Thursday, March 31, 2022

Jesus Christ is the Center of Life

Christians affirm Jesus Christ as the center of our lives.

This is not a “pious statement.” It is, simply, a fact. It is the truth. It is the truth about our lives and about the life of every human being. Christianity does not mean simply "looking at our lives from a Christian point of view." It is not defined by our "cultural outlook" or our supposedly “traditional ideas” or our “theology.”

It is a statement of faith. But faith is an affirmation of reality. It is a way of adhering to the truth.

My life is not meant to be an exercise in trying to apply my theories about Jesus to my problems and circumstances. My life is living with Jesus, really. That is the truth about my actual life, whatever my “theories” or expectations may be from one moment to the next.

Obviously, I’m far from being a saint. I’m a sinner, always in need of mercy. For me, “living with Jesus” means ignoring Him most of the time, trying to manipulate Him sometimes, trying to use Him to my own advantage, but also continually rediscovering again and again that He is really here, that He loves me, and that He is the One who is in charge... of everything.

A living faith means “bumping into Him” again and again, finding Him in reality, finding Him shedding light on things and bringing joy and strength. It means remembering that I have been made for Him, remembering that I need Him, that I have to open my heart to Him in prayer.

It means holding fast to Him in desperation and misery and pain, knowing that He is offering me a share in His sufferings. It means sometimes feeling that I can't find Him, but still knowing that He is with me in the darkness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

“Daffodil Time”

Well, it appears to be “Daffodil Time,” so we will soon be seeing more flowers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Alone, We Cannot Be Ourselves

The meditation for March 29th in Magnificat is a quotation from Luigi Giussani’s The Origin of the Christian Claim. The perspective elucidated herein is one we must return to again and again: I cannot realize myself unless I accept the love of Another.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24). This cry is the only starting point which enables a man to take the proposal of Christ into serious consideration. If a man cares nothing for this question, how can he understand the answer? To be myself, I need someone else: Without me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Jesus taught us that whoever accepts his message of salvation cannot avoid facing himself with sincerity, cannot avoid being realistic in his consideration of man. Alone, we cannot be ourselves. No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6). This is the same as saying, one more time, that man cannot realize himself unless he accepts the love of Another—Another who has a precise name, who independently of your will died for you: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). He said this of himself: I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).”

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The “Weapons” of the Spirit

This is a challenge for Christian life, not only during Lent but in all circumstances in this world in which we must overcome evil. “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Prayer, fasting, and works of mercy are not pietism, spiritual athleticism, or philanthropy. They are the expressions of a new way of existing, the belonging-to-Christ that begins in baptism and becomes vital in our own moments of history in the measure that we live as instruments of Christ’s transforming love in our world.

We are called to “make room” for Him to live in us and manifest His glory through us within our own aspirations, concerns and struggles, with our talents and gifts and also through our poverty, pain, and powerlessness. Every moment of our lives is a gift from the Father to us as we grow in the Spirit as adopted sons and daughters in Jesus Christ. And not only a gift to us, but also - through us - to the world.

These days provide for us a pedagogy of offering everything, so as to remember that the value of our actions consists in Christ consecrating the world through us as we recognize that His glory is the meaning of everything, the meaning of our days, the meaning of all human history. We remember too that this extends beyond all imaginable hopes of this life, to the extremities of our apparent insignificance, failure, “uselessness,” and suffering… for His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Significance of Today’s “Act of Consecration”

We have participated today in a decisive historical event, as Pope Francis and the Bishops in communion with him, along with priests and faithful throughout the world, solemnly entrusted and consecrated ourselves, all humanity, the world, and especially Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

On this March 25, 2022 - which marks the annual celebration of the Annunciation, of Mary's "fiat" to the angel's message and the beginning of God the Word taking flesh in her womb - the Pope and with him the whole Church once again cried out to the Theotokos, the Mother of God and our Mother, appealing to her all holy Immaculate Heart to obtain from her Son the grace of conversion and peace for ourselves, all humanity, and especially Russia and Ukraine. 

In these days, Russia's armed forces continue to carry out the brutal invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian political power, while other political powers seem to give little thought to God even as they puzzle over how to stop Russian military aggression without setting the world on fire. Meanwhile Ukrainians suffer (once again) from the scourge of their neighbor, with those who can doing their best to defend their homeland, while the vulnerable who are not trapped in the wreckage flee by the millions into exile in Poland and other nations offering them refuge.

And this is just one of the many wars that rage throughout the world. We are all complicit in some measure in the global cycle of violence, because of our sins, because of our hypocrisy, because of the smallness of our love. Therefore, this prayer is rightly penitential and offered in the first person plural to Jesus our Redeemer through His Mother whom He redeemed in a preeminent manner by preserving her from all stain of sin, with the love of His Cross transcending the “limits of linear chronology” and making her holy from the first moment of her own conception. Mary was thus enabled by His grace to cooperate wholly and uniquely with her Son's love for us, and become His gift to each of us: "Behold your mother" (John 19:27).

In this prayer we commit ourselves anew to trust in God's mercy, to conversion of heart, to penance and forgiveness. In this tumultuous epoch, the world must turn frequently to the tender maternal love of Mary's Heart so that she can teach us to live as brothers and sisters in peace with one another and with Jesus. How today's consecration will "unfold" in events to come cannot be predicted. Things "may get worse before they get better," but something irrevocable has happened that will bring about much good in God's time. This is a reason to be encouraged.

My memory is long, and today it harkens back to a similar act of Pope Saint John Paul II and the world's bishops on March 25, 1984. I was 21 years old that year, living in a very tense, strange, and dangerous world with a political geography profoundly different from the one most of you have grown up with and taken for granted. In 1984, the Cold War was like solid ice, and there were no signs on the horizon of any melting. If anything, our hopes for some kind of “thaw” had (as far as we could tell) recently been chilled.

The previous year, the Communist government of Poland had declared marshal law and outlawed the independent Solidarity trade union. Lech Walesa and other Solidarity activists were arrested, and later driven underground and constantly harassed by Communist authorities. The intellectual leaders of “Charter 77” had been silenced and Czech dissident Vaclav Havel was in prison. The few glimmers of hope from behind the Iron Curtain were at their lowest point. But countless people, unknown to the world, prayed, did penance, performed works of mercy, and suffered in union with Jesus. The Mother of God sustained them secretly in the darkness of the imposed atheism of Communist states. Ukraine was a “captive nation,” a “Soviet Republic” brutally suppressed, millions of whose people had been murdered by starvation (the Holodomor) in a famine engineered by Stalin in 1929-32, while others were exiled, displaced, or else forced to conform to the Russian language and Russian ways and suppress their own Ukrainian culture.

In 1984, the Russian-dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its Eastern European satellite nations seemed to have become a permanent fixture on the global map. Moreover, Marxist-Leninist forces had either triumphed or were contending for power in many “hot wars” all over the globe, sustained by Soviet weapons and support, while the USA supported often-repressive dictatorships or violent counter-insurgency groups that covered their own dysfunctions under the cloak of “anti-communism.” 

But we who lived in the wealthy “free world” were not much bothered in our daily lives. We used our freedom not to love and serve God, but rather to plunge into a materialist consumer lifestyle and an individualistic moral anarchy the likes of which had never been seen in all of history. Nevertheless, something of our human sensibility endured, and we accomplished many good things too in those days. But we gave little thought to the fact that the “security” of our ideals and our hedonistic lifestyle - their defense against Communist aggression and nuclear war - came at the price of a “deal with the devil” called Mutually Assured Destruction. Both blocs stockpiled and held in readiness staggeringly enormous quantities of nuclear weapons specifically designed to kill innocent civilians indiscriminately and on a massive scale.

After the consecration of March 25, 1984, there was no immediate dramatic change in this perilous world order. People still had to pray and fast, convert, build up the good, care for the poor, forgive those who had injured them, and love God and trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ. We won’t know all the hidden fruits of Mary’s intercession at that time until the end of history. But no one imagined that before the end of the decade, the Iron Curtain would fall, Eastern Europe would be freed, and - two years later - the seemingly impregnable Soviet Union would cease to exist entirely. New nations appeared on the world stage, and old ones re-emerged from darkness - among the most spirited being a newly independent Ukraine.

It was like a miracle. But it was an incomplete miracle (if that makes any sense). Soviet Atheistic Communism vanished by 1991, but “the conversion of Russia” remains a work-in-progress, and new sources of violence, new wars, and old greed continue to afflict the global village. More recent generations in the secularist liberal West are now so rootless and confused about everything that their ignorance manifests itself as a terrible vulnerability, the damaged half-innocence of wounded children, easily manipulated but also perhaps more disposed (however unconsciously) to encounter God. Beneath the noise, the excess, the unprecedented access to technological power, there is immense suffering. They have much to suffer in the years to come. But Jesus and Mary remember them and look upon them with compassion.

The same compassion encompasses the suffering Ukrainian people. It also encompasses the Russian conscripts who have been thrown into this war of aggression without knowing what they were meant to do, as well as those who should know better: those who are prosecuting this offensive war from fear, insecurity, or their own delusions of national greatness. It reaches out to the victims and refugees of wars everywhere, and calls perpetrators of violence to repentance.

May we all be converted from our delusions and arrogance, to the reality of God who loves us and who wants us to live together in freedom, in fraternal love, interpersonal communion, solidarity, and forgiveness. In following Jesus through Mary, we must not be discouraged. Our hope is eternal life, the gift of fellowship forever with the Trinitarian God who is Love, and also the transfigured fruition of all our efforts to do good in this world, all our hopes to make society better, to be peacemakers, to undertake works of mercy so that life on this earth (even if it will never be perfect and always imperiled by evil) will become more worthy of the dignity of human persons created in God’s image, created and called to be brothers and sisters of Jesus. 

We must not be discouraged, we must keep our hearts centered on Jesus who calls us in this moment of history and promises that our humanity in its desire and struggles and suffering is destined to be fulfilled. Today, we have the special assurance of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that no effort is in vain that endeavors to respond to the redeeming love of her Son, that we must seek His glory every day, in the time that has been given to us to live our lives and offer ourselves even in the smallest gestures of compassion.

May the Lord bring peace to Russia and Ukraine, and to all places of war and oppression. May He accomplish His will in the world, and give us the grace to recognize in faith His merciful wisdom, to obey Him, to follow Him, and to be His instruments…in union with Mary.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Romero: "Stop the Repression!"

Today we commemorate Saint Oscar Romero, Archbishop of the capital city of El Salvador in the years leading up to that Central American nation's bloody civil war. Romero was a prophetic voice for evangelical justice and equity in a country where those in power crushed relentlessly the efforts of desperately poor people to affirm their human dignity, and persecuted Catholic priests and faithful who accompanied the poor and helped them to discern Christ's love for them and His grace leading them to cry out, together, in the face of monstrous oppression. Romero and the Church were also emphatic in preaching that people must not place their hope in a merely "horizontal," worldly, God-denying revolution inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideology and fueled by vindictiveness, which would only perpetuate the cycle of violence and engender more oppression.

Saint Oscar Romero's teaching and his courageous actions as bishop were true to the gospel of an incarnate, crucified, resurrected, eucharistic Jesus who is Lord of history. Jesus calls us to eternal life, to a transcendent vocation of unending communion with God's ineffable love. This call is not, however, a pretext to escape from created reality, or to ignore the concrete circumstances we face here and now. On the contrary, He who created and who sustains all things upholds all that is true and good in this world, in this moment of history. And in Christ (and always faithful to Him) we find the promise of the fulfillment of all our efforts to build up a society that is more just, more equitable, more united in truth and love, more adequate to the dignity of every human person who is created in the image of God.

Today is the 42nd anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom. He was shot by a “Death Squad” gunman during the offertory of the Mass in the chapel of the Divina Providencia hospital, the chapel where Romero prayed daily to Jesus in the Eucharist and the hospital wherein a simple roomhe resided as Archbishop, so he could be close to and minister daily to the sick and the dying.

He was prepared for death and had already offered his life for all the poor and suffering people of El Salvador. He knew the risks he was taking for the truth of God, for the Church, and for the dignity of the human person.

He knew he was placing himself in great danger when, in his nationally broadcast homily the previous Sunday, he admonisheddirectly and personallythe men of the Guardia Nacional, the police, and the army with this final appeal:
“Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, 'Thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The Church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”
Oscar Romero knew that "the Church" must always be "the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person" and that these rights and realities are inseparable because God became man in order to save every human being and to transfigure human existence according to the measure of God's love. The Church must be for the dignity of every human person in this life and in eternity. Jesus has transformed the meaning of "justice" in this world because He has identified every human person with Himself, especially the least, the poor, the forgotten, the oppressed, and all those who suffer.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Spring is Starting to “Show Up”…Finally!

Spring is starting to show up, at the end of the crazy week of March 13-20. As you can see, [1] forsythia bushes are blooming late this year, and with some hesitation. [2] A couple of weeks ago, perky buds were stirring, but then [3] WAMMO!🌨💨❄️ The snowstorm of March 12 caught them off their guard. But now they, along with other early buds [4 and 5], have begun opening up after several days of 70+ weather last week. [6] The big trees still remain mostly bare, however, against the light of longer and brighter evenings.☀️

Just a typical Virginia March, I guess.😙

Sunday, March 20, 2022

La Cucina di San Giuseppe

We celebrated the feast of San Giuseppe on Saturday with simple deliciousness from Elena’s cucina (Eileen’s kitchen). The bolognese sauce has fresh mushrooms and onion as well as beef and tomato, with rotini pasta. And salad.

The picture doesn’t do justice… 😋

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The “Silence” of Saint Joseph

“The Gospels report none of his spoken words, yet they present Saint Joseph as a model of attentive hearing of God’s word and acting upon it. Indeed, Joseph’s silence was the sign of a contemplative heart, confirming Saint Augustine’s observation that, ‘when the word of God increases, human words fail’ (Sermon 288:5). Joseph’s quiet humility teaches us to make room in our hearts for Christ, and thus to discern the Father’s will for our lives.

“Jesus learned the importance of silence from the example of Joseph and Mary, and in turn taught his disciples to cultivate it. We too are called to exercise interior silence and attentive listening to God’s word, lest our daily worries, temptations and fears lead our spoken words astray and cause hurt to others. Though not easy, fostering contemplative silence is a sure path to authentic self-knowledge and spiritual growth. May we learn from Saint Joseph’s example of silence to let the Lord fill our hearts and guide our words in the service of his truth and in charity towards all our brothers and sisters.”

~Pope Francis (from “English Summary” of Catechesis of December 15, 2021)

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Conversion of Saint Patrick

Not many people have read my monthly column in Magnificat for the nearly nine years that it has been appearing. So it can only be useful to re-present some of the older “conversion stories” on this blog, and even make revisions here and there (as I contemplate what form of book – or series of books – might serve as a worthwhile vehicle for gathering together, rendering accessible in one place, and perhaps even expanding this considerable body of writing and the mountain of research it represents).

And, since it’s “that-time-of-year-again,” I shall take advantage of the circumstances to tell the story of the conversion of Saint Patrick, based on the article that was published in Magnificat back in 2015:

Saint Patrick, the great Apostle of Ireland in the fifth century, was himself a “convert.” In his youth he ignored God, but in his days of slavery, Patrick cried out to God in his loneliness and found him in Christ. Then it was Christ again who called out to him through the searching hearts of the unknown people who lived west of Britain, at the edge of the world.

In his brief Confessions, St. Patrick says that he grew up as an “unbeliever.” He was from a wealthy family in Roman Britain and his forebears were Christians. But although the priests of the Church tried to “remind us of our salvation” (Confessions, 1) Patrick and his companions paid no attention to God and lived according to their own wishes.

These circumstances changed, however, when he was captured by pirates and sold as a slave to an Irish chief. Patrick’s comfortable and dissolute life was suddenly over, and instead he found himself impoverished and alone, shepherding his master’s flock in a wild and strange land. But for Patrick this isolation was a time of grace.

Although he called himself an unbeliever in his early days, something of the Gospel must have gotten through to him; the words of the priests who preached and exhorted the people of his homeland remained in his memory. There must have been something in the original testimony he had received, even though he had scoffed at it – something must have impressed itself upon him with a vitality of its own, sufficient to awaken in his days of tribulation. His own baptism and the ministry of the Church planted seeds of grace and awareness of God that were destined to sprout and grow in the hardy soil of his captivity. 

In his years as a slave, Patrick turned to God in ardent prayer. He turned to Jesus who had “watched over me before I knew him” (2). In the silence of the fields and forests he prayed, and “more and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase” for “the Spirit was burning in me at that time” (16). He also found himself in the company of the local people and learned the Gaelic language fluently. The same Christ who drew him in prayer impressed the faces of the pagan people of Ireland upon his soul.

When he finally escaped and returned to Britain, Patrick was determined to dedicate his life to Christ. It was then that he had a mystical experience in which he heard the Irish people calling him back: “We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us” (23). Patrick was drawn by this calling, but also hindered by fear and love of his own homeland and family. He had reason to fear, because his subsequent mission was full of tribulations and opposition in spite of its overwhelming success.

Saint Patrick ultimately became the great heroic missionary we venerate today because God’s grace empowered him to carry out many decades of hard work as a minister of the Gospel, and to overcome constant and various obstacles with ardent charity and patient persistence and endurance. There were times when he was tempted to return home and escape these struggles, but he knew that Christ was present for him in the Irish people to whom he had been sent; they were “the people to whom the love of Christ brought me and gave me in my lifetime, if I should be worthy, to serve them truly and with humility” (13).

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The “Living Prayer” That Begs For Peace

Pope Francis invites us open our hearts in prayer before the Lord, in solidarity with those who are suffering (especially in the violence of this present war). 

So often we connive in our hearts with the arrogance and covetousness that breeds wars; yet we are called to the opposite, to be instruments of love who - even hidden from the world - can engage in this “living prayer,” this spiritual work of mercy which takes up “the plea of all those who suffer” and endeavors to “disarm the aggressor” by begging for healing for all of us, for the conversion of all our hearts to the peace of God.

Monday, March 14, 2022

“Snowpacalypse ‘22 - the Sequel”

Less than two weeks away from Spring, we got hit by a pretty respectable snowstorm (for this area) over the weekend. By today, sun and 60+ degree temperatures had melted almost all of the half-a-foot of snow as fast as it had come. But it was pretty while it lasted.

Some photographs and some digital artwork below.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Happy Birthday Christina Grimmie!💚

Happy 28th Birthday, Christina!💚💚💚 We really miss you in this troubled world, though I think that the Lord called you to Himself back in 2016 because He knew that - somehow - you would be a greater help to us from where you are now, with Him, immersed in the incomprehensible and inexhaustible depths of His Love. It wouldn’t make much sense to keep celebrating your birthday, if we didn’t believe that His Love is mysteriously at work at the heart of reality for the fulfillment of His plan of wisdom and goodness: His Love that is stronger than death, stronger than everything that afflicts us, stronger than all the evil and malice and violence of this world. Often it seems that the opposite is the case, but our hope is in the Lord who sustains and strengthens us. We rely on Him; not our own weakness.

Dear Christina, what years these have been since you last celebrated your birthday in this world! What years these have been for Team Grimmie, for your country, for the world, and for me and my loved ones and family. Of course, there have been many joys, wonderful adventures, and new discoveries for us as we continue to journey through this life. But these years have also been peculiarly hard for many people.

They have been years of increasing discord and confusion in the world. More and more, when we encounter one another we don’t see human persons created in the image of God, each one unique and precious, our brothers and sisters. Instead we see the “labels” we put on one another and our selves, we see threats and become defensive or dangers that we think must be eliminated. We have forgotten to “own the strength” of our dignity as persons (which is God’s gift that no one can take away) and we have forgotten our common humanity. In the weakness of our forgetfulness, we try desperately to find affirmation and identity through allegiance to rival powers and we fight against one another. Or we lose ourselves in clamorous, inflated illusions that only leave us more empty than before.

In the midst of all of this conflict and estrangement, there suddenly came upon us a global pandemic, bringing serious illness and death to millions, all kinds of economic hardship, fear and uncertainty about our own safety, and restrictions on ordinary life that became physically and psychologically suffocating for so many - especially for young people. And now, just as we have begun finally to see light at the end of the long tunnel of the pandemic, another shadow has risen over the world: the terrible shadow of war.

Already it has brought destruction and suffering to millions, and it has just begun. There is no way to predict how it may yet escalate, how extensive its carnage may yet become.

Christina, I know I’m supposed to be celebrating your birthday. This is a time for positive thoughts, especially in honor of someone who was so attuned to the gift and the promise that imbue all of reality. You remain a bright beautiful star that continues to shine into all these dark and narrow spaces where we find ourselves today. We all have our personal stories, our successes and failures, our learning experiences, our joys and hopes and griefs and sufferings. You have helped us to learn how to share these stories in solidarity with one another. Team Grimmie grows in gradual but meaningful ways. You continue to touch people’s lives through the vitality of your music, your video archives, the resonance of your witness, and - I think too - by your “personal closeness,” which for us is “veiled” by the “separation” between the conditions of our existence in this present world (still journeying on the road of this life) and the transformation that comes for those who have persevered to the end and now “rest in peace” with God. These words are so often taken to mean “the end,” because we have forgotten that the “peace of God” is the opposite of a dull inertia; it is “life” in the fullest sense, the life for which each of us has been made. 

We still journey toward this fullness of life, we strive for it, we hope for it. Yet, although I know that nothing we do can “conjure you back” into the limits of this present world (and we would only delude ourselves by trying), I also believe that you and all our loved ones who have passed on from this life are “much closer to us” in our daily concerns and struggles than we realize or can even imagine. Love touches (in obscure ways) your closeness to us, dear Christina, accompanying us within our hearts, which are the mysterious depths of ourselves, in many ways beyond even our own understanding. But this is enough for interpersonal connection to endure, and even for friendship to be discovered and sustained. We usually experience our love for you mixed with sorrow, because we can’t find you in our hearts according to the ways we measure things in this life. 

You, however, can find us and help us, and it’s possible that we may from time to time be struck and surprised by something like a “hint” of your closeness and care for us, in a more or less obscure way that we might not be able to separate from our own imagination or ordinary processes of psychological association. But for love, for friendship, for inspiration this is sufficient for us (even though we can’t help wishing we could “see you again” in the earthly way). And it is not entirely foreign to our hearts to want to “speak freely” with you, and to ask you - as we would any trusted friend - to pray for us to the Lord, and to pray with us. That is why I’m addressing this post to you, Christina. Even though I’m sharing this with friends, this is not a “literary device” - an abstract “reflection” in the form of a letter to someone who doesn’t exist. By the power of God, you receive my words, and will “respond” in the obscure but real language of the love that transcends this world but can still reach the hearts of those who still journey within it.

I have never had anything even remotely like an out-of-the-ordinary “hint” of your presence and concern for me, Christina (certainly nothing like the experience I once had of my father in a dream). I never met you personally while you were in this world. And yet, after six years, I love you so much, and I am so grateful for you. I also think that you know me and love me, and that you love my family, especially my youngest daughter Josefina who is 15 years old. I may be an overly sentimental man with an overactive imagination, but I am certain that none of that provides an adequate explanation for my regarding you as a true friend. I simply would not sustain a project of my own imagination for this long. It’s something much more: you are a “presence” in my life.

Your witness has changed my life, and you continue to “help” me to see meaning in my suffering, and encourage me to trust in God even when terrible things happen. You have awakened my heart to a hope for the younger generations (including my kids’ generation) that I didn’t have before. You have helped me to see that the future of our society is not without hope, that the light still shines in the darkness, in deep places of darkness that I thought it couldn’t penetrate. I can’t point to any particular video or song or gesture and say “there it is; that’s what makes Christina Grimmie different — that’s what makes her so special” in this personal sense (musically it’s a different story -- musically you were prodigious, incredible, a legend, but that’s obvious to anyone who will listen). It’s the “whole Christina” who is extraordinary as a person: it shines through in your whole self, not only your faith, generosity, and openness to people, but also in all the peculiarities of your life that I don’t “get” because I’m a man nearing 60 years old and I don’t understand certain things about you any more than I do about my own kids. 

You were a kid who played all these video games and was into all this Anime stuff which I find mostly perplexing and strange (though my daughter got me to watch Death Note with her, and I thought it was amazing, and deeply provoking about fundamental questions of being human and the use and abuse of power - like Dostoevsky in a 21st century cartoon). To sum up, you were a regular girl in the 21st century, with a very special musical gift, a passionate yet reasonable ambition to succeed with it, and many other qualities I know nothing about. You loved Christ and you kept you faith the best you knew how, probably making lots of mistakes but getting up again and persisting and desiring to follow the Lord. Above all your faith shaped you, it was the joy in all you did, it was the impetus that was transforming all your concerns into a vocation to love and give yourself, to go deeper, to love the Lord and others (especially your frands) radically, beyond the “limits” of ordinary human love. And I think that extraordinary love moved you and was with you in the end…

Christina Grimmie, you were a human being, deeply human but also different - by which I mean “different” in a way that points toward what my own heart yearns for: you loved greatly, you gave of yourself and welcomed and affirmed others with such vitality, because you had a powerful awareness of the immenseness of God’s love for you in Christ, and of God’s love for everyone. That’s what struck me about you, and after watching many videos and reading many posts it finally got through to me, that there was something extraordinary, even heroic, about your life.

Thank you, Christina. Thank you for everything.

Much has happened since 2016. Many of your young frands have grown up in the past six years. Four of the five Janaro “kids” are now adults, and there is also a granddaughter who will grow up knowing your legacy and being enriched by it. As for myself, I am overwhelmingly grateful for every day and for all of my life. I have been blessed beyond anything I deserve. Christina, you have taught me so much about gratitude. You are a constant encouragement for the possibility of giving joyfully of myself every day, and receiving with wonder and gratitude the gifts that the Lord constantly gives us, especially through the beauty of the persons He entrusts to us.

God is good, all the time. Even (especially) when we don’t know “where He is” or why He allows “terrible things to happen” in the world, and in our own lives. Christina, you knew this well. You lived most of your life with your Mom suffering from cancer, and with countless other trials that we don’t know.  You had a heart for suffering people of all kinds. I am writing these words from my bed, where I have been constrained to spend more and more of my time over the past six years. Decades of wrestling with debilitating chronic illnesses (among which are the persistent effects of Lyme Disease that remained too long untreated) are slowly wearing me down as I grow older. I don’t have much physical or emotional energy, and I need to take lots of time to accomplish little things. But it’s not so bad. I can’t teach in the classroom anymore, I can’t travel much, but I have found other ways to serve: the part of my brain that works is pretty strong and I can still read, research, and write (though writing seems to be getting harder too). I have time to appreciate and be with my wife and family. Doors have closed but windows have opened in my life, and I do my best, day by day. Christina, there have been many days when you, and the resonance of your great love, have helped to keep me going when I felt like giving up.

My beloved wife is a Montessori teacher/guide and she loves her work. She is more precious to me than anyone. Our family is mostly well, but our 23-year-old daughter has some sort of kidney problem that is baffling doctors; she’s doing okay for now with the help of medications that young women don’t usually take. We hope and pray the doctors can figure out what’s wrong and make her better. Please join us in this prayer.

In these years, my father (2019) and my mother (2021) have both passed away. They were both over 80 years old, but it’s never easy to say goodbye to a parent, and I don’t seen to know how to grieve. I miss them so much! There is such a wide spectrum of thought and feelings that have swept over me in mourning my parents, but these feelings often get “pushed into a corner” by the onrush of new dramatic events, and the changes in the structure of my own life. Personal grief is woven into the fabric of so many other concerns: the strangeness of Covid in these last two surreal years which has been stressful and upending for all of us, and has taken the lives of several wonderful people in our community; the intense (but also happy) evolution of my family with kids graduating university, my son’s marriage, and one of my daughter’s engagement and her upcoming wedding this summer, and the birth and growing of my first grandchild, which has opened a whole new world to my wife and I after so many years and experiences; but also many others sorrows, and now this awful war that rages piteously in Ukraine and threatens to set the world on fire.

Dear Christina, my community in particular has suffered in ways I know are especially close to your own heart: we have seen several recent tragedies with young people - children of my friends, including just the other day a young man who was a schoolmate and friend of my own kids, 23-years-old, victim of a crime (I still don’t know all the details), killed by gun violence. He was a teacher and a young man with a beautiful heart. Our community is in shock right now, but there are many who are helping and will continue to help the family. Nevertheless, just knowing that the Christina Grimmie Foundation exists is already like a light penetrating this senseless darkness. I’ll see if they want to connect, or in any case just let them know that the Foundation is there for them.

In these times, we need community more than ever. Christina, your legacy continues to build community and foster friendships among people all over the world. The preciousness of these bonds will become more necessary, but also more beautiful, in times to come.

Happy Birthday Christina Grimmie. Thank you for everything!💚

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ask and You Shall Receive….

Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, who are ­wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

‘Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.’ ”

~Matthew 7:7-12

What a splendid Gospel passage from Thursday’s liturgy. It seems, at first glance, so simple. Yet it can be very difficult to ask God for the strength or insight we need in order to recognize His enduring love for us, even in the most difficult times.

Jesus stresses again here that God is our Father. The truth of the relationship between parents and children is a symbol of the profound love that He has for each one of us.

Still, we find it hard to ask God to take over our lives. We don’t “trust Him” with our vulnerability and our needs (above all, our need for Him). How do we know that the Infinite Mystery that gives us existence really has particular concern for His creatures? Life seems so appallingly strange, and it can be hard to see the workings of Divine Love in so many circumstances. Love is mysterious in its ways, and we are sometimes tempted to be discouraged. How often it feels as if God’s love has passed us by in silence.

Often we lack trust in God because we feel like we are alone, facing a reality that overwhelms us.

In fact, what enables us to remember God’s steadfast love, His fidelity to His promises, His inexhaustible goodness… is Jesus. We need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, lived in communion with His (and our) brothers and sisters. Jesus is God dwelling with us; He is the answer to all the longings of our hearts and the medicine that heals all our wounds.

We are never “alone.”

Never give up asking, seeking, knocking. Even (especially) when catastrophe seems suddenly to fall upon our lives, when we are afflicted by irreplaceable losses. God is faithful. Let us ask, seek, and knock unceasingly, from the depths of our agony and incomprehension. In these times, we experience our own poverty. And we know that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

“They Are Many…”

As people around the world honored women on this day, Pope Francis’s Instagram account posted this in multiple languages:

Monday, March 7, 2022

Happy Birthday, “Nana”!☺️

Eileen’s birthday was actually March 5th, but we celebrated it all weekend. For this birthday, there is a new and very special little source of happiness in her life. Her granddaughter Maria loves her very much! (And so do I, along with the whole family.❤️⭐️)

Friday, March 4, 2022

This is a “Special Operation”

The title of this abstract piece is “Special Operation, March 2022.” So much of the intuition and expressiveness of art can’t be put into words. In any case, a work of art (even when it’s “thematic”) is always more than any interpretation. The essential thing is to see it (or hear it), not to understand it.

When it becomes illegal to speak the truth, and/or when words are rendered banal, vacuous, and mendacious, genuine artistic expression still remains possible, and may indeed become all the more eloquent.

“Special Operation, March 2022” …

Thursday, March 3, 2022

God Gives Us Our Freedom

Here is the very rich Collect Prayer for today: Our actions have meaning and are most truly our own when they are inspired, sustained, and brought to fulfillment in the healing and transforming grace of God our Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Notes on Lent and Easter, West and East

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent for most Western Christians, which includes the very distinctive service of distribution of ashes on the foreheads of believers in the numerically predominant Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. The Roman “rite” is the largest and by far most globally extensive nexus of liturgical, theological, and spiritual traditions of churches and bishops in full communion with the Successor of Saint Peter, the Pope.

This year especially, it’s worth noting that there are other churches that acknowledge Papal primacy and are fully and visibly part of the Catholic Church, that have their own distinctive “rites” rooted in ancient traditions from the Middle East, the Byzantine world, and other regions. These include what is often called the “Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church,” the largest group of Catholics in Ukraine, who do not observe “Ash Wednesday,” and who will celebrate Easter a week later than the Roman rite churches, because their liturgical calendar corresponds to the “Eastern Orthodox” churches (which are not in full communion with Rome, and which include the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, and the recently established Orthodox Church of Ukraine).

Ukrainian Catholics also make up a significant portion of the “Ukrainian Diaspora,” notably in the USA and Canada, made up of Ukrainian refugees and their descendants who left their homeland during the brutal persecutions of Stalin and the ravages of Nazi and Soviet aggression during World War II. In particular, Stalin forcibly suppressed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 1946, resulting in martyrdoms in his notorious Gulag, and driving others who remained faithful to it underground or into exile. Most (many?) Ukrainian Catholic Churches in North America (correct me if I’m wrong) follow the same liturgical dates for Easter as other Western Christians, which means that they began Lent this past Monday, February 28. In Ukraine itself, however, Lent begins on Monday, March 7. 

The Ukrainian Greek (“Byzantine”) Catholic Church, especially in Western Ukraine, has enjoyed a significant revival in recent decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, and now has cordial ecumenical relations with the much larger majority of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, whose spiritual and liturgical traditions they share very closely, but with whom there is not full communion because there remains the shadow of a thousand years of “historical weight” following upon the tragic Byzantine-Roman separation of 1054 and the multitude of conflicts that ensued over the course of centuries. Orthodox Christians today don’t recognize the Pope’s primacy of jurisdiction, and are often governed by national hierarchies. Ukrainian Catholics, while known for their Ukrainian patriotism, are also strong adherents to the Successor of Saint Peter.

Confused? That would be understandable. No doubt it’s very confusing to the former KGB late-Soviet-era apparatchik who today seems to want to wield the power of the imperial throne, to be the new “Autocrat of All the Russias.” May God change his heart, and the hearts of his enablers, before he plunges further into this awful catastrophe.

Undoubtedly, the present war against Ukraine is drawing all Ukrainian Christians, and all her citizens of good will, closer together.

Meanwhile Pope Francis has requested that today be observed as a day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine. Roman-rite Catholics already pray and fast for this first day of Lent, but we can offer this Ash Wednesday especially for Ukraine, for an end to the aggression, for all who are suffering from its consequences. But Francis’s invitation to pray and fast is extended to everyone, to all Christians, to every human person who wishes to make this small gesture of solidarity with the victims of war, and of imploring God to save them - and everyone - from the escalation of violence and destruction.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

“Those Who Wage War Forget Humanity”

Those who wage war forget humanity. They do not start from the people, they do not look at the real life of people, but place partisan interests and power before all else. They trust in the diabolical and perverse logic of weapons, which is the furthest from the logic of God. And they distance themselves from ordinary people, who want peace, and who – the ordinary people – are the real victims in every conflict, who pay for the follies of war with their own skin. I think of the elderly, of those who seek refuge in these times, of mothers fleeing with their children… They are brothers and sisters for whom it is urgent to open humanitarian corridors, and who must be welcomed. With a heart broken by what is happening in Ukraine – and let us not forget the wars in other parts of the world, such as Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia... – I repeat: put down your weapons! God is with the peacemakers, not with those who use violence. Because those who love peace, as the Italian Constitution states, ‘reject war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes’.”

~Pope Francis, 2/27/22