Sunday, May 28, 2023

Pentecost 2023: “Holy Spirit, Heal Our Wounds…”

Sequence of Pentecost:
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Gift is Ever Greater…

If we sacrifice the gifts that have been given to us—if we “give away” all we have and all we are, for the love of God—it can sometimes feel like we are leaping into the abyss of the Mystery, beyond anything we can comprehend. The faith that assures us, the hope that guides us, the love that impels us sometimes seem so faint and small. We feel that we are on the verge of being overwhelmed.

But we are never abandoned. The signs of the Lord’s steadfast love renew themselves on the journey of our lives. Even in this world, we catch glimpses of the miracle of endurance of God’s love, and the fruitfulness of our participation in His giving. Sometimes we see this through recognizing the simple ways that goodness grows within history through our sacrifices. In the measure God knows we need to persevere on the path toward our destiny in Him, He allows us to experience along the way something of the human richness of this truth that “in giving we shall receive”—that His gift is ever greater.

I am grateful for being blessed—as I grow older—to see anew the wonder of all existence through the eyes of a child. 


What a total, unique, gratuitous miracle she is! I could never “fabricate” through my own power, through all the efforts of my mind to control reality, anything like this new little person

Now she is nearly two years old. She is learning new words every day (and she loves to chatter). She knows the different colors of the crayons. She can recite her “ABCs” and count to at least twelve (or at least she knows the letters and numbers, more or less). And so many other things….

Holy Spirit, come. Open my eyes every day to the wonder of your ever-greater gifts, to confidence that the Risen Jesus is renewing all things, and that every pain and struggle and sorrow will bear fruit beyond all measure.

Friday, May 26, 2023

“They Grow Up Fast”—Family Life (& All of Life) is “Sacrifice”

This is from a Facebook post on May 26, 2009. If you are as old as I am, you think “2009 … wow, that was fourteen YEARS ago?!” But, in fact, a lot has changed since 2009. These faces have certainly changed!!

They have changed, and we have changed. The noise level in the house has changed into a kind of “silence” that Eileen and I are still trying to “get used to.” Four of these kids are adults now (and two of them are already married!), and each one of them has a unique personality and vocation. Each one also has the fragility of the human condition. Each has their own problems and sufferings too. Life is hard

Don’t envy the people with smiling pictures of their smiling families on social media. Everyone is suffering, everyone is wounded. And human parents who love their children still “worry” about them and suffer-with them, no matter where they are.

The Lord gives us gifts, so that we in turn can give them. We journey toward our destiny through sacrifice, by which the gifts we have been given mature and realize themselves. And along the course of our journey—especially as it approaches its end—we must give everything, or else learn to give by the mysterious process of being divested of everything. Every person is utterly poor at the moment of death. 

It is only through sacrifice that we can “store up treasure in the Kingdom of God” — the ultimate fulfillment that is hard for us to picture to ourselves in this present life. We know “in part” (an often obscure “part”) through faith, hope, and love for the One who has already begun His reign in His Father’s Kingdom, who gives us His Spirit to keep the light of joy and trust burning even in the “darkness” of this giving-everything-away, this losing-ourselves-in-order-to-find-ourselves — in our journey toward that ultimate, transfigured fulfillment of our true selves and of everyone and everything in the unveiled glory of the Mystery who is Infinite Gift and Infinite Love. 

We glimpse all of this now through faith in the testimony that has been handed down to us and the Spirit who dwells in us, who reminds us that sacrifice is not despair, or alienation, or nihilism; sacrifice is love that abandons everything into the embrace of the One who has loved us first. Thus, sacrifice holds fast to hope in the promise of the ultimate meaning and fulfillment of our poor human lives. We know that sacrifice is vindicated, because we follow a Man who is Risen from the dead!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A Dim Yellow Sun in the Evening Sky

There were lots of what appeared to be thin clouds and haze on the horizon this evening. This is a photograph of THE SUN over the tree line at 7:48 PM (some 40 minutes before sunset). I know, it’s not good to stare at the sun even when you “can,” so mostly I took snaps on my phone. But even these glimpses struck me as very unusual.

Later I learned the surprising explanation. Wildfires in Western Canada have been going on for several weeks. Changing weather conditions drew the smoke down through the USA, all the way to the East Coast today (May 24, 2023).

The world is intrinsically interconnected, indeed.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

“The One Who Fills All Things”

What we believe in, hope for, pray for, is a mighty thing. Because we are distracted, and because it is not the kind of “might” that fits the pattern of power as we conceive of it in this life, we easily forget about the transcendent and all-present omnipotence of Infinite Love who creates and redeems us. It is a mysterious “power,” which is beyond our comprehension—even though we yearn for it, and are made for it.

But our hope is not in the power of an ideology that we have to draw from within ourselves and measure by our own thoughts. The “power” we depend upon is a Person, a person we encounter, a person we love, because He has come to be one of us, to share our life and death that we may share the fullness of His resurrection. We are “His body,” united with Him, and—let us never forget—“members” of one another in Him. We belong to Him who loved us first, and will love us to the end. This mystery reduces me to silence, and to an attention and gratitude I cannot express.

“May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way” (Ephesians 1:17-23).

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Saint Bernadine: The Love of Jesus for All

May 20 is the feast day of Saint Bernadine of Siena (1380-1444), a Franciscan born in the same year that his great compatriot—the Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena—died.

During one of the most openly corrupt and violent periods in the history of Western Christendom, Bernadine worked ardently and tirelessly to preach reform and reconciliation throughout the Italian peninsula. His witness brought many people to conversion, and restored harmony in places that had been dominated by seemingly implacable factions waging what amounted to civil wars that brought great hardship to the poor and powerless members of the population. 

His words resonate in our own time, in the darkness of so many vicious and combative places in the world, where God is ignored, love has grown cold, and the poor and defenseless suffer the consequences of so much human malice, negligence, and chaos which inevitably bring war and violence in their wake.

Bernadine reminds us today that it is through prayer that we become instruments of peace. Certainly, issues need to be addressed and justice needs to be done, but it is the "energy" of the humble love of those who beg for Christ, who surrender to God's love, that sustains all human efforts to seek healing, recompense, reconciliation, and lasting peace. The begging heart opens a "space" for the Lord to pour out all the glory of His unconquerable love, the gift of eternal life that we have all been created to receive.

"Prayer extends not to oneself alone but to the entire city. Let each one ask grace from God for the love of Jesus, notwithstanding that you are a sinner. And because we all have need of the grace of God, we must all ask it. Therefore I say that you should tell your sons and your daughters to recite five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys, to the end that the good God shall send unity and concord among all people, and that he may put into the hearts of all that which shall be above all to the glory of God and the salvation of their souls" (Saint Bernadine of Siena).

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

In the Silence, I Can Hear the Rain…

These are still silent moments for me. I feel like I am accompanying some tremendous grief that weighs upon another person or a group of people somewhere. They may be near or far (or both), but I do not know their pain or it source. I only sense that there is something more important for me right now—some combination of vigilance and powerlessness—that has placed a “hold” on my writing about so many things that I wish to write about.

Often there is rain in May around here. The other day, I took shelter under a tree during a shower. The silence in me was attuned to all the sounds of birds and raindrops and found them consoling for reasons I didn’t fully understand.

Spring and the vitality of the birds. We are usually suffocated by the noise we make or choose to be immersed in. Here are a few gratuitous sounds that silence invites us to listen to, reminding us of the time of the day, the season, the world that surrounds us, the remarkable gift of our own breathing:

Monday, May 15, 2023

More “Shenandoah Spring 2023” By JJStudios

Mid-May seems a good time to update the digital art portfolio. Still wet, with some warmer temperatures that have drawn out our “Asian transplant” flowers that have long been common in Virginia gardens and woodlands. The trees are fresh and vibrant hues of green.

Some works in various “styles”: (1) “Waxing Moon in May;” (2) “Bright Breaks Through the Haze” on one of the bends of the river; (3) “Rhododendrons in Bloom;” (4) “Peony.”

Thursday, May 11, 2023

“Stand By Your Gifts”

I am grateful that the Easter Season continues, and that we continue to be instructed, enlightened, and sustained by the presence of the Risen Christ celebrated in the liturgy of these days. How powerful and beautiful is this humble prayer that God—who has redeemed us and lifted us up in Jesus Christ—might “stand by his works,” indeed “stand by his gifts” by bringing them to fulfillment. Which, of course, our infinitely good, loving, and merciful Father will do for us if we remain with him, through the Risen Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. 

We pray here, in a sense, that we might persevere in our adherence to the God who has loved us in Jesus, enduring in that most firm hope that he will give us what we need in every circumstance of life, confident that he will never abandon us.

[Collect Prayer for the Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Christina Grimmie: Only Love Conquers Violence

As we mark six years and eleven months since Christina Grimmie was taken from this world, we find ourselves especially in need of remembering the precious gift of her life. In the midst of the many sorrows of our times, we can look to her luminous joy—to the way she embraced every day with gratitude and expectation, and extended love and compassion to the people entrusted to her, both near and far.

We know these things because Christina used her musical talent, her splendid singing voice, and her pioneering presence on YouTube to share her joy, gratitude, and love with us. Her legacy remains for us as proof that her value as a person is immeasurably greater than all the reckless and destructive forces of this world, and thus she encourages us to recognize the ineradicable dignity and unique value of every human person.

Christina’s sense of wonder in front of the mystery of reality and her confidence in the ultimate victory of goodness and love—rooted in her faith in Jesus Christ—help us to stand in front of these present days with courage and hope even as the dark clouds of violence seem to grow more ominous all around us. Her compassion, her open arms, remind us to open our hearts in compassion to one another and to so many who are suffering right now.

Many people from many places all around the world live with this violence every day. The wars, the bombs, the atrocities, the executions, the mass-graves, the refugees driven from homes that no longer exist, the migrants fleeing from poverty, chaos, and oppression in their native lands. From Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Central and East Asia, and—of course—Ukraine, the cries of the innocent are heard every day.

And here in Christina’s home country—the United States—we heard the cries again, five days ago, at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas.

Cries and gunshots.

Eight people died and six more were hospitalized with bullet wounds. Hundreds more were traumatized in moments of terror and helplessness that they will remember for the rest of their lives, before police finally took down the shooter and ended his killing rampage.

“Why does this keep happening?”—people in the U.S.A. ask themselves. This country, my country, is a good country, but something is going terribly wrong in our society. Many things are wrong with the ways we relate to one another. And it seems like it’s just getting worse.

But our first thoughts must be for the real human beings who are suffering because of this most recent catastrophe. We must weep and mourn for the victims (three of whom were children), and we must not let their families suffer alone. Here especially, Christina Grimmie’s awareness of the needs of human persons and her willingness to accompany them “with love” has an ongoing significance in the work begun by her family and friends: the Christina Grimmie Foundation , which is dedicated to providing material and personal support to the families of the victims of gun violence. See the website for ways to participate in supporting people in the distress that remains for them long after the news reports move on.

Christina Grimmie inspires us to the conviction that only love can overcome violence. This victory will one day be made manifest to the whole world and all of history. Yet even now, it is not entirely hidden. It shows glimpses of its light whenever we begin to love one another as brothers and sisters, when we forgive one another, when we reach out in works of mercy to people who are suffering—in love and solidarity with them as persons and attention to meeting their concrete needs.

Love conquers violence. Christina’s whole life witnesses to this, and her legacy perpetuates this witness in many ways, significantly in the Christina Grimmie Foundation, where it is a light passed from person to person in the gathering darkness—a small light, it may seem, yet it burns trusting in the promise that the darkness will end finally with the dawn of an unending day.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Sometimes It Is Good to be Silent

I am finding it difficult to write at the present time. I am feeling more tired and achy than usual. But it’s not just that. I’m still learning many things—but as my awareness grows, I also have to face the fact that I have passed most of my life in immaturity and ignorance. I feel like I need to be quiet (or quiet-er) right now.

I am 60 years old, but still more perplexed than wise. Death may be around the corner, or it may be 20 or more years away. I have seen so much in this life and pondered it, and I think I still have something to offer on the path of history. But nothing seems clear at the moment.

In the past five years I have been through a lot of changes, some of them very difficult. On the one hand, I’m more firmly convinced that “change” is essential to life. Yet sometimes change seems more terrifying than ever. We are all immersed in gigantic and rapid change all over the world, and many people experience it through the sudden ruptures caused by violence. But we all learn—each in our own personal way—that the endurance of changes “beyond our control” lies at the heart of every human drama.

It was really hard to watch my parents die during these recent years. They had all the helps and comforts of modern medicine. They were not in physical agony. But after 80+ years of living—years that were not lacking in sufferings of many kinds—they were brought down, finally, to a level of powerlessness in the end that I had never imagined I would ever see. Well, I can’t explain what I mean, but I have realized in a far more intimate manner than ever before how fragile the whole of life really is. Ultimately, we all must face this utter powerlessness… and we know not the day nor the hour.

If the death and resurrection of Jesus is not something more than a metaphor or a therapeutic trick, then it won’t mean anything in front of this powerlessness. I believe in His death and resurrection as a saving event that is greater than death. But my faith remains weak and immature, and I have nothing in myself that can sustain it. I can only live in Him, adhering to Him, hoping in Him, loving Him.

And to live this way is a mystery. My words cannot possibly measure up to it. Notwithstanding my vocation to discourse and communication, sometimes I need more silence.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Winter in May?!

I had to do a VLOG about this. The weather has been unusually cool for the beginning of May, but the weather forecasting has been downright bizarre.

What’s going on, Weather Channel People?😉

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

May 2: Athanasius “Taught us to Honor the Trinity”

“Blaring trumpet of the Lord and flute of the Spirit, O great Athanasius, O fiery mind, it is fitting to sing your praises with hymns; for you taught us to honor the Trinity of one essence” (Kontakion, Byzantine Liturgy for Feast of St. Athanasius).

Sunday, April 30, 2023

“Jesus the Good Shepherd Calls Us By Name”

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

Saturday, April 29, 2023

“The Human Glory of Christ in History”

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The “Shenandoah Spring” Digital Art Series 2023

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

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

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

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Following the Path of Life

Collect, Saturday of the Second Week of Easter: 

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Rejoicing in Hope: Easter and Our Suffering Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2023

My Prayer on This Divine Mercy Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have mercy on us, and on the whole world.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Growing Things of Spring

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

Monday, April 10, 2023

Christina Grimmie and the Resurrection

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

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter Sunday 2023

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

Friday, April 7, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The Cross is brought to Pope Francis.

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


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

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


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

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

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