Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Immaculate Conception and the "Grandeur of God's Love"

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. 

We have begun the days of the "Marian Fiesta" that are very special (and particularly important) to all the peoples of the Americas. Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, has demonstrated a concrete and enduring solicitude for this hemisphere. 

We must have confidence in her promises, and entrust ourselves to her tender love and unique maternal intercession with her Divine Son. 

We must bring to her the many intractable problems and overwhelming spiritual and physical sufferings we endure in various ways, some of which remain shockingly evident while others are hidden behind disingenuous facades - superficial pretences of human satisfaction that hide our tremendous loneliness and disconnection from reality. All of us sinners — forgetful of our God-who-is-Love and is worthy of all our love, adoration, and gratitude; perpetrators of so much deeply-rooted violence against one another and ourselves; and victims of that violence that seeks to desecrate the "image of God" that is each one of us, and that should shine through the experience of being loved and loving our brothers and sisters in communion with Jesus and by the gift of his Spirit — all of us need to seek the gifts of healing and forgiveness that the Mother of God can obtain for us as she brings us closer to Jesus her Son and our brother.

As Pope Francis stresses in the remarks below, Mary's grace-filled, all-holy life is a sign that God's love and mercy are greater than sin. She is a sign of hope for us all:

"The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love.

"The words of Genesis [about original sin] reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Sin can only be understood in this light. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God...leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment

~Pope Francis

Monday, December 6, 2021

Teresa Janaro's Birthday

Happy 19th Birthday Teresa Janaro! You have always been full of vitality and a spirit of adventure. We’re so proud of you and we love you very much!♥️

[On the left, two-year-old Teresa experimenting with music and shadesπŸ˜‰; On the right, current Teresa on one of her horses.]

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Francis Xavier: Following Jesus to the Ends of the Earth

On December 3, we commemorated Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first and most prolific of missionaries to East Asia, as well as an important figure among those who built historical bridges between East and West. 

Though his evangelizing ministry coincided with modern European expansionism in the 16th century, Francis was no "colonialist" or seeker of earthly power or riches. He was among the earliest followers of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and was one of the original seven members of Ignatius's "Society of Jesus." 

Francis Xavier set the example for countless missionaries who came after him. He was above all a man on fire with the love of God, with a passion to witness to Jesus through all the world. He preached in India and the Indonesian archipelago, became the first Catholic missionary in Japan, and longed to bring the Gospel to China, where he recognized the presence of an extraordinary human civilization.

It was there, before beginning any work in the Middle Kingdom, that Francis finally died of an illness (having reached the limits of human endurance) on an island seven miles from the coast of the southern province of Guangdong. Subsequent generations of Jesuits (and others) would take up this work after him. While they preached Christ, they also pioneered the first truly global  encounter between peoples from all over the world, with their diverse customs, heritages, and environments. In Christ, every people and every history is destined to find its fulfillment.

The ardor of Saint Francis Xavier's missionary heart brought great multitudes to Christ, shined the light of the Gospel explicitly in nations where it had never shone before, and planted seeds - many of which have yet to grow, blossom, and bear fruit. 

But they will…

Friday, December 3, 2021

December is Here

December is here. 

The sun glows near the horizon in the middle of the afternoon. The last of the bright colorful Autumn leaves have faded and fallen to the ground, giving way to the cold, relentless beauty of large spaces.

Now we are surprised to find ourselves under suddenly big skies unveiled behind the naked trees. They are brightly clear and blue in the brief hours of the day, though also traversed by strange angry clouds that look like great mountain ranges in the air. And the yellow sun is luminous in gentler and more various hues, sometimes seeming to shine "upward" from edges of waning daylight.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The "Great Conversion Story" of Charles de Foucauld

Yesterday marked the 105th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed (and soon to be Saint) Charles de Foucauld. In my social media posts and blog post yesterday, I quoted and remarked briefly on the unique vocation of this great, great saint.

Today, I thought it would be useful to present here the short account of the beginning of his vocation, and the troubled early life that preceded it. No one would have predicted the future of the worldly agnostic young man who lived a life of indulgence and excess in the France of the Third Republic.

But Charles's encounter with Jesus Christ and his conversion were profound, dramatic, and total in a manner rarely seen in any era. These few paragraphs give only an outline of a magnificent story that will become more familiar to people (let's hope) as the date of his canonization in May 2022 draws near.

The text below appeared in my monthly column in the October 2021 issue of Magnificat.

He called himself the “little brother of Jesus,” and he became a saint by bringing the presence of Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor on the margins of the Sahara Desert.

During his troubled youth, however, it seemed hardly likely that sanctity – or even faith and love – would be associated with the dissipated life of the Viscount Charles EugΓ¨ne de Foucauld. Losing his childhood faith, Charles spent a dozen wayward years as a profligate, soldier, and explorer-adventurer, but was deeply afflicted by the inadequacy of it all. In this time, he tasted the bitterness of a “godless” life.

Charles was born in 1858 to a distinguished French noble family, and as heir to great material wealth. Tragically, both his parents died when he was six years old, and he was raised by his maternal grandfather, with the intermittent company of other relatives. Still, the absence of his parents affected him deeply, and he became an unruly and notorious adolescent: intellectually gifted but lazy, rendered agnostic by careless reading and his own indifference, undisciplined and apparently resentful of all authority.

In 1878, Charles reluctantly joined the French cavalry to please his grandfather. He soon became famous for his lavish parties, extravagant spending, and improper liaisons, none of which could assuage what he later acknowledged was an overwhelming loneliness. A listless, insubordinate soldier, he was temporarily invigorated by martial zeal when his regiment was called to fight in Algeria. But something more long-lasting also began at that time: Charles’s small “accidental” role in France’s colonial misadventures was the occasion for God to stir up his soul. He watched the Muslims in their fidelity to prayer, and it seemed to open up in him a sense of wonder at the Mystery greater than himself and the whole world. After his military service, Charles determined to pursue this fascination into the desert, spending a whole year exploring Morocco disguised as a Jewish rabbi, and eventually writing an authoritative, award-winning book on this region.

Charles returned to Paris in 1886, with his extended family still much concerned about his erratic behavior. They hardly could imagine that he secretly visited churches, his heart crying out, “O God, if you exist, let me come to know you!” His older cousin, Marie de Bondy, however, had known Charles since his childhood. She intuited the pain and the questions and the troubles of his soul. Rather than argue with him, she offered him love and friendship. Her tenderness and goodness penetrated beyond his perplexity, and led him to seek out her great friend and spiritual guide, Father Henri Huvelin. This learned and holy priest knew well how Christ’s grace opens doors for many restless minds. When Charles made his acquaintance and requested to “discuss” Catholicism, Fr Huvelin knew that what Marie de Bondy’s wandering, weary cousin really needed was Confession.

In October 1886, Charles de Foucauld confessed and received Holy Communion like a child, and his thirsty soul was filled with the certainty of faith and the ardor of a great love. “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.” Thus, also, was his vocation born, which is an even better story than all that led up to it. And these two great friends who led Charles to Christ – Marie de Bondy and Henri Huvelin – remained in communication with him and supported his unique vocational path for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Charles, the "Little Brother" of Jesus

Charles, the "Little Brother" of Jesus. 

He desired to "shout the Gospel with [his] life." After his dramatic conversion/"reversion" to the Catholic faith, he felt called to love Jesus in an utterly radical manner. 

First with the Trappists in France, then in the Holy Land and Algeria, he sought to follow Jesus with a humility that worried his friends and his spiritual director, but they continued to support him, convinced of his holiness and the reality of his unique charismFinally, he went to live among the poorest and most forgotten people at the edge of the Sahara. He made his hermitage/"house-of-hospitalty" among the Tuareg, a nomadic Muslim people, and befriended them and gave special attention to their desolate black African slaves.

They called him "marabout" (holy man). He did not preach with words. He spent his days in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in serving the poorest of the poor. He was martyred - killed by bandits - on December 1, 1916. After his death, others began to follow his way of life. He taught us in a profound and (in a sense) "new" way that contemplative love and fraternal charity are at the heart of Christian witness. In May 2022, he will be canonized a saint. 

Charles de Foucauld is the saint we need today.

While living at Ben-Abbes in Algeria, he welcomed everyone. He said, "I want to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and nonbelievers, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. Already they're calling this house 'the fraternity' (khaoua in Arabic) - about which I'm delighted - and realizing that the poor have a brother here - not only the poor, though: all men."

He was familiar with struggles, dark-nights-of-the-soul, and loneliness.

Charles failed in his efforts to found a religious community during his lifetime, and he experienced much sorrow and pain and spiritual darkness and obscurity even regarding his own work. But in a letter of December 1, 1916 - which was never sent - he wrote these words: "When we can suffer and love, we can do much, it’s the most that we can do in this world: We feel our suffering, but we don’t always feel that we love and that’s an additional suffering!  But we know that we want to love and to want to love is to love."

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Andrew: Bringer of Good News

Today is the Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle.

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The Scripture says,
'No one who believes in him will be put to shame.'
There is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

"But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach unless they are sent?
As it is written,
'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!'"

~Romans 10:9-15

Monday, November 29, 2021

End of Autumn: Homage in Digital Art

In various styles of digital graphic art from "JJStudios," here are my final “pictorial words” for November, near the end of this year’s Autumn season:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Advent 2021: Seeking the One Who Seeks Us

We have arrived once again at the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Roman rite, even as the calendar of temporal events continues to pass through the final weeks of what - for many of us - has been an uncertain and painful year of 2021. 

Advent invites us to remember once again the glory of Jesus as the meaning of everything in our lives, including all the obscure and sorrowful things. The Word became flesh to bear our wounds and save us from sin (which is the source and perpetuator of pain through all of history).

Advent encourages us to lift up our hearts with hope to the fulfillment He has promised, to adhere to Him with greater trust, and to be witnesses to God’s faithfulness to our neighbors, accompanying them in their own (often confused, frustrating, even desperate) search for healing and the true value of life.

Now is the time to remember once again that in Jesus God’s love draws close to every person. What an immense love this is: God’s “longing” for each person He has created. He has “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” His Eternal Word made flesh and born of the Virgin Mary. 

May this beautiful Advent season prepare our hearts for the joy of Christmas (the celebration of which begins on December 25). 

Come, Lord Jesus!⭐️

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Holidays With Empty Seats and Dark Holes

For many, the coming holidays will be hard because of an empty seat at the table. Some of my friends in the USA are observing Thanksgiving today for the first time with the awkward anguish of That Empty Chair, the one that for so many previous years had been occupied by a beloved spouse, a parent, or even a child. These precious persons have been taken away from this life, sometimes by the course of nature and the fullness of their years (which - even when it’s not sudden or surprising - causes real sorrow for those left behind). But there are also many persons who have vanished "before their time," in strange ways, under circumstances that leave their loved ones gasping for breath and staring at the black hole that has burned suddenly into the midst of their daily lives… a hole that seems bottomless.

For me this year, there are some real reasons for grief, but also very much to be grateful for. And there is above all gratitude for the hope that sustains me through joys and surprises, changes and the passage time, and even in the midst of pain and sorrows.

But I know that for others, the trial is much more acute, and the empty seat at the table reminds them of an absence that is like an abyss that they and their families have been plunged into, where they cannot seem to see any light or find any foothold.

My prayer is especially for them, that they may remember that they are held in the darkness and in the depths by the forever-open-wounded hands of Love.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Boundless Reach of God’s Mercy

I came across this excerpt from my book Never Give Up, published nearly a dozen years ago, and it seemed worth posting here in these difficult days.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Jesus, Our Crucified King

************For some of us, this celebration of the feast of Christ the King is marked by the sorrow of a tragedy that happened to one of the young people in our community last week.

The pain of an incomprehensible loss is something we can only bring to a King who has carried all our sorrows, who rules by the love that leads us and makes ways for us through the darkest abysses.

Please pray for the soul of a young person, and for the consolation of their parents and family.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

It's "Papa Time"!

Maria Janaro is only four months old, but she already knows lots of people. She spends much of her week being cared for by her mommy and daddy and nanas and a whole bunch of aunts.

Her old "Papa" is usually content to be in the background. But he gets his share of "Papa Time" and - of course - he usually has his phone-camera ready at hand. This doesn't give him the right to "put words into Maria's head," but he couldn't resist a few captions for pictures he took on Monday.πŸ˜‰

Not to worry: Maria gets to "speak for herself" in the video.

Then, Papa decides to make a video. Here we go:

Oh my, how dramatic! But "all's well that ends well."πŸ™‚

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Saint Gertrude: The "Incredible Ardor" of Jesus

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.

Reports of Gertrude's visions, her special spiritual intimacy with Jesus, and her own prayers were written by her and/or her sisters at the Helfta monastery, many of whom were also saintly and highly educated during this period.

In one vision, Jesus reportedly said 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."

Gertrude's prayers are full of vivid imagery:

"O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful 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: the very Truth."

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The "Authority" of Christina Grimmie's Joyful Love

The origin of this picture was a screenshot from a video on Christina Grimmie's YouTube channel. It was through living human interaction and passionate music performances, as well as videos, social media, and recordings, that she gave herself during the past decade - gifts of love that have remained accessible and vital even now, five years and five months since she went home to the Lord. Her offering of herself and her remarkable talents along with her ordinary life with its many facets has - if anything - grown in power, authority, and capacity to touch the hearts of people since that day. It was then that Christina's commitment to God - her mission freely discerned and taken up - was fulfilled "to the end." She lived out to its completion, and in all its mysterious depths, her vocation to give glory to Jesus through "secular" popular music, and to love and accompany people in many places throughout the world (especially those who are wounded people, poor people, suffering people, or people in particular loneliness who need to experience that Someone loves them with an everlasting love). 

Christina's gift of herself continues to bear fruit today. For a young person, she had an unusual maturity in her conviction and persistence in loving others (even when the means she used were gestures full of youthful spontaneity and fun), because her love was grounded in her confidence in the redeeming mercy and tenderness of Jesus. Now that her "offering of her life" is completed in Him, the "authority" (the convincing power) of her love and joy becomes more evident. She is for us a "sign" of His love for us, and she is "closer to us" now even if - paradoxically - she has for a time passed beyond our sight. Still, she has left glimpses of herself in this world: so many pieces of media sound and imagery that extend to us even now the love stamped with her own unique personality, while also given as a witness to the God who has become incarnate - who has come to dwell with us and wants to stay with us

Thus, these pictures (see above and also below, the latter screenshots from videos variously posted on YouTube from 2015 European Tour) and the many other "virtual jewels" we have from her luminous life stand out from the overwhelming bombardment of sights, sounds, and information that pour over us every day. There is a freshness and a surprise and a mysterious personal quality that endures in them, and even grows with the passage of time and continues to "meet us" as our own earthly lives continue and we engage new challenges.

These images of Christina are precious to me, and reach me today in the fragility and anxieties of difficult circumstances I am going through right now, with the recent loss of my own parents, the changes in the rhythm of life at home as my kids grow up, the ongoing frustrations with my chronic illness, and the new and strange challenges of growing older. But Christina walks with me and engages my humanity even now, in part through so many vital images. They are not only "from the past" as if they were the remains of something inexorably lost, that provokes only nostalgia and, ultimately, sadness. They are a "presence" here and now, as extensions of Christina's joyful, loving gaze that reaches me, so that I feel "seen" and "known" in a remarkable way by someone I never met in this world. They have a kind of "authority" and special value in helping me remember that I am loved

Christina made all these gestures to us and gave all her attention to us in these moments from out of a great love for Jesus (which does not therefore bypass us, but precisely for this very reason includes us without limits or boundaries). She reached out to us from her own experience of His love (which is always present, always wanting us, always healing, forgiving, redeeming, transforming us); thus all the expressions of her life so rich in humanity and goodness have been woven together into a witness and an affection that still touches us, encourages us, and draws us closer to the Mystery of Infinite Love. Her beautiful face has joined its gaze on us to the One whose human face looks with love on every person, who cherishes each and all of us and has called us to share in unending joy. (Once again, Christina, I am so grateful to you!πŸ’š)

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Who is "Saint John Lateran"?

The focus of today's feast day might be a bit confusing, at least for English speakers. 

The shorthand phrase "Feast of Saint John Lateran" might give us the idea that there was a holy person in history (who we know nothing about) named "John Lateran," one of the multitude of "Saint Johns" out there among the saints. And there are lots of "Saint Johns" (believe me, I've checkedπŸ˜‰). Perhaps we might even ask "Saint John Lateran" to pray for us.

In fact, today we celebrate the dedication of the first great church built publicly within the walls of ancient Rome, the original cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, which the Italians call San Giovanni in Laterano. To this day it remains the Pope's official episcopal "seat," even though the more famous Saint Peter's in the Vatican has long since become the church closest to the Pope's residence and the sight of the majority of papal events.

The Basilica of Our Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist was dedicated in Rome by Pope Sylvester I on this day in the year 324. It was less than a decade after Constantine won his victory over Maxentius, became Emperor, and gave Christianity legal status and full freedom within the Empire. Constantine had acquired private land holdings through his wife's connections with the prestigious Laterani (an old Roman noble family). He donated the property to the Pope for the building of a church. 

The initial church was erected not after the pattern of pagan temples, but according to the model of Roman public gathering places where formal events were celebrated with all the people. In place of the imperial triumphal arch, the new church used an arch dedicated to Jesus, the true Emperor of the whole universe, and His triumph over sin and death. This arch set off the sanctuary from the congregational space, and the "Christian Basilica" was born.

But why celebrate a building? After all, isn't it true that the "Church" is the People of God who worship Him in the liturgy? Why should the building matter? 

Certainly, Christians don't view their buildings as magical edifices that circumscribe divine power and subject it to human conjuring. They do not confine God within their walls. Rather a church building, like many other material things that are set aside for the worship of God Incarnate, is cherished because of the great liturgical gestures it makes possible. The community established by Jesus is human in the fullest sense, composed of bodily human beings who are called, as much as possible, to gather together in a particular place to worship God together publicly and visibly. For three centuries, such gatherings - whether large or small, tolerated or persecuted - took place in provisional places, sometimes even secret places, but in any case places that were less than fully inserted within the society and culture in which people lived their daily lives. It is proper to the wisdom of God's plan and the reality of the Incarnation - God dwelling among us - that there be acknowledged, visible, tangible human places where His people gather to affirm and encounter His presence.

This is one reason we celebrate the dedication of the "Lateran Basilica" nearly 1700 years ago. It has been rebuilt and augmented many times, but it remains the same place, the "Mother of churches" (as it is called). Our joy on this feast day is above all in Christ and in our belonging to Him together, but today we are especially grateful for the place where the Pope has his seat, where the Christians of Rome have gathered with him for 17 centuries, and also for the churches that make "homes" for us and for Christians all over the world, the places where we come together to be with Christ in the offering of His love for us.

Friday, November 5, 2021

May We Merrily Meet in Heaven

Lord, grant to those who have gone before us eternal rest and peace in Your presence, and at our journey's end bring us also to You, that we might all "merrily meet" in the fullness of Your joy.

This graphic is from Saint Thomas More's final letter to his daughter, Meg:

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

November's "Holy Souls" and Our Loved Ones

Already, it is November 2021!

We have begun this new month (and the final weeks of the liturgical year in the Roman rite) with the joyful feast of All Saints, followed by a special remembrance of "All Souls" — all of the "faithful departed," especially our loved ones who have passed from this life united with Jesus in His saving death.

They have embarked upon that mysterious final passage "from death to resurrection" by which the fullness of His healing and transforming love frees them and prepares them for the blessedness of the true life: to dwell forever in perfect happiness with Christ, in the unveiled embrace of the God who is Love.

For many of us, this year's "All Souls Day" (and this month specially dedicated to the faithful departed) has a special poignancy and sense of "intimacy" that we may never have experienced before. During the past year (or in recent years) many have had to "say goodbye" in this world to people we loved deeply and dearly - people who were part of the edifice of our earthly lives — whose living and breathing, whose voices and affection and encouragement, were as basic to "our world" as the ground under our feet, as the sun that lights our days, or as that sense of quiet joy and familiarity of "being at home." People have said goodbye to spouses, family members, brothers or sisters, or friends who were "like" brothers and sisters to them on their earthly journey. It is a comfort to entrust them to God our merciful Father who loves them and us with a greater love than we can ever imagine. It is a great and "intimate" consolation to be able to pray for them, and rely on their prayers for us. In this month, it is as if the whole Church gathers together with those who grieve, to console those who mourn. In November we especially consider the whole Church: the communion of saints who see God face to face, as well as those "arriving" at blessedness through a final purification that is mysteriously arduous (that's why we pray for them) but also mysteriously joyful, and of course those of who remain on this earthly pilgrimage united with Jesus as we struggle to "fight the good fight" and "keep the faith" until our time is completed.

This year's November is new for me. It's somewhat hard describe how it "seems to me." My Dad died in 2019, and I have written here about the sorrow and also the "peculiarity" of life without him. Yet my Mom was still alive, and she had much need for our help, and also gave much love, affirmation, and wisdom to her children, grandchildren, and (at least by feeling her kick from the womb) her great-granddaughter who was born six days after she died. My mother's death this past July, however, was like "the breaking of the last thread" between generations, between "the parents" and "the kids" (the "kids" being Walter and me — funny as that may be in the minds of younger folks).

This sounds odd, perhaps, but it is the way I experienced my parents: they were "together" not only as husband and wife for 59 years but as my parents. Since my mother's death, it has struck me that I not only miss her (so much I cannot even understand it myself) but I also miss my father more. It was as if he was still "partially around" as long as she was still around.

There are practical, physical reasons for this: their own home and their estate have become our concern, and though they were not rich in the first-world sense of being rich, there will be some material benefit for us once all the bureaucratic stuff is taken care of. This is beautiful above all (by far) because we know how our parents carefully arranged their modest material legacy so that it would help us and the grandchildren in our material needs. It is one more expression of their love which makes me grateful to them. No one knows what tomorrow may bring regarding material circumstances, but the provision they have made for us — this special gesture of the care they gave us through all our lives — is a priceless gift. I am grateful beyond words.

And even as I miss them, there is a sense in which I feel closer to them. I think they still "take care of us," even in some very particular ways of daily life. They are "not far" from us. Some day we will understand how this all "works" (persons, relationships, the human family, the generations, life and death, how Divine Love illuminates all of it...).

We were blessed to have these good parents, and it helps us to glimpse some sign that indicates the kind of love that our Lord has for each and every human person, and the special love He has for the poor, for the "orphans" of this world (and there are more and more who are orphaned by strife perpetrated by humans, through war and oppression, through many sufferings from without and from within families, and the confusion and materialistic shallowness in our covetous society that breaks apart human relationships and leads to the dissolution of family life). God wants these suffering people to know that they are His children, and that He seeks their healing. And we know that we are called, that we must find ways to be brothers (brothers and sisters) to those who have no home, no family, and those who feel lost and alone in this world.

May God grant eternal rest to those who have died, and consolation to those who suffer from losing them in this life.

Here is a picture of Mom and Dad from their younger days:

Friday, October 29, 2021

Chiara Luce: "If You Want It Jesus, So Do I"

October 29th commemorates Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano, an Italian girl who died of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in 1990, a few weeks short of her 19th birthday. She was declared "blessed" in 2010. 

Chiara Luce was a young person of our own time. She had aspirations and plans for her life. She loved to sing, to play tennis, and to swim. She had a hard time with math in school. She cherished her family and friends. When she fell ill, it was very hard for her. She wanted to live. In the long odyssey of her cancer treatments, she knew the force of her own human hopes that she might be cured. 

But Chiara Luce was also a girl of great faith. Shaped since childhood by the charism of the Focolare movement, she recognized in her illness a deeper calling from her suffering Lord. She accepted and even embraced this new, arduous, painful path, and offered her life in union with Jesus's cry of abandonment on the Cross. She said:
"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."
She was able to endure beyond her own capacity for endurance, because she trusted in Jesus, because deeper than all the very real pain was the mystery of relationship with Him.
"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!'"
I have written often about Chiara Luce Badano and the very special friendship that (I can't help putting it this way) she initiated with me in Christ, in the "communion of saints" nine years ago. I rely on her help, and I believe she has opened my eyes to recognize the extraordinary courage that the grace of God has engendered in some apparently "ordinary" young people in the present time.
Even in the tumult and complexity of today, the young generation remains a reason for hope. Youth are made for heroism, and if we try to love them, guide them, and prepare the ground for them, we should not be surprised by what God can accomplish in their hearts. It is encouraging to realize that Christ can bring them so far beyond our poor, flawed efforts as parents and educators. 

But it is not only for this that Chiara Luce is my friend. She also shows me the truth about my own destiny. But I am no longer young. I have grown old and complicated. I have woven badly many threads of my life and there are lots of knots. 

Chiara Luce amazes me, and, quite frankly, scares me in some sense. I find myself dizzy and powerless, gasping for air in the atmosphere she inhabits. But I am also drawn in my heart, fascinated and filled with longing even in front of these things that seem frightening and incomprehensible.

I acknowledge that I am far from God, broken, and above all proud. Only the humility that trusts in the transforming presence of Christ in my life can change me. I don't know how to "imitate" a saint like this. I can only beg for the grace of Christ to awaken and deepen in me the awareness that the circumstances of my own life are His gift through which He draws me to Himself. 

Blessed Chiara, pray for me. Pray for us.


This text is an unofficial (i.e. not from a liturgical source) English translation of the Collect for her feast day. My hope is that God's grace will indeed "transform deeply my soul" -- beginning with a greater attraction to this light of love, and a more efficacious desire to live with this serene trust.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Happy Birthday Jojo!

It’s hard to believe Josefina is now 15 years old. There are many stories about her in this Blog, especially in the earlier years.

She’s one-of-a-kind, and we love her very much!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Asia's Greatness, Tragedy, and Hope

My ongoing East Asian Studies Project research has led me to a deeper appreciation of the historical and social forms of various non-Christian (often existentially “pre-Christian”) societies. 

So much can be said about the millennia of history journeyed through by countless peoples with their great efforts, ardent questions, and intrepid search for truth. Above all, we know that ultimately we will marvel at the many secret ways of grace by which the Mystery of God has guided a significant portion of the human race in the Divine plan of redemption and made possible their salvation, even though these great peoples were for a long time distant in earthly space from the historical witness of the Church. Even now, there are so many who have not yet encountered Jesus Christ in a way that they can recognize consciously or articulate clearly. But God in His wisdom still works through the Spirit in their hearts, calling them, drawing them, and opening up for them in the hidden, inscrutable workings of His mercy vital and mysterious ways for them to accept Jesus and belong to Him ("invisibly," as it were, and therefore not yet in accordance with the fullness of the meaning of the Incarnation). 

There are multitudes of people who can attain eternal life (always, in reality, through Christ and the Church) even if they don't have the possibility of encountering a compelling external witness to the Gospel, and learning about Christ's love for them in an explicit way that they can recognize or express to themselves or others. Even if they "know" the terms used in Christianity, and some theories that they think Christians hold, they may still - through no fault of their own - not really know (or nor yet know) that they themselves are destined to be God's children through His Son Jesus Christ. God who is our loving Father wills all people to be saved. He never tires of reaching out to all those whom He has created for Himself and who seek Him on the journey of this life. His mercy is able to work in their hearts and associate them too with the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is the only Savior of the world and of each person.

Regarding the salvation of the nations, Christians can have great confidence in God's infinite power and infinite mercy, while not losing any of our ardor for evangelization and our sense of responsibility to witness to Jesus and His Church in every place, because (as John Paul II said in his first encyclical) every human person "has the right" to know the One for whom they have been made, the One who has redeemed them and who loves them and gives ultimate meaning to their lives.

Having said this, we must note with gratitude the stunning beauty and great human achievements, splendid poetry, literature, wisdom, and many beautiful religious traditions in Asian cultures that for so long were virtually inaccessible to the civilizations of those places commonly known as "the West" and "the Near East" (and vice versa). The advent of the global epoch has engendered global encounters, but thus far they have been more belligerent than fruitful, involving too much the imposition of the modern West's colonial and technocratic power. It is time for the whole world to be enriched by the great ancient human heritages of Asia (which we Westerners still know too little about).

This is one reason why I feel the need to pursue this study, even now in "the autumn" of my own life. It is important for the future of humanity that we continue to build strong bridges of understanding and compassion between West and East. Nevertheless, it is also important to try to understand the problems and ambivalence that have grown from within East Asian cultures themselves (because, like all human cultures, they are flawed and profoundly strained by the mysterious incoherence of the human condition in this world).

From what I am learning, it seems that Asia's rich achievements and insights still coexist with - and are often partly tangled up with - other deeply entrenched, centuries-old violent structures and attitudes of oppression, intractable ethnic conflicts, methodical atrocities, harmful superstitions, and numerous forms of depersonalization that have been accepted for longer than anyone can remember. Certain modes of human existential impoverishment have been integrated into life, even resigned to with a poignant sense of the inescapable tragedy of life, but accepted (with sorrow) as inevitable and impossible to change. East Asian societies are paralyzed in some of these ways, sometimes with ruthless consequences, and other times with a sense of tragic nobility, restraint, and inner coherence that has elements of great courage and a powerful sense of moral responsibility - but also an often desperate longing for an apparently elusive forgiveness

Sometimes Asian cultures seem to have less awareness of the dignity of the individual human person, or are considered to be "fatalistic" in the face of human suffering. This is an oversimplification, of course. A blog post, however, must paint in broad strokes, remembering that pondering these issues here is always very provisional. What occurs to me, however, is that Asian societies have a keen sense of the fragility of all things, and of a world so easily broken by human weakness, vanity, failure, and stubbornness. Experience and reflection on human life has long taken place there in a context where the possibility for forgiveness has appeared distant, if not indeed "beyond the horizon" of hope.

This points to a way that a genuine inculturated evangelization may well transfigure Asia's precious heritages, healing wounds and bringing to a new level all of the great goods therein so that they might shine with a fresh brightness of light such as we all need now and in times to come. East Asia needs to experience (within the real personal and social lives of its peoples) the kind of transforming forgiveness that Jesus brings through the Gospel and the sacraments (even though - we must never forget - He is already at work in their hearts, in who-knows-what mysterious ways, to draw them into His merciful heart for their eternal salvation).

I'm talking about a real encounter with Jesus Christ among peoples and cultures. I'm not talking about an extrinsic imposition of a "Christian worldview" such as Westerners once aspired to cultivate. It will rightly be pointed out that many Christians have perpetrated even greater wars, hatred, and atrocities (even with institutional complicity), but we must remember that in so doing they have not represented Jesus Christ. Rather they have betrayed Him. 

Whereas the power of the real Gospel - wherever it is proposed with genuine love and witness - always initiates and fosters great positive changes in the human attitudes and practices of the overall society (even if these developments are still far from perfect, still partial, or take time to mature in application, or are frequently violated - but with these violations also frequently, or at least eventually, denounced and reformed). The Gospel puts forth an ideal of what it means to be human that is continually renewed and keeps “pulling upward” on humanity even in the temporal history of this world. 

I'm not engaging here in partisan religious flag-waving: Christians have a lot to be ashamed of, and a greater responsibility because they ought to know better in light of the great gift of explicit awareness of the Gospel. We need to repent, and remember that the Gospel has power not only to save us for eternity but also to “humanize” us more in this life, including the freeing up and fulfillment of our roots in diverse human cultures and traditions.

I have seen the beginning of this for East Asia through writing the stories of Asian converts from different times and places including China, Japan, Vietnam, and India. For example Takashi Nagai, in becoming Catholic, became more profoundly Japanese, and even attained the status of a symbol of his people's suffering - as he endured during his illness the devastation visited upon so many ordinary civilians by atomic (and conventional) aerial bombing at the end of the Second World War. I think also of Chinese converts like the late John C. H. Wu - so dynamically and “interiorly” Chinese and also so deeply Catholic. Wu could find analogies between the Tao and Saint Therese of Lisieux, discourse on Confucius, or on the poetry of the Tang dynasty, translate the Psalms into verse in classical Chinese style, and have a childlike intimacy with the saints of the Church.

Western colonialism was such a mess because even many of the missionaries weren’t adequately focused on true and vital conversions to Christianity; they also thought it necessary to make everyone into Western-style people (and “second class” Western-style people at that). We Christians have failed our Asian brothers and sisters in varying degrees, but it remains our fault. It is not the fault of “Christianity.” Chesterton was right: Christianity as the inspiration for a social ideal “hasn’t been ‘tried’ yet" - its boundless human resources have scarcely been tapped in terms of its capacity to make life in this present world more true, more beautiful, more fraternal. What I call “Christendom 1.0” was a deeply flawed piece of “software” (forgive the analogy) that eventually corrupted, yet a lot got accomplished insofar as it freed the Gospel to touch society. 

Dare we hope, someday, for a “Christendom 2.0” that is drawn together by Jesus Christ in human solidarity, respect for freedom, human dignity, love for the poor and works of mercy? It would be personalist and communitarian, and founded on Christ’s presence through evangelical love - agape, caritas, especially “fraternal charity” (such as Jacques Maritain envisioned and tried to outline, in works such as Integral Humanism that profoundly influenced the vision of Vatican II). Perhaps rather than calling it “a New Christendom” we need another “less loaded” term, which won't encourage the powers of this world to make the same mistake as before, and think that evangelization is a tool for increasing and consolidating their grip on things and making themselves rich. (Though in the 21st century, one doubts that the powers of the world would care about or even comprehend such terms or the ideal they try to express. In any case, let us remember to care about these possibilities and pray for their realization.)

Anyway, I have lots of thoughts here, painted with a broad brush, and perhaps with no little foolishness.πŸ™‚ But my East Asian Studies Project continues, and I hope and pray that it will be fruitful in more ways than I will ever know in what's left of my own earthly life. If I can prompt other people to consider these realities more attentively, that alone would make my labors worthwhile.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Happy JP2 Day!


Today is the memorial of Saint John Paul II (Pope from 1978-2005) who was a “witness to hope” for our generation, and for today and the future:

Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man’. He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

~Saint John Paul II (October 22, 1978)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Marriage Jubilee at the Cathedral

This past Sunday, October 17, Eileen and I participated in the diocesan Mass for married couples celebrating Golden (50 yrs) and Silver (25 yrs) Jubilees at Saint Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia. 

A LOT of couples came (as you can imagine from what you see in this picture). We didn't mind sitting in the choir loft. It was a beautiful and inspiring event. We are glad we made the effort to make the trip into "the big city."

Bishop Michael Burbidge met with each couple after the Mass too, and was very generous with his time and attention. We are grateful to the Lord for 25 years of living the sacrament of marriage and raising our family in this wonderful diocesan church community.❤️✝️

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria!

Our granddaughter Maria is now three months old, and she's holding her head up. Time for a collage!πŸ˜‰

So alert and curious.☺ But she sleeps a lot too!πŸ’Ÿ