Friday, December 14, 2018

La Fiesta de San Juan ... de ★Noche★πŸ”₯

Yesterday was light and today is ... DARK!?

San Juan de la Cruz. Saint John of the Cross. Today is his feast day. He is the great sixteenth century Carmelite reformer and mystic who is famous for his teaching about "the dark night of the soul." He is also one of the great poets of the Golden Age of Spanish literature.

San Juan's explanation of the periods of experiential "darkness" that occur at various times during the growth of our relationship with God is intended to encourage us. We need not "be afraid" of the darkness. Or, even if we do feel afraid, we can recognize that this kind of disorientation should not cause us to give up loving God and seeking to draw closer to him.

"In general the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so; indeed, most frequently when it imagines that it is losing. Having never before experienced the present novelty which dazzles it, and disturbs its former habits, it considers itself as losing, rather than as gaining ground, when it sees itself lost in a place it once knew, and in which it delighted, traveling by a road it knows not, and in which it has no pleasure... But inasmuch as God Himself is the guide of the soul in its blindness, the soul may well exult and say, 'In darkness and in safety,' now that it has come to a knowledge of its state" (Saint John of the Cross).

These precise observations of spiritual theology probably apply in a broader sense to much of the strangeness of ordinary human life. We must continue to trust in the wisdom and goodness of God throughout all the seemingly incomprehensible twists and turns and jolts and failures we experience, all that tempts us to question whether or not God really cares about us.

Of course he cares about us. But he has made us for himself; he has made our hearts for a fulfillment inexpressibly greater than we can understand or achieve by our own power. We won't reach the God who is infinite, transcendent Mystery, the God who is Infinite Love, until we have really endured something like these dark nights.

I spent some time today with Spanish verse of this great saint and poet. Some of the words are antiquated, but in general they are very accessible and certainly more concise, more rhythmic, more beautiful in their original form. I don't speak Spanish and I don't understand much of the many variations of spoken Spanish found throughout the Hispanic world. I do aspire to read, and with the many new and continually improving linguistic tools available to us, I hope to learn to read a bit better. Language is a wonderful thing in itself.

Here are the first six verses of the Song of the Soul that Knows God by Faith by San Juan de la Cruz:

Cantar de la Alma
que se huelga de conoscer a Dios por fe

Que bien se yo la fonte, que mana, y corre
aunque es de noche.

Aquella eterna fonte esta ascondida
que bien se yo do tiene su manida
aunque es de noche.

Su origen no lo se, pues no le tiene;
mas se que todo origen della viene,
aunque es de noche.

Se que no puede ser cosa tan bella
y que cielos y tierra beuen della
aunque es de noche.

Bien se que suelo en ella no se halla
y que ninguno puede vadealla
aunque es de noche.

Su claridad nunca es escurecida
y se que toda luz de ella es uenida
aunque es de noche.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

With Santa Lucia Comes the LIGHT (Literally)

Santa Lucia!πŸ’–πŸŒŸ

In medieval times, this day (more or less) marked the Winter Solstice (which, given the accumulated lag over the centuries of the Julian Calendar, was pretty accurate back then).

"Lucia" of course comes from the Latin for "LIGHT." She's an early Christian martyr from Sicily who, according to accounts, got her eyes poked out.


Returning to astronomical concerns: the Gregorian calendar pushed everything back on track in the late 16th century. But it's still true that sunset starts getting later today. Technically, we will still lose a couple more minutes before the days start getting longer, but all the loss from now until the 21st (which is not much) is on the sunrise side of the day.

This means that we have passed the nadir of "afternoon darkness." (For the morning, at least there's coffee.☕)

Therefore, in the spirit of this traditional martyr's feast I wish you all a HAPPY MIDWINTER!❄⛄

... okay yeah, for Argentine and Australian peeps, of course, "Happy Midsummer" and stop-making-me-jealous-with-all-your-BEACH-pictures (I'm joking! πŸ˜‰).

Saint Lucy, pray for us!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Guadalupe Touches People One by One

Our Lady of Guadalupe, seen from walkway behind the main altar.
On this beautiful day of celebration for all the peoples of America and for the whole world, we rejoice in the very special companionship that Jesus has shared with us. That companionship was dramatically reaffirmed nearly 500 years ago, in the gift that the "little Mother" gave to a poor indigenous man in Mexico.

To put it another way, on December 12, 1531, the Virgin Mary took the world's first "selfie," which she shared with Juan Diego, and all the rest of us. But the pictures we take are only shadows compared to this uniquely vivid, mysterious, enduring, scientifically inexplicable image.

I have made three pilgrimages to the Basilica in Mexico City that holds the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Though it's great to have high resolution color photographs these days, no secondary picture can reproduce the original in all its facets. The image seems to have a vitality, powerful yet gentle; a presence that a superficial observer can easily ignore, but that reaches out in a personal way to those who spend time with her with open hearts. Of course, like any good mother, Mary is able pick up her children even when they are distracted, if she has something for them that they really need.   .

Everyone's experience with her there is different and personal; most of the time it's not something dramatic. Real motherhood is mostly an ordinary thing, an everyday thing. It is always a loving thing, a gift of love that shapes the lives of those who receive it. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe has remained with us through the past five centuries, through the whole unfolding of modern history. Her image is connected with various peoples, events, and worthy causes. But the reason she came, and continues to stay in this place by means of this unique "supernatural media event," because she wants to touch people one by one, to draw us into her tenderness.

She wants us to give her our burdens and sorrows and to listen to her so as to discover in a new way that each of us is loved, personally, intimately, by her Son Jesus.

Each one of us matters. Each one of us has a purpose.

Above all, each one of us is the child of a good God who will not fail us in time of need.

Our Merciful Mother gives us Jesus her Son and our brother. And she knows and cherishes each of us as his brothers and sisters, as her own children, and she attends us with great compassion throughout our lives.

Nuestra SeΓ±ora de Guadalupe, pray for us. .

For many years this print of the image has presided over our dining room table

So much symbolism, but also much that is intimate and personal. When I posted this on Instagram today, it appeared on my page right next to my previous post, which was a picture of a young woman who also has her hands folded and her head bowed, full of gratitude, who also shared herself with others and even said (in the accompanying text) "I feel like a mother to you." Obviously this is a coincidence, and not much of a coincidence at that. For all that, I didn't plan it, and it surprised and struck me personally. Behind the big theological term "spiritual maternity" there is a great reality which some are called to live in special ways. And they can share in the pattern of Mary's maternal solicitude for us even if they don't have explicit knowledge of the full scope of it. Why not? Really, nothing is a "coincidence" in God's good providence. God is good, all the time. (Btw: That same picture is directly below this blog post.)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "God Gave Me Each of You for a Reason"

Today marks two and a half years since Christina Grimmie's life was taken. On the night of June 10, 2016—during an open meet-and-greet after her show in Orlando, Florida—she opened her arms to welcome yet another person, another face she'd never seen before, another stranger she was called to meet with love...

The stranger shot her four times, once in the head and three times in the chest, before turning his gun on himself. She was 22 years old.

Human reason reels in trying to make any sense of this horror. Even now, we still have no words... But consolation for Christina Grimmie's murder—and even a glimmer of a different kind of light that we cannot ignore—still reaches us from the most unexpected of places, from Christina Grimmie herself.

Two years prior to that fatal night, she wrote a special note to "Team Grimmie," her frands. She said some extraordinary things in that note, and she would repeat many of them again. More importantly, her life was true to these words, right up to the very last moment...

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Helping One Another to "Discern What is of Value"

"And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless
for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God."

~Philippians 1:9-11  .

I have a particular love for this text and its indications for the Christian vocation in the Church and in the midst of the world.

Saint Paul prays that the love of the Philippians might increase "ever more and more" with knowledge and, indeed, with "every kind of perception" so that they might carry out a very crucial task: "to discern what is of value" in life and thereby bring forth "the fruit of righteousness."

There is much to be learned from meditation on this text. Jesus tells us, "Do not judge" and this is crucial, because each person belongs to God, and God alone knows their heart, their degree of moral responsibility, and His own plans to draw them to Himself.

But it is something different to practice "discernment." By the grace of the Spirit, and reason enlightened by faith and vivified by love, we can engage concrete realities in our own lives and give guidance to others (above all those entrusted to our care in various ways).

We are called, and given the grace, to discern "what is of value" as we journey through life. This is certainly important for our own lives. But it also suggests one important component of how we look at others and even the world at large. It's easy for us to fall into a pattern of looking at other people and trying to see what's wrong with them. We are inclined to search for their faults and for ways of behaving that are objectively sinful, then to reduce their identity to these negatives, and judge them rashly in our hearts (if not in our gossip-filled conversation).

Discernment, however, takes a different approach when looking at others. It is not blind to their faults and gives full weight to the hindrances of sin in their lives (knowing well enough how sin hinders all of us), but it does this within a larger perspective, as only one part of a broader focus.

Discernment seeks out "what is of value" in a person's life; it tries to discover (as much as possible, with great humility and respect for the person) where God is working to draw forth or enrich their heart's desire for goodness and beauty, their soul's search for truth and wisdom.

Discernment requires us to listen to the person, to allow them to talk about themselves and tell their story. It not only listens to their speech but also watches the way they treat others and the way that reality fascinates them and draws them beyond themselves. It looks for signs of how and where God is working. This is not to imply that such "signs" are going to be easy to find or to understand—God's action is essentially hidden, but by listening to a person's own words, to their story, and watching the way they respond in ordinary situations, discernment can at least gain some useful insights and learn something about "who they are" and "what matters to them" in life.

Then, in a crucial part of the process, discernment asks in prayer, "Lord, how do you want me to foster your work in this person's life? How can I be your instrument to build up the good, or at least to enliven and increase the desire for the good in them, so that they might draw closer to you?"

What kind of graces does a person hope to receive in this prayer? They seek graces associated with fraternal charity and the spiritual works of mercy, and for help in using the virtue of prudence elevated and further enlightened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit called "counsel."

Of course, some people may have a more particular gift, a "charism," for grasping the concrete good and helping others to see it more clearly and move toward it. A gift for discernment makes a person helpful to others. It is not a licence to be obtrusive, nor does it bestow psychic powers to read minds and predict the future.

Let me be clear: it is extremely rare for a person to have the extraordinary charism of "reading souls," and that is not what discernment aims for in any case. Ordinarily a person who claims such power should be avoided, especially in light of recent disasters in the Church caused by situations where the "cult of personality" dominated the interior lives of others. Genuine Christian relationships should enrich and deepen the experience of freedom as a gift from God that inheres in the inviolable core of every person.

The stories of a saint like Padre Pio "reading souls" have some measure of credibility in the context of his whole extraordinary life. Such stories are particular episodes that have been reported among many other remarkable occurrences. Padre Pio himself was a rare kind of saint, a wonderworker whose extraordinary charisms were bestowed on him for the good of the Church and the service of his brothers and sisters (and please note well: acknowledging the credibility of these remarkable gifts does not mean endorsing as true every story or rumor that circulates about Padre Pio on the internet).

Above all, Padre Pio was a saint, a man who loved God and human beings and whose holiness of life drew people to seek him out. He did not "advertise" his special gifts and he always humbly submitted to restrictions imposed by ecclesiastical authorities (even when they weren't fair). He called himself "a poor friar who prays," and his biggest "external" aspiration and concern was the building of a very special hospital called the "Home for the Relief of Suffering." He never wrote a book. He never went on a speaking tour. We have his own words from discrete correspondence. His humility was profound.

This digression about Saint Padre Pio (and certain misconceptions that might try to cite him as an example) is intended to point out that in seeking discernment we don't seek these kind of extraordinary powers. We seek to open our minds and hearts to the delicate breeze, the "still, small voice" of the Holy Spirit who works among us, and for a strengthening of practical reasoning informed by faith and assisted by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. With reference to others, discernment aims to serve them by helping them (without any kind of psychological manipulation, with profound respect for their freedom) to discern God's will in their life. Also, it entails helping to build up and nurture in them the love of whatever draws them closer to God, whatever is truly "of value" in them insofar as we are given to recognize it.

Obviously discernment is concerned with sinful behavior and never approves of evil. But by calling on God, being attentive, and loving what is good—what is "of value" here and now in a person's life—a discerning approach seeks to help the person in their particular struggle with evil, their need to resist sin. "Admonishing the sinner," even in the most basic rhetorical sense, requires attention to what might really be a useful or even comprehensible warning for a person. Genuine discernment will allow more space for God to shape a necessary admonition to the need of a particular person and to His grace.

Beyond that, however, a discerning approach can open us up to being instruments of God in building up, supporting, and serving one another on the journey we are making together toward our final fulfillment in Him. We are united as members of one Body in Jesus Christ. He wants to give us abundant graces to help one another. There is no need for some artificial structure here, no need for special meetings where people sit around criticizing one another or making rash claims that "God told them that you need to do x or y." No, that quickly becomes a strange and manipulative situation.

The terms used to describe our relationship in Christ are "brothers and sisters." We can exercise discernment as we seek together "what is of value" within the connections and bonds that develop organically among Christ's members. The relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ remain human relationships that grow in particular places and along the various and sometimes bumpy roads of human communities. They require the appropriate regard for the dignity of persons that allows space for the development of genuine and mature human friendships.

"Friendship in Christ" must not be a label we misuse or devalue. It is real human friendship informed by Christian love. Friends can help one another in the work of discerning God's will, by a humble but very real charism of the Holy Spirit that takes shape within the friendship as a human reality—a reality that is all the more profoundly human in the measure in which it is imbued by grace. Christian friendship is the life of faith vitally realized within a genuine human friendship; it is warm and familiar (in different ways, and not without the flaws and quirks that characterize all human things); it is respectful, trustworthy, well grounded, open beyond itself, and inserted into the life of the local and universal Church. It is the foretaste of a communion of persons destined to last forever.

Indeed, such friendship is in itself a thing of great value.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Friday, December 7, 2018

God is Always Good, But He's Not Always "Easy"

God is good. All the time.

He really is. We can't even begin to imagine how wildly overflowing, diffusive, and gratuitous He is in His goodness.

This is the very reason why His ways can seem strange and difficult to us. He sees the whole fulfillment of His goodness in eternity. We don't. We journey through space and time, often with anxious, faltering steps, sometimes through heavy winds and fierce storms, sometimes in a moonless night.

We can get pretty disoriented, and wonder what's going on.

God is good. And He is true to the promise He has whispered in our hearts, and to the fullness of His revelation of that promise through Jesus. But He didn't promise it would be "easy."

He calls us to follow Him on the narrow path. He wants us to trust Him.

God is not easy with us. Though I'm sure He's much "easier"—kinder, more patient, more merciful, and more just—toward us than we are toward ourselves, and toward one another.

Nor should we be surprised that we do not understand His ways. God Himself is beyond our comprehension. He is the Mystery. He is never captured or grasped.

But He is trustworthy, and if we stay with Him, we will begin to understand the meaning and value of life and created things and the world and the peculiar moment of history He has entrusted to us.

He is merciful. He is faithful. He loves us. Indeed, He is with us!

This is what we are preparing to celebrate during the Advent season: He has come to dwell with us.

He has come, the One who creates and sustains our very being, our intelligence, our freedom. He has come, the One who is the ineffable source of the miracle that manifests itself everytime one of these strange little material entities in the universe says, "I am a 'someone'" and when it sees another speck of cosmic dust like itself and says, "You are a 'someone'!"

He has come, the One who makes our mysterious, otherwise inexplicable personhood real, vital, and so intimate that it is truly "our own." He comes to be with us, to be close to us, to fulfill to the end His fidelity, His mercy, His love for us.

He has come: Jesus.

He, the Eternal Word, took flesh in the womb of a woman, the always-and-all-holy woman He chose and prepared to be His mother. Jesus born of the Virgin Mary.

He has come to dwell with us, to make us His brothers and sisters. He wants us to be with Him forever, to share with Him the fulllfillment of all things, and above all to share in His own inexhaustible life, His glory, His joy, His love.

This is not "easy," but we don't really want "easy"; we want to be moved, to live beyond ourselves, toward a reality that is mysterious and great and good.

He comes, who encompasses and surpasses all our aspirations. Let us take time, in these days, to make room for Him in the center of our hearts, of our lives. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Melody of a Creek

Tuesday was cloudy and chilly, but I felt a bit perkier than usual so I decided to hang out at a nearby natural body of water called Happy Creek.

I got as close as I could to the water, and, I'm pleasantly surprised to say, did not fall in! (I have a long record of falling into water going back to toddlerhood, but not in a dangerous way, just inconvenient and klutzy.)

For many years I was an avid fisherman, and I even had a small boat I used to take on the Shenandoah River. I loved those days and I'm glad for all the experiences and memories of that time.

Now, I'm blessed to be surrounded by natural beauty all year long, and I have different kinds of adventures taking walks with my camera, or even just exploring the front yard.

Some days are better than others, of course. I only brought my phone to the creek, but I still took a few pictures. Then I decided to get a sustained bit of video footage of the creek. It's not high quality, but I'm too old to be picky.

Figuring there are a few other people who might want to watch a video of gentle flowing water and listen to the music of a creek, I posted it to my YouTube channel:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Near the Year's End: My (Late) "Mid-Life Crisis" Goes On

Hello December my old friend... #Dark!
It is finally December 2018. Some years seem to just fly by. Not this year. For me, it feels like last Christmas was ten years ago. So much has happened. In many ways, life has shifted into a new phase. It's a human thing, it's a natural phase as kids become adults who are suddenly much more independent, and parents become aged and infirm and much more dependent.

That's why it's called "middle age," I guess.

But I'm nearly 56 years old. With the body of a 96 year old (of course that's hyperbole, but there are days when it seems rather close to the mark). It's a bit late for middle age, perhaps. And on top of that, we still have an almost-16 year old and a 12 year old at home. We are by no means "done" with the full-on parenting gig. Eileen and I joke that we've finally become "the normal American family." That really is a joke; the other three are still in and out plenty. But John Paul is a Senior in college (i.e. "university") and in six months he graduates. More uncharted waters coming. Help! (Actually, I'm sure he'll be fine. He won't be rich—at least, not right away—but he'll do fine.)
With my parents, I just hope they know how much we all love them, and that we're ready to do whatever it takes and deal with whatever comes. Well, I should say we're as ready as we can be; we have to trust God in front of the uncontrollable possibilities that may lie ahead. But that's true about all of life. We are not the masters of reality. But we are a family, and the Lord has given us a lot of grace to stick together through many unforeseen things. May He enable us to persevere.
We need that grace and that trust every day, both for our parents and for our kids. Gosh, the adventure of adolescence has not even begun for Jojo. 

Growing up, there was just me and my brother. My parents were only given the two of us (though we were a handful). When I turned 12 years old, do you know how old my Dad was? He was 39 years old.


I wouldn't mind being a few years younger and a lot healthier and more energetic. But that's daydreaming.

And I can't live the daydream of become a quiet retired scholar, either. My own body and brain aren't even up to that. But, really, that's never what I wanted to be anyway.

For now the flood keeps coming. "God keep my head above water."

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Charles de Foucauld in His Own Words

Blessed Charles de Foucauld's feast day is December 1, the anniversary of his martyrdom at the hands of a desert militia in Algeria in 1916. The man who called himself the "little brother" of Jesus and the "universal brother" of all people had lived as a contemplative and servant of the poorest of the poor, the nomadic tribes, their slaves, and anyone who sought him out.

Not only did his spiritual ideal become the basis for the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus (and then the Little Sisters) within a generation of his death; he also was the first in a series of witnesses in Algeria who lived a mission of charity and solidarity with the people, as Christians living together with Muslims in dialogue and mutual respect. During Algeria's civil war at the end of the last century, many of these would also suffer martyrdom at the hands of radical Islamist factions.

A group of these martyrs in Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine (whose story was so beautifully presented in the 2010 film "Of Gods and Men") and Bishop Pierre Claverie, will be beatified this coming week.

The spiritual family of Brother Charles continues to grow in so many ways, with the humble, quiet persistence that accompanies and signifies the transcendent power of Christ's love.

Quotations of Blessed Charles de Foucauld:

"Above all, always see Jesus in every person, and consequently treat each one not only as an equal and as a brother or sister, but also with great humility, respect and selfless generosity."

"Our entire existence and being should shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Our entire person should breathe Jesus. All our actions and our entire life should proclaim that we belong to Jesus."

“We do good, not by what we say and do, but by what we are, by the grace which accompanies our actions, by the way that Jesus lives within us, by the way that our actions are Jesus' actions, working in and through us."

"I want to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and nonbelievers, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. Already they're calling this house 'the fraternity' (khaoua in Arabic) -- about which I'm delighted -- and realizing that the poor have a brother here -- not only the poor, though: all men."

"What is there in common between heaven and me -- between its perfection and my wretchedness? There is your Heart, O Lord Jesus. It forms a link between these two so dissimilar things."

‎"Let us concern ourselves with those who lack everything,...those to whom no one gives a thought. Let us be the friends of those who have no friends, their brother."

"The love of God, the love of men, that is my whole life, that will be my whole life, I hope. When we can suffer and love, we can do much, the most that one can do in this world."

Prayer of Abandonment:

I abandon myself into your hands.
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.