Saturday, June 29, 2019

Pete and Paul Go Way Waaay Back (Buona Festa!)

Saints Peter and Paul (on stone, detail from early fourth century Christian tomb). 

I thought this was pretty cool. Happy Summer Holidays!

Friday, June 28, 2019

"All You Who Labor and are Burdened..."

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-30).

This way of approaching Jesus - drawn by the unimaginable depth of the love of His human heart - gives me great hope and consolation. His Sacred Heart is my refuge.

For I am one of those who labor and are burdened. Illness is part of it, of course. But it's deeper; it goes down to the core of my personality. I am a large and broken person, with "the grandeur and the misery" of being human tied together in huge knots all through my soul.

There is still so much pride in me. So much ego. Much of my burden is there. But that's not all of it. There is also something that I can no longer escape at my age: it's a real undeniable pain, like a wound, like a constraint of nature: the pain of the failure to fulfill the great potential of my own life. The fact that this failure was mostly unavoidable, due to illness and uncontrollable circumstances, does not mean that it's painless. I don't let it define me. I don't dwell on it too much. But I can't pretend it's "nothing" either.

Perhaps I now embody, in some measure, the "type" of personality that I remember hearing described in my youth with reference to someone else much older, someone with vision and achievements marred by catastrophe and frustrated by the narrow space of action that confined him thereafter: "He is a marvelous wreck of a man." 

I came to know that particular man well in his last years. The description was fitting, up to a point. But his limitations humbled him and opened his heart radically to his need for God's salvation - for God's mercy. This was something new and transforming, and there was "lightening" of the burden in it; he found a measure of rest and a wisdom that he tried to communicate to others.

But the burden did not go away. Sometimes it overwhelmed him. Nevertheless, he knew he wasn't carrying it alone.

And now I find myself an "elder" with achievements and catastrophe in my past, and limitations going forward in my remaining years (none of these are as great - or as terrible - as those of my old friend from my youth, who went home to God a long time ago).

Still I remain a very "large" person, with a vast span of interests and concerns, full of aspirations and frustrations, generous but proud, broken in so many ways.

I talk too much (verbally and in writing). I always have, of course, but it's becoming more obvious as the rhetorical polish wears thin, and I'm compelled to admit it even to myself. I suppose this is for the better: it's so easy to become a crashing of cymbals, a colossal wind-bag, a bore without even realizing it.

Yet people like me are terrified of being useless, of being ignored. Here again there is pride, egotism, and vanity, but also new forms of insecurity brought by the passage of time.

Knowledge puffs up. Others admire knowledge when it's in alliance with political or social power, or when it can otherwise serve some practical purpose. But when the "large" person is sidelined and/or begins to grow old - when it becomes clear to everyone that he or she is no longer a "player" in the game - admiration fades, and is replaced by a kind of deferential tolerance (at best) or contempt or (what is most feared) invisibility.

I don't want to live this way. I want to change.

I must learn to become "small," but not by "reducing myself," not by cutting myself off from everything, not by ceasing to read and write and study, or by giving up the search for God's sometimes obscure but always faithful, mysteriously working and ultimately defining presence in the midst of this world.

I am not called to go off to the desert to become a hermit. For starters, Eileen and the kids wouldn't approve of that. Others may take such paths, but not me. For me, it would just be hiding or running away from the road that I must continue to travel even when it appears to twist and turn and change direction.

My family and my teaching vocation remain as fundamental responsibilities entrusted to me by God. I must continue to be faithful to them. I must continue to pursue wisdom and understanding, and to make the effort (however difficult and seemingly fruitless) to communicate, to be an educator, to "point out" to others what I see. It remains necessary for me to be attentive to mundane reality and to sustain the broad scope of my sensibility toward people and things. I cannot give up caring about life.

All of those efforts must remain and grow. What must "decrease" are the illusions of self-centeredness, the cravings for status and recognition, the "grasping" for success and self-satisfaction. I hardly have a choice. At this time of life, I am compelled more and more to give way to obviously irreversible losses and the approach (even if not yet imminent - though "who really knows?") of my own mortality.

The mysterious part of our human "burden" is this inescapable poverty that makes us all small in the end - the poverty of suffering and death. It will either humble us or crush us.

I'm more aware of how overgrown, misshapen, and fragmented I really am. A rich person (whose riches, after all, turn out to be junk) cannot pass through a needle's eye. That point of entry lies before me, and I cannot ignore the fact that my path gets very narrow in proportion to its proximity.

Will I learn to be "meek and humble of heart"? I am frightened. The scope and weight of the burden are heavy indeed. But Jesus says, "Come."

Is it such a difficult invitation? He promises "rest" in His own measure, and it is possible to find rest in Him. His burden is "light" - a seeming paradox, appropriate when we realize that He is speaking of His human heart. In His human heart, He suffers all the brokenness that we have wrought upon the reality that He has created through His divine power and wisdom and love.

My own monstrous, scarred, broken self becomes small when it is encompassed in His great, humble, Broken Heart.

Monday, June 24, 2019

"Twas a Night Before Christmas"...Six Months Before, in Fact!

"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation 
by the forgiveness of their sins" (Luke 1:76-77).  .

Merry "Pre-Christmas"! - today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist. Notice that six months ago was Christmas Eve (can you believe it!!??) and six months from today will be... Christmas Eve!

If you're Christmas shopping now, you're either really early... or really, really late! 

But seriously, this very ancient liturgical feast common to Western and Eastern traditions precedes Christmas each year by six months, just as John was the Forerunner of the Savior, the great prophet whose singular mission was to point to the Word-made-flesh and prepare the way for His coming and His ministry.

The Greek icon above covers the events of this feast and the Biblical texts we read for it (notice Zechariah with the writing tablet). For those whose patron saint is John the Baptist, today is your "Name Day" (and mine too!๐Ÿ˜Š). In some cultures, the "Name Day" is celebrated with the same (or even more) emphasis than one's natural birthday. 

So I should have a PARTY! Right?๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ‚

More importantly, I should (we all should) prepare for the coming of the Lord, not only in six months time, but every day.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Happy Holidays... in June!!

This week is a WEEK OF HOLIDAYS on the liturgical calendar, especially in the Latin (Western) observance. 

There is a convergence of fixed celebrations and feasts that vary depending on the date of Easter (which was late this year). Hence we have a rather exceptional week of Summer holidays in which to rejoice and give thanks to the Lord for His glory and His love (never forget to be joyful), and also to honor His servants:

June 23: Corpus Christi Sunday.
June 24: Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist
June 28: Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
June 29: Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
June 30: Sunday!

Yes, June 30 is "only" a "regular" Sunday, but let's not take it for granted.

Every Sunday is a holiday, a "little Easter," a day for worship, for joy, for rest from our toils, for special attention to being with those we love, for sharing love with others. 

We need Sunday. When Sunday is forgotten, the world grows sad and cruel. But we have been created for joy.

Happy Holidays!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Midsummer Janaro Anniversary

⭐It's our Anniversary!⭐

June 22 marks twenty three years with this wonderful and amazing lady, Eileen Janaro.❤ Here we are on our wedding day in 1996:

And here are the same two people at the same brick pillar in front of the same church, exactly TWENTY THREE YEARS LATER:

Ah, it really is beginning to feel like "a long time ago" since that wedding. A generation has passed, a generation has grown up ... but love and gratitude are ever new.❤๐Ÿ˜Š

Friday, June 21, 2019

Solstice... But Which One? It Depends on Where You Live...

Happy Summer 2019!!

Bring on the fun, right?  .


But wait... if you're one of my Southern Hemisphere peeps (most of whom are Argentines or Australians), I can't say this to you.

In your case, it's... umm... "Happy Winter 2019!" or "¡Feliz Invierno 2019!"

Bring on the ... uh ... fun? ๐Ÿ˜ฏ☁☔⚠⛄๐Ÿ˜‰

What a crazy digitally interconnected topsy turvy twenty-first century world we live in!๐ŸŒ

Everybody stay cool!๐Ÿ˜Ž ...or warm๐Ÿ”ฅ ...or whatever!๐Ÿ˜‰

Thursday, June 20, 2019

World Cup 2019: Go Girls Go!!

Things are really starting to get into gear now with the 2019 World Cup in women's soccer. We are moving into the Round of 16, with its single elimination games.

Thus far, the "team to beat" has more than demonstrated that it is indeed the team to beat. The United States Women's National Team rocked their way through the group stage, scoring 18 goals in 3 games and giving up... zippo.

This is an awesome team. Nobody wins "the beautiful game" without getting a few breaks—after all, it is a bouncy ball getting kicked around a field.⚽

If they get the breaks, though, USWNT will win it all. Dang, these girls can play this game!๐Ÿ”ฅ


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Bright June Evenings

It's the high point of the season.

The sun is going down a few minutes before 9:00 PM, and it makes pretty much the full arc from East to West with 15+ hours of sunlight in a day. Sunset has moved steadily North on the horizon since Winter, all the way up to the spaces between houses on the next block.

Plenty of light at 8:40 and beyond in the evening.

Then the transition from sunset to twilight lingers on well past the 21st hour mark. 

I love all this light!๐Ÿ™Œ

Monday, June 17, 2019

John Wu and the Journey "Beyond East and West"

Among those bridges-between-East-and-West that I have been seeking in recent years, Professor John C. H. Wu is one who has the tremendous span of a profound education and a contemplative sense of his own identity as a Chinese Catholic.

My article on his "conversion story" in this month's issue of Magnificat barely scratches the surface of the scholar and the man, from whom I think we have much to learn in the 21st century.

There are no short cuts to understanding China. I do not think that I will get very far in my remaining years, but I hope that I might at least be able to convince others in the West to learn more about the deep roots and long history of a civilization that is becoming a global protagonist (even if, for now, it wears the distorted and superficial garb of a Communist-Capitalist-Corporate State).

We must encounter China. It is imperative. John Wu can be a great help to us.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day Without My Father

Well, it's Father's Day. I have missed Dad a lot today.

"Missing" turns out to be a rather precise term. He is not in any "place" in this world that I can go to, or call, or even find on a map. He's not puttering around the condo in Arlington, or in his wheelchair at Greenfield. He's not "around" in any kind of empirical way.

"Where" is he?

I know he lives. He walked with Jesus in the Church, faithfully, in this world; and thus we have entrusted him to God in the hope of eternal life. He lives in God's love, whether in the fullness of beatitude or in that final mysterious passage of preparation and purification which most of us will need - the "bridge" between death and glory known as purgatory.

In any case, the relationship continues, and there are "signs" of its ongoing significance. They pertain especially to the concreteness of the Church, the bond that unites us in Christ's body, the Eucharistic liturgy, the prayers for his eternal rest and also the confidence we place in his prayers on our behalf and the fruits of his labors from all his years of earthly life.

There is real, meaningful consolation here. But it stretches us beyond the horizon of this world. It's not a trick that somehow "brings him back" to us. On the contrary, it only makes it clearer that the journey of this life means so much more that what we think we can control within the narrowness of our own interpretations.

Then there are all the memories, so many more than I realized I had. There is much to reminisce about, but memories also pop up surprisingly, evoking unexpected emotions that I don't understand.

It's like the memories have acquired a new dimension, demanding to be seen in a new way. The memories seem "restless," sometimes, as though there are aspects of them that I have not yet noticed, or resolved, or appreciated.

I do believe that my father loved me more than I ever knew. How little I appreciated that love. Here, even more than in the "missing" of him, I find a kind of sorrow. It's a sorrow that draws me to seek forgiveness from him, and from God whose gift he was, irreplaceably, in my life.

I guess this is part of grief, this sorting of memories, with a more vivid and poignant awareness of the need for forgiveness.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Christina Grimmie: Her Mission Has Just Begun

Christina Grimmie in the Philippines (credit to owner) 
Once again, the time has come to celebrate with gratitude the life of a beautiful human being, the 22-year-old popular singer, musician, and songwriter Christina Grimmie. It is painful to remember that we lost her three years ago, yet in a mysterious but real way she remains as a light that continues to shine in a dark world, a light that only grows brighter with the passage of time.

Christina Grimmie was killed on June 10, 2016 in the very place where she gave herself the most and received in turn so much encouragement, namely, in the midst of her supporters, those who appreciated her music, followed her and interacted with her on internet platforms, and knew that she cared about each of them and wanted to meet them or see them again. She was surrounded by these "frands"—people who were inspired by her as an artist and a person, and who were drawn together from many diverse backgrounds into an experience of community.

"Team Grimmie" united people all over the world into something much more than just a "fanbase." For them, it was a human connection with an artist who shared her music and her personality, her vulnerability, her hopes and her needs with them. She also told them again and again that she loved each of them, and she meant it. For Christina, it really was a matter of love. She saw each person, not simply as a fan or part of a crowd celebrating and bolstering her ego, but as someone entrusted to her by God. At the same time, she found the embrace and sustenance of God's love in the people she encountered.

Christina therefore saw it as her mission to be a role model, to encourage, to inspire, to be (for however brief a moment, in whatever small way) the presence of God's beauty and love for every person who was touched by her work. This is why the greeting sessions after her concerts were so important to her. She brought to them a heart full of gratitude for "frands" who had supported her for years and an open heart for newcomers, a readiness to share her passion for music and whatever she could give with whoever came to meet her.

It was in this manner that she approached the last moment of her life, on the night of June 10. She greeted and spoke with and gave hugs to the people who came up to her. Some she had met before, but for others it was the first time, so when a stranger approached her, there was nothing unusual about it. She opened her heart and opened her arms to welcome him, to create a space of encouragement and love for him. Only God knows what manner of darkness drove that man to draw a semi-automatic pistol and shoot her.

He killed her. But he could not stop her from loving him. He could not erase the gesture of love that was offered, in that moment, without reservation.

She knew the love that is more powerful than even the greatest violence in this world.

Christina Grimmie, with all her talent and energy and hard work, had "something else" that transformed what she did, how she made music, how she engaged people. And, while always respectful of people with different viewpoints and never pushy, she made no secret of the source of her joy and her motivation, the "something else" at the foundation of her life, the reason why she sang, why she breathed, why she had hope: Jesus Christ.

Christina was a very normal girl with lots of different interests. She wasn't "perfect." She made mistakes and struggled with frustrations and endured much suffering. But everything was grounded in and brought back again and again to her simple and boundless trust in Jesus Christ. This was the foundation of her radical witness as a Christian -- her "mission" to live for the sake of His glory.

Ultimately it was not her own strength but His grace that shaped the scope of this mission. She gave herself to Jesus and He fashioned her into an "instrument" of His wisdom and love that was specially suited to the present time. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus put His love into her heart and through her He touched the lives of people. Trusting in Him, Christina lived as a young person in the places where other young people today spend their time. It was not any kind of "strategy for witness," or any kind of strategy at all. She was simply herself, living her own personal vitality and interests in union with Him and thereby allowing that love to extend to places where it is not often known, letting it shine through her own face, making it visible and audible and -- in places like concert venues -- even "tangible." It was the love of Jesus, because as she herself said, her belonging to Jesus was not just part of her life; it was her whole life.  .

What is really remarkable is the simple, unselfconscious, incarnate character of Christina's service to God. She wasn't a preacher or an evangelist. She didn't sing worship music or even Christian-themed music (except on a few occasions). She sang regular songs about relationships and heartbreak and fun. She kept her morals in her music and in the way she presented herself, without being a prude or heavy-handed. She didn't condemn people, but sought out and encouraged what was genuinely good in others. She was fun and not afraid to be a little wacky, full of joy, down-to-earth, dedicated, and humble. She had an enormous heart. And, wow, she could really sing!

She gave all of this to Jesus, and lived everything for His glory. This is why He was able to work through her to reach out to people who weren't interested in hearing sermons. He worked in hidden ways to draw people closer to Him, to begin to open their hearts through her joy.

Even now His love is at work, through the enduring light of her special witness, in hearts that have never thought or cared about God before. Even now, when people encounter Christina's legacy for the first time, they may be "caught off guard" and find themselves gently but persistently drawn toward something beyond all they have ever known: the embrace of Christ. Through the beauty of Christina's art, and the many readily accessible expressions of her free-spirited sense of fun, her unassuming goodness, and all her magnificent passion to pour herself out and constantly give of herself, people can still be moved by the tenderness and goodness of the God who has loved them first.

Death is far from the end of Christina's mission. She has been taken up into Christ's love, and now there is an exponentially greater power to her witness, and fruits beyond anything we can imagine.

There is no way to reduce the agonizing grief of her family and those closest to her, and the sorrow of everyone in the Team Grimmie community remains real and painful. Yet we know that somehow even all this is working a deep work, drawing hearts together, cultivating love in the spaces of the brokenness.

Christina's mission continues. The seed has been sown, and the Lord will continue to give the growth to this love, to the gift of a whole life lived "with love." He will bring forth whatever He wills in His infinite Love.

There will be new stories of hearts touched, of lives changed. Perhaps there will even be miracles.

It wouldn't surprise me.๐Ÿ’š

Monday, June 10, 2019

Three Years

Christina Grimmie died three years ago today. She continues to inspire us in so many ways! (For example, she inspires me to keep trying to make digital graphics and digital art, as best as I can, with the resources I have.๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’š)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost: The Spirit Bears Witness

"Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:14-17).

"We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will" (Romans 8:23-27).

"What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? ... What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we are being slain all the day / we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-32, 35-39).

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Groan in My Groanings

Jesus, save me. 

Come Holy Spirit! 

Jesus, save me.

Jesus, save me.


This is my prayer on the eve of Pentecost.

Come Holy Spirit! Groan in my groanings. Abba, Father ... this is so hard. I am lacerated. I am beyond any healing that this world can provide. These are wounds too deep for words. I cannot speak. I don't know what to say. More and more, words fail me.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Remembering Tiananmen Square and the "Tank Man"

THIRTY YEARS AGO today, following the ruthless crackdown of the protest movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and in other cities throughout China, we awoke to videoclips and various still photos that conveyed an iconic moment: one man standing against a column of tanks, then moving to remain in front of the lead tank as it tried to maneuver around him. 

Images and media told the whole world the story of a moment when one human person - with nothing but his own dignity and freedom - stood up to a whole century of monstrous institutionalized violence.

(No one knows who he was or what happened to him after he was taken away. There were many other unknown persons who were heroic during in those days, who also "disappeared." In China this image is still censored, as are all matters related to the Tiananmen Square movement and its bloody, brutal suppression on June 4, 1989. China's strange dictatorship remains in power today, a nominally "Communist" party-controlled State that presides over a booming materialist consumer economy. If nothing else, it is a fascist, nationalist, bureaucratic, invasive and controlling regime in which the higher freedom and dignity of human persons and communities are still frequently violated and threatened, or otherwise obscured and rendered precarious.) 

Though this man did not prevail against the tanks in Beijing, his courage spoke to the world, and especially to the hearts of millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe.

Thirty years ago, in June 1989, we had no idea how much the world was about to change.

Today, in 2019, with all of our new problems and the new forces that try to smash our humanity in perhaps more subtle ways, let's REMEMBER "THE TANK MAN." Let's honor his legacy with the courage of our own humanity.

Monday, June 3, 2019

"Martyrs' Day" in the New "Digital" Africa

The Shrine of the Uganda martyrs
Once again Catholics in Uganda have commemorated their "ancestors in faith" - the early converts who were martyred in the 1880s by Kabaka (King) Mwanga.

This has been a special day for me for years, thanks in part to Ugandan friends who witnessed to the beautiful and personal vitality of the martyrs' legacy for their own Catholic Christian identity.

June 3 is the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow pages in 1886. They are grouped with others of the same period, so that 22 in all are honored in today's Catholic Church feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the beatification proceedings in the 1920s. They are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years.

Every year, immense crowds of pilgrims arrive at the Shrine of Namugongo near Kampala, many traveling on foot from distant places throughout the region.

I have seen pictures from this event in recent years on internet sites. This year, however, I discovered something "new" - or at least "new to me" - that brought the pilgrimage closer than ever: a broadcast by a Uganda news television station of the liturgy and other observances of the day was live streamed on the station's new internationally accessible 24 hour "live" YouTube channel.

Though I didn't actually see it live, the recording of the stream was still available this evening.

NewsTV: turning on Africa for the world
During this past decade, sub-Saharan Africa has grown remarkably in its access to mobile digital technology, thanks in part to the much noted intensive Chinese investment on the continent. What this may herald for the future is hard to predict, except that it will change Africa in many ways as the communications revolution continues and as the growth of China's global influence continues.

These are two important trends to watch in the coming decades of the 21st century, I think.

One positive and immediate outcome, however, is the possibility to watch a young church celebrate its faith. I don't expect I'll ever get to travel as a pilgrim to Namugongo. But now (at least "virtually") Namugongo can come to me.

We are all one in Christ's Body, with our many diverse cultures resonating lIke a great symphony. I know this. But it is always surprising - and wonderful - to find that living unity expressed through multimedia technology. It is a cause for joy.

The icon of the 22 Uganda martyrs from their 1964 canonization 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Birthday For the Recent Graduate

Today is John Paul Janaro's Birthday. ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‰ He is now 22 years old. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ❗⏳↗ 

I thought it would be fun to compare John Paul (and his parents!) at age 4 with the most current pictures.

I think we can still say that he has changed more than us.๐Ÿ˜‰ Happy Birthday John Paul! God bless you!