Thursday, November 15, 2018

What Would I Be Without Jesus Christ?

Is it "worth it" to follow Jesus Christ?

The answer would seem obvious for a Christian, and yet we often feel the rub of questions like these. We are always in need of deeper conversion to the Lord, and a richer, more full adherence to Him.

What can I say? Following Christ is worth it to me because He is the One I have been made for. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the fulfillment of all things, and my person exists to be in relationship with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit: the One God who is Love beyond all imagining, who has created me for a participation in the communion of His trinitarian life. In the deepest sense, this relationship is the meaning of "me"—it's why I exist.

But this is not just theology.

Life is teaching me, slowly, that this is true for everything, even in this world. Sure, He gives meaning to all my aches and pains and neuro-wackiness, my illnesses, my problems, my feeling overwhelmed and exhausted - I say enough about all that in other posts on this blog.

But, really, what would I even be without Christ?

He has given me a beautiful life, and the people I love—my wife, my children, my family, my friends—as well as my desire to go further beyond myself to find the good in others and connect with their humanity because of His love that saves humanity.

All the good belongs to Him: the sky and the air, philosophy, poetry, and music, the stars, peoples, cultures, food, everything that is good is from Him and for Him and redeemed by Him.

Without Him I have nothing. Without Him I don't know the meaning or value of anything; without Him I am lost.

But it's not just "good for me." It matters because it's true. But let's remember that "truth" is not the same thing as ideology. Ideology demands a stubborn self-willed adherence to something we make up on our own, a humanly contrived scheme that we think will fix the world if we can sell it to enough people or force them to accept it. The "tl;dr" of twentieth century history should be: "The imposition of ideology does not work. Even if it begins with noble aspirations, it ends badly: with concentration camps, gulags, killing fields, starvation, war..." If only we could just learn this, even a little bit.

But the real truth is not like ideology. It's not about grasping for power and manipulating or suppressing other human persons. The real truth makes us free.

Ideology only makes us partisans of a program, and we become narrow and contentious and blind to our own flaws. We have to be careful not to turn Jesus Christ into an ideology. Certainly He leads us to see the world in particular ways, but they are His ways. He is the truth. He opens us up to reality, to the adventure of really living and the risk of really loving.

Jesus is the Truth in Person, the Truth who has given Himself for the salvation and transfiguration of the world. And we know that everyone in the world lives by seeking Him (whether they know it or not). We who are Christians, who are blessed—by grace—to know Him, are called to share Him and to continue to seek to know Him more.

Because He is Infinite Love, we must never think we have "enough" with Him, or that we have anything more than the beginning, the foretaste, the first fruits that should just deepen our desire to seek more and to love more.

What else is there?

As St Peter says, "Lord, where else could we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God" (see John 6).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

November Blues: Dark in the Afternoon

November afternoon. Too dark, too soon! Hey, possible song happening here.🎢🎢

I always wanted to do an album. Call it something like "Professor of Blues." "Hard Knocks College." "I Ain't Hip and I Can't Hop."πŸ˜‰

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Francesca Cabrini: Saints Show Us the Way

Much has happened since the last time we celebrated Mother Cabrini's feast day. She has special concern, no doubt, for her adopted country of the United States of America. She knows we are a young nation—a nation of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. She knows our limits and also where we need to be stretched, and the challenges that lie ahead. She knows the troubles in the Church in America and in our society today.

We should invoke her assistance at this time, with confidence.

Saint Francesca Cabrini, missionary and tireless servant of the masses of destitute immigrants in the USA at the beginning of the twentieth century, understood real people. She knew how to deal with everybody. She was able to light a fire inside people's hearts.

What was her secret?

Trust in God. Love for Jesus Christ. Prayer and the sacraments. Perseverance beyond the point of "crazy." Prayer. More prayer. Patience, in spades. Willingness to ask God for everything and to do whatever God put in front of her. More prayer. Loving people, ignoring their pretentiousness and/or their self-doubts, and waking them up to how they could serve the Lord and overcome evil with good. Never giving up on loving God and doing good. Knowing when to be persistent and when to be flexible. Total abandonment to Christ. And...did I say prayer?

We can sum it up in one word: Sanctity.

Holiness. It sounds impossible because it is impossible—it is impossible for human beings to do on their own, or even dream about doing. But God makes it possible; God, who came to be with us in Jesus Christ.

We need saints today.

We need saints like Francesca Cabrini to see the real needs of our own time and let Christ work through them. We are all called to be saints. It starts with prayer and trust; the more we open our own hearts to God, the more He will enable us to recognize what He is doing, by His grace, in the hearts of others.

Also, this generation needs some extraordinary saints, like Mother Cabrini or like Mother Teresa or John Paul II (the saints who were the light of my youth). I think we should pray to God to raise up among us these special kinds of saints, who will be inspirations and examples for our children, and who will help us all to live our faith with hope and joy whatever obstacles we might face.

They are already among us, certainly, but we need more of them. We need saints who we can see and hear, who are alive with love. We need to see what love looks like in this world today, and how love can embrace us with our problems, our wounds, our need for healing and renewal.

I know for sure that I can't figure this out for myself. I need help. Don't you?

Let's ask for help: Lord, grant us saints for our time, and make us saints.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day 2018

Remembrance Day 2018

One hundred years ago,
November 11, 1918,
at 11:00 AM,
the guns of "The Great War" fell silent,
The red poppies grew 
over the ruined fields
and the graveyards of a generation.
A terrible war was over,
but the violence of war still burned
in human hearts,
as it does to this day.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie's Prophetic Tattoo: "All is Vanity"

The tattoo "all is vanity" on CG's right forearm. [Credit
to whoever originally took this awesome picture
"All is vanity."

Christina Grimmie got a tattoo on her forearm shortly before trying out for Season 6 of The Voice (where she would deliver her now legendary jaw-dropping, four-chair-turning "blind audition," which still frequently makes "top-ten-greatest-ever" lists for these music competition shows).

It was the text of Ecclesiastes 2:1 written in English but using the "Elvish script" invented by J. R. R. Tolkien for his epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings. This combination exemplifies Christina's way of spontaneously integrating her whole life ("food, music, and video games, all raised up and united in Jesus," she once said).

Her struggle to be in the world without being of the world had many facets. Surely there were times when going to Hollywood, into the heart of the big American music/entertainment industry, in order to share her immense talents while being true to her faith and her humanity must have seemed as daunting as Frodo's task of bringing the One Ring to Mordor to be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.

But Christina Grimmie knew that life is a fight, in the sense that it engages us in a battle to build up and accomplish the good, and overcome obstacles that thwart goodness or try to destroy it (i.e. evil). This doesn't mean that life has to be grim all the time. On the contrary, life is a challenge, an adventure, a chance for heroism, a responsibility to give and receive love.

Every person is unique, and exists for a reason—to fulfill a calling, to become fully the person that God created them to be. We know that life aims for greatness. Sometimes it can be very hard; other times it can be lots of fun. But in order for life to flourish, it needs to be focused.

That's why Christina put the phrase "All is vanity" on her forearm. She explained it in terms of staying focused. She noted that it was a reminder to her to "keep God first" in her life. It was also to help her remember that she should never allow any kind of fame or success to make her puffed-up, egotistical, or self-absorbed. She didn't want her life to get "out of focus." She didn't want to be distracted by the vanity of merely temporary and superficial things that might make her forget her fundamental vocation to love God through Jesus, to love her family, her friends, and her frands, to give of herself through the gift of music.

No doubt Christina was distracted plenty of times, just like we all are. Her faith (helped by the expression etched on her arm) would help her to put things back into perspective. It served her right to the end, and it still provides us with a chance—beyond our sorrows—to appreciate the enduring achievement of her life, and to stay focused in our own lives.


Here I would like to share some of my own reflections inspired by this prophetic phrase, and by the way it helped keep Christina Grimmie focused on giving of herself in love and becoming the person God called her to be. She shines on as a bright beautiful light for us all in these times:
The phrase "All is vanity" doesn't mean that life has no value or purpose. But what it means is that ultimately we can't keep anything. Life in this world is not meant to last. It's meant to be given away, to become love. Otherwise its promises fade, they disappoint us, or they get stolen from us.
We're on a journey. It's a beautiful, joyful, magnificent journey, but it's also violent. This is because we have an enemy who wants to steal everything. This enemy has tremendous power—power to deceive us, to connive against us and cheat us, and to take and even destroy everything we have. "All is vanity." But the enemy can't keep us from giving it all away, from turning ourselves and all we have into a gift of love.
Love can't be stolen, because it has already been given away.
All this sounds too painful, overwhelming, inconceivable. How can we possibly love like this? How can we do this, give like this?
But here is the good news: Someone has already come and has done it all.
Everything belonged to Him. He gave it all away. He gave it to those who wanted to take it away from Him. He who is Love, came to be with us, to win the victory of love in our flesh, so that we could become gifts of love in Him.
"All is vanity"... because its value is really (and only) to point us toward the Someone for whom we have been made. In Him we will find, forever, everyone and everything dear to us in this life, and more: we will find all the love we ache for. We journey through this life, with and through limited realities, toward an Infinite fulfillment.
It hurts a lot, this life, because our souls are being stretched for the Infinite.
The One who loves each and all of us never intended for bad stuff to happen in this world, but He lets it happen sometimes. He lets it happen because in order for us to love Him and one another, He had to make us free. We can't be forced to love, and that means we are free to turn away from Him, to become lost in the vanity of things-without-Him, and thus to bring forth violence against one another.
He allows the abuse of freedom and its incalculable consequences and all the seemingly unbearable distress that this entails for life in this world. But He doesn't allow it to prevail in the end. He permits it only because He has a plan to turn it inside out and bring forth something good and beautiful beyond anything we can imagine.
God is good, all the time. But it's hard to see it. We have to be made bigger, so He "stretches" us and it hurts terribly and we feel like we're going to break. He knows what He's doing, but it's hard sometimes and it takes time.
We must be patient with ourselves.

Friday, November 9, 2018

"The House of God is the True House of Humans"

Today we commemorate the completion and dedication in the year 324 of the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist on the Lateran hill, in Roma! (I have many memories of this beautiful place.)

Building a church to bring people together in the presence of God also deepens their unity with one another. "The house of God is the true house of humans," as one famous author puts it.

"Where people just want to inhabit the earth by themselves it becomes uninhabitable," he continues. "Nothing more is built up where humans only want to build by themselves and for themselves. But where...people let themselves be claimed by God,..where they pull back and part with their time and their space [for Him], there the house of the community is built, there...the impossible on earth becomes a present reality. The beauty of the cathedral does not stand in opposition to the theology of the cross but is its fruit. It was born from the willingness not to build one's city by oneself and for oneself" (Josef Ratzinger).

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Seasons Give Rhythm to Life

I got out for a bit on this beautiful sunny November afternoon. Wind and cool weather have been stripping the leaves off many of the trees that were so full of color just over a week ago. We are left with a carpet of leaves on the ground and more wide open sky above us.

Here is another 60 second video that I made this afternoon from my ongoing series. This is Episode 6 of My Front Porch. I'm in a bit more of a lively mood than the last time. The post is on my YouTube channel:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Where Has My Life Gone?

It's getting dark as I lay here in bed typing this out on a tablet. I can't avoid a sense of melancholy.

Where has my life gone? What have I done with it all? How could I have wasted so much of this tremendous gift?

God has been so good to me. He has carried me like a little child. He has shielded me from so many dangers. He asks so little of me, and even that is only so that I might grow in likeness to Him, and find fulfillment in Him.

Instead, I sleep in His hands, and then wake up and run in little circles on His huge palms, ignoring Him as much as I can, begrudgingly giving Him little bits of time and some half-hearted attention.

I know I'm messed up. My humanity is skewed, tilted, off balance, cracked. I'm an emotional infant. I have an immense mind so full of aspirations and so prone to devouring itself. I'm driven by great desires and hindered by a strange paralysis.

I want to love other people. I do, but I'm also afraid of them.

Sometimes I am so angry at space and time and limits. I am angry with my own weakness. The great wound in my life, beneath it all, is something that I don't understand. It seems deeper than myself. Will I ever find healing?

"Why then do you judge your brother or sister? Or you, why do you look down on your brother or sister? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Romans 14:10).

I have no grounds for condemning any person or for "looking down on" any person. I must remember to forgive so that I might be forgiven, to be merciful so that I might obtain mercy.

As the day draws to a close, as the night of life's end draws near, God's mercy is my only hope.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Days of Brilliance

     And suddenly, Autumn bursts out everywhere!🍁

A few days of brilliance, but now they are already falling. Still, there are some late "bloomers" to come in this brief "Second Spring"—the big maple trees and a few others.

We'll look forward to them.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Fullness of Joy

All Souls Day.

In November we remember the faithful departed.

We are deeply connected to one another, all of us who dwell upon this little earth, and all those who have come and gone before us—from whom we have our lives and who contributed to the cultures and environments that have formed us.

For all their failures, frailty, and weakness, they have planted the seeds of goodness in our hearts. May we all rejoice forever in the harvest with its unending fruition.

Lord, grant eternal rest to all our beloved dead, and bring them into the fullness of your joy.

"If we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also
live with Him.
We know that Christ, 
raised from the dead, 
dies no more;
death no longer has power over Him"
(Romans 6:8-9).

Thursday, November 1, 2018

All Saints and All Souls

Today is All Saints Day. Tomorrow is All Souls Day. So I have posted this graphic text:

I can think of a few that I've got a "pretty good feeling" about, though it won't prevent me from praying for them tomorrow (and every other day). May all those who have gone before us be brought by the arms of God's merciful love to the eternal joy of His embrace.