Thursday, June 20, 2024

Summer 2024 is Here

The Summer Solstice has arrived for 2024. Over the next week we'll have our longest days of the year, with nearly 15 hours from sunrise to sunset.

And, although I'm not at the beach as I was "dreaming" in my last post, there is much to be said for living in a place that looks like our Shenandoah Valley in June (above).

Happy Summertime!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

I Would Love to Smell the Sea Air Again

I virtually dabbled my way from a photograph of a local meadow and ordinary foliage to this scene of breezy palms and gathering clouds on a quiet coast. Seawater and salty air, warm but with gentle wind currents... perhaps a subconscious longing led my imagination in the direction of a place I would really like to be right now. I love water. Especially, I have always found that being near the ocean rejuvenates me. Unfortunately I haven't been to the beach in eight years. I'm glad that my beloved "Happy Creek" flows through our neighborhood, and the legendary Shenandoah River is just a few miles away. My memories are enriched by many experiences of many waters in my younger days, boating, fishing, swimming, or just strolling on the edges of shorelines and the shallows of riverbanks. The movement of water stirs up my soul.

There is cool water in the bottle at my bedside. Overall, I'm having a harder time doing simple things. On "good days" I can walk in the long evening daylight and even spend some time in the main room of the house with Eileen, Jojo, and various adult children or grandchildren who may also be here.

On "bad days" I have lots of pain and spend most of the day in bed. I have access to all kinds of media and, of course, books to read (if my aching fingers can manage to keep them open in my lap or on my chest). And there's always music. Above all, people pop in to keep me company for a bit.

I’m always happy and grateful to see people. Certain “little people,” of course, can really make my day.

It's been a tough period of time for me, but also it's been a time for beautiful surprises. Still, I'm struggling.

We are all enduring many trials. Let us remember to pray for one another.

Monday, June 17, 2024

A Fatherhood Collage

I just put these few pictures together in honor of Fathers’ Day. It is amazing that my son, who was once a baby in my arms, and then a growing boy, is now a fully grown man and a father himself.

Thus we contribute, each in our turn, to building human history, generation after generation, parents to children, father to son, then son to his children in turn.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Lord Gives Us Time….

The source of so much of my frustration is my lack of patience. I must ask for the grace to be patient, and to resist the temptation to become discouraged. I suppose this is a problem we all have. May God have mercy on us all.

Pope Francis reminded me about “patience” in his Angelus message for June 16. The selection below is worth quoting:

The Lord places in us the seeds of His word and His grace, good seeds, abundant seeds, and then, without ever ceasing to accompany us, He waits patiently. The Lord continues to take care of us, with the confidence of a Father, but He gives us time – the Lord is patient – so that the seeds open, grow and develop to the point of bearing the fruits of good works. And this is because He wants nothing in His field to be lost, that everything should reach full maturity; He wants us all to be able to grow like ears of grain.

Not only this. By doing so, the Lord gives us an example: He teaches us too to sow the Gospel confidently wherever we are, and then to wait for the seed that has been sown to grow and bear fruit in us and in others, without becoming discouraged and without ceasing to support and help each other even where, despite our efforts, we do not seem to see immediate results. In fact, often even among us, beyond appearances, the miracle is already underway, and in due course it will bear abundant fruit!”

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Some Reflections on "Offering Everything" to God

When we wake up in the morning, it is good to pray a "Morning Offering" in which we remember Jesus and offer everything that awaits us each day in union with the all-embracing sacrifice that His love has accomplished on the Cross for our redemption. There are many versions of this prayer, or we can use our own words. .

We might say something like: "O Heart of Jesus, we offer You all our thoughts, words, and actions, our joys, sorrows, and sufferings of this day. We offer You everything." Through Jesus, we are able to live in an inexhaustible and super-abundant way the "vitality" that is at the foundation of all created things—their relation (and ours) to the Mystery of God.

What is it that we do (or at least desire to do, however forgetful we may be afterward) when we "offer" our day to God? "Offering" involves a fundamental recognition; it entails the affirmation of the reality of things according to that inner secret that constitutes their being and goodness: the fact that they belong-to-Another

Beings in this world attract us, fascinate us, engage the interest of our minds and draw forth love and enthusiasm from our heartsthey give us a "taste" and suggest a "promise" that educates of hope of our lives and gives impetus to our journey along the path of space and time that opens before us.

The realities of this life are promises of the ultimate meaning and fulfillment of the universe, all things, and ourselves. But they cannotwhile we engage them on the roads of this worldgive us the ultimate fulfillment; they point towards a goal and educate us through their reflection of many facets of its promise that we too are are "made for" this goal that draws all things into unity. 

At the same time, the promise of total goodness and unity that shines all through reality and attracts us every day is also mysterious. It transcends everything with a radical originality and the overflowing free gift of a unity and love that "correspond" to the hope for fulfillment that has been awakened within us while also surpassing it in ways beyond our imagining.

All things belong to the Mystery that is their Source, sustenance, and fulfillmentthe "Infinite" Mystery beyond all things, who fashions all things, who freely gives all things to themselves and one another according to a mysterious wisdom.

And so we cannot possess things by dominating them and reducing them to our own finite and ultimately reductive, constraining measure. Our life becomes "offering" when we use and possess and love things in a way that takes them completely seriously, because things are a hymn of rejoicing to the One who makes them be, and the only way to truly love them is to join in that hymn.

The ecstasy of the beauty of things is their abandoning-of-themselves to the One who sustains them and calls them to their own fruition. We offer our day when we join in with the "giving" of things, when we allow their song of rejoicing to enter into our awareness, when our engagement of reality becomes a prayer, a "blessing of the Lord" that gives voice to the hymn of creation: Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord. Praise and exalt Him above all forever!

How does this "offering" extend to love for another person? The greatest gift, the greatest beauty in all of creation is the other person. There is much to be said about this. For now, I can only reflect that in loving other persons I am loving others who, like me, are called to the joys of eternal life. This is where the true identity of every person is found. Every person is created in the image of God and called to share in the likeness of God and the life of God. This unique, sacred, personal vocation to belong to God as His child (and heir) in Jesus Christ their Redeemer and brother is at the heart of who each person really is.

When I engage in a relationship with another person, I "offer" that relationship through the recognition that this someone is not primarily a source of satisfaction or utility for me, but someone who has a vocation, a fulfillment corresponding to their own freedom, a personal destiny—they are a someone who is "for Another." To offer to God my love for another person means also to love that person for who they truly are, that is, to love them for the sake of that Other and their relationship with that Other. It is to love their destiny.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

More Digital Art by JJ, with a nod to Saint Anthony

Here is some of the latest artwork from JJStudios!

I’m not referring to the fifteenth-century image of Saint Anthony of Padua (Anonymous, from Cordoba, Spain) that you see here first. Rather, as Summer draws near, I wanted to present some of my own “Scenes of May and June” (below) on today’s feast of Saint Anthony, who is one of the beloved patron saints of my late father, Walter Anthony Janaro II. I miss Dad. He always appreciated my “nature posts” on this blog. I think about and pray for my Dad especially on Saint Anthony’s Day.

And, of course, Saint Anthony is important to his father before him (WAJ I, the grandfather I never met who died in 1944), and the still-very-much-alive Walter Anthony Janaro III—my older brother, who is generally known in these parts simply as “Walter” (just one name, like a rock star) or, around the family, “Uncle Walter.” It’s funny that I have gone into all this description of three generations of Janaro men, because this post was not supposed to be about them. It’s a “virtual exhibit” by JJStudios, but things, and relationships, and our work, and our plans are wider and more meaningful than we realize. Saint Anthony knew this, and he continues to help us to recognize and remember God’s love and mercy in the ordinary details of life.

Saint Anthony, pray for my grandfather, my father, and my brother. Pray for all of us.

And now, about these pictures—they are works that arise from meditations on the natural world and experiments in digital artistic techniques of different kinds. They usually originate from photographs that I have taken in my local environment. In the past—historically-speaking it was not too long ago—photography itself was considered a new and strange technological “trick” for capturing and presenting “realistic” images. It took some time for photographers to discover the proper artistic possibilities of their own medium. They had to work at it and take pictures, lots of pictures. 

Now we have new digital techniques for manipulating photographic images. There are more and more of them all the time. They seem like techniques for cheating, deceiving, and banalizing image-making. But we hope that they can also be used wisely, and in the service of beauty and creativity. We must discover the possibilities of digital and even so-called “AI” as complex tools, as further media that can be shaped by bodily persons whose ways of communicating always involve the use of “physical” media. It will take time and much attention to discover distinctive visual portrayals with these media that authentically convey the vision and labor of human personal creativity. But we have every reason to think that here too, beauty can shine through.

That is certainly my hope. This blog continues to be a place where I share my efforts and experiments and—mostly—failures as a digital media artist. 

I am not afraid of the failures (though, of course, I don’t aim to fail, and I certainly don’t like to fail). Mostly, I try to learn from failure. I learn the limits of these media, and become more focused on their real possibilities. I move forward in an education in craft, creativity, and finding beauty.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Feast of Saint Barnabas the Apostle

"The Church in Jerusalem... sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11:22-26).

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Renewed Day By Day

"We who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh... Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.

"For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven... While we are in this tent we groan and are weighed down, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a first installment."

~2 Corinthians 4:11, 16-18; 5:1, 4-5

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Come Holy Spirit, Through Mary’s Heart

Prayer for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:

“O God, who prepared a fit dwelling place for the Holy Spirit in the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, graciously grant that through her intercession we may be a worthy temple of your glory.
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.”

Friday, June 7, 2024

The Heart of Jesus Says, “Come To Me…”

Jesus, God the Son, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity (the God who is “one but not solitary,” who is an eternal communion of ineffable love)… Jesus, our God, our Savior, Son of the Father… Jesus is a man. “The Word was made flesh…” (John 1:14).

Jesus is human. He understands us, longs for us, suffers for us in His human heart. Jesus says, “Come to me.”

We poor humans with our sorrows and heavy burdens—God is not far away. He is here. He is Jesus and He wants to stay with us. God has a human heart, and with that beating heart He loves each one of us and every human person. He loves us in a fully human way, and He wants us to love Him. We are His brothers and sisters.

We are also, therefore, brothers and sisters to one another. In the love of His Heart, Jesus longs for us to love one another.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Life as an Invalid Feels Like Prison?

It has been a hard year, a hard Spring, a hard last couple of weeks. I have been hurting a lot. Reading is harder, writing is harder, thinking is harder, remembering things is harder. But Depression isn’t too bad, and OCD is manageable… most of the time. All this stuff is familiar from the past 20+ years. It’s all related to the Lyme disease that went untreated and misdiagnosed for a very long time (read my 2010 book for details about that odyssey and other things too: here’s the LINK). We did everything we could back in ‘04 and ‘05 when I was finally diagnosed for Lyme that I may have first contracted in 1988. Success was only partial. Symptoms recur—call it “chronic Lyme” or “post-Lyme” or “long Lyme” (a new perspective for doctors who have had to deal with “long COVID”). I have had “ups and downs” frequently, and flare-ups of this or that for years. But lately I’m getting hit with a barrage of stuff at the same time.

Is this like being in prison? Sometimes it feels that way. It feels like prison.

I’m frustrated. Stuck mostly in bed these days. I’m able to take a walk most evenings. Prisoners are allowed out for exercise for a half hour every day. Mass on Sunday. Otherwise I rely on technological gadgets, which have opened lots of avenues of wider engagement from home. And, of course, books. But lately, I’m so tired…

I have so many thoughts in my mind, so much I have studied and considered long and hard, but I worry because I can’t “get them out,” express them, share them. Sometimes I can’t even put them together in my own head. Over 30 years ago, Fr Giussani told me, “You will be a great teacher.” I am a sinner, but I think I have tried to follow the way he pointed out to me. When I got too sick to teach in the classroom any more, I kept studying. I have learned much in my years as an “invalid” (or, as I prefer to say, “semi-invalid”), and it’s not just academic stuff.

I’m lazy, proud, and disorganized, but I keep trying. Or I’m trying to try… I want to live, and even if I’m tied up, I want to look at the rope and learn about it, and I recognize that there is something more than its constraints. I know that the meaning of my life doesn’t depend on myself. I’m created and sustained and I belong to the Infinite Someone who moves me. I forget that too often, or sometimes I just cry out “Why? Where am I going?” 

I have been given so many possibilities to learn, to verify again and again that all of this life is a sign of the promise of meaning and fulfillment, and my total need for the One who brings them. With my academic training, I’m listening to the voices of the peoples of recent history, and the tremendous suffering that has been endured. Aspirations and achievements too—great and hopeful things, yes!—but so much suffering, failure, distortion, betrayal, so much crying out in the darkness, so many defenseless human persons being smashed—yet especially here, the image of God doesn’t disappear, and any spark of humanity left unquenched keeps looking for air to burn.

We continue to endure this monstrous storm, expanding our power and riding on the edges of chaos. Admirable achievements, but so much suffering and so much darkness. “Why, God? Where are we going?”

Eh, my “prison”? I’m certainly not alone here. This “place” is full of humanity, of persons. There is so much longing for life here. And of course, Jesus is here. He has come to stay with us, to suffer with us and for us, to suffer for the sake of love. What does that mean, God? What is this “love,” Jesus?

The Mystery dwells among us. Never mind “theology,” I’m too small to understand more than what is given to me. Many saints have reached great depths in the experience of this mysterious love. But millions and millions of people (as far as we can tell) have never really heard His name. The Mystery dwells among us in mysterious ways. Somehow, they encounter Him. But we want to share with them the awareness of Him that has been given to us. We want to share Him, share ourselves… and also we want to discover His love for others—encounter Him through them too. There are surprising “signs” among the poor and suffering peoples of this earth.

Perhaps what really matters for me right now is praying and suffering my incapacities, “offering” them in union with Jesus, especially for my beautiful family and for those who carry heavy burdens, that they might know the Lord’s mercy.

Meanwhile, I work as much as I am able, without trying to overdo it. I thank God for every day.

I read. I listen to audio when my eyes are too tired. I can still experiment with digital graphic art, which nevertheless sometimes stresses me out because the new possibilities are growing constantly and exponentially. It takes time to get used to new forms and capacities of media. You can see that I made a strange “self-portrait” above.

Please pray for me as I struggle with difficulties like these. We all suffer with pain that is beyond our understanding. I know that. Let us pray for one another.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

The Human Dignity of the Chinese People

Thirty-five years ago (June 4, 1989), the Chinese Communist Party mercilessly crushed thousands of people who had been gathering for over a month in Tiananmen Square to demonstrate peacefully, and to petition their rulers for basic human rights and recognition of human dignity. In Beijing, protesters were joined by people from all walks of life, including journalists from the PartyState-controlled media.

We must never forget the Chinese people or other peoples of the world whose fundamental dignity as human persons is neglected, repressed, or violated by the ideologies and weapons of unjust powers. If nothing else, we can listen to their stories, hold them in our hearts, and pray for them.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Solemnity of Corpus Christi 2024

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.

“For at the Last Supper with his Apostles, establishing for the ages to come the saving memorial of the Cross, he offered himself to you as the unblemished Lamb, the acceptable gift of perfect praise.

“Nourishing your faithful by this sacred mystery, you make them holy, so that the human race, bounded by one world, may be enlightened by one faith and united by one bond of charity.

“And so, we approach the table of this wondrous Sacrament, so that, bathed in the sweetness of your grace, we may pass over to the heavenly realities here foreshadowed.

“Therefore, all creatures of heaven and earth sing a new song in adoration.”

~from the Preface for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Saint Joan of Arc Witnesses to the “Total Love of Jesus”

May 30th commemorates the anniversary of the heroic death of Saint Joan of Arc, who is one of the patron saints of France. The 600th anniversary of her famously unjust ecclesiastical trial and subsequent political execution will be in the year 2031. 

(This same year will also mark the 500th anniversary of the singular gift of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego in Mexico City—and though 2031 might sound like way-in-the-future, it will be here very soon! Start making your pilgrimage plans now. God willing, I’ll still be around on this earth in seven years, and able to participate in some way in these great occasions.)

Pope Benedict XVI spoke some profound and insightful words about Saint Joan of Arc during his Wednesday Catechesis on important figures in the ancient and medieval Church (which is one of many of the rich resources of his papal ministry). Here are some selections from his General Audience dedicated to her on Wednesday, January 26, 2011:

Beginning at the age of 13…, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself personally to the liberation of her people”—i.e. the French of the early 15th century, whose people suffered under the invading English military during this period of the so-called Hundred Years War.

Joan grew in the clarity and conviction of her vocation. “Her immediate response, her ‘yes,’ was the vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily attendance at Mass, frequent confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified or before the image of the Virgin. The compassion and commitment of the young French peasant girl in face of the suffering of her people became more intense because of her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of the holiness of this young girl was precisely the connection between mystical experience and political mission…

“The Name of Jesus, invoked by our saint up to the last moments of her earthly life, was like the breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart, the center of her whole life. The ‘mystery of the charity of Joan of Arc,’ which so fascinated the poet Charles Peguy, is this total love of Jesus, and of her neighbor in Jesus and for Jesus. This saint understood that love embraces the whole reality of God and of man, of heaven and of earth, of the Church and of the world. Jesus was always in the first place during her whole life, according to her beautiful affirmation: ‘Serve God first’…

“The liberation of her people was a work of human justice, which Joan carried out in charity, out of love for Jesus. Hers is a beautiful example of holiness for the laity who work in political life, above all in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every choice, as another great saint would testify a century later, the Englishman Thomas More. In Jesus, Joan also contemplated the reality of the Church, the ‘triumphant Church’ of Heaven, and the ‘militant Church’ of earth. According to her words, Our Lord and the Church are one ‘whole’. This affirmation quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context of [her] Trial, in face of the judges, men of the Church, who persecuted her and condemned her. In the love of Jesus, Joan found the strength to love the Church to the end, including at the moment of her conviction…

“With her luminous testimony, Saint Joan of Arc invites us to a lofty level of Christian life: to make prayer the guiding thread of our days; to have full confidence in fulfilling the will of God, whatever it is; to live in charity without favoritisms, without limits and having, as she had, in the love of Jesus, a profound love for the Church.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Twenty Years of Avril Lavigne’s “Under My Skin”

I wish I had the energy to write a really long analytical and appreciative article on Avril Lavigne's second album, Under My Skin, which was released 20 years ago this week (on May 25, 2004).

As I have said before, I have a special place in my heart and in my prayers for Avril—a global superstar in popular music in the first decade of the twentieth century who seemed to "disappear" at the end of her fifth world tour in 2014. I knew nothing about her before she agreed to be interviewed in 2015 on Good Morning America and was reduced to serious tears as she tried to describe her ongoing battle with Lyme Disease. 

Three years later, she released her first new music: a prayer to God called "Head Above Water" that was raw and moving and beautiful in a way that—I would eventually learn—was characteristic of the kind of power ballad that only Avril Lavigne could make. She is so much more than just the “pop-punk princess,” more than the angry, weird, chaotic perpetual teenager that critics would like to dismiss. She not only has the chops to “rock out” (or “rock ouwt,” as the Canadians would say) in solid and “classical” style; she is also capable of putting into her songs a sense of her vulnerable, “needy” humanity, her wounds, and her desire—her plea—for something more in life.

There are lots of things about Avril's career that I don't understand or recommend, but she is an enormously talented singer, songwriter, and performance artist who can express special joys and touch dramatic human depths in some of her songs. I wrote about this at some length in my article in 2022 marking the 20th anniversary of her extraordinary debut album Let Go (see HERE). The simplicity of her lyrics takes on a surprising vitality through her unique (and critically under-appreciated) singing voice and stylized vocalization.

With Under My Skin, Avril got to make an entire album of hard-driving rock as the setting for her clear and agile voice. Musically, old-timers from my generation can find much in this album that resonates with the best sounds of our era. And, contrary to its reputation as a “dark” album, there are many moods here, including life-affirming bangers like “Who Knows” and “Freak Out.” There is boy-bashing, but it’s solidly aimed at boys who—frankly—deserve to be bashed. The song “Don’t Tell Me” is Avril-style rebellion at its finest: it’s a teenage girl saying an unambiguous “NO!” to her date when he starts putting on some slick moves to manipulate the girl into having sex. He tries sweetness and sympathy. He tries charm. He tries guilt-tripping her. (As Avril sings, “Guys are so hard to trust”—and, unfortunately, she’s right.) The girl’s response, however, is firm: “Did I not tell you / that I’m not like that girl— / the one who gives it all away?” One doesn’t often hear rock-n-roll anthems like this. In “He Wasn’t,” Avril complains about another guy, “He wouldn’t even open up the door. / He never made me feel like I was special.” Here’s Avril the “millennial rebel” again, breaking “modern conventions” by expecting the guy to open the door for her. Avril insists on being old-fashioned on this point. In any case, it’s clear that this guy is a deadbeat.

There are “heartbreak” songs, but they keep up the edgy sound of the album as a whole. “Take Me Away” is an existential rocker. It’s usually dismissed as “teen angst,” but—I don’t know—it seems an accurate description of my angst. It’s also a cry for help: “I can’t handle this confusion / I’m unable, come and take me away.

Then there’s “Nobody’s Home,” which attempts to look with empathy on a person suffering from depression. Avril doesn’t really succeed in understanding what depression is, but the song expresses a sincere effort, and a depressed person can appreciate that. Most people don’t want to make an effort; it’s much easier to ignore such things and marginalize those who suffer from them.

It’s clear that I love this album. It’s not “sad.” It’s deep.

The ballads, however, carry the most depth, with "How Does It Feel," "Fall To Pieces," and "Slipped Away" being three of my personal favorites. Here simple words meet brilliant vocal artistry, innovative pronunciation, and freeform syllable extension (Avril adds "ah-ah-aah-ah" to the "yeah, yeah,"  "la-la-la" and "na-na-na-na" that worked so well for her in the first album). 

But I can't explain this on the written page. It has to be heard—and moreover it should be heard by a sympathetic ear and not by a hypercritical one looking for something else to use as a reason to put down Avril as unsophisticated, immature, simplistic, overrated, etc. In certain times and places (and songs) she can give the impression of just being superficial and irresponsible. But her artistry—and I think her heart—have depths from which she can still articulate powerful and timeless music.

As my millennial friends know well, Avril is still “young.” She’s not even 40 yet!😉 Her voice is very versatile, as she has demonstrated not only by the stylistic diversity of her own work, but also in collaborations such as at several recent Country Music Awards events. Avril grew up singing gospel and country music. I would like to see her expand and diversify her vocals, and bring forth new musical creations from her wounded, searching, and magnanimous soul. I do pray for her a lot, for her to grow in the great desire of her heart (“I think there’s something more / life’s worth living for”), and I hope she stays healthy. Avril, please take care of yourself!

Under My Skin came out back at the beginning of the summer of 2004, when Avril was only 19 years old, and already one of the biggest rock stars of the decade. The album was another huge success that reached number 1 on the US Billboard 200 album charts and in many places around the world. Perhaps I'll have more to say later in the year about some of the songs. But I didn’t want to let the present time go by without at least a shout out to the 20th anniversary of this great album.

Monday, May 27, 2024

“Portrait of the Professor as an ‘Older’ Man…”

In grappling with chronic health problems over the past two decades, I haven’t had much of a chance to notice that I really am “getting old” (I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there). Occasionally the visage in the mirror does strike me with the details I have listed in my brief “limerick” above.

But what really brings it home to me are some of these old social media memories that the internet serves up unexpectedly. Thus I was reminded of these pictures of “the kids” that I posted on Facebook on May 26, 2009 — which was 15 years ago:

So much time has passed, so many events have taken place, so much life has been lived since I posted these pictures. There is a whole “level” of memories in the history of my journey in this world that builds up from those days to the present. There have been some sorrows, many joys, and the ultimate gift of it all.

These days, “the kids” in our lives (I mean the little ones) are the grand-kids, the new human persons beyond the horizon of our imagination—impossible to “assume” in their concrete, unique realities—back in 2009.

It’s remarkable to think that Maria, today, is already older than her Aunt Josefina was in the picture above. Here she is recently hamming it up with her “Papa.”

Then there is the already-six-month-old Anna Rose, who usually has lots of wide-eyed smiles for her Papa and Nana. Not always, of course. I wanted an updated Papa and Anna picture, but Anna was being fussy here. Usually I can get her to smile, but I think she had more important things on her mind (like milk, or maybe she was just tired and wanted her Mommy).

But Anna was a good sport. Even with her sad face, she still tried. Anna is cute even with her sad face:

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Praying for China and the Chinese People

May 24th—the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan—was a very important day for the Chinese people, and this year in particular it was associated with the 100th anniversary of the first (and thus far the only) full Synod of Chinese Catholic Bishops in Shanghai, May-June 1924. Many initiatives were taken up at that Synod that helped Chinese Catholics to endure the waves of persecution that were soon to come after the Communist takeover and—especially—during the fanaticism and mayhem of the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976).

I have been studying the history and culture of China and East Asia every day for the past eight years. Other than a substantial collection of Asian "conversion stories" in my Magnificat column, I have published very little on the East Asian "world" even though I am convinced that it is particularly important for Westerners to learn more and appreciate more the values and experiences of the East. Media, transportation, and technology have brought us all suddenly, and in some ways uncomfortably, into the same global village during my own lifetime. We are all neighbors now, and we ought to know one another better.

In the overall research of my East Asian Studies Project, I continue to discover magnificent cultural heritages and profound and ancient achievements in literature and philosophy, poetry and pictorial art. I do not understand the miasma of the often-violent politics and the gigantic and jarring leaps of technological development in the Asia of my own time. This is especially true of China, controlled by a One-Party-State that has driven over a billion people through a blizzard of changes in living conditions, environment, and means of measuring wealth and human success.

The decade of the "Cultural Revolution" is the primary focus of my study. This is the "Red China" that was unknown and inaccessible during my time growing up in the '60s and '70s (except for the vague sense, which was never discussed, that my best friend and his family had somehow escaped from this dystopia and were living what appeared to me to be an "ordinary" American family life—more on this topic soon). But the historical landscape of the Cultural Revolution era is emerging through a flood of "memoir style" accounts that now-elderly Chinese are writing (or their children and grandchildren are writing from the accounts of their elders).

One overall impression strikes me: the period of Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” and its after-effects up to Tiananmen Square and the wild ride of economic transformation that followed it have—I don’t know how else to put it—traumatized several generations of one-fifth of the world's population. Modern Chinese people, however much they might excel in particular areas of expertise—are ultimately “dazed and confused” and don't know what they really want in life. Needless to say, this is also true of the multitudes who still struggle to survive or find ways to “get ahead.” Yet they all live under a control-obsessed regime that prevents them at every turn from asking the questions they need to ask.

The Chinese are enduring an epoch of suffocation. Yet in the past 30 years, many are finding the opportunity and courage to tell their stories. They are stories of immense suffering and dissatisfaction. Women are among the most articulate and brutally honest of the memorialists (Jung Chang's Wild Swans from 1993 still grabs you by the throat). Most of these memoirs are not written by Christian believers, and they carry an apparently irresolvable pain.

I'll list some of the more striking memoirs that I have read soon. There are a few of these works that are almost unbearably hard to read. They are not always "edifying" or representative of a morally healthy response to suffering. But they are reflective, and they struggle with the path they have been forced to travel. They are not only the primary "archives" of a historical period in which a vast people were subjected to unparalleled chaos. They are also "appeals" to Westerners (consciously or unconsciously); they are "bridges" between East and West that we must also help to build. We must accompany them in their suffering and "co-suffer" with them in the compassion that the Lord makes possible in our hearts.

Maybe we are stuck in bed with our own pains and will never be able to teach, write, or make more widely known the suffering and need of these brothers and sisters. Maybe all we can do is grow within our own souls in compassion and solidarity with them. We can pray for them and co-suffer with them. Who knows what God might fashion out of our own weakness and incapacity, if we attend to the experience of others, hear their miseries, trust God, and struggle, long for, ask for ways to love?

So during this time, when I pray for the Church in China, I want also to move forth to pray for the whole of the Chinese people. I don't want to forget them.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Our Lady of Sheshan, China's Merciful Mother

The feast day of Our Lady of Sheshan celebrates the Shrine and Catholic pilgrimage site in Shanghai, China, where the Catholic faith has been present for 400 years. In 2007, Pope Benedict established this day as the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

Here is Pope Benedict's own prayer from 2008 to mark this occasion:

“Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother, venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title 'Help of Christians,' the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection. We come before you today to implore your protection. Look upon the People of God and, with a mother's care, guide them along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

“When you obediently said 'Yes' in the house of Nazareth, you allowed God's eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption. You willingly and generously co-operated in that work, allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul, until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary, standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.

“From that moment, you became, in a new way, the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross. Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter. Grant that your children may discern at all times, even those that are darkest, the signs of God's loving presence.

“Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China, who, amid their daily trails, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world, and of the world to Jesus. In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high, offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love. Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love, ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built. Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!”

~Pope Benedict XVI (May 24, 2008)

The tradition begun by Pope Benedict continues today. Here is Pope Francis conveying a brief message to a conference, with a statue of Our Mother of Sheshan next to him:

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Is Life "A Puff of Smoke" That "Disappears"?

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit'— you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, 'If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.' But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:13-16).

Isn't this so true? We live as if we were masters of space and time. We assume we can dominate reality, when the truth is that every moment of every day is a gift from the One who creates and sustains us and who loves us. We are given reason and freedom, and our lives are fruitful when our decisions and plans adhere to and cooperate with the wisdom and mercy of God.

If we trust in ourselves alone, and what we can control by our own power, time will swallow us up and we will "vanish." Even in the course of this life we can see the "smoke" of our plans and projects and hopes "disappearing," especially as we get older. So we wander through our brief lives in arrogance, anxiety, distraction, desperation, mendacity, and violence.

Why do we live this way? It brings nothing but illusion and failure.

But if we entrust ourselves to the One who transcends time, who "gives us time"—and the One who has come into time and redeemed time—then our little fragile wisp of life has meaning. Every moment has meaning, every hope will be realized in its ultimate truth. Nothing will be lost.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost 2024

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Your love!

Friday, May 17, 2024

The Holy Spirit and the "Groaning" of Our Times

The wars that have intensified during this decade continue to escalate, widening the circle of those under imminent danger, and suggesting that the world is likely to face new perils and catastrophes in the near future. We will all have to face these burdens in some measure, on top of our own personal struggles, failures, frustration and grief. What prevents us from being overwhelmed by fear?

As Pentecost 2024 approaches, it is good once again to ponder prayerfully certain passages from Romans, chapter 8. There is much here that resonates with our own personal sufferings, as well as the sufferings in our world so full of desperation and violence and yet so immensely loved by God.

The Holy Spirit brings hope that transforms our own seemingly inexplicable sorrows into prayer. The Spirit is also at work—profoundly and mysteriously—in the midst of the often-confused, obscure, sometimes hesitant, sometimes ardent longings of people all over the world who seek the truth, who seek healing.

The truth remains that every human heart belongs to God.

Every human heart belongs to God, to the Father who lovingly creates and sustains the heart; to the Son—Jesus—who redeems the heart from sin and enters into the depths of every human burden and misery; to the Holy Spirit poured out as Gift of Love and the power to live as children of God, in abandonment to Infinite Mercy who holds us and carries us through all the agony and danger and terrors we might be called to endure in our lives, in this moment in history.

We must offer our “groaning within ourselves” in solidarity with all those who search for light in the darkness—a search that the Spirit awakens and sustains in the depths of their hearts. Thus we can share our hope for salvation, knowing that the same Spirit who works with us is calling and drawing every person. In the Spirit, our patience, our endurance, our sufferings will bear fruit in Jesus Christ, according to the wisdom and love of God.

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit ­himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.

~Romans 8:22-27

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Shouts of Joy

“All peoples, clap your hands.

Cry to God with shouts of joy.”

~Psalm 47:2

Lying in this bed, letting my joints ache in the humid wet days of May 2024.

The News is full of conflict, and it's all been heard before and it's all passing away. "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).

Everything changes. Everything is changing. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a New Creation. Creation groans with eager longing. We groan inwardly as we await the redemption of our bodies. (see Romans 8:18-23)

So much groaning in travail, so much eager longing...

Come, Holy Spirit, transforming Fire, Light dispelling all darkness, Love ever greater.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Spirit of Truth Bears Witness to God’s Love For Us

We have nearly completed our annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the events that happened in our human history that constitute God’s definitive gesture of boundless love for human person and the whole universe. 

God the Father who created all things has spoken—through the Word-made-Flesh—the fulfilling and decisive “word” that draws together the unknown millennia of the past with God’s promises and the victory of Christ, and that touches us in the here-and-now through the Spirit of the Risen Lord. We live, even now, the newness of Life in the Spirit and share with Christ—according to the grace of our Christian vocation and our free correspondence to it—the task of “advancing” the growth of the Kingdom of the God who is Eternal Love.

Jesus reigns in the glory of His own resurrection which He makes present in His Church, gathering all the moments of history and of the present and all those still to come (however long or short the time may be that remains for the history of this present world).

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever!” (Hebrews 13:8)

My graphics are playing with a lot of “light and darkness” themes, because in this year, 2024, the “hundredfold” that we experience in following Jesus has not been without its tribulations.

Yet it is a “hundredfold” of joy for us even in this life, even in the most difficult times. Perhaps it is “hidden” in the gratitude of our hearts as we focus on perseverance. If we are able, it is good and strengthening to take moments to dwell in that gratitude, to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord, to adore Him and marvel at the immeasurable Gift of our being and our vocation and, above all, Himself—from the Cross, in the humility of the Eucharist that feeds us, in His Spirit who makes all things possible.

Come Holy Spirit!

Friday, May 10, 2024

Christina Grimmie: “People Grow Stronger, Little by Little”

People aren’t born strong. People grow stronger little by little, encountering difficult situations, learning not to run from them” (Christina Grimmie).

I designed and posted this “meme” seven YEARS ago, according to Facebook. The impact of this young person on my life only grows with time.💚 And I know that I am far from alone in saying this.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

The "Farewell Discourses": What Does Jesus Mean?

In recent weeks, the Gospel reading for the day has been taken from what are sometimes called the "farewell discourses" of Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapters 14, 15, and 16.

Many classic verses are found here. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (14:6). "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9). "I am the vine; you are the branches... apart from me you can do nothing" (15:5). Then there are those words about His gift of His peace, and bearing abundant fruit, and exhortations to "abide in Him" and "keep His commands," and especially "this is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you" (15:12).

These "discourses" are a profound exchange between Jesus and the disciples. As is so often the case, however, the disciples don't understand. Jesus uses these great images that are familiar to us, but the disciples are confused. Jesus speaks of Himself, His Father, the Spirit, the world, and the disciples themselves, but they are not sure what He means by all of it.

When we read these texts, we are dazzled by their depth and inspired by all the often-heard themes. Still, perhaps we sympathize with the disciples in a certain way.

Maybe we have studied the Bible for years, but do we really "get it"?

"We do not know what he is talking about" (16:18) the disciples are saying near the end of chapter 16. Two thousand years later, we can still appreciate their perplexity. We too may wonder, "What is He talking about?"

We have the benefit of the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ after the resurrection and Pentecost, as well as the development of doctrine, the tradition and the Fathers, the teaching of Christ's Church, many good modern commentaries, and our own prayerful reading in the light of the Holy Spirit. These resources assist us, but the heart of the text remains an awesome and beautiful mystery, and it brings us more and more to a simple gaze full of silence, adoration, and love. We are drawn to "abide" in Him, and allow Him to dwell in us, with the Father and the Spirit.

Here is one of the powerful moments in the New Testament when we encounter the Infinite Mystery made flesh, the One whose presence is decisive for the destiny of every human person.

Within the narrative, however, the disciples remain confused.

But just then comes a moment in the text when the clouds seem to open for them. Jesus says something that strikes the disciples in a different way, that breaks through and appears clearly, even if only for a moment, in their minds and hearts.

Jesus says:
"I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God" (16:25-27).
And then He says a single verse that sounds like something He has already said many times. Yet this time it stands out; it seems to touch the disciples for the first time in all its richness. If we ponder it for awhile, we might be touched by it too. Jesus says:
"I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father" (16:28).
The hitherto bewildered disciples seem suddenly awakened by these words. Perhaps they don't know what they are saying, and yet they are impressed with a luminous certainty, as if they are standing before Jesus transfigured. They seem to be greatly consoled and enlightened. Suddenly they rejoice, and cry out with a newly found joy.
"His disciples said, 'Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God'" (16:29-30).
Perhaps we reach this point and wonder what we've missed. What did Jesus say that suddenly made it all clear?

I wonder if these words might indicate the very heart of the matter. The Eternal Mystery -- source and fulfillment of all things -- is the Holy Trinity, in which the Son is eternally generated by the Father. And the Father and the Son eternally breathe forth the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is, of course, the transcendent, "super-dynamic" and "always" realization of the exchange and overflow of Love, a mystery that transcends words like "coming" and "going."

Yet this is why the Son of the Father has been made flesh. Jesus has come into the world above all to reveal and glorify the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the mystery of the God who is Eternal Love. "I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father."

Earlier in the discourse, Jesus told them, "If I do not go, the Advocate [the Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you" (16:7). Now He appears to be synthesizing everything in a few words that refer to His "coming-from-the-Father" and His "going-[returning]-to-the-Father."

Perhaps these words open the hearts of the disciples to Jesus's relation to the Father in the Spirit. Perhaps they grasp for a moment His whole mission: He who is forever generated from the Father is sent by the Father into the world to "open up" the life of God so that those who adhere to Him might share that life through Him, so that they might be raised up into the Father's glory in the Holy Spirit.

The Voice and the Dove at Jesus's baptism. The luminous Glory of Tabor and the Voice again. Transfiguration. Infinite Love who is Father, Son, and Spirit, revealing His Trinitarian mystery and freely pouring forth His glory and His love and His mercy upon the world.

Is this what stirred the ardor of the disciples and drew forth for a moment their joyful affirmation of faith?

Still, in the "farewell discourses," Jesus knows that His coming-and-going has not yet reached its definitive moment. The Cross remains before Him:
Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (16:31-33)