Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, / as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

God is Love. God has come to save us and share with us His ineffable Life. God wants us to be with Him forever.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Flowers

As we head into this last weekend in May, it's time for FRIDAY FLOWERS!!🌹🌼 The white peony is blooming in the neighborhood, as are the rose bushes. Those pink field flowers too, and - lastly - some kind of tree. End of May pretty.☺️

Thursday, May 27, 2021

How We Become RICH In The Holy Spirit

On Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis gave a very significant homily on the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Advocate. These words - especially the "three points of advice" that the Spirit gives us on our daily vocational path - point the way forward for us as Christians who live for the glory of Christ in the Church and in the world today. Here are selections in bold text, from the Vatican website.

The Paraclete is the Comforter. All of us, particularly at times of difficulty like those we are presently experiencing due to the pandemic, look for consolation. Often, though, we turn only to earthly comforts, ephemeral comforts that quickly fade. Today, Jesus offers us heavenly comfort, the Holy Spirit, who is “of comforters the best” (Sequence). What is the difference? The comforts of the world are like a pain reliever: they can give momentary relief, but not cure the illness we carry deep within. They can soothe us, but not heal us at the core. They work on the surface, on the level of the senses, but hardly touch our hearts. Only someone who makes us feel loved for who we are can give peace to our hearts. The Holy Spirit, the love of God, does precisely that. He comes down within us; as the Spirit, he acts in our spirit. He comes down “within the heart”, as “the soul’s most welcome guest” (ibid). He is the very love of God, who does not abandon us; for being present to those who are alone is itself a source of comfort....

Let us go another step. We too are called to testify in the Holy Spirit, to become paracletes, comforters. The Spirit is asking us to embody the comfort he brings. How can we do this? Not by making great speeches, but by drawing near to others. Not with trite words, but with prayer and closeness. Let us remember that closeness, compassion and tenderness are God’s “trademark”, always. The Paraclete is telling the Church that today is the time for comforting. It is more the time for joyfully proclaiming the Gospel than for combatting paganism. It is the time for bringing the joy of the Risen Lord, not for lamenting the drama of secularization. It is the time for pouring out love upon the world, yet not embracing worldliness. It is more the time for testifying to mercy, than for inculcating rules and regulations. It is the time of the Paraclete! It is the time of freedom of heart, in the Paraclete.

The Paraclete is also the Advocate. ... for he is “the spirit of truth” (John 15:26). He does not take our place, but defends us from the deceits of evil by inspiring thoughts and feelings. He does so discreetly, without forcing us: he proposes but does not impose. The spirit of deceit, the evil one, does the opposite: he tries to force us; he wants to make us think that we must always yield to the allure and the promptings of vice. Let us try to accept three suggestions that are typical of the Paraclete, our Advocate. They are three fundamental antidotes to three temptations that today are so widespread.

The first advice offered by the Holy Spirit is, “Live in the present”. The present, not the past or the future. The Paraclete affirms the primacy of today, against the temptation to let ourselves be paralyzed by rancour or memories of the past, or by uncertainty or fear about the future. The Spirit reminds us of the grace of the present moment. There is no better time for us: now, here and now, is the one and only time to do good, to make our life a gift. Let us live in the present!

The Spirit also tells us, “Look to the whole”. The whole, not the part. The Spirit does not mould isolated individuals, but shapes us into a Church in the wide variety of our charisms, into a unity that is never uniformity. The Paraclete affirms the primacy of the whole. There, in the whole, in the community, the Spirit prefers to work and to bring newness. Let us look at the apostles. They were all quite different. They included, for example, Matthew, a tax collector who collaborated with the Romans, and Simon called the zealot, who fought them. They had contrary political ideas, different visions of the world. Yet once they received the Spirit, they learned to give primacy not to their human viewpoints but to the “whole” that is God’s plan. Today, if we listen to the Spirit, we will not be concerned with conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and innovators, right and left. When those become our criteria, then the Church has forgotten the Spirit. The Paraclete impels us to unity, to concord, to the harmony of diversity. He makes us see ourselves as parts of the same body, brothers and sisters of one another. Let us look to the whole! The enemy wants diversity to become opposition and so he makes them become ideologies. Say no to ideologies, yes to the whole.

The third advice of the Spirit is, “Put God before yourself”. This is the decisive step in the spiritual life, which is not the sum of our own merits and achievements, but a humble openness to God. The Spirit affirms the primacy of grace. Only by emptying ourselves, do we leave room for the Lord; only by giving ourselves to him, do we find ourselves; only by becoming poor in spirit, do we become rich in the Holy Spirit. This is also true of the Church. We save no one, not even ourselves, by our own efforts. If we give priority to our own projects, our structures, our plans for reform, we will be concerned only about effectiveness, efficiency, we will think only in horizontal terms and, as a result, we will bear no fruit. An “-ism” is an ideology that divides and separates. The Church is human, but it is not merely a human organization, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus brought the fire of the Spirit to the earth and the Church is reformed by the anointing of grace, the gratuity of the anointing of grace, the power of prayer, the joy of mission and the disarming beauty of poverty. Let us put God in first place!

Holy Spirit, Paraclete Spirit, comfort our hearts. Make us missionaries of your comfort, paracletes of your mercy before the world. Our Advocate, sweet counsellor of the soul, make us witnesses of the “today” of God, prophets of unity for the Church and humanity, and apostles grounded in your grace, which creates and renews all things.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Father Who Loves Us

In the face of every obstacle and difficulty, we have reason for hope. The Gospel is "good news" for humanity, for each one of us. We must remember this goodness, let our lives be embraced by it, and bear witness to it.

In this vision of evangelical joy and its significance for every person, the Popes in my lifetime have remained remarkably consistent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Power, Pandemics, and "Lyme Disease Awareness Month"


COVID remains the epidemic of particular concern in these days and weeks. Yet the month of May is still "Lyme Disease Awareness Month." I hesitate to say much about this mysterious disease that has cast a long shadow over a great portion of my adult life. I don't want to scare anyone, because my peculiar condition dates back to the late 1980s and to extensive exposure to ticks while trekking through the woods of my beautiful Shenandoah Valley and this portion of the Appalachian Mountains called the Blue Ridge.

But there was little or no "Lyme Disease Awareness" back in the '80s (outside of New England), and I was particularly incautious in some of my youthful adventures. There was no practical possibility for the initial signs of the infection to be diagnosed or properly treated, and by the time the more perplexing stage of the disease had developed and (in my case) become debilitating, I could only fight it into what is (I suppose) "remission," and follow what is in some ways a more subdued lifestyle so as to keep it there.

It hasn't been easy. Doors closed in some areas of my life, but windows opened. The condition has been "manageable," and although it has brought some external limitations and some sorrow, these are small in the light of the many joys of my years since 2008. Here I speak for myself only. Many people suffer far more than me, and my heart goes out to them.

We still don't know much about Lyme Disease, but we know a lot more than we used to, and we are more "aware."

So remember to be aware! It's Springtime, which means check for ticks after outdoor activities; if you develop early symptoms of infection, get treated with antibiotics as soon as possible, and you will very probably be fine. It seems to me that, for whatever reasons (possibly immune system related, possibly with a genetic basis?), many people get the Lyme bacteria from tickbites but never develop any significant symptoms, or only very mild symptoms. The medical community still has lots to learn, and there is important research work being done. To become more aware of Lyme Disease, resources are available from places like the Global Lyme Alliance (click HERE).

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in some places in the world. Many parts of the United States of America, however, appear to be getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. Over 50% of the adult population in the USA is fully vaccinated, and numerous States are revising or even lifting entirely their complicated structures of legal prohibitions, restrictions and public health "recommendations" regarding gatherings, social distancing, wearing masks, etc.

The Governor of Virginia is removing most restrictions effective May 28th, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend. People are looking forward to the prospect of their lives getting "back to normal," which is understandable. But the consequences of this whole experience will take some time to work themselves out. 

Really, the Pandemic and its global social repercussions have been just one particularly intense manifestation of the tumultuous transitional period of human history we are all living through. Having accumulated an enormous quantity of information on the processes of the material world, humans of the emerging new epoch have taken the reigns of material power into their hands in an unprecedented way. COVID-19 has pointed out that unpredictable consequences can arise from our use of material power - in this case, that our construction of a vast and interconnected technologically-driven infrastructure can facilitate the unexpected, rapid spread of new diseases. 

Suffice it to say, we should recognize the fact that technological development will not generate utopia. No doubt, we will continue to learn that the undeniable goods of material development will also give rise to new and complex problems. We cannot deny that the increasing crisis involving the global ecosystem continues to loom large over the world, demanding attention not only from scientific techniques but also from a deeper human wisdom.

No matter how extensive and gigantic our power becomes, no matter how clever our technological manipulations, we will never be the self-sufficient "masters of the universe" that some people dreamed about in the anthropocentric philosophies of recent centuries.

One way or another, reality will always continue to challenge us and impose limitations that hinder or even prevent us from doing some things we want, while also surprising us with opportunities and gratuitous experiences that are beyond anything we had planned or anticipated.

We must still do our best to understand and make use of what is given to us. This does not mean we must sacrifice the true greatness of our aspirations. It means becoming free from pompous, grandiose, violent illusions of constructing the total scope of our lives by our own power. It means engaging life intensely according to our own gifts and possibilities, in collaboration with others, with mutual esteem, with patience, and with the humility and hope that open us to receive the ultimate measure of our fulfillment as a gift. This is the human way to use power, to love reality, to practice restraint, and to exercize stewardship over what has been entrusted to us.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Maria, Mater Ecclesiae

Pope Francis recently established the Monday after Pentecost as a feast day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of "Mother of the Church," a term which signifies especially the role entrusted to her by Jesus at the foot of the Cross, when he gave her to John the Beloved Disciple (and - with him - all of us) to be his mother (see John 19:25-27). It also points to the whole of the beautiful and gratuitous role Mary carries out in the history of salvation. 

As our Mother, she collaborates in a singular way with her Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh - a way, of course, that is entirely subordinated to His redeeming and transforming grace. Mary's universal motherhood is indeed a special gift of Christ's grace as He redeems us through His Incarnation and Paschal Mystery (which we have celebrated in these months), and as He continues to work in the Spirit to bring us to our fulfillment in the Kingdom of the Father, the New Creation. Mary's maternal tenderness extends to each of us and to the whole Church. Just as we find her gathered with the Apostles and all the other disciples in the upper room when the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, so we find her on every moment of our journey toward the fulfillment of our vocation. Mary's motherhood is supernatural yet also most profoundly human in the way it makes us brothers and sisters of her Son Jesus. She remains with us in her maternal tenderness and solicitude, and her advocacy of our total need for God's love, our total dependence, to which He responds with a miraculous superabundance (as we see at the wedding feast at Cana - cf John 2:1-12).

A summary of the scope of Mary's motherhood as a special sign and gift of the power of God's love is contained in today's liturgy, in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church: "Receiving your Word in her Immaculate Heart, she was found worthy to conceive him in her virgin's womb and, giving birth to the Creator, she nurtured the beginnings of the Church. Standing beside the Cross, she received the testament of divine love and took to herself as sons and daughters all those who by the Death of Christ are born to heavenly life. As the Apostles awaited the Spirit you had promised, she joined her supplication to the prayers of the disciples and so became the pattern of the Church at prayer. Raised to the glory of heaven, she accompanies your pilgrim Church with a mother's love and watches in kindness over the Church's homeward steps, until the Lord's Day shall come in glorious splendor."

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost: Come Holy Spirit!

 Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit!✝️πŸ”₯ #Pentecost #EasterSeason #NewLife

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Made New in Holiness of Mind

The Lord is compassionate. He reaches down to lift us up.

In this season, I "have been brought" along this mysterious path that is my life, my vocation which is to journey toward Him, to journey with Him, to desire eternity and seek His glory, hidden in the circumstances of each day.

The "things of the past" and "former ways" are being "left behind." Indeed, "new mysteries" lay before me in this new moment of my vocation, my call to live for the glory of Christ and in Him to be "made new in holiness of mind."

I don't understand what this "holiness" means, and I know that I'm a long way from attaining it. Following along with my accommodation and application of the meaning of this prayer, I know that what the world needs - what my world needs, desperately - are transformed minds, minds of simplicity that see things as they really are and follow God's will, trusting in Him and His goodness amidst all the complicated, difficult, flawed, inspiring, beautiful things that lie ahead.

This transformation of our minds is the work of the Holy Spirit, who shows us the glory of the Risen Jesus whose light shines through into all the depths of existence, all the moments of history, all the paths of traveling through this life, every space (no matter how remote, no matter how desolate), every beat of every human heart.

Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus is our brother. God is "Abba" - He is our loving Father and we are His children, brothers and sisters in Christ, called to love one another. Come, Holy Spirit! Make us new in holiness of mind! Give us hearts to seek His face, and to see one another in new ways.

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Light of the Holy Spirit

As Pentecost approaches, the light of the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and deepens our love.

Monday, May 17, 2021

A Tribute to My Friend Tom Sullivan

Today we "went to" the funeral of a dear friend of more than thirty years, Tom Sullivan. (I use quotation marks because — like so many other events over the past year — we "went to" it virtually, via livestream. But I was very grateful for this and various other virtual connections over the past two weeks.)

Tom died of cancer last week. He was 60 years old. I have been trying to write these thoughts about him, but I kept procrastinating (something Tom would understand), but then also rewriting and changing parts of it and adding stuff. Nothing I say here, however, will be adequate to the memory of such a rich friendship.

Eileen and I got to know Tom very well through the Communion and Liberation movement. We were blessed to have him as one of my groomsmen at our wedding (which was almost 25 years ago). I went through a lot of old “snapshots” from that day looking for a good picture of him. But Tom was not a camera hog. (The best old pictures of him are from 30-ish years ago, shared by my friends, and they are nearly all funny group pictures.) All I could find from our wedding were a few general multi-person pictures, in which details of him can be seen in the background. This is the reason for the “mug shot” I have posted here, an attempt to digitally enhance a photographic glimpse of Tom, in the shadows, looking uncomfortable in his Tux (it was a very hot day). The truth is that no "still picture" can adequately represent his irrepressible personality and his enormous generous intelligence.

I hadn't seen much of Tom over the last decade, and he had been living in Houston for the past five years. Yet we had that kind of long-standing, deeply-rooted friendship full of common experiences and the mutual awareness of being on a journey together toward the fulfillment of life's meaning. I know we could have easily "picked up" communication at any moment, and (especially) gotten together personally without awkwardness and with lots to share from the intervening years.

If there is a "downside" to this kind of friendship, it is only in the way it can so easily be "taken for granted." Human adulthood seems to reach a kind of "plateau" that stretches out over several decades. Really, there is something of an illusion in all of this, but its a surprisingly stubborn illusion. You attain a kind of "status" (through your profession, your vocational life-commitments, etc.) which brings to some resolution the restlessness of youth. Once you're married, raising a family, and/or engaged in your life's work, you feel like you've reached a "level of life" that is just going to continue "forever" (or at least "for a long, long time"). Even in today's tumultuous world where we are constantly moving and changing places, jobs, interests — not to mention breaking vocational commitments, escaping responsibilities, or enduring traumatic interruptions and upheavals — we still retain some sense of this underlying "plateau" which we just take for granted as "normal life." 

Meanwhile, the years fly by (tempus fugit, "time flies," — like all the classical human proverbs — has more experiential depth than we realize when we are young). And our middle-aged expectation that everything will always stay the same is frequently upended. The "plateau" is in fact a bumpy, twisting, turning, difficult but beautiful stretch of terrain on life's journey. We need to pay attention to the beauty. The difficulties, however, will be hard to ignore. The truth is that life, at every stage, is full of challenges and transitions that take us by surprise. In today's world, age 60 is still "too young to die," but it does happen. Nevertheless, we're not expecting the death of friends and colleagues from our own generation. We still "feel" like we're 30, at least in some respects, and we have felt that way for the past 30 years. It's too easy to take things (and people) for granted.

More recent and more characteristic pic
This digression is a very long way of saying that I regret having "lost touch" with Tom in recent years. It was not from a lack of basic affection, but simply from the distraction that causes me to ignore so many other important things in life. Sure, I have been sick, he was far away, I am not a "telephone person," he was not on any social media, etc., etc., etc. but still, I regret my "forgetfulness." Tom's friendship has been a great gift in my life which I did not sufficiently appreciate. Still, I am grateful that we were able to accompany him — however "remotely" — in his last days, thanks to “real-time” updates from mutual friends who were at his bedside at the hospice in Houston, and our corresponding “real-time” prayer. 

Our prayer, of course, unites us through the definitive, unfailing, ultimate reality of “interpersonal communication” which is the “Mystical Body of Christ.” Jesus has been “lifted up” on the cross (cf John 12:32), in the resurrection, in glory, in the Spirit, in the life of the Church stretching through all of space and time. Jesus “draws all to himself” (cf John 12:32), making us members of His Body through our adherence to Him in faith, through Baptism and the Eucharist, the Sacraments and the life of the Church, and for us in the particular realization of ecclesial experience conveyed through the charism of CL. This communion is real and vital and transforming beyond anything we could establish by our efforts alone. Nevertheless, communications media can be helpful in serving to enrich our awareness of being united in Christ, and enable us to express it in new ways. It’s something I have been discovering (not without difficulty, frustrations, and mistakes) over the past 12 years, and something we have all been learning about since the Pandemic of 2020-2021-...202? and all its limitations on so many ordinary interactions.

Belonging to one another "in Christ" is a unity that transcends even the strange separation of death.

Here again, I seem to digress ... but not really: in any case, Tom would not only be pleased with my abundance of words, he would egg me on to even wider spheres of digression without ever losing the thread that holds them all together. He and I would follow this thread, but since others reading this might get confused (understandably) or even bored, let me get back on topic.πŸ˜‰

Tom Sullivan had a special gift for friendship, as many tributes have indicated. He was one of those rare people who was a great talker (oh boy, could he talk!) but also a great listener. I should know, because I can also talk (though I'm not as good at listening as I'd like to think). We had so many conversations about faith, politics, philosophy, culture, media, history, movies, music ... usually all of these themes would come up in a single conversation that was never organized but also never aimless.

Tom was a fountain of information about ... everything, and his interesting words and observations were always on hand. Back in the early days of the Internet, we used to joke that we could “surf” Tom just like we could “surf the web.” Just throw a word at Tom —  any word — and he would talk about it. But he was not dull like a dictionary (I’m sure he could have verbally covered the dictionary but that wasn’t his style). He had anecdotes, witty observations, news stories, cultural references and it all came streaming out in a rapid yet articulate fashion. 

So, for example, if you said the word “orange,” he could take you on a journey from Florida to California to Brazil, consider the controversy of organic versus GMO, ponder what makes the best tasting oranges... and then maybe jump off to “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland (“orange” being the color of the Protestants) which would lead to U2, new wave music bands in Great Britain, distinctions among the factions in European politics, two or three really good books you have to read, and..., and... you might find your way back to “orange” at some point (say, in a consideration of the best cocktails that use orange juice).

I remember getting together for breakfast on a Saturday morning with Tom and another friend at one of those nice Washington DC cafes that were a “new thing” back in the ‘90s. It was pretty early, before 9AM. There we were, three brainiacs getting breakfast and talking and talking and getting refills of coffee and talking and talking and getting more coffee and talking... and then we saw people coming in and receiving different menus. It was lunchtime! Talking (and listening) takes a lot of energy, and we were far from “finished,” so we went ahead and had lunch. And talked and talked and totally outlasted the lunch crowd. We did leave, finally... probably because the place didn’t serve dinner!

There was one time when Tom and I were forced to stop talking. It was because we suddenly faced a battle for survival against the forces of nature! This story — gosh! — they could do a whole documentary on the Weather Channel using just our experience. It was the first weekend of January 1996 (if you're old enough you might remember the famous northeastern USA "Blizzard of '96"). 

That weekend we had some kind of regional CL pow-wow at a retreat center near the very end of Long Island. Montauk Point was nearby, and New York City was more than three hours to the west. Lorenzo Albacete was there, and he was "Lorenzo-ing"(πŸ˜‰) all day Saturday, while occasionally we heard increasingly ominous weather reports about an incoming snowstorm. Lorenzo somehow got out of there Saturday night (maybe by helicopter, I don't know), but we all decided to leave "around noon" on Sunday. When we set off from Montauk, there wasn't a flake to be seen. Tom and I had driven in his car. Other friends had taken various other cars. We thought we'd get through okay and beat the storm (which was really a moment of collective irrationality on all our parts, or at least it was "wishful thinking" — getting stuck in Montauk didn't seem like a viable option). But not even the weather forecasters were expecting what ended up happening.

Yes, like THIS!
We drove for more than two hours and it was easy-peasy. I'm sure we talked about all the problems of the world during that time, while the snow started to trickle down. Traffic was moving normally, at first. Then came more snow. And more snow. And more snow. But the highway was full of cars and they kept driving, so we kept driving. Around the time we reached the Staten Island Freeway, it got crazy! It was like the sky just started dumping buckets of snow. Traffic came to a virtual standstill on this packed highway. There was no way to get off the road, and no where to go. We would drive a couple of inches, and then I would have to get out of the car and clear several inches of snow from the windshield. Tom and I looked at each other and said, "we're gonna die out here!" So it was just basically "Hail Marys" after that. We just kept crawling and clearing the windshield, crawling and clearing the windshield. It was 1996 so we didn't have cell phones or GPS or a clue as to where we were. Finally an exit ramp appeared in the midst of the squall and we found ourselves in some area of Staten Island, on streets where plowing had been attempted but at best it turned the streets into ice sheets. The car was like 99% out of control, just sliding wherever there was space for it to go.

And then, shining up in the sky, we saw a sign. It was an amazing sign that gave us hope! Red letters glowed in the sky and they said "STATEN ISLAND HOTEL." (New Yorkers, if you drive in this area, you've seen this many times, because it's on top of the tallest building around, a Holiday Inn [and you're a long way from the skyscrapers of Manhattan]). I don't remember how we managed to get to the parking lot (the angels must have carried the car). A bunch of our friends ended up stranded in the same place. But the hotel had plenty of rooms. And there was a bar (πŸ˜‰πŸ»πŸΊπŸ·πŸΉ). We all ended up stuck in this hotel for three days. Three to four feet of snow had fallen all over the region. The whole East and Mid-Atlantic were basically closed — it was ... COVID-esque ... at least in the sense of everyone being confined and everything being shut down. The hotel even ran out of bread and started serving toasted hot dog buns with breakfast. Thankfully, however, the bar did not run dry.

Anyway, Tom would tell the story better than I am. After 25 years, it's a humorous memory. It was a rare experience with Tom that did not involve vivid conversation.

Tom was full of so much varied knowledge, but I want to stress that he was not a “show-off.” He was really interested in all these things, in what they revealed, in the questions they raised. He took you on an adventure of inquiry along the scattered and cluttered paths of his mind, but you never felt “lost.” There was focus at the heart of it all; Tom was driven by the search for meaning — indeed the need for meaning, the hunger and thirst for meaning, and the confidence that there was meaning — that things ultimately didn’t fall apart. They came together and found their peace.

His peculiar awareness of particular facets of reality was especially surprising when you realized how much he knew about you, your needs, you special interests, your likes and dislikes, and how much he valued you as a person. Here his penetrating knowledge was not looking at your faults, much less for material for gossip. It was entirely dedicated to concerned and courteous service, affirmation, and generosity. His friendship for you was deeply particular, yet there were many other people that he also cared for — each in a manner suited to them. 

He often surprised me this way. Sometimes he even reminded me of things I had forgotten I was interested in. And his awareness of my interests led to gestures that corresponded to it. There were, of course, often books and articles recommended and even procured. But what I especially appreciated was how Tom was always attuned to my love for music. Indeed, he shared it, and — like me — he was interested in affirming positive elements in contemporary popular music (while not ignoring the overall decadent cultural context that so often compromised or distorted other elements that pervaded the music scene).

Yeah, really young Sarah

When I returned to the States after a year in Italy, the first CD I bought was by a young Canadian artist (very young at the time) who was just beginning to get attention in the U.S.A. I went home, popped on my headphones, and put Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Toward Ecstasy into the CD player. I don't know if you kids today can appreciate what it was like to hear for the first time some of these wonderfully innovative sounds that artists were introducing in the early '90's. Anyway, this album knocked my socks off! (I still think it was her best...) I told Tom and, well, he had known about her since her earliest stuff in Canada, and had interviewed her and written two articles for his newspaper (his work there was actually related to the editorial page, but he would also do articles on music and the arts on his own time, and the paper would publish them — much to their advantage, I think). Anyway, some months went by and Sarah's star was rising rapidly. She and her band came through DC to play the sold-out Warner Theater (she was still playing smaller venues back then). Tom called me up and said, "I've got two free tickets from her management because of my articles. Wanna go?" Row 12, right in the middle. If we had been any closer we would have been on stage. Great seats for what was a music show (not an exotic circus like some concerts can be). But Tom remembered my appreciation for the young Sarah McLachlan. It seems like such a small, insignificant thing when I write about it here, but it expressed his particular friendship in a manner that stands out in my memory, and that represents countless other gestures that were basic features of Tom's approach to people.

Another time had to do with a group that had also made a ripple in the early '90's music scene. They were called The Innocence Mission, and Eileen and I were both big fans. They kept making good music even after the "music spotlight" had moved on to other styles (styles that were cheaper, flashier stuff, alas...). The Innocence Mission was still recording and touring clubs in the later '90's and came to the DC area. Tom had an idea: "let's interview them for the CL magazine" ... and he also had the connections to make it happen. Tom and Eileen and I ended up spending a delightful hour backstage with Don and Karen Peris (husband and wife, guitarist and lead singer), and we wrote a very appreciative article that was published in the magazine.

How do I keep this tribute to Tom Sullivan from turning into an article about music, or politics, or "all-the-things"? What a rich life this man lived, even though he had little of value in material goods and was disorganized with the few things he did have. His clutter was legendary (in this he was a kindred spirit, if not an inspiration, for me). But he always (eventually) found that book or article or whatever it was he wanted to share with me. His many "ordinary" gestures of companionship added up to a kind of attentiveness and self-giving that had an "extraordinary" quality.

As I look back, I wonder if this capacity for friendship might have been a special gift from God — indeed, I think Tom was a powerful example of a particular “opening up” of Christian hospitality (as an expression of mercy, a work of mercy) that the Lord sometimes gives to people who live their baptismal vocation as single persons in the midst of the world. Without any particular “consecration,” without even a determination “never to marry,” but simply with the daily intent to follow Jesus within the circumstances of life as they are here and now given to them, many single Christian men and women have the freedom of time and attention that permits them to practice a great “hospitality of heart” toward those around them. Single people also have been created to love and to be loved. This is a real vocation. It is a special gift, and one much needed in this time of so much alienation, loneliness, and interpersonal violence.

I don’t know why Tom never married. Many single people in their older years may feel that they have “missed out” on a full human life, that they are failures, that there is something “unlovable” about them. (And it’s no comfort to them to tell them that many married people also feel this way.) Single people have fewer spaces to hide from their own vulnerability. It is a kind of poverty, but by God’s grace it takes the shape of the poverty of the Beatitudes. It is blessed, and leads to further blessings when it becomes a special capacity for being merciful.

Tom was a merciful man. He accompanied people. It meant everything to him, of course, that he was loved by Jesus with a love that was concrete and expressed in the Church and through the ecclesial charism of CL. He didn’t allow this to be reduced to a place of “safety,” or an exclusive club; rather he sought to share this love within the whole range of human particularity that he dealt with every day, and among many friends, co-workers, writers, political and cultural figures, and a great variety of people he met as a newspaper staff member, writer, journalist and editor, and as an administrator in publishing and academia.

He gave greatly from himself. Yet people who spoke to Tom near the end of his life remarked on his simple expressions of gratitude for the love they had given to him. Tom Sullivan was, and remains, much loved by all of us, and he remains a sign of Christ's enduring love. Of course, those of us who remain in this world miss his earthly presence. Even when we believe that Jesus has conquered death, it remains mysterious to us. It is obscure, and causes sorrow.

Goodbye Tom, old friend! 

Lord, grant him eternal rest, and the joy of eternal life through Jesus Christ, in the communion of saints. Grant that we may all be together with You forever, O Lord. Have mercy on us!

If we grieve, that does not mean that we lack hope. Grief is part of the journey of this life, and we have tears that only God can wipe away.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Agnese Graduates From University

*********************************************************************************Agnese Janaro, B.A., Magna Cum Laude!!!πŸŽ‰

This blog has followed the journey of all our kids during a decade in which most of them went from children to adults. Back in 2011, our eldest daughter Agnese was (only) 12 years old (‼️). We have seen her receive the sacrament of Confirmation, and progress from John XXIII Montessori Center to Chelsea Academy (where she graduated High School in 2017) to the completion of her university studies at Christendom College, with a major in Literature. 

Above we see the new graduate with her proud parents. Her Dad once again donned the professorial garb of the institution where he is Emeritus Professor and where he taught for many years - when she was very small - before health problems necessitated his retirement from the classroom.

I don’t know where the time has gone, but Agnese is “all grown up.” Nevertheless, she has a job in the area, so we will still see her, at least (when she can make it) at what is becoming a “new tradition” of the Sunday afternoon family “hangout.”

Of course, EVERYTHING may change in July, when Agnese’s niece make her grand “natal debut” and revolutionizes the lives of John Paul and Emily (haha, what fun!πŸ€ͺ☺️) and the new giddy grandparents (πŸ˜‰πŸ™‚), as well as the aunties and the “great uncle.” Stay tuned for a wild Summer 2021 and after...

For now, congratulations Agnese! What a wonderful young lady you have become. We love you!❤

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Forty Years Ago: John Paul II and the Precipice of History

Left: Our Lady of Fatima / Right: John Paul II collapses after being struck by assassin's bullet


May 13th.

I usually mark this day every year on the blog. On May 13, 1917 — while Europe was in the grip of an unprecedentedly violent, senseless, fratricidal war — Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, the tender and merciful mother of all of us — first appeared to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal: Saint Francisco, Saint Jacinta, and the Servant of God Lucia.

In the ensuing months, Mary taught them many things. She asked great sufferings from these children, showing them the depths of the evil of sin, and the terrors of hell which are the fruit of the utter contradiction between the boundless love of God and the self-violence of those who choose the nothingness of sin. 

In seeing these horrors in one of their visions, the children of Fatima were also given special graces to implore God's mercy for sinners, unite themselves with Jesus in their own sufferings, and share in His work of "reparation" for the sins of the world. God does not want anyone to be lost in the fires of hell. God does not want anyone to choose to plunge into that endless burning vortex of nihilistic self-centeredness. God created us for the transfiguring joy of the "fire" that His glory infuses into those who receive Him. "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living... It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it" (Wisdom 1:13, 16).

God took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary to save us.

And so the children of Fatima learned and passed on to us that great prayer, that plea for Divine Mercy that we pray at the end of every decade of the Rosary: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven especially those who are most in need of thy mercy!"

We need to stay with Jesus, trust in His merciful love, and pray that hearts will open to Him. Today we live in a world in which more people than ever benefit from advances in material power, where there is a broad diffusion of general (albeit confused) sentiment for human solidarity, but also a widespread absense of awareness of human transcendence — of the human vocation to seek the Mystery of God who has revealed and given Himself in Jesus Christ.

Without God, human existence becomes an insoluble riddle, in which the desire for goodness — however sincere — is frustrated by its own ambivalence, and where doing evil too often seems tragically inescapable or simply expedient. Ignoring our dependence on God, and ignoring our need for His salvation from our sins, has led to a twisting of even the most noble human aspirations toward the service of dark and monstrous aberrations. Here indeed we find many examples from the history of the twentieth century, and we can see the timeliness of Mary's appeal for conversion, prayer, and penance at Fatima, while that century was still young. She called on us to take refuge in her Immaculate Heart and to pray the Rosary so that we might draw closer to Christ's love and be instruments of His mercy in the world.

I remember May 13th every year for another reason, for an event that took place in my own lifetime.

Forty years ago — on May 13, 1981 — the goodness of God and the maternal solicitude of the Blessed Mother brought great mercy to the world, so that a singular witness of Christ's truth and love might continue to shine on this earth for nearly 24 more years, and also (perhaps) so that terrestrial history itself would draw back from the brink of destruction.

It is difficult to convey the atmosphere of the world in which I grew up. The ideology of Communism — a utopian atheistic materialism — held part of the world in a seemingly unbreakable iron grip. Much of the rest of the world labored under the confusion and reductionism of the de-facto consumerist materialism of the decadent West. People everywhere lived under the shadow of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons powerful enough to destroy the world many times over.

The world we live in today still has many of these problems (and others as well), and yet I am inclined to believe that the depth of the sudden and irrevocable danger that humanity as a whole faces has diminished somewhat from those days in 1981. A little more than two years earlier, a "young" Polish bishop (he was my current age, 58) was elected Pope John Paul II. In 1979, he visited his native land where people lived under communism. He assured them of Christ's love and he reaffirmed their rights as human persons. Poland was stirred with a new hope, and the next year (1980) saw the birth of the first independent trade union in the communist world — Solidarity — that stood up to the Soviet-Union-controlled Polish communist government and won important concessions.

The hard line ideologues who controlled the Soviet Communist Party (and de-facto nearly all the other Communist Parties in Eastern Europe) concluded that this new Pope was a dangerous man. He had to be eliminated.

A Turkish professional assassin — Mehmet Ali Agca — was hired through the Bulgarian Secret Police. He entered Saint Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 and fired two shots at close range, and the Pope fell. It was a textbook assassination, with one bullet entering the abdomen, ordinarily a guaranteed fatal shot.

But Pope John Paul II did not die on May 13, 1981. In one of the visions of 1917, the Fatima children saw a "bishop in white" felled by gunfire. Mary had told them that "the Holy Father would have much to suffer." John Paul II did suffer much, from this wound and its after-effects, as well as from many other things. But the bullet "miraculously" (it seemed) did not fatally damage any major organs.

Instead John Paul II lived to see the fall of communism in Poland and Eastern Europe by the end of that decade, and the fall of the Soviet Union two years later. He lived, regained his health, traveled the world, preached the gospel, led countless human hearts to a decisive encounter with Jesus Christ and encouraged many more to persevere in following Christ, to trust in His mercy... and to love, venerate, and rely upon the maternal tenderness of His Mother's Heart.

"One hand pulled the trigger; another hand guided the bullet," Saint John Paul II said. Through his epic ministry over the next quarter-century (and even today, through his intercession among the saints), John Paul II has been an instrument of Jesus's saving love and mercy toward those on the brink of hell, and maybe also toward human history teetering on the precipice of destruction.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Mary's Maternal Protection

“Let us entrust the Church, ourselves and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Let us pray for peace, for the end of the pandemic, for a spirit of penitence and for our conversion. Let us place ourselves with trust under her maternal protection" (Pope Francis — General Audience, May 12, 2021).

Monday, May 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie, Music, and Me: A Personal Story

[Credit to owners for the original pictures on which these artwork/designs are based.]

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I wrote about the phenomenon of Christina Grimmie for the first time. In fact, it has been nearly five years. I wrote with astonishment back in June 2016, because I had begun to realize that I had encountered something mysterious in the very last place I had ever expected to find it.

There seems always to be a cresting wave of young singers, musicians, artists, and performers full of talent and aspirations. I have kept my eye on it (more or less) for many years, but the wave is so big that no one can see everything that sparkles. And then the sparkles fade so quickly when the wave crashes onto the shore and the waters recede. It seems all a spectacle of momentary glitter, of ephemeral flashes of light that become monotonous and practically indistinguishable the more familiar you are with the shore. And then you begin to turn cynical when you start to realize how polluted the water has become.

How incredible it is when one day a diamond washes up on the beach.

I am descended from a long line of Opera lovers, and so it's not surprising that I love a "good show." As a musician who played many gigs in my youth, I also know that a lot of hard work goes into making a good show, and that "performance" isn't simply driven by an ego trip (though it can degenerate toward that). Performing artists have an irrepressible urge to give something beautiful and valuable to people, and the best ones have a kind of "genius" for it.

Performers are motivated by the ideal of a great show, but are often disappointed at its elusiveness. Even when achieved, it is soon forgotten and the public demands an even better show. Many performing artists find this pressure overwhelming (though there are a few who actually thrive on it). 

When I was young, I has musical aspirations that were quite strong, along with no small talent: I was classically trained on the cello, and played in my high school orchestra, Pittsburgh's All City orchestra, and a remarkable private venture called the Ozanam Jazz Group (we once shared the stage with the legendary Count Basie). Meanwhile, I was also self-taught on the guitar, jammed and played in garage bands, and wrote a number of instrumental songs. The musical road was a viable option for me to pursue as the decade of the 1980s began. But I had other options that were ultimately more compelling, that led me to pursue advanced academic studies, teaching, and the intellectual life. That doesn't mean I gave up music. I kept playing (though much less since the decline of my health) and I kept my eye on the musical world - both classical and popular - where I continued to discover much that was excellent. I also heard a lot of music of lesser quality and some that was just junk.

I have also seen a great deal of real talent spoiled: artists are simultaneously overindulged and overworked, their own vision thwarted and replaced with superficial material, their performances marred by excess and exhibitionism, cheap spectacle, emotional manipulation, smugness, obscenity, confusion, nihilism, exhaustion. The big music world grows more monstrous (like everything in this epoch of power), more artificial, more banal.

I realize (from personal experience) that artists can be a bit wacky, and that you won't see creativity if you don't allow some "space" for their wackiness. I also know that performers are moved by an incessant impetus, a peculiarly talented but in some ways chaotic energy that requires immense effort for it to be forged into an integrated human virtue. Many great artists fall short, but I think we can appreciate their struggles and whatever beauty and goodness can be found in their ambivalent success without endorsing their weaknesses and failures, much less proposing them as moral exemplars. Even in the classical period, there were artists who wrote and performed sublime music but were much less admirable in the "art" of behaving like decent human beings.

Thus, I have continued to listen to all kinds of music, even as I mourn the plight of the artist-celebrity and note also the way it often spills over into his or her work. When I write about musicians and other artists on this blog, I don't usually recommend their stuff for your kids; certainly your kids need to learn discernment, and it is helpful if they grow up in a pedagogical environment that fosters the education of the heart to authentic freedom.

Still, I have always loved music overall, and I loved the drama of seeing people take the stage to sing or play their hearts out, putting themselves into an achingly vulnerable position because the deep human desire to be creative, to give something from their talents, to touch the mystery of creativity had stirred them to take such tremendous risks. I loved it, but I never expected to find anything more than good music and some signs of that exquisite, desperate but determined human longing for meaning, value, and permanence. I hoped that somehow the momentary flash of light on the foam of the wave that disappears might suggest to the desire of my heart that there is a beauty that endures, that prevails, that continues to shine.

But I never expected to find a diamond on the shore of the murky sea of popular music.

In 2016, I was living in a house full of teenagers. (It wasn't quite as bad as it sounds!πŸ˜‰) This was a Catholic Christian household that my wife and I did our best to sustain through prayer and charity and bounderies that were essential without being onerous (see the earlier years of this blog). We were trying to guide the kids to maturity within an atmosphere that would facilitate a deeper encounter and relationship with Jesus, a committed following of Him in the Church, and a renewed mind - not conformed to "the world" (i.e. the world of sin and its effects, the "structures of sin" that reject and oppose the love of God in Christ) but able to discern, to "test everything" and hold fast to the good. 

We weren't alone either. We also had an excellent school and a good community - not fanatical, not puritanical, but just solid, with some very special friends to help us to remember that we belonged to Christ.

It was far from a perfect home. I'm sure we made many more mistakes than we know. In any case, there was an abundance of music and movies in the house, and a variety of tastes, which made things confusing but also interesting. 

Meanwhile, in 2016 I was (and still am, somewhat) recuperating from a long illness. I spent some time studying and engaging with the constantly developing media technology and its various consequences, including the new possibilities that were being opened up for music. Mostly I was "put off" by the big pop stars, but places like YouTube were alive with creativity. If you were just tuning in to the scene, there was a lot going on by the middle of the last decade. It was easy to see Christina Grimmie as just one among many, from my (scattered, inattentive) vantage point. 

My focus in those days was drawn more to others, like that girl who danced and played electric violin (I mean Lindsey Stirling, of course) -- anyone who played a classical stringed instrument in my youth dreamed of being able to "plug in" and have the sonic "weight" to really jam. (When I was a kid, I bought a Radio Shack "transducer" for my cello: it was a suction cup with a cheap mike in it that you were supposed to stick on your instrument and plug into the stereo. Radio Shack did a lot to bring joy to my childhood... but not with this disappointing piece of low-tech!😜) Also, five, six, seven years ago, there were some YouTubers crossing over to the mainstream: back then I was more familiar with Tori Kelly and Alessia Cara (both super-talented singer-songwriter-instrumentalists) than I was with Christina. (I still tell people to pay attention when they listen to Christina, to appreciate all the superb features and versatility of her voice.)

And then came June 10, 2016 ... and all the tributes and effusive praise and sorrow from famous people and ordinary people all over the Internet. That's when I realized I had to learn more about Christina. I found out how many YouTube videos she had, how far back they went, how "novel" all of these kinds of homemade webcam song covers were back in 2009. In the beginning, some people did karaoke covers for fun, but 15-year-old Christina made her own arrangements for her piano keyboard, and played them while she sang. She was making the videos herself, without fancy gadgets, with a simple microphone. She was a kid in her room in New Jersey, with a poster of Sonic the Hedgehog behind her on the wall, and she was making freaking history!

Christina's legacy is "history" in so many ways. She was an amazing person - which is ultimately more important - but what got my attention and helped me to see something of her great personality was her prodigious music.

From the beginning, in 2009, her voice was remarkable and her musicality was impressive. Then she rapidly began to mature even more in her vocals. Her dynamics are still among the best I have ever heard: from a booming belt to soft, gentle notes with flawless and apparently effortless transitions, Christina had incredible vocal control that didn't sound "controlling" or forced but almost spontaneous. Her head voice continued to expand, her soft tones gained warmth and subtlety, and her full-voice resonance - already stunning - was widening out in her chest. By the age of 18, her voice was beautiful, powerful, agile, brilliant, poignant, soothing, soulful - a magnificent instrument of the whole range of emotional expressiveness. 

The most amazing thing was that she was so young. Her potential as a vocalist was developing right up to the end (and would have continued to become even greater in years to come if she had remained with us). Recordings from her last concerts and live appearances suggest that she was rapidly growing more supple, richer in tone (if that's possible), and that her range was still expanding. Christina loved to full-on belt, of course, and it made for some of her most epic moments. It was large pitch-perfect sound from such a small girl, but also a young girl. Something of that youthfulness remained in her belts, and if she had been granted the years to mature to her full adult stature, this would have grown into a kind of fullness that I can't even imagine. She would have shaken the earth.

The voice we did hear up to age 22 was, I believe, great enough and unique enough to establish her ineradicable musical legacy. I am quite sure that in the future she will be remembered and appreciated as one of the greatest singers of our time. She will certainly never go out of style. 

I have said a lot in previous articles about Christina's faith. I remember being really struck by how so many people (Christians and non-Christians alike) talked about the impact of her faith on them in those days following June 10, 2016. Yet it didn't seem like she mentioned it herself all that often. With a couple of exceptions, she didn't cover "Christian songs" at all. But she did speak about Jesus and refer to his love in moments when she was moved to express it. And as I watched more and more of the videos, I began to realize that her belonging to Jesus Christ was the foundation of everything she did. 

This was the secret of her vast magnanimous open-hearted humanity. She was utterly genuine. She was unscripted. In her videos she was shy at first, then funny, goofy, direct, self-deprecating... until she started playing and singing with intensity, focused passion, and... I feel like I want to say... "authority." She "owned" the songs she sang and played - not only those of her own composition but also her covers (which were often just plain better than the originals, but were always presented and articulated in her own inimitable way).

When Christina did have something to say by way of advice or encouragement - whether on YouTube or her busy and very interactive Twitter page - there was power in her words. She was simple, direct, personal, strong, tender, loving, and wise - without ever ceasing to be an approachable teenager/young-adult who was at home with her adolescent frands, and open to everyone. She might use a simple common phrase, but - coming from her - even apparent clichΓ©s like "be yourself" were the opposite of evasive generalizations. We know that absolutely everybody says "be yourself." But from Grimmie, you hear it differently. It suddenly comes alive, like a provocation and a challenge.

At a certain point, it began to dawn on me that I was no longer "educating myself about someone important in music and media" in the first half of the last decade. I was meeting a real person and she was helping me see things in a new way. She was helping me to recognize the love of God shining in places I knew nothing about, or places I might have considered "too dark" for any light to make a way. She was convincing me that the people "on the margins," people with unremarkable lives, people with problems, sick people, disabled people - people like me - really do matter. We are loved. I am loved.

And this love is greater, stronger, "deeper" than death.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

"You Are Beside Me"

"In life, the worst anxiety, arises from the sensation of not being able to cope. We need Jesus’ help. And so we can say to Him: 'Jesus, I believe you are beside me and that you are listening to me. I bring to you my troubles. I have faith in you and I entrust myself to you'" (Pope Francis).

Friday, May 7, 2021

Hong Kong: A New Phase of Suffering and Patience

In Hong Kong, the Repression against the pro-Democracy movement goes on, through the relentless machinery of the Chinese Communist PartyState's bureaucracy and its implementation and enforcement of codified decrees (which has been called "Lawfare"). Arrests continue to be made on alleged violations of "national security." Meanwhile, convictions and heavy sentences are still being handed down in relation to the 2019 protests.

The remarkable young activist Joshua Wong - already serving a prison term for one protest - had his sentence extended on a further conviction for another protest. He also faces charges under the new National Security Law.

He may end up spending a long time behind bars as Beijing continues the crackdown which is dismantling what was left of Hong Kong's autonomous status. My hope and prayer is that Joshua Wong (following in the tradition of the practice of Non-Violence) will endure suffering in prison with hope, and allow it to form him as a mature, magnanimous, and wise statesman for the future. 

There will be much need of him, and others of his generation, to be leaders in the future when, God willing, the time will be ripe for Hong Kongers (and others) to attain political freedom.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Vine and Branches

"Dear friends, each one us is like a branch that can live only if, through daily prayers, participation in the Sacraments and charity, we can boost our union with the Lord. Whoever loves Jesus, the true vine, bears the fruits of faith for an abundant spiritual harvest. Let us beseech the Mother of God that we may remain firmly connected to Jesus and that all our actions have in Him the beginning and the end" (Benedict XVI, on today's gospel). .

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

"Not as the World Gives..."

Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27).

Monday, May 3, 2021

Jesus is the Way to the Father

May 3rd honors Saints Philip and James, two of the Twelve Apostles (this is the younger James - not the son of Zebedee - but "James the Less"). They are joined together in the Roman calendar because of the basilica that was built on the site of their relics (bones), which were brought to Rome and reinterred there in ancient times. The basilica today is called Santi Apostoli
In the liturgy for today's celebration, we read in the Gospel the second part of the introduction to the what have been called the "farewell discourses" of Jesus (John, chs 14, 15, and 16). These words are spoken only to the Lord's closest companions, as the setting indicates (it is on the way to Gethsemane, following the Last Supper). The discourse of John 14:1-14 can be seen as an identifiable "segment" within the teaching presented in these three chapters. Everyone would agree on the crucial significance of Jesus's words here.

In vv 1-6 it is Thomas who asks the decisive question (and we read this part of the gospel last Friday). Today, Philip the Apostle asks the question that permits Jesus to provoke the disciples (and us) once again with the stunning, mysterious, and in a sense "overwhelming" affirmation of who He is.

We bring our questioning hearts before the Lord every day, begging for the fullness of life. Jesus continually reminds us, "I am the way and the truth and the life." So often we are afraid in a world where God seems to be absent, but Jesus draws close to us through the sacraments and through His presence in the companionship we share as members of His Body, the Church, and He says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to seek Jesus, hope in Him, trust that His presence is sufficient for us no matter how difficult the circumstances we face. God has drawn close to us, walks with us, stays with us, and draws us into union with Himself.

The gift of God in answer to our hearts is Himself. He is so much more than we ever would have imagined; He is infinitely beyond any possibility we can grasp by our own power. But His compassion is boundless. His infinity is the infinity of Love. He has promised to give us whatever we need to attain the fullness of His joy which is our destiny.

When I was younger, I had a Cistercian monk from Holy Cross Abbey in Berryvilke, Virginia as my "spiritual father" (we lived closer to the monastery in those days). After confession, he always gave me as penance the task of prayerfully reading chapters 14, 15, and 16 of the Gospel of John. As you can imagine, that takes a bit longer than saying "three Hail Marys." But I think Father Edward (may he rest in Christ's peace) considered this reading to be more a joyful than a burdensome penance, and he was right.

We will hear most of these three chapters during the daily liturgy between now and Pentecost, as we prepare to welcome the Holy Spirit who opens our minds and leads us into the truth these words express. Especially during these precious days of the Easter Season, we will be greatly blessed by these Scriptures. Our attention to them will bear abundant fruit.

Here I represent John 14:1-14, the Gospel texts from last Friday and today's liturgy, the words spoken by Jesus to Saint Philip, Saint James, and the other Apostles:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“'Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house
there are many dwelling places.
If there were not, would I have told you
that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.'
Thomas said to him,
'Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?'
Jesus said to him,
'I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me
then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him 
and have seen him.'
Philip said to him,
'Master, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us.'
Jesus said to him,
'Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, "Show us the Father?"
Do you not believe that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you
I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me 
is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me,
or else,
believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me
will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, 
I will do it.'"

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Christian Faith is a "Universal" Call to Love

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and He wants to be with us - with each and every one of the human persons He has created and redeemed. But "where" is He? There is so much to say about this question. I will take up different aspects of it in other posts.

Let us begin by acknowledging that Christ's presence endures visibly and efficaciously in the community of believers who adhere to Him throughout history, who are gathered by His shepherds - the successors of His original companions and eyewitnesses, the Apostles, in communion with - and under the leadership of - the successor of Peter. The is the Church, where Jesus gives Himself concretely to human beings and forms them into His people. We are thus distinguished (beginning with our new birth in the sacrament of Baptism) from other people, as a sign and instrument of God's presence and love which are for everyone, and which everyone needs in the depths of their being. We are distinguished - as "members of Christ's body" - not so as to be separated from the human race as a whole, but to be companions to everyone, to be brothers and sisters to one another and to everyone. 

In following Jesus, we are called to love everyone He places on the path of our lives with great esteem, respect, attentiveness, and patience; like us, they are journeying toward their destiny and we have much to learn from the riches of their traditions and the aspirations and struggles of their experiences. Love also impels us to an intelligent and articulate witness about ourselves. As Christians, we will invariably overflow with this testimony to the foundation of our own lives in Christ, in whom we have found the pervasive presence of the Mystery, corresponding to the whole scope of our humanity, of human reason and freedom. 

We will speak about and propose to non-Christians the joy of Christ and His redemption within the concrete circumstances of our human relationships with these people, according to the particular ways that the Holy Spirit leads us. Our growing relationship with God empowers us to be His instruments according to God's wisdom and God's working within the persons He entrusts to us. Prayer and love are the sources of evangelization.

Today there are billions of people who live their lives and search for meaning, not knowing Jesus but nevertheless prompted and shaped inwardly by mysterious graces that are at least preparing them for their ultimate, decisive encounter with Him - and which may even effect some secret encounter and response in their hearts which is mysterious to us and not explicitly understood by them. We have no claim to power over them, and we can learn from them and their efforts to express the mysterious ways of God. We love them, and gladly call them brothers and sisters because we belong to the One who is calling them and who continues to call us to follow Him as we journey through this life together.