Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Meeting “The Smallest Janaro” ❤️

“The Kids” (by which I mean John Paul and Emily) are back and settled in at home with Maria and Anna and Emily’s Mom. We were able to meet the new little “Princess of Janaroland,” who is (so far) a rather quiet girl. She is, after all, a newborn baby… but if she’s your granddaughter, the smallest movements are thrilling and endearing.

At first we thought, “gosh, she looks just like the newborn Maria did in 2021,” but that’s not exactly true. But we do have lots of girls in this family (which I think is wonderful), and I look forward to watching them grow and at least begin their vocational paths in this life.

In the pictures below, Anna probably just looks like any other newborn baby. But she is precious to us, and I love her little face especially when she opens her eyes.

We have various pictures here: Papa holding Anna (above), and then (below) Nana holding Anna (personally, I think these grandchildren are blessed to have such a beautiful, tender, intelligent, and wise Nana as Eileen Janaro😘). Then there are “mug shots” of Anna, images from the “young Janaro family’s” domestic life, and images of Maria with her sister. Maria is so cute with her sister. She chatters away at Anna like she does with the rest of us, but she’s perplexed (maybe?) because the baby doesn’t respond or interact with her yet. 

Don’t worry, Maria, you will both (God willing) have a lifetime of interpersonal exchanges ahead of you—all kinds of “communication” growing up and beyond. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll share secrets, you’ll have sisterly fights (which can be angry sometimes, but you will grow closer if you forgive each other); you’ll have joys and sorrows and perhaps live through historical times that I can’t possibly imagine; you’ll pray together, you’ll steal each other’s clothes, you’ll discover and learn to pursue what matters most in life, you’ll share books and  music and videos and vacations and food and games and chores and lots of other experiences growing up together. May the Lord bless you with a happy childhood! Papa and Nana pray that they’ll get to see you grow up, to help you and love you, and share gratitude and joy with you.

Maria and Anna Janaro, we love you both so much! (And we love your parents too!!)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Baby Anna, Born November 28th

Introducing Anna Rose Janaro!

Born November 28, 2023, at 1:15 PM (Eastern Standard Time), weighing in at just under 8 pounds.

Everyone is fine, as you can see. Big sister Maria is thrilled!☺️ “Papa and Nana” are over the moon, needless to say.☺️☺️❤️❤️ Stay tuned for more pictures!‼️

Monday, November 27, 2023

Why Don’t We “Care For One Another”?

Why don’t we care for one another

We barely seem to care about one another, except insofar as another can serve to facilitate the grasping of the all-consuming-self that demands to occupy the center of the stage in each of the little dramas of our little human lives.

This may seem too negative a way of putting things, but the more we reflect upon it, the more we begin to see how this attitude is pervasive in society and too often in our own hearts. It’s so easy to make ourselves—our plans, our desires, our fears, and especially our will—the determining measure of all our other relationships and all of reality. We should be grateful if our selfishness “unsettles us,” because this means our humanity has not been entirely anesthetized and suffocated. Our hearts and our human history witness to the central importance of giving and receiving love for the happiness and fulfillment of people. Poor and suffering persons especially have a claim on our attention and active compassion, and they are not rare in this poor world. We find them among the persons who cross our paths every day, the persons who have been most immediately entrusted to us. 

In a sense, we are all “poor” in relation to one another—given to one another, in need of being received by one another, meant to help one another. Recognizing this doesn’t take anything away from our responsibilities as persons and communities to care about (and care for) the marginalized, the sick, and the impoverished in the wider sense—those beyond our immediate experience, who are on the margins of our communities, our peoples, and our nations. It’s sad that so many multitudes of people are abandoned and persecuted, that there is so much conflict and violence all over the world, that instead of caring for people we turn them into pretexts for political fighting, power-grasping, and categories within contesting ideological worldviews. But this is not surprising, considering the fact that so often we fail to care for the people right in front of us: spouses, children, parents, extended family, regular relationships that require collaboration and common concern. How can we expect anything like “world peace” when we ignore the needs of those closest to us—when we refuse to “love our neighbor”?

This is how human beings are made to live: taking care of those close to them. Taking care of children—the older generations looking after and mentoring the younger, making out of family-and-community-love a stable place: not splitting up and fleeing from family, mothers and fathers abandoning each other in divorce and then shuttling children back and forth between them, fighting over them, being possessive, manipulating them, dividing the larger family into taking sides with the mother or the father. In the very context in which it is needed most, love is extinguished. This is one of the ways in which people who are interrelated in central, vitally human relationships become alienated from one another.

At the root of the divisiveness that invades our most basic and intimate human relationships is selfishness. This is a fact that most people would be willing to admit. What continues to emerge in affluent societies, however, is a veritable ideology of selfishness that twists the language of human dignity and human rights into a system that destroys persons and relationships.

Ultimately, our society sets up as an Absolute Ideal the “self-sufficient individual” who makes himself by his own choices, who belongs to no one and has no responsibilities other than those he chooses, for as long as he chooses, until he chooses otherwise. This is for many reasons a shallow caricature of the human person, not the least of which is the inherent fragility of the individual—his “choices” are weak, impulse-driven, incoherent, and therefore ultimately subject to the manipulation of those who are stronger, those who hold power in this world. 

Disconnected persons—in the name of an excessive exaltation of “individual rights” and self-defined “freedom of choice”—ultimately end up “choosing” to become slaves to the dominant mentality, to those who hold power and who pretend to be able to offer something to the person that he or she cannot give to his or herself. This is because human beings do not make themselves. They are gifts, one to another. They are responsible for one another. They answer to the Source and Fulfillment of their being, the Giver of all things, the One who is the only ultimately adequate choice of their freedom because this One alone is the radical origin of their freedom.

We have this profound reverence for the dignity of human freedom and the need to respect the freedom of every person. But who told us that we are free? If we are nothing more than stuff in a vast universe of stuff, then why should some piece of that stuff that is called “freedom” command any privilege over anything else? In a world of commodities—consumable stuff—that has no meaning beyond the sum of its parts, the only thing that can prevail is power. The inherently meaningless Greater Power absorbs or crushes all lesser powers. The strong prevail over the weak. The rich rob the poor and laugh at them, without a shred of conscience. People lie to one another and manipulative one another to get an advantage.

One of the most insidious lies is the claim that people belong only to themselves, that they must make themselves, that to be “authentic” they must choose (somehow) from within themselves who and what they are, and that their own choices are the sole source of their responsibilities toward other persons. This is not a world of freedom. It’s a world in which love has been laid waste, a world where the human person disintegrates and the most ruthless power prevails.

This is, in more ways than I can bear to think, our affluent Western world today. This is a world in which you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t even know anything about your neighbor (or the long line of neighbors that come and go). All you know about your neighbors is that you need to lock your doors day and night against them.

This is not how human beings are made to live.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Jesus Christ Our King and Shepherd

Jesus Christ is King of the Universe, but His reign is not like the vanity of the powers who rule this world. Christ’s kingship is the rule of Infinite Love, the love of the God who creates us, redeems us, and draws us to Himself by the total outpouring of Himself in love on the Cross. He is sent by the Father as the ultimate Gift (“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” [John 3:16] ).
The readings for this year’s feast emphasize the attentiveness, persistence, and particular love of Christ the King, who is our Good Shepherd. The prophet Ezekiel proclaims the Lord’s promise that He Himself will “tend” to the salvation of His people, His “sheep,” and “rescue them” from darkness.

Thus says the Lord: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark” (Ezekiel 34:11-12).

Christ’s kingship is full of the tender love of a parent for a child. It is “agape”—the love which we too share by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which calls us to participate in Jesus’s reign of self-giving love. People are entrusted to us not so that we might act like we are superior to them, but so that we might serve them in the kingdom in which to serve is to reign. I was reminded of this from a text of Fr Giussani in our reading for the School of Community:

“May you live the experience of a father; father and mother… because each one has to be father to the friends he has around him, has to be mother of the people around about; not giving himself airs, but with real charity. For no-one can be as fortunate and glad as a man and a woman who feel themselves made fathers and mothers by the Lord. Fathers and mothers of all those they meet” (Luigi Giussani).

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Holidays and Loved Ones: Past, Present, and Future

There’s Maria, licking the whipped cream beaters. She called them “lollipops.”

A full house and a full table on Thanksgiving 2023, and time with family throughout the weekend, has reminded us in a beautiful way of the abundant gifts in our lives, and all the persons for whom we are most especially grateful. 

This whole life is precious, with its foretaste of the joy we long for, and also with its vulnerability, weakness, achievements, struggles, sorrows, consolations, and sufferings—with all the searching that we pursue and endure with wonder and incomprehensible pain. 

Trust—the living adherence of faith—seeks “understanding” not so much of theology as a practical awareness of the meaning of reality (wisdom) and a profound awe and gratitude at the realization that everything is gratuitous, that our entire being is a gift. In this moment, as I breathe this breath, everything is gift. Our very selves, and every step of our journey, are generated for us by the Eternal Father who loves us. I know this. 

I have decades of convincing experience, of consistently growing existential certainty (a reasonable and “most firm hope”) in which I recognize again and again that following Jesus Christ in the Church corresponds to my true desire for infinite happiness, to the whole scope of my freedom’s aspirations for self-expression, fulfillment, and self-giving love.

And yet, it remains so hard. O Lord, why is it so hard?

I have my own aches and pains and etc. but I will not air laments at this Thanksgiving. The greatness of God’s love permeates the circumstances and expectations of this remarkable time for our family.

These days are full of anticipation, as John Paul and Emily await the birth of their second daughter (any day now!) and Maria continues to be Maria, growing and surprising us every day with her unfolding personality. She doesn’t demand to be the center of attention; in fact she is perfectly capable of keeping herself busy, but when she does “take the stage” she naturally commands everyone’s eyes and ears. 

Maria is used to being THE Queen of Everything, and things are going to change, but I think Maria is going to do just fine as a big sister. She is a very self-possessed little person… as long as she gets her way, haha!☺️ She will grow.

The kids are alright. Teresa, our only university varsity sports player, went with her school’s soccer team to the national finals tournament of the USCAA (a league for small university sports programs). Unfortunately, they finished in sixth place, losing both games in the first round. Still, it was an adventure well worth pursuing. Even greater adventures await her next Spring, when she will spend her semester in Rome. Agnese’s health remains stable since Christmas 2021, with the help of medication. Doctors still monitor her and search for the underlying pathology but they don’t know what it is. Thank God she lives a normal and active young-adult life for the most part. Lucia and Mike are in New Jersey, where both of them have become involved in the local Catholic school, where Lucia teaches third grade and Mike has begun to teach part-time while he studies remotely for a Master’s to become a mental health counselor. John Paul continues to move up in his work with an IT provider, while his wife Emily graduated this past Summer from Shenandoah University as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and has been working with a local practice (from which she is about to begin maternity leave). Eileen has been working this year in the adolescent program at John XXIII Montessori Center, and Josefina is one of her students, pursuing her path toward the high school degree. She is our “last child” at home (at age 17) and the three of us have become particularly close. I don’t know how I shall bear it when she finally leaves home.

The changes in life are beautiful and mysterious.

Our table was full this Thanksgiving. My memories were drawn to other tables in other rooms (and, sometimes, restaurants) going back 60 years. It doesn’t seem too long ago that we sat at the kiddie table while the “adults” sat in their exalted places, eating and talking loudly and always laughing for reasons we could never understand. But they were good times. And so many people, generations of people who long ago finished the journey of this life. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and—of course and above all—my father and my mother. Dad and Mom were with us year after year, from my smallest childhood to adolescence and young adulthood to married life with “Papa and Granma” and their cheerful chattery little grandchildren running around. Every year, the kids got bigger and my parents grew older…

On Thanksgiving 2017 (only six years ago), we were at my parents’ condo in Arlington. Their condo on Glebe Road that once seemed to be one of those “permanent things “ in life has now “vanished.” Today it belongs to someone else, has someone else’s furniture in it, houses someone else—a person or persons I have never met, living in the spaces that my parents lived in for 30 years, where my parents met Eileen for the first time, where all my kids spent so much happy time in their childhood. Thanksgiving 2017 would be our last Thanksgiving together. My father (I realize in retrospect) was already experiencing early symptoms of the dementia that would come full force in the following year. After the meal, as we sat in the living room in various conversations, I saw my father sitting in his chair, looking somewhat withdrawn. Though he was not a man of many words, we had had beautiful conversations through the years. I looked at him and something inside said, “go talk to him.” The only way to get close enough for him to hear me was to sit on the floor next to his chair, which was something of a challenge for me but seemed like a challenge worth taking.

We spoke at great length of many things. He was totally lucid, and recounted with great feeling the sorrow that he had carried with him all through his life due to the loss of both of his parents when he was a child. In those days in New York City (1944-46), there were close knit ethnic neighborhoods and multigenerational interconnected extended families living in close proximity and sticking together. They did it not only to survive in this new country, but also for love. When Dad’s mother died, the family decided that the three children (my father was the youngest) needed to stay together, so they were taken into the grandmother’s house down the street, and they grew up there under her care and with the help of numerous aunts and uncles. 

This was a great and good support that my father received, and yet those times—for all their intuitive generosity—had their own limitations and unavoidable ignorance. My father told me that he and his brother and sister were sheltered in every possible way from thinking about their parents’ tragic deaths. This was an understandable and well-intentioned human strategy at a time when little was known about the deeper layers of emotional and psychological wounds and there were so few resources to help people heal and find greater peace. But my 82-year-old father said to me with tears in his eyes on that Thanksgiving Day, “We were never able to grieve. I have never grieved the loss of my parents.” 

My father was a great man, but he had a certain residual emotional awkwardness on occasion that we usually dismissed as taciturnity or moodiness. Now I wonder whether perhaps there were “emotional pieces” of a lost and traumatized 11-year-old boy buried within him, never able to grow to maturity, always hindered. I do think he was healed and freed very much by the love of his extended family growing up, and then by my mother and even his sons and his grandchildren. But it was still hard. He bore this suffering with much patience and trust in God, and it became fruitful in profound ways, including in the way he cared for his wife and his own children. Now I am beginning to see the quiet heroism in my father’s life.

My Mom once told me that it was only after many years of marriage that she realized why my Dad always seemed “moody” during the holidays. “It was because he missed his parents.”

On Thanksgiving 2023 —though it’s obviously very different, it’s not on the same emotional level as a loss in childhood—I think I understand my father a little better because I feel a touch of melancholy during the holidays because I miss my parents. It’s not from any particular lack of faith (I don’t think). I just miss them. I can’t see them. I can’t hear them. It’s a kind of “wound,” and wounds hurt. I can only offer it to Jesus. He knows what pain is, what my pain is. There is nothing human that fails to find its ultimate meaning in Him.

I pray that my father and mother and all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. And I pray for Emily, my beloved daughter-in-law, and her baby girl whom we all await. Grant them a safe and healthy birthing, and all the grace for this new adventure, this new human person, that they have welcomed into their life from the hand of God. 

Time, change, patience, love—these make the steps of our journey in this life. As we glimpse that ultimate destination while still on the journey, our hearts are filled with gratitude. And gratitude strengthens us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The 60th Anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination

Though I don’t remember it, I do know where I was on that fateful day, sixty years ago, on November 22, 1963, when we heard ”the news”… 

My Mom told me that I was on her lap, crying (for one or more of the multitude of reasons that ten-month-old babies/tots cry). Perhaps I cried harder because I didn’t understand why my mother was crying. I had probably never seen her cry before. But she was only 24-years-old, she was young, full of hope, idealistic, Catholic and American, raised in an Italian immigrant family in New York City. Of course she had aspirations that had been kindled by the mythic stature of John F. Kennedy, a young and (apparently) vigorous President who summoned the post-war generation to “a New Frontier” and entered the space of everyone’s living room through the modern miracle of television. It was a long, long time ago.

Shocked, horrified, distraught, and sorrowful, my mother cried, and as a still-crawling baby I must have been disturbed myself, seeing her cry so much… as she sat with me on her lap, watching the TV…

Sunday, November 19, 2023

“TikTok,” The Days Go By?

I should preface all my observations these days with the following phrase: “Maybe I’m just getting old, but…” ???? Whaddiya think?

The common focus of attention in our society seems to be easily and rapidly shifted from moment to moment, from topic to topic, person to person—like everyone is living at a perpetual cocktail party. This is not just in the way we interact and communicate with one another, but it seems to characterize more and more our whole approach to life.

Many daily activities present us with an overwhelming array of options, so that the completion of what were once simple tasks now requires ponderous little decisions about every step we must take. We also have vast stockpiles of brick-a-brack from different periods of our lives on shelves, in boxes and bins, piled in corners, not to mention the attics and rented storage areas packed with stuff stuff stuff.

Things beckon us with curiosity and then perplex us with their inexhaustible demands, and so we leave off our efforts to engage in a project (or to finish it) and we move on to something else. The daunting spectrum of possibilities that confront us as we go through an ordinary day in the artificial world of ubiquitous technological power wears out our faculty of choosing, and we become increasingly passive. The events of the day “hit us” one after another and we “move through them” as if they are disconnected, discontinuous moments, pieces of life. Or we “react” out of a desperate reach for some sort of coherence, some set of ideas that we fear are being threatened. Emotions are provoked that compound our exhausted, fragmented condition.

Then, when we get a moment “to ourselves,” we feel restless. Our nerves are accustomed to chaotic stimulation, and there is never silence in the technopolis. The air conditioner whirs, traffic goes by, construction workers drill across the street. Clocks no longer “tick tock” but the electronic environment that surrounds us has its own sounds, its “thrum” beneath the threshold of our conscious awareness, its energy coursing all around us, powering the artificial infrastructure that we take for granted in a contemporary house or office.

We are restless. There is always a “tremor” under our feet—I won’t say “on the ground” because our feet are seldom on the actual ground. Our “floors” are constructed, our roads and walkways are concrete, our bodies hurdle over these roads at speeds beyond anything our ancestors dreamed possible while we sit stationary and comfortable inside our great traveling gadgets, and then we exercise on machines in a gym. Our feet rarely touch dirt. But there is always a tremor. Stillness is never entirely still. It’s always a challenge to use our reason, our poor little human reason, and it’s especially hard when our senses are so “stretched”—constantly “plugged in,” enlarged, distracted, scattered, enervated. We are restless.

Our cell phones ring, shake, buzz, and we focus on digital connections near and far. A “world” of information, images, entertainment, opinions that we scroll through, jumping from one thing to another, oblivious to the discontinuity that hinders us from engaging anything in depth. This immensely powerful little gadget has its uses, conveniences, and perhaps it can even be a bit playful.

But how much of all this do we need?

As we scroll through TikTok (or whatever platform we prefer), we might fail to notice that we live our lives in distraction, pulled in so many directions, desires, fears, anger—we live like a TikTok scroll: random, superficial, manipulated, and too fast.

Who is “scrolling through” our lives?

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Saint Gertrude: Jesus Wants to Change Our Lives

Today we celebrate Saint Gertrude "the Great"—of the 13th century Benedictine monastery in Helfta (Germany). She was one of the outstanding women of the medieval Church, a brilliant scholar, a counselor to many, and most importantly a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

This beautifully detailed testimony continues to be a source of encouragement and consolation to me, and I think it worth sharing again. In one of her deeply personal but also prophetic “visions,” Gertrude reports that Jesus said these words to her: "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end."

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Christina Grimmie as Seen By the Eyes of a Catholic Christian

November is here again: the month in which we remember in a special way our departed brothers and sisters. My “list” of people I have known and loved who have passed away has gotten a lot longer since 2011, when I began this blog. Above all, it includes my two most faithful readers: my father and mother. There are also many relatives, friends, and mentors. So many people—known and unknown—have died, and so many things have changed.

This is the eighth November since the awful murder of the amazing young singer, songwriter, musician, and pioneering “YouTube star” Christina Grimmie. Images and sounds remain, and this reason alone would be enough to account for why I feel like addressing her in the first person, as if I could “write her a message.” Yet this is not the only reason. Sometimes I have the desire to “talk to” her, and I have reason to hope that she “hears me” within the fellowship we share in Jesus Christ. I’m not referring to anything directly empirical, of course. I don’t “see visions” or “hear voices,” nor would I want to try. I see Christ and hear His voice through His Church, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit that I beg for every day, the gift of faith that renews and deepens our hearts. Meanwhile, Christina has presented herself and all she wanted to say through her videos, in her words and songs and music. It is a blessing that these expressions of her personality and her love remain accessible to us. This accessibility makes me feel like I can say something to her in a seemingly natural way. In any case, I can share my words with my readers, which is obviously my intention and renders this whole exercise a “literary device,” though it is not only a literary device. I love this person, and I endeavor therefore to speak from my heart. Here are my words:


I have been “hanging out” with you, Christina Grimmie. I see you every day on frand accounts all over social media, as well as in my own virtual art workshop where I labor on digital portraits. With the ongoing explosion of AI technology, your media-iconic image multiplies, acquires greater clarity, and inspires new modes of creativity (screenshots from your videos were the starting points for the three diverse cartoon-style portraits in this blog, which were crafted using technological tools and filters but also lots of detailed work by hand on a virtual screen—I’m improving slowly with this new art form, but I’ve got a long way to go). You remain for me an inspiration and a “muse” in visual arts, poetry, writing, and more. Meanwhile, many people are still encountering you for the first time, being helped by your joyful smile, your gentle affirmation, and—of course—being amazed by your incredible voice and your music.

All of this remains deeply provoking, because you no longer live in this world. Your love, however, continues to resonate all over the audiovisual media that you helped to revolutionize in the second decade of this century. It remains a resonance that is precious, and I can understand why people want to affirm it and emphasize it as your legacy, so that you are remembered for more than being the victim of a shocking and terrible murder. It continues to be awful, scary, and traumatic to think about what was done to you. Still, the tragedy of your being taken from this world seven years and five months ago brings some kind of sorrow whenever we see and hear you, and it reawakens the profound question: “Why?” We find ourselves “suffering” these questions unavoidably: “Why do people live with so much precious, unique vitality… and then die? Why death? Why the ‘absence,’ the apparent breaking off of relationships that mean so much? Why the grief?”

These are questions provoked in us by the experience of an apparent “disconnection” between our hearts’ desire for a limitless goodness and the inadequacy of all the finite, so often narrow, so often disappointing things that preoccupy our lives. Since your death, Christina, I have endured a “season” of facing these hard questions. I never knew until my father died in 2019 that these questions could be so visceral and so disorienting in an almost-“physical” sense of dislocation that makes one feel confused and “dizzy,” like the world has “tilted” and everything is out of balance. That was 2019 for me. My world became strange and unprecedentedly “different” in 2019. 

In the following years between my father’s death and my mother’s in 2021, the whole world actually was plunged into unprecedented strangeness, confusion, and fear. The earth was stalked by a plague, a capricious grim reaper that “picked off” human beings in an unpredictable way, even with all the radical cautions desperately employed by frightened nations as medical experts tried to understand and learn to combat a terrible new disease. The Pandemic! Things eventually “returned to normal,” and no one wants to think anymore about the months of lockdowns, cancelled events, masks, barriers, social distancing. And yet, future pandemics are practically inevitable in the global village. Did the sufferings of 2020 make us more aware, more mature? Did we grow from this experience, or have we just been driven further into distractions, noise, and rootless living as we try to flee from the anxieties that press in on us?

Some people have nowhere to run. Yesterday’s pandemic has yielded to the monstrous wars of today: there are hostage-takings and murder, bombing of civilians, mass graves, crimes against humanity, and a systematic direct attempt at cultural genocide. Death is everywhere, and it weighs heavily in the air. It refuses to be ignored. For me personally, its most direct impact has been the loss of my parents, the deaths of some friends, and the tragic deaths of children of my friends… and your death, Christina. Your death, along with all the violence that surrounds us, provokes another very hard question: “Why do people kill other people?” Why do we kill one another and do violence to one another and ourselves? Why do we sin against God, recklessly driven by our own uncontrolled self-indulgence and covetousness, abusing and poisoning the created world to serve our own cupidity, and desecrating beautiful and unique human persons that God has given to us in His love—persons who bear the image of God, given to us to be our brothers and sisters?”

Even Christians who know that Jesus has conquered sin and death and who journey through this life with hope in His resurrection still suffer these questions and sorrows; our human fragility and vulnerability must follow a long process (through which the Holy Spirit is also at work) and we must trust in the Lord. The meaning of our lives is an unfolding mystery—an adventure that we participate in with all our energy, but that we cannot grasp, dominate, or take control over. Our lives belong to God, who fashions in an ineffable way even the very freedom that we value so much in our times. We try so hard to construct our freedom, to “make ourselves” by our own power, in isolated mastery, in illusions of pride and arrogance. We don’t realize that our freedom is given, and is made to embrace the One who made us, to share His eternal glory. Our freedom is made for love—a love that is real, that does not disappoint, but that exceeds our understanding. We learn more and more that the realization of freedom follows the path of utter dependence on God. This God is not a “big boss” who oppresses us. He is the God who gives us our very selves, who bursts and overflows all the categories we use when we try to describe Him. He is THE Mystery, but we are His children, and He makes us out of love. He is the Mystery who is Absolute Love.

Wow, this “message” to you, Christina, is just going all over the place. But my friends will attest that this is the way I write “real” messages, and the way I wrote letters for many years. I’m a hugely intense, serious person. If I had known you when you were alive on this earth, I probably would have driven you crazy. I surely would have challenged your legendary patience and magnanimity. I don’t know. If you were alive, there would be a little less sorrow for me, and your joy would have lightened my heart. 

But I would still be someone who thinks and talks about all the deep things in life. You had a simplicity, a sense of strong faith that spread light through everything you did, that took the form of kindness and merciful love toward YouTube people and then people in the mainstream music industry and above all your Team Grimmie frands. Your faith and love were amazing because you didn’t try to overpower people with them, but you also spoke in discrete moments—the “right moments”—and just enough to make clear that Jesus Christ was everything to you, that He was the great love that encompassed all your aspirations.

It’s mid-November 2023, and there are so many more “faithful departed” that I know personally than in the earlier eras of my life. Lots of people come to my mind and my prayers this month. 

My dear Christina, I remember you too. 

In the passage from death to the fullness of eternal glory, there is a mystery and a gift of God’s love that most of us need very much, a purification, which is what we Catholic Christians mean by “purgatory.” I know you were not Catholic in this life, but you were a Christian who sought follow Jesus and be faithful to Him according to the ways that had been given to you. Team Grimmie is an “ecumenical friendship,” and an inter-religious friendship that gathers together people from all over the world who have in common a love for your music and a fascination with your “extraordinarily ordinary” personality. You were normal, funny, goofy, down-to-earth while also being a fountain of joy and love that seems to be still flowing and gushing today. We are drawn to that mysterious and beautiful joy, which was so real, so “earthy” and inexplicable at the same time, so vulnerable and yet tenacious, such an unlikely combination of innocence and badassery intent on really being “in Hollywood” but not “of Hollywood,” walking the carpets and doing some of the fashions which was actually possible because you always carried yourself with such dignity, radiating a quality that held off objectification because it was a tenderness that disarmed people with its simplicity while also shining like a Queen, like a daughter of God. Then you would go off to eat junk food and play video games. 

There were no “labels” that could classify you, Christina Grimmie. You weren’t “perfect,” you made mistakes, you worried, you got frustrated. You also bore the sufferings of your Mom’s long struggle with cancer and your heart grew toward people who were suffering from all kinds of afflictions. You were full of goodness. Yet you weren’t “obvious,” and part of that was because you were just a kid (and eventually a 22-year-old woman) and you were still learning many things. You also were the most prodigious musical talent in your generation of pop music, with a spectacular singing voice. And plenty of people in Hollywood knew that. They also knew that they would never be able to own you. You had a strength they didn’t understand. You declared that clearly enough when you said, “Jesus Christ is the reason I can even sing. It’s not my voice, it’s His. And I will use it, win or lose, for His glory.” You knew that your music career and all your ambitions for success were shaped by a vocation, an “impossible vocation” that nevertheless is so desperately needed precisely today. You stayed faithful, did your best, and—above all—you loved and loved and loved and never grew tired of loving “everyone” that God gave you. You said that your frands were “gifts from God” entrusted to you for a reason. 

Because of that reason, because of that love, you opened your arms to welcome them and offer encouragement and a hug. You cherished the opportunity to meet them after your concerts, and would stay late into the night so that you could meet everyone. You marveled that Jesus had placed these people in your life, and you loved them with a gratitude that was almost like veneration. Every artist says they “love their fans” but you really loved them in a poignant and achingly beautiful way. You coined a term for them—not just “fans” but “friend-fans,” frands. This love was ardent and engaging without being possessive, without vanity. Many of the people you met, you “already knew” because you had communicated with them online. Before there was any concept of the “social media influencer,” Christina Grimmie, you had over three million followers on YouTube. You were the original “influencer” without intending to be. You blazed that trail too, but in a way that remains uniquely personal and unrepeatable.

You kept welcoming, hugging, stretching out your arms to people right up to the final moment when a man responded to your great heart by drawing a 9mm semiautomatic Glock pistol from out of his jacket and pumping bullets into your head and chest at point blank range. He then shot himself in the head. This is shocking and horrible. We can’t bear to think of it. But Jesus fulfilled His ministry by being crucified, by loving His Father to the end and imploring forgiveness for His executioners.

In the midst of all the horror and the blood and the evil of June 10, 2016, we see you, Christina, open, defenseless, offering love. Someday, we may perhaps see something of a “sign” in all of this? I cannot presume to declare that it was a sign, a sacrifice, a fulfillment of your great desire to be conformed to Jesus. “His glory” is something we on earth cannot see except with the eyes of faith, and we need to grow in that faith. So I declare nothing, but I do wonder about it.

Meanwhile, I’m a Catholic Christian who has no official authority to say anything, and I’m out of my depth in any analysis of the existential “darkness” of such intensity of love and sacrifice. If there is something to see here, it will become clear at the right time. Many people I knew in this world have died, and I pray for them all. I pray for all the “souls in purgatory,” whose needs are deeper and more essential than anything I can understand, but whom I know that I can help through the communion of the Church. I don’t presume that any of my departed brothers and sisters are beyond the need for these prayers and the constant solicitude of the whole Church (except of course those who have been beatified or canonized), but I trust that communion in Christ’s body endures between those who are still living their earthly journey and those who have “died in the Lord.” 

I know also that the Christian people often have a “sense” (in some cases stronger than others) that among those who have gone forth through death in Christ there are a few whose lives have “already” prepared them to see God in the fullness of His absolute glory and love. We have a sense that these people can “already” help us, and we find ourselves spontaneously relating to them in this way—but we don’t claim any right to “declare them saints.” We may have a desire that they be recognized by the Church, and we might even make a proposal that ecclesial authority consider the “holiness” of their lives. (I’m using lots of quotation marks in this text, not to imply that I doubt the realities within them, but because I don’t want to just breeze by these terms that are so much more fundamental and mysterious than we imagine them to be.)

So, yes, I pray for you, Christina, and for your Mom. May your souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Prayers for the dead are never “wasted.” They can be shared and given over to those who need them. Purgatory is a unique and difficult experience, but it’s also the dawn of victory, the beginning of the reign of Love that never ends. The faithful departed are “with Christ” and in purgatory He is “opening their eyes” and clearing away anything that remains of imperfection and distraction, anything that falls short of the happiness, the beatitude, of the direct vision of God, the fullness of our being-conformed to Christ. Catholic expressions may sound complicated to non-Catholic Christians, but they are all about grace and salvation and the glory of God in Jesus Christ. But you have already come to know all this, Christina. I’m repeating it for the benefit of those “looking over my shoulder.”

Christina, you certainly have a different profile from most “Catholic saints,” even among the recent young people from our own time. In fact, you are not like anyone I have ever seen or heard of in the six decades of my life, but then again these are unprecedented and turbulent times. I wonder very much about you, and I have the sense that there was something “heroic” about your way of loving and your perseverance in offering yourself for the glory of Christ. I am grateful to you beyond anything I can express. Your humanity has changed my life, and I think your witness has strengthened my hope in the face of my own death, which cannot be very far away from now. I’ll say this, for what it’s worth: if you had been Catholic during your brief time on this earth, I would drop all my other projects and devote myself to investigating whether it might be possible to propose your remarkable life and death as worthy of ecclesial recognition and honor. It sounds crazy thinking of you—the funny girl who made the “Lava Lamp” video—being declared a “saint” someday. It appears to be so “outside the box” of anything we’ve ever seen in the Catholic Church. But beneath the surface level of appearances, it’s not so strange at all. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever thought about this
Still, as it stands in reality, you weren’t a Catholic, and so there are whole tangles of questions and issues that would arise from ecumenical perspectives. Ecumenism is a historical path that will probably advance in slow steps over the course of many generations. The time is not yet ripe to carry out anything like what I have allowed myself to imagine here. Who knows? God willing, the future might open up new possibilities….

Meanwhile, I know that the Christian people need witnesses and examples like you, Christina, in these days when the world seems to be spinning out of control. It is a simple matter to see the greatness of your love for Jesus and for people of every kind. You still bring consolation and joy to me and many others today. You inspire me to wonder, and to thank the Lord for giving us a glimpse of His glory through you.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

“A Tragedy Unfolding” in the Holy Land

“We are sadly witnessing a tragedy unfolding in the very places in which the Lord lived, where He taught us—through His humanity—to love, forgive, and do good to all. Instead we see them torn apart by tremendous suffering that primarily affects so many innocent people” (Pope Francis).

[digital art image of Francis from JJStudios, crafted from a screenshot from video as a base]

Friday, November 10, 2023

Leo the Great: “The Dispensation of Compassion…”

November 10: Pope Saint Leo the Great, Father of the Church, Bishop of Rome from 440-461.

It is not enough to know the Son of God in the Father's nature only, unless we acknowledge Him in what is ours without withdrawal of what is His own. For that self-emptying, which He underwent for man's restoration, was the dispensation of compassion, not the loss of power. For, though by the eternal purpose of God there was 'no other name under heaven given to men whereby they must be saved' (Acts 4:12), the Invisible made His substance visible, the Intemporal temporal, the Impassable passable: not that power might sink into weakness, but that weakness might pass into indestructible power… In our nature, therefore, the Lord trembled with our fear, that He might fully clothe our weakness and our frailty with the completeness of His own strength" (Saint Leo the Great).

Thursday, November 9, 2023

“Dreams of Water”

With severe drought conditions in the Valley and the Shenandoah River setting record lows for depth, river and creek water flows these days only “in our dreams.” 

So I “dreamed” of water on my “virtual canvas,” beginning with photographs, sifting through many surprising variations offered by AI technology, and then “sculpting” (a term I like to use for digital art) the images manually and with digital filters. Slowly and laboriously, I worked to bring together all these material elements, refining shape, “texture,” color, and shade in search of images that embody an “intuition” (an intelligent, imaginative, practical vision that becomes visible to me only in the process of “making” it). At a certain point, I begin to feel that the work is “coming into focus”… more or less successfully on the humble level on which I engage in these creative endeavors.

I am far from satisfied with these, but I can’t obsess over them forever. This kind of work is, among other things, constructive therapy for my OCD (it really is helpful, though that’s not the only reason I try to be creative).

Anyway, I figured that I have to “let them go.” Here are my Dreams of Water:

Monday, November 6, 2023

Look Who Dressed As Tigger!

I have to share (belatedly) these pics from October 31. On Halloween, SOMEBODY went out for “treats” dressed up as Tigger!☺️ Such fun! 

She went with her mommy as Winnie the Pooh and her daddy as Christopher Robin, and she charmed her way through our neighborhood (not to mention the hearts of her Papa and Nana).❤️

Saturday, November 4, 2023

“Autumn Expressions 2023”

I need to update the blog on the digital art creations that I have been working on this past month, as we passed through a colorful stretch of the Autumn season. So here goes:

Thursday, November 2, 2023

“Requiem Aeternam”


“Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. / Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.”

“Today we remember those who have walked before us, in the hope of meeting them, of reaching the place where we will find the love that created us and awaits us: the love of the Father” (Pope Francis).

[Image: Fra Angelico]

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

All Saints Day 2023

“I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9).