Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Summer Flowers

We end the month of June as we began it, with flowers. We don't have many wild flowers around anymore, but there are some lovely garden flowers visible from the road while walking, or blooming in public parks.

Spring this year was pleasant overall, but the sun has now been high in the sky for weeks and the heat of July is upon us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Peter and Paul, the Church, and Evangelization

Happy Solemnity of Saints Peter and PaulHappy feast day especially to the whole church in Rome, and in particular to the Bishop of Rome — who is entrusted with the Apostolic See, the "Sede" ("chair," representing the episcopal office) of Peter and his successors to this day. The Petrine "primacy" is a reference point for the unity all those who follow Christ in the Church in every time and place. It is a primacy of service and solicitude, as Jesus indicated to Peter when He said, "Feed my sheep." 

Also, Rome was the great cosmopolitan center of the ancient world, inhabited and visited by many peoples and known throughout the earth. In Rome, Saint Paul's ministry was thus extended, symbolically, to all the Gentiles, to all peoples. Peter and Paul are signs of the unity and universality of Christ's Church. Their being co-patrons of the Church of Rome indicates that  from the beginning  Jesus Christ is given to the whole world, and to every human being. Saint Paul remains the first evangelizer of the nations, commissioned by Jesus Himself. And Saint Peter  named "the Rock" by Jesus  continues through his successors to fulfill to Lord's special call to “confirm the brethren” in the faith. After 2000 years  and in spite of attacks by enemies, the destructive consequences of tragic misunderstandings, and the shocking criminal behavior of so many of the Church's own members  the "Rock" remains the foundation of an unparalleled "edifice" that endures and grows in history. 

The "gates of hell," the "jaws of death" have not prevailed against the Church, the communion of persons in Christ who strive to follow Him and radiate His love in the world, the "flock" that Jesus continues to shepherd by the gift of the Holy Spirit and the leadership of Peter's successors: the bishops of Rome who with filial affection we call "Popes" (from the term "papa," father). We love the Pope, we follow him, and we pray for him. We know well that he is a frail human being like us. In the life of the Church, we are entitled to express our opinions and concerns in a constructive manner. But ultimately we trust in God's ways; we must remain in the vital unity of the Church wherein the truth abides; we must remember — notwithstanding whatever personal weaknesses we may think we see in any particular Pope — that every Pope is called and empowered to act as "the servant of the servants of God."

We trust in the path God has given us, because God is good, and He loves us. The mystery of God's Infinite Love is the secret directing impetus that moves the world, that cares for the heart of every human person, and that illuminates the lives of His People, the Church. God has proven His love for us — for everyone — by sending His Son Jesus to save us from our sins, to redeem us and transform us in His likeness.

Like Saints Peter and Paul, we too are members of the Church established by the loving Heart of Jesus. The love of this man — this man who alone "knows the Father," who is God the Son, the Word made flesh — this man Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, who lived in first century Palestine, who was crucified and died and conquered death forever in His resurrection: this man Jesus Christ touched the lives of Peter and Paul, changed them completely, and lit a fire in their hearts that burned so brightly that they couldn't contain it within themselves. They had to share it with everyone. God's love "compelled" them — awakening all the depths of their freedom and liberating them through joy — to be witnesses of Jesus to the whole world.

The same fire burns in the heart of every Christian, even though it is often faint, ill-tended, hidden away in an obscure corner.

We must not extinguish this fire. We must let the breath of the Holy Spirit revive it so that it bursts into a great flame.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Saint Irenaeus and the Reality of Jesus Christ

Today we honor Saint Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (140 - 202 a.d.), the great witness to Christ in the Church of the late Second Century. Here I reproduce a selection from my book published in 2003 (which is still in print - click HERE for more information). It outlines the pioneering importance of Irenaeus as an ecclesial theologian. (My book is entitled The Created Person and the Mystery of God.) The text reproduced below is taken from pp. 204-206:

Because Christianity is an adherence to a man in history — to the things he said and did and to the society he constituted — it was crucial from the very beginning to receive and preserve the authentic testimony of those He sent forth to bear witness to His name. Thus the measure of genuine Christian thinking and the anecdote to every poisonous distortion of the Christian message could only be fidelity to the apostolic tradition. It was this fidelity that both guided and rendered fruitful the great work of Saint Irenaeus at the end of the second century. 

Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor around 140 a.d. In his youth, he was a disciple of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, who in turn had been a follower of Saint John the Apostle. Thus he had a vital, personal link to the "handing on" of the truth about Jesus Christ from those who knew Him and were commissioned to be His witnesses. 

Irenaeus travelled to Rome and to Southern Gaul and eventually became bishop in the city of Lyons. In Rome he first encountered the strange phenomenon of "Christian Gnosticism," and he battled against it throughout most of his episcopal ministry in Lyons. Many Christians in Rome in the middle of the second century had become captivated by the theories of a charismatic preacher named Valentinus. After an unsuccessful attempt to get himself elected pope in 140, Valentinus broke openly from the Church and began to develop his own Christian gnostic sect. The general tendencies of the gnostic movement — its stress on esoteric and secret wisdom, its radical dualism between spirit and matter, and its hierarchy of divinities — resulted in a very peculiar interpretation of biblical revelation and the life of Jesus Christ. 

For Valentinus and his disciples, the God of the Old Testament is not the Ultimate Divine being, but an inferior and rebellious deity who created the material world for his own evil purposes. Another more powerful deity called “Christ" was sent from the pleroma (the "society" of divine beings) to teach the truth and offer deliverance to lesser spirits who were trapped in this material prison. He inhabited the man Jesus — he certainly did not become incarnate — and by this means he taught secret doctrines to his initiates (the apostles). Needless to say, the Christ-deity (being no fool) abandoned the man Jesus before the messiness of the Passion got started. 

Behind the crassness and silliness of this highly imaginative distortion of Christianity we can recognize a perennial heretical principle: the denial of the historical drama of the redemption in favor of some purely theoretical or interpretive scheme that supposedly reveals to us the "real" significance of Christ and Christianity. Irenaeus wrote his masterpiece — his treatise Against the Heresies — to combat Valentinianism and other gnosticisms that made their way up the Italian peninsula into Gaul. Throughout this great work, he contrasts the "secret knowledge" of the gnostics with the tradition handed down from the Apostles and preserved in the Church. 

Irenaeus stresses the consistency and reliability of this tradition, linked as it is to the real Jesus Christ of history. At the same time he meditates more deeply on the unity of the Divine plan and the centrality of Christ’s redeeming action. It is one God who creates all things visible and invisible and who recreates them in Christ. The world that is created through the agency of the Divine Word is recapitulated — brought again "under the headship" — of the Word made flesh, who, by coming into the world, embraces history and consecrates it to God. 

Thus Irenaeus gave eloquent testimony to a theme that was original to Christianity: the unity and purpose of history centered on the Incarnate Word.

Here is a brief quotation from Saint Irenaeus himself:

"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith." The witness of the apostolic tradition attests to "the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself."

~Saint Irenaeus

Friday, June 25, 2021

“Mahwidge is What Bwings Us Together...”

Okay, the "Princess-Bride-reference" is the closest I will go in terms of "clickbait"(πŸ˜‰). 

As you all know, Eileen and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this week. Of course, we have been (and will be) stretching out our Silver Jubilee all through this memorable year. It has been a special time for us, with a renewed awareness of the preciousness of our life together and all we have shared, as well as a renewed commitment to what lies ahead. We are moving forward with hope to the joys, trials, twists and turns, new challenges, surprises, failures, achievements, and growing in love that remain ahead of us as we continue together our journey through this world, following our common vocation.

Marriage is indeed what "brings us together" - it is the unique lifelong bond of love that bears fruit by bringing forth into the world and fostering the personal growth of the next generation, thus insuring the continuation and development of human history. No form of artificially constructed material, technological power can ever begin to replace the original "organic" reality of the human family as the foundation of interpersonal communion, the authentic love that brings genuine flourishing to human persons and human society.

Well..that statement is true and important, but too general for this post. These days I'm meditating very much on a particular marriage that has brought two very particular people together, and kept them together for a quarter of a century. Perhaps I could share a few of those reflections.

There are a lot of small practical moments in a life together, and some big moments (wonderful moments and difficult moments). And while marriage will always be about a man and a woman loving each other and being faithful to each other (the mutual "I-Thou" dimension), it is also about their unique solidarity, their being-together as a unity-of-two who engage the world together (the "We" dimension). The fruitful openness of mutual love unfolds along this common path. Recall that the wedding vows make much reference to the various conditions of our mutual life: "for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health."

Eileen and I have learned the importance of these promises. Our marriage has involved a lot of facing circumstances together, including problems that life has given us that were not the fault of either of us: my illnesses and early 'retirement,' the financial crash of 2008 and the burdens it placed on us, the needs of our aging parents, the dementia and loss of my Dad, the now-failing health of my Mom... and many ongoing challenges. It’s always messy, and we learn and grow by going through things, by struggling and enduring, by not giving up, and by forgiving each other every day. 

Eileen and I have been greatly blessed. We still love each other and trust each other, and we have had lots of support from others in difficult times. Certainly, people hope to find deep affection for each other in marriage, but (as is to some extent the case with all human relationships) the unique spousal-interpersonal affection in married life is more complicated (and sometimes more arduous) than initial experiences might suggest. 

Affection goes through many phases over time, and it's all too easy for married couples to give up and grow distant when the early and initial stages of affection and intimacy (with their particular type of intensity) seem to fade. It's true that "people change" over the years and decades, but this underscores the importance of humility, fidelity, and the realization that spouses are not meant to be the ultimate fulfillment of each other. Marriage is a sign - a great sign - of the ultimate destiny for which the spouses have been made, toward which they journey together, and which their being-together helps them to remember. This doesn't diminish spousal love and affection, but actually renews and deepens them. Even as many forms of feelings ebb and flow, affection can grow and be rediscovered, and even open up in new and more beautiful ways. This has certainly been our experience. 

When feelings of estrangement begin to creep in, don't give up! Be patient, forgive one another, and "begin again" each day. A marriage can do more than just survive; of itself it has great resilience and remarkable resevoirs of vitality. Don't give up. 

One thing Eileen and I have been grateful for is that we have always been genuinely good friends. We love to do things together, but we have our own interests too. It’s not an identical “match,” which is just fine. We can appreciate one another’s interests and learn from one another, but also share the things we love together. Real intimacy includes “space” because it’s not absorption. It's a union of two persons. At the same time, the "space" I'm talking about here is not meant to imply a merely “partial union,” but rather a union of persons precisely with their distinct personalities: a union of persons who grow together and challenge one another (or, often, frustrate one another — but here again there is forgiveness). 

And of course, there are the kids. What a mystery it is to be parents. It “fills” our relationship (because, after all, God created them and gave each of them their unique personal identity through us!) - but here too, parenthood doesn’t “negate” our own personalities. It enriches us and our spousal relationship further. Once again, we find that family is a unity of persons; with all the particular responsibilities it places on parents at the beginning, it nevertheless must always include freedom. We have loved our kids like crazy, like I can’t describe, but we know that they were entrusted to us (as parents) for a truly personal education, an education of their freedom, of their hearts, of their own personal capacity to love and to be loved and to find fulfillment in the Mystery to whom we all belong. 

I’m grateful that Eileen and I have worked together with the kids, and faced their problems together. Of course, we're not finished with the initial (and most directly educative) stage of parenthood. We still have two teenagers in the house, and I think they are both more challenging (in different ways) than the other three who are grown up. (Or maybe we're just older and less energetic than we used to be.) But we have more experience, and have become wiser and more realistic about our efforts and limitations. We still make many mistakes, and still need their forgiveness. 

The wonder is that I am a unique person, but at the same time relationships with other persons are intrinsic to “who I am.” I become more truly myself by engaging these persons who have been entrusted to me with love, which means giving of self (and receptivity to the gift of the other). Love is a sacrifice, but we don’t give ourselves away into a void. Love is not nihilism. It is self-giving and even “losing one’s self” but with a promise of finding one’s self, of renewal, of freedom in love.

After 25 years with my beloved wife, I see the truth of this in so many ways. Even our mistakes and failures toward each other are turned toward something greater (again, with forgiveness). Forgiveness is at the heart of the mystery of marriage, and this has to do with the fact that it is a special living sign of God's compassionate love for the human beings He has created. For Christians, it is a Sacrament wherein Jesus Christ's forgiving, crucified love for His bride, the Church, takes concrete shape and efficacy through the relationship of spouses, and becomes radically present and directive of marital fruitfulness in families, which are the continuation of history, and the "school" for the ongoing experience and expansion of His love from generation to generation. 

We are confident that God continues to carry out His mysterious plan for us to grow in love. God is always good. Sometimes it can take awhile to “see” this goodness (or even a glimpse of it) in our lives. But we know He has accomplished all things in Jesus Christ. He will never fail us. There have been times, and there will be times, when He seems distant or we are stretched beyond anything we ever imagined. But His strength prevails in our weakness. We have to trust Him. We have to hold onto Him, together.

We still have a lot to learn. 25 years is hardly a lifetime. In any case, in marriage there are always surprises. Within a week or two (or even sooner) we will see the face of our granddaughter for the first time. GRANDPARENTS!!? A brand new adventure begins! We can’t imagine it. We’re so excited!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

An Amazing 25 Years (!)

Twenty five years married to this wonderful lady, Eileen Janaro. So grateful! ❤


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Father's Day, 2021. [The picture is of "Papa" reading to two of his granddaughters in 2012.] 

Today is the third Father's Day since my father died in 2019. I felt like "writing to him" nevertheless, not to be weird or anything, but trusting that in the great unity of Christ's body, the Church, some kind of "communication" remains possible and real - perhaps more real, more intimate, than we know:

Dear Dad/"Papa" - we miss you so much, but we know you are still close to us and continue to care for us. We continue to pray for you and carry you in our hearts with firm hope in Jesus Christ's victory, and His promise of eternal life to those who trust in Him and follow Him.

Please help Mom as her condition continues to weaken. Be with us as we try to accompany her in the time to come.

Dad, I feel so helpless, sometimes. I feel so confused. "Growing old" once seemed like a gentle thing, but it has its own mysterious inner pain and strangeness. Elders endure in silence so much traumatic change in their own capabilities and sometimes in their living environment. And their (50+ year-old) "children" are thrown into confusion, too. 

We "kids" don't know how to respond well to the sudden "neediness" you display. You were always there, always sources of love, attentiveness, and giving that we took for granted (like the sky and the earth). We did not know how much we had failed (in many ways) to love you and be grateful for you in all the days of our lives. In the end, in front of your most dramatic expression of your own "need" - your own fragile humanity - we prove to be weak companions. We try to "solve your problems," but we are afraid to suffer-with-you in the silence of that which is beyond all solutions of this world.

We don't even know "how" to suffer with you. We don't know "from within" these last steps of the human experience (probably because we are not yet "ready" for them), but still we want to stay with you even if it's awkward, inadequate, apparently "useless." Perhaps it is by embracing our own sense of inadequacy - by suffering it - that we draw closer to you. In this kind of suffering, prayer becomes very real - prayer becomes like breathing.

Now, I don't know "how" to help my mother, how to love her, how to accept that there is so little that I can do for her. I'll do what I can ... and offer everything to God (though I'm a mess). I go to Jesus and beg Him to lift us all up in His mercy (and to keep me from falling apart).

Dad, I love you. Our Mom was the light of your life. Help us to care for her now.

May the Lord bring us all together forever, at the end of all our journeys and labors and suffering, when every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more separations, no more agony and incomprehension, no more grief, no more sorrow, no more death.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Life and Death and Everything in Between

My 82-year-old mother's physical health has begun to decline more precipitously in the last several weeks. Though there doesn't seem to be any unusually imminent cause for concern that she is dying, she has been considerably weakened since being hospitalized for an infection last month.

After she broke her ankle in October 2019, she moved out of the condo in Arlington, Virginia to an Assisted Living Facility in the same area. It was supposed to be "temporary," until we were able to arrange for her to live with us in Front Royal (some 70 miles West). But Mom - who has long suffered from various chronic illnesses - was unable to recover her mobility after the injury. Then the COVID-19 crisis derailed everyone's plans. Meanwhile, Mom fared pretty well in her private residence at the facility (assisted by its ample staff) and decided she wanted to stay there permanently.

We are used to our mother finding creative ways to adapt her lifestyle in the face of decades of various illnesses. But now - although her mind remains alert when she is awake - her physical condition is much worse than it has ever been. Her cardiovascular system is weakening. She is an octogenarian, of course, who has never had a strong (physical) heart (whereas - as anyone who knows her will agree - her personal heart , the source of her human vitality, her freedom, and her capacity to love, has always been as strong as a lion). A heart condition may have something to do with why she fell, lost consiousness, and broke her ankle, and why she lacked strength for rehab. 

Right now Mom is very weak and exhausted physically, and the trajectory of her condition - especially since her recent hospital visit - suggests that she doesn't have a long time left with us. We are satisfied with her medical team, and have a good rapport with them. Right now she still eats well, and takes an especially lively interest in her grandchildren. But she sleeps most of the day, and can only handle short visits from us (and brief phone calls). Her most frequent words to us are, "I love you." I think that her great soul is finding peace, after a long life and many struggles - fighting the good fight, and so often rising to the occasion despite her own pain and the hindrances of her many illnesses. She still needs lots of prayers, of course, and all the love we can give her.

Personally, I find myself in a bewildering place in these days, with emotions of sorrow and anxiousness but also joy and expectation. I'm "stretched" across several generations of my own family. My mother is suffering, and this concern dominates my emotional space, but also mixes in with other happenings. On Tuesday, Eileen and I will celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Our daughter Lucia recently got engaged, and preparations for a wedding next June are already in the works. Then, of course, the granddaughter is all set to make her "grand" debut, out of the womb and into the light of day. John Paul's wife Emily is due around July 10. I will be "Papa" (grandfather) to this new baby who might live to see the 22nd century. 

I'll write more about these events as they occur. They are all important. They are changes for all of us (along with the "changes" I am discovering in myself as I proceed to transition into the stage of life that I call "Young Seniors"). I find myself in front of "life and death and everything in between," which is an awkward way of expressing this emotionally dizzy condition. I am grateful, overall, because there is so much reason for gratitude.

Meanwhile, I am trying to prepare myself to accept my mother's death when it comes (which could be in a week or a couple of months or a year or more), and also to prepare for whatever she may need between now and then. We don't know how her remaining time will unfold, and what kind of care she may need. (I pray that she will be will be with us long enough to kiss her great-granddaughter, and even spend some time with her.)

I said that I'm trying to "prepare myself" for all this, but I don't know how. This is a time when the Mystery who holds our lives is palpably evident precisely in what is most profoundly transcendent, what is most beyond our comprehension. We understand particular things and do particular actions, but it is clear that these efforts (though necessary) are inadequate. Ultimately a mysterious personal event is going to take place for my mother that will "complete" her life in all its facets, drawing her to fulfillment, but also involve that strange and painful "rupture" from this life, from being "with us" in this world. Through faith, hope, and love we know that we don't "lose" her ultimately - but to "find her again" we will have to endure the suffering of human separation and its process of grief.

This is something I cannot possibly control. For the moment, I do what I can, and then I pray. Where else can I go? Without God, the extremity of the end of life would appear absurd. Nihilism would be inevitable. Even with faith (and erudite theological explanations), it can be very hard to avoid feeling deflated and discouraged when the life of someone you love is being stripped away.

Suffering and death drive down to our very bones the tragic aspect of life, even for us who firmly believe that this tragedy is not the end of the story

We believe that Something Has Happened in human history, not to take away physical death nor remove suffering but to transform them from within, to fashion out of them the ultimate ways of love, the path through which what is mortal is clothed in immortality.

God did not make death. He planned to draw us to Himself in a more simple and tender fashion, still mysterious of course, but in a way that we could have followed like children who grow through education (in the most profound sense of the word). 

But the human race rejected God's way. We turned away from the Mystery, and chose instead to exalt ourselves by our own power, by grasping at the illusion that we could define ourselves and control our relationships with one another and the world. We, who were made for the Infinite, chose to put our trust in our own finite, limited power. It was the original sin by which the human race "nullified" God's "original gift," and shrunk away from the true human destiny, impoverishing humanity for all who came after, rendering human existence an apparently insoluble riddle.

God did not make death. We humans - His children - chose death at the beginning of human history. We chose the limits, the frustration, the pain, the solitude of death - and this tragedy became our heritage from generation to generation. We have no way of "fixing" ourselves.

But God continued to love immensely the human family He created. He only permitted us to stray because He had a more wonderful way of restoring and renewing us. God did this not by "taking away" the experience of death. Rather, God took human flesh, He entered our broken history, He became our brother and He Himself suffered death.

He passed through death and beyond death. He rose to eternal life, and we are called to join him "if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:17).

It's not easy to remember all of this in the midst of the seemingly overwhelming and "totalizing" experience of dying, or of losing a loved one. But it remains true. It may not always comfort us (though sometimes it will). Nevertheless we have to hang on to this mystery of salvation, these transforming events and the One who has accomplished them. Prayer is the way to "hang on" - even allowing our indigence, our agony, to become prayer. God is our Father. He loves us. He hears us, He is working, He is bringing forth a greater love from our powerlessness, our nothingness. 

We will still have much grief and many sorrows. It's part of being human in this present world. But the Lord didn't say to us, "Do not suffer." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Luke 12:7, Rev 1:17, et alia).

In the hard moments, the sorrowful moments, the incomprehensible moments, the desperate moments, the final moments, God is with us.

He is with us in the anguish, the awful solitude, the flesh and blood of all of it.

He is Jesus, the Father's Eternal Word and the son of Mary, our God and our brother. He was born in Bethlehem, walked all the roads of our human life, worked a trade, spoke God's word with a human voice, felt hunger and thirst, healed the blind, the lame, and the sick. He revealed God's love and was put to death by us because we preferred our own narrow insipid loves, our covetousness, our grasp for our own power to control life and shrink it to our own measure. But His love was greater. He bore all our sins, our sorrows, our sufferings. He died, but in dying He destroyed the power of death, and rose in a transformed, indestructible, but also fully human life. He lives, and draws us to Himself, to eternal life, to a New Creation where God will be all, in all.

All of this is real. It remains real even when we don't feel it, even when it seems strange and incomprehensible. We must hold on to Jesus, and let Him hold us. Jesus will carry us through.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Sweet Start to the Day!πŸ˜‰

As Jim Gaffigan says, "No one wants to admit that they had CAKE for breakfast. That's why muffins were invented!"πŸ˜‹

Sunday, June 13, 2021

It's Good to See the Steeple of Our Church...

Happy Sunday! Summer is in the air. ⛅️🌳

The future is in God's hands. At the present moment, I am grateful to see the steeple of our church regularly again. 

Circumstances still vary significantly in different places in the world regarding the status of COVID-19 and the continuation of public health restrictions, but in our mid-Atlantic region in the USA most of them have been lifted. We have been able to go with our whole physical persons to Sunday Mass, to worship together, to sing the responses in the liturgy, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist in the "fullness" of the sacrament of His love. 

He has sustained us through our trials, remains with us, and gives us hope that the future - whatever it may bring - is the road that takes us to our Father's house.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Pearl of Splendor

Just as the Mother of God is the unique human companion of her Son Jesus in His earthly mission and in her share in His glory, so also His particular feasts in the liturgical calendar are usually followed by days dedicated to Mary and her singular participation in His saving love. For the Saturday, June 12 celebration of the "Immaculate Heart of Mary," the Pope had another brief, beautiful reflection posted on Twitter and Instagram in various languages.

Here is what we read in English: “Mary’s heart is like a pearl of incomparable splendor, formed and smoothed by patient acceptance of God’s will through the mysteries of Jesus meditated in prayer” (Pope Francis).

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Boundless Love of the Heart of Jesus

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus allows us to dwell with particular focus on the ineffable love of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, that He offers to the Father and to us through His humanity. The Son loves us with His human Heart so as to accomplish our redemption and to "incorporate" us into His love for the Father.

The love of the Heart of Jesus saves us and empowers us as "adopted" sons and daughters in God's kingdom. 
The foundation of Christian life is God Incarnate, who touches our humanity concretely with His love. The Gospel text for the day (John 19:31-37) presents the love of Christ's Heart as the radical source of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Indeed, through the Eucharist, He Himself reaches us here and now as the One who loves us and gives Himself wholly to us.

The boundless love of the Heart of Jesus "surpasses knowledge," and 'pours out' all through history to accomplish the Divine plan. He draws us, frees us from our sins, renews us, incorporates us into His Mystical Body, and engenders a new kind of love in us for God our Father and for one another as brothers and sisters.

Here are some texts from the liturgy that struck me especially:

In the SECOND READING, Saint Paul speaks to the Ephesians: “I kneel before the Father, whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

The PREFACE to the Eucharistic Prayer bears the title: THE BOUNDLESS CHARITY OF CHRIST. "It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For raised up high on the Cross, he gave himself up for us with a wonderful love and poured out blood and water from his pierced side, the wellspring of the Church's Sacraments, so that, won over to the open heart of the Savior, all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation."

Both options for the COMMUNION ANTIPHON allude to Christ's life-changing, transforming love as incarnate and sacramental:

"Thus says the Lord: Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. Streams of living water will flow from within the one who believes in me" (Cf. John 7:37-38). 

Or: "One of the soldiers opened his side with a lance, and at once there came forth blood and water" (John 19:34).

The PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION expresses our desire that Jesus's love might change the way we see all of reality, the way we love the persons through whom He calls us to grow and move forward in this life's journey toward fulfillment in Him: 

"May this sacrament of charity, O Lord, 

make us fervent with the fire of holy love, 

so that, drawn always to your Son, 

we may learn to see him in our neighbor. 

Through Christ our Lord."

The COLLECT for the day invokes the "overflowing measure of grace" that comes from this open, total gift of this human heart - the Heart of Jesus - and "the wonders of his love for us."

On social media, Pope Francis encourages us to have confidence in Him: I invite each one of you to look with confidence to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to repeat often, especially during this month of June: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, transform our hearts and teach us to love God and our neighbor with generosity” (Pope Francis).

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie After Five Years: An Indestructible Love

πŸ’šAfter five years, Christina Victoria Grimmie's light shines on, gently and discretely, growing brighter, bringing warmth and strength to many wounded hearts, and still "reaching" new people, "meeting them" and touching their lives. 

The love that animated her life, through which she gave herself in the moments of all her days, right up to the end, is an indestructible love. It is the love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" - the love that "never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).πŸ’šπŸ’š

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!

If you're from our area of the mid-Atlantic region in USA, I know you've seen too much of the "17 Year Cicada Invasion." I apologize. Others may have heard that these bugs are everywhere! After 17 years of preparation, they finally emerge from shells like this one (it's pretty cool for a picture, I think). They are swarming all over the place during these brief weeks of their adult life, presumably mating, while they make noise and generally annoy human beings (otherwise they are harmless). Soon they will start dying everywhere. It will be a feast for Reepicheep if she has a taste for 17-year cicadas. 

I remember them from 1987 (when I was a grad student) and 2004 (when I was still an active teaching professor and father of a bunch of little kids who must have been spooked out - I don't recall any particular kid crises but they doπŸ˜‰). Now it's 2021. The next generation of this breed of cicadas will appear in 2038. 

I hope I'm still around in 2038, but NOT because I have any particular desire to see these bugs again!😝

Monday, June 7, 2021

Can We Build a "Plastic Paradise"?

We are passing through the end of an epoch, a time in history which has for several hundred years self-consciously called itself "the modern world." By this was meant not simply the "most recent" period of history, but in fact the decisive period of history, the period by which all events of prior history were to be measured and valued. The modern epoch saw history as a progression that was fulfilled in itself, in particular, in the rationalist, self-sufficient human being of the post-Enlightenment Western world.

Here, it seemed, humans had finally become conscious of themselves in a fully adult way, at the center of a world divested of all mystery, penetrated by human knowledge and rendered malleable to the benevolent energy of human creativity. We appeared destined to create a thoroughly "anthropocentric" milieu, a world entirely subject to our power to master its resources and shape them in the service of our ideas about humanity's advancement and our conception of what it takes to satisfy human needs and desires. We were prepared to construct a "plastic paradise" from the raw material of an otherwise meaningless reality. We considered it our responsibility to organize the stuff of the material universe in a rational, meaningful, and satisfying way.

Hmm, well... it's becoming clear to everyone that things are a bit more complicated than all that.

In these days, we have lived through the sudden chaotic spread of COVID-19 and the only partially successful, tenuous efforts to stop it. We also see the continual uncovering of political and social tensions that modernity naively thought had been resolved: the persistence of racism, militant forms of nationalism and other versions of partisan divisiveness, brutal wars, genocides, millions of refugees in desperate conditions, human trafficking on an enormous scale, and - among the affluent and "comfortable" - an ongoing dissatifaction with life in general, increasing isolation, and an ever-more-complicated obscurity regarding what it means to be human, and what constitutes the uniqueness of human personal identity. 

These have only been some of the more recent circumstances indicating that the "modern" project (which is in the irreversible process of falling apart) has lacked something essential for an adequate relationship between the human being and reality as a whole. Nevertheless the ideological narrative of modernity, with its promises of inevitable and benevolent "progress," has been enacting the drama of its final death scenes on an epic scale. For more than a century, the dominant pretentions of the modern West have spread throughout the world and have been generalized into a global mentality even as their apparent coherence has been imploding. 

We can recognize all of this without being reactionaries. We must affirm the many wonderful, unprecidented positive achievements of the modern epoch, and their unique contribution to human history. The ideals of human dignity, freedom, and progress - as well as the hope for a better future and a more fraternal, peaceful world - must continue to inspire us. But realism comes first.

We must face the fact that human life as a whole - lived out within the context of a greater reality - is much more profound than our manipulations and our ideological schemes. We have acquired vast amounts of information about the world and learned to subject things to human needs in a way that has genuinely improved life (in certain respects) for countless people. Yet we find that solving problems inevitably creates a new context that contains possibilities for new problems. These new problems rapidly rise up to confront us. Presuming our own mastery over reality, we change some things (for better and for worse), but mostly we rearrange the elements of our environment in a way that is beneficial in some respects but that cannot resolve or eliminate all problems, much less the dramatic, challenging, and arduous nature of human existence. Sometimes we presume to "fix" small problems but in the process we unwittingly create monstrous new problems. Thus we live in a world of technological enhancement thanks to the processes of harnessing energy from the earth's resources. We also live in a world of enhanced warfare, of weapons of mass destruction, of nuclear arsenals - as well as a rapidly corrupting and dangerously damaged natural environment.

We must realize that reality is not simply "plastic," but has an essential givenness and opens up to signify an ever greater Mystery, which we are invited to contemplate and collaborate with. We are called not to the absolute mastery of rationalist domination, but to intelligent, wise, discerning service to the truth, goodness, and beauty in the world.

How are we to carry out this service in the emerging new epoch, in the midst of people (including ourselves) with enormous ambitions wielding all the vast power that has been unleashed? There are no prepackaged solutions or easy answers to this question. We need to grow in our humanity, in an authentic awareness of our being human persons called to live in communion, and as caretakers and collaborators in the development of the rich potential and manifold fruitfulness of the material universe that has been entrusted to us. We certainly need human reason's practicality and ingenuity - now more than ever - but these must be more fully integrated within the whole scope of our intelligence, with its capacity for wonder, attentiveness to signs of meaning and value, and humility and patience as we journey over the mysterious paths of life. We need to seek wisdom, not as a conquest of the world by our own power and our urge to dominate and control reality, but as integrated personal insight for which we work with discipline and sacrifice, acquiring what we can while also hoping to receive the deeper wisdom that we need for the fulfillment of our lives - to receive it as a gift. 

This is an arduous task, especially for those of us who are accustomed to the illusion of unrestricted dominance over things by the power of our material wealth and our access to what we expect to be easy and infallible technological means to construct our fantasies and solve our problems. Have we ever really trusted this false sense of control? Look at the deep anxiety that gnaws away our insides even as we desperately distract ourselves from it with displays of vanity and false celebrations of our own power and apparent outward success. COVID has given many of us a taste (a reminder) of our own fragility. Perhaps we can set off on a new path.

Let us make a new beginning in the search for a truly adequate wisdom, and if necessary let us begin again and again each day without becoming discouraged. Though we must never give up, we should not be surprised if we are required to endure new difficulties and fresh setbacks in the years ahead.

Indeed, this world that is not "plastic" is also not Paradise. It is a world where the line between good and evil passes through every human heart, which will therefore never be perfected entirely by any human technical activity. It is a world in need of something it cannot give itself. Indeed, we are people in need of something we cannot engender within ourselves by any power we possess or knowledge we acquire.

After all, Paradise has been lost, and in any case was never meant to be the definitive fulfillment of creation. But in the face of mounting dangers and uncertainty, and all the cumulative wreckage of the past, we can still maintain a most firm hope. We know that the way forward passes through great trials and obscurity, but also abundant gifts which bring healing and transformation. We know that our path is the path of redemption.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Remembering "Tank Man"

June 4, 1989. Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. 

(Never Forget.)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Uganda "Martyrs Day": A Time to Grow in Faith

Since the feast of Corpus Christi is moved to Sunday on the USA's calendar, we deferred to the weekday liturgical texts and their particular feasts. Thus we shared once again in what is a very special holiday for Catholics in East Africa. 

The Uganda Martyrs are commemorated today, the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow royal pages on June 3, 1886. There are also other martyrs during this period who are grouped into today's feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the Beatification proceedings in the 1920s. 

(The image here is the official icon from the canonization of 1962.)

These martyrs are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years. Ordinarily, millions of pilgrims come to the Shrine at Namugongo (build on the place where the young martyrs gave their lives). But for the second consecutive year, the live, in-person celebration was drastically limited by public gathering restrictions related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Only 200 representative pilgrims were present at the Shrine for this years celebration, while millions more participated via television or internet-streaming. Uganda has (for Africa) a relatively sophisticated communications infrastructure. I myself participated in the Martyrs Day celebration "in real time" in 2019 from my home in the USA by way of Uganda NewsTV's YouTube channel. See this post HERE for an account of that experience, which seemed quite remarkable at the time; little did I imagine how crucial these media connections would soon become for Ugandans and everyone else, not only for holidays but for every day - for months and months at a time - to facilitate even our sense of local ecclesial unity in a time of crisis.

For Ugandans, who are so close to the memory of these martyrs, being confined to a mediated celebration "from a distance" was probably a deeper suffering than anything I can imagine. As a first-worlder who grew up in comfort and is well-accustomed to "watching life on television," I wonder if my own humanity is sufficiently vital and focused to really appreciate this kind of enforced remoteness from a sacred celebration so interwoven with one's own life and Christian identity (such as Martyrs Day is for Ugandan Catholics). Still, whatever the difficulty, the media resources clearly were a help for them this year.

In his homily, the bishop who celebrated the liturgy this year at Namugongo expressed the sorrow and also the meaning and value of bearing the burdens of what is (let us first-worlders not forget) still an ongoing global epidemic:

"This year, we assemble under exceptional circumstances. A slim number of the faithful are here physically. The multitudes are at home in virtual attendance. Not that they wished to stay away and watch television or listen to radios or indeed switch on social media platforms. No, it is because the Covid-19 pandemic has dictated and forced us into this terrible situation. We look like the dismembered body of Christ. We are scattered, but it would not be right to say we are in disarray." Rather, "in faith let us embrace this opportunity as guidance from the Holy Spirit that we should all spiritually internalise the example set for us by the Uganda Martyrs, that is, their deep faith, deep charity and of loving God to the point of shedding blood" (Bishop Silverus Jjumba of the Diocese of Masaka, presiding at the liturgy at the Namugongo Shrine, June 3, 2021).

Here is the Collect Prayer for the feast day:

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Light and Colors of June

Ah, plants.🌱 They don't change from year to year, and yet they always surprise!πŸ™‚πŸŒΏ 

Below, from left to right, we have (1) reddish tinted peony; (2) and (3) “mock orange” blossoms - which means that we won’t get any oranges here; (4) “witch-hazel” buds, which will flower later in the year; (5) out-of-control vines on a lush green maple tree; (6) white rhododendron flowers, which bloom later than the more exotic-looking purple ones.πŸŒ³πŸ’

Finally, at the bottom, there is a brief video from yours truly, who couldn't believe it was still light at 9:00 PM. The "Summer Season" has begun (broadly speaking), but I love especially these bright evenings before it gets too hot.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Saint Justin "Martyr" Witnesses to the Truth of Jesus Christ

My "Conversion Story" in the January 2014 issue of Magnificat was dedicated to the saint we honor today, known to history as "Saint Justin Martyr." It was a long time ago ... a phrase which applies in more than one way here (relatively speaking). 

For Justin, it was nearly nineteen centuries ago. He is the first Christian philosopher, and one of the first Church Fathers to pass on a substantial body of writing, as an apologist and as a descriptive witness to the already “traditional” liturgical and sacramental practice of the second century Church. His writings give further support to our conviction that the Church of Jesus was “Catholic” from the very beginning.

Clearly, Justin was an ancient Christian witness. He comes to us from “from a long time ago.” But, as I said above, there is another sense of a “long time ago” connected with the article I am presenting below. January 2014 has started to feel (in the context of the brevity of a single lifetime) like it was a long time ago. So much has happened in life since then. Still, there are things that remain consistent. Among them is the fact that I still write this monthly column of conversion stories for Magnificat - nearly a hundred have been published thus far, about people from every place, every historical period, every cultural background, people diverse in every way but all sharing a common humanity and all encountering the same Person, Jesus, from whom they received the fullness of life.

After nearly eight years of writing this column, I still find these stories fascinating and enriching.

Here is the conversion story of Saint Justin:

Saint Justin Martyr gives us a personal account of his conversion in the second century. He shows us that from earliest times, the appeal of Jesus corresponded to the most urgent desires of human reason and the human heart. In the first chapter of an authentic second century account called The Dialogue with Trypho, Justin gives his testimony.

Justin was born around the year 100 in Syria, from pagan ancestry. At an early age, he dedicated himself to the task of philosophy. To become a philosopher in late antiquity was not an academic exercise. It meant a dedication of one’s self to the search for truth. The young Justin perceived in the depths of his soul the need for the ultimate truth, the desire to lay hold of “the reason which governs all.”

He followed several different philosophers, but found that none of them understood the meaning of life. Then the Platonists awakened him to the possibility of a Mystery that transcends material things. He concluded that the meaning of life could only be found by escaping from the physical world and raising the mind to the contemplation of Divinity.

And then something completely unexpected happened to the young philosopher. It was his custom to walk alone by the sea so that he could devote his mind to the solitary effort of finding God. But on one of these walks, he met a Christian. This encounter would change Justin’s whole life. The Christian convinced him that the human mind could never know the mystery of God by its own power. The truth was that God had spoken, and revealed and given Himself in human history.

What is striking is that not only was Justin convinced by the discussion (which he represents in some detail in the Dialogue). His heart was drawn through this encounter with the Christian. He perceived, by grace, a way of understanding and living that was new: “But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me” (Dialogue 1).

It is also clear from another of Justin’s works, the Second Apology, that the Christians had already touched him by their witness of martyrdom, even before his decisive encounter with the man by the sea. Here he tells us that while he was still a Platonist, he heard many false accusations about the Christians, such as the common charge that they killed people in rituals and ate their flesh. But then he saw how the Christians had no fear of death or any other tortures, and he concluded even then that Christians couldn’t possibly be evil (see II Apology, XII). He was struck with wonder by the freedom of Christians, and their attachment to Christ even in the face of death.

Thus, Justin embraced God's gift of Himself in Jesus Christ and joined the “friends of Christ,” the Church. He went to Rome, where he proclaimed Christ as the true philosophy. The philosophers of the past had only fragments of truth. Jesus revealed the whole truth in Himself, and thus fulfilled the human search for wisdom and happiness. Saint Justin’s writings preserve precious testimony to the life and worship of the second century Church, and he earned his surname through his martyrdom in the year 165.