Monday, April 30, 2018

Saint Catherine of Siena and My Roman Days

As the end of this month was approaching, I had a vague feeling that something was missing. It was like... "Something happens around this time, something special, what the heck is it?"

Then along comes April 29th.

SUNDAY, April 29, 2018.

Oh geepers, this is usually one of my favorite days.

Ah, but Sunday takes precedence over most of the saints' days in the current Roman Rite. That's why it's missing from my calendar.

Why it was missing from my brain I cannot say. How could I forget Kate? ...Kate my homie, from Romie!

April 29th is usually the day we honor the great Saint Catherine of Siena. Definitely one of the Captains of God's Girl Squad. Her remains are under the high altar of the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. (Well, most of her remains are there, but that's a long story.)

She is a great "presence" in Rome. Indeed, I believe she helped me a lot.

A quarter of a century ago, I lived in Rome. And when I say "lived in Rome" I mean literally in Rome, in a small palazzo on the Via Liberiana across the street from Santa Maria Maggiore. The bells of the great 1500 year old Basilica rang every quarter hour from early morning to around 21:00 in the evening (my fellow Americans, that means 9 PM). I can still hear them in my head.

I was working on a research project and living with some Italian friends in an 18th century building that would have been a museum if it were in the U.S.A., whereas in Rome it was just a building. I had lots of time flexibility, and I used it to explore the ancient neighborhoods.

Rome is a great city to walk in. And after a while you get used to things in a way you never would have thought possible: "Oh yeah, Trajan's column that's cool,...another Borromini church,...hey there Pantheon, ...hmm Colosseum, Colosseum, lots of cats and pickpockets over there..." But you don't get bored.

Rome is a great place to visit, and to live (if you're willing to put up with certain things). It's a great place to study. It's a great place to goof around. It's a great place to eat! It's even a great place to have an epic psychological meltdown (insofar as any place can be).

On all these things I speak from personal experience.😜

I lived in Rome for a very significant year of my life. I was there long enough to have "all the feels" (which in my case was/is way too many "feels" but, hey, I've learned to manage things since then). I knew very little about mental illness back then, or about my own depression and OCD and all the neurological knots in my brain. It was all just raw.

But Catherine was there. Obviously, I had a lot of other kinds of help, and continued to get help. But I will always be grateful to her for what she taught me about how God's love is beyond all calculation.

I think I'm not unlike some of the people she wrote to in her amazing letters. She would have written something like these words to me:

"Rise up, open your eyes,
and take as your model the boundless goodness
and the love God has shown to His creatures...

"Be engulfed and set on fire in Him,
constantly gazing into the gentle eye of His charity,
for then you will love perfectly what he loves...
Imitate that dear [Saint] Paul, who was so in love,
and be a vessel of affection that bears and proclaims
the name of Jesus.
It seems to me that Paul gazed into this eye
and lost himself in it.

"And he was granted such a great soul
that he was willing and even desired 
to be separated from God, an outcast, 
for the sake of his brothers and sisters.
Paul was in love with whatever God was in love with.

"He saw that charity is never scandalized, is never confounded."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Morning Offering (Slightly "Modified"πŸ˜‰)

Praying, sleeping, or posing... Hey, I needed a picture, ok?
God's ways are mysterious and vast, beyond our understanding. He is an awesome God, even in (especially in) His love.

And He is transforming us by drawing us into a participation in that love.

Who knows the deep connections of love that wind through the Mystical Body of Christ and reach out to all humanity?

When we say to God each day, “I offer you everything…” He gives over the energy of our small love in union with the Cross of Christ so that its power might sustain others.

When we give ourselves to God, He does with us what He wants.

I know that I must grow in the trust that really enables me to let go and give over everything to God.

When I offer my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to God, it is usually accompanied by an unspoken list of preferences:

“O Lord, take my sufferings
and use them according to your will,
but (if it is your will, of course)
please don’t make them any worse;
in fact, take away these sorrows and pains,
enable me to use my talents,
make me (just a little bit) successful,
and—why not?—give me a few goodies,
like maybe some more money
(if it is your will, of course).”

We could call this "John Janaro's Modified Morning Offering."😜

But seriously, I am not embarrassed to admit that this is what is in my heart when I pray. I am weak. (I don't think I'm the only person who prays like this either.)

But I am beginning to learn what it is to trust in God. God knows I am weak. He knows I am a child. He is my Father. He is not just fooling around with my life.

He knows what I need to be sustained, and the ways in which—here and now, today—I need to give.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Finally, a Fine Flowering of Spring

The tulips are blooming. So the world goes on. The flowers of the field are clothed in a brief burst of glory.
                                                                                           



Spring in Virginia is heralded by the flowering of the "state tree," the dogwood. It took a little longer than usual this year, but it was worth the wait.
                                                                                               



And we always have these blush cherry blossoms on the parish grounds. I look forward to seeing these every year during the Easter season.


Friday, April 27, 2018

How Much Do We Really Love God?

How much do we really love God?

That sounds like a large and mystical question. Trying to answer it by scrutinizing our "religious feelings" could easily lead us to confusion or self-deception, or just make us go round and round in circles.

I find it helpful to ask another question: How do I act in relation to the people who are closest to me in my life every day?

There is plenty of material right here for an examination of conscience: one that brings humility, and sorrow, and a memory that commits me again to the vocation of love and the work that it requires.

If I were alone in my own being, however, this would be a fruitless commitment. I would despair of ever being able to find the bridge between my limited self and the lives of other limited persons. My solitude would be an impenetrable shell.

But I am not alone.

The God who gives me my very being is "present-with-me" as the Source of who I am—the God who, as Saint Augustine says, is "nearer to me than I am to myself." And Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified and risen from the dead, has taken hold of my life, and He is at work drawing me beyond myself by the power of His Spirit.

I fail again and again; I fall short in the limits of my love, and I am easily tempted to fall back into a sense of desperate isolation.

But I am not alone. Jesus is here.

The Risen Jesus has conquered my weakness. I must never be discouraged. I must keep going to Him, seeking Him, and asking for Him in prayer.

I must let Him build me up through the instruments of His grace in the Church, and enable me to recognize Him more and more in other persons, in every circumstance, especially in the ordinary circumstances of every day and in the apparently "ordinary people" that He has especially entrusted to me.

We will learn to love God according to His measure, by following the path He opens up in front of us. And we can trust Jesus who accompanies us, and the Holy Spirit who leads us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Four Guys in Suits and Ties, Making Amazing Music!

A screenshot collage. Been spending some "quality time" listening to (and watching old videos of) the DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET. They are one of the best bands...in history!! πŸŽ΅πŸŽ·πŸŽΉπŸŽΆπŸ’₯

Four guys in suits and ties. Zero electronic gadgets. Don't worry. You'll hear more about them from me, soon!







Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Time For War: The Spring of '18

Even when humans are busy making a mess of the world, the flowers still bloom in Springtime.

Well, who knows what the future holds? But in any case, they bloomed in the Spring of the year 1918.

A hundred years ago, it almost looked like someone might win the impossible, insane European war. In some sense, it was already "half-won," thanks to the surprising turn of events the previous year. But it remained necessary to deliver the decisive blow, and it needed to be done quickly.

One year earlier, Germany had been hopelessly deadlocked on two fronts. Then, like strange magic, the Russian front evaporated. That bizarre little man, Lenin, whom they had transported through their country with the wild hope that he might cause some trouble, had succeeded beyond all imagination (or nightmare).

Russia was in chaos, and there remained three years of brutal civil war before Lenin and his clique would consolidate power. But in early 1918, while the world was still not sure whether to take the Bolsheviks seriously, Lenin was busy negotiating a peace treaty with the Germans.

It wasn't easy. Lenin had to convince members of his own party that it was worth it to formalize a complete capitulation to the Kaiser's forces. But at this point in time (so it seems), Vlad-the-Bad was (still?) enough of an "orthodox Marxist" to believe that the inevitable forces of history were about to push through the proletarian revolution in the industrial world, beginning very, very soon in Germany.

That didn't actually happen, as it turned out. So much for the inevitable-forces-of-history-blablabla, but by the time that was clear, Lenin was in his over-celebrated tomb and Stalin was working hard to make the ideology more "practical" (as an instrument of raw power, despotism, and mass murder).

But we're getting too far ahead. It's 1918 and Lenin is bold enough to play head of state. So, why not sign a treaty? Who cares? Treaty schmeety, no worries. Give them what they want on paper. The tide of the revolution will sweep everything away.

Well, the Germans wanted a lot. And in the Treaty of Brest-Livosk on March 3, 1918, they got it. But let's just look at a map from March 1918 (versions of this map are basically all over the Internet). Oh my!😟


Now, permit me to oversimplify to convey the gist of what we are seeing here (and also to indulge in a little more snark—which you guys know I don't do very often).

By 1918 the Ottoman Empire was not much to talk about. And ever since the accession of the Emperor Karl in the Fall of '16, the Austro-Hungarian multinational Empire had been a particularly unreliable ally for the "simpler" ambitions of the German Reich. Young Karl probably struck the Germans as a bit of a romantic with too many "medieval and Catholic notions" of government: silly things like justice, peace, and what was actually good for the various peoples he governed, not to mention the rest of Europe.

Sadly, no one paid any attention to Karl von Habsburg.

In this light, it would be an understatement to say that Germany felt very much in charge of matters in the East. Though they did not simply absorb the Baltics, Poland, and Ukraine, they were in place to dominate the entire region.

It appeared to be a smashing victory. It looked to some like a sketch of the future, of a "Greater Germany" with plenty of "living space" for Germans and with the pesky Slavs under foot.

But they had to win in the West and they had to win fast. Because the allied naval blockade and overall war weariness were on the verge of bringing down the economy at home. And the Americans were finally mobilized and due to arrive in Europe. The German high command knew they needed a daring plan to break through the Western Front in the Spring of 1918.

By now everyone knew that the old rules of war were out the window. The horrible new game of modern warfare called for new ways of fighting. The Germans decided to launch a major offensive led by small, light, fast-traveling units making quick hits on vulnerable points of their enemy's lines. Soldiers returning from the Eastern Front were retrained for these special units. They were trained to be smart, focused, and fast—to combine the most portable technological weaponry with intelligence and speed.

These units were supposed to strike like lightning. They were called Sturmabteilung. 1918 marked the appearance on center stage of the German "Stormtroopers."

And the strategy appeared to work. Indeed, led by the storm troop units, German forces broke through the lines in unprecedented ways, and for a few weeks of that Spring they dreamed of rolling back the Western Front. From April to July they had various successful advances; at one point they even approached Paris once again (the closest they had come since September 1914).

But the Germans were vastly overextended and the gains turned out to be more apparent than real. They were trying to occupy their new acquisitions in the East while also conquering in the West. Meanwhile the Americans joined the British and the French with vast numbers of fresh troops. The German economy began to tank. And the "Spanish Flu" hit everybody.

By November the Reich was exhausted. Their pride and their ambitions were bigger than their reach. After so much ugliness in Europe since 1914, it was the greater hubris that led to the greater fall.

The map of the Spring of 1918 above was more of a dream than a reality. Almost everyone was awake by November. But some continued to dream. They dreamed angry dreams of vengeance and wild dreams of conquest.

One enlisted man was determined to restore the victory of the Treaty of Brest-Livosk and more. For Corporal Adolf Hitler, the dream was just beginning, and it was destined to become the world's next nightmare.

Whoa! Where is My Hair?

Wait... what??!! WHY??!!!
πŸ˜‰
No, I'm not entering a monastery (obviously). I'm not trying to look like Kojak (though March 18 was the 40th anniversary of the last episode). Not like Yul Brynner either. Nor like... whatever bald guy is popular with all you young people today.

So WHAT HAPPENED?

Take it easy... I simply decided to give myself a haircut. No big deal.
.
It turned out a bit shorter than I planned, so I "evened it out" with a blade razor.

AND PEOPLE THINK I'M NOT PRACTICAL??😜 Heh... [it'll grow back, it'll grow back!☺]

Friday, April 20, 2018

Giving Our Weakness to Him

Lately I sound like I have been beating up on myself a bit. Maybe I have. (That's not good.) But by writing, I'm trying to work through it and get to the root of things.

This is a mood going around in me, for diverse reasons including the recent sufferings and health-and-living-situation needs of my beloved parents, and of course my own physical and mental health problems, which are always ready to hijack any stressful situation.

I am aware of all of this, and I am coping as best as I can. I am not discouraged.

The bottom line, of course, remains the same: I am a sinner.

I can't deny it. But I also must never be satisfied with it. There is no time for complacency or presumption. God is moving my life and changing me, and He wants me to cooperate with Him.

Easter means that Jesus has come into the midst of all my mess. Jesus is here with me, and I want to follow Him.

I'm on His mysterious journey, and it has plenty of dark valleys and sorrows on many levels. It's about healing me and raising me up to a supernatural life, making me a new creation, an adopted son of the Father.

I feel so small and superfluous, like an aimless floating piece of dust in this vast material universe. Yet at the same time I aspire to a beauty and greatness beyond the whole universe.

And in fact, I am drawn by the Mystery who creates all things, and I am called in all my smallness and empowered to take up this unimaginable journey of transformation so that I might live forever in the glory of the God who has revealed Himself as Love.

The journey, with all its depths, is also about sharing in the mysterious solidarity of the whole human race. We are all called to journey together as brothers and sisters, helping to carry one another's burdens, and allowing ourselves to be plunged into the great love of the heart of Jesus, which is always going out to the margins....

Sentimentalism won't get us very far. This is a difficult journey on a narrow road with gigantic obstacles and constant struggles. Again and again, I discover that I am weak and broken.

But God wants to carry us through all of that. He wants our crying out in pain–spiritual, emotional, or physical–to be a cry that begs for Him.

Where else can we bring these pains?

Jesus has already borne all of it, my weakness, my brokenness, all of it right down to the core of me… He has endured it all and wants me to open up that vulnerability so He can transform me. That doesn’t mean he’ll make me “feel better” (at least, not in the way I think He should), but He will deepen my trust in Him, and it is through trust that I am changed.

It is through trust that I begin to taste joy.

A priest once suggested to me a kind of "spiritual/mental exercise" that makes sense both on the level of faith and on the psychological level.

He told me to imagine I had a basket. I should take the anger, the fear, whatever, and (in my mind) put it in the basket, and then (again in my imagination) put the basket on the altar before the Blessed Sacrament and say “Jesus I give this to you.”

If I find more stuff still there inside me, I put it in the basket again. Bring it to the altar again. Give it to Jesus.

And again.

And again.

And again. Give it to Jesus.

"But I can't do this..." Grab that feeling right there, and put it in the basket. Bring it to the altar. Give it to Jesus.

"I feel so helpless..." Basket.

"My head hurts, I can't think, I'm exhausted..." Basket.

"But I don't want to change. I love myself. I want to keep my life. I don't want to give myself away!..." BASKET!

Okay, that’s a “technique” — it might be helpful, or it might not. If all we can do is groan in pain, let’s groan to the Father and let the Spirit groan in us. I am convinced that He works deeply this way. Just “give” it to Him.

God is not surprised by our pain. He has made it His own.

Somehow, we have to open up to Him and let Him "have it." He takes it to Himself, and transforms it even as He allows us to continue to "share it with Him."

This sounds mysterious because it is mysterious. But it touches faith and flows into hope and love. Whatever we may "feel" in the present moment, there is a deep level of encouragement that sustains us (somehow) and enables us to grow in the Spirit.

Feelings of discouragement? Put them in the basket. Jesus, have mercy on me. I trust in You!

On the other side of it all is an indestructible joy. A spark of this fire has already begun in our hearts, and sometimes others can see it even when we can't.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Speaking" My Mind...Literally

Today's blog post is being written [or at least "drafted"] by the use of a "speech-to-text" app.

Some days I just don't have enough energy to sit at the keyboard and write. So I want to see how well I can compose written text by speaking my mind directly to the little red blinking microphone.

Hmm... I can already see that I'm going to have to make some typographical and punctuation corrections [e.g. "typographical" originally came out as "type of graphical," but these corrections are easy enough to make].

Here's the thing: I am determined to continue to be a writer in whatever way I can by whatever means are available to me.

I wonder how well the speech-to-text function would work for putting down reflections of a more serious nature. Let me test it with some deep thoughts:
What always strikes me as the central focus of attention for all of my considerations--at least insofar as they're on the philosophical, social, and cultural level--is the centrality of the person
The practical, living awareness of the intrinsic dignity of each and every human person without exception is a crucial necessity for our time. We must give conscious attention to the human person in every circumstance and every context we consider, in individual and social problems, in relationships, in our philosophy, in our approach to every human problem.
This is the focus that I must continually remember whenever I'm reading, whenever I'm studying, researching, or thinking about any of the vast array of issues in the realm of our society today. 
If we are to move beyond the present crisis of the development of material power on a massive scale and the confusion regarding what it means to use this power in a responsible way--and if we want to find constructive and effective ways to respond to the new forms of violence and trauma that this "New Epoch" of colossal power is generating among individual persons and communities in society--we must discover anew, with greater depth and more ardent commitment, the reality of the person, of relationships, and of love.
Well that didn't work too badly although it requires a certain amount of cleaning up [and some later editorial adjustment and augmentation to make it somewhat clearer]. I'm not sure this is easier than just writing it down or typing it out. But it does give me an option that frees me from having to fumble with a keyboard.

Maybe I should just make videos or podcasts instead. Maybe I will do more of that sort of thing. Interactive forms of audiovisual media are becoming easier and more accessible for everyone.

But I do think that writing is a mode of communication that has its own inherent value. Even if I'm "speaking the words" (as in this exercize) I'm still in the "writing mode" in my process of pondering my thoughts and expressing them.

Anyway, having said that, I'll sign off for now. Tune in next time for more exciting episodes of The Never Give Up Blog!πŸ˜‰

Monday, April 16, 2018

Virginia Tech Remembrance Day 2018

April 16 marks the 11th anniversary of the excruciating ordeal of Virginia Tech, when a mentally ill gunman armed with multiple weapons went on a horrific shooting spree on the campus, killing 32 students and faculty before taking his own life.

Remembering those who died, those who survived, and all their loved ones, and all my Hokie peeps on this day.πŸ’š


Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Hope that Holds On and Refuses to Let Go

We are still in the Easter Season.

The light of that Day continues to fill these days and the days to come. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. This is the Day that fills all days, all history, all of creation.

Jesus Christ is Risen today, Alleluia!

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus defines and gives measure to every moment of our lives, directly, personally, by the power of His love for each one of us.

But it's hard to "rejoice" in the midst of tribulations and sorrows. I don't want to even pretend that I can "do it," or that I know how it corresponds to my present psychological state. It seems like a kind of miracle whenever I encounter a person who is filled with an authentic and even palpable joy in the midst of affliction. Indeed, it is a beautiful and encouraging witness. And these persons are always full of compassion and understanding. They open up new "spaces of hope" within us. 

The truth is that every step, even the tiniest step, toward Easter joy is a miracle. But it happens. We can take these steps.

The Risen Jesus is Lord of our real life: the aspirations and successes, the compassion and courage and works of love we do, and the disappointment, the suffering, the sins, the failures, the weakness, the most appalling afflictions and all the incomprehensible, banal, repetitive, small, and apparently meaningless moments we endure and live day after day.

Christ is Risen! Rejoice.

And maybe sometimes that "joy" feels like nothing but the bare grip by which we hold on to Him in the dark with wild hope and refuse to let go of Him even when everything seems crazy or lost.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

What is Certain...

"If anyone should ask: 'What is certain in life and death--so certain that everything else may be anchored in it? The answer is: The love of Christ."

~Romano Guardini

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie's "Simple Words" Can Still Help Us

Here we are at 22 months since Christina Grimmie completed her brief beautiful journey through this present life. It's a wonderful thing that her YouTube channel remains active and all her social media accounts are still accessible.

And 99% of what we can find there are her lovely and unique arrangements of popular songs, or a large variety of fun, endearing, often goofy and always sincere expressions of herself and her amazing capacity to interact with people and draw them into the joyful, hopeful environment she generated.

Along the way, she would just say things to her frands that would "go deeper." Sometimes she was responding to a particular person or issue; other times it was just a kind of organic expression of the whole integrating foundation and form of her life. From time to time, she would just gratuitously articulate something fundamentally important.

And it seemed to come as "naturally" to her as singing or talking about pizza.


It_used to strike me as really good how she would witness her faith like this "to kids," and how her words were all the more meaningful because she was just so normal. Expressions that might sound like tired overused phrases from a preacher (or—😏sheesh—a theology professor) had a freshness and a seriousness for her young frands when they occasionally popped up on her Twitter feed.

In this season of my life, however, I find real encouragement for myself in revisiting these simple words. These words mean a lot, and her assurance about them holds more weight than ever for me: "Trust me on this one."

Okay. I will.

I really needed to hear this, today. Thanks again, Grimmie.πŸ’š

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Miracle

"When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: 'Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.'"

~Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate 15

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Trust

"God is good. All the time."
"All the time. God is good."

Jesus, I trust in you.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

I Am a Poor, Weak, Powerless Human Being

I am a poor man. A sinner. Weak. Afraid. Worth nothing.

The smallest things break me. Bigger things shatter me. Truly, I am a poor man and I can't do anything.

I try to hide this.

I hide behind my intellectual and literary skills. I hide behind my illness. I hide behind pious statements. I hide behind humor.

These things are real enough in themselves. My interests and passions and abilities and health limitations are real enough. But I use them to hide the poverty of my inmost self, my emptiness, my desperate neediness and hunger that I don't understand. There is this awful cavernous hole in me and I'm terrified of it.

I'm afraid because I can't satisfy my own hunger.

I know (mostly intellectually) that Jesus can feed me. But I don't know how he does it, and I can't "see" him.

It's Easter week. Jesus, where are you!? ...

My father is 83 years old as of yesterday. He is ill and suffering much as he rapidly loses physical and mental capacities.

I'm his son, and I'm useless in front of him. My brother and my wife have been doing so much to see to his care. Thank God for them.

Given his current condition, the material circumstances surrounding him and the quality of his physicians and caregivers are the best we can hope for. That is a great relief. But he is confused and sad. Everything he has had in life is slipping out of his reach.

I don't know what to do. What can I give to him?

I spend time with him and he can't communicate (though he tries, and I feel the human anguish coming out). I can't give him what he seems to be asking for. I can't "make it get better." I don't "have" what he really wants.

I myself have been gut-punched by this sudden upheaval of life. My own long-afflicted body has very little capacity for handling stress; I survive by pacing things and stretching out small portions of energy. I am grateful for so many others who have helped in the chaos of these days.

But I am exhausted and overwhelmed and cut to the heart, because this is my father.

He suffers. I'm powerless.

Ultimately what can any of us do? What a gap there is between our desire to change things and the actual control we have over the situations of life!

Here we are, surrounded by all the technological power and the material resources and the gadgetry of the 21st century, and at the center of it all we are just poor frail human beings, whose brief lives pass in a blink (or two) of an eye.

Jesus, have mercy on my Dad. Have mercy on our family. Have mercy on me, a weak and sinful man.

Lord, here is the poverty and the pain and the hunger that looks to you and cries out to you.

We need you! I need you!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

What We Ate on Easter Sunday

With all that has been happening with taking care of my parents at this time, we didn't have the usual multicourse Easter dinner with lamb. Which is not to say we didn't have a lovely meal.

Eileen cooked up a generous amount of delicious cannelloni with beef and spinach and a bΓ©chamel sauce:


Here, have a closer look:


These were so wonderfully flavorful, and quite satisfying.

For dessert, Agnese baked a carrot cake with homemade icing. What a superb cake it was!πŸ˜‹

We didn't take a family picture after Mass, but it has been only a little more than three months since the last family picture at Christmas. Nobody has changed that much since then.πŸ˜‰

And this is our second consecutive Easter without a full house. Last year Lucia was in France. This year, John Paul is on his semester in Rome, where he spent a memorable Holy Week and Triduum culminating on Easter Sunday in St Peter's Square. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fifty Years Ago Today, a Shot Rang Out in the Memphis Sky...

Monday, April 4, 1968. 6:01 PM Central Standard Time. Memphis, Tennessee. Fifty years ago today, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sealed a life lived in sacrifice for racial justice for African-Americans, for the truth that every human person deserves to be treated with dignity, for his commitment to non-violence as the weapon that seeks to defeat enemies by changing their hearts and turning them into friends.

He had already meditated much on death, and had accepted it as a price he was willing to pay, a sacrifice that he knew—in God's plan—would bear fruit.



Some words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reflecting about the possibility of his own death by violence:

"If physical death is the price I must pay to free my white brother and all my brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing could be more redemptive" (1964).

"I've never known anybody to achieve freedom until somehow they were willing to say within that death is not the ultimate evil.... If we are going to be free, we have to be willing to suffer and sacrifice for that freedom, if necessary" (1965).

"If something happens to me physically, or if I come to a violent end, I will go on with the faith that unmerited suffering is redemptive. And I don't think the important thing really is how long you live, but how well you live. And I'm not concerned about my longevity or the quantity of my life, but the quality of my life...trying to do a good job for humanity and for my race and for the human race and for my children and for God" (1967).

"Like everybody I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will" (1968).

"Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty" (April 4, 1968, reportedly his last words, to bandleader Ben Branch just moments before the bullet came).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter: God Has Come to the Place Where I Am

When we tell people, "God loves you," they might wonder (not without reason) "What does that mean?"

And if we think it's easy to answer this question, we might not be taking God or people as seriously as we should.

I feel the force and mysterious depth of this question especially when life gets hard. My desire is for the fullness of life, but my experience in the midst of persistent obstacles seems to suggest that there is no way to get there, that I am trapped in suffering and frustration, and that the best that life can offer is distractions.

God "loves" me? What does that mean?

During Easter, we celebrate the real answer that God has given us: the fact that God has done something in history, and that He is doing something in our lives. He was crucified and died and rose from the dead to transform our lives and to begin a New Creation.

The good news of the Resurrection begins at the Cross, because the Cross means that God has come to the place where I am.

That place is suffering, and above all the suffering caused by the fact that I have made choices that have irrevocably screwed up my life and alienated myself from His goodness and love: I have sinned!

But God has come and united Himself to me in that place of solitude, and from there He has risen. This is what it means to say, "God loves you."

God loves me: it means He has united Himself with my whole life, He has taken all the depths of me, and is even now working to awaken my heart and penetrate inside my sorrow and my misery and the guilt that I don't want to face.

God loves me: it means He is here, creating a new possibility for my freedom, a new possibility for love.

God died on the Cross and rose from the dead. He's not an abstract God, or some purely interior divine force. He has a human face. He is Jesus, a man. And He lives forever as a man who reaches me and touches my life in a human way, through a people in history that He has "called together"--the ekklesia, the "Church."

I don't have to make it up. It's real. It's here. It's a gift. It's a path that can be followed.

And I can begin now, because He is present in the place where I am; He has penetrated the depths of my suffering and my guilt and by His love He is creating in me the power to change and be transformed...by Love.

He is Risen from the dead. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter: "There is a Horizon. There is Life. There is Joy."



This Easter comes in the midst of hard circumstances for our larger family. The two most important readers of this blog, my Dad and my Mom (a.k.a. "Papa" and "Grandma"), are struggling with new acute sufferings as Dad approaches his 83rd birthday.

The past week has raised many practical questions, and the need for some quick responses to meet immediate necessities. It has also brought up before our minds and hearts once again the mystery of our human limitations in their most irreducibly concrete form.

These are the experiences that reawaken the fundamental cry of the human heart. "O Lord, where is this all going? I long for happiness and I will not let go of your promise. But why is this journey of life so strange and so exhausting? And how long, O Lord?"

Theology and spirituality approach these questions in various ways, and these can be helpful. But the personal experience of the heart in suffering--our own suffering or that which arises from our connection to the ones we love--is not resolved by anything we can express in any of our discourse.

This Easter, I am grateful for the reality of Christ's Church. I am grateful for the touch of the Risen Jesus in the sacraments, through which He can lead us forward even though we don't understand the "how" or the "why."

And I am grateful for a Pope who is a pastor, who has the smell of sheep like me, who knows how to speak within the solitude of this kind of suffering (at least I can say that he speaks to me, and is guiding me here and now).

Before today's Mass, I read this text from Pope Francis's Easter Homily from last year (which was presented as MAGNIFICAT's reflection for the day). I found a particular nourishment in these words, a strength to stay with the Lord and endure with Him.

Here is the text from Pope Francis's homily for Easter Sunday 2017:
Today the Church repeats, sings, shouts: “Jesus is Risen!” But why is this?
Peter, John, the women went to the Sepulchre and it was empty. He was not there. They went away with their hearts closed in sadness, the sadness of defeat: the Teacher, their Teacher, the One whom they loved so much had been put to death; He is dead.
And there is no return from death.
This is the defeat. This is the path of defeat, the path towards the sepulchre. But the Angel says to them, “He is not here, He is Risen.”
It is the first announcement: “He is Risen.” And then the confusion, the closed hearts, the appearances. But the disciples stayed locked in the Upper Room the entire day because they were afraid that what happened to Jesus would happen to them.
The Church does not cease to say before our losses, our closed and fearful hearts: “Stop, the Lord is Risen.” But if the Lord is Risen, why is it that these things happen? Why is it that there is so much adversity: illness, human trafficking, human slavery, war, destruction, mutilation, vengeance, hatred?
Where is the Lord then?
Yesterday I phoned a young man with a grave illness, an educated young man, an engineer, and while talking to him, to give him a sign of faith, I said: “There are no explanations for what is happening to you. Look at Jesus on the Cross. God did this to his Son, and there is no other explanation.”
And he answered: “Yes, but He asked His Son and the Son said ‘yes’. I was not asked if I wanted this.”
This moves us.
None of us is asked: “Are you happy with what is happening in the world? Are you willing to carry this cross further?” And the Cross goes forth and faith in Jesus comes down from it.
Today, the Church continues to say: “Stop. Jesus is Risen.” And this is not a fantasy. The Resurrection of Christ is not a celebration with many flowers. This is beautiful, but this is not it.
It is something more. It is the mystery of the discarded stone which becomes the foundation of our existence. Christ is Risen. This is what it means.
In this throwaway culture where what is not needed is just used and disposed of, where what is not needed is thrown away, that stone—Jesus—the source of life, is discarded. And with faith in the Risen Christ, we too, pebbles on this earth of pain, tragedy, acquire meaning amid so many calamities.
[The resurrection of this 'discarded Jesus' gives us] the sense to look beyond, the sense to say: “Look, there is no wall; there is a horizon, there is life, there is joy, there is the cross with this ambivalence. Look ahead, do not close within yourself. You pebble, acquire meaning in life because you are a pebble near that rock, that stone which the evil of sin discarded.”
What does the Church tell us today before so many tragedies? Simply this: the discarded stone is not really discarded. The pebbles which believe and stick to that stone are not discarded. They have meaning and it is with this sentiment that the Church repeats from the bottom of Her heart: “Christ is Risen.”
Let us think for a while, each of us, think about the daily problems, the illnesses we have been through or of one that a relative has; let us think about wars, human tragedies and with simplicity, with a humble voice, without flowers, alone, before God, before us, let us say, “I do not know how this is, but I am certain that Christ is Risen and I have put a wager on it.”
Brothers and sisters, this is what I wanted to say to you. Go home today repeating in your hearts: “Christ is Risen.”