Friday, December 2, 2022

“We Need a Life that Raises Us From the Dead”

I want to share excerpts from the text we have been working on. It helps me to be reminded of the truth every day by listening to words like these, by being challenged and encouraged by the reality they signify:

" ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’ [John 11:25]. This, only this, is what we need, what everyone needs. This is the only thing necessary. We need a life that raises us from the dead, from every death, from every face that death and evil take on in our personal life, family, community, and the entire world. All the rest is a thousand things that worry us and make us anxious without being necessary, because they never respond to the true need of the heart, of every heart."

" ‘If Christ is enough, what is all the rest? Hunger, desire, work, politics, passion, sentiments, [concerns about] war: What are all these things?’ [this was a question many people asked]. All of this is longing for Christ, all of this is the concrete face of a cry, of the need for Him, the thirst for Him, the emptiness in life if He is not there. So, in embracing Christ I am not renouncing all of these things; I am not saying that all of this is nothing. I am affirming even more that all of this truly wants to be full of reality. If I do not embrace Christ, if I do not let Christ enter my house, my house remains empty as a home, and nothing has meaning any more, not the table, not the chair, nothing. Acknowledging that all of this is reaching out to Him makes every instant of our daily life the place of the verification of His presence, that He is present."

—Abbot Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Saint Charles de Foucauld, the “Universal” Brother

For the first time, we mark December 1 as the commemoration of Saint Charles de Foucauld. 

His words below, excerpted from his letters, are expressed in the ardent language of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century French Catholic spirituality (a language, we should note, that sustained missionaries who courageously preached the gospel all over the earth). At the same time, the words of Saint Charles—the little brother of Jesus, the “universal brother”—express a heart drawn by Jesus far beyond the limits of any particular culture, a heart opened and wounded by the love of Jesus for all humanity, and sent into the desert to seek out the poorest and most forgotten of his brothers, to share their humble lives, to be radically available to them, to suffer with them and in solitude, to die alone and—apparently—forgotten deep in the Sahara on December 1, 1916.

“Pray very much: when we love we want to talk endlessly to the being we love, or at least look at him endlessly: this is what prayer is, familiar converse with our Beloved: we look at him, we tell him we love him, we rejoice at being at his feet, we tell him that this is where we want to live and die.

“What would we speak of if not of him who is our life, for whom we breathe, for whom alone we want to live, to whom we belong unreservedly and for ever, body, soul, mind and heart, all to him, all for him!

“And how divinely good he is to allow ants like us to love him. One look from him would be too much for us: him, infinitude, sovereign and infinite perfection! …us, such tiny, ungrateful, sinful creatures. 

“But not only does he look at us, he makes himself one of us; he 'takes delight in being with the children of men'; he watches over us and leads us in all our ways; he makes himself the least among us, suffers with us, for us and on behalf of us for thirty-three years, and dies through us and for us, bathing us and sanctifying all of us with his divine blood. How happy we are!”

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Joy and the Mission of Saint Andrew

Happy feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, "the First-Called,” who is greatly venerated in the East, especially by the see of Constantinople, which traces its origin to him. Also, according to the annals of Kyivan-Rus, Andrew was the first to preach the gospel to the “Scythians” in the land of present day Ukraine.

Saint Andrew was Saint Peter's brother, and undoubtedly “unity between the brothers” is his particular concern. Let us therefore join with Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew I and pray for unity, on this special day for churches West and East, Latin Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, and Orthodox.

This is the Kontakion for the day in the Byzantine Liturgy: "Let us praise for his courage Andrew the Theologian, first Apostle of the Savior and brother of Peter, for in like manner as he drew his brother to Christ, he is crying out to us: 'Come, for we have found the One the world desires!'"

In the prayer, Saint Andrew calls Jesus "the One the world desires." We have been created for Him. Our hearts are made for Him. The meaning and mysterious reality of the very impetus of life—desire—finds its fulfillment in Him.

What is amazing is that the claim of Jesus is a claim about a man in history (God’s Eternal Word, who became flesh, who became a man like us in all things but sin). He came to dwell with us in our ordinary life. On first hearing this proclamation, one might not be particularly impressed. It might even sound strange. How can this man Jesus of Nazareth be the meaning of everything, “the One the world desires,” the One that I desire in all the depths of my longing for the fullness of life?

In John’s gospel, Nathaniel understood this feeling very well. His first reaction to the news about Jesus was, "can anything good come out of Nazareth?" But the reply was, "Come and see!" (John 1:44-46)

And so the Church says today, "Come and see." And just like the first disciples, the Church does not say, "come and see how great we are." She says, "Come and see that Christ is present, here, not by virtue of our worthiness or coherence, but by virtue of His triumph over sin and death in the cross and resurrection, His wanting to remain with us, His promise to stay with us."

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dorothy Day: A New Way of Looking at the World

Dorothy Day's long labors came to an end on November 29, 1980. After her conversion, she spent half a century bearing witness to Christ and serving Him in the poor.

Dorothy was a radical in every sense: she was rooted in prayer, penance, and fidelity to the Church, while also recognizing that a living faith has radical implications for the way human persons regard and interact with one another.

Her extensive writings are a dimension of her whole personal witness, and her voice was prophetic in that it pointed to a way of looking at the world—the demiurgic, tumultuous, explosive world of the twentieth century (that continues today). She endeavored to give a voice to the poor, to the dignity of the human person and the mysterious workings of God's grace, and to the deep passion and hard realism of loving our neighbor, of loving one another in the here-and-now.

Before she began her powerful apostolate and founded The Catholic Worker, however, Dorothy Day underwent her own long and often difficult conversion experience. The hand of the Lord was upon her from childhood, but she ran from Him in the days of her youth. She ran down desperate roads and into dark places only to encounter the love of God again and again, until she finally surrendered to Him.

Her story is, indeed, a "Great Conversion Story," and though I cannot do justice to this remarkable story in two small pages of a magazine article, I gave it my best shot in the October 2017 issue of MAGNIFICAT.

I have been writing this monthly series called Great Conversion Stories for nearly ten years in this excellent magazine, and there's still more to come in 2023 and beyond. And there are many reasons (besides my column) to subscribe to MAGNIFICAT. It is a wonderful resource for daily immersion in the liturgical life of the Church according to the current Roman rite, as well as daily meditations, articles, and monthly full color reproductions of classic works of religious art accompanied by enlightening commentary. Magnificat is a great resource for people who want to pray daily with the Church even in the midst of a multitude of responsibilities in the temporal world.

The Servant of God Dorothy Day died 42 years ago. In marking this anniversary today, I can only provide the most brief of introductions to the early years of this great and unique, holy and challenging woman of faith:

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Advent 2022

For [Christ] assumed at his first coming 
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you [Father] formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.

(…from the Advent Preface)

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Genocide in Ukraine: Never Again!

πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦Pray for the people of Ukraine.πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦ 

The last Saturday in November is Holodomor Remembrance Day—marking the beginning of the Winter of 1932-33, the height of Stalin’s brutal program to eliminate the Ukrainian people by man-made famine.

Today, 90 years later, Stalin’s successors are ruthlessly bombing Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure (electricity, water, heat, transportation, hospitals, schools, etc.) as Winter begins once again. Unable to conquer Ukraine, they seem bent on destroying it, and bringing affliction especially to those most vulnerable (children and elderly people, families, the poor, the sick). 

God have mercy on the martyred people of Ukraine!πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦πŸ˜₯

I have “Google-translated” this ardent letter from Pope Francis to the people of Ukraine, dated November 24, which appeared in Ukrainian on the website of the Ukrainian Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church in Kyiv. It also appears on the Vatican website, but not (yet) in English. The translation is not authoritative (obviously) but it expresses the Pope’s profound solidarity with the Ukrainian people, insofar as the nature of his office permits him to state it publicly. It is a model for all of us, for our prayers, our attention, our hearts:

Friday, November 25, 2022

More “Impressionistic Autumn Scenes”

Even though it now gets dark so early, and some days have been cold, there is a different kind of beauty to gaze upon, and for me to present via photographic originals rendered by digital tools into unique works of “digital art.”

Scenes of late Autumn at the end of November, digitally “sculpted” by JJ.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

We “Beg” God For an “Answer”…

We humans have been given freedom so that we might freely adhere to God— the Mysterious Other we long for, the One who is our origin, sustenance, and destiny. Through freedom, we can love God as persons; we can enter into relationship with God.

Human freedom is profound, but sometimes it seems so complicated, and even overwhelming. The little human being—the bodily person in the world of time and space, who spends a third of his or her life asleep and much of the rest of it eating, drinking, and "going to the bathroom"—the little human being gets beaten down, gets sick, gets old, or just gets exhausted.

Our human fragility points to the fact that our freedom finds its crucial realization in prayer. When we discover our littleness, it is easier to pray. The Lord always responds to our cries for help, though often we do not understand His ways, and we don’t “see” the ways that His goodness is at work in us. We search for His light in the darkness of our difficulties; we beg to “understand,” we beg for an “answer”….

What is God's answer? How does God answer our begging, when we're just helpless and there doesn't seem to be a way out?

There is no discourse that can adequately communicate this "answer." God's answer is that He comes to be with us, to seek out each one of us, and to stay with us. His "answer" is to love us, and draw us into the experience of the infinite mystery of his goodness, of communion with his very being, He who is Absolute Love.

He created us for this communion, and it corresponds to what our hearts truly seek. To accomplish this fulfillment, to bring us to himself forever, God comes to dwell with us in our weakness.

He is present in this moment of our lives. He is here. Jesus is here.

Jesus is here with us in all our helplessness, our sense of being overwhelmed, our confusion and anxiety. He is with every person on the unique path they travel. Jesus is with us in our weakness.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, we gaze once again on the face of our King. Crucified Love measures the depths of all things, and will have the “last word” in history.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Full and Lasting Happiness

This week’s Collect prayer: “…it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good …”  Doesn’t this sound simple and obvious? “Goodness” in the reality that I encounter is what awakens my heart. And “engaging the good” brings me a joy that is real, but that also points beyond the limitations of time and space and change that characterize all the various good things of life in this world. All “good” things whisper the “promise” of a Goodness that never ends, the Mystery that originates and sustains all the goodness, the being, the reality of things, the Mystery that is Goodness itself. Only this Mystery corresponds to the desire of our hearts for “full and lasting happiness.” 

But we are broken, distracted, negligent, inconstant people. The “Mystery” is so easy to “forget” —and we choose instead to grasp at limited goods and try desperately to “stretch them” to the measure of our hearts, or “contain them” somehow by our own power, make them not-go-away… so that their inevitable constraints, changes, and dissolution in time leave us in a prison of disappointment, discouragement, and sadness; or our frustration blazes into anger and we plunge deeper into our desperation and cunning, seeking more techniques and greater power to attain mastery over reality, to remake everything into a Utopia of “lasting goodness” even if it means tearing the real world apart by violence. We become monsters in perpetual conflict.

But is it not more reasonable to seek the “Author of all that is good,” to cry out from our ultimate poverty to the One who alone can make us happy? Might the One who is Goodness itself open up a way for us to “serve with constancy” this Mystery here and now, in this world of flesh and blood?

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The “Word” — through whom and for whom all things have been made — has come to be with us on all the roads of this human life. “The Word” became flesh. “Beauty” became flesh. “Truth” became flesh. “Goodness” became flesh.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Maria is an Artistic GENIUS!☺️πŸ˜‰

Earlier this week, I stepped out of my “home office” to get some coffee from the kitchen, and I came upon the Artiste at work. Oh my, excuse me!

Maria wielded the green pencil with an adroit hand, and lines of emeralds poured out of its tip. Something grand was in the making. I decided this process was worth an effort in photographic journalism. [Poor Maria, hounded by paparazzi in her own family!]

But she kept scribbling without regard to my intrusions. I’m not sure what role “Clownie” played in the creative process. Was he a perspectival tool (covering one eye), or was he just there to be snuggled? “Clownie” is a second generation toy who “lives” at Nana’s and Papa’s house (he goes all the way back to her father’s babyhood, as well as her four aunts). Maria expects Clownie’s attendance upon her presence whenever she comes over, and so he’s usually nearby.

Finally, we had the completed work! The artist herself added texture at the end with some folding and… umm… crumpling.πŸ˜‰ However, the smiley face is clearly a different “style” from Maria’s more gestalt approach, and the words “the cat is fat” are obviously added by another hand (Aunt Jo?). These are problems we will leave for future scholarly debate.😜☺️

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Gertrude, Enraptured by the Heart of Jesus

Today is the Feast of Saint Gertrude “the Great” (1256-1302) of the 13th century Benedictine monastery of Helfta in Southeastern Germany, which was part of the town of Eislebem (now primarily known as the birthplace of Martin Luther). After the area became Protestant, the nuns were driven out (and did not return until in 1999). But nearly three centuries before Luther, the Helfta monastery thrived in medieval Saxony and counted among its nuns women of advanced education and intellectual refinement, as well as several mystics and visionaries whose experiences are extensively documented. 

The influence of Helfta was such that it could be said to be a “center” for women theologians in the 13th century. (The diverse features of the medieval world, and the measure of opportunities it provided people—relative to their abilities or desire to take them up—remains under-appreciated in historical studies.) The writings of these women drew on the theological foundation of a contemplative life that accentuated the humanity of Jesus, and in particular (especially for the visionaries) the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their place in sustaining and developing “devotion to the Sacred Heart” hundreds of years prior to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque is crucially important. The Helfta nuns not only prayed, read, studied, and wrote, but they also played a role in advising many people, including political and ecclesiastical figures of the time. 

No one was more remarkable than Gertrude, who devoted her early years in the monastery to pursuing a liberal arts education and developing a fluid Latin literary style. She began to have special experiences of God’s love, however, that led her to a “conversion” from what she saw as vain pursuits in comparison with the overwhelming graces, attentiveness of God, and the ardor of Jesus that filled her soul. Her intense dialogue with Jesus continued to grow and she committed to writing many profound experiences, while she also served as an exemplary religious and an accessible presence in the community, a counselor to many, and a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

Personally, I hope that one day she might be given the title of "Doctor of the Church." It seems like a possibility to me. Dear Saint Gertrude, pray for us in these troubled times, pray that the love of the Heart of Christ will touch us too, heal us, transform us, and set our hearts on fire.

“O devastating glowing coal, my God,
You who contain, radiate and brand with living heat!
You exercised Your inextinguishable power on my damp and slimy soul,
first drying up in it the flood of worldly pleasures
and afterwards softening the rigidity of its attachment to its own ideas,
a position in which it had long been completely fixed.
O truly devouring fire, You who wield Your power against vice
so that You may reveal Yourself to the soul gently 
when the time comes to anoint it!
In You and in none other do we receive this strength,
so that we may have the power to be reformed 
into the image and likeness of our original state.
O powerful furnace, in the lovely vision of true peace,
by whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold
when the soul, wearied by deceit, 
at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire
to track down what belongs to it, 
and which it may receive from You alone, very Truth!”.

~Saint Gertrude the Great

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

What a Difference a Week Makes!

…in November, anyway. Wet, cold, dark, rainy. Two days in a row. That’ll bring most of the remaining leaves down, but it will get the creek water up.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Past and Present of “The Great War”

One hundred and four years ago, the Armistice began. Conscripted soldiers in Europe (who were still alive) were no longer under orders to shoot madly at one another because of the incomprehensible aims and tangled alliances of power politicians. Sadly, after four years of futility, ten million young men were dead. Red poppies grew in the fields by their graves. We remember them with sorrow, and we honor them. 
Many nations mark November 11 as Armistice Day, the day “the shooting stopped.” This day in 1918 was meant to be the end of what was called “the Great War,” and what idealists termed (and many hoped to be) the-war-to-end-all-wars.

From the perspective of 2022, it goes without saying that hopes that the Armistice of November 11 was “the end of all wars” were naive. A century of wars was approaching—wars on a scale beyond anything people could have imagined. The Armistice was merely a temporary pause… and even in this respect it was only a pause for some

For others it corresponded to the beginning (or the escalation) of further sufferings under the power of revolution and dictatorship, leading to decades of oppression, persecution, genocide. Fires were still blazing. Fire in the minds of men burned new ideologies to shape their ambitions to master the world—ideologies that aimed to remake humanity by imposing huge, unprecedented, all-pervasive schemes of social reorganization on vast numbers of the human population. Disconnected from real human experience, these ideologies preyed upon the uprootedness, instability, and disillusionment that arose out the the ashes of the Great War and its consequences. 

Two forces emerged, both clothed in the mantle of Science: one was a pseudoscientific theory for constructing a new social hierarchy based on a bizarre system of racism meticulously set forth in shamelessly fabricated biological terms. The other was a pseudoscientific theory of radical “social equality” (which, in fact, sought to impose a program of comprehensive personal and collective slavery) based on the supposedly necessary historical dynamic of “dialectical materialism.” From the midst of the flames of these ideologies emerged two of the most violent dictators in the history of the world—two “monsters” in possession of gigantic power, megalomania, ruthlessness, and destructive genius.

Ideological fire soon ignited the fires of fresh conflict—at first, the master of the pagan racist state and his allies seemed to pour over the world, destroying millions of lives and committing genocide against a people beloved of God. To defeat this monster, the nations chose to make an alliance with the other monster, the fierce and cunning ruler of the dialectical materialist slave empire. Terrible technological tools brought unprecedented horrors, with not only military but civilian deaths on a cataclysmic scale. The nations negotiated with their monster ally, and the monster made promises and assurances and declarations, but they were all lies. Instead, he took over much of the territory lost by the first monster, and continued to foster “revolutions” all over the world.

After what has been called “World War II” (with Roman numerals), the world became in fact more divided and dangerous than ever. The human race, it seemed, placed its trust in the ever more horrific weapons it continued to develop. In “The Cold War,” the superpowers “deterred” one another from using stockpiles of quasi-apocalyptic thermonuclear weapons only through the “devil’s bargain” of Mutually Assured Destruction, in which the price of global stability was to hold vast populations of innocent civilians “hostage” to the threat of indiscriminate annihilation. Meanwhile, “hot wars” raged everywhere, fought with all kinds of smaller but still devastating weapons that were bought and sold all over the world.

The free nations supposedly “won the Cold War” in 1989-1991, but not before the slave empire had inspired new imitators, new totalitarianisms, new atrocities in many places, but above all in East Asia where the old materialist ideology—losing none of its relentless grip—today creates new combinations of alluring economic prosperity and draconian political control over a fifth of the world’s population. While the “free nations” become slaves to their own stupendous riches, other countries struggle for their own national identities, often within borders they did not make for themselves. The Middle East still seeths and explodes and wrestles over borders drawn in the wake of the Great War in 1919. New ideologies clash against (or sometimes combine with) reawakened old myths and fanatical dreams, whose adherents take new weapons in their hands, wreaking old and new forms of violence. 

Not surprisingly, historical (or pseudo-historical) claims are reasserted in many places, with their gods of blood, clan, tribe, and territory pitted against the power-worshipers of the dominant technocracy. Old and new hegemonies are grasping for “spheres of influence” as the latest project of “world (dis)order” has failed to deliver on its false promises, and continues to pillage the earth to serve the wealth and self-indulgence of its elites while stranding the multitudes in deserts of alienation.

And now, 104 years after Armistice Day, the truce stands broken again in Europe for the past nine months, as artillery blazes, guns fire, and bombs fall against a nation that has already endured so much of the terror of the past century.

We live in more than the shadow of “the Great War.” We are, in a certain sense, still fighting it. If we do not turn to God, we will never find peace.

The poppies are red in remembrance of people long dead, but also with fresh blood.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Christina Grimmie’s Seamless Vision of Life

It has been six years and five months since the young singer-songwriter Christina Grimmie was killed at an open meet-and-greet after a concert in Orlando, Florida on June 10, 2016. As she was reaching out, arms wide open, to welcome a stranger who came from the line, he drew out a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol from a concealed holster and fired five shots, hitting her once in the head and twice in the chest. She was 22 years old.

Christina was a pioneering YouTube artist for several years before her magnificent run in 2014 on North American mainstream television, making the finals of Season 6 of The Voice. She called her followers “Team Grimmie” and referred to them as “frands” (combining the words “fan” and “friend”). She loved her frands, truly, in a way that is hard to describe. It was an expansive love, a love without calculation, a gratitude for anyone and everyone who listened to her music.

She was a “regular girl” in so many ways, but with an extraordinary talent and a great heart. She gave and received love with a confidence that was willing to take risks, to reach out to strangers, to be radically vulnerable. And Christina would not want us to regard her brief life as merely a tragedy, because—as she professed humbly but unambiguously in moments that called for it—her whole life and everything in it belonged to Jesus Christ, and she lived everything for His glory.

Why does her faith and following of Christ make a difference here? From every natural human perspective and consideration, her death was a crime and a catastrophe, a cause of awful grief, a manifestation of the relentless violence that permeates our society and has only grown more open and brazen since her death. All of this is true, but it is not the final word on the meaning and value of Christina’s life.

Christina saw everything within the embrace of her belonging to Jesus, and in this light we can glimpse the beauty and the “heroism” of her love for her frands, and the passion with which she gave of herself in her music, hoping to inspire others, always expanding the reach of her love, and persevering in that love all the way to the end.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Summer in November?

The weather has us confused lately in the Shenandoah Valley. We have been having temperatures in the 70s (F) during the day. We had to turn off the heat, and turn the air conditioning back on. #FirstWorldProblems

Then we set the clocks back this past weekend. On Monday the thermometer nearly reached 80! Balmy breezes, bare branches, colorful leaves, a few flowers, and sunset at 5:00 PM? What’s going on? Did the earth tilt in a different direction? This is planet earth, right?

Seriously it was a beautiful day to say “goodbye” to warmer weather. Even the flowers are perplexed, and in a few places they bloomed and competed with the leaves for attention. (See below.)

Alas, things will be set right soon enough. Frost is on the way.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

“Cartoon Videos” Keep Getting Easier to Make

It’s almost scary how much easier it is becoming to make cartoons. Apps are being developed and improved constantly in the line of recording or transferring digital videos into AI-generated cartoon. The technology still has a ways to go, but it has come a long way too, even in the past year.

Here we can see the possibilities of an iPhone in late 2022. Enjoy the show(s).

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Vast Multitudes of Unknown "Holy Souls"

November is the month in which we pray for "the faithful departed." This has become a very particular and deeply felt task for me in recent years. 

My own parents are now among the faithful departed, a reality that I am aware of every day. They have joined this important and very large group of persons whose bodily life in this world has ended, but who are still vitally "connected" to us in Christ's Body, the Church.

At the same time, I continue to think of, and pray for, all the faithful departed, the people of every race and nation who are being made ready by Christ, through the mystery of mercy that we call Purgatory, to enter into the fullness of God's life, to share His beatitude, to see Him face to face forever in perfect freedom. 

How great must be this multitude! Often, we pray for "the souls in Purgatory who have no one to pray for them." I often wonder how many belong to this category because their own faith was a secret work of God's grace while they were on earth. I think of the five billion people in this world who are not Christians in any visible sense, the billions of people, adherents of the religions of the world, vast civilizations of people past and present who have a heritage rich in so many ways but lacking an explicit place for the Gospel as proclaimed and lived.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator of salvation. Yet billions of people live their whole lives without ever hearing His name or having any real knowledge of who He is. Countless others know something about Him, but are confused by all sorts of images and ideas of what He represents, or have not had the opportunity (at least, not yet) to encounter His love for them, the way in which He has come into the world for them, and the fullness of all the ways He wants to give Himself to them.

Of course, Jesus calls His disciples to bear witness to Him in word and deed. We have encountered Him, followed Him, and come to know His love as the overflowing gift of God that “answers” all the longings and questions and perplexities of life, that corresponds to all the need and the searching of the human heart for meaning, for justice, for beauty, for a fulfillment that endures. We have been created to be sharers in God’s life, children of the Father in His Son, brothers and sisters of Jesus, united in the Holy Spirit. Christ’s love sets us free from sin and death, and makes us free to love God and find our happiness in this love. If we have the joy of loving God, then we will want to make Him known and loved by everyone. Every human person has the “right” to know the saving and transforming love that Jesus has for them particularly and personally, to know the whole scope of God’s plan in taking flesh, dwelling among us, dying and rising for us, staying with us. Christianity is missionary by its very nature, because Jesus belongs to everyone, and everyone is called to realize the truth of their humanity and their personality through a relationship with Him.

When we consider the billions of people on earth who do not know Him in all His fullness, our first impetus is toward evangelization. Nevertheless, up until the present moment, most of the human race has never really heard with their ears the Good News of God’s love, or the whole truth about their human dignity and vocation. Christ’s Church works within human history, sometimes in extraordinary ways, but overall moving within the dynamics of history. Still, He does not neglect a single one of those billions of His brothers and sisters from the past or in the present moment of history.

People who do not know about Jesus Christ are still loved immensely by God, and we can be sure that they are led by His grace. If they search for Him and follow what their conscience shows them to be His will, He leads them (in mysterious ways) to say "yes" to the Person of Christ who is present in their lives, and thus they can be saved by Christ and joined to the Church even if they have never heard of either. This must also be true of people who have "heard" of Christ and the Church, but do not understand them properly through no fault of their own.

Jesus, by becoming man, has united Himself in a certain way with every human being. The secret drama of every person's real life is their decision to say "yes" or "no" to Jesus Christ as He makes Himself present in their circumstances. Since Christ’s coming, there have been many people who have never heard of Him, but they have sought God's will, and have sought through the knowledge that was available to them to do what they thought God wanted of them. They love the good, and in that love God's grace is at work so that they can somehow encounter and accept the person of Christ through love even if they do not know His name. 

If a person truly wants "God's will," then they want Christ even if they don't know it, because Christ is God's will, and Christ places that desire in them. Jesus Christ is what every human person is searching for. And so all those who truly search for the Mystery of life, and beg for that Mystery, will be led in a vital way to God's revelation of that Mystery: Jesus Himself. Thus, many who do not know "about" Jesus in a way that they can express or articulate, can still say "yes" to Jesus in their lives through love, through fidelity to the grace that God gives them, and through mysterious ways that we don't understand.

There are various theological theories about how this can happen, and I am not proposing any of them here. Nor am I saying that someone who recognizes the truth about Christ and the Church can reject it in favor of some other path that he or she prefers. If I am truly searching for the One who loves me, and then He shows Himself to me in Person and reveals His Name, how can I not accept Him, let myself be embraced by Him, and embrace Him in return? If fear or my own preferences were to prevail at this point, it would mean the failure of my search rather than its fulfilment.

What I want to point out is the simple fact that God’s grace is central to the life of every human person, and it has ways of working even in those whose connection to the Church cannot be seen by us. These countless multitudes of people, living and dying with Christ along obscure roads in this life, have now come to a full communion with His Church and a special fellowship with us, either in heavenly glory or in the purifying experience of Purgatory. How much these vast multitudes of unknown Holy Souls need our prayers! To help them is a special sharing of fraternal love and a beautiful work of mercy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

The Communion of Saints

“When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is…’

“It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself” (Lumen Gentium 49, 50; CCC 954, 957).

Monday, October 31, 2022

Hope Remains Firm in the Midst of Many Changes

Here is a bit of an “existential reflection” on how the past four years have been so different from what I expected them to be. It was a good time to reflect on the truth that I “belong to another,” and that adherence to Him always give light for the “next step” in the human journey.

I apologize for the shaky quality of this video, but I hope that you will persist in watching, or at least listening to it. With this we say “goodbye” to October 2022.πŸ‚πŸπŸƒ

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Surprise of an Encounter

Today’s Gospel reading about Zacchaeus the tax collector reminded me of an article I wrote on his conversion in my column in Magnificat, published in January 2016. It is a story that vividly displays the gratuitous and transforming power of the encounter with Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

“Portrait” of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano

JJ Studios presents “portrait artwork” of Chiara Luce for 2022.

The origin of this portrait is a small and very grainy photograph. It was crafted with a variety of digital graphics tools, plus detailed work by hand. It preserves the original “red tinge” of the photo. 

Chiara Badano was considered “the prettiest girl in town.” She was modest but not frumpy. She had a boyfriend at one point, and experienced heartbreak. She had trouble with math in school. She was an avid tennis player. She liked popular music (including Bruce Springsteen). She was a girl of her time, and a girl of deep faith. That faith grew immensely during her nearly two years of suffering from osteosarcoma, until her death three weeks short of her 19th birthday on October 7, 1990.

"I offer everything, my failures, my pains and joys to Him, starting again every time the Cross makes me feel all its weight. The important thing is to do God’s will. I might have had plans about myself but God came up with this. The sickness came to me at the right time... [and] now I feel like I am wrapped into a wonderful design that is slowly unfolding itself to me…. What a free and immense gift life is and how important it is to live every instant in the fullness of God. I feel so little and the road ahead is so arduous that I often feel overwhelmed with pain! But that’s the Spouse coming to meet me. Yes, I repeat it: 'If you want it Jesus, so do I'" (Blessed Chiara Luce Badano).

Chiara still needs her second “officially approved miracle” for canonization, although I wouldn’t hesitate to ask her prayers for anything, even little things (especially “little things”).

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Happy 16th Birthday Josefina Janaro!πŸŽ‚πŸŽ‰

Today is Josefina Janaro's 16th birthday. Happy Birthday Jojo!

I can’t believe she’s 16 years old. When I began this blog in 2011, she was only four! Of all our “kids,” Jojo has been the most featured on this blog. It covers most of the years of her life, and recounts many funny observations and anecdotes of her growing-up. Back in 2011, it was still evident that Jojo had been a “premee” with a unique history of challenges. Now I have almost forgotten about that time long ago (n.b. I said “almost”…). But it’s hard not to remember the drama that began 16 years ago on this day. It was a difficult beginning not only for her, but also for us.

I have made many new connections and acquired new readers since our youngest child was born. Many of them don't know the crazy story of the first year of this irrepressible young lady's life. From the beginning, she was small in size but with a personality big enough to fill the room.

Josefina was "supposed to be born" in December, so when Eileen began having what seemed like the early stages of labor on the morning of October 26, 2006, we called the doctor's office. They didn't think anything unusual was happening. "Still," they said, "why don't you come in and we'll make sure...."

It's a good thing we went in that morning.

By the time Josefina was born a few hours later, the hospital had already determined by sonogram that she had an undeveloped intestinal tract, and we knew she would need major surgery (although it was hard to imagine what that could mean). In view of the emergency situation, I baptized her right away. The chaplain arrived some minutes later and administered Confirmation, which in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church is given to babies who are in danger of death.

Before long our tiny daughter was behind glass in an enormous, technologically decked out mobile incubatory contraption in order to be transported immediately to Fairfax Hospital for emergency surgery. The neonatalogists operated on her, and amazingly connected her intestinal tract, using surgical techniques that were truly marvelous. She was then set up with an intravenous feeding tube and given her place in the "NICU" (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We were told that when the operation healed and she began digesting normally, we could bring her home. The original estimate was that it would take three weeks.

We thought three weeks was going to be an unbearably long time to wait for our little girl to come home. But we had no idea what was coming…. Josefina kept having setbacks. Weeks turned into months. The NICU staff took wonderful care of her. Still, Josefina wasn't healing properly, and no one could explain why. Christmas came and went. The Spring semester of 2007 began, and I returned to my classroom even while keeping one ear on my phone in case the doctors called. .

Josefina continued in the NICU, her condition varying, but still causing concern to her doctors and staff. Their concerns were justified. On March 6, 2007, Josefina needed another emergency surgery. Things improved after that, although there were some scary points as the recovery time stretched on. There were infections and breathing complications. My mother-in-law came from California to take care of the house and kids while Eileen drove every day to Fairfax to be with Josefina. We will always be grateful to all of our extended family members and friends who helped us in countless ways.

My wife once again proved to be heroic.

I was still working full time at my university as a teaching professor. My health had been good for a while up until then. Indeed, I had had a lengthy remission, and was in great shape until the strain of Josefina’s odyssey started to wear me down again. I would go to Fairfax Hospital with Eileen as often as I could, and I took videos so that the other children could see their sister (older children were not allowed in the NICU).

Recall that, way back in '06 -‘07, I needed a digital video camera that used micro "digital video cassettes." I would then use a special "DVD Burner" to transfer the video to a disc (we called it "burning a DVD" in those primitive days). Then we could watch the videos on our analog television using a triple-color-corded hooked-up DVD player. I was like "Wow this is the future, man!" (Meanwhile, I also had my rather uninteresting "cell phone" in my pocket, for phone calls. Period.) I did my best to make humorous and happy videos for Jojo’s siblings, who were 9, 8, 6, and 3 years old. It wasn't difficult, because the "subject matter" was so cute! (We still have all those DVDs, though we haven't watched them for a long long time.)

Josefina charmed everyone with her enormous eyes and dimply smile. She was adorable, but also fragile. The problems, and the length of time it was taking to resolve them, continued to baffle the doctors. After nearly seven months of the tension of living this way, everyone was exhausted and I was headed for another major health relapse, with a debilitating flare up of Lyme Disease that ultimately necessitated my retirement from active teaching in 2008. It was an extraordinarily difficult, uncertain time for us all.

Seven months in NICU… actually it was six months, after which she was transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (or PICU). I was wondering if I should call the Guinness Book of World Records at this point, but I never got around to it.

But Josefina made it. She finally came home on May 16, 2007, still weighing only ten pounds. She started out with a nasal-gastric feeding tube, but soon she was on her own. She needed a special formula, had some digestive problems, and a moderate asthmatic condition for the next few years, but everything was fine after that.

And now Jojo is a healthy, energetic, omnivorous, sweet 16-year-old teenager who does Irish dancing, sings beautifully, and has performed on stage the past two years with her drama club. She has grown to be a very socially oriented young lady; she is good at getting to know people, making them feel welcome, and putting them at ease. She makes friends, and is kind to everyone. 

She also loves watching T.V. with her Dad, which is good because some days it’s all I can manage. But we do get to spend lots of time together, and we also have many great conversations. She empathizes with me in my pains and frustrations, but she also brings me out of myself and challenges me to be more human, to be fully engaged with life.

We thank the Lord for Josefina. We love her so much, and we are so proud of her. We look forward to the years ahead with her and all our children (and, of course, grandchildren too☺️).