Thursday, July 30, 2020

The End of July and All That Stuff

It's the end of July 2020, and I have no big reflections. Today is the feast of Saint Peter Chrysologus, the fifth century Archbishop of Ravenna and the greatest Church Father you've never heard of. It was in the days of the waning of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of this city on the Adriatic as the center of what remained of the imperial world on the Italian peninsula over the coming centuries.

Tomorrow, of course is the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Then we're off into the month of August of this crazy year.

Nothing is predictable. We live day by day. Yet one must plan certain things... The PLAN for August 8, 2020 is still "ON" as of now, and is as sure a bet to happen as any human thing can be in the scheme of things. Of course, Coronavirus still has a week and a half to cause unexpected problems. Maybe the world will shut down again. Who knows?

But my son and his bride are determined to get married a week from Saturday even if they have to do it in hazmat suits.

As it now stands, there will be a small, careful, but happy event. With lots of bridesmaids (she has three sisters and, of course, he has four). There is talk of a livestream video on some platform or other (many friends and relatives will not be able to attend, so we'll have to jump on this new trendy bandwagon, which has turned out to be such a help this year for so many things). 

I hope we'll have some nice pictures. But more on all of this in the coming days. Please pray that everything goes well. May God grant it!

That reminds me that I wanted to share the Collect Prayer for this, the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time in the Latin Rite Liturgical Year. It's well suited to our present awareness of the need for God, who alone is our "firm foundation," to give us an "abundance" of his mercy, to "grant that...we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure." We know that even the good things of this world pass away, but they are not meant to be futile. They are "signs" meant to guide us to our enduring home where the meaning of all things will become clear and goodness will find fulfillment.

I will conclude with an excerpt from an Easter Homily of Saint Peter-With-the-Golden-Words, whose words gain all their brilliance from the glory of the face of Jesus and their emphasis on his great love:
The Risen Jesus says to the disciples, "'Peace be with you! It is I. Do not fear.'" (See Luke 24:36 and following. The Archbishop continues, commenting in the 'voice' of Jesus:) "'It is I, the One who was crucified, dead, and buried. It is I, in and of myself God, but for your sake a man. It is I, not a ghost in the form of flesh, but Truth itself in the flesh. It is I. Back from the dead, I am alive; back from the underworld, I am from heaven. It is I whom death has fled, at whom hell has trembled, whom Tartarus, shuddering, has confessed as God. Do not fear: Peter, on account of your denial; John, on account of having fled; all of you, on account of having deserted me, of forming judgments about me with every one of your thoughts devoid of faith, and of still not believing even though you see me. Do not fear, it is I, who have called you by means of grace, have chosen and pardoned you, have sustained you by my steadfast kindness, have supported you with my love, and out of goodness alone I now take you back, because when a father receives his son, and when affection recovers its own, neither one is able to see any faults.'"

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Saint Martha and the Resurrection

Duccio, "The Raising of Lazarus" (14th century)
July 29 shines its bright celebratory light on Saint Martha of Bethany. It seems that this entire household — so dear to Jesus — is honored on this day: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. But for reasons I don't know, Martha gets the focus on the universal calendar for the Roman Rite as well as the various Eastern Rites.

Martha is often remembered as the one who felt like she needed a hand from her younger sister in preparing dinner for Jesus. She was busy with the details of hospitality and service, perhaps even a bit anxious about this good and necessary work. Mary her sister, however, grasped that being with Jesus and listening to him was the deeper response to his presence in their home at that moment, the "better part" of their friendship with this man who was the Word made Flesh (see Luke 10:40-42).

But Jesus loved Martha, and he loved their home, and he appreciated her service. Later, at another meal for a larger gathering with Jesus, we are told simply that "Martha served" (John 12:2). How beautiful it must have been to serve the human needs of Jesus. Indeed, Martha is the patroness of cooks and wait staff, and others who carry out works of hospitality "for Jesus" by serving others — the human beings in need who are his brothers and sisters (see Matthew 25).

As a way of loving, this service also enriched Martha's personal relationship with Jesus. No doubt, she also did plenty of listening too. As we discover in the great story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), Martha is given the gift of a great faith.

Jesus did not arrive at their house in Bethany until four days after Lazarus had died and been buried. Nevertheless, Martha's heart is full of hope that, somehow, "the story" is not yet over. She has come to know Jesus well. She has heard his words and knows something of his prayer, and she has seen his works that have manifested the saving power and tenderness of God. She trusts in him, brings her sorrow to him, and listens in this moment. As a result, Martha's encounter with Jesus prior to his raising of Lazarus leads her to a fundamental deepening of faith in Jesus, a gift of insight from God into his identity that is even more wonderful than the miracle of bringing someone back from the dead. (The Scripture texts quoted are from John 11:20-27.)

"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.'" Really, this is a remarkable thing to say. Martha's hope in front of Jesus is "radically open" — she places her confidence in what he might ask of God.

His response draws out her faith further. "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said to him, 'I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.'" Martha has the faith of Israel, that awaits a final rising of the dead on the 'Day of the Lord,' the ultimate saving intervention of God at the end of history.

For many, this may have seemed a remote and inaccessible event. But Jesus wanted Martha to understand that the Lord's Day was dawning right in front of her, and he called for her to make a new and even more radical act of faith and trust. "Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'"

"Do you believe this?" This is Martha's moment of glory, and she shines with recognition:

"She said to him, 'Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.'"


Do you see what happened here? Martha's stance in front of Jesus went from "whatever you ask of God," to "the resurrection on the last day," to "you are the Messiah"! It's a great moment of faith. Among all the disciples only Peter makes a similar profession, which Jesus declares to be "revealed by the Father" (see Matthew 16:5-6).

Of course, also like Peter, Martha must grow in this conviction. By verse 39, she seems forgetful (and anxious, once again, about many things, about the things of death), when she worries about the stench of the tomb. Jesus must remind her of "the glory of God" that she acknowledged moments before.

But the Byzantine tradition honors Martha as one of the "Myrrh-Bearing Women" who went to that other tomb on Easter Sunday morning, found it empty, and became the first witnesses to the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life."

On that day, Saint Martha must have remembered those words with great joy.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Texts For Troubled Times

Here are some "texts for troubled times" that I have posted recently on other media platforms:

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Treasure, the Pearl, and the Kingdom Worth Everything

Jesus said to his disciples: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it" (Matthew 13:44-46).

The concreteness of Jesus's parables is not just a "literary device," much less a cover for some arcane philosophical or gnostic teaching. (Whether the parables prove enlightening or perplexing to people depends on the openness of their hearts to God's grace.) The images are concrete because Jesus is proposing something real for people's lives, something that "corresponds" to the total desire of their humanity (even as it also transcends and transforms their humanity and their capacity to love).

Jesus talks about people in the real estate business and the jewelry business, but he is saying more than just that the kingdom of heaven is a worthwhile investment, a "good deal." He uses the context of commercial transaction in order to communicate that the kingdom truly corresponds to "what we really want," what we are seeking and aiming for (with varying degrees of clarity, and often beyond our immediate conscious awareness) as we carry out the activities of daily life. We "meet" the kingdom in the midst of ordinary circumstances, and we must choose it freely ("buy" the field, the pearl).

But the story implies that, if we have our eyes and our hearts open, if we are paying attention to reality, we will choose it. We will gladly assent even as we are "swept up" and renewed by an encounter that is both familiar and unexpectedly wonderful.

The kingdom of heaven overwhelms all our calculations and modes of evaluation. In both cases in the parable, our earnest businessmen sell everything (note: everything is a big word — think about that), but there is no tension in these transactions, no concern for balancing the ledger books.

Our real estate man discovers this spectacular treasure in a field. Really, when we hear this, what do we think? C'mon, be honest. You know you've thought about this. Everybody wants to find buried treasure.

I'll tell you what I think (please excuse me while I indulge in a bit of unscientific JJ Midrash ðŸ˜‰). Here's my man, finding the treasure in the field: "He opened the treasure chest and it was full of gold, and he said to himself, 'Dude!...this is worth, like, ten times as much as everything I own. I don't need to call my surveyors, or soil inspectors, or accountants. I am ready to do this deal now!'"

So he hides it again, and... wait, wait, wait! WAIT!

A "bad" thought enters my mind here: Nobody knows about this treasure? It's been hidden? Nobody sees you "finding it"?

Why bother buying the field?

More JJ Midrash: "'But wait,' he thinks, 'Why don't I just call Josh and tell him to bring his truck out here... hey man, can you bring the truck. I've got this big box I need to move...from, ya know, the "field" — oh nothing interesting in it, but I figured I'd just bring it over to my garage...'"

But in fact, none of this happens in the story. Not a word of it. Not even a hint. Of course, Jesus knows how we think. He knows that as soon as we hear the word "treasure," we (at least subconsciously) start calculating and scheming and dreaming. But he doesn't give us time. Immediately, our man "sells all he has and buys that field."

There's no assessments of value, no calculation, and not even the shadow of a temptation toward theft or any kind of worldly cunning. On the contrary, we are told that he gets rid of everything and buys the field "out of joy"!

"Out of joy..." Once he saw the treasure, it was all that mattered. Selling everything sounds like it was as simple as taking off a jacket on a sunny morning. Suddenly, "all-he-had" seemed superfluous. Unnecessary. He gave all away, out of joy.

What kind of treasure was this?

When the merchant finds the "pearl of great price," he also does something rather unusual, something that perhaps seems hasty or even reckless in the jewelry business. He doesn't negotiate or haggle over the price. He doesn't think, "maybe I should start with a bid of 20% of 'all-that-I-have' and see how that goes over." No. He finds the pearl, and it turns his whole business upside down. He sells all his stores, all the inventory, the house, the jacuzzi, the fancy cars, the stock portfolio — everything goes!

Either the merchant has lost his mind, or else this pearl really is worth everything. Indeed, it's worth everything and more, so much so that he sells all his stuff without a second thought, without concern. His whole focus is on the pearl.

He doesn't worry about "searching for fine pearls" anymore — not because he no longer thinks that pearls have value, but if anything, the opposite: he has found the pearl that corresponds to the whole scope of his search. Here the image of "the pearl" clearly points to an immense, mysterious, transcendent reality, but also to a concrete reality that the merchant encounters while living within the circumstances of his ordinary life.

No doubt people listening to this story (including us, if we really think about it) found it both puzzling and fascinating in varying degrees.

Some were inclined to say, "That doesn't make sense. No pearl could be worth 'everything' ... we will never encounter any reality in this world that has such evident value, such convincing promise to fulfill the totality of our searching and desiring, that we will 'sell all we have' and invest our entire selves in this new reality. It's not possible."

Others leaned toward thinking, "Wow, that pearl must have been totally wonderful and amazing if it moved the pearl merchant so deeply that he sold everything. Is the Teacher proposing something — this 'kingdom' he talks about — that would be like that pearl for my life?" Some people who heard the parable (and who hear it today) felt divided, a bit tugged in both directions. Perhaps they argued the points or sat in the sand and tried to figure the story out by themselves.

But there were those who looked at Jesus and said, "I don't know what I'm supposed to understand here, but I know that this man, Jesus, is not like anyone I have ever met. I think it will all come together, somehow, if I keep following him. I don't know about pearls or treasures, but when this man looks at me, whenever I see his face, I experience a kind of love for my person, my life, my whole being that... I can't describe, but I'm going to stay with him. Being with him is worth ... gosh, there's no end to it. He fills me with the conviction that God really loves me beyond all imagining."


Enough rambling from me. The Pope preached about this Gospel reading at the Sunday Angelus. Here are a few of his words:
"Jesus proposes to involve us in the building of the Kingdom of Heaven,... [but] those who fully pledge themselves to the Kingdom are those who are willing to stake everything.... The building of the Kingdom requires not only the grace of God but also the active willingness of humanity.
"Everything is done by grace, everything! We need only have the willingness to receive it, not to resist grace: grace does everything but it takes 'my' responsibility, 'my' willingness.... It is a matter of abandoning the heavy burden of our worldly sureties that prevent us from searching and building up the Kingdom: the covetousness for possession, the thirst for profit and power, and thinking only of ourselves....
"Indeed, those who have found this treasure have a creative and inquisitive heart, which does not repeat but rather invents, tracing, and setting out on new paths which lead us to love God, to love others, and to truly love ourselves. The sign of those who walk this path of the Kingdom is creativity, always trying to do more. And creativity is what takes life and gives life, and gives, and gives, and gives. It always looks for many other ways to give life.
"Jesus, who is the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value, cannot but inspire joy, all the joy of the world: the joy of discovering a meaning in life, the joy of committing oneself to the adventure of holiness."

Friday, July 24, 2020

Is "All The Strangeness" Wearing You Out?

I know a lot of people are having a hard time with all the strangeness that has descended upon our lives this year. I know it has been hard for me.

No matter what our circumstances are, or how much it has affected us "directly," there is no shame in acknowledging that The Pandemic has been (and continues to be) difficult, perplexing, frustrating, confining, nerve-wracking, frightening, exhausting — some combination of these or other similar characteristics are spinning our lives closer to "the edge" than we would like to be right now.

People are suffering in many different ways.

Suffering resists comprehension; it can't be entirely explained by categories or degrees. In one sense, certainly, we can "measure" it. We can say that it's objectively "harder" to be stuck in a refugee camp or a slum than it is to be stuck in a large house with first-world comforts. But how does one gauge the depths of suffering in the lives of persons who are afflicted by it?

There is an aspect of our pain that is profoundly personal. We need to remember this, especially now. We need to respond to one another with compassion.

Above all, this is a matter for the heart. It is a disposition to be cultivated and to be recalled again and again when we have forgotten it. We are on "the edge," after all, and we may well get impatient or angry with one another. We may also get down on ourselves. But we can't let these moments define us.

We must forgive one another, and seek to travel this difficult stage of life's journey together, aspiring to a greater openness to one another, a greater love, a greater sense of solidarity.

But what does this aspiration really entail? It might appear to be an "ideal" beyond our reach, because we are so fragile, so wounded, so afflicted and floundering in the continual weakening of our resources and shrinking of our capacities. It's humbling to be reminded of our limits, and to confront the immensity of our fundamental needs.

This is not, however, the moment to "give up." Rather, it is the moment to recognize and to seek something beyond ourselves: a source of healing and the capacity to begin again, to be renewed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Manor House and Fields in Summer

Digital Art. "Manor House and Fields in Summer." I enjoyed working on this, and it took some time. The final result, moreover, caught me a little by surprise.

Neither freehand drawing nor simple photography, art made with digital tools has its own peculiar challenges. Occasionally, after many mistakes and much dissatisfaction, things fall into place. The flaws are not unbearable, and a few "happy mistakes" result in something that exceeds what you set out to do.

During a year of so much overwhelming change, so much "information," so many careless words, I experience more urgently than ever the need to see beauty in life, to craft beautiful things, to present and share beautiful things and places.

At least, I have to try...

Monday, July 20, 2020

"PLAY [safe, socially-distant] BALL!"⚠⚾️

Mid July 2020: Baseball “Summer [Training] Camp.” I'm watching an exhibition game between Nats and Orioles. Coming from an empty ballpark. With fake “fan sounds” playing in the background. 

It’s bizarre. 

It feels like the Nationals won the 2019 World Series a hundred years ago. It seems like ages since the 2020 Season started with Spring Training, back in February. 

I posted in February about my excitement for the new season. Coronavirus sounded like a remote problem for China and East Asia to worry about (wishful thinking in retrospect, insofar as there was any thinking at all). Now, in July, COVID-19 makes the rules.

It puts some perspective on the relative significance (or insignificance) of our "games" when measured against our more fundamental needs, such as life and health. We are continuing to learn lessons about priorities, the need to care for one another, and the common good.

Even though it looks a bit "twilight-zoney," I’m just glad to see baseball BACK! (The 60 game “Season” begins end of this week.⚾️) Maybe it's crazy even to try to salvage the 2020 Season, but I'm a "fan," and it must be remembered that "fan" is short for fanatic.😉 We have irrational hopes... up to a point. We can see the need for the precautions and accept the weird consequences that follow from them.

Let's Go Nats! Stay safe out there, guys. And WIN!!⚾👑

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Saint Camillus and Our Times

Today is the memorial day for Saint Camillus (c. 1582) whose conversion story we saw in the May edition of Magnificat and also on this blog (see link HERE). 

He dedicated his life to caring for the sick, and founded a religious order (the Camillans, officially the "Order of Ministers to the Sick") that was in many ways the prototype of "the Red Cross" and that continues to work throughout the world today. But, of course, Saint Camillus is also the patron of all healthcare workers. These dedicated people always need our prayers in carrying out their professional commitment to works of mercy. It is especially urgent that we remember them now, as they continue to face great challenges during the ongoing pandemic. 

Saint Camillus, pray for our healthcare workers and first responders in these difficult times. May the Lord continue to give them strength and compassion.

God bless them all!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Jesus Wins the Final Victory

Speaking of Carmelites... 

This is a portion of a reflection from yesterday's Magnificat. Here is another of "God's girls," who was so young and so afflicted, but who proved that Christ's love endures all things and wins the final victory. We are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

What a great life we have been given!.

Oh, of course, I have many fears and if things go crazy I'll become even more anxious and afraid. I am weak. But there is encouragement here. Jesus is my friend. He understands me better than I understand myself.

Here are the words of a young woman from Latin America 100 years ago, a girl who was heroic and human. They are words that challenge us but also reassure us:
"I want Jesus to be your intimate friend, to whom you may entrust your heart, tired and filled with sorrow. Who can fathom the intensity, the torrent of worries pouring over you as can our Lord who delves into our deepest hearts, and with delicate touch can touch those painful wounds whose depths even we ourselves don't understand? Oh how your life would be transformed if you went to him often as to a friend!" 
~Saint Teresa of the Andes (1900-1920), who professed final vows in her Carmelite monastery in Chile on her deathbed.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Our Mother Mary and Mount Carmel

On this great day we honor our Mother Mary with particular emphasis on her special solicitude for those who share in the immense ecclesial charism of the Carmelite Order.

Beginning with hermits at Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, who dedicated themselves — like Elijah the prophet — to listening in faith for the “still small voice” of the Spirit of God, this charism blossomed in the Western Church during the Middle Ages and bore tremendous fruit in more recent times.

Under Mary’s special protection and care (she who pondered the mysteries of her Son in her heart), the Holy Spirit led the great Carmelites — Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and many others — to profound and genuine mystical experiences of God’s gratuitous love and a prophetic witness that continues to enrich the whole Church.

The charism of Carmel is shared in various ways: by professed religious men and women, lay ‘third order’ members, and (in the broadest and most accessible way) all who are devoted to the “brown scapular” — the small cloth squares worn under the shirt as a symbolic “link” to the Carmelite religious habit (i.e. the special garment they wear, which, according to a venerable tradition, was given to them by Mary with the promise of her protection and special help in attaining eternal life). 

The celebration of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" is a day of religious processions and festivals in many parts of the world, and I know that it was close to the hearts of my Italian immigrant ancestors. (My paternal grandfather, who I never knew in this life, was born on July 16, 1905, and one of his middle names was “Carmelo.” So Happy Birthday no. 115 to my father's father, my "Papa"! — I hope and pray that the whole family is celebrating this day with the Lord in eternal glory.) 

This is a joyful and colorful day for various peoples. To be clear: the many devotions to Mary in the Church are not superstitions (though, obviously, some people might have a superstitious attitude toward Mary and the saints, just as others might have a superstitious attitude about the Bible). Rather, they emerge from the vitality of Mary's very particular, very human ways of caring for the people who have been entrusted to her (who are each of us, and all of us).

The Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ our Savior reaches out to touch us physically, concretely, through many gifts she has given and inspired throughout the history of the Church. There are first of all her outstanding icons, some of which have long been regarded by the Christian people as miraculous in their origin or in other circumstances related to them; in certain cases (e.g. Guadalupe or the healings at Lourdes) popular traditions and contemporary accounts of Mary's presence and power remain inexplicable even after vigorous and careful scientific analysis. Mary is pervasively "present" in the Christian life, and has become intimate to a great spectrum of diverse peoples and cultures through a multitude of particular titles and iconographic styles that enable people all over the world to draw close to her and call her "our Mother."

Mary also enriches and give particular beauty and tenderness to Christian experience through the abundant fruits of her ongoing maternal care for all of God's children. We recognise this in the ancient hymns and liturgical services of the East (such as the Akathist or the Paraklesis), in the many religious communities specially dedicated to her (today we remember the Carmelites), in her “visitations” approved by the Church and established as places of pilgrimage for the Christian people (Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, and others), and in her many tokens of love and invitations to be united with her in prayer (the Rosary, the brown scapular and other scapulars related to different religious families, religious medals worn not out of superstition but in faith and love, etc).

Ultimately, it's a simple reality. If we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus, then we are the children of Mary. Her motherhood of all of us is the very special task entrusted to her along with the Person who is the Son of the Father, who takes our flesh in her womb, who is born of her in Bethlehem, and who dies on the Cross accompanied by her on the hill of Golgotha.

Having a mother, depending on a mother, flourishing and growing under the specific love and tenderness of a mother: these are fundamental human experiences even if they are often imperfect or broken in this fallen world. It is a wonderful fact, however, that God — in redeeming the world, calling us to be born again, and to grow to maturity in the Spirit as a new creation — has given us a redeemed motherhood through a Mother who will never fail us, who is always there for us, who already cares for us even if we don't realize it. Though, of course, she wants us to know her love. It means so much for our happiness, our confidence, the maturation of our humanity in Christ her Son. 

Mary is our Mother. She cares for us, accompanies us, clothes us, teaches us to pray, loves us, and carries us through trials so that we can attain the fullness of our destiny as God's children, as the little brothers and little sisters of Jesus. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Saint Bonaventure on the Kindness of Christ's Heart

On this Feast of Saint Bonaventure - who was not only one of the greatest theologians of the Middle Ages but also one of the most devoted followers of Saint Francis of Assisi - let's take the opportunity to benefit from his inspired counsel.

Here, from one of his brief treatises "On Holiness of Life," he presents a concrete meditation that deserves the attention of our minds and hearts especially in times of great need.

"If ever anything sad befalls you, or anything grieves you, or...causes you weariness or bitterness of heart," Saint Bonaventure advises, "lift up immediately your eyes to your Lord hanging nailed to the Cross. 

"Look upon Him, His head crowned with thorns! Gaze upon the nails, the iron nails which fasten Him to the Cross, and upon the lance piercing His sacred side. In all trying moments, picture and contemplate the wounds in His hands and feet, picture to yourself the wounds in His most blessed head, the wound in His sacred side, the wounds of His whole body. 

"Call to mind that He was wounded for your sake, that he suffered for you and that His sufferings were so great because He loved you beyond compare."

Bonaventure assures us that turning to the Lord in this way will bring us renewal and strength. Remembering Christ's sufferings and His love for us will "change your sadness into joy. What was heavy to bear will become light. What causes your weariness will become something to love."

The incomparable love of Jesus Christ crucified gives meaning to our sufferings and transforms them. Discovering how greatly we have been loved, how compassionate and complete is God's drawing close to us, will enkindle our love for Him in whatever circumstances we face, whatever burdens we bear. Saint Bonaventure always recalls us to the Cross, where God redeems us, expresses the fathomless depths of His love for us, and raises us up by calling us and empowering us to respond and enter into a relationship with Him.

"Christ accepted these sufferings and death to gain your devoted love. Through thought on these sufferings and out of gratitude, He wishes you to love Him. He desires you to love Him with your whole heart, with your whole mind, and with your whole soul. To save a slave He became a slave. What could prove better His kindness of heart?...  

"In spite of our worthlessness, though we deserve punishment, He laid down His life for us. His kindness reached such depths and such heights that it is impossible to imagine anything more tender, more kind or more lovable. The greatness of His love becomes more evident the more we realize the abject and terrible nature of Christ's sufferings... 

"This is the way God has loved us, and has invited us to love Him and to imitate Him in His love for us."

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Elders Dream, and the Young See Visions

I'm at a time in my life in which I appreciate very much the Pope's frequent remarks on the importance of inter-generational communication. Concretely, Eileen and I still find ourselves "in the middle" of three generations of family, though this position has begun to shift in recent years.

The events of my father's illness and death initiated this shift in a rather abrupt way for me. Not only had he been my father since "forever;" he was also well established as "Papa" to his five grandchildren. I will always be grateful that he was able to be a presence in their lives, and that he received so much joy from them.

I still miss him. If anything, I miss him more, though I do believe that "the relationship continues" and that he still "helps me" and keeps me grounded.

And now, the shift also continues - at least in the sense of establishing the proximate environment for a new generation to come into the world - as our son John Paul is getting married next month. ( ! )

Above: Papa playing baseball with his six year old
grandson. Below: Papa & high school age John Paul.
Eileen and I will be one step closer to being grandparents ourselves, to seeing the fulfillment of one of the blessings bestowed upon us on our own wedding day: "May they see their children's children" (a matter that seemed - on that day many years ago - only a little less remote than "traveling to other planets," as in "O yeah, maybe, way way waaay in the future...").

These relationships shape us and challenge us. I always assumed that, by the time I became "one of the elders," I would feel... well... old! And yet, as it approaches, I don't feel much older. I've been sick. I've been tired. But, no, this is a different thing. I suppose that - like most things in life - it's something you learn by going through it.

But as I said at the start of this post, "Papa" Francis often has insightful guidance on just this point. He insists on a crucial factor: the elderly are not just helpless or hindered people who need care from the younger, stronger generations. They have an essential and profound role for the future, for the fruitful movement of history. The different generations need one another, and when they are alienated from one another, society becomes dysfunctional and humanly impoverished.

Here is one recent quotation, that follows and comments on the Scripture text immediately below:

I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions (Joel 3:1).
"The elderly continue to be our roots. And they must speak to the young. This tension between young and old must always be resolved in the encounter with each other. Because the young person is bud and foliage, but without roots they cannot bear fruit. The elderly are the roots. I would say to them, today: I know you feel death is close, and you are afraid, but look elsewhere, remember your children, and do not stop dreaming. This is what God asks of you: to dream" (Joel 3:1).
"What would I say to the young people? Have the courage to look ahead, and to be prophetic. May the dreams of the old correspond to your prophecies" (also Joel 3:1).
~Pope Francis (from The Tablet interview with Austin Ivereigh, 04/08/2020)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

"Return to the Right Path"

O God, who show the light of your truth 
to those who go astray, 
so that they may return to the right path, 
give all who for the faith they profess are accounted 
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name
  of Christ 
and to strive after all that does it honor. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever.

~Collect for Sunday, July 12, 2020

      [Detail from a mosaic by Marko Rupnik at Saint John Paul II Shrine, Washington DC, USA]

Friday, July 10, 2020

Why I Want to "Spend Time" With Christina Grimmie

I think I am beginning to understand why I do this, month after month. I make a graphic or sometimes write an article, virtually every month, on the 10th day (sometimes it spills over a day or two beyond that). Eventually, I post and share what I come up with, and some months the result is bigger and/or better than others. But ultimately the whole process is a kind of personal thing.

Once a month, over the past four years, I spend some time "visiting" with Christina Grimmie.

I go on a "journey" into the immense digital realm that still bears so many impressions and resonances of all the ways she offered herself and endeavored to be present to people all over the world. I watch, I listen, I read some words, and then - taking my own impressions or using fragments of media (words, lyrics, screenshots of momentary frames of video) as a basis for work with my own creative tools - I put together my own presentation. I hope that it has some value for others, but it always has value for me. The value above all is in the time itself, where I find that I receive so much more than I have given.

But why do I make this effort? Why do I revisit the "virtual remains" of a young woman who was taken from this world four years and one month ago - someone who I had no connection with nor even a particularly attentive interest in before she died? I don't think I can really fully explain why she matters to me, why I want to "be with her" in some meaningful way.

I have lots of other projects, ongoing research, interests, responsibilities. But I make time for Christina. The rest of the month, I might not think much about her or even listen to her music. But here's what matters: somehow Christina has worked her way into a significant place in my life. She has become "familiar" to me, in the sense that I care about her "like family." She is a reality in my life, with dimensions beyond anything I could construct by imagining or willing it myself. This would not be possible if it weren't for the fact that she is a real person. And over the past four years I have come to love this person.

Okay, I said I was "beginning to understand" what I'm doing each month. The "analogy" to family has shed a bit of light on it recently.

Since my father's death last year, I have discovered that the gesture of "spending time" with him is a very real and personal act (in this case, it includes actually visiting his grave, but also the many moments that come through so many other particular things that bring him to mind).

With my father, of course, I'm working through the mysterious experience of grief, but it's not simply a psychological exercise. It's spending time with a person. Because death - even with all its obscurity and strangeness and "distance" - is simply not the end of an interpersonal relationship. The relationship endures, not through weird conjuring tricks, but precisely the opposite: it remains woven into the course of "ordinary" life.

Part of the endurance of grief, and perhaps the way we begin to "make peace" with grief, is our growing "accustomed" (though never entirely) to this hidden continuation of the relationship with the one who has passed on - to the continuation of LOVE - which we express through simple gestures and which (occasionally) "surprises us" as something we receive from the other, something more than a past memory.

Companionship remains, and sometimes this makes it harder, but we want to bear it nonetheless. Grief does not terminate with forgetfulness of the other; it grows, slowly, into a kind of peace and humility in front of the great mystery of life and the particular mystery of that person we love. I am learning this road with my father.

But why does Christina Grimmie matter to me?

As you can see, I have been doing these posts and graphics for awhile.

I never met her, and didn't have any particular interest in her during her life or career. It was only when she died that I was really drawn to learn more about her. In time, I began to appreciate and be inspired by the beauty of her life, especially its "extraordinary-within-the-ordinary" character. I began to look upon her with a particular admiration, and I could say that I loved this young person. As everyone will say who learns about her life, it's hard not to love her. But what "surprised me" was the impression that I, myself, was being loved.

The most important thing to me about Christina is that she has befriended me. I really think this goes beyond general theological categories (such as "the communion of saints") or psychological phenomena related to her personal style of communicating which is still accessible on the Internet.

Those are all factors, certainly, but they do not satisfy me as sufficient to account for a very personal experience. I don't think I'm imagining this, because there are many other people who have only discovered Christina after her death who speak in similar terms. Others may have been frands during her lifetime, but now find (even in the midst of their sorrows) that she has become more important to them and more intimate to their lives.

Then, of course, those who knew and loved her best during her life on this earth have a different kind of experience, with a weight and depth that I can't begin to fathom. I wonder, perhaps, as time goes on whether they find some unexpected heights in the midst of the depths. Or perhaps some other ground where in some moments she walks with them, in a way we don't have words to describe.

In any case, it's personal. Even for myself, very much a latecomer to Team Grimmie, there is something personal, there is someone with whom I want to spend time. Though this friendship is very concrete, it is the opposite of exclusive! More than anything, that's why I'm moved to share it. I'm sure that other people who read this will recognize that the same kind of thing has happened for them.

I think Christina will continue to make new friends, and become more accessible to everyone even as she continues to be personally and "specially" available to each of us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Summer Flowers "Up Close"

Summer Flowers UP CLOSE: Hibiscus bushes showed their buds less than a week ago (picture 1, top) and now they have already begun to bloom (picture 2). This matches the somewhat more "tropical" weather we've been having recently. ðŸŒ´ðŸŒ¸⛅

Friday, July 3, 2020

"Doubting Thomas" and the Real Humanity of Jesus

Today we celebrate Saint Thomas the Apostle. It's time for the famous painting (one of them) by an Italian fellow named Michelangelo Merici da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Among other things, Caravaggio was the inventor of "HD" (😉joke). The Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus said to 'Doubting Thomas': “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27).

Caravaggio's 1602 painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas assures us that Jesus was speaking quite literally... for some people it "assures them" to the point of making them uncomfortable. Not everybody likes the Caravaggio style. He remains a great painter of historic significance, but few people are enthusiastic about every great painter. And people have their own tastes and preferences in art. Nevertheless, the jolting realism of Caravaggio has a point, and maybe we're right to feel "discomfort" in one sense. Ultimately, real Christianity is "uncomfortable" because it's not a collection of stories, ideas, and rules that we can finally master and control by our own power (though people always try).

Real Christianity is a Person; real Christianity is A MAN, a particular man from a particular place and time, a real man of flesh and blood and bones, of spirit and intelligence and freedom.

Real Christianity is the Word who became flesh to dwell with us; God the Infinite Mystery, the Source of all things, for whom the depths of our hearts yearn - whom we long to know and love - but who is always beyond our power, who cannot be grasped, to whom we cry out for a fulfillment we seek without really understanding it: the Infinite became a man so that he could be with us as our brother.

The Mystery became flesh so that as a man he could enter human history and heal and transform it "from the inside," through his human life, death, and resurrection that initiate a New Creation beginning with his risen humanity. Still he remains a real man (Thomas is invited to verify this with his fingers that touch the transformed but still "open" wounds in his now-immortal but still human flesh).

This man, Jesus of Nazareth, is deeply involved in every person's life whether they know it or not. He calls us to a relationship with him. He is all wise, all good, entirely trustworthy and (if I may put it this way) madly in love with each one of us, with our particular humanity, our flesh and blood, our soul, our reason, our freedom. He loves me, he loves you right now, even if our lives are totally messed up, even if we've done terrible things, even if we have been running away from him.

He calls us to a real relationship, which is going to be mysterious and difficult and better than anything we could do alone: it is an adventure in which we are not the ones who are "in control" (even as it engages all our intelligence, creativity, co-operation, and responsibility). "Blessed are they who have not seen, but still believe" (John 20:29). Believers are called "blessed" by Jesus. They are not called "comfortable." Living a relationship with Jesus Christ takes us way outside our boxes and way beyond our comfort zones. It's a "love story," after all.

And Jesus never said "Do not be uncomfortable." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Matthew 14:27, Luke 5:10, John 14:27).

Do not be afraid. Trust in Jesus Christ, always!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Despite All Its Frailties, The World Still Belongs To God

Christians are called to pray for everyone, and — in union with Jesus the Savior — “to intercede for the world, to remember that despite all its frailties, it still belongs to God...
"Everyone belongs to God. The worst sinners, the most wicked people, the most corrupt leaders, are children of God, and Jesus intercedes for everyone. And the world lives and thrives thanks to the blessing of the righteous, to the prayer for mercy: this prayer for mercy that the holy, the just, the intercessor, the priest, the bishop, the Pope, the lay person — any baptized person — unceasingly raises for humanity, everywhere and in every place and time in history..."
Therefore, "when we want to condemn someone and we become angry inside — getting angry can do good, but condemning does no good — let us intercede for him or her; this will help us a lot."

~Pope Francis

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Hong Kong: The "Security Law" Takes Effect

As of this day — July 1, 2020 — Hong Kong is subject to the completed and officially decreed “National Security Law” imposed by the Chinese Communist PartyState.

With demonstrations all over the city today, we will soon see the new “security” apparatus in action — or maybe we won't see it, since foreign press are also being threatened.

The CCP and its local supporters may impose “order” for a period of time, but Hong Kong’s young protestors will not give up. They will “be water,” and perhaps will appear to be diminished, but really they will have time to clarify their thinking on the future of their city. Some may do it from jail. Others may go into exile. But they have more commitment, more energy, and more human depth than their persecutors.

We continue to stand with Hong Kong!