Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October 1918: A World at War Longs for Peace

2018 has been a hard year, and it may yet get worse.

With all the violent events in the world today and the many difficult challenges we face in daily life, it's easy to forget the past. And yet historians have the important task of helping us to remember, not simply for the lessons to be learned but above all because it is natural for human beings to commemorate the past. We are linked to our ancestors whose particular circumstances and decisions have had a fundamental impact on our world today—on who we are and how we live. It is good to remember, to celebrate what has been accomplished and mourn what has been lost.

It may seem ironic that the conflict that was nearing its end a hundred years ago was known at the time (and for a short period thereafter) as "The Great War." But its immense destructiveness had no prior parallel in human history.

In the Fall of 1918, the forces of Britain, France, the United States, and many other allies were engaged in what would prove to be the final campaign in Europe (known as the "hundred days"). At the time, however, there was little hope of the war ending in 1918. Though the Western Front was finally rolling back, the allies didn't know how desperate the situation was in Germany itself (where social disorder was increasing and government change was imminent). So the fighting continued, and the fighting was fierce.

Indeed, October 1918 was when United States military forces were finally engaged extensively in combat. The U.S.A. had done much already since 1917 to support its allies economically and militarily (by providing armaments and enlarging the ranks of allied soldiers). For the Americans, however, the great massive bloody brawl of combat didn't start until September 26, 1918, with 22 divisions and 1.2 million soldiers in the north of France taking up a 47 day "battle" known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Reckoned as a single event, it remains the deadliest battle in U.S. history, with more than 26,000 killed (nearly half the death toll of American military in the entire Vietnam War).

It was a small number compared to an entire generation of millions of European men who had been thrown against one another month after month for four years. The huge U.S. army pushed back the German line in this region until the political collapse at home led to a rapid capitulation by Germany to Allied terms for the Armistice of November 11.

The immediate problems facing Europe, of course, were far from over.

The unprecedented scope, the sheer numbers of those involved, the magnitude of the events of 1914-1918 stretched over the whole world. Soldiers came from all corners of the earth to fight in Europe, Africa, Asia Minor and the Middle East.

People had already begun to speak of this unique drama as a "world war," though it was not common to assign it a "number" in 1918. People hoped that it would be the only war of its kind, that the human race would find ways to ensure that this nightmare would never return.

In fact, in only took twenty years for this "Great War" to acquire the more prosaic designation of "World War I." Future historians may look on this whole period (the 20th century and beyond) as the era of violence, tumult, and tireless technological invention that introduced for the first time in history a "fully interactive" world.

We know only too well today that this instantaneously interactive, globally interconnected world is a dangerous place. At the same time we know that it can be the source of much enrichment, leading to a deeper awareness of our common humanity expressed in a multitude of physical differences, ethnic traditions, styles, and cultures.

For better or for worse, the destinies of the earth's peoples are woven together in ways far more intricate than anyone could have imagined 100 years ago. For better or for worse, our responsibility for one another is greater than ever.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Chiara, the Girl Full of Light

Today, the Focolare Movement and the diocese of Acqui celebrate the memorial of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, and all of us who love her may surely join them in prayer and in our hearts.

This Italian girl, who died after a long, agonizing struggle with bone cancer in 1990 (just short of her 19th birthday), allowed Jesus to give her a share in the suffering of His "cry of abandonment" from the cross. Thus He perfected in her a vast love that seeks out those who suffer, especially those who are furthest from Him and most in need of Him.

So great and enduring is this love that—six and a half years ago, and less than two years after her beatification—she even found me.

Thank you, dear Chiara Luce Badano for "tapping me on the shoulder" on that day (and on many days since then) and offering to be my friend. Thank you for praying for me, listening to me, helping me to see the goodness and share the suffering of others, introducing me to new friends in places I never would have expected to find them, and for the surprises: when you tap me on the shoulder and say, "Look, look, look! There! There is the light of Christ. There is the love greater than death!" Thank you.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Twelve Years Later: The Josefina Story

When I posted on social media about Josefina's 12th birthday, I realized that a dozen years is no small period of time.

I have made many new connections and acquired new readers since our youngest child was born. Many of them don't know the crazy story of the first year of this irrepressible kid's life. From the beginning, she was small in size but with a personality big enough to fill the room.

Josefina was "supposed to be born" in December, so when Eileen began having what seemed like the early stages of labor on the morning of October 26, 2006, we called the doctor. They didn't think anything unusual was happening. "Still," they said, "why don't you come in and we'll make sure...."

It's a good thing we went in that morning.

By the time Josefina was born a few hours later, the hospital had already detected her undeveloped intestinal tract, and we knew she would need major surgery (although it was hard to imagine what that could mean). In view of the emergency situation, I baptized her right away. The chaplain arrived some minutes later and administered Confirmation, which in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church is given to babies who are in danger of death.

Before long our tiny daughter was behind glass in an enormous, technologically decked out mobile incubatory contraption in order to be transported immediately to Fairfax Hospital for emergency surgery, where the neonatalogists amazingly connected her intestinal tract, using surgical techniques that were truly marvelous. She was then set up with an intravenous feeding tube and given her place in the "NICU" (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We were told that when the operation healed and she began digesting normally, we could bring her home. The original estimate was that it would take three weeks.

But Josefina kept having setbacks. Weeks turned into months. She wasn't healing properly. In March she needed another emergency surgery. There were some scary points as the time stretched on. There were infections and breathing complications. My mother-in-law came from California to take care of the house and kids while Eileen drove every day to Fairfax to be with Josefina. We will always be grateful to all of our extended family members and friends who helped us in countless ways.

My wife once again proved to be heroic.❤

I was still working full time as a teaching professor at the college. My health had been good for a while up until then. Indeed, I had had a lengthy remission, and was in great shape until the strain of all this started to wear me down again. I would go to Fairfax Hospital with Eileen as often as I could, and I took videos so that the other children could see their sister (older children were not allowed in the NICU).

Recall that, way back in '06, I needed a digital video camera that used micro "digital video cassettes." I would then use a special "DVD Burner" to transfer the video to a disc (we called it "burning a DVD" in those primitive days). Then we could watch the videos on our analog television using a triple-color-corded hooked-up DVD player. I was like "Wow this is the future, man!" (Meanwhile, I also had my rather uninteresting "cell phone" in my pocket, for phone calls. Period.) I did my best to make humorous and happy videos for her siblings who were 9, 8, 6, and 3 years old. It wasn't difficult, because the "subject matter" was so cute! (We still have all those DVDs, though we haven't watched them for a long time.)

Josefina charmed everyone with her enormous eyes and dimply smile. She was adorable, but also fragile. The problems, and the length of time it was taking to resolve them, baffled even the doctors. After nearly seven months of the tension of living this way, everyone was exhausted and I was headed for another major relapse. The whole experience contributed to the subsequent ruin of my health (which I have written plenty about elsewhere). It was an extraordinarily difficult, uncertain time for us all.

But Josefina made it. She finally came home on May 16, 2007, still weighing only ten pounds. She started out with a nasal-gastric feeding tube, but soon she was on her own. She needed a special formula, had some digestive problems, and a moderate asthmatic condition for the next few years, but everything was fine after that.

By now, she has been eating a normal diet for most of her life. She is still on the small side, and looks younger than 12 years old. But she's in good health, and she has so much to give and is so very much loved by us all.

It was, indeed, a long time ago. Many things have changed since then. Many circumstances have been hard and some have seemed impossible, but the Lord has led us through them, or He has at least enabled us to endure them without losing confidence in Him.

I'm so grateful for Josefina. It has been a tremendous gift to have her and her three sisters and brother with us in our journey through life. Family life is our vocation. It has many joys and many challenges, but they constitute what God asks of us. They are the way that He is drawing us to Himself, according to His wisdom and love.

Really, we cannot control our lives in this world. (Through affluence, humans tend to forget this.) Of course, we must try to make prudent decisions and plans for the future as far as we are able to judge its probable courses and potential dangers.

But we are not in control. Our possession of things is fragile, and our passage through time radically unpredictable. Really, we must hold on to God's plan, with prayer and hope, because He brings good out of everything.

Happy Birthday, Josefina. We love you!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"My Front Porch" on a Sunny October Day

I have been trying to get outdoors, if nothing else for Vitamin D infusions (a.k.a. sunlight 😉☀️). Some days lately I haven't felt much like moving.

But recently I was on the porch on a pretty Autumn afternoon, and I thought, "Why not do an episode of My Front Porch?" Sure.

For it to be Instagram-able, I had to keep it under sixty seconds. I was a bit tired. The result is not very articulate, but it qualifies. Here, then, is Episode 6 of My Front Porch:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I Don't Like to Think About Lyme Disease

September and October are always rough months. Now that it's been a couple of weeks of more-than-usual exhaustion and aches, I have to assume that I'm having some kind of flare-up of Whatever-the-Heck. This is something different (with a different pattern of symptoms) from the Major Depression and/or OCD that I have struggled with periodically since I was ten years old.

I would like to consider my long, tortuous battle with Lyme Disease as something "in the past." I don't like to talk about it or even think about it these days. Lyme Disease comes from a bacterial infection that can be transmitted by the parasitical "bite" of certain kinds of ticks. Without prompt and proper treatment, it can develop into a serious, persistent illness. (Actually I recently wrote a longer description, including links for further information, in a post about Avril Lavigne's new song, "Head Above Water," inspired by her own experience with Lyme Disease. See HERE.)

I first recall having a series of the classic early Lyme symptoms (which don't always occur) in 1988, though I didn't know the meaning of them at the time, nor did my doctor. People in Virginia had hardly even heard about Lyme back then. The infection was unresolved and quite possibly boosted by subsequent tick bites in the years leading up to more widespread health deterioration and finally diagnosis in 2004 and subsequent treatment. 16 years is a very, very long time to go without any treatment. I would hope that something like this would never happen today.

Still, we did treat it intensively for a couple of years. We threw everything at it, conventional medicine, experimental stuff, dietary stuff, you name it. I saw all the doctors and did all the things and spent all the money over a decade ago. We beat Lyme Disease. Didn't we?

Well, kind of.... I have adjusted my lifestyle and continued with a basic protocol that has been helpful to me (in dealing with my own issues in the context of my own larger health needs). As a result, I'm managing this thing and keeping it in remission... mostly, kind of.

Periodically, "it" comes around with something of its old vigor and pokes me. It takes a few weeks to get things back to mostly-under-control, and then we go on. It's just as well that it's not more than this. I have enough other problems to deal with.

When I speak or write about my health, I usually emphasize my lifelong problems with mental illness, because they are (in some sense) deeper and more difficult for me, and because I have been able to articulate these experiences in ways that others can relate to; I have been something of a voice for others who can't speak for themselves. Mental health advocacy is very necessary, as is any encouragement I can give to people who are suffering. I'm not always up to it, but I do my best.

It's ironic. For me, at least, mental illness—with all its lingering stigma—is easier to talk about than Lyme Disease.

A lot of folks are spooked by Lyme. They have heard stories about people being crippled or even dying, about how awful a disease this is (and it can be, or become such, especially when it's long neglected). Some of my old students, colleagues, and friends remember seeing me in pretty bad shape. They were scared for me, and maybe sometimes a bit scared of me. A sick person is a reminder of how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and that's a scary thing.

But then there are periods of time when a person with Lyme Disease "looks fine," and folks think, "Why are they always complaining about being sick?" Just because you don't see their sufferings, however, doesn't mean they aren't sick. And Lyme is shape-shifting, unpredictable, variable, chaotic, and so often invisible to others. No wonder it's hard to talk about. The whole business is so complicated.

It's also controversial in the world of medicine and healthcare. There are controversies about diagnostics and treatment and complimentary therapies. And Lyme doesn't help by being so elusive and perplexing.

I have some post-traumatic stress from the so-called "Lyme Wars," frankly. Many people have been earnestly examining the vast unknown realms of this freaky, tick-borne multi-pathogenic disease that is spreading all over the world and often doesn't "follow the rules" in terms of who gets it, how badly they get it, or how much they can be "cured" of it. The medical experts and health researchers have developed different theories, and they have often ended up fighting with one another like dogs fighting over a bone.

People suffering from Lyme end up being the bone. It's no fun being the bone. In fact, it can be quite traumatic. I have found all of this very hard to handle.

The general situation of things may be improving, however. There are continued advances in more sophisticated scientific research. Meanwhile, the disease continues to spread, and the more it impacts people, the more urgent and insistent becomes the call to move things forward. Not everyone who crosses paths with Lyme Disease has the kind of wider profile of psychiatric illness that I do. Quite the contrary. Lyme strikes physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy people all the time; it causes sudden and strange collapse and debilitating illness for people who are normally strong and full of energy.

These people generally can't be bullied into self doubt or put off by being told that it's "all in their heads." They can't be plausibly accused of trying to find excuses to shirk their responsibilities. They are not even looking for sympathy. They have been inexplicably knocked off their feet and pounded in their heads and many other places all over their bodies. They want to get better.

I do still have the-part-of-my-brain-that-works and I had a good amount of physical energy before I got sick. After all, I didn't get Lyme Disease by sitting in the library. I got it hiking off trails through the woods in the Blue Ridge mountains and following deer paths along the river looking for good fishing spots in my beloved, beautiful, tick-infested Shenandoah Valley. So I can sympathize with how people accustomed to vigorous physical good health and a high-energy lifestyle feel about being pained, drained, and wiped out by this bizarre sucky disease.

They are taking the lead in advocacy. They include parents of once healthy but now afflicted children, as well as successful adults in many fields who have gotten sick themselves or taken care of loved ones who are sick—athletes, business and professional people, entertainers, artists, musicians, including some internationally famous celebrities. I'm very grateful for these people.

I can do my small part, within limits that I have found can become an occasion to focus on a few worthwhile activities, and to discover new forms of constructive creativity. I have very little advice to offer (other than directing people to resources such as the Global Lyme Alliance). I want to support people, listen to their stories, empathize, and encourage them as best as I can.

For the present, I had better be sure to get the necessary rest, hoping that the present episode will be resolved according to the usual pattern for me. Of course, there has been nothing "usual" about this year of ongoing stress and sorrow. If things get worse or new problems develop, I'll have to face them. But I am determined to resist the temptation to be fatalistic and cynical.

I won't give up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Gift of a New Life

Being Christian is not an 'identity' we construct by our own power; rather it is the gift of God in Jesus Christ—it is 'grace'; it is the gift of a new life in which the Spirit empowers us to love God truly, and to love one another.


"God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love he had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ (by grace

you have been saved),
raised us up with him,
and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come
he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace
in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus for good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them"
(Ephesians 2:4-10).

Monday, October 22, 2018

Forty Years Ago Today: "Do Not Be Afraid"


"The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth" (Saint John Paul II, October 22, 1978).

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Message of Marshall McLuhan

Often considered the founder of the academic discipline of "Media Studies," Marshall McLuhan coined many terms and phrases that have become common over the past half-century with the explosion in the development of communications technology.

He is often noted for declaring that "the medium is the message." This provocative and paradoxical statement was McLuhan's way of calling attention to the fact that the communication of a message, in reality, is not simply the pure transference from one mind to another of intelligible content; a message is conveyed through forms of mediation (media) that create an environment within which communication takes place.

On the left, we have reproduced a segment of the cover of McLuhan's 1967 book The Medium is the Massage. Wait..."massage" with two "a's?" I just said "message" before. But look closely at the title. Is it a mistake? 

What appears to be a typo in the book's title was actually an ironic twist on the famous phrase, which McLuhan employed to refer to an increasing phenomenon of the 1960s, namely, the constant immersion of people in the media technology of television and advertising. These "non-linear," surrounding, "involving" presentations of rapid images and conceptual associations massage us (manipulate us?) consistently throughout the day. Our minds adopt "positions" or change them, through being "worked over" in ways we don't even notice.

That was in 1967. McLuhan died in 1980, but he predicted the broad outlines of the ongoing 21st Century communications revolution, including the development of portable and widely accessible interactive multimedia technology. Whatever gadget you are using to read this today, it would not have surprised him.

McLuhan's project was to understand how media work, and the impact on human experience of "new media" (his term, which he originally intended as a reference to what are now "old media" systems like television and computer data). He was primarily descriptive and exploratory in his methodology (as is suggested by the title of his groundbreaking 1964 book Understanding Media); but when his studies spilled over beyond academia into popular culture in the late 1960s, McLuhan himself became something of a "media celebrity," and was often taken as an advocate of that which he intended to describe. 

In fact, he was anything but the ultra-hip utopian futurist prophet some might have wished him to be. McLuhan was a firmly grounded realist. He saw both the potential and the great dangers of new media technology, the gains and the inevitable losses and possible perils it entailed for the human experience. He was inclined, in fact, to be more pessimistic about what he saw emerging in "the global village" (another McLuhanism). He hoped that a thorough understanding would assist a more conscious, reflective, responsible, and balanced use of media—that it would lead to the cultivation of a media ecology (a project all the more necessary and urgent in our time).

Though it is not well known, McLuhan's methodology was grounded in a worldview much deeper than media studies, psychology, or even the academic disciplines of the sciences and humanities. While still young, he had entrusted his entire life to that super-exemplary, fundamental, definitive, mysterious and fully human mediator who is Jesus Christ crucified and risen, living in His Catholic Church.

Here is the story of how that came about:



Friday, October 19, 2018

Off into the Sunset?

Here's some digital art by me. It's a sunset.

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I might slow down on posting, or post less often, in the coming weeks.
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I'm having a rough time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Feels Like the Middle of October

For the record, here is the Janaro Estate, mid-October 2018. Last Friday was the first "sunny-and-not-roasting-hot" day of the season. (In fact it was a beautiful day.) No Fall foliage yet down in the Valley. The angle of the sun on the house at 3PM, however, is different from summertime, for sure.



It_was looking kinda "Summery" over on the side of the house on Friday, with lots of sunshine but (finally!) cooler temperatures.



These maple leaves in the breeze look like they have no plans to "fall" anywhere. HOWEVER (see pic. 2)...



...a close inspection reveals that "the process" is beginning... 😉


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Courage of Saint Oscar Romero

Lately, many of the entries on my blog have focused on specific people who I think are worth noting for a variety of reasons. These people are very different—not surprisingly there are saints and popes, but there are also scientists, rock stars, politicians, baseball players, and my own dear father.

They are different in many ways, but they have in common their humanity, their courage in different circumstances and on different levels, and in most cases their afflictions and/or deaths.

I am deeply moved by people who show courage in the endurance of affliction, people who do well—sometimes even to the point of heroism—that which is so awful and overwhelming to me, which I can only manage very badly.

I admire courageous people.

I admire the courage of newly canonized Saint Oscar Romero. The Archbishop of San Salvador was martyred in 1980 because of his persistent preaching of the gospel of Christ's justice and love against oppression of the poor by the criminal oligarchy of the long suffering nation of El Salvador.

Romero, however, challenges anyone who tries merely to admire him. He insists that we too can and must be courageous, not from our own innate capabilities, but by being instruments of Jesus and letting His power work through us.

For me—a man who loves too much my own comfort (and just because sometimes I lack certain comforts doesn't mean I'm detached from them)—Romero is a provocation. The more I study him, the more provoking he is.
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He did not seek political power, much less revolution. What he preached, fearlessly, was the need for real, concrete justice for people who had a right to it. He preached the love of God, but he knew that his flock could not respond to God's love and at the same time ignore (much less condone or participate in) the systematic abuse of human persons made in the image of God. 
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Because Romero's episcopal ministry was animated by this prophetic realism, he defied worldly classifications. It was evangelical courage that enabled him to think and act outside of everyone's boxes. He followed Christ intensely: being entrusted with ecclesial authority in a country that was already on the threshold of a horrific civil war, Romero followed the narrow path even though it meant being misunderstood by some and hated by others.

He followed Jesus Christ and was faithful to Him. He trusted in Him. He obeyed Christ and loved Christ in the Church. And for Oscar Romero, "Christ in the Church" was found in the Eucharist and the sacraments and prayer, in unwavering fidelity to Catholic teaching and tradition, in communion with (and loving obedience to) the Bishop of Rome, and in the faces of the Salvadorian people entrusted to him, especially the poor who were denied their basic rights as human persons and subjected to all manner of injustice, humiliation, and violence.

Romero saw Christ with simplicity of heart. We are the ones who make it so complicated. Still he had much to say that is provocative, even today, to those of us with divided hearts. Christ died for all of us, even for those of us who cripple ourselves by trying to serve both God and mammon.

We especially need Christ to liberate us from this illusion, to open our eyes to see that He is the Lord of history who is present in our lives and who leads us to our destiny in the glory of God. Romero's life and his martyrdom will help us to find this freedom.

Saint Oscar Romero of the Americas, pray for us!

What I have below is a collection of some Romero quotations that I have been meditating on recently. I may continue to add to it for my own reference. These are words that give some sense of his convictions about the relationship between real faith and real life, the fulfillment of this life in eternity, and the integral reality of the Church in the world. They indicate the way he lived and the way he died. His living and dying have much to teach us, now more than ever.
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Saint Oscar Romero, Quotations:

This is the meaning of Eucharist, the living presence and the life giving presence of Christ in person here in history. The primary and most important person who is present during the Mass is Christ on the altar. Therefore each time that we come to Mass it is he, Jesus Christ, whom we come to hear and follow and love.

When we leave Mass, we ought to go out the way Moses descended Mount Sinai: with his face shining, with his heart brave and strong to face the world's difficulties.

Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the Church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.

Let us not forget: we are a pilgrim Church, subject to misunderstanding, to persecution, but a Church that walks serene, because it bears the force of love.

The Eucharist...looks ahead to the future, to the eternal, eschatological, and definitive horizon that presents itself as a demanding ideal to all political systems, to all social struggles, to all those concerned for the earth. The Church does not ignore the earth, but in the Eucharist she says to all who work on earth: 'Look beyond!' Each time the Victim is lifted up at Mass, Christ’s call is heard: 'Until we drink it anew in my Father’s kingdom.' And the people reply: 'Come, Lord Jesus!' There is a hope. They are a people that march to encounter the Lord. Death is not the end. Death is the opening of eternity’s portal. That is why I say: all the blood, all the dead, all the mysteries of iniquity and sin, all the tortures, all those dungeons of our security forces where unfortunately many persons slowly die— all of this does not mean that they are lost forever. There is an eschatological horizon that illuminates all this darkness and that enables truth and justice and victory to sing. This eschatological horizon will be the definitive triumph of all those who struggle for justice and love.

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The Eucharist nourishes all of the just claims of the earth because it provides a true horizon. When individuals or groups want to work only for the earth and have no horizon of eternity and do not care about religious horizons, they are not true liberators. You cannot trust them. Today they struggle for power, and once in power, tomorrow they will be the worst repressors if they have no horizon that goes beyond history to sanction the good and the bad that we do on earth. That way there can be no true justice or effective work on behalf of the just demands of people.

When we speak for the poor, please note that we do not take sides with one social class. What we do is invite all social classes, rich and poor, without distinction, saying to everyone let us take seriously the cause of the poor as though it were our own.

Each time we look upon the poor, on the farmworkers who harvest the coffee, the sugarcane, or the cotton... remember, there is the face of Christ.

There is no dichotomy between man and God's image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being, abuses God's image.

We suffer with those who have disappeared, those who have had to flee their homes, and those who have been tortured.

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A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call.

A Church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed —  what gospel is that?

With Christ's light let us illuminate even the most hideous caverns of the human person: torture, jail, plunder, want, chronic illness. The oppressed must be saved, not with a revolutionary salvation, in mere human fashion, but with the holy revolution of the Son of Man, who dies on the cross to cleanse God's image, which is soiled in today's humanity, a humanity so enslaved, so selfish, so sinful.

When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.

How easy it is to denounce structural injustice, institutionalized violence, social sin! And it is true, this sin is everywhere, but where are the roots of this social sin? In the heart of every human being. Present-day society is a sort of anonymous world in which no one is willing to admit guilt, and everyone is responsible. We are all sinners, and we have all contributed to this massive crime and violence in our country. Salvation begins with the human person, with human dignity, with saving every person from sin.

It moves one's heart to think: Nine months before I was born there was a woman who loved me deeply. She did not know what I was going to be like, but she loved me because she carried me in her womb. And when she gave me birth, she took me in her arms, because her love was not just beginning - she conceived it along with me. A mother loves - and that is why abortion is so abhorrent.

I don’t want to be an 'anti,' against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.

Authority in the Church is not command, but service...To my shame, as a pastor, I beg forgiveness from you, my community, that I have not been able to carry out, as your servant, my role as bishop. I am not a master, I am not a boss, I am not an authority that imposes itself. I want to be God’s servant, and yours.

I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all Salvadoreans, even those who are going to kill me.

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Let us not develop an education that creates in the mind of the student a hope of becoming rich and having the power to dominate. Let us form in the heart of a child and young person the idea of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and giving oneself to others.

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We are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.

If we are worth anything, it is not because we have more money or more talent, or more human qualities. Insofar as we are worth anything, it is because we are grafted on to Christ’s life, his cross and resurrection. That is a person’s measure.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The "Roberto Clemente Doodle" Brings Back Memories

Roberto Clemente, "El Magnifico," was honored on today's Google Doodle for Hispanic Heritage Month.

I saw him play live a couple of times when I was a boy in Pittsburgh, and followed him day by day on the radio, in the papers, on televised games. He was a splendid player, and it was impossible not to feel his larger-than-life personality.

It was New Years Day 1973 when we heard the news of Roberto Clemente's death on my Dad's radio. One of baseball's best players was personally supervising relief efforts to Nicaraguan earthquake victims because—since he was so admired and loved in the Caribbean—Roberto knew that he (and perhaps only he) could hold back corrupt Nicaraguan government and military agents' greed and guarantee the delivery of emergency supplies to the people.

However, the overloaded and poorly-maintenanced plane that he was accompanying crashed over the Atlantic ocean.

It was so sad and tragic, but also deeply moving and so much like him to give his life for others.

Not bad for a ten year old boy growing up with a man like Roberto Clemente for a hero. None of us where who were kids in Pittsburgh in those days will ever forget him.

He was indeed "The Great One."

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "Keep Moving Forward!"

"Team Grimmie, you guys Rawk!"


On_September 18, 2014, Christina Grimmie made a video on her YouTube channel answering questions from frands submitted through Facebook and Twitter.

She was in the midst of a huge period in her career, and there weren't as many "Grimmie Thursday" cover videos as before. But she didn't distance herself from Team Grimmie; on the contrary, even as her circle of frands grew larger, Christina found new ways to use social media to share herself as an artist and a person.

On this video, what we encounter is four minutes of "Christina being Christina" (even though there is some editing). Fame and recognition from her magnificent run on Season 6 of The Voice did not go to her head. She remained her inimitable self, encouraging, kind, ever-wise, full of common sense, goofy, and hilarious (and so she continued to the very end).

Watch the whole video now if you wish. It's not particularly "extraordinary" in comparison to her other videos. But I just happened to watch it recently, so I'm using it as the basis for a few reflections.

Like I said, it's Christina being herself. Her current single at the time, "Must Be Love," gets a plug near the end (not one of my favorites of hers --the one and only song she released with Island Records) but then she pops in again after that.

There are some special things here: she gets a request to sing "anything" and so she sings... impromptu, no gadgets, no singing mike... and it just shows again, however briefly, that the beauty, versatility, pitch, and tone of her voice are all totally her own. It's a fact that I never get tired of being amazed by.

And it's a video "from home," no frills.


People who don't know Christina might just think, "Oh, she's just promoting her new single." Of course, promoting makes sense (even though most folks watching this video were already going to buy it). But that's not the main point.

Actually, do you know what I love especially about this video?

The garbage can.

There it is, behind her shoulder, jutting half way out, just sitting there. Just like it would be "in real life." Because this was a piece of "real life." It's a sign of openness, I think. She didn't worry about "the set." She just opened up her own environment and shared it.

Christina's videos are endearing because of the "stuff in the background," which is just her stuff, pieces of her life. Starting from 2009 with "Sonic the Hedgehog." Sometimes on the livestream, she would eat popcorn or some other snack. She came at you from right out of her own life.

While she did plenty of posting on short video venues (Vine, Snapchat, Instagram), YouTube and the livestreaming YouNow allowed her to "hang out" with people at greater length. The archives of these videos are more than precious relics of the past. She still communicates through them, just as she does with her music.

People read books by writers who lived hundreds of years ago, and they say, "This book had an impact on my life!" A communication from the past reaches a person and touches his or her life in the present.

I believe that Christina's videos also communicate in this way. It's not just the spectacular singing. It's the simple, humble, ordinary things: her way of carrying herself, her joy, her almost "authoritative" confidence when speaking about life or encouraging people, her genuineness, her sense of humor.

And this communication remains available to us. We can still learn new things from her about being human. Indeed, she has much to teach us.

I do lots of research on communications media and their impact on the psychological environment of human persons. I watch lots of videos and other media posts, and it's common to find them generating a stressful, superficial, cynical, rude, and bullying environment of negativity.

Even with a researcher's "distance," I can get worn down by these kinds of media presentations. When I need to just "clear my mind" a bit, find some human space, some "mental fresh air," I go watch some Christina Grimmie videos. She always comes through. She is a real human being, giving herself and her art.

She is loving. It's an environment of love and encouragement that she generates.

And I believe that her real, individual person lives, now -- taken up into the mystery of God, yes...the God who is Infinite Mystery, and also the God who has revealed Himself as Infinite Goodness and Love. We might dare to think that she is aware of us now (in God, who is without limitations), that she cares, that these gestures of love "from the past" are still given, even renewed, by her, so that we can know the touch of God's love, and continue to move forward enriched by the gift of her life and of the person she is, now, loving us from God's heart.

******************************************************************

I conclude with this little piece of Grimmie's common sense wisdom. Thanks, Christina! 💚


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Abundance of God's Love is Greater than Our Sins

I am a sinner.

I do not say this as a cliché, but as a simple statement of fact.

I am also a Catholic Christian. I have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, renewed by the Holy Spirit, and made a new person in Christ, a child of God, an heir to eternal life. I have been restored by Christ through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation for those times when I rebelled against my loving Father and went my own way, only to see my proud illusory schemes dissolve into disappointment and misery.

I have learned that by trying to ignore God's creating and redeeming love and his radical outpouring of himself, his giving of himself for me, I do violence to the very foundation of my own person. Adhering to him is the only way I can be true to myself.

I don't trust my own ideas or my own power. I trust in Jesus Christ.

Still, I am a sinner.

There are those sins the Catholic tradition calls "venial sins" which hinder and perhaps even cripple but do not break off our relationship with God.

My daily life is full of these "slight" sins: the facade that I think of as "myself" is largely a construction of vanity, of "benevolent" intrigue, fibbery, excessive love of comfort, the desire to please people, laziness, coldness, negligence and evasion, sharp-edged words, impatience, complaining, sentimentalism, distraction, and--of course--that ill-governed curiosity about events and people into which rash judgment and gossip inevitably creep, wearing a thousand conceptual disguises.😑 I'm not complacent about all of this. These sins injure me as a person and injure others. They are hindrances to the fullness of union with God, and sooner or later they will have to be cleansed away by the Refiner's fire, Love's fire.

I struggle against these sins; I want to grow in love and to do God's will, but part of me is pulled in the direction of trying to cut some kind of a deal with him.

It's easy for me to forget that he's the Infinite Lover who makes me and sustains me, who first gives me myself and then gives me himself. A worldly image seeps through the corners of my mind and tries to distort the reality of God, painting him as just a "big power" in the universe who confronts me "from the outside" with some (more or less arbitrary) prohibitions and demands. My diplomatic temperament inclines me to negotiate, as though the ultimate meaning of life is to save one's own skin. I do not believe this, but I recognize it as part of a toxic atmosphere around me that can stir up what remains in me of the effects of the "original lack-of-trust" that afflicts humanity.

It's not surprising that serious Christians (far more serious and dedicated than me) still commit many "venial" sins. So much of this behavior is rooted and woven within our complex, partly inscrutable subconscious dispositions. They engage our freedom in obscure, partial ways that aren't sufficient to constitute a willful rupture in our relationship with God, but that deserve some measure of blame.

Even after Baptism unites us concretely with the death of Christ, frees us from original sin and previous personal sins, and makes us children of the Father and heirs to the kingdom, we Christians are still... kind of a mess. We must keep working with the grace of Jesus that comes to us from the cross. He embraces our entire life on the cross, so that our whole humanity might be healed and transformed. The work of becoming conformed to his total self-giving death continues throughout our lives, as we "take up our cross" and follow him. It can be hard, but we must persevere in hope, with confidence that God is good, and that he carries us through it all in his love.

We certainly can't become obsessed with a preoccupation to make ourselves perfect. God knows how we need to be healed, and the path of growth is through cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, spiritual guidance, and the powerful grace of the sacraments--especially frequent encounters with Jesus who heals and strengthens us through Confession and gives us himself, substantially, in the Eucharist.

This slowly changes the way we see reality; it empowers us to recognize the presence of our loving God in every circumstance. We change more profoundly when we begin to recognize, concretely, that the gift of God in Jesus Christ is the heart of all reality, the meaning and value of everything. In recognizing him, we begin to want him and to love him more that our foibles and insecurities and our anxious attachment to ourselves.

I am a sinner. I don't know myself. I cannot find complacency just by looking at myself. "Who can detect trespasses? From my secret sins deliver me, O Lord" (Psalm 19:12). I am a sinner who stands before God in need of his mercy. I recall the venerable words of the ancient prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

We are all sinners, but the love of God has been revealed to us. This is the foundation of our confidence and our joy. We pray to the God who has poured out his love for us in Jesus, with confidence in the power, wisdom, and mysterious fruitfulness of this love. We struggle with our still-somewhat-messed-up inclinations, and we repent of our sins and endeavor to make amends while growing in the knowledge and love of God. We do the best we can with what God entrusts to us, using our understanding, freedom, and energy to adhere to him in a cooperation with his grace that shines light on our fragility, our total dependence on him, and the wondrous power of his love to transform us. Then, beyond the horizon of our own limitations, we abandon ourselves to his infinite mercy.

We find confidence in God and a living hope for eternal life when we live and grow in this relationship with him. "Do not be afraid," Jesus says. The abundance of God's love is greater than our sins. Indeed, his love is greater than anything in us. Even the sanctity that we share in, the supernatural heroism that he empowers us to achieve in union with him, doesn't measure the "size" or the "limits" of his mercy.

These things I find so beautifully expressed in this remarkable prayer that is the Collect for the present week in the liturgical year:

"Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Though our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever."

Friday, October 5, 2018

Anticipating Autumn

The Fall season has already begun, but you wouldn't know it from the temperature during the day or the green leaves on the trees.
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The arc of the sun is shorter and is leaning toward the south. The skies are often brilliant at the day's end:
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I have resorted to digital graphics to initiate the Autumn mood with this impressionistic play of light and color. I call it Anticipating Autumn:
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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Bishop Guido of Assisi: Mentor and Friend to Saint Francis

Giotto (14th c.) "Francis Gives Up His Possessions" (detail).
Happy Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi! So much can be said about the whole life of this singular man, so radical in his witness to Christ and at the same time so deeply human that it is hard for anyone not to love him.

I find it helpful to relate certain details about his conversion and vocation experience that are not so well known. Indeed, my column Great Conversion Stories in Magnificat magazine's May 2015 issue does just that.

Therefore, I will represent that article below. The type is from the original manuscript, from the final draft which is the same as the text published three and a half years ago:

The outlines of St. Francis’s conversion from a rich young man and would-be knight to a great saint are well known. We recall his lavish and frivolous youth, his military misadventures, and his return to Assisi in 1205 after imprisonment, illness, and a mysterious experience that drew him to a greater service.

In these days, at the dawn of one of the greatest vocations in all history, God’s grace worked powerfully but mysteriously to lead the searching young Francis to the awakening of religious devotion. Francis went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and then returned not to his former life of comfort and pleasure, but to a time of solitude in the forests and the mountains outside the city, which led him in the end to the chapel and the now famous cross of San Damiano, where he heard the words of Jesus, to “rebuild My church.”

Christian and non-Christian interpretations of St. Francis often depict him as a man who left worldly life and its distractions so as to commune in a kind of isolation with God (or “nature”). Historians sometimes portray Francis as a spiritual maverick who transcended all institutions including the Church and her human ministers. But the life of St. Francis was not like the wandering of medieval heretical sectarians or today’s uncommitted spiritualists.

Rather, St. Francis was always entirely attached to the Catholic faith and obedience to the Church. In the year 1205, when Francis returned from Rome searching for God’s will, he found a person, a friend, who remained a crucial figure in the development of his vocation, a figure whose significance is seldom given its due weight: the bishop of Assisi. Bishop Guido is known to history as the man who covered the naked Francis with his episcopal cloak after the young man publicly renounced his inheritance and all his property by returning even his clothes to his outraged father. But Francis and the bishop already knew one another by that time.

It was Bishop Guido who probably first advised Francis to seek solitude, not to wander but to pray, following the tradition of the desert fathers. After Francis heard Jesus in a vision from the cross of San Damiano, he probably met again with the bishop. By the time his father came with his lawsuit, Francis appealed to the Church’s protection and the bishop’s judgment. Guido knew well already the young man who shocked so many others by embracing total poverty, and who would later draw them to follow his sanctity.

Some accounts say that Francis, after giving back his clothes to his father, said that henceforth he would call only God his Father. But Francis also knew that God had become man, and that God’s fatherhood would draw close to him through the Church, concretely, through Bishop Guido. The bishop became Francis’s “spiritual father,” advisor, and sponsor as he embraced poverty and gathered his first followers. Guido did not try to manipulate Francis. He supported him as the grace of this new way of life unfolded. He was the ecclesiastical authority, but also a true friend. And it was bishop Guido, in Rome, who first sponsored the ragtag “lesser brothers” to a cardinal of the papal court, where Innocent III met the man sent by God “to rebuild My Church.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"Where is God?" Love and the Obscurity of Faith

The obscurity of faith is a special challenge for Christians.

This can really "hit home" in our lives when our trust in God is "stretched" (even to depths beyond the reach of natural psychology) by the experience of great trials.

Where is God in the awful grief of losing a loved one, the pain and humiliation of illness, the frustration of worthy goals? Where is God in all the failures of our lives (and we fail so much more often than we succeed), or when we try to do good and are thwarted by obstacles beyond our capacity to overcome?

Sometimes in our lives, in our journey toward God, He seems to "disappear." We seek Him in prayer and there is only silence. We beg for His help, but we continue to be crushed and crushed and overwhelmingly crushed. "Where are you, my God?"

In these times, a faith that hopes in God and loves God even through all this terrible, painful obscurity--that holds on to God alone and trusts in Him--enables us to go forward.

Even when circumstances are shrouded in darkness, we believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. This affirmation is concrete and personal to a vital Christian faith. The Lord leads us through the darkest of dark valleys; He leads us and accompanies us even (and especially) when we feel lost and alone.

The life of faith brings consolation, certainly, because God enters into a relationship with us. He is our loving Father, and all of reality abounds in signs, which are really gestures of His steadfast love and tenderness for each one of us. But the fullness of His love is the giving of His only Son to die for us so that we might rise to eternal life in Him.

Our faith strengthens us especially when we endure suffering, as we look to Christ crucified and suffer in union with Him. Suffering (in ourselves and also "with others"--com-passion) is an aspect of the personal path that each of us is called to walk with Jesus.

He is our light in the darkness. He transforms suffering into love--into His love, and He invites us to share in this love, the inscrutable inexhaustible suffering love from the Cross that saves the world.

By enduring the Cross with Him, we become more like Him. We grow in the likeness of the God who is Absolute, Infinite Love.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Thérèse: Working For His Glory

Thérėse: smallest and therefore greatest of the girls on "God's Girl Squad." She saw the one simple thing, without which nothing else makes sense, and even a self-contained "happiness" is ultimately an imposition and a constraint.

The one simple thing is love. This is what we have been made for: to go beyond ourselves in love. And God is Infinite Love.

She didn't want to suffer just for the sake of suffering. Rather, she experienced suffering as transformed by the love of God in Jesus Christ that triumphs over sin, that becomes the mysterious sign of God's own unreserved gift of Himself. Above all, here is God's revelation and communication of His own "inner life." God is, in His Trinitarian mystery, Absolute unreserved self-giving Love.
"It is a long time since suffering became my paradise on earth, and I find it hard to understand how I shall become acclimated in a land where joy reigns supreme and alone. Jesus must entirely change this soul of mine, otherwise it could not endure eternal bliss. All I desire is God's holy will, and if in Heaven I could no longer work for His glory, I should prefer exile to home" (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux).