also to step further back to the food tents, local area vendors, activities for kids, or perfectly audible and relaxed conversations with friends old or newly met.

This was no overcrowded, ponderous, self-important celebrity project. It was a festival in the deep human sense of the term.

We came away having seen a great deal of virtuoso musical performances by people who used their talent to share something beautiful and joyful with us. We came away with a sense of gratitude.

And we'll be back next year for sure!

Irish music and dance with the Gothard Sisters

Carbon Leaf and Marie Miller


Fiddler front man Alex and Larissa on bass

People enjoy the afternoon, get food and beer, have conversation

Surrounded by vistas

Sunday, September 18, 2016

We Need Compassion

We all suffer. It seems to be part of the human condition, a distressingly common and pervasive factor of human existence.

But suffering is also personal. It is always a "someone" who suffers, especially when we consider the deepest part of suffering which is the "WHY?" that comes forth from it. Each person experiences that "why?" for themselves, as related uniquely to themselves.

Nevertheless we can accompany another person in their suffering, we can "share" the journey of suffering in different ways and on different levels. We can choose to "suffer-with" another person by embracing our own afflictions "with them" in solidarity. Going even further, we can freely choose to consider their experience as if it were our own, and to let ourselves be afflicted with them. That is what we call "compassion."

Real compassion is not sentimental or condescending. It is companionship, co-suffering, a sharing of vulnerability that our common humanity makes possible and that our freedom actualizes through a genuine and profound gift of self.

It's hard to explain compassion in theoretical terms. But life and its pains and frustrations teach us that compassion is real and that we need it. We wouldn't be so disappointed by false or inadequate "compassion" if it weren't for the fact that we need the real thing. But real compassion is often misunderstood, unappreciated, or even resisted: it's only later on (sometimes much later on) that we realize how much certain persons have "been there" with us, how much they have endured, how we have been sustained and carried by them.

In fact, we've carried one another. The person who shows compassion also receives compassion, and the one who suffers is also a "gift" even when he or she is helpless. Compassion generates relationship and community. This is a mystery.

Indeed, it is a great mystery to be created persons, made for love and called to be transformed by a love that is both the deepest source of our own being and a transcendence beyond the whole created universe.

These are mysteries that make me feel very small, and yet under the burden of suffering--my own or someone else's for whom I have compassion--I cannot help looking to God and showing Him my pain, hoping, longing, for healing.

And I believe that God has entered into the very center and heart of the whole business of suffering and compassion. Not only because He IS Love and Compassion, but because God has accomplished this, in history, as a man.


I believe in His great compassion that leads us through death to eternal life, though I can't say that I have anything like an understanding of how it actually "works" for me and those who have been entrusted to my own poor compassion. I have only begun to have a sense of confidence about the deep strength of it all (and it always seems to be "at the beginning").

But I have enough to know that it's worth it to hang on to Jesus, come what may.

Friday, September 16, 2016

God in Every Human Life

Even if the life of a person has been a disaster,
even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs,
or anything else—God is in this person’s life.
You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.
Although the life of a person
is a land full of thorns and weeds,
there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.
You have to trust God.

~Pope Francis

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Holy Cross


Jesus is exalted "in a total gift of himself on the Cross, and on the Cross itself—the supreme act of love—he is glorified because love is the true glory, the divine glory" (Benedict XVI).

"Through your holy cross you have redeemed the world."

Mosaic of Christ with Adam and Eve by Marko Rupnik.
"He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. And [being] found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8).

Georges Rouault, Crucifixion, 1918
"There is no cross, big or small, in our life which the Lord does not share with us" (Pope Francis).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

We Have to Say "Yes"

We trust God because we know He loves us.

Everything is His gift, and expresses His personal love for each of us and for the relationships between us. He is Love. He can only love. In the Cross He reveals that He is Love and He gives Himself as love, and He shows us that He is totally united to us in our difficulties. Totally united with us. So we don't have to be afraid of anything. It's hard not to be afraid, but of course, He is with us even in our fear. He has given Himself and gives Himself as present in our lives now through Jesus and His Church.

In the end, we will be amazed when we realize what He has done for each of us. The marvelous truth will be clear: God is the Great Lover, He pours Himself out for each person, as only God can -- all the hidden ways will one day be manifest. He gives because He is the Giver, He is Gift.

Of course, a gift needs to be received, and love is only received in a fully personal way by the return of love. We have to say "yes" to God, through our life.

We are called to say yes to God, to say yes to the next step as God's light makes it clear to us, to say yes and to pray with trust that He will make it possible.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Swallowed Up By Life

"For we know that if our earthly dwelling,
a tent, should be destroyed,
we have a building from God,
a dwelling not made with hands,
eternal in heaven...
For while we are in this tent
we groan and are weighed down,
because we do not wish to be unclothed
but to be further clothed,
so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."

~2 Corinthians 5:1, 4

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Words Cannot Express...." Speaking From the Heart to Those Who Mourn

The text below is written in the form of an address to "my friend" -- a person who has lost a loved one to an act of violence.

These words could apply to many people who continue to suffer and question their faith in the wake of brutal actions that have taken place all over the world this past summer, or in recent years. They could also apply to people whose grief is not connected to anything we have read in the news. And, though I bring up the element of human violence, there is much here that could pertain to any person who grieves the loss of a loved one.

Perhaps someone can find a helpful thought or phrase in all of this muddle of my words. It's a muddle, indeed, but as I have said before, this blog is my verbal "workshop" where a lot of things come out of experience and reflection and begin to get hammered into written words, expressions, sentences, paragraphs, communication. It's a work in progress.

I must emphasize that this is not the transcript of an actual note written to a particular person (not even I would be so pedantic as this in a real note!). It is true, therefore, that to a great extent this "speaking to my friend" is a kind of literary device. What is written here cannot be taken as applying to only one person; in many ways the praying, pondering, and writing about our violent world has drawn my awareness into solidarity with many people in distant places. But there are some elements, some raw points that may still come through in this text, because it has as its origin real personal circumstances and communications, real pain, real friendship.

I indicate this to emphasize that--"abstract" style notwithstanding--this is a suffering that I am speaking to from the heart. But I have removed specifics here, and I have also "mashed in" my own thoughts, my own efforts to understand, and my own grieving over the grieving of others--my own poor efforts of empathy. I have expanded the horizon of the original context and taken the suffering of others to heart as well.

I thought it might be useful to share some of this on the blog, though I don't know quite how--I certainly don't propose to plop this in front of someone as an answer to their grieving. It's all too analytical. It is, as usual for me, TOO MANY WORDS. Sometimes I think all my words should just be reduced to "Lord, save me!" or "Lord, save us!" The rest is vanity. But words... ah, that's what I have been given in life, so I labor with them. Here are the words, then, for you all to read. I can only leave it to God to measure them, to use them in His way, for whatever benefit He may wish to communicate through His mercy. I have done my best. 
My friend, you have been struggling a lot with grief this past summer. I know about the psychological stages of grief, and I want to stay with you in faith and love, and with all the humanity and friendship I can muster.
But this is a hard grief, a particularly black grief, the grief that follows in the wake of violence.
How can I ever really understand what depths of misery and solitude you have experienced? You are suffering the consequences of a profoundly personal assault that has robbed you of someone you love, that has upended the entire structure of life as you have known it. I want to stand with you, but there are depths of your affliction that are beyond the reach of my poor love.
You feel as if you are having a crisis of faith. Violence seems to have shattered your sense of the goodness of God. A particular human face that matters so much to you has suddenly been ripped out of your universe by a malicious act. How can this be?
It feels like evil has somehow prevailed. There is the terrible and real temptation to reject faith, to doubt by choosing to turn away from the truth, by choosing to withdraw from a vital relationship with God.
Though I will never comprehend the abyss of your personal pain, my friend, I beg you not to make this choice. God alone understands. God is your only hope.
Hold onto your faith, even if it hangs by the barest thread. Right now you are experiencing a psychological turmoil that feels very much like "doubt." Suddenly it seems like everything you thought you knew about God's goodness and His particular providence for your life has been overthrown. Perhaps you try to say that "God is good" and that "He loves you" but these words seem to recede to the furthest edges of meaning. You have no strength. The pulse of life itself is so thin, and it quickens only as a nervous response to the shattering noise that still shakes your awareness to the core.
You are plunged into a particular kind of darkness, a state of spiritual shock.
But you still have faith. You have not abandoned God, and He is in fact so mysteriously close to you, but you may fear that all the turmoil and confusion in your mind indicates a loss of faith. You may think, "I can't pray to God anymore. I've lost all the words. I don't know what to say, and I feel like all my prayers in the past were just talking to myself."
Indeed, when we pray we are often "talking to ourselves" (to our own images of God) more than to God, insofar as the strength of our prayer relies on our own resources. But grace is at work nevertheless. God listens to us when we pray, even though we are much more self-absorbed than we think.
But your whole sense of yourself has been blown to pieces. So much of yourself was invested in relationship with this person (and it was a good investment; it was love). You believe that the relationship still exists, but it seems like all the reference points of connection to this precious person have been annihilated. So much of your love for God was bound up with the face of this person, who was a daily reminder to you of the need to love and to be loved. This unique image, this precious gift, was swept away from your sight by wickedness.
You may wonder if it is still possible to pray. What if you feel like you have nothing to say? Everything has been stripped away from you, and you don't understand why. All you have is "nothing."
But you can pray, my brother.
Honestly, I'm "reading the map" here. I don't know the territory you are travelling through. But here is this map we've been given. I am describing something I don't understand, but I am going to take a chance and do it anyway. Why? Because I love you. I don't really know the weight of those words or where they will lead me, but I'll say them again: "I love you." And I trust the map.
So here I am, looking at Romans 8:18-27: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness." What I want to say to you is this: Pray! Take that emptiness of yourself and "pray it," lift it up, give it over to Him. Or just ache in His presence. Cry the hurt. Beg the hurt. Or just hurt. Don't be afraid to hurt. Don't think that pain distances you from Him. Let Him draw close to the pain in His incomprehensible way.
Ah, His "incomprehensible" ways. I'm tossing a word around that I have hardly thought about, and you are immersed in the very reality of it. I'm scared, and I want to distance myself, so I start "doing theology." I'm scared. When I try to pray for you, I don't have the words either. Oh God. Help. Save us!
But, wait. The map points to the Holy Spirit. Pray, brother. Just hurt in front of Him. God will hear the prayer in your pain. He hears within it the "sighs too deep for words" of the Spirit, who helps us because we don't know how to pray as we ought.
After all, we are all dying. In reality you understand this right now a lot more clearly than I do.
What is the Lord doing? He is drawing our relationship with Him more and more into that "hope" for things we do not yet see, the inward groaning which is not doubt (not a willful, sinful rejection of the truth) even when we experience it as a psychological and emotional earthquake. Rather, it is God working in us. He is deepening our hope and it feels like it's breaking us apart, but in reality what is being born within us is the longing for the fulfillment of God's plan.
When we talk about "being broken," however, it is not a cheap symbol. You have really been broken, my friend.
Indeed the break is so real that it opens you. You have begun to long for the "things that are not seen" -- because you can no longer see the person you love and yet you know that she is real, you know that--beyond all the violence of this world--she endures. She has gone before you into the Mystery which we know by promise and by hope, but not by sight.
You miss her, achingly, inconsolably. And she was always a gift from His love and still lives on in His love. But in this world, she was--in a very special, specific, unique way--the presence of His love in your life. And evil has taken her away. It is as though God Himself has in some sense gone away, not forever but for an unbearably long long time. And God has permitted wicked people to take Him away from you.... Why?
Of course. This is Christianity. You know about the Cross. And the Resurrection. This is the Cross. This is salvation. Your salvation. And mine.
But still, right now, you miss that person. You miss her love. You miss the way He loved you through her, the way He was present in your life through her. You miss her precisely in the way she was a unique, irreplaceable gesture of His love. You really miss her, and in the awful strangeness of that experience it can be said that in a sense you miss Him.
You miss God.
So your pain is in this longing for her, which is becoming for you a deeper kind of longing for God, a longing that fills your existence and your soul, and also your eyes and your ears and your hands and your heart and your bones and your blood. It is a deeper kind of love. A love deeper than death, and more tenacious than all the evil that tries to destroy it.
Why does it have to be this way? I don't know. I am not God and I do not understand His ways. I know that love is a terrible mystery and an overwhelming beauty and that it's the only thing I really want!
That is something we have in common, my dear violated brother. We know that it ends in the incarnate realization of ineffable wisdom and goodness, and through the Spirit that realization has already begun in us.
So, let us throw ourselves into the arms of this wild loving God who wants to teach us to love the way He loves. Jesus doesn't explain it to us. Instead He comes to accomplish it for us, and then He enables us to do it in Him.
I don't know what this means really, and I'm afraid of what it means. Help me, my friend.
We need to stay together. We both need to trust Jesus, and in the darkest places in life we will have this hope, and the help of the Spirit who enables us to endure, to "wait with patience."
Forgive me, my friend. I have said too much. Forgive me. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

She Will Always Be "Mother Teresa"

Here is the official icon of Saint "Mother Teresa" displayed at St. Peter's Basilica for her canonization.

For all of us who met her, whose lives were changed by her, she will always be "Mother Teresa."

I am grateful to her. And I am grateful to God for her.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

There Are No "Coincidences" in Real Life

God is present in this moment.

Whatever the circumstances may be, he is using them as elements of a Person-to-person dialogue with us.

He seeks out each one of us; He has personalized the whole, vast, apparently random and chance-filled universe.

He takes all the multitudes of forces that come together and make up the situation of reality at any given moment, and fashions them--from all eternity--into a love song that He wants to sing to each of us personally.

He calls out to us, and awakens in our hearts the desire to seek Him.

It is not just in a distant, far-off way that we seek God in the midst of an apparently meaningless life. God has chosen to share our lives in a mysterious closeness. He comes to us in every circumstance so as to call us to recognize His presence, to draw us to Himself--even through suffering and weakness--and to evoke from us the response of confidence and love.

There are no "coincidences" in real life. In the ultimate truth of things, which has to do with their place in God's plan, no event is insignificant; no situation we find ourselves in can be called "meaningless," because in Jesus Christ, God has chosen to dwell in this world, and to shape everything into the possibility to discover Him through love, through joy, through suffering freely embraced, through sharing His mercy.

God is present in this moment, in my moment. He has entered into the very flesh and blood, the very humanity of the ordinary moments of my every day, by becoming my companion in Jesus Christ, my friend, my brother.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Meeting Jesus Through a Real Friendship

In_this reflection from Magnificat's companion of meditations for the Year of Mercy, I look back at an experience that I hardly understood when it first happened so many years ago. Yet I now realize how fundamental and decisive it was for the whole shape of my Christian vocation. This was the beginning--in my adult life--of an encounter with the Person of Jesus living in His Church, and of the journey together with Him and my brothers and sisters in a concrete human friendship.

After that visit in October of 1979, my life did not change immediately or obviously. This encounter became fruitful in my life very slowly, as I continued to follow Him even with all my weaknesses and, sometimes, betrayals. It is a friendship that has branched out and has been guided and educated in different ways, but the same fundamental fact has remained true through the years: I belong to Jesus by belonging to "a people," by being entrusted to real human beings. We walk together with Him through life, and thus we learn to be open to new possibilities and new faces, to the whole world of people who are loved by God.

This friendship has woven its way into all the places of my experience, and yet I am far from understanding it. It doesn't fit "the mould" (if there is such a thing). It doesn't appear coherent, nor am I coherent within it. But I know that we all really do belong together in Christ's body. There is a unity that does not come from me, and I only know that I must adhere to the whole mystery of it and beg the Lord for the grace to take the next step on this journey with Him and with my brothers and sisters.