Monday, July 15, 2019

Saint Bonaventure: "Follow the Poverty-Stricken Christ"

Every year, in the middle of July, when his feast day rolls around, I think, "Gosh, I haven't read Saint Bonaventure since... like... last year." So I look something up. I have some books - including a couple of those volumes in English that the Franciscans published years ago - on one of the few shelves in the house that actually stays organized.

The Seraphic Doctor, the great medieval Franciscan and contemporary of St Thomas Aquinas, can be appreciated in many theoretical ways, but we are missing something fundamental if we never get burned while reading him.

Bonaventure is a fire. He is like a burning bush. You wonder if you can look upon the flame in him and continue to live.

Maybe this is why I only read him once a year.

Here are words written seven and a half centuries ago that cut through the differences of history and context and speak directly to us today.

Below are some excerpts from chapter III of De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores, a short work written for the edification of the Poor Clares. I felt the heat from the fire of these words today. In their light I see what a hypocrite I am, what a mediocre half-hearted lukewarm Christian I really am. At the same time, they also awaken in me the desire to be changed. Bonaventure is emphasizing that defining accent of the Franciscan spirit: poverty. But he didn't use this sort of terminology; he simply preached about the poverty of Jesus.

Granted, his words are directed to cloistered nuns, but that doesn't mean that they have no relevance for people living in the world. Bonaventure is convinced that the example of Jesus should inspire not only consecrated persons, but all Christians to a love of poverty.

We argue and scheme and wring our hands about our society today, our social problems, and the "need for change." How often do we consider the possibility of cultivating in our own lives the simplicity, trust, and poverty of spirit that pervade the Gospel and the witness of the saints?

It is a possibility, because God makes it possible for us. We fall short because we fail to respond to His love for us. He wants to kindle a fire in us but we remain cold. And sad.

Bonaventure exhorts us to ponder the humanity of Jesus in meditative prayer. The more we remember this man who reveals and communicates the love of God, the more He will draw us to Himself, change us, set us aflame.

Excerpts below from chapter III of Bonaventure's small treatise for the Poor Clares - De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores - are given in bold type. My occasional comments are in regular (non-bold) type. Read his words carefully. Ponder what strikes you. Go to the Gospels themselves and meet the poor Christ, hear His calling, speak to Him from your heart, and let God have space to work within you.

"Christ was born poor, lived poor, and died poor. Realise and bear in mind that Christ gave you this wonderful example of poverty in order to induce you to become a friend of poverty. Our Lord Jesus Christ was so poor at birth that He had neither shelter, nor clothing, nor food. In lieu of a house He had to be content with a stable. A few wretched rags did duty for clothes. For food He had milk from the Virgin's breast. It was meditation on this poverty of Christ that roused the heart of St Paul and caused him to exclaim: 'You know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might be rich' (2 Corinthians 8:9).

"St Bernard, speaking of this same poverty, says: 'An eternal and copious abundance of riches existed in Heaven. Poverty, however, was not to be found there. It abounded and was superabundant on earth. Alas! Man did not know its worth. The Son of God, though, loved poverty, and desired it, and came down from Heaven and took it as His own possession in order to make it precious in our eyes' (Sermons I, 5).

[Bonaventure often cites Church Fathers from the first millennium such as Augustine and Gregory the Great, but he also draws deeply from the incomparable witness of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a relatively contemporary figure (12th century) who had a great influence on the evangelical renewal of the times, and who also has a lot to say to us. We will look at him next month; his feast is August 20.]

"All His life long, Jesus Christ Our Lord was an example of poverty... He was so poor that oftentimes He did not know which way to turn for a lodging. Frequently, He and His Apostles were compelled to wander out of the city and sleep where they could. It is with reference to such a happening that St Mark the Evangelist writes: 'Having viewed all things round about, when now the eventide was come, He went out to Bethany with the twelve' (Mark 11:7)... In similar strain St Matthew writes: "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head' (Matthew 8:20).

"Added to the poverty of His birth and life was the poverty of the death of the King of Angels... Look at His poverty as He dies. His executioners stripped and robbed Him of everything He possessed. He was robbed of His clothes, I repeat it, when the executioners 'divided His garments between them, and for His vesture cast lots' (cf Matthew 27:35, Psalm 22:19).

"He was robbed of body and soul, when as He succumbed to His most bitter sufferings His soul was separated from His body in the pangs of death. His persecutors deprived and robbed Him of His divine glory when they refused 'to glorify Him as God,' (cf Romans 1:21) and instead treated Him as a common criminal. 'They have stripped me of my glory,' complains holy Job in a moment of prophecy (cf Job 19:9).

"Drawing a lesson from the compelling example of Christ's poverty, St Bernard writes: 'Think of the poor man Christ! There is no house for Him at His birth, so they lay Him in a manger, between an ox and an ass. Look at Him wrapped in wretched swaddling clothes! Think of Him a fugitive on the rough road to Egypt! Think of Him riding on an ass! Think of His poverty as He hangs on the cross' (Sermons III, 1)."

Then the text invites us to consider our own anxiety over status and possessions, and how far removed this is from the poverty of Christ. We worry about temporal things. We are preoccupied with the concerns of this life. Our lives are so much taken up with grasping for worldly success and security, and fear of failure and deprivation. Why?

"Did you never read, did you never hear what Christ the Lord said of poverty to His Apostles? It occurs in the Gospel of St Matthew. 'Be not solicitous, therefore, saying, what shall we eat, or, what shall we drink. Your Father knows that you have need of all these things' (Mt 6:31-32)... [You are encouraged to be free of anxiety and to trust in God:] 'Cast, therefore, all your care upon Him, for He has care of you' (1 Peter 5:7).

"Since the fatherly care and solicitude of God for us is so intense, should not our anxious longing for temporal things cause us to marvel? Should it not astound us that we are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things? Why, when God occupies Himself with our welfare, do we trouble ourselves so about things of wealth and things of little concern?

"I can find no other explanation than that we have become avaricious. Avarice, avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation, has taken hold of us. We may assign no other reason than that we have turned away our affections from God, our Salvation. The fire of Divine Love has become extinguished in us. We have cooled. Love for God has frozen within us. If we were really fervent and had really stripped ourselves of earthly things we should follow the poverty-stricken Christ. Men when they become excessively hot are accustomed to strip themselves of their clothes. The proof of our want of love and of our great coldness is the attraction which worldly goods possess for us."

Obviously, those of us who live in the world might be perplexed about how to "manage" the "attraction to worldly goods" that seems inseparable from living a robust and serious human life, and fulfilling our responsibilities not only to ourselves but also to temporal history - to our families, our communities, our societies. Indeed, being a Christian in the world is complicated and "divided" and calls for the seemingly paradoxical posture of being in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world. 

I can't resolve that paradox. Part of the special grace of the calling of Bonaventure's Poor Clare nuns (and all those in consecrated life) is the radical simplicity of its form of life. Yet he feels the need to preach to them about worldliness and the dangers of "avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation."

Clearly, we are all called to cultivate self-discipline and the virtues. There is no place for mediocrity, for trying to "play it safe." We lay people are called to engage the realities of the world. Asceticism is necessary. Virtue is necessary.

But Bonaventure wants to remind all of us of the essential focus of every vocation: the love of God. We are made for God, and the things of this world are good and beautiful because they reflect God's glory. When we forget God, we lose the basic dynamic that guides the journey of life with all its achievements and sufferings. We fall into desperation and "are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things." 

We all struggle with this forgetfulness. The good news is that the Word who is God has become flesh so that He might dwell among us.

Jesus came to be with us, to accompany us through life and to die for us so that He could stay with us even in death. He frees us from sin and brings healing through His life and above all His sacrificial death on the Cross. His resurrection is our hope. In Jesus we "find" God in our lives, and "remember" Him again and again.

Saint Bonaventure therefore exhorts us all to follow Jesus Christ, to follow in a spirit of poverty and humility the poor and humble Christ.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Christina Grimmie: A Companionship that Never Ends

Remembering Christina Grimmie this month, with words from her most recent posthumously released song, "Hold Your Head Up." It's an upbeat song with a special kind of positive message, one that strikes me as founded on the hope for a companionship that never ends.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 11: Saint Benedict's Universal Feast Day

Happy Feast of Saint Benedict to all Benedictines, oblates, and the whole Benedictine spiritual family throughout the world!

Today commemorates the translation of St. Benedict's tomb and relics to the Abbey of Fleury in France in the year 660 (to protect them from Lombard invasions of Italy). The Abbey of Fleury was an important pilgrimage site for over a thousand years. Its monastic community was dispersed by the French Revolution but the monastery remained in existence throughout the 19th c. period of French anticlericalism. The community of monks was restored in the 20th century. The current Roman calendar marks this day as Benedict's feast to insure that it can be celebrated by the whole Church. The date of his death (March 21) always falls during Lent; nevertheless it remains a Solemnity on the Benedictine calendar and is a III class feast on the 1962 calendar followed by the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. Don't be confused. Just have a blessed and happy day!

We are well instructed by these words preached 11 years ago on this day by then-Pope Benedict XVI. On this feast, we pray for an abundance of grace to vivify his current "monastic" life of contemplation and hidden service of love: 

"St. Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, feast of St. Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Sun Sky"

Here is "Sun Sky," - abstract piece in digital medium. By JJ.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Long Live the Queens! (U.S. Women Rule the World Cup)

They did it!

Dang, this team is a great team.

When it comes to the world stage, the United States Women's National Team is, arguably, the "team of the decade," not only in the beautiful game of soccer, not only out of all U.S.A. teams, but just THE Team of the Decade. Period.

It's just my opinion. It's a little bit of what fans do, in sports, when they humorously put on a just-for-fun show of "smack talk." (So take it easy, Italian friends; this is all in the spirit of nice American fun. Capito?😉)

And, yes, I'm biased. Of course!

Note also that I said "the world stage" - which means international play, so don't be talkin' 'bout your New England Patriots here. (😉)

I'm also referring to exclusively team sports, not sports that have "team" and "individual" events (e.g. track, swimming, gymnastics - where we have seen some awesome individual and team performances).

Have I made sufficient qualifications? Probably not. Or perhaps too much? It's the occupational hazard of the philosopher: we can't say anything without a mountain of qualifications.

So I'll say it simply: FC United States Women's National Team is the Team of the Decade. They are the great team of international competition in the 2010-2019 era.

What makes a team "great"? Well, winning is certainly a big part of it. Skill is a big part of it. But, let me speak personally - as a fan, who was a hapless player of every team sport in my youth but who nevertheless kept trying, who had better luck with golf and distance running but didn't stick with those sports, whose best sport through the years has been fishing, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s (the significance of this should be obvious ... #SteelCurtain #Franco #MeanJoeGreene #FourSuperBowls #LetsGoBucs #Clemente #Stargell #WeAreFamily), who is now a happy fan of the sporting efforts and accomplishments of my children from basketball to volleyball to karate and - I'm happy to say - girls' soccer.

What makes a team "great"? Intangibles (all the little clutch plays that no one even notices). Dedication. Hard work. Cohesion.

And also, personalities (some inspiring, others peculiar or "colorful" - a great team is not the same thing as a choir of angels and saints). Their personalities are "on the table," but they know how to pull together. Between games and seasons, there can be friction even to the point of drama, as long as they are able to rise above it on the playing field (or "the pitch," as it's known in soccer).

Then there's a kind of indescribable magic that sparkles when they play together and that catches fire sometimes, unpredictably, often enough in the big moments of games, so that you're always on the edge of your seats. You know that anything can happen. Over the course of a decade, you find that you have collected a whole bunch of memories of epic, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments when beautiful, wonderful things happened.

A great team is exciting. They win big, but even when they lose, they pour their hearts out so that you can't help loving them even more. You also know that they'll be back.

Team of the Decade. Players come and go over the course of ten years, though there are usually a few who remain to carry the banner of continuity. Individual players have their various problems, opinions, situations, attitudes, whatever. But this is strictly about the game. It's about how they run and and pass and kick, how they play together, how they make things happen on the pitch.

The Janaro family enjoys watching sports, and we have had a lot of fun being fans. Not everybody likes every sport, but we do appreciate "the big stages," especially the Olympics and the World Cup.

In recent years, the women's soccer team has been consistently amazing and inspiring, from the dazzling comebacks and heartbreaking loss in the final of World Cup 2011 to Olympic gold in 2012 and then to back-to-back World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019. This year's team was a juggernaut. They were on the level of the 1927 New York Yankees, and they made sure their opponents knew it. I didn't think they were being cocky. They were confident and they enjoyed playing the game. They took their opponents seriously, so that even if they didn't play their best game, they found what it took to win.

Of course, the Washington Capitals' championship run in 2018 was our all-time sports high point as a family (even though not everyone likes hockey). Mom, John Paul, and Teresa even went to the victory celebration on the Mall. But over the course of the decade, the Caps (and the Nationals in baseball) have given us plenty of disappointments too.

The Women's soccer team has rocked the whole decade. We want to shout out a huge "thank you!" to all the champions past and present, to Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Christine Rampone, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo (hush! - she was an incredible, insanely good goalkeeper!), Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Kelley O'Hara, and to so many others (this is just a select list) including 24 year old Rose Lavelle who danced with the ball and then pounded it home with a brilliant left footer in the 69th minute of this year's final match.

We can look forward to seeing her, along with many other talented young players, in the future.

Congratulations to our United States Women's National Team. We don't have royalty in the U.S. government, but we (we the people!😉) are certainly free to bestow noble titles on those who have reminded us of the nobility and beauty of our humanity, of the richness of life even when we play.

With this in mind, only one thing remains to be said. This team rules; they have earned the honor of being called "Queens of Soccer."

Long live the Queens!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Friday, July 5, 2019

United to Jesus

In difficult times, 
even more than in times of peace, 
the priority for believers 
is to be united 
to Jesus, our hope.

~Pope Francis

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Birthday USA

Happy Independence Day 2019 🎉📯🍻 (#DigitalArt with original photo from Yosemite National Park by me, taken seven years ago - the last time I was there). #IndependenceDay #July4th #Grateful

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Facebook Causes Us to "Lose Face"!

Today, July 3, 2019, will be forever remembered as The Day Facebook Failed. I'm just kidding... the younger generation would say it "failed" sometime around the year 2013! They all use Instagram. But here's the thing: Instagram also failed today.

Millions of people spent hours deprived of the endless roll of digital images and videos. Oh the humanity...!

It looked like THIS:

Shocking! Just shocking! Where are my pictures? Where are any of the pictures?

We were still able to post words, however, on Facebook. Instagram was toast, but I don't think that was much of a problem for my kids or anyone else from the Smart(Phone)-Generation. They can survive, as long as they still have texting... rotfl ppl srsly.😜📱

Twitter was fine. Now that it has become a platform for international diplomacy, that's just as well... I think... (?)

They (whoever "they" are) fixed the glitch not long ago, but during the downtime I posted on Facebook about my perplexity (along with about a billion other people).

What happened to all the "faces" on the "facebook"? 😉 Okay, this could be funny, ... if it doesn't last too long. 😐

After a couple of hours, it was getting serious:

This is a real crisis ... I mean, I might actually have to DO SOME WORK today! 😮 😉  #FacebookFail #InstagramFail

But all is well in the end. The world's favorite distraction and perpetual cocktail party (byob) is rolling once again. Everybody calm down and just LOL.😄

Needless to say:"Hashtag-Just-Trying-To-Be-Humorous-About-The-Whole-Thing" #ImJoking #ItWasTheRussians #ImStillJoking

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Trust God in the Midst of Every Storm

In the Gospel reading for July 2, we hear the story of the storm that arose on the sea while Jesus was sleeping below the deck of the boat. His disciples "came and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!' He said to them, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?' Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, 'What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?'" (Matthew 8:25-27).

One of the key themes of this text is that the Lord is trustworthy. If we could penetrate the fullness of the mystery of our lives, we would see that everything really is "grace," that God is indeed good, all the time.

Everything in our lives unfolds according to our Father's loving plan for each one of us. If God allows something bad to happen to us, He permits it because He wants to bring a greater good out of it; He wants to lead us through these struggles to a deeper and more mature life.

In affirming this, we don't want to trivialize the tremendous pain and apparently inexplicable sufferings that we face in different times and ways in our lives. Rather, we need to recognize that the purpose of our lives is hidden in the mystery of God's goodness.

And He is good. He loves us. When He permits us to suffer, He also gives us the strength to endure and grow through it. God doesn't always give us things that feel good, but He always gives us what we really need. That includes the grace that enables us to ask Him for help, to recognize that we need Him and are totally dependent on Him.

We don't ultimately know ourselves, or the mystery of the whole person God wills each of us to become. And when bad things happen, God doesn't usually show us (at least, not at the time) the purpose of these events in our journey to our destiny. We have to trust Him.

Trust is a decision; it is a position of the heart in the midst of the storm. It does not depend on how we feel, and it may not make us feel any better. It usually doesn't make the bad circumstance disappear. But trust makes our hearts grow. We must trust God and never give up, even if we feel like we can only do it through gritted teeth.

Years later, we can sometimes catch a reflection from the light of this mysterious growth. As we get older and look back on life, we can say, "I'm so grateful for that whole experience. I wouldn't be the person I am today if all of that had not happened."

Such memories encourage us to continue to trust. But even when we feel that our whole life has been nothing but a series of storms, we must hold onto Him. He will not leave us. He has come to stay with us.

He stays with us. Even when life is a deluge, even when we're soaked so much we can't remember what it's like to be dry and on solid ground, even when we're submerged beneath the churning waves, when we don't know up from down, right from left, when everything is underwater - even then, He is still holding on to us!

Trust in Jesus, and never give up.

Lord Jesus, give me the grace to trust in You. Make this trust the foundation and the shape of my heart, the position of my heart in the midst of every storm.