Sunday, April 30, 2023

“Jesus the Good Shepherd Calls Us By Name”

Pope Francis in Hungary on “Good Shepherd Sunday” (Fourth Sunday of Easter).

Saturday, April 29, 2023

“The Human Glory of Christ in History”

Somewhere in the Dialogues of Saint Catherine of Siena (if I remember correctly) there are words attributed to God that seem to require some sort of ontological “caveat,” but in fact only need to be placed within their proper context. They are human words that struggle to carry the “weight” of supernatural mystical experience—where affectivity bursts the boundaries of human language and is expressed paradoxically. Thus, when we read the Lord saying to Catherine, “I am He Who Is, and you are she-who-is-not this is not intended as a philosophical proposition denying the reality of created being. Rather, it represents a mystical experience of the radical and total dependence of a created human being on the Absolute Being of God—the transcendent Being whom we cannot contain, but who loves us, who is our Father.

This reminds me of the text we have been working on in our School of Community, which is taken from the annual Spiritual Exercises given 25 years ago by Father Luigi Giussani to the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. I’m not sure of my memory of this retreat in particular (from 1998) but I do recall participating “remotely” (through recordings) in the retreats Giussani gave in his final years, as he grew weaker with illness and old age. These texts are particularly rich, and also difficult, but they are worth the effort of our attention and prayer as we revisit them in the present day. Guissani’s witness as he grew closer to his death was increasingly “condensed” and experientially synthetic, and therefore perhaps less accessible to those seeking fluid discourse free of paradox. Guissani’s whole life was a continual witness to the miracle of God the Word made flesh, who reveals His love by making possible for us a life beyond the boundaries of what we think we can do “by ourselves,” who empowers us precisely through our surrendering of ourselves to Him, our letting-go of our egocentric claims and pretenses to be the source of our own power.

In the remarkable excerpt below, I have attempted to layer clauses and reordered certain words, so as—I hope—to convey something of how these words remain with me and have been shedding light on my own life right now. The glory of the Lord would seem to overwhelm us, even “annihilate” us, so that we experience the truth that we are “nothing-in-ourselves.” Yet it is this same glory—the glory of Infinite Love—that makes us to exist and to act “in His image,” and is expressed in His coming to dwell with us, live for us, die for us, rise for us. Nothing in human experience and human history is meaningless because nothing is outside the glory of Christ. At the heart of every moment, Jesus asks for our self-surrender, our “yes” to Him, and our loving adherence to He who is Love, who has loved us.

The text below is from Luigi Giussani, To Give One’s Life for the Work of Another, p. 73:

“[We cannot live] without the positivity, 
the indomitable, unsleeping, irreducible creativity 
that in every moment, before any difficulty whatsoever, 
finds its origin, its source in the reality of Christ present in his Church…
Let's ask this inexhaustible mercy who is Christ, 
to be able to renew our awareness of the gratitude we owe to Christ, 
of the gratitude we owe to the Church, our mother, 
but most of all of the complete surrender to God, 
of that complete surrender… in Him as God, in Christ as God, 
in God a complete surrender. 
It is man's last possible breath…
Paradoxically, [in this surrender] man finds the image of his existing, 
the awareness of his existing for the human glory of Christ in history. 
May we live this surrender to the Mystery, to Christ in our activities, 
to the Mystery that revealed Itself in that man, 
and may we be filled with wonder 
so as to feel Saint Peter's ‘Yes’ (Yes, Lord, I love you
emerging from the bottom of our hearts. 
This attitude is the marvelous novelty 
that a Christian must give proof of everywhere he goes, 
for the human glory of Christ in history. 
The more this change is seen, the more glory will be given to Christ, 
the glory of Christ in history will be discovered, wanted, 
consciously loved above everything else.”

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The “Shenandoah Spring” Digital Art Series 2023

Welcome to my “virtual exhibition” for April 2023. It has been a peculiar month for weather, with a variety of conditions and temperatures. We’ve reached as high as the ‘80s (F) but have also had a few night freezes, even as we near the end of the month. We have had some beautiful sunshine, although lately it has been rain rain rain. “April showers,” indeed.

By this time in Spring, nothing can prevent the riot of blooming things and growing things from taking over the landscape. Flowers show their brief splendor (I have already featured some flower photographs), and even the most hesitant of the big maples and sycamores spread their green canopies. The dormant grass comes to life and shoots up, so that lawn mowers can be heard buzzing all over the neighborhood.

Here are four “virtual artworks” from JJStudios, all worked from foundations in original photos, using digital art tools. They are titled all “Shenandoah Spring” and respectively “No. 1,” “No. 2 (Breezy Autumn Afternoon),” “No. 3,” and “No. 4 (Blurry and Wet).” They are also chronological, from the beginning of April to the present (as I said, it has been rainy lately).

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Following the Path of Life

Collect, Saturday of the Second Week of Easter: 

O God, who willed that through the paschal mysteries the gates of mercy should stand open for your faithful, look upon us and have mercy, that as we follow, by your gift, the way you desire for us, so may we never stray from the paths of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”

Gospel Alleluia for Tuesday of the second week of the Easter Season:

In these holy days, we continue to beg the Lord for the deep joy of His Risen Presence, in astonishment and gratitude for the gift of Himself—He who is “the life of our lives,” and the source of every blessing—and in the midst of our own sufferings, especially in the wounds unjustly inflicted upon us. Even if those wounds “remain” as hindrances to us, they also open us up to following Jesus in the works of mercy, in loving and forgiving our “enemies.”

As we have already noted in these reflections, it is the Crucified Jesus who rises, with His open wounds transfigured forever in His glorified body as signs of His endless and inexhaustible forgiveness.

In His new life, we are drawn into the love of the Father in the Holy Spirit. As partakers of the Divine life, children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, renewed ever more profoundly by the gift of the Spirit, we will be healed by His mercy and given the capacity to “see” our neighbors in a new way—the way God sees them. In the light of God’s merciful love, we will no longer want to cling to our divisions and conflicts, our resentment, our grudges and our injuries and the weapons we use to inflict them. Instead we will find in God’s love the power to forgive one another.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Rejoicing in Hope: Easter and Our Suffering Today

The Easter Season continues to proclaim the joy of the resurrection. Christ is Risen… even if we feel that our lives in this world are wrecked beyond repair. Jesus has defeated death, and our trust in Him is authentic and reasonable because we have come to know Him and adhere to Him in a loving faith, sustained and strengthened in us by the working of the Holy Spirit, even as we groan in misery under the burden of so many afflictions and troubles in this present life, in these strange chaotic times.

So many of us feel overwhelmed in this Easter Season of 2023. How can we find the profound joy of His Risen Presence when our own suffering goes on and on and on, resisting human efforts to ameliorate it or protect ourselves against it? On top of everything else, there is perhaps a certain subjective “emotional let-down,” a psycho-physiological disappointment that after celebrating the Paschal mysteries of our redemption with such intensity, we seem to remain with the same stubborn flaws, the same impatience, the same narrow self-centeredness, and prone to the same petty and stupid sins as before. It is humbling to realize how much we are still struggling. But we are not struggling alone; we are being purified and transformed by the love of God, which brings its own kind of suffering, but also shapes and gives meaning to all our sufferings as a participation in the Cross of Christ. No matter how awful we feel, no matter what afflicts us in these days, we must not give in to discouragement. Easter helps us to remember that the meaning of our lives is not grounded on our own limited powers but on the gift of Another who creates us from nothingness and saves us from death so that we may share forever His eternal life. The Risen Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit who leads us away from discouragement and into the true life of God, the truth of ourselves: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).

In Christ we have the hope of joy—which is “already” an initial stirring of joy, because we could never have imagined this promise of eternal life and unconquerable joy to be possible if we had not encountered Him, if He had not claimed us for Himself in baptism and renewed us continually through the life of His Church. Our longing for “more” in life may often be painful and obscure, but it is not a longing that ends in emptiness or absurdity. We long for the fulfillment of what He has begun in us. We have been “saved in hope,” and we must “wait with endurance” to “see” the final fulfillment of our hope (Romans 8:24-25).

This all might seem a bit remote on those days when we feel like we have been hammered on the head with a shovel over and over again. It’s really hard, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. Perhaps the only thing we can do at such times is “cry out” in pain (and maybe even our cries are muted). But behind, beyond, and within our moments of powerlessness, God our Father is loving us. He hears the cry of His child, “Abba!” He sends His Spirit to deepen the desire of our hearts for our true inheritance, eternal life with Jesus Christ His Son and our brother.

We groan especially in the evening of our lives, at the increasingly vivid and relentless diminishing of our earthly strength—at what is inevitably the “loss of ourselves” to the limited life of this world. But our Father hears the Spirit praying in us (if we do not drive the Spirit away by willful bitterness, resentment, or despair), the Spirit who prays within our afflicted spirits in “groans too deep for words” (see Romans 8:26). Jesus our joy remains with us, even if we find no apprehension of joyfulness in our reflexive self-consciousness—which ordinarily cannot help being “filled up” with the excessive stress and exhaustion of 21st century mechanically-extended and electronically-amplified life, as well as the whole spectrum of human suffering that we each endure on the path to our destiny.

The resurrection proclaims, nevertheless, the victory of the love of God poured out on the Cross. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Saint Paul cries out. “Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ [And all of us have experienced this, at least in some “metaphorical” way—although real, personal, and inescapable for each of us because it is our own suffering, our own need for salvation. But Saint Paul tells us that we do not need to be afraid. God holds us in His love that is greater than every kind of pain, illness, anxiety, helplessness, the threats of enemies, the crimes of war, the violence of revenge, the agony of loneliness, the injustices that cannot be overcome, the tortures of dictators, the concentration camps and gulags, the stupefying noise and ugliness and stench of a world that humans build when they ignore God and make themselves masters of everything according to their own measure… if we are poor and afflicted and reaching for the God of salvation in the midst of all the horrors and all the suffering, we must let Him grab hold of us and place our trust in Him, with the hope of joy, for victory is at hand.] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Jesus Christ is Risen! Trust in Him, and rejoice!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

War, Forgiveness, and Easter: The Victory of Crucified Love

It is Easter Week for Orthodox Christians all over the world, including those who live in various politically independent Eastern Slavic nations.

We are not called to judge the heart. God alone sees the heart. So there is no sense in trying to imagine how anyone could participate in the Divine Liturgy of Great and Glorious Pascha on Sunday, while holding in his or her heart plans to murder, rape, or force into exile his or her Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters on Monday. Or any other persons who share the humanity of Christ. God have mercy on us all. This is the most direct reflection I can offer right now about the war in Ukraine. 

On the other hand, those who are the victims of war experience another kind of “challenge” in celebrating Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death. They are crying out for a “savior,” for whom they feel an immediate, visceral, concrete need. They are broken not only by their own sins, but also by the wounds inflicted upon them by the violence of others. How do they find the voice to sing “Alleluia” in the midst of these ruins, and in the expectation of more destruction still to come from their relentless oppressors? 

These questions arise in many hearts this Easter—questions that are conscious and urgent especially in people who are suffering in the midst of the brutality of the war of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, as well as other people who suffer because of any of the seemingly-irresolvable conflicts of various kinds that rage all over the world today. But these questions would remain—along with so much loss, injury, trauma, and multiple needs for healing—even if (God willing) these afflicted people were to be rescued tomorrow, or if some kind of peace allowed them to live once again in freedom and without danger in their own nations, or (depending on the level of interpersonal or communal violence they have endured) to live in security and tranquillity and at least the hope of an equitable restoration of what they have lost. In any case, they might find it difficult to appreciate the meaning of “salvation through Jesus Christ” (words which are so easy for us to say) when they are looking for clean bandages, or food, or help with crippling PSTD. 

They won’t get very much help from “words about” the resurrection, spoken carelessly at a distance. They need us to help them, to stay with them, to listen to them, to accompany them… somehow. We need to remember our brothers and sisters in their sorrows, even if we are not in a position to “do” anything else for them at this time. I can’t “do” much for them, but my heart is with them; in the circumstances of my own relatively mild but insuperable restrictions, my heart is with them, in my poor “solidarity” which I sustain as best I can. I’m pondering and trying to express what they need, which is a kind of “solidarity,” and it is also inseparable from what I really need, what every human person needs.

We need to be saved by the Word Incarnate, because we are bodily beings. Jesus makes it very clear to the disciples that He is not a ghost. He is transformed but totally, concretely human. He is a man with a body—the same man the disciples knew before—who has conquered sin and death and evil. He is glorified in His humanity, which is a mystery, but one that gives “more weight” to this real humanity rather than detracting from it. Here it is important for us to see that the Risen Lord does not “undo” His crucifixion; He rises with His wounds (hands, feet, side) in His glorified body, wounds transfigured by Divine Mercy, to be forever signs of His forgiveness.

For the victims of war—and in often hidden ways for all of us, because we all have wounds and we all hurt one another—the disfigurement, the pain, the bitterness, and the anger may last long after the wounds become scars. But we who have been wounded must not allow ourselves to be reduced and defined by these scars on our bodies and/or on our memories—to allow them to diminish our adherence to the truth about our lives in our relationship to our destiny, the fulfillment of our true selves which has already begun, and is already shaping us in the present moment. 

The Risen Jesus shows us His wounds, and reveals to us that our own wounds have meaning. The Kingdom of God manifests itself, the world begins to be transformed into the New Creation, when—in union with Jesus crucified and risen—we forgive those who have injured us, we love our enemies, we pray for our persecutors. This does not mean we ignore injustice, trying to pretend the wounds are not there. What we seek is the conversion of our enemies—not only that in their sorrow they might try to repair what they can of the damage they have done to us—but fundamentally that our enemies might become our friends, together with us in the Body of the Risen Lord, united in His forgiveness that brings new life—eternal life.

This is an unimaginably difficult attitude to expect from anyone whose city has been bombed, whose family has been raped and killed and buried in unmarked graves, whose cultural heritage has been trampled underfoot and whose entire people have been targeted—whether by the bullets or other simpler tools of mass executions, or by indiscriminate bombing (whether nuclear or “conventional”), or by poison gas, or by artificial famine, or (more subtly) by a “re-education” that brainwashes them into forgetting their cultural memory or at least forces them to conform. Survivors and resistors of such things understandably might wonder: “Forgive our enemies? What does that mean?”

It means many profound things. But it begins with the determination never to cease respecting their enemies as persons, who possess fundamentally an inherent, gratuitous, and indestructible dignity no matter what they have done. It begins with the determination not to seek vengeance, not to respond to violence with violence. It means that however repulsive, foul, and personally injurious the enemy’s deeds are—whatever swirl of emotions and horrors they stir up, however revolted one feels by the very thought of them—one will firmly refuse to hate the person of the enemy. One endeavors to overcome hate with love. Self-defense does not require hate; it does not in itself constitute an act of violence against a person, even though the use of defensive force to stop the enemy may have the effect of causing physical harm to the enemy. But one must resist the inclination to choose for its own sake the harm the enemy suffers, to relish it, to permit it to become the motivation and driving force of self-defense.

This kind of disposition to love and forgive—this heroic non-violent interior discipline—is rarely found in its perfect form, but humans today should be able to see that it is worth pursuing as best as possible—even in the face of an invasion and the need for people to protect themselves, their communities, and their homeland by using physical “force” (which, in itself, is not violence) and even by fighting a defensive war. We must oppose the violence being perpetrated against us in ways that—even if they require the large employment of physical force—leave space for the enemy aggressor’s conversion, and at least do not conflict with the love that actively seeks their conversion, their abandonment of violence, and their willingness to change and—with sorrow—seek forgiveness and turn toward the work of restoring peace and amity. The alternative is the inevitable nurturing of resentment, enmity, counter-aggression, and the perpetuation of violence. Mutual atrocities and hatred will then be passed down the generations, and the cycle of violence will become more deeply impressed upon peoples who are supposed to live as neighbors. In the emerging epoch of power, entrenched mutual hatred endangers the survival of everyone. We have no choice but to begin to learn to govern our hearts with a more adequate and integral wisdom. 

It is possible to forgive people from the heart while still holding them responsible for their evil acts, calling upon them to be converted, and to repair as much as they can the damage they have done. Crimes (and criminals) must also be punished by relevant political authorities in proportion to the harm they have inflicted on the common good. Forgiveness is a process that includes justice but that is also able to “surpass” it. It is a kind of “opening” for the transfiguring power of love—mercy—to touch people’s lives, to help the world, and initiate the miracle of healing. Only the redeeming love of Jesus Christ is capable of initiating this dynamic of forgiveness. Christ fulfills all justice, because He died on the Cross for every person and shed His blood to atone for every sin, our own sins and the sins our enemies (however awful they have been). The unity of the human race, and the true brother-and-sisterhood of every person, is founded upon and fulfilled only in the Heart of Jesus.

Many humans who are not Christians recognize the personal and social power of forgiveness, and its necessity for healing and restoring human community. “Non-violence” is a very difficult but viable social proposal that has been developed and appreciated by people of many diverse religious traditions (Gandhi is the most obvious example, but there are many others) as well as people who identify as non-religious. We all must have deep respect and reverence for the whole human experience, for every precious handing-on of the habits, the sensibility, the particular aspects of truth, goodness, and beauty that have contributed to the growth of awareness of the dignity of the human person in individuals, cultures, and throughout the world. I will only add that Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, and the ultimate fulfillment of every human person. Therefore, I believe that wherever and by whatever means human dignity is recognized, the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ is “working” by His Spirit, in ways that are known to Him even if they are not evident to us. He is the Word of the Father, through whom and for whom all things have been created. 

This confers no “bragging rights” on Christians; rather, it humbles us. We are charged to bear witness to Him—not to coerce, or exalt our peculiar human customs, or carry out violence in His name. It is a witness to the mysterious, pervasive, all-encompassing love of the One who has emptied Himself, poured Himself out in inexhaustible love for all of us. The Lord of History is Jesus, a man who allowed himself to become powerless, a man who died and forgave those who killed him. He rose from the dead, indeed, but with his wounds opened. He is Love. He does not work by violence. He loves. He is forgiveness.

We are a world at war—within ourselves, in our families, our communities, our workplaces, our polarized societies, politics, cultures, and—of course—in the overflow of rage and chaos that comes with the violence of nations attacking other nations, with weapons and destruction, atrocities and crimes against humanity, genocide. We cry out to the Lord to show us His unfathomable mercy, we cry out from the awful abyss of the horrors we have inflicted on one another and ourselves, from all the destruction we have wreaked that seems beyond anything we can do to repair it.

But God has come to dwell with us, to be with us even here (especially here!), to raise us from death to a new life, to reveal the glory of His Love that makes all things possible.

The forever “open” wounds of the Risen Jesus are our hope for true peace and reconciliation.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

My Prayer on This Divine Mercy Sunday

Dear Jesus, we live in tumultuous times that make us particularly aware of our need for Your mercy.

Have mercy on us and save us from all our sins. Heal us, restore us, renew us as children of the Father, as Your brothers and sisters, created in Your image and destined for eternal life. In Your mercy, pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us so that we might live in newness of life. Let our lives be illuminated by the Spirit, that we might see all things in the light of the Father’s love and mercy—which means to see all things as they really are.

Have mercy on the whole world! Grant that every human person will come to know you and be transformed by your love. Grant that we might live in mercy for one another, and recognize Your presence in our brothers and sisters. 

Please, Lord, bring true peace to the places where war rages, and protect the poor and the weak from the many forms of violence that crush human lives and stop human hearts from beating. Have mercy on all those who are suffering, and open our eyes and our hearts to solidarity and compassion with them.

Have mercy on our world, and save us from the titanic powers we have unleashed in this new epoch—powers that have become our masters, that distort and uproot everything instead of being governed by wisdom unto the service of sustaining and building up a more beautiful, more human world. 

Save us from forgetfulness of the human person, from forgetfulness of the true value of human work in all its forms, and all the ways that the person invests his or herself in the construction of human environments and institutions. Save our world from forgetting the value of essential continuity in the midst of change, and the need to foster patiently the organic growth of human institutions into a civil society that reflects the light of the Gospel and opens up to the transforming presence of You, Jesus, the Lord of all creation and the fulfillment of all that is truly human. 

Help us to remember the Divine glory manifested in Your victory over sin and death, and its superabundant richness that fills and overflows all our hopes and aspirations; the newness of Your merciful love that has already begun to transfigure our lives and reveal their true meaning. 

Save us from forgetting your victory, and shrinking into the narrow tunnels of our own whims and anxieties and ambitions. Do not allow us to become slaves to the idols of money, quick external success, and vain prestige. Save us from all clamorous criteria that pretend to measure the value of our lives and our work today, but will pass away tomorrow—from all the recklessness of constant arbitrary change, from our obsession with conformity to the latest trends, from the ruthless dynamic of constant social revolution that leads to the disappearance of vital human persons and communities and the devastation of the earth that has been entrusted to our stewardship. 

Save us from the condition of radical loneliness and alienation, bereft of the love and trust of human connection—human communion—unaware of our own dignity, and forced into a dehumanizing conformity to whatever suffocating ideology is imposed by those in power.

Save us from all evil, and embrace us in the abyss of your most compassionate Heart.

Have mercy on us, and on the whole world.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Growing Things of Spring

From the trees and the bushes and the ground, flowers bloom and leaves take shape. Spring 2023 is here! (Photographs by JJ)

Monday, April 10, 2023

Christina Grimmie and the Resurrection

Young singer/songwriter/musician Christina Grimmie loved Easter, and joyfully shared her faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Today, Easter Monday, marks 6 years and 10 months since she was taken from this earthly life at the age of only 22. 

On the dark horizon of so much violence and death in today’s world, Christina’s giving of herself in love every day—and ultimately in the mercy of “welcoming a stranger”—shines like a bright beautiful star that continues to point to the hope of the resurrection.🎵💚

We are all human persons made to love and to be loved. We all seek the fulfillment of happiness and meaning, knowing it is beyond our power but hoping and longing to receive it as a Gift. Christina’s beautiful heart continues to be a sign that amazes us and speaks to our hearts the promise that there is “something more…”—her precious life continues to remind us that ultimate beauty is a gift, that absolute Love is a gift that endures beyond all hatred, violence, and destruction—and that we do not long for it in vain.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter Sunday 2023

We’re all together on this beautiful day. Happy Easter Sunday to everyone! Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen, Alleluia! Alleluia!

Friday, April 7, 2023

A (Virtual) Visit to Rome for “Holy Friday”

In recent years, I have made use of streaming audiovisual media in order to have some share in the liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. I am glad to make it to my parish church every Sunday (it is sometimes my only “public outing” of the week), as I shall also do on Easter Sunday. For the other wonderful Triduum liturgies, however, I am grateful to be linked through media to these celebrations which would be too difficult in my condition to attend in person.

Nearly 30 years ago, I was living in Rome, and the city will always remain rooted in my heart. Thanks to the Vatican News YouTube channel, I can see and hear the Good Friday liturgy “at Saint Peter’s Basilica.” Although it began a bit early in the day in the USA, the live-stream enriched the whole rest of the day.

After it ended, I “rewound” at my leisure to take some screenshots. Everything here comes “courtesy of” Vatican News (and I’m counting on them to be very courteous indeed, since I didn’t ask for permission—but I am presuming that the educational, edifying, and entirely nonprofit purposes of this tiny blog are sufficient that they would say, “va bene”😉).

If you have not been to Rome, you must go. Until then, here are some images from the service.

Entering Saint Peter’s is stunning even after it becomes familiar. And though it glitters and is filled with masterpieces of art, we must never forget that it’s a church. It belongs to the worship of God and to all the people of the city and the world, free of charge.


Here bishops, priests, and people wait for the liturgy to begin.


Pope Francis, with concelebrants, deacons, and acolytes, enters from behind the altar. The wheelchair remains necessary for his knee and leg problems, but otherwise he is in good health once again.


The first reading is proclaimed, from the “Suffering Servant Song” in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. “He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed” (Isaiah 53:  ).


The choir chants the Responsorial Psalm 31. “Into your hands I commend my spirit.


Two older (probably European) bishops join in the responses. Behind them are two young seminarians; one appears to be Asian and the other African. The Church gathers the peoples of the whole world into Christ’s Body.


The chanting in Latin of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John’s Gospel (chs 18-19).


The homily is preached by Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, who has been the Preacher to the Papal Household for longer than I can remember. It’s always good to see and hear him!


After the Good Friday Intercessions, the procession begins for that very precious feature of the ancient Good Friday Liturgy, “the Adoration of the Holy Cross.” I’m not the only person so struck by this beautiful crucifix to be moved to “take pictures” of it. In the crowd you can see mobile devices everywhere held aloft. More closeups below, from Vatican Media’s top notch videographers:


The Cross is brought to Pope Francis.

After the 86-year-old Bishop of Rome kisses the Cross, it is presented to a representative group of the people individually, and then held up once more to the whole congregation for silent prayer.


The Cross is placed on the altar. Another procession enters with the Eucharist—already consecrated at the Holy Thursday liturgy (here is the one instance in the restored Latin rite where the ancient practice is followed that has been in use continually—at selected times, including Holy Week—in the Eastern Churches, where it is called the “liturgy of the presanctified gifts”).

I am moved by the profile of our holy and devoted Pope Francis, whose has served Christ his whole life in often difficult circumstances in Argentina, who was often misunderstood, who grappled with many conflicts in society and the Church, and who has now given to the Lord, to Rome, and to the whole world the ardent and tireless service of this past decade in the evening of his long life. Let us continue to thank God for him and to pray for him.


After praying the Lord’s Prayer, the priest raises up and consumes one of the “presanctified” hosts—the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ our Savior—and the others are given to the faithful as  Holy Communion.

As I have become accustomed to doing (even before the COVID pandemic made this particular gesture familiar and necessary for people everywhere who wanted to participate in the life of the Church), I prayed the prayer of “Spiritual Communion” in front of my television.

It is no small consolation, this great gift of Christ’s love, which has nourished me greatly in these moments. And now, I hunger all the more for the fullness of sacramental Communion on Easter Sunday. Jesus Christ crucified and risen is the strength and hope and the love of my life.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Walking the Paschal Way in 2023

The days have come in which we celebrate the greatest events—the most mysterious and most revealing events—in all the ages of this vast universe; the events that encompass and ultimately define all of the meaning of the cosmos, of human history, of every nation and people, and of the lives of each one of us. Of course, I mean the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, incarnate God, true God and true man, the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the One who has been “lifted up” and is drawing all things to Himself.

The Paschal Triduum comes at a difficult period of time for me personally and for the world, where many momentous human crises are unfolding. We remain on the edge of possibilities and perils, and we know very little of how they will ultimately turn out. 

I was born and grew up in a society in which the 19th-20th centuries’ titanic achievements of human power over the physical world were simply facts of daily life. In the 1960s an intense optimism prevailed in Anglo-American society about the apparently “limitless” capacities of the power of science to make humans the masters of the world, and that this power would be used to “make the world better.” I have lived my adult life to this day in an increasingly complex and troubled period of history, in which we have begun to realize the dangers of our power even as we continue to expand and develop its reach ever more deeply into our environment, our mobility, our modes of perception and the expectations they engender, and even the structure and functioning of our bodies.

We are also slowly discovering—in the face of many complications, failures, and disasters—that there are “limits” to our power, that it bears fruit only as an aspect of the journey of the lives of human persons on the road of the delicate and precious earth that has been given to us. We need patience and wisdom on this path; we need open hearts to embrace its hardships, and trust to discover the possibilities that we don’t “own,” but which nonetheless invite us to a collaboration that engages all of our reason, freedom, and enthusiasm—including our vast technological competence—in the marvelous adventure of being human. 

In fact, the world is a “sign” that points us toward something greater: a limitless goodness and meaning, a loving, all-encompassing and transcending fulfillment that we long for but cannot manufacture by our own power. Nevertheless, many of us try to grasp this fulfillment by our own power, to measure it, control it, hoard it to ourselves or our group as the basis for our claim to “superiority” over others. This presumption begets violence. And we see violence all around us in the world of 2023.

In my life, I have learned a few things about both the possibilities and the limits of the human power, particularly the power of medical science. There is no cure for previously untreated late-stage Lyme Disease, but there is—if not a “cure”—at least the possibility of doctors helping us to put together an idiosyncratic regimen of life (including several carefully monitored prescriptions medications) that has kept me more-or-less physically and mentally “stable” for many years—important years during which we have raised our children. I continue to endure various limitations from my chronic illness and its effects, which means that I’m not planning on running any marathons (or walking any walk-a-thons). 

I don’t know what it might mean in the future, but at present I can still amble about and I can still read, study, and “stay on top of” current events. And I can still write, though it is becoming a bit harder because it requires so much energy (and you never realize how much energy a task requires until your energy is depleted by incapacity or [and!🙄] the process of aging). I feel like I am enrolled in the long school of learning-to-let-go, and I’m very stubborn. There is something deeply ambivalent about my stubbornness, but it’s in some respects a good thing. I want to live intensely the life I have been given, to aim myself at its purpose, to focus on what matters—what has been entrusted to me—and to learn from the mistakes I will inevitably make.

There are times when I feel anxious or perplexed, and I wonder what role (if any) I still have as a force for good in the world, a constructive presence to people near and far. The ongoing explosive transformation of media technology is broadening the ways we become aware all over the face of the earth of one another’s particular identities, hopes, and problems. This can become distorted and disorienting, or shallow and disengaging, so that we are inclined to be cynical or contemptuous of the neighbor who lives so far from us, who appears so “alien” to us, who expresses different opinions that we can so easily lash out against. On the other hand, if we are willing to invest ourselves as human persons on the Internet, there may emerge new possibilities to learn about one another and help bear one another’s burdens. The light of Jesus can shine through the Internet in ways I never would have guessed if I hadn’t experienced them myself. Media technology generates an “environment” within which we interact, and even a kind of personal and interpersonal “space” that so many people—for better or for worse—“inhabit” for significant portions of their day (the late Pope Benedict XVI called it “the digital continent”). It is a space that needs our attention; a space where people can be found and served. But it cannot be the foundational place for the whole human person, the bodily person who dwells in a physical place and time, and who needs companionship and love primarily and immediately in that place where they breathe, hunger and thirst, live and die.

In my own circumstances, there are some basic facts that I must remember. First off—although it’s sometimes hard for me to believe (because of what remains of my depression and all my emotional immaturity)—I really do have value as a husband, a father, and a grandfather. Clearly, I matter to my family. What I do and what I suffer affects them, because relationships are real and when we try to pretend otherwise we do real harm to ourselves and those who have been entrusted to us. I thank God for my family, and I hope and pray that I can serve them, love them, and always be grateful for them.

There is another sphere of human relationships that we engage by our work. I hope my long, laborious studies will form my own mind and heart with a deeper understanding and compassion. In my reading I discover the expressions of so many voices that long to be heard. I want to engage them not merely as a means for gathering information, but first of all to listen to them. Listening is an elusive and difficult task that produces no immediate external, tangible “product.” Our turbulent, rushed, mass-consuming, “results”-oriented, hyperpartisanized society lacks the patience for listening. Still, there can be no dialogue, no true inter-relationship between persons, no real human solidarity in our world, no space for giving and receiving mercy to one another, without listening. I want to take advantage of the special opportunity that the circumstances of my life give me to continue to read seriously (since I can read even while lying in bed, and this aspect of my mind is still full of vitality). I want to read not in a distracted way, not just to “pass time,” but as a real work undertaken with awareness, attention, and discipline, making the effort to listen to the voices of people telling their stories of their joys and sorrows, and to make the “prayer” of their hearts in some sense my own. 

I also have active communications skills, and I hope that my writing and other expressive work serves at least the few people who read, see, or hear it. One reason I write is in order to share with others some understanding of the larger picture of the world in which we live. We must care about what’s happening in our world, and bring to it (in whatever ways we can) the resources of mercy. Often the “works of mercy” are hidden, but they are essential to the Christian vocation in the world. My hope is that we might begin to cultivate a kind of “empathy” (a “seeing-things-from-the-perspective-of-others”) that enables us to respond constructively to the blizzard of information and all the elements of interconnectedness that link us in unprecedented ways to human experiences, human suffering, and human violence all over the world. Through empathy we can discover concrete ways of being-together with greater solidarity and fraternal love.

It may seem easy enough to cultivate empathy for persons and peoples who are undergoing great trials (though it requires attention and persistence if empathy is to become something more than a brief shallow sentiment). But we also must not hold ourselves aloof from some form of empathy (based on the recognition of the wounded humanity we share) even for those who are involved in causing troubles and imposing afflictions on others. This does not mean that we should not struggle against the evil they do, but it means that we cannot fight against their evil without also fighting “for” their humanity, for their change-of-heart and their healing (which we all need, in various ways—which makes us all beggars before the mercy of Christ).

We are all human beings, human persons. We all matter to the One who was crucified for all of our sins and who rose from the dead for all of us, the One who wants all of us to live forever with him. The most difficult position of all, of course, is to actually love and to be willing to forgive those who cause direct harm to ourselves. We know how hard it is to forgive even small injuries inflicted upon us. It is a work of mercy that grows, that must be continually renewed in our hearts so as to fill all the spaces where bitterness and grudges can still be stirred up. Jesus enables us to embrace the willingness to forgive others within the grace and strength of His forgiveness offered to all of us from the Cross. He suffers with us, reveals the Father’s mercy, and empowers us to be merciful, to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”

There is so much suffering in the world, so much loneliness, so much ignorance of God’s infinite love. Those of us who have encountered the crucified and risen Christ—how can we not want to share the Gospel of His amazing love with everyone? We feel so inadequate, but if we entrust ourselves to His mercy and allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge our hearts, He will make us instruments of His mercy, according to His plan. He will enlighten our path in humble works of mercy that the world needs so desperately. He will teach us to pray, to beg for mercy for ourselves and for all those whose immense needs are crying out within our families, communities, nations, and everyone in this excessive, over-lit, noisy, burned-out, conflicted, exhausted world. He will enable us in our weakness and frailty to suffer-with those who suffer.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

My Father’s Flowers

These flowers remind me of my father, because they were blooming so brightly in the church garden four years ago, on the day of his funeral (April 10, 2019). 

Holy Thursday this year is the 88th anniversary of his birth.

Monday, April 3, 2023

On the 4th Anniversary of His Death, Dad is Still Teaching Me

Dad passed away four years ago. They have been “big years”—his grandchildren have grown up, two have gotten married, Mom has joined him, and I am now the “Papa” in the family. I entrust him with confidence and love to the heart of Jesus who has defeated death, who brings eternal life. 

I am more and more grateful for my Dad. As I grow older, I feel like I “understand” him better, in part because I see how I am in many ways resembling him more and more—the “apple [really] doesn’t fall far from the tree”—and I see more clearly how his quiet attention was full of love for us—love that became more “gratuitous” over the years. 

I am not “quiet and simple” the way he was, but I understand more how he saw his family and all of life as a gift. His love, always consistent, was his response and his gratitude for this gift—which he didn’t need to understand completely or to dominate in order to receive it and engage himself in the effort, responsibility, and creativity it required. 

The gift of life, his family, and his work drew him all through his years, embodying and signifying the embrace of Love that was always present as his sustenance and his destiny—greater than the terrible wounds of the deaths of his own parents when he was a child, greater than the mistakes and failures and limitations that came every day, full of forgiveness and renewal, embodied and signified, too, in our own poor love for him and our “suffering with him” (at his bedside and in our own hearts) in his final days. 

Dad is still teaching me to grow in patience and peace of heart, and gentle, consistent fidelity to the gift of everything (even now, while I continue to be noisy and ambitious and anxious—although *less* so as time passes). The Gift is greater, remains with us, carries us through our failures and incomprehension and even our betrayals. 

As I become older and remember my Dad’s affection and tenderness toward us and his grandchildren in his older years, it strikes me that older people often live with a greater and deeper attention than we give them credit for in our youth. They look upon us with a kind of serenity that is akin to wonder, recognizing all the goodness in our being and growing, more easily forgiving our inattentiveness and superficiality because they’ve seen so much of that through the years; it doesn’t surprise them or disappoint then much anymore, but what does surprise them is the tenacity of the goodness of reality, the promise of fulfillment that endures in all the persons and all the positiveness of reality that are given to them in the present moment. 

I think older people look upon us with immense gratitude and compassion, even when they seem to be grumpy—and Dad was never grumpy before his mind failed, and even after that it was more confusion and frustration than grumpiness. I’ll always remember how he would see Josefina and burst into a huge smile (even after he had forgotten her name). That smile, ultimately, was meant for all of us. 

So many elderly people are lonely and they suffer greatly from it. But they have so much to give, and we who neglect them are perhaps the ones who are more impoverished. We hold back from their love because we are “too busy” or too distracted or too afraid. We are preoccupied with desperately trying to manufacture an artificial, broken, distorted, cheap imitation of the happiness that is offered to us every day as a gift. We ignore the gift, or we don’t trust it. We think our happiness depends on our own plan, our own ideas, our own power. But we don’t know what we want. 

The elderly have passed through all of this, and now their plans are few and they have lost their power (some even lose their “ideas” or ability to think). They are tempted to bitterness and discouragement. But they can also be surprised to encounter anew the beauty and goodness and promise of the gift of life, the gift of being human, that has never abandoned them, that is still offered to them, and the Giver who is the depths of all gifts; indeed, the Giver who has *become the gift* and shares their powerlessness in the Love that “wants to” stay with them, always: the Love we all desire, the Love that alone can give us peace.

Thank you Dad, for everything. May the Lord fulfill you in His eternal embrace, where—I hope and pray—we will all be together again in the end, with every tear wiped away, forever.