Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Quarantine: "It's The Law" in Virginia (And All Over the World)

We have reached the end of what might be the most bizarre month of world-altering events that I have ever experienced.

Yesterday, the governor of the State of Virginia joined more than 30 other States in the United States of America in giving the force of law to what had been "guidelines" and "recommendations" to stay at home, and practice social distancing

More than 80 percent of the population of the USA is now legally under constraints similar to the ones in Italy, most of Europe, and indeed most of the rest of the world. The evidence is clear that this is the best way to slow down the spread of the potentially serious respiratory infection known as COVID-19. This is a global pandemic of a very peculiar "new virus" that is highly contagious, that causes a relatively minor-to-moderate illness (including cases with few or no significantly discomforting symptoms) in the vast majority of people it infects, but can cause very grave illness requiring hospitalization in something like 15% of identified cases. Numbers can be cold; we are talking about multitudes of people who will die or develop serious lung disabilities or at least require a long and difficult period of recovery from a disease that is transmitted to them by other infected members of the community who may not even know they have it. Such a chaotic phenomenon is obviously something that societies can't ignore (as has been demonstrated by the disasters in countries that did try to ignore it). 

During the second half of March, the USA was forced into the position of trying to mitigate as much as possible the effects of a problem it neglected for too long, which is already multiplying prolifically, killing thousands of people, paralyzing the health care system in some major urban areas, and posing many unknown dangers. It is very hard to predict how things will unfold from here. Best-case projections are looking at 100,000 - 250,000 deaths in this country with many millions of serious illnesses requiring intensive medical care.

Obviously the numbers for victims worldwide are or will be exponentially higher. At this point, the only way to slow down (and eventually stop) this pandemic is for entire communities of people to "act as if" each member has the virus at least to the point of being possible communicators of the infection to others. In other words, everyone must observe at least some aspects of quarantine. As much as possible, we must stay at home, or practice "self distancing" when it is necessary to procure (or provide) essential services.

These are unprecedented restrictions, and we don't really know how long they will be necessary. But for now, they are necessary.

Perhaps this is all just a temporary "inconvenience" for the vast majority of us — an odd pause in our "normal" lifestyle of crisscrossing the Global Village unhindered, using our hyper-travel machines to move between and interact with various massive gatherings of bodily human beings, continually trafficking in millions of germs that our immune systems can handle.

Or perhaps it is the beginning of as yet unimaginable changes in how we relate to one another on a global and local scale. This is a possibility. All through my life, there have been people who have insisted — for various reasons — that such changes are inevitable and necessary, and that if we don't make these changes, events will force them upon us. I think they are pointing to something very real, which has to do with this elusive yet unmistakably emerging new epoch that I have been pondering in recent years.

We really are all interrelated and interconnected. We are all one human family. We are immersed within a delicate ecosystem. We are not submerged, so as to be merely a part of a larger system that takes precedence over our "species." We are human persons, with spiritual personal existence, intelligence, and freedom. Even as we transcend the physical universe, we also "belong" in it as its apex and crown. Here we mature and fulfill our vocation. The world has been entrusted to our care — not to abuse as meaningless stuff to be pillaged and destroyed in pursuit of our endless violent cravings, but to receive as a gift that can provide adequately for our physical needs, and a place we engage with wisdom and gratitude, cultivating spaces of habitation that peoples call "home," where human persons live in communion with one another and with gentle, organic solicitude for all the natural world and the beauty and diversity of its creatures.

I remember when we saw Earth on TV
We have not been doing this very well. For all of our dazzling material achievements, we have too often used our power recklessly. We use our power over the world and over our own bodies for many good things, but also (and too often) to build gigantic edifices and systems in the service of our titanic illusions.

Though our delusions and ambitions are limitless, nature is not. A culture of power-without-wisdom is fundamentally unsustainable. We must change the way we live, or else change will be forced upon us.

Here I confess to my own weakness: I do not like change very much.

I have lived my life in a historical period of seismic changes. I haven't weathered the stress of change very well. I have endured the earthquakes by somehow managing to fall into the cracks where survival and even some ingenuity remain possible. They have served in part to provoke me to those deeper changes that are essential to growing and moving forward in the journey of being a human person. I seem to be very slow to change. I know that I prefer to change slowly!

I don't know how to live during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 except one day at a time. It has not (at least, not yet) created too many external changes to my rhythm of life. I have been "staying at home" for a long time. What is interesting is that the rest of the world seems to have joined me, and everyone is avidly (perhaps desperately) using the powers of communications technology to make up for what they are missing by being deprived of the freedom to move about with transportation technology.

For now, it has made social media a more genuinely "social," more aware, more creative, more human place. People are discovering that the "digital continent" does exist, that it is more than a means of narcissistic indulgence, haphazard interaction, and invasive curiosity. It is a means of human communication. It also has limits. Recognizing its relative utility and its limits may help us build up constructive facets of media that will endure beyond this crisis.

Presently, the crisis is still unfolding. What will happen? I don't know.

Are we all going to DIE? 

The answer to that question is "YES."

But it is also likely that most of us will not die from the COVID-19 infection. Some will die from it, and others will feel the impact of losing loved ones. We must care for the sick and suffering among us, and stand with compassion and solidarity with those who endure loss from this pandemic and other disasters. But we will all die... eventually. We don't need to be unreasonably morbid or terrified, but the disruptive and disorienting experience of this pandemic can serve as a signal to us of our mortality, and the need to prepare for that final, defining moment.

Being a foolish human being, of course, it's only natural for me to speculate about how this will play out. Obviously we are all taking responsibility for limiting our activity in order to facilitate the end of the pandemic and the prevention of it returning in the future. So we all reasonably hope for that. 

My "speculation" for my own country is that probably this is going to be (for those who are not directly or proximately hit by the affliction itself or its economic and social consequences) a temporary-and-very-strange-period-of-time that will be followed by a season of economic hardship. It will be especially difficult for the poor. In the long run it will yield some small readjustments to human living that most of us will not notice too much in our lifetimes. Maybe there will be some advances in medical science (and our health care system as a whole) corresponding to the needs that this pandemic has revealed to us. Maybe we will even see some of the advantages of "slowing down a bit" and simplifying our lives, focusing on what really matters.


Maybe some of the impressions people are now having about how we are all united as one human family will bring about some good — something that lasts beyond the intensity of sentiments that current circumstances are generating; we all know that sentiments will not last on their own strength.

Maybe we can choose to make some changes for the better in our attitudes as well as our behavior. Maybe we will remember to be less presumptuous about how much we control reality. Maybe we will learn that being reasonable and responsible human persons does not conflict with being open to the ultimate mystery of life. When the reality of life's mystery confronts us, as it has in these days, we remember our humanity, we turn our hearts to one another, we discover in ourselves surprising resources of real practical energy, creativity, courage, and compassion.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

"...With You is Forgiveness"

"If you, O Lord, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word....
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption."

~Psalm 130:3-5, 7

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The World is His Parish

The streets of Rome are empty these days.

Italians are doing their best to persevere against the COVID-19 epidemic, spending most of March quarantined in their homes. Similar measures are being taken in many parts of the world. Public gatherings are canceled. Gatherings for religious services have been curtailed or suspended on their own initiative.

The Catholic Church in Italy (and many other places, including dioceses in the USA) has gone beyond dispensing people from their Sunday Mass obligation. Masses are not even being offered with large public congregations. Priests still offer Mass every day, but in empty churches... or, at least, churches without physically present parishioners. What they have are videocameras that bring livestreamimg Masses to unprecedented numbers of "virtual participants," who unite themselves in spirit and heart with Christ's Paschal Mystery which remains the center of the Church's life through the ministerial priesthood.

One 83-year-old priest has a worldwide congregation as he says Mass every morning with his small staff in the chapel at his residence in Rome. Pope Francis from his own place of quarantine is proving more than ever to be the world's pastor. In addition to his daily Masses and Wednesday Audiences, the Pope has led several gestures of prayer for an end to the pandemic. Yesterday's event was especially moving.

With the world "connected" through Vatican Media, Pope Francis preached in an empty St Peter's Square, venerated a large crucifix, prayed to the Virgin Mary,  and then held adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament with a special blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (usually given only at Christmas and Easter), "to the 'city' (of Rome) and the world."

At the beginning of this service, the Pope was seen walking through the middle of the large square, alone, with rain pouring down on him. By the end he was visibly limping, no doubt from the sciatica that pains him, as he carried the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament.

I am so grateful for this 83-year-old man, with part of one lung missing, who is in the highest of the "high-risk categories" for dying if he were to be infected by the coronavirus. His courage is not a surprise: Francis has never made any effort to preserve his life. Since becoming Pope, he has seemed continually ready to offer it.

Now his witness grows greater. In this singular crisis, he is pouring out his life for his flock, and to make the closeness and tenderness of Jesus known to all the world.

It gives great authority to his words, which are worth pondering in their entirety, and so I present them here from Vatican News (below or click this LINK to Vatican News website):

Friday, March 27, 2020

More Spring, Up Close

Ready to get UP CLOSE?😮 ...with buds and flowers...😉

One good thing about not living in the city: we can get lots of fresh air without worrying much about "social distance," since it's just sort of the-natural-state-of-things — normally you walk out your door into your yard and a neighborhood with roads but not much traffic. It's different from the city, where there are always crowds of people.

I grew up in cities. I love cities, the variety of humanity on the walkways, the shops, the cafes, the restaurants... But over the years, I have become accustomed to the quiet environment of the country. It has much to recommend it in any circumstances.

Here's some of what I have been seeing these days: 

[1] Daffodils in bloom. [2] Leaves popping out on (some of) the trees (many trees remain asleep; it's still March, after all). [3] Hyacinth ("Virginia Bluebell"). [4] Baby leaves up close. [5] Cherry Blossoms in the Valley. [6] The good old Dandelion, which is always ready to pop up on a warm day.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lent Becomes More Concrete, More Meaningful For Us

Picture from Greenfield in Strasburg, late March 2019
The coronavirus pandemic "shutdown" will no doubt have many long term consequences (one of which, we hope, will be the control and eventual eradication of the infection). At the moment, in the midst of Lent, it touches all of us in one way or another. It's a particularly difficult "penance" for those who are sick and their caregivers. For many others, the economic implications are already a source of present suffering. Basic features of our way of life — that we have taken for granted for generations — may not be the same in the future. The past month has taught us that even tomorrow is unpredictable.

For people all over the world, the immediate impact has been a more or less vigorous quarantine, which involves various limitations and changes in the routines of daily life. We can live these days with a greater awareness of the gratuitousness of existence. This thing we call "our life" is inexplicable and utterly fragile if we consider it to be "closed-in-on-itself," as if it were constituted entirely within the limits of what we can materially measure and predict. Only insofar as we trust in God can we realize our inherent dignity and aspirations for life's enduring meaning.

This is a fitting source of meditation for the season. It is also a difficult one. For our family, the past three Lents have been full of experiences of abrupt change, illness, unpredictability, and the urgently felt need to depend on God.

Two years ago at this time, we were in the process of moving my Dad out near us after he collapsed physically and experienced the sudden and frightening onset of severe dementia. One year ago, we were keeping vigil at his bedside as he lay dying. He passed away on April 3, 2019. The first anniversary of his death is nearly at hand.

This Spring of 2020 is something else all together. I miss my Dad. That would have been true in any case, but in the present circumstances my memories are even more vivid and my heart goes out to people all over the world who are losing their beloved elders (old and/or infirm persons are the ones who are most susceptible to fatality from COVID-19). The lives of our elders are precious, beyond any quantitative calculus.

One of the hardest things about our sheltering-in-place is that we are in the Shenandoah Valley while Mom is still at the Assisted Living facility in Arlington (this remains a temporary transitional arrangement, but the plan for her and us to move to a bigger house out here and all live together is — needless to say — on hold for the present). Mom's facility is strictly closed to visitors, so we can’t see her right now, but thank God she’s well-cared-for and we can talk on the phone. They’re taking all necessary measures and precautions. Mom is very frail, but lucid and in good spirits — all things considered.

Of course, it's not possible to predict or guarantee anything. We can only do our best to be prudent and to follow the proposals of those who have authority to attend to the common good. Beyond that, however, we have hope; we carry on with confidence that the infinite wisdom and goodness of God holds us all in his love. In Jesus, the reality of God's love embraces every aspect of our humanity. In our sorrows we discover more and more that Jesus is the central reality of our lives.

It has been hard in recent years. But Lent and Easter have become more concrete, more meaningful to us as the vital ecclesial "memorial" of the events of salvation that correspond to the questions, the needs, and the suffering of our own specific lives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Beginning of Everything

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Saint Oscar Romero: Transfigured in Eternity

On this evening forty years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred at the altar while celebrating Mass in San Salvador. His heroism in life and in death is now universally acknowledged by the Catholic Church that canonized him in 2018. Romero's prophetic legacy has proven both perceptive of his own time (with his integrally Christian and human vision of "liberation" as transformation in Christ) and rich with meaning for today's very different circumstances.

The Cold War that seemed to define so many Third World political liberation movements in Marxist-Leninist terms has long ended. The ideology of dialectical materialism with its utopian collectivist dream has been jettisoned by power seekers. In its place we have a broad spectrum of secularist political tribes and criminal organizations that occasionally try to cover themselves over with intellectual justification but are largely focused on controlling societies to serve their ambitions, greed, or other peculiar vices. Of course, there are also those who are dedicated to building a genuine political order in the service of justice and the common good.

El Salvador has endured a horrible civil war followed by a series of unstable regimes. The poor are still poor, threatened now by gangs, cartels, and all sorts of anarchic violence in a region still lacking an equitable relationship with its titanic northern neighbor.

Now the year 2020 is giving all of us a taste of the fact that our sense of control over reality is something of an illusion. Our economic and social power is not as secure as we thought. The dynamics of global interconnection has opened up new kinds of vulnerability, and the fragility of nature itself increasingly protests our presumptions of unlimited increase of material wealth.

What is the hope of society? The gospel shines its light all through history - a light that illuminates life in this world even as we journey toward the fulfillment of eternal life. As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ is the source of all our hope. Everything belongs to the Risen Christ. We are called to reflect the light of his reign in every part of this world, even in the building up of temporal societies and the identities of peoples. But we work within the world in the freedom of Christ, not with worldly violence. Our politics does not attempt to impose the gospel; rather we are stirred by the hope that the gospel awakens in us of the transcendent Kingdom of God (which encompasses the transfiguration of all the goodness and all the meaningful work of history in Jesus's glorified humanity). By the light of loving faith and hope, Christians can engage society with a politics shaped by justice, equity, compassion, and mercy.

I believe that this is what Saint Oscar Romero preached. This is the heart of his prophetic witness, from which we still have much to learn.

Excerpts from Romero's homily of Sunday, March 2, 1980:

"The plan of God has to prevail over all human plans if these plans want to be truly human plans and not anti-human plans. The Church always has before her eyes the human person. This is the star that guides the Church’s journey, a journey that is often misunderstood and at times slandered because many people want their temporal plans to prevail. 

"Yet for the Church, the human person is that which is most important: the human person, a child of God. It is for this reason that we are pained when we find dead bodies, men and women who have been tortured, men and women who suffer. For the Church the goal of all plans has to reflect the plan of God which is focused on the human person. Every man and woman is a child of God and in each person that is killed we find Christ sacrificed and for this reason we also venerate our martyrs....

"This is how God desires to find people: freed from sin and death and hell, living the gift of his eternal life, immortal, and glorious. This is our destiny and so as we talk about heaven we are not speaking of some form of alienation but talk in this way in order to motivate people to work with more energy and joy and to accept their great responsibility toward the world. 

"No one works on this earth and on behalf of the political liberation of people with more enthusiasm than those who hope that the liberating struggles of history become incorporated into the great liberation of Christ. We must come to the understanding (as the Council states) that everything that we sow in this world, for example, justice and peace, and calling people to use common sense, all of this we will be transfigured in the beauty of our eternal reward....

"Saint Paul..places in opposition the followers of Christ and the enemies of the cross of Christ who only seek worldly benefits, who only aspire to worldly things. 'Their god is in their stomach and their glory is their shame.' Saint Paul uses these harsh words in order to declassify those plans of history that only seek temporal goods and then present the great plan of God who desires to incarnate in the plans of the earth his great divine plan. 

"God is telling us that from the perspective of the resurrection Christians are inhabitants of eternity and thus they journey on this planet and work on this earth because they have to give an accounting to God, but their definitive land is where Christ lives forever, where we will be happy with him, the great liberator of freed people. The people who are freed will be those who have made their own that which Saint Paul calls the power that enables them to use the energy that they possess [in Christ] and that enables them to submit everything to God....

"My sisters and brothers, we are not weak when we speak as Christians about our faith in Christ. No one has the power of a Christian who has faith in Christ who lives and is the power of God. What leader of humanity is able to tell his followers that he lives forever? What victorious person in the world can point out to all the world the great victory of his death and resurrection? These are not false considerations but the fundamental reality of our Christian faith. Christ has risen and death no longer has dominion over him.

"The destiny of the risen Lord is to subject all of this to his kingdom so that one day he is able to hand over to God the universal kingdom, the kingdom of women and men, the kingdom of history where even his enemies appear to be chained beneath the power of Christ who has overcome death forever. Jesus has said that this is our faith that overcomes the world and for this reason the plan of God can rely on the greatest power...

"The theology of the transfiguration is telling us that the path of redemption must first pass through the cross and Calvary but beyond history lies the goal of Christians. This does not mean that we become alienated from history but rather that we give a more profound meaning, a definitive meaning to history. From the time that Christ rose from the dead the torch of eternity remained hidden in the history of time. From the time that Christ rose in history people have retold this story to encourage people and make people aware of the fact that Christ lives and those who work with him will live forever. From the time that Christ rose and was transfigured for all people in history, Christ is saying to all his followers: 'whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live.' This same Christ had encouraged Saint Paul when he..told the Christians community: 'Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all thing into subjection to himself'....

"My sisters and brothers, let us not lose sight of the transcendence of the Christian message no matter how great our concerns or our responsibilities in the struggles of people. Let us not be content with immanent energy but let us also realize the need for transcendence. I would like to see many politicians and young people and women and men organizing themselves but I would like to see this being done with a profound Christian meaning. May these same people bring this witness of transcendence to the process of our people because more than ever before our people need this Christian witness.

"For this reason those involved in the liberating process of our Salvadoran nation can be assured that the Church will not abandon them but will continue to accompany people in this process. The Church will do this with the authentic voice of the gospel, the voice of transcendence and the voice of Jesus. The Church will continue to demand of all liberators that if they want to be strong and effective then they must place their trust in the great liberator Jesus Christ, and must not separate themselves from him for any reason."

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Rejoice in the Lord

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is "Laetare Sunday," and we are invited with vibrant roses to "rejoice" as our Lenten journey progresses. In the midst of many difficulties this year, we can still find reason to "rejoice," because the Lord accompanies us through everything.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"The Passing of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict"

March 21 used to be Saint Benedict's feast on the Roman calendar, but it continues to be observed (along with numerous other days, including July 11) by the Benedictine tradition.

It commemorates his death and entrance into eternal glory, and remains a solemnity on the particular Benedictine liturgical calendar. (Pictured here is the image of Saint Benedict from a Rosary of the CL Fraternity.) Therefore, I want to wish a Happy Feast of "The Passing of Our Holy Father, Saint Benedict" to all Benedictines monks and nuns, all those in the Benedictine tradition, all oblates, all members of the Benedictine family (which in the broad sense includes the members of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation), and to all who follow the 1962 calendar.

God bless all Benedictines and Cistercians and all who follow his 1500 year old Rule as a "school for the Lord's service." 

Holy Father Saint Benedict, pray for all of us especially in these times of pandemic, and watch over the sick, those who care for them, and the overall needs of our societies. Protect us from every evil, and turn our hearts toward one another in the midst of our present difficulties.

Help us as we "pray and work," that we might "love Christ over all things," and "never despair of the mercy of God."

Friday, March 20, 2020

SPRING Has Not Been Cancelled

Spring is here!! (Not everything is "canceled," apparently...😉) 

Go visit a spacious park, if one is open near you (please, observe recommended precautions).

If you have a little patch of your own ground, explore it and you will discover bright little treasures all around you. It's surprising how much beauty we miss right under our noses every day.

Even the smallest spaces of action are not simply restraints. They are the gifts of our day - gifts full of promise that lead us on the path to Infinite fulfillment even under the paradoxical sign of present inadequacy and frustration. But difficult circumstances are not fruitless - surprising possibilities will reveal themselves to our patience and our persistent prayer. Never give up!

Take care, everyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Saint Joseph: Guardian of All Our Families

"With the Blessed Mother, I beg the Lord to free the world from every form of pandemic" (Pope Francis).

On this Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis and the entire Church in Italy prayed the Rosary for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and for all those who are suffering because of it. People throughout the world were invited to join with this prayer at 9:00 PM European Time (4 PM EDT in United States of America). Italy remains the hardest hit nation after China, with many other countries (including the USA) experiencing the same patterns of spread of the virus as the Italians passed through ten days ago.

Various precautions have been established or recommended by many nations, in what has already become a unique phenomenon of global solidarity to slow the spread of COVID-19 and seek better treatments for those who develop serious illness.

The prayer from Rome was livestreamed throughout Italy and the world: a small and selected gathering of priests, religious sisters, and faithful (observing the recommended space distance between each other) said a group rosary with hymns and meditations at the basilica of San Giuseppe al Trionfale. The Pope joined in from his residence at Santa Marta, while Italians prayed from their homes (with the entire nation observing quarantine).

The meditation covered the five "Luminous Mysteries" of Jesus's public ministry. The Pope had announced his participation yesterday, at which time he said, "Mary, Mother of God, health of the sick, leads us to the luminous and transfigured face of Jesus Christ and to his Heart, to whom we turn with the prayer of the rosary, under the loving gaze of St. Joseph, Custodian of the Holy Family and of our families."

Earlier today, Pope Francis offered these reflections:
Dear brothers and sisters,
I unite myself to the moment of prayer that the [Italian] Episcopal Conference is promoting, as a sign of unity for the whole country.
In this unprecedented situation, in which everything seems to be crumbling, let us help each other hold fast to what really matters. This is the advice I have received in so many letters from your Pastors who, in sharing such a dramatic moment, seek to sustain your hope and your faith with their word.
The Rosary is the prayer of the humble and of the saints. In its mysteries, they contemplate, along with Mary, the life of Jesus, the merciful face of the Father. O, how much we all need to be truly comforted, to be wrapped in [this] loving presence!
We measure the truth of this experience through our relationship with others. At this moment, they are our closest relatives [with whom we live during the quarantine]. Let us be close to one another, being the first to be charitable, understanding, patient and forgiving.
Though you may be confined to your own homes, allow your hearts to expand so they may be available and welcoming to all.
Tonight, we are praying together, entrusting ourselves to the intercession of Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family, Guardian of all our families. Even the carpenter of Nazareth knew precariousness and bitterness. Though he worried about the future, he knew how to walk the darkness of certain moments, always letting himself be guided by God's will without reservation.
The Pope also offered this prayer to Saint Joseph (text from Vatican News English):
Prayer to Saint Joseph
Protect, O Holy Guardian, this our nation.
Enlighten those responsible for the common good, so that they might know — like you do — how to care for those entrusted to their responsibility.
Grant intelligence and knowledge to those seeking adequate means for the health and physical well-being of their brothers and sisters.
Sustain those who are spending themselves for those in need, even at the cost of their own safety: volunteers, nurses, doctors who are on the front lines in curing the sick.
Bless, O St Joseph, the Church: beginning with her ministers, make her the sign and instrument of your light and your goodness.
Accompany, O St Joseph, our families: with your prayerful silence, create harmony between parents and their children, in a special way with the youngest.
Preserve the elderly from loneliness: grant that no one might be left in desperation from abandonment and discouragement.
Comfort those who are the most frail, encourage those who falter, intercede for the poor.
With the Virgin Mother, beg the Lord to liberate the world from every form of pandemic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Quiet Saint Patrick's Day

I hope it was a Happy Saint Patrick's Day for everyone.

We didn't have beer. We didn't even think about beer. But we remembered Saint Patrick, a patient evangelist who endured many trials.

And though I didn't see shamrocks in the yard, there were plenty of green things stirring and awakening and beginning to sprout.

God's beauty shines in such little things that come and go as the seasons pass. May He bring joy to your hearts.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"We Even Boast of Our Afflictions..."

"We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

"Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope.

"And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God 

has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

~Romans 5:1-5

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"The Early Bird"

"The Early Bird" (March 2020). This is a piece of original digital artwork by JJ.⭐

Friday, March 13, 2020

"Staying Home" During a Pandemic.

The new coronavirus human infection (COVID-19) that began in China's Hebei Province at the end of last year is now a global pandemic.

The USA is just starting to realize what's at stake here. For a long time, it seemed like it was a problem for "other people," which is the way epidemics tend to be regarded when one is not personally affected.

I started to pay more attention only when the virus moved to Italy a few weeks ago, because my daughter Agnese and her classmates were there for their "Semester in Rome." Our school, like most American universities, made an early call to end its program and get the kids home with proper precautions at the beginning of this month.

At the end of February and beginning of March, there was a sense that the situation in Italy could rapidly escalate, but no one expected the events of the past week. Italy is "shut down" as I write, and much of Europe and North America are following the same trail. Up until recently, it had been too easy to downplay COVID-19, because it's a complicated disease that manifests itself in different ways. It was too easy for us to think of it as just "a very bad version of the flu" because we were focused on hypothetical statistics like "death percentage" and on the idea that "most people get it only mildly." Whereas (as Italy shows, and they have a good health system there) the extensive spread of the COVID-19 virus creates significant overall problems in a modern society that has any sense of responsibility at all. 

The virus spreads widely among humans; most get only a little sick and some (perhaps many) never develop symptoms at all. But it hits vulnerable sectors of the population much harder, where it can develop into an serious acute respiratory illness. This is where the emergency lies. Though it may only be dangerous to the health of a few, it is the responsibility of all of us to protect them.

If the virus is unchecked, the result is a rapid spike in people who need hospitalization and special medical care. The ICUs are quickly overwhelmed, and there are not enough doctors, equipment, beds, etc. for patients who require real and immediate critical attention. This is exactly what has happened in Italy. Meanwhile, hospitals still have their regular flow of inpatients and urgent cases. The situation is comparable to a wartime crisis with ongoing civilian casualties. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers are exhausted, pushed beyond the limits of human endurance. In Italy, they have been heroic.

A healthcare crisis of this magnitude (or worse) may be coming to the USA and other countries within days or weeks. We must do everything we can to prepare for it and mitigate its impact as much as possible. With sufficient resources, most of the COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization "will live." But they will need specialized and long-term treatment. Otherwise many more of them will die or suffer permanent serious lung injuries. There is no making light of the desperate nature of the problem for them or for health-caregivers. That means, simply, that it is a serious problem for all of us.

What can we do?

The whole society needs to slow down the spread of the virus in order to slow down to a more manageable level the flow of people needing hospital care. COVID-19 spreads easily, many people might get it without ever knowing (but still spread it to others), most get nothing more than mild symptoms, but the "small percentage" of people who end up with serious pneumonia and other complications is still a huge number when they are all going into the healthcare system at the same time, needing intensive care and special medical equipment.

One thing we can all do is practice "social distancing" - a nice way of saying that public events need to be cancelled and public gathering places closed for a certain period of time. For the technologically-driven economies of the Global Village, this presents an unprecedented challenge. It is difficult to estimate the financial repercussions, and here too we all must be prepared to help the real human beings whose livelihoods are seriously disrupted or ruined. This is going to cost a lot of money over a significant period of time, and society as a whole has to be prepared to help shoulder the burden. It's encouraging to see that so many in the world recognize that what is ultimately at stake are values beyond price.

Maybe we will learn more about solidarity as we recognize the need to take care of one another, especially our elders and chronically ill people.

In any case, right now we are all going to have slow down and stay home. That in itself may not be such a bad thing in the long run. For many reasons.

I have had lots of experience with being "homebound" for long stretches of time (due to disability) during the course of the last two decades. It's not easy. For me, embracing my "material limitations" is an ongoing struggle. I can also say, however, that new possibilities "open up" within the limits, and I recognize them if I'm paying attention. 

Life is a gift, and there is always value in it, always a way to go "forward" - to draw closer to its fulfillment, to rediscover the Mystery at its roots that gives meaning to our actions and carries us through our sufferings. 

It's not easy. We have to persist, always ready to begin again. But we also have to be patient with ourselves... and with each other.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Christina Grimmie's Courage Helps Us Face Today's Troubles

Christina Grimmie was born 26 years ago today.

All over the world, those who help preserve her legacy ("Team Grimmie") mark this day, remembering her with a wide range of (sometimes conflicting) emotions, but above all with gratitude. We know that her brief beautiful life was, and remains, a great gift to the world.

Now, in 2020, as we all face more and more open dangers from epidemics and natural disasters we cannot control, and from the massive coalescence of human ignorance, negligence, and violence that surrounds us on all sides and exposes our tremendous vulnerability, we need more than ever witnesses who show us what makes life worth living.

What is there to hold onto beyond the "vanity" of all the worthless things that preoccupy us so much — the vanity that becomes so terribly obvious in a great human crisis? This year, Christina's birthday comes at a time when people all over the world feel the urgency of this question.

Presently, whole nations are being called upon to make significant sacrifices in an attempt to moderate the spread of a pandemic respiratory virus that can be life-threatening to older people and dangerously overwhelming for the resources of hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Whether we are close to the immediate effects of the pandemic of COVID-19 or more removed from them (for now), we need encouragement. Ongoing uncertainties make people anxious and often unreasonable. Even the strongest among us have fears and misgivings.

We need courage in the face of this threat, and other perils that will come after it in the future. To engender and sustain courage, we need to see more clearly the path that leads to the goal of life. We need confidence that we are made for something greater than all the forces that try to grind us down. At the heart of reality, there is a Mystery that is obscured from our limited view, but is always the source of our hope: a Mystery that guides all things, that fulfills life's promise; a Mystery of wisdom and beauty and love.

We can move forward if we reach toward this love with open hands and hearts, and remember that it's real, that it's worth living for, that it's worth dying for.

This year, especially, we have good reason to celebrate Christina Grimmie's birthday. Looking at her face, we see the promise of life, and  remembering her great heart, her outpouring of love, her heroism of loving to the very end  we glimpse that the fulfillment of life is a reality greater than death.

Her life was not wasted. It was a gift of love that continues to make a difference in the world, bringing healing, building bonds between people, radiating goodness, shining light in dark places.

She is truly and fully herself, living in God's heart, calling on us to be brave, showing us the way of love that pertains to all our circumstances and responsibilities, our maturity, our work, our sufferings, and whatever we need to do in dealing with COVID-19 and everything else the 21st Century throws at us. This is the "way of love" that she followed: the way that brings joy to life and that overcomes the fear of death.

Happy Birthday Christina Grimmie! Thank you!!💚💚 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Jesus on the "Rulers of Nations"

Jesus summoned [the disciples] and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.

"Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. 

"Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Monday, March 9, 2020

Happy Birthday Eileen!

Eileen's birthday was on March 5, and we managed to get everybody in on the celebration by stretching it out over several days.

Happy Birthday/"Birth-WEEK" to my dearest wife!

With family still (mostly) local, but no longer living in the house (or else no longer being around much at home), it's rare than any event brings us all together other than the BIG holidays.

So we do things in parts.

I heard that "Mrs. Janaro" had a good birthday party with her students at school. I'm glad for that. She loves her students and works harder for each of them, individually, than anyone knows (as is proper her particular pedagogical role, which is to facilitate the students' encounter with reality without drawing attention to her own personality).

It's been an exceptionally difficult school year, because of circumstances I cannot describe here. The timing of certain events couldn't have been worse in light of the needs of our own family. But she perseveres, and has been able to adjust to new situations and temporarily increased responsibilities. Age is slowing her down, but only a little...

She is a heroic teacher, which - among other things - means that she is underappreciated. For what it's worth, I appreciate and admire her. I'm grateful that I can listen to her when she gets home from school and encourage her.

For her birthday there were a few things we did. On Thursday night, Josefina and I took her out to dinner. It turned out to be Mexican food, and it was delicious (and thirst-quenching). The pictures don't do justice to it. I got her some little gifts too. Flowers are usually the way to a woman's heart, but in the case of this woman, a "Funko Pop!" figurine of Washington Capitals' star Alex Ovechkin is even better!

Most of "the kids" (including John Paul) came to dinner on Sunday. Agnese is still with some of her classmates, who returned from their (sadly😢) abbreviated "Semester-in-Rome" on March 4 and are serving out their "two weeks" (none of them have gotten sick). 

Teresa cooked dinner and also baked this incredible cake topped with fresh strawberries. Mom didn't want candles, not because she minds the number the candles would indicate, but she's just not much for the candle-blowing-thing (and its just as well, right now, that nobody "blows" on common food😷).

Dear Eileen, I am so grateful for you, more than any words can express. I thank God for you!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Remembering That Face

O Lord, there are some days when your “presence” seems so hidden.

And the beautiful world and all you have given me as a created person and through the gift of your grace seems covered by shadows. A mist in my mind clouds over the truth and goodness of things, and even my own heart seems a shallow and empty vessel.

Dear God, where are you? Where am I going? By what strange paths do you lead me? Sometimes I feel so lost, alone, afraid, and confused. Save me, O God!

Let me look upon the face of your Son: that face of Him who is every joy and all fullness, the face of Jesus. Let me remember that face, and dwell upon that face with confidence and trust and love.

"Turn to me and have mercy on me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress."

~Psalm 25:16-17

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

March Has Begun, and Spring is Near!

Here is an old farmhouse, an old tree, and old hills in wintry old Virginia:

It's exciting to know that the sparse landscapes of Winter will begin to bud and bloom with the colors of Spring in just a few weeks.

Hooray for March 2020! Though is has been chilly some recent days (and nights) the bravest of the forsythia buds have peeked open and a few have put forth their petals.

Meanwhile, the days are nearly 12 hours, the sun sets after 6:00 PM, and - with the imminent arrival of "Daylight Savings Time" (on March 8) - it will be setting after 7:00 PM.

I appreciate that, as I especially love walking in the evenings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Raissa Maritain: “Living in the Whirlwind”

Don't just start "browsing" through Raissa's Journal unless you are prepared to have an ice bucket of God's incomprehensible 'crazy' love dumped on your head.

The Journal is Raissa Maritain's posthumously published reflections on six decades of living (along with her husband Jacques) a life of intense faith as a layperson in the twentieth century world. 

There are words in it that will give you shivers. You will remember the mysterious, awesome, and infinite God who loves us. By the very reality of His love drawing near to us, He shatters all our sentimental substitutes and comfortable notions of 'cheap grace' – all the domesticated categories we would like to use to contain Him.

Yet here is found also the hint as to why our own lives can seem so inexplicable. The identity and vocation of each of us is hidden in Him, and His love has set out to transform us.

I'm not sure I understand the words quoted below.

Surely here we are within the paradox of needing to "lose ourselves for His sake" if we are to have the life to which He calls us. We are called to go forth to God "without-keeping-back-anything." Even in our journey of "one step at a time," the steps are measured by Him.

How often life itself teaches us this when we walk by faith. There will be rest and consolation enough, but not "on demand," not according to our own conception of ourselves and our limits. One day we will understand fully what a good thing it is that God leads us according to His wisdom and love, and our gratitude will fill our hearts. For the present moment, we have faith, hope, trust – we adhere to Jesus, we cry out to Him, we beseech His mercy, we never give up on Him.
“Surely we are to be pitied, we who are tossed in the waves of everything that constitutes suffering in this world, of everything which, like ourselves, is all misery and need, we who 'seeking peace and pursuing it' can nevertheless only find it under the goad of a thousand trials, in labour, in noise and in the midst of the world.
“We walk in darkness, risking bruising ourselves against a thousand obstacles. But we know that 'God is love' and trust in God is our light. I have the feeling that what is asked of us is to live in the whirlwind, without keeping back any of our substance, without keeping back anything for ourselves, neither rest nor friendships nor health nor leisure – to pray incessantly and that even without leisure  in fact to let ourselves pitch and toss in the waves of the divine will till the day when it will say: 'It is enough.'”
~Raissa Maritain

Sunday, March 1, 2020

What Saint John XXIII Learned From His Parents

From a letter of Saint John XXIII to his parents:

“Ever since I left home, ... I have read many books and learned many things that you could not have taught me. But what I learned from you remains the most precious and important, and it sustains and gives life to the many other things I learned later in so many years of study and teaching.”