Thursday, January 13, 2022

Winter: Warm, Wet, Bright, Fiery, Frozen

Winter weather in this new year has been "interesting," so far. 

At least, it has been interesting to look at. My arthritis and overall physical condition didn't exactly thrill over the roller coaster ride of temperature and barometric pressure changes during the past couple of weeks.😝 We've had a little bit of sun (as indicated by the "bright and fiery" images here) and sometimes the warmth to go with it, such as temperatures over 60F at the beginning of the month. Mostly, however, it has been cloudy. On some days the clouds are distinctive and striking; other times we just have an unbroken, dull gray sky. The latter conditions generally don't inspire me to portray them in pictorial arts.

I can get out a bit when it's not too cold and/or wet. A little wet is okay. These are the months when I cherish especially those non-deciduous hardy leafy wintergreen plants that are more conspicuously "awake" when most of nature sleeps. Rhododendron are impressive all year round, but in the Winter they are still bright and perky (see below) and when it's warm I like to hang around them and pretend I'm on vacation on a tropical island (hence the portrait).

We have also had a couple of days of significant snow accumulation (by Virginia standards, where it melts fairly quickly). Snow is certainly lovely... to look at... once in a while.😉







Monday, January 10, 2022

Christina Grimmie: A Face that Shows the Way

For the past five years and seven months, this face has been among the most important human faces in my life. It is a face that challenges me, consoles me, and changes my perspective on reality again and again.

I return to Christina Grimmie every month, not only because I find her to be one of the most truly compelling “media icons” of the past decade (that sounds like an enormous claim, but I think history will show it to be true), nor only because she is one of my favorite human subjects for digital graphic art, in my ongoing efforts to understand and make creative use of its continually expanding tools.

I return to the memory of Christina because I need to see her face.

The whole of her gaze on life is more than the sum of its parts. I certainly never noticed this before she left this world, and it took some time for it to dawn upon me even afterwards. Now I know the sincerity, the honesty, the wise innocence, the humor, the unguarded vulnerability, and the courage that shaped her most mundane gestures, and the powerful clarity with which she looked at everyone and every thing in her brief beautiful life.

When she spoke those occasional serious words of faith, of testimony to God’s love, of affirmation of the inestimable value of each one of us as persons, she spoke with a kind of “authority” unusual for someone her age. When she looks at us and says that “we are loved,” it’s convincing. Her face, her manner, her vitality, her whole life are a convincing testimony for us - a communication of the gift of unconditional love and mercy from a person who has experienced that love and mercy herself.

Her communication became uniquely expansive, unconditional, and open to every person through her perseverance in love right up to its ultimate, utterly vulnerable expression at the completion of her life.

Her offering of herself in love won’t fade away with the passage of time. It endures.

I need to see Christina Grimmie’s face because she reminds me of the meaning and the aspiration and the hope of my own life (which I still struggle to learn after 59 years of living - so much “more time,” but too often wasted time). She helps me to remember the source of my own confidence, to remember to live each day, to remember why I live, and the One I live for.

She also helps me begin to see the way toward the final moment that inevitably draws closer as I grow older. She helps me to remember the promise of joy that is worth all the risks of love: the risks of living and dying. She reminds me not to be afraid.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Theophany: The Glory of God Revealed

The culmination of the Christmas Season is the Great Feast of the Theophany, known in the West as the "Baptism of the Lord." 

The Byzantine tradition especially emphazizes that the events commemorated on this day involving Jesus's ritual immersion in the Jordan river at the hands of John the Baptist are a public "manifestation of God" ("Theophany") in a hitherto unprecedented way. Today the Holy Trinity - the One God who is an ineffable communion of persons, the God who is Absolute Love - begins to be revealed and glorified in Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, the Beloved Son of the Father anointed in the Spirit. The great mission of God’s self-giving love is proclaimed.

Here are the antiphons from Morning Prayer in the Roman Rite:

(1) The soldier baptizes his king, the servant his Lord, John his Savior; the waters of the Jordan tremble, a dove hovers as a sign of witness, and the voice of the Father is heard: This is my Son.

(2) Springs of water were made holy as Christ revealed his glory to the world. Draw water from the fountain of the Savior, for Christ our God has hallowed all creation.

(3) You burned away man’s guilt by fire and the Holy Spirit. We give praise to you, our God and Redeemer.

Friday, January 7, 2022

My Research and Scholarship for 2022 and Beyond

Recently I indicated that I still was plugging away on my research, and I want to update where I am and broadly outline the aims and the scope of my studies in 2022 and beyond.

I do in fact have some “scholarly goals” for the time that remains to me, but as usual they are far too extensive to be realistic even if I lived literally all of what remains of the Chinese sage's symbolic 36,000 Days. But we’ll see how far we can get. What remains undone (insofar as it’s worth doing) can be taken up by others.

I would like to organize and develop my scattered writings on human power, technological infrastructure, media, and the challenges that persons and communities continue to face in the world’s massive, chaotic, and largely unexamined transition to a new global “epoch of power” of unprecedented proportions. My goal is neither naive celebration nor pre-judged condemnation of the continually emerging new technologies, but first to understand their impact on the life of the person and the (inevitably unnoticed) physical (including neurobiological), social, and relational environments they generate and sustain as they enter into common usage. 

I was born in 1963, and I am a first generation child of television. Our generation was raised without a thought regarding the impact of the T.V., this audiovisual communicator and processor of information and sensory experience that created a new and strange global “common space” in our homes, rearranging the furniture in our living rooms, altering our schedules, shaping the expectations of our sensory and emotional responses (in many ways? but how, and how much?). 

In any case, television has been a powerful force for good and evil, even if we remain perplexed (as I have been for my whole life) on what place it has in our lives and the ways it has impacted us, perhaps enriching, perhaps impoverishing our humanity in different ways. The same is true of other electronic media, which are emerging rapidly in the present time. When we understand how we are affected by these technologies, we will also be able to seek wisdom to subordinate them properly to the dignity of the person and the building of communion between persons. 

We must cultivate together the proper self-possession and self-discipline required to live in a media environment. Call it, if you will, “media ecology.” This is an important component of a wider (and urgently necessary) “technological ecology” that goes beyond all projects that try to manage technology and its human consequences simply by using other forms of technology. Nothing can replace the agency of the human person and the responsibility of human freedom - weak and embattled though it may be. This may all seem impossible in a world misshapen in so many other ways, but we must take heart, turn to the God who makes us exist, acknowledge God as the Mystery who moves our hearts, and then do the best we can. (Christians should know that Jesus is with us in this work, which is a work of mercy - both in relation to communication of the Gospel and the temporal good of this world in which we live here and now, which He loves and wherein our love - united with Him - sows the seeds of transfiguration.)

I would also like to progress far enough in my East Asian Studies Project that I can at least become familiar with the people who are “bridges” between East and West, and also between the ancient traditions and the current realities of Asian life and cultures during these unpredictable, changing, explosive times. I hope to be able to pass on some research (bibliographic if nothing else) that will help others to go further. This work is vital for a genuine globally inculturated “new evangelization.” It is also vital for the future of the world. Mutual ignorance is no longer an option.

I have always loved the Chinese people, and admired the many heights their classical humanism attained over the course of the centuries. I also have a very personal reason for wanting-to-understand-more, but I’ll tell that story another day. The odyssey of Chinese and Asian immigrants to the West, and their great hardships and quiet dignity, remain largely unknown by Westerners. When I was a boy I was much closer to a living experience of this story than I ever knew … and books and memoirs by others about their immigrant childhoods that I have recently read have reawakened in my mind and heart questions regarding things I never understood about my best friend in school: a brilliant, humble, jovial, articulate, amazingly talented Chinese-American guy. He was someone I really trusted, and something of a role model for me from Elementary School up to High School.

Yet I didn't know much about his life at home. He and his family were Evangelical Christians, and were serious about their faith. He had a couple of younger brothers, but I can't remember their names. I met his parents several times, but they spoke almost no English. I never knew when or why his parents came to the USA. I knew nothing about their work, or where they lived, or what financial position they held. He didn't talk about these things (in his perfect English); and when you're a kid there are lots of other things to talk about. We talked about serious things too: science, music, history, religion. We were both oddballs because we liked school and we excelled.

I never understood how - when we were 16 years old - what seemed at first like an ordinary illness for him became the awful tragedy that remains one of the great scars of my adolescence. I may never learn the answers, but I know now what I didn't know then, that so many of his people faced such immense challenges when they came to the USA. Many had fled horrific events in China, and accepted the lowest places and the most humiliating conditions so that their American-born children could succeed and have a better life. Their tenuous predicament at home was carefully hidden at school. I don't know if my friend was in any situation like this, but there were definitely Asian kids like him among our generation who were at the top of their class at school, but after school they would go to work in illegal sweat shops, and then do their homework at night in deplorable living conditions.

We never knew about this. Did my best friend die because he didn't have access to adequate medical care? In any case, I still can't make any sense of what happened, and I'll probably never know. But I want to know more in general about his people and their tragic, heroic suffering.

Asia: so much suffering. But, of course, we live in a world of suffering. I must remember to bear with hope, and to offer with love, the very small suffering that God allows to afflict me so that I might grow a little in love. I’m terribly impatient. Lord, grant that I persevere.

One reason that I persist in my study of China is out of loyalty to my friend from long ago. That, however, is not the only reason. Let me return now to my resume of future academic projects.

Regarding religious and theological topics, there are various possibilities. I have already written a lot of reflections on feast days and the spiritually rich variety of Collect prayers throughout the liturgical year in the Roman rite. I have an outline for a project to edit Patristic texts in a way that allows people to pray and meditate on the the testimony of the Fathers. I’m considering publishing in book form some (perhaps all) of the “conversion stories” I have written in my column, if nothing else to make them more accessible in a single source. Or, I may pick one story, or a few related stories, and expand on them in a book. There is much more to be said about so many of these people, and I already have drafts that I had to cut significantly in order to make the final article concise and within the limits of two pages. I could go on and on about “possibilities” in this realm, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Let’s first see what actually gets done.

O Lord, grant that I might remember that my aim is not more achievements, or diversions, or passing time in amiable comfort, or even being useful or “helpful” according to the way I perceive such things. I will gladly accept such things, and work in whatever way I can, for as long as I can… but (I pray that I will do so) with serenity and trust in God, free from useless anxiety or brooding over my own faults and limits. My aim, each day, is to live for the glory of Christ in whatever circumstances He places me. It is a daily work to remember that this is why I live and breathe, that this alone encompasses all other endeavors, successes, failures, joys, and sorrows in this world. Jesus, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The “Wondrous” Beginning of Our Redemption

Here is the Collect Prayer for January 5, which is the “Twelfth Day of Christmas,” the eve of the celebration of the Epiphany in the universal Roman calendar (in the USA and some other places, it is transferred to the nearest Sunday).

Thus, we continue to say, “Merry Christmas Season!”🎄⭐️ 

God has come to save us and to dwell with us because He loves us immensely. Because He is with us, we can find joy even in the midst of our present sorrows and afflictions.



Tuesday, January 4, 2022

“He Loved Us and Sent His Son…”

“God is love. 

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

~ 1 John 4:8-12 

Monday, January 3, 2022

The 30th Anniversary of My 29th Birthday 🎉

The second day of the year has been my own personal “new-years-day” for… well… a long time; in fact, ever since I was born. It was 1963, which seems like antiquity to many people today. Indeed, so much has changed in the world at large (and in the small world of my immediate and extended family). So much has changed for me.

It’s in one way shocking for me that thirty years have passed since I noted briefly in my journal - on January 2, 1992 - that I was 29 years old. I was about to begin my last semester of graduate school as a lay student with the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, the Dominican college on the campus of the Catholic University of America. At the time, I was regarded as quite the “budding intellectual prospect” with lots of creative ideas and a brilliant mind. The future stretched before me. It seemed so vast, so full of possibilities, such a promising realm wherein I was sure to make my mark and accomplish great things. I was 29 and I was "moving up" in my world. I still had big dreams.

Now those thirty years stretch behind me. In the material and circumstantial sense, things turned out totally different than any thing I expected (insofar as it is even possible to “expect” how one’s own life will unfold through various stages). It has not been thirty years of published academic books, articles, lecture tours, accolades, and making friends with people in high places. I have published a couple of books, a few articles, and eight years worth of monthly columns on “conversion stories” for a widely-circulated Catholic magazine. At least I have some sense that the small amount of what I have published has been worthwhile. Perhaps it is just as well that I have been hindered from unleashing too many words on the world.

Not that any of this was my main aspiration during the course of these past thirty years. In any case, other circumstances took priority: like getting married, having five children, raising them; working to solidify the foundations of a still-relatively-new Catholic liberal arts university in the Shenandoah Valley, teaching lots of classes and students, wearing different administrative hats, working too hard while neglecting my health in this beautiful, tick-infested countryside until Lyme Disease and other issues brought about a midlife physical and mental collapse that necessitated early “retirement.” There’s a book all about that (see Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy, Servant, 2010) and the ongoing story fills eleven years of this blog.

Thirty years. Children who were not yet born are now grown up. We are grandparents. A new rhythm is taking hold, as the house becomes emptier and quieter (except when everyone comes over, which is fine too). I hope I’m ready for whatever this new period of life brings. It may be a very brief period. Death is not unknown to cut these so-called “golden years” short. I hope this doesn’t happen, mostly because I feel that I’m still called to be with Eileen and the kids for a bit longer. Josefina is still only 15 years old. But death may come, and I can only trust in God.

If I live out another era of days, they will not be easy ones. Perhaps I may finish a few projects (more on that soon). I will ponder many things. I will pray for the younger generations. I would love to see all my kids grown and established on their vocational paths, and get to know my grandchildren. I know that grandparents can be a special presence in the lives of their grandchildren, and receive much joy from them (I saw both of these realities at work with my own parents and our kids, and I’m so grateful that they had that whole season of life - for them and for the kids too). 

Lately, the family always tease me that (given my recent “East Asian Studies”) I inevitably find a way to bring up China in every conversion. So, here I go: the Chinese (historically) saw the togetherness of “three generations” as a great blessing. There was no small insight in this observation. Chinese sages also referred to the span of a human life as “36,000 Days” … and I ran the numbers and found that to be something like 98 years. Few of them ever lived that long, so (in my ignorance) I’m going to assume that’s a symbolic number. I’m not looking to get that far. I pray that I can live well and at peace, one day at a time, for the measure of days that God wills in His infinite wisdom and goodness. Hmmm... well, I wish I were more stable in such an attitude. The fact is, I worry about dying. Of course! But I pray that I might live with trust in the Lord. I still have to keep asking Him for that trust, with hope that I will grow in trust according to His plan.

If I live the fullness of my elder years, and if my health permits, I want to go back to Rome someday with Eileen. If it’s just us, we can take our time and rest when we need it. We can see vistas again, pray at Saint Peter’s tomb, walk around, sit in the parks, eat cheese and panini and drink wine and read poetry. Maybe meet the Pope again (who knows who will be Pope by then, but perhaps they’ll have a special audience for “old people”😉). Maybe see old friends. We would have to pace ourselves pretty slowly (I would, at least). We haven’t been to Rome in 25 years but every inch of it is still “our city.” Three of the kids have been there since, but we threw those coins in the Trevi fountain for us. May God grant it.

In any case, I pray that I might live each day - day by day - for the glory of God’s infinite love, revealed and given through Jesus Christ whose birth we continue to celebrate.

And yes, I want to note that we finally “celebrated” the family Christmas… on the same day as my birthday.

This Christmas Season, we’ve also experienced vividly how “you never stop being a parent” even for your adult children. Agnese began feeling sick with a variety of symptoms in mid-December. She tested negative for Covid, and decided to come “home” (i.e. our home) to convalesce. But she didn’t improve, and further tests revealed possible internal organ problems. She was in the hospital for over a week, and the staff worked to stabilize symptoms and make extensive further tests. She finally came home New Years Eve, and is feeling better every day. Nevertheless she still needs to take certain medications, and doctors are still monitoring her condition and trying to understand what brought on her illness and whether it involves any systemic chronic issues. We would appreciate prayers for her health.

But she’s back home and everyone is happy about that and hopes she won’t need more hospital odysseys. Meanwhile, January 2nd was a Sunday this year, “Epiphany Sunday” in the USA. Everyone came over and we wrapped presents and opened them and had a lovely dinner together. I didn’t get a family picture. I don’t think those are going to happen at Christmastime anymore: there are too many of us and we are too big to fit in (I know that larger families get it done, but they must be more organized than we are).

I got a few “sneaky pics” - they don’t read this blog so they’ll never know, haha.😉 I can share a few below. What I enjoyed most was just being together with everyone. It was the best birthday gift I could have hoped for. “Three generations together” is a blessing indeed.



Saturday, January 1, 2022

A New Year, A “Marvelous Exchange”

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2022.🤓🍷

And Merry Christmas Day Eight, the Octave of Christmas Week, dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, Mother of God, Mother of the Word who became flesh in her womb, whose birth we continue to celebrate. 

[Image: Coptic Ethiopian icon of the Nativity]



Friday, December 31, 2021

The “Long Year” of 2020-2021

What is there to say at the end of 2021? It has been a long year. This was not one of those years that just "zipped by." At least, it doesn’t seem that way to me.

In one sense it feels like the surreal year of 2020 hasn't ended yet. The first year of this decade started out "normally" (as far as we first-worlders knew). There was some new virus in China, or something like that... it was hard to gauge the news regarding it: A few doctors expressed concerns but, after being visited by the police, they seemed to change their minds. In any case, most Westerners didn't see what was coming.

The PANDEMIC. This capricious new disease - ironically named Covid-19 (since it first appeared at the end of 2019) - began spreading all over the world. Often, people who caught this highly contagious virus developed only a mild illness, with few discernible symptoms. Others got sick with a pneumonia-like illness, and/or other kinds of acute respiratory distress that required hospitalization. A small percentage of people - especially among the elderly and others with preexisting medical conditions - died from the disease or from health complications which it contributed to and aggravated. Covid-19 was easy to catch and to pass on to others, difficult to predict in severity, and overwhelming for hospitals that were overfilled with seriously ill people and lacking resources to treat them. The West, and other advanced or advancing technological societies, were caught off guard. A strategy of putting virtually everyone into a state of quarantine (“lockdown”) was adopted in a unprecedented way. By the end of March, my country - the United States of America - was, basically, closed. But everyone knows about this (and the complexity and controversy surrounding it) so there is no need to rehash it in detail.

Now we are ringing in 2022, and Covid-19 is still around. The Pandemic is still in the news every day, as the virus continues to mutate and generate uncertainty. We now have several versions of a vaccine, and millions and millions of doses have been administered. A third (and now a fourth) booster shot is being recommended for maximum protection against the new Covid variants that keep marching onto the scene denominated with Greek letters (“Delta,” “Omicron,” …).

This has been a very serious and tragic factor of The Long Year. We know people who have gotten seriously ill, and some who have died, even in recent months from Covid and/or a variety of conditions which Covid contributed to making worse. It has become a sorrowful and potentially hazardous factor, and we still don’t know how it will all play out, or what might come next.

Since the initial emergency lockdown, events began to happen again (and events got cancelled). Businesses opened and closed. Advice regarding wearing masks fluctuated (sometimes from one week to the next). Churches restored the ordinary responsibility for Sunday Mass attendance (in the summer of 2021) but most continued to livestream daily Mass now that they had the basic tech gear in place to do it. Lots of other new methods of remote communications connection got a boost because of the Pandemic, and we continue to find them useful even when they are not necessitated by restrictions on movement and gatherings.

But on the eve of 2022, Covid-19 is still around.

We still don’t really know what might happen next. We can only do our best to be responsible in the circumstances and then … either live in constant anxiety and take refuge in whatever distractions we can find … or trust that our lives are shaped by a Wisdom greater than ourselves, a mysterious plan in which we participate but do not control, a promise of goodness and love that will ultimately give meaning to everything, that will console us and change us if we allow our hearts to be open to it.

During the Long Year, lots of events and changes have taken place in the lives of the Janaros. Our son John Paul got married, and our daughter Lucia got engaged (stay tuned for more about that - Summer 2022). Our eldest daughter Agnese graduated university, began working, but now has some kind of illness (not Covid-related) that made her quite sick and ended up hospitalizing her through Christmas. It has also given her parents a few more gray hairs, although it appears that she has a condition they will be able to resolve (or at least manage). She just got home this afternoon, armed with medications and appointments with specialists, and it was so good to see her! (Because of the ongoing Covid situation, the hospital had restrictions on visitation: one person at a time from a pool of two people, who were Eileen and our daughter Teresa - and Teresa started university in August, by the way).

Then my mother passed away on July 5 after a brief illness (not Covid). And four days later our first
grandchild, Maria Therese Janaro, was born. She is nearly six months old now, and she has already asserted her distinctive identity (and 
charm) in our familial world and beyond. It’s mysterious: my father and my mother have gone beyond this world and at the same time Maria has entered this world.

I have experienced a range of emotions much larger and more complex than I ever knew were possible. Remarkably, the pathological aspect of my “moods” has remained pretty stable, but all the changes we have seen during this Long Year have taken a toll on me physically, I think. The same pains, the same exhaustion have gained some ground in recent months. (That “other Pandemic” - Lyme Disease - may still be causing trouble.) I still take walks, photograph the countryside, and then experiment with digital art projects (something I can do in bed). I’m determined to keep going, or at least do what I can. For the moment, I am ready and hopeful to enter a new year. It is fitting to begin the year on the Octave (the eighth day) of Christmas, the culmination of the week during which we remember with singular gratitude the birth of Jesus.

We will celebrate again tomorrow the coming of the One who gives us hope in every circumstance, who gives us the courage to act and the patience to endure everything according to the challenges of this life. We know that we will all die, but He has died with us and had risen, and He stays with us. He is making all things new. So let us persevere in hope, whatever comes. Circumstances and feelings go up and down, and we can live all of these moments because He is with us and He is preparing us for a joy that will never end.

Merry Christmas Octave and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

"Christmas Season" Birthdays: Mom Would’ve Been 83 Today

******************************************
Facebook Memories are especially vivid during the holidays. There are a lot of images and texts from the past dozen years to prompt memories from Christmases Past. I was struck by something from this Facebook post from TEN years ago, namely, how long my mother suffered in circumstances that were difficult for most people to comprehend, but that were very real nevertheless. She would go on to live nearly another decade "home bound and in poor health," and I know it was very hard for her. The Lord permits us to endure trials of different kinds and durations, but He also accompanies us as the Incarnate Word, and on the Cross He makes all our suffering His own and transforms everything from within, so that we might be raised up with Him to a new life in the victory of His love.

December 29 has been a special day during Christmas Week for my family for a long time. My mother was born on this day in the year 1938. We celebrated her birthday, along with my own (on January 2) and then - since 1998 - Agnese's pre-Christmas birthday on December 21. Sometimes we would have a "triple birthday party" at Papa's and Grandma's condo in the later years.

Nothing is the same this year. We haven't even celebrated Agnese's birthday yet. She may be back from the hospital before the new year, and she is improving (though they are still searching for the cause of her current illness). I never expected to spend Christmas Week worrying about my daughter and having so many as-yet-unanswered medical questions. It reminds me, strangely, of another Christmas 15 years ago when our youngest daughter Josefina was already two months in the NICU with complications from her premature intestines and problems recovering from the surgery that had connected them initially. (Another surgery was required the following March, and JoJo didn't come home from the hospital until mid-May, nearly seven months after her birth.) Of course that was an entirely different situation. But whether your kid is two months old or 23 years old, she is still your kid when she's not well.

I was expecting to miss Mom this year (and Dad too, again). And now I'm "talking to her" in prayer and saying, "Can you help them figure out what's going on with your granddaughter?" I'm quite sure she is helping.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The “Peace of Christ” Who Dwells With Us

It has been a great blessing to be able to attend Masses in churches so far during this Christmas season. Something many have taken for granted most of their lives - the festive decorations and the parish Nativity displays - were very much missed last year, when COVID restrictions and/or precautions kept people at home. There’s nothing quite like a church at Christmas. Natural and sacred images come together to create an environment that helps us gather together in remembrance of the event we celebrate, and worship the God who has come to dwell with us.

May we continue to rejoice in the birth of Jesus in the days ahead.

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:12-17).

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas 2021

Our family activities for the Christmas celebration this year are going to have different “segments,” due to present circumstances. We hope that everyone can be together soon.

May Jesus be born anew in all our hearts. In all things He is our hope and strength.

Merry Christmas to everyone!



Friday, December 24, 2021

Dear Daughter, Get Well Soon!

So it is a most unusual Christmastime in this most unusual year for our family.

This beautiful young woman turned 23 years old on Tuesday. It was her birthday, and we hope and pray that God grant her abundant grace and blessings for the year ahead. But it could not be said that it was - in any ordinary, conventional sense - a "happy" birthday.

Agnese, my oldest daughter, whom I love so much, has been ill for more than a week.

It is definitely NOT Covid. She tested negative, and in any case the symptoms are entirely different. (I won't give many details, even though for all practical purposes this blog has become little more than a private journal: it no longer has many readers, and I haven't posted about this on my much-more-widely-viewed social media platforms, and I won't until we know more about what's going on.) But she has been in the hospital since Tuesday, requiring medication to stabilize blood pressure and normalize kidney function. Meanwhile, a multitude of tests are being run to determine the cause of these abnormalities and other symptoms of her persistent illness.

Most likely, all of this sounds much worse than it actually is. There are many (unusual but resolveable) circumstances that might be causing these problems. Doctors, as yet, do not have answers. We can't really speculate, and I'm counting on the discretion and courtesy of the very few people who still see these blog posts.

The main reason I'm writing about this is that I just need to "get it out" on (virtual) "paper" so that I can put it into some kind of context for myself. In the same way, I wanted to make the graphic, above, because it's something I do for my kids (usually) on their birthdays.

I am a weak and sinful man, prone to worry. I want things to be "back to normal" (indeed, normal - at this time in my life, with all the changes, with the passing of the generations, the 'loss and gain' that humbles us but also makes our hearts grow - "normal" is dramatic enough for my nerves).

But beyond all this, I love my daughter. I love my family. I know that God is all-wise and all-good and that He loves us. Whatever comes is woven into His mysterious plan which is shaped by His immense love for us, the love we celebrate in these days as we rejoice in the gift of His Son - the birth of Jesus.

I hope and pray that Agnese comes home soon.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Winter Winter, Cold and Bright...

I recall that in May or June I posted a video greeting on how awesome it was to still have light in the sky at 9:00 PM. It's only fitting that I take a positive look at the Winter Solstice, when we're glad to have light in the sky at, like, 4:30 PM! Thus a greeting from a more bundled up and chilly me than six months ago.

Of course the sun has many lovely hues when it does come out. And the lights of the approaching Christmas and New Year (and Epiphany too) will add their brightness.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Ten Years Ago: "Marked By The Fire"

I found this rather intense poetic reflection posted ten years ago today on the blog. I can't say whether or not it was prompted by any particular circumstances at the time, or whether it was a more general reflection on those periods in my life when I have found myself "wrestling with the angel," or "contending with God" (in a sense) as if I wanted to convince Him of my terrible, inexhaustible need for Him.

In my youth, I exulted in my own strength, aspiring (without knowing it) to conquer the universe and perhaps even God's revealed truth by the power and lucidity of my "beautiful mind."

Then I found myself plunged into the dark, and I was compelled to "wrestle with" the Mystery that I could not contain, struggling to find a place to "hold on," and finally begging to be held, to be "blessed" so that I might walk the long narrow path day by day with humility, with obedience to the signs in life that point the way forward, with many stumbles and many hindrances.

But I was no longer walking alone. I could no longer pretend it was possible to travel by my own power.



Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Merry Christmas to You, Dear Christina Grimmie

Once again, Christmas approaches, and for the last six years I have celebrated the birth of Jesus with the help of a wonderful human being whose life, music, and witness have been a shining light reminding me that Jesus gives meaning to everything.

Jesus does not hide in just the part of my life devoted to explicitly "religious" thoughts and practices. He is my whole life, and He wants me to recognize His companionship and be strengthened by it in every facet of that life: in my interests in media, culture, and society, my love for music, my hopes for the new generation of young people, my entertainments and "diversions" and laughter and sense of fun. He also wants me to trust in Him in the changes, sorrows, tragedies, and in all the incomprehensibility of life. 

He wants to sustain and deepen my hope in His victory over death.

When Christina Grimmie was taken from this world five-and-a-half years ago at the tender age of 22, she had already accomplished so much as a pioneer on YouTube, recording artist and songwriter, and one of the most memorable contestants ever to participate in the television competition show The Voice. Her talent and abilities were astonishing, and yet her personal qualities were even more remarkable in that she was not proud or self-absorbed; indeed she was quite the opposite: gentle, humble, lots of fun, radiant with affirmation and deep affection for anyone she encountered, with an appropriately firm sense of her own value and a great capacity to love that was rooted in the fact that she knew herself to be loved

All of this she communicated to her peers in a "natural" way, which was (to superficial eyes) hardly discernible from what everyone else did, but which in fact had an inspiring and penetrating power because (I am convinced) she had offered everything to Jesus for His glory. Ever since the dramatic fulfillment of her offering of herself to the very end, it has seemed that all the (often apparently ordinary) gestures leading up to it are illuminated on a deeper level and continue to reach people and change them to this present day.

Christina was full of smiles and kindness, not out of a mere sentimentality, but for love. She was innocent but not naive; hers was a strong goodness, ready to bear the burdens of others, to suffer with them (even as she has known much suffering in her own life because of her mother's long battle with cancer, among other things).

From time to time she indicated simply and directly the great aim of all her activity: Jesus, and His glory. She was not a preacher. She was a lover, a great lover, and each and every one of us was touched personally and carried along within the superabundant amplitude of her love for Him.

Several years ago, I wrote an article [see HERE] about the music Christina Grimmie gave us for the Christmas Season. She never recorded a Christmas album as such, but YouTube preserves the legacy of her covers from two Christmas Stage-it shows in 2012 and 2014, as well as numerous other individual songs. 

Indeed, it was ten years ago at this time (December 15, 2011 to be exact) that the then-17-year-old posted her stunning, jaw-dropping, gorgeous rendition of O Holy Night. In doing so, she almost apologized for the fact that she had prerecorded the track of her own piano arrangement to accompany her voice, rather than trying to sing the immensely challenging vocals while simultaneously accompanying herself on the piano - as was her standard practice with nearly all the covers she posted over the years. In fact, her humble confidence, great labors, and persistent love bore fruit in a precious, lucid, unforgettable rendition of this classic Christmas song.

Now especially, as Christmas 2021 draws near, I am more than ever grateful for the smile of Christina. We can still see the countless images of her beautiful face that still shine all over YouTube and in a multitude of legacy accounts on Instagram, as well as my own poor efforts to "spend time" with her and allow images of her face to inspire my own artistic creativity. In this first-ever Christmas for me without either of my own parents, and for continued encouragement in the face of personal losses suffered by our friends, I am glad that Christina's witness to Jesus - the Lord of the living and the dead - remains a vital presence, and for me personally a constantly renewed reawakening to joy.

Dear Christina Grimmie, thank you for your LOVE! 💚

Your love continues to touch and move people's lives because it flowed from your faith and your hope in the One who is born at Christmas, who died and rose and lives forever, the One who has the last word on the mystery of why we exist, the One in whom you live, the One who is transforming us and reaching out to everyone, to heal the deepest wounds and the most incomprehensible sorrows.

Jesus.

He called you to Himself five-and-a-half years ago, and we miss you in this world and we still don't understand "why?" Perhaps we have begun to see signs, hints that there was [and is] so much more to who you are than any act of violence can destroy.

It all remains mysterious to us while we journey through this world, and still touched with sorrow. But perhaps we are beginning to discover a joy in the midst of it all - a joy that promises to endure. Now we celebrate again the birth of Jesus, and we are reminded again, dear Christina, of the love you shared with us, how you poured yourself out so that we might know that we have been loved by God who has come to dwell among us and make us brothers and sisters in His joy.

You said that your singing and your whole life were "for His glory." Dear Christina, how greatly you SHINE in Him! 💚✝️🎄⭐️



Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Oh Christmas Tree?

UPDATE: On the 20th of the month, we have thought about the tree. Gotta bring the stuff down from the attic.

Facebook calls this my "Avatar." Hmmm. Too skinny to be believed, I'm sorry to say. But Christmas is coming soon, and we will have our genuine artificial tree.😜😉



Monday, December 13, 2021

Thirty Years Ago For Me, 1700 For Saint Lucy

From my old journal I found this entry from thirty years ago for Saint Lucy's feast day. As you can see, I have depended on "God's Girls" for a long time. They are truly extraordinary, and — back in the 1990s — as a (relatively) young man I felt like I would have been drawn by their beauty to the beauty of God (as indeed, some pagan suitors were, in certain stories, who became Christians; or as the men who pledged themselves to defend France at the summons of the astonishing Jeanette La Pucelle [Joan of Arc]; or as the young missionaries struggling far from home were consoled by correspondence with Saint Therese, and...).

Thirty years later, I think of my own daughters. I want my daughters to live to a ripe old age, of course, and the possibility of being Christians in a society in which young people are martyred (not to mention old people) is not something I want any of us to experience.

I am weak. (Although I think those girls of mine are stronger than me... but still...😳) The "glory" in the witness of martyrdom is only discerned by eyes of great faith, illuminated by supernatural grace. From a natural human point of view, the brutality of persecution is shocking. If it were to happen to someone you love, it would be a cause of great grief, and you would have to be patient with the Lord and with yourself if the mysterious joy that faith affirms is slow in penetrating your whole complex emotional and psychological human frame. Nevertheless, even in the midst of grief, Christian faith begins to give the vision of something transfigured, of the inconceivable and wonderful presence of God's Love that changes everything. The vision of the real beauty of this Love, which is working even through the most horrific circumstances by the Cross of Jesus, grows existentially with grace and in time.

And part of that is the way that these "kids" get involved in your life, and the wonders of their intercession from among the Communion of Saints. In this way, the glory of the Cross and of its witnesses dawns upon even those of us who are weak....

But here's young Janaro, aged 28. He makes some good points:



Sunday, December 12, 2021

Guadalupe: "I Am Your Compassionate Mother"

*****************************************************
The words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego (as presented in the Nican Mopohua):

"Do know this, do be assured of it in your heart,
My Littlest One,
that I Myself, I am the Entirely and Ever Virgin, Saint Mary,
Mother of the True Divinity, of God Himself.
Because of Him, Life goes on, Creation goes on;
His are all things afar, His are all things near at hand,
things above in the Heavens, 
things here below on the Earth.

"How truly I wish it, how greatly I desire it,
that here they should erect Me My Temple!
Here would I show forth, here would I lift up to view,
here would I make a gift
of all My Fondness for My Dear Ones,
all My Regard for My Needy Ones,
My Willingness to Aid them,
My Readiness to Protect them.


"For truly I Myself,
I am your Compassionate Mother,
yours, for you yourself,
for everybody here in the Land,
for each and all together,
for all others too, for all Folk of every kind,
who do but cherish Me,
who do but raise their voices to Me,
who do but seek Me,
who do but raise their trust to Me.


"For here I shall listen to their groanings, 
to their saddenings;
here shall I make well and heal up
their each and every kind of disappointment,
of exhausting pangs, of bitter aching pain."


.  .  .  .

"Do listen,
do be assured of it in your heart, My Littlest One,
that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you,
nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart.

"And do not be afraid of this Pestilence,
nor of any other pestilence,
or any rasping hardship.

"For am I not here, I, Your Mother?
Are you not in the Cool of My Shadow?
in the Breeziness of My Shade?
Is it not I that am your Source of Contentment?
Are you not cradled in My Mantle?
cuddled in the Crossing of My Arms?
Is there anything else for you to need?

"Nothing else, though, should trouble you,
should disquiet you."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Mother Mary, Guadalupe, and “Guadalupanalia”

<--- pic 1 (see below)

I have made three pilgrimages to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe: in January 1999 (at the closing of the "Synod on America"); in July 2002 (for the canonization of Saint Juan Diego); and in March 2003 (with students on a mission trip, working with the Missionaries of Charity in Mexico City). The events of these three journeys would require a whole book to recount (and perhaps I should write that book). Two of my trips corresponded with two of the five pilgrimages that Saint John Paul II made during his pontificate. 

But I treasure, above all, the personal encounters with Mary in her "house" — she was always there "for me," somehow, whether I was relatively alone in the early morning hours or at a Sunday Mass packed in like a sardine with a multitude of pilgrims. The closest I can come to conveying my "sense" of her "presence" is to liken it (obviously it's not the same, it's not substantial) to the impression that surprises one — from time to time — at Mass or in times of silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There are those moments in front of the Eucharist when our hearts are struck by the reality that Jesus is "present for me." Perhaps this is nothing more (in my case, at least) than a pious emotion, but at Guadalupe I have come away with the (surprising) sense of her loving maternal gaze upon me, her probing of my heart, her closeness to me "wherever I am," with no need to pretend or try to fool myself — Mary seems to say, "I love you, tell me the truth, we'll get through it, I know all your pain and I want to help you to heal." The iconography of the image on the tilma indicates clearly that Mary is pregnant (e.g. the black ribbon). What we might easily miss was crystal clear to the Mexica indigenous peoples: Mary brings Jesus, she gives us Jesus.

Mary's maternal love is a kind of "inherent factor" in the grace that enables us to encounter Jesus and recognize Him as our Lord and Savior. She is united with the Spirit who "came upon her" in the moment of the Incarnation, and she accompanies the Spirit with her maternal love in our own rebirth in Christ and growth as children of the Father, little brothers and sisters of Jesus who also call Mary our Mother just as Jesus did (and still does). Mary is the "Mother of God" — the mother of the Person of the Son according to His humanity, of the Word made flesh in her womb. Her heart has plenty of room for all of us.

But at the Shrine of Tepeyac, any "sense of complexity" we may feel about the dogmatic and theological explications of Mary's role in our lives gives place to the vivid impact of her very real (and very practical) concern for us (this, at least, was my impression — for me vivid, striking, unforgettable unless I were to forget my own self). In any case, she is a wonderful, tender, and consoling mother, but she is also a strong and persistent woman and she has no intention of giving up on us, or on any of her children.

Here I want to place some pictures of "little things" I brought back from these visits, ways that we have celebrated this feast here as a family and as a church community, and some of the small signs that help me remember that Jesus and Mary are close to me, that God's love carries me, and that the "sorrows" that I can never entirely escape are seen and understood and are being transformed by a greater love...

Here are the notes explaining the pictures: 

[1] Above (embedded with the text) a ceramic holy water font with La Guadalupana as she is generally depicted in statue form. We've had it for a long time. The remaining pictures are below. 

[2] Statue of Juan Diego with his tilma, which I think I got at the Basilica's gift shop some twenty years ago. 

[3] This postcard photographic reproduction of the image is among the icons at my bedside. The Church has always used "media" to help us "stay connected with" Jesus, Mary, and the saints. I put an image of La Guadalupana anywhere that I spend a significant amount of time, because it reminds me that she sees me and loves me. 

[4] Next to Mary on my little "icon space" is a small, hand-painted holy water font with Mexican design, which I probably bought at a shop or from a market. 

[5] Yes, it's a Guadalupe bed spread! We don't use it, actually (that's an old picture), because it's too nice, but we really ought to find a place to hang it. I bought this from a street vendor who said (if I remember correctly) that it was hand made. In any case, it's well made. It's beautiful.

[6] This is the "big" image that can be framed and enshrined as the focal point of a room — they sell these in the Basilica gift shop, but ours was actually a gift of some Hispanic religious sisters who were my students many years ago. The Queen of America is Queen of our home, and she has always presided over our dining room, as... 

[7] the digital art presentation of that wall shows. Whatever chaos of our lives piles up on that bookshelf, the Madrecita is never overwhelmed by it. 

[8] Here are some memories: pictures from our family meal on December 12, 2011 — i.e. ten years ago. So much has changed in this decade. Look at all five of those kids fitting so easily around the table! 

[9] You can see the fun food along with the then-11-year-old Lucia, who is getting married next July (I still have to write about that). And there's... 

[10] Jojo who has grown so much without losing any of her sense of fun. She's five years old in this picture. Today, at 15, she's the last one we are "still raising" and sometimes we feel a little old to have a teenager, but she is a lovely girl and brings us lots of joy. 

[11] The kids are watching Mommy as she prepares to serve the "fried ice cream" (which, as I remember, was really good!😋). 

[12] Now we dial it back even further, to the previous decade, with a picture from 2004 taken at the parish fiesta with little Agnese, John Paul, Lucia, and Teresa (in Mommy's arms). Jojo would join us two years later. This is life, people. They grow up fast, but it's a beautiful sacrifice to endure change as they grow up and you "grow" (as persons) with them. There's a bit of "dying" in every change, but also a "renewal" that's a sign, that helps us journey on the path to our ultimate fulfillment. The Mother of Jesus understands this like no one else, and she will help us. 

[13] Here is the Fiesta statue in our parish today. Our Hispanic parishioners prepare terrific food in the parish hall every year. We haven't attended recently, but I suspect will be back in a few years (God willing) when granddaughter Maria says, "Papa and Nana, come to the Fiesta." How could we possibly refuse?😊

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