Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Saint Joan and "God's Girl Squad"

May 30 is the feast day of the peasant girl from Domremy, Jeanne la Pucelle, whom we call "Joan of Arc." She was burned to death on this day in the year 1431 in Rouen in France, after her short, stunning, inexplicable career in the history of late medieval Europe.

Joan gave her life after leading armies, encouraging a king, and baffling her adversaries in her long and famous trial. Finally condemned by treachery, she cried out the name of Jesus as the flames consumed her on the stake. She returned her soul to God after having fulfilled the mission she had received from him.

She was only 19 years old.

Nearly 700 years later, Saint Joan continues to be a national heroine in France, to fascinate and inspire people all over the world, and to be a source of renewed innocence and goodness and courage.

Even today, she is one of great leaders of a singular army that fights for the good on the innumerable battlefields of human hearts, a spiritual army that I like to call (with a little humor but more than a little affection) God's Girl Squad.

While I refer to "God's Girl Squad" with tongue-in-cheek (because, after all, they're just kids), I mean no lack of respect for the awesome reality of this group. I am referring to the two-thousand-year-old group of young women who dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ, and who usually sealed that dedication with martyrdom at a very young age—or else they died young from some excruciating disease or some other thing that brought incomprehensible suffering.

Their short lifespans, however, have not stopped them from continuing to mysteriously "take care of" people in this world, with a very particular tenderness and attention and (I don't know how else to describe it) a very "energetic spirit."

As another one of their leaders, Therese of Lisieux, put it, they "spend [their] heaven doing good on earth."

They are particularly attentive to the weak, the physically weak and the spiritually weak. Not to mention the psychologically weak. We the living can ask for their help, and they will help us. But I think that often they "decide to bother us" long before we even think of asking for any help, or even know who they are.

They are fearless and they are persistent. After all, they live entirely from the infinitely magnanimous Heart of the Risen Jesus.

I'm not joking. These girls are real. Saint Joan of Arc is just one outstanding example. And for reasons that I cannot fathom and could hardly begin to try to explain but that are genuine and significant nonetheless, this is an all-girls' group. Here we find the "genius of the feminine" with a eminent, supernatural vitality. These are girls with the simplicity and joy of little children, the innocence of maidens, the tenacious hearts of mothers, and the authority of queens.

Think of it: Start with the anonymous ones that were probably among Nero's victims in the gruesome year of 64. Then you have Saints Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, Melania the Younger, then others from the Middle Ages along with Joan, and then from all over the earth, from Japan to the Americas to Africa, through the centuries, all the way up through Therese and Elizabeth of the Trinity to Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died from osteosarcoma at the age of 18 in 1990.

Chiara Luce, as I have noted before in this blog, first tapped me on the shoulder on March 12, 2012.

Of course that last detail is merely my very fallible self-reflection on my own spiritual journey. I have no doubt that Chiara Luce is my good friend, but I can't make any particular statements about our friendship or any of these other mysterious friends and helpers of my life with any objective authority.

I know they are very "busy" in my life. But I don't see them. I don't hear them.

Rather, I surmise, I follow "hunches," I mark their connection with events in my life even as I find myself swept up into the stories of their lives. I can't prove (even to myself) that the specific help I'm inclined to attribute to the Girl Squad is anything more than a combination of coincidences and my very active imagination.

But, overall, there is something to it.

Catholic tradition and teaching assure us of the reality of the intercession of the saints. We can have confidence that they accompany us in various ways on our journey with Jesus in the Church, and that they touch people's lives all over the world.

Their special presence in our lives is something we can depend on, in faith. It also engages that particular level of reality that pertains to personal relationship, where people experience connection to one another in a manner that cannot be fully objectified or conceptually expressed.

The workings of the heart, of love, are beyond our understanding in this world.

Occasionally these mysterious, grace-given relationships have effects that can be evaluated by rational investigation. An incurable disease suddenly vanishes, and scientists have no explanation for how this was possible. These are the miracles that find their way into the dossiers submitted to the ecclesiastical processes of beatification and canonization.

These are very careful, very rigorous processes. There are people who have enough testimonies to fill a room with old fashioned filing cabinets. Out of these, one or two might be submitted for consideration as a verifiable miracle.

Most of the good that flows from the enormous range of the love of God's Girl Squad would never even make it into the room.

Nevertheless, I'm convinced that these girls are a special group, with a special place in the Heart of Jesus and the communion of saints, and that they "work" in a special and particular way through the love of Jesus that has transformed them.

We have so many examples among the Church's officially declared saints and blesseds, but there must be many others who are not canonized, among whom surely are those who lived in good faith as non-Catholic Christians, or even "non-Christians" (who in this world were mysteriously connected to Christ's life by love, by the vital response of their good conscience, and by their fidelity to the steps of the journey given to them).

There must be many others—even girls we knew in this life as our sisters, neighbors, friends, students, or children—who have gone to God and yet have not ceased to be with us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

More Illuminated "Digital Manuscripts" From Scripture

Here are a couple of texts and designs I have worked on recently. It is not always easy for me to identify the connection (if any) between the design and the verse itself.

Sometimes I'm just playing around with colors and possibilities. But there are obvious graphic themes (as in the cross design in the verse from 1 Peter below).

I'm trying not to just do the same thing over and over. That is part of the challenge.😊

This last one, of course, is not a text from Scripture but rather a phrase that expresses synthetically the New Testament presentation of an irreplaceable protagonist:

Monday, May 28, 2018

This "Face"

There's a lot going on with this "Face," you know it. That's one complicated human being there.

...But don't worry; it's not all bad!


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Facebook: I've Been Friends With Myself for Nine Years! 😉

Nine years ago yesterday, I made my very first post on Facebook. (I was hardly a trendsetter.) Here's a "throwback" to those days:

Haha, how funny: "Everything you say goes to everybody?" Yes. Yes, it does. You have no idea how true that is. "Someone email..." hmm, what? Where did the rest of that sentence go? I think there used to be a word limit on Facebook.
Word limit ...maybe they should bring that back.😜
It doesn't seem so long ago. Nine years, poof! But it's a different story when we look at the "first pictures" that I posted nine years ago today.
The "current ages" of the kids (not to mention their pictures) from that time put it in a different perspective:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Where Do Wars and Violence Come From?

"Peace and Security, Number 2" (2018, digital)
We live in a "Global Village" that is growing smaller, in a sense, as the 21st Century moves forward.

When Marshall McLuhan, the noted philosopher of media, coined this term over fifty years ago, he was well aware of its ambivalence.

It certainly was not meant as a guarantee that we were all going to become one big happy family on planet earth. Indeed, it doesn't require much consideration to recognize that the smaller the village, the easier it is to burn the whole thing down. As for being one big family, well... families have fights too.

Will we ever get this business of "being human" right?

I have been thinking about all this while pondering some of the readings from the liturgy this week. The Letter of James is a particularly challenging text in the New Testament. James's exhortations are blunt, direct, and sometimes have a bit of a sting to them.

He's not trying to be rude. Rather, he's hitting hard because he wants to puncture our bubbles of self-deception. He's trying to tell us things we'd rather not hear.

James shines a revealing light on the places in our lives where we tend to feel 'good' about ourselves. He shows us sins where we think we have virtues, pettiness and weakness where we feel great and strong.

James aims at our pride, and its external expressions of arrogance, envy, oppression, and the illusion that we are masters of reality by our own power.
"Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask" (James 4:1-2).

Certainly we have the right (even the duty) to defend ourselves and our civil communities from violence perpetrated against us, if necessary by means of physical force.

But it's so easy to rationalize the degeneration of legitimate force into violence. Even when we have good reason to defend ourselves and protect our communities, how often we end up pursuing revenge or taking advantage of the opportunity to plunder, degrade, and dehumanize the aggressor and everything associated with them.

Thus instead of seeking justice and reconciliation, we respond to aggression with force beyond the bounds of reason and honor, forgetful of the dignity of persons, and without mercy. We turn conflict toward our own selfish advantage and to the pursuit of power.

Violence begets more violence.

The wars that nations fight against one another correspond to all the "less political" kinds of violence that divide peoples, communities, families, and all kinds of relationships.

James tells us that war is rooted in our own hearts, in our "disordered passions," our envy, and our self-aggrandisement.

It's important to remember that human passions—the spontaneous inclinations that arise within us—are not bad in themselves. They belong to the fullness of being human. But our instincts and drives come to fruition only insofar as they are shaped to respond according to the goodness of reality, and integrated within our intelligence and freedom as guided by the wisdom and grace of God.

When we neglect to live in the freedom of God's children, we can become slaves to the powers of this world. The drives, urges, and fears of our frail humanity are so easily manipulated. We find ourselves caught up in the rivalries, the lusts, and the confusion of narrow and superficial spectacles of power that are unworthy of our humanity and that ultimately oppose us to one another.

We fall apart in dissipation and we tear each other apart in pursuit of ideologies and illusions.

This does not bring us freedom. It brings us violence. It always leads to violence.

The violence is only more destructive when we don't see it, when we ignore it, when we become accustomed to it.

We should remember that it's easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we have life "under control." We think we live reasonably contented, disciplined lives and that we are disposed to be benevolent or at least tolerant of others.

We are surrounded by humanly constructed environments that meet our physical needs and comforts in a way that almost seems spontaneous. We think we are peaceful people, when in fact most of us are merely distracted or shielded from the conflict that rages around us and in us.

It's difficult to believe that we are part of this "war." After all, we don't hunger for power. We think we have all the power we need. We presume on the solidity of all the unprecedented power within our reach as we proudly and calmly map out the course of our lives.

James has another reminder for us about this. To all of us who think we have power and boast about our big plans for the future, he says:
"You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, 'If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that'" (James 4:14-15).
Of course, it's reasonable to plan, to dream, to aspire to accomplish things in the future—according to God's willaccording to the wisdom and love that has created and redeemed us.

This is neither a superstition nor a mere manner of speaking. It is the perspective of faith that lives by hope and love—the perspective of living our lives in relationship with God. He is the only source of the peace, confidence, and strength that endures and prevails.

His power is the power of Eternal Love. He has come to share life with us so that we might be empowered to love Him and one that we might be free. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Courage to Keep Living and Working

Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Road to Emmaus
I would feel quite desperate writing about human persons and relationships if I thought we had to depend on our own fragile natural powers to generate a lasting human community.

History has demonstrated again and again our stubborn selfishness and attachment to narrow interests that frustrate the aspiration for justice and solidarity.

But our hope rests in something greater than this present age, the promise of the glory of Eternal Love.

And our hope begins now, because this Love has entered our history, and He has already begun the transformation of our lives. Life has meaning now, because God has come to dwell with us. He has come to be our companion in our world, in our hearts, within our relationships. He wants to be with us, to renew our strength, and to bring us to a fulfillment beyond all our limits and all our measure.

By faith, with hope, in the charity poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we discover a new reason to love our neighbor, and even to love our enemy with a love that endures all things: Jesus is here.

Jesus is our neighbor. And we long for His love to be everything to every person. He brings everything to its fullness. And so we find the courage to keep living, to keep working, to let His love define us, to never give up.
"Faith, hope and charity go together.
"Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.
"Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love!
"It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory.
"Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love.
"Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. [We are invited] to experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world."

~Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 39

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost 2018

Pentecost is more than just a day.

It's a whole new life!🔥

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Human Relationships: Getting Beyond the "Autonomous Self"

"Love, not hate!" Everybody talks about love today.

People agree that "loving others" is a fundamental attitude worth striving for. We are determined to be a loving, caring society. And this determination is earnest and sincere.

People try hard to love others. People do so many good things, make so many sacrifices, and dedicate themselves to programs of action for spreading love all through the world.

This results in some astonishing and inspiring achievements.

Still, the world we live in is full of hate. It is saturated with violence on every level of human interaction. Violence tinges all of us not only externally but also in our own hearts.

Who among us is not in some way affected by fear, selfishness, or resentment?

We inevitably face limitations in the world, in others, and within ourselves. Our aspirations to be loving people are frustrated and sometimes diverted down distorted paths that lead to new forms of violence and hatred.

Real love is a hard and dreadful thing compared to love in our dreams. Its relentless demands can so easily make cowards of us all.

It doesn't help when we try to become loving persons by the energy of our own freedom conceived as an autonomous, self-defining force—a demiurge of self-fulfillment that we expect to coalesce with everyone else's self-defined ideas and impulses, and thereby somehow produce a wonderful harmony of love and understanding among us all.

We want love to work like magic.

Such is the expectation of the easy "love in our dreams" that is inevitably overwhelmed by the stubbornness of real persons and the slow, difficult, inescapable path of life as it is truly given to us. Real personal life can only flourish interpersonally; persons are fulfilled only through being-in-relationship with other persons.

Though everybody talks about love today, our society is stuck within an ideological and interactive framework of individualism. Too often, the very ideal of "love" in our society is reduced to a kind of "plan" of necessary or mutually satisfying engagements with one another that entail a minimum of commitment and risk. This shriveled form of love consists in isolated acts of assistance or benevolence between essentially solitary people who are afraid to be coinvolved in one another's lives, as persons, in freedom and relationship.

We want to satisfy ourselves according to our own autonomous self-definition, and then "help others" insofar as we choose to do so. Certainly, we want to respond to the suffering of others that stirs up our feelings of sorrow, and we hope that overall we will be very generous in our choices to help others. Most of us, after all, feel that it's important to be "loving people."

But still we want our relationships with others to be radically controlled by us and subject to our autonomy. We are afraid of the "letting-go," and indeed even the unmanageable and sometimes seemingly chaotic "leaping-into-the-dark" that are involved in living wholehearted relationships. But we must face the reality that we are not autonomous. We are in fact made to be together and entrusted to one another.

We depend on one another in reality. That is why, no matter how much we want to be "free" (in the sense of "free-from-relationship-with-others-as-intrinsic-to-the-path-to-our-destiny"), those other persons who have been given to us (our "neighbors") never seem to fit into the schemes we want to impose on them. They remain involved with "who we are," and we cannot escape being open and vulnerable to one another.

Thus, we cannot seal ourselves off in a self-contained, fully adequate, autonomous "capsule" that we imagine might protect us from the risk of love. Insofar as we try to live this delusion, we will only succeed in hating and hurting real people: others and ourselves.

We are persons called ineradicably to live in communion with other persons. We are called to give and receive love, on a path of life that involves a lot of preference, initiative, and choosing on our part, but that also involves openness and responsiveness to what has been given to us.

We don't radically determine our own lives and identity. Our creativity and freedom belong not only to our initiatives, but also to our cooperation, our openness to the freedom of others, our courtesy and hospitality, our gratitude, our solidarity and compassion, our willingness to forgive, and even our suffering.

How can we move beyond the crippling, violence-engendering fear of living as fully human persons? How can we discover that the apparent limitations that challenge us in our being-together-with-others are in reality the great spaces that open us up to the fulfillment of our existence as persons, the fulfillment of real freedom? be continued...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Worthy is the Lamb

As we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost, I will continue to use Paschal symbolism to engage in creative experiments with graphics.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.... He died and rose from the dead so that we might live a new life in the Spirit. Come Holy Spirit!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Human Relationships: Are "Scraps From the Table" Enough?

The basis of human relationships is the fact of being persons and "being-together." When we forget or seek to evade this foundation, the things we try to do to help others remain shallow and don't reach their most crucial and essential needs.

Indeed, they don't do justice to their humanity.

Not that our "actions" and efforts to meet people's needs are not important, but their specific human value is founded on "presence" and expresses presence.

If we're not (in some way) trying to care for the whole scope and depth of people's needs, to enrich their lives, to help them grow as persons, to defend their rights, and to seek ways to rectify the injustice and oppression that hold them down, we are clearly not "present" with them in an appropriate, meaningful human relationship.

We are not "together-with-them" in solidarity if we don't do what we can to help them in an integral fashion. For Christians, it's always useful to refresh the memory on this point by revisiting epistle of James (see e.g. 2:14-16: "if you see a brother or sister in need, etc...")

External actions in service to our neighbor, when they are possible within the circumstances of a relationship, are a necessary expression of interpersonal communion. They are not, however, sufficient in their material and perceivable form for the constitution of the relationship itself.

Let us consider how this applies in broad terms of human societal relations, keeping in mind that the same dynamic applies analogously to relationships, responsibilities, and needs of every kind.

Thus we know that we can address the needs of hungry people by feeding them and housing them. But we must do so in a human way. Circumstances may require that emergency priority be given to addressing the most proximate physical needs of people in desperation, and at first it may only be possible to give them the basic care necessary for protection and sustenance.

But we must not allow our concern to drift after a crisis is met, lest the marginal and precarious status of people in need becomes a long term, diminished condition of life. We must feed them, but we cannot be satisfied with this alone, with the fact that the people at the gates of our cities are not dying of hunger. The immediate physical needs of human beings are inextricably bound up with more profound exigencies proper to their value as bodily and spiritual persons.

Consider that we can also "address the needs" of chickens by feeding them and providing appropriately spacious, safe, dry shelter. (And let us note that all God's creatures have a proper value and dignity and deserve the respect due to them.)

We do not, however, have interpersonal relationships with chickens.

There are fundamental differences between persons and non-personal creatures that are evident by the way societies throughout history have considered them.

Though there is clearly something that can be (and was meant to be in God's original plan for creation) beautiful and mysterious in the interaction and even collaboration between humans and animals, it does not constitute interpersonal communion (this is a truth that Genesis 2 teaches us).

The care we consider sufficient and benevolent for chickens and even pets would be considered criminal and dehumanizing as a standard of care for humans.

People from impoverished or war-ravaged countries, who are forced to prioritize their basic needs of physical survival, have said about first-worlders: "Their dogs live better than we do!"

This is a provocation and a cry against injustice. These people do not mean to imply that their lives would be adequate and their humanity respected if they were just treated like European or American dogs.

In Jesus's relevant parable on this point (Like 16:19-31), we see that the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the rich man's table. Lazarus longs just to be able to eat those scraps as he lies starving by the gate. And though the scraps would have been better than nothing, it would hardly have been sufficient if the rich man had decided to have his servants toss some scraps at Lazarus when the meal was over.

Lazarus was his neighbor. He was a person. Our needy neighbors are persons. They need more than food. They need "not to be alone." They need relationships and communion. They need love. be continued...

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Father and Youngest Daughter, Spring 2018

Here is a current picture of Daddy and Jojo. These kinds of pictures are not so easy to get as they used to be. It's been a while since Jojo was the "camera ham" in the house.

If this picture looks "fancy," it's because I did a little work on the background.

Because of the way we were sitting, this picture might make Josefina look a bit taller than she is. She remains petite, but she's healthy and growing at her own pace. And there's no mistaking her for a "little kid"—she's got a keen look in her eyes and a bright and intelligent face. It shows how much she really is maturing!

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Day for Our Mothers

Yesterday we celebrated the mothers among us here in America, or we remembered them, missed them, mourned for them.

Mothers, in turn, enjoyed the special attention. Some also, no doubt, were surprised by a moment of reconciliation with estranged children, or contact with distant children. These moments are meaningful even if they don't last very long.

The strength, the persistence, and the paradoxical frailty of human nature: how vividly this drama plays out in the life of every family—with motherhood at the heart of it all. Mothers are the vital connecting links between generations. They have a fundamental, relational empathy that affects their experience of all the joys and burdens and accomplishments and suffering of family life.

Motherhood is essential. It is powerful. It is awesome. It is vulnerable.

My kids have an amazing mother. They know it, even though they often forget or take it for granted, as kids will do. Eileen is a person of tremendous gifts and capabilities, and right now she is using all of them in order to stay strong in the midst of complex difficulties and challenges in our family, and in her work as an educator at John XXIII Montessori who mentors and assists so many other families.

I love my wife, and I admire her. I am so grateful for her.

I also know another amazing mother. We spent yesterday afternoon with her. My own mother is a great woman—brilliant, profound, sympathetic, ardent, a lover of the truth—who has spent a large part of her life battling against her own health problems and has endured so much suffering. Now in her 80th year of life and 58th year of marriage, she is called to live new depths of vulnerability in front of my father's advanced dementia and physical breakdown.

She remains very lucid in her mind, but in a different way the core of her suffering is as hidden from me as what my father is going through. We continue to do everything we can for her, knowing that we can't take away all the pain. We have to accompany her in her sorrow.

Jesus did not come into the world to take the pain and suffering out of life. Indeed, real faith is the exact opposite of finding a facile solution for our problems. Jesus assured the disciples, "You will weep and mourn" with a grief that is real, that cannot be explained away, that finds its resolution only in the presence of His love which proves itself always greater: "But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you" (John 16:20, 22).

Friday, May 11, 2018

Spring Reawakening

This was originally a photograph I took a few days ago. I used it to make a work of "digital art," to convey some of the feeling of the reawakening of the trees, the grass, the whole ambient that emerges after the Spring rains.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie's Legacy Has Just Begun

There is an old tradition of marking the one month anniversary of a person's death with special remembrance and prayer. It is unusual, however, to continue marking every month for 23 months (and counting...).

Christina Grimmie is simply unforgettable.

There are many reasons for this, one of which is the pioneering role she played in helping to carve out a new space for artists to express their creativity. For her own part, she filled that space for seven years with the gratuitous gift of her enormous talent and her inspiring human presence and goodness.

In these past two years, the Grimmie family has continued to foster her musical legacy, and has opened new avenues for the movement of love that Christina initiated from within her own beautiful heart. Tomorrow, the Grimmie family will release another of Christina's original songs, and Team Grimmie "frands" from literally all over the world will continue to share their own creative tributes to her in a wide variety of forms and venues.

What is it about Christina Grimmie? Why is she still so important for so many people?
She was a sweet, kind, fun-loving human being; she was an extraordinarily talented young person whose life was taken too soon; she was very much a normal girl beginning to become a lovely young woman; she had a bright future yet she was still accessible and authentic and grounded.

It was a tragedy that should cause us sorrow, even if we never knew her. There are too many tragedies like this in our poor, violent, and suffering world.

But with Christina there is something more; something that has cast a wide circle of impact, and that continues to resonate, to endure, and to grow.

In her 22 years in this world, Christina Grimmie took up the popular music idiom and the means of communication of our time and changed them, not only by her singular, spectacular voice, but above all by investing them with her own person, through her courage to take risks, her persistent desire to give of herself, and the deep gratitude that she expressed for life and other people.

It has become impossible for an old cynic (like me) to say, "There's no way anything good can come from pop culture today" or "there's nothing good that can come from all this crazy new media."

...Because...there is Christina Grimmie!

Something good has already happened in the midst of our deeply ambivalent culture, a space for love has opened up, and that space can grow.

No one knows what the future holds, but insofar as music and communications media increase in their capacity to bring people together in authentic human ways, Christina Grimmie will be remembered as one of the protagonists who took the first steps and opened the doors to new possibilities.

She will be remembered, and honored and loved.


Original photo credit to owner (please notify me for any appropriate citation). Text and layout are by John Janaro. Credit to Christina Grimmie for being an inspiration to us all...and to Jesus Christ her Lord who gave her the gift of her voice, whom she loved and for whom she sang.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Vulnerability: We Cannot Escape It

These days I fumble around searching for "where-to-put-my-feet-on-the-ground" when it comes to having a meaningful relationship with my Dad. He speaks incoherently, drawing out—from what he can still picture in the advanced dementia of his failing brain—fragments of impressions and experiences of a lifetime, making them into a puzzle that neither he nor any of us can solve.

He is being called to endure a strange sorrow, and though I don't know how to understand what he's going through or even enter into it, I know that I must accompany him through it, somehow, in whatever way I can, to the very end.

He will never get "better," at least not in this world, not in any sense that I can yet grasp or relate to experientially.

We humans have all this stuff in our amazing 21st century, all this power... but in the end, does it really matter for our lives? Sooner or later, we become helpless, or our loved ones are powerless and we can't help them, we can't "restore" them.

Vulnerability is inescapable. We all must pass through it, and the passage is unfathomable and can seem unbearable. But we must not give up.

The reasons why life is worth living, suffering worth enduring, and compassion worth giving haven't changed.

It is all the more necessary to hold onto these essential reasons, to remember them, to return to them when everything else fails us. In those moments, we see the demands of reality stripped of false sentimentality, stark but vivid.

No matter what their condition, appearance, or capacities may be, the existence of every human person is good. The human person, as such, deserves to be loved.

The awesome dignity of each human being is beyond anything we can construct or even define.

Now more than ever, as we vacillate between the illusion that we have the power to do anything and the fear that nothing we do has any value, we must be true to the mysterious gift and the ineradicable worthiness of every single human person.

This truth will take us through dark places. Don't give up.

We are left with the cry for help. We reach up for a hand in the dark, hoping to be grasped even when we don't know it, even when the waters envelop us and we feel ourselves to be drowning.

We hope beyond consciousness to be buoyed up and carried to the distant shore.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"Teacher Appreciation Day"

So today, apparently, was "Teacher Appreciation Day." Good teachers deserve appreciation, certainly more than they usually get.

Therefore, I salute all my colleagues who work in classrooms and labs, on faculties, in schools and universities, and who struggle to do their best even in the most difficult circumstances.

They have dedicated their lives to helping people who seek wisdom and trying to wake up those who don't.

They apply their learning, experience, and creativity to guide others on the journey to understanding.

On that journey they carry the best maps and tools they can find, point at things that are important, sometimes clear cluttered paths or find new ones, and try to warn the others about wrong turns and dead ends, and especially about intellectual cliffs and intellectual snake pits.

Nothing makes them happier than when those who followed their guidance for a time in the classroom graduate with the readiness to put their feet firmly on the ground of life, take up their vocations as adults, and become companions and even friends.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Christ Our Passover has been Sacrificed

The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy takes us "inside" the miracle of that central event that defines all of history and is the beginning of the New Creation.

In the Roman Rite, the Preface that leads into the Eucharistic Prayer during the Easter Season is particularly rich in content and beautiful imagery. There are five options during Easter, which differ primarily in the middle, where several lines highlight different aspects of the Paschal Mystery.

We hear these words so often that we could easily get used to them and think that we have comprehended their meaning. However, the truth is that the text of the Mass provides a wealth of material for prayer and meditation, and there is value even in "spending time alone" with the Missal, letting ourselves be formed by the words used in the Church's public worship.

Below I have take the distinct sections from each of the five Prefaces and put them together. The priest publicly addresses these words to the Father, which I have indicated in brackets where the word "You" appears in the liturgical text.

Putting these brief passages together provides an opportunity to pray and ponder and contemplate the various facets of the "Immortal Diamond" that is the mystery of Salvation:

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.

[1] He is the true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world;
by dying he has destroyed our death,
and by rising, restored our life.

[2] Through him the children of light rise to eternal life
and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful;
for his Death is our ransom from death,
and in his rising the life of all has risen.

[3] He never ceases to offer himself for us
but defends us and ever pleads our cause before [the Father]:
he is the sacrificial Victim who dies no more,
the Lamb, once slain, who lives for ever.

[4] With the old order destroyed,
a universe cast down is renewed,
and integrity of life is restored to us in Christ.

[5] By the oblation of his Body,
he brought the sacrifices of old to fulfillment in the reality of the Cross and,
by commending himself to [the Father] for our salvation,
showed himself the Priest, the Altar,
and the Lamb of sacrifice.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Rome Students: Welcome Back!

Dear STUDENTS who have just returned from your Semester in ROME: Welcome Back! I thought you might like a few tips that will help you to readjust to life in the United States of America (the USA, which the Italians call "ooozaa"😜).

You've been living "la dolce vita" for some time, so things might feel strange for a couple of days after your return to America. No need to see your doctor; this is perfectly normal and it will (mostly) wear off pretty quickly.

Helpful hints:

(1) Do NOT try to cross a street by walking into the middle of moving traffic.😉

(2) You get ONE HOUR for lunch, tops. No more "riposino"😴 in the afternoon. Eat fast, and get back to work.

(3) MONEY: When you first got to Italy you joked around about the "monopoly money" but by now you've gotten kinda used to Euros with their different colors and designs. Don't worry when you suddenly find all green stuff in your wallet. You may have the brief shock of: "What is this? Dollars? They're all green and the same size! How am I supposed to tell them apart? This money is...boring!" You'll get used to it again. Meanwhile, make sure you know the difference between a "Ben Franklin" and a "George Washington" and everything will be fine.

(4) You'll be DAZZLED by the Wi-Fi here for a few days. Like, "it WORKS!!! Why did I ever complain?" That too will wear off and you'll soon be back to complaining like you always did.

(5) When you ride a bus, remember that you actually have to pay the fare.

(6) Don't buy gelato in America. Now that you've had the real thing, it's just... not... the same.😑😒

(7) Coffee ☕ -- if you want a cappuccino here, order a "latte." If you want a cup of hot overly frothed skim milk, order an American cappuccino. [*This may vary from place to place.]

(8) Driving: Traffic at 65 or 70 miles an hour is going to seem like crawling. You've just come from a country where the old ladies drive 90. Watch your speedometer, especially on open roads. Not only can you get a ticket; you'll actually have to pay it! Slow. Down.

(9) No parking on the sidewalk.

(10) When you see a group of Americans in orderly formation at a store or fast food or pizza place, that's a "line." You may have gotten used to the "Italian scrum" where service is rendered to whoever jostles and elbows their way to the front. But remember, you're back in America now. You must wait in line again.

(11) Notice how HUGE America is. It's like even the sky is bigger. And there's space everywhere. Wow! And all different kinds of people. And oh how you've missed your home... it will all seem to shine with glitter for a few days. Take time during those days to be grateful for all of it.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Human Relationships: Loving Our Enemies...Really?

In human life we so often emphasize "doing" and "having," and tend to lose sight of the most basic value of being. The dignity of the human person, however, is rooted in who he or she is - first and fundamentally.

In a similar way, human relationships have real depth insofar as they are constituted first by "presence," by "being-with" one another in a personal sense. Personal presence is especially expressed in sharing experience, dialogue, intersubjectivity, mutual understanding, suffering-with one another, staying with and accompanying one another.

Underlying even these features of the vitality of human relationships, however, is a more fundamental reality: the reality of "being-together." We are made "for one another" and entrusted to one another in real life. We are called to "love our neighbor"—which indicates the person who is "near" to us, who is in some way "given to us" within the circumstances of our lives.

There is a particularly difficult aspect of this vocation to love that we cannot avoid: we are called to love even our enemies. What does this actually mean?

Authentic love, first of all, is founded on realism. "Being-together" is radical to our humanity, and it has an impetus to be expressed and lived in interactive relationships within nurturing and vital communities of mutual trust and solidarity. But there are real circumstances that block these normal modes of expression.

Alas, there are all too many of these "blocks." How can we "love" in such situations?

We may need to avoid proximity to a person because they are dangerous to us or those who depend on us. We may need to find space to tend and manage deep and complex wounds inflicted upon us by people who are precisely "enemies" because they have done violence to us in the interpersonal realm. This is most difficult when the "enemy" is someone who has betrayed our trust.

Anyone in such a situation must remember that love is founded on realism. It needs to become clear that love is hard in reality, which means it's tough. This is no time for a false sentimentality about love being able to fix things like magic; it's no time to confuse real love with a dependence based on fear or lack of self-worth.

If a person you think loves you is actually hurting you and abusing you, GET AWAY FROM THAT PERSON and get help!!

Sadly, this abuse and violence happens in various but all-too-real ways in interpersonal relationships, in family relationships, in community relationships. When we "go away" from such people, it shouldn't be said that we are "creating a conflict" by "distancing ourselves" from the "togetherness" of a relationship.

Rather, we are merely recognizing that the other or others have made themselves our "enemies." They have created this interpersonal "distance" by doing violence to us as persons; they have wounded the relationship by establishing our need to live a physical and emotional "space-apart" or even a position of vigorous self-defense if the other refuses to respect this space.

We can (and must, in ordinary circumstances) make and protect a physical and psychological "space-apart" from those who have made themselves our enemies. But we can never choose to hate these persons.

Here it is very important to distinguish the choice of our freedom from the normal psychological experience of feelings of aversion, or the more complex distortions of emotion induced or aggravated by trauma or other factors. This can be a confusing and conflicted experience, and we must not "face the enemy" alone but with the help of others who recognize the danger that threatens us.

The crucial aspect of "loving our enemies" is a matter of freedom. If we choose to hate our enemies, then we become people who hate, people who set our hearts against the dignity of certain human persons and begin to attack the very foundations of the basic human bond we share. Thus violence begets more violence.

If we choose not-to-hate, however, then in a radical sense we are "together with" our enemies, respecting their dignity as persons even when we must defend ourselves against them or remove ourselves from the reach of their aggression.

to be continued...

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Athanasius: "Death Has Lost It's Power..."

On May 2 we celebrate the great Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293-373).

Athanasius was the courageous preacher and defender of the One God as a Trinity of persons, and the true incarnation of the Son—homoousios with the Father and the Spirit in His Divinity, fully united with us in His humanity born of the Virgin Mary.