Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mistakes

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

~Pope Francis


Thursday, September 28, 2017

I'm Staying Alive, I'm Staying Here

Smile for the camera. ๐Ÿ˜Š
I'm staying alive. I'm staying here...

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

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

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

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

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

I often feel overwhelmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a sinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suicide is never the answer.

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

Please, stay here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are a gift from God to the whole universe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Something Greater Than All Our Misery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Shared Responsibility for the Human Family

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

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

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

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

John Paul II
     (Pastoral visit to India, 1999)

Friday, September 15, 2017

The NEW "New Media"

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

"...that was back in the days of FACEBOOK"! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Just let that sink in for a moment. Now if you're well over fifty years old you've probably lost track of this whole business, unless you're an IT professional or a nerd who studies the philosophical dimensions of communications media.

If you're the "Facebook Generation," however, you're grappling with the trauma of being awfully close to (if not already past) the age of thirty. SCORCH! ๐Ÿ”ฅ It's hard enough worrying about being "old" (which, let me assure you, you are not). Now they're saying "back in the day" about Facebook? So Facebook is now "Old Media"? Crazy, huh. 

Ah, get used to it kids!๐Ÿ˜œ 

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Towers of My Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Foundation of Joy

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

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


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

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

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

Francis: "This is the foundation of joy."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

People Disappoint Us, But We Should Love Them Anyway

Goofy cartoonish picture of the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Happy Saint "Mother Teresa" Day!

Happy Saint "Mother Teresa" Day! 

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