Monday, July 22, 2024

Saint Mary Magdalen: “New Things Have Come”

When Mary Magdalen encountered the Resurrected Christ, she did not know Him until He spoke her name. He enabled her to see in His risen life the radical beginning of a “new thing” beyond all the hopes and searching of human history: the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s gratuitous gift of His love poured forth for the salvation of humanity and the transformation of all things—the beginning of a “new creation.” He sent Mary to reveal this to the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit inspired within her heart a great desire to witness to them.

So it was also with Saul of Tarsus, when He encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus, when Jesus changed his heart and gave him the mission to announce salvation to the peoples of the earth (as we see in the first reading for today’s feast). So it is too for each of us who have encountered Jesus in the Church, where He touches the personal depths of each of our hearts while also uniting us with our brothers and sisters and calling us to serve every human person made in God’s image and called to share in God’s Eternal Joy.

We may not feel “impelled” by the love of Christ, as was Mary Magdalen, the Apostles, Saint Paul, or the many great saints of history. But through Baptism into His Body, He has begun to transforms us —even if we usually forget, or fail to live coherently. He calls us, and insofar as we recognize this call we want to share it with others. The Spirit of God lights a flame in our hearts to spread the hope of Christ all around us. Even if we break away from Christ and reject His love, still He calls us to return to Him, and is always ready to rekindle the fire of our hearts.

Christ is King of the Universe, and He seeks out every human person—including the great majority that do not know Him, or fail to recognize the true significance of His name. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for every person, the impetus and the goal of every human journey. Still, the “way” He chooses to make Himself known and loved throughout the world is through us, His Church.

If this were merely a human project, it would overwhelm us. But it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and He brings it to fruition in Christ in God’s time, with much that remains hidden and mysterious but which still pertains to the fullness of Christ in His Church. What matters most for our vocation is to stay with Christ and to follow Him. It is to respond, like Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Paul, when He calls our name with love, and meets us in “places” in our lives where we never expected to find Him. It is to believe in Him and adhere to Him with the strength of faith, hope, and love He gives to us, to allow Him to refashion our hearts and move our hearts by the “new things,” by the miracle of His presence with us as the Life of our lives, the One who reveals the Father’s love for us and for the world, the One who shines light on everything, who is the meaning and fulfillment of all things.

We are weak, we fall short, we make a mess of so many things; we repent, return, and begin anew, we learn and grow in Jesus Christ in the communion of His Church. He is here, the New Adam, the beginning of the new creation. He is God-with-us and He is with us all through this life, sustaining all things, drawing all things and all people to Himself. The more we grow in awareness of His enduring victory, the more we will share it with gladness and joy and thanksgiving, and the more it will illuminate even our most unbearable sorrows.

As Saint Mary Magdalen learned, He turns our sorrows into joy. And Saint Paul says in the reading in today’s liturgy:

“The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

“Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:14-17).

Saturday, July 20, 2024

“God Does Not Forsake Us…”

This piece is titled The Dusk of July 2024, and it seems to match the mood I find within me. My illness has reasserted itself. Once again, I am crashing into a wall. This is the struggle of the past 25+ years, and it has been very frustrating and sometimes humiliating. Meanwhile, I’m getting older, and I'm feeling even more vulnerable to all the ways that Late-Stage Lyme screws up one's body.
I’m scared.

Yet, listen to what Pope Benedict XVI says, only a few days before resigning the papacy. This is what I want to take to heart.

“God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves with a faithfulness that surpasses by far that of men and women, opening onto dimensions of eternity. ‘For his steadfast love endures for ever,’ as Psalm 136 [135] repeats in every verse, as in a litany, retracing the history of salvation. The love of God the Father never fails, he does not tire of us; it is a love that gives to the end, even to the sacrifice of his Son. Faith gives us this certainty which becomes a firm rock in the construction of our life: we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of despair in times of crisis and suffering, sustained by our trust that God does not forsake us and is always close in order to save us and lead us to eternal life” (Benedict XVI, General Audience of January 30, 2013).

Thursday, July 18, 2024

“I Will Give You Rest”

This Gospel passage always brings encouragement, as well as a profound sense of being understood and loved by God. Jesus knows each person’s suffering.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The “Mantle” of Mary

According to Carmelite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the Superior the Carmelite Order in the thirteenth century (during a time of uncertainty and turmoil for them and other “new” religious movements—such as the “Dominicans” and the “Franciscans”) and gave the Carmelites the long brown double-sided “apron” that is worn over the shoulders in their religious habit (this portion of the habit is called the “scapular”). In this way the Blessed Mother enfolded them in a special way in her mercy and protection.

In the ensuing centuries, lay people associated themselves with the Carmelite charism and Mary’s special protection by enrolling in a broad association (a “confraternity”) that connected them vitally and particularly to the prayers and sacrifices of the Carmelite Order. They were symbolically “clothed” in Mary’s “mantle”—the garment of the Carmelite brown scapular—by taking up and wearing a cord with two small pieces of brown cloth (for the front and back). According to the reports of the thirteenth century vision, when Mary originally gave the Carmelites their brown scapular, she said, “Whoever dies clothed in this will not suffer eternal fire.” Not surprisingly, the brown scapular became a very popular and widespread devotion in the Western Church, to the point where many parishes enrolled (and gave a brown scapular to) every person when they received their First Communion. 

I’m not sure whether or not I was enrolled thus (in the olden days), but I did formally receive the scapular from a priest at my University, according to the proper (and simple) “form” at that time for enrolling in the Confraternity. I wear it day and night and I cherish it. I don’t “think much” about it. It’s a gift from Mary. I’m grateful for these little tangible pieces of cloth that “enfold me” in the maternal love of the Mother of God who wants to be with me on my journey to her Son (and—thanks to her “fiat”—my Brother) and His Kingdom: this journey that is beautiful and full of faith and love and building up the good, full of the “hundredfold” of the zest for life, and at the same time arduous and steep, extreme and so hard, with stumbling and wounds and dark places that make one cry out, “Where am I?”… with failure and humiliation, pain and disappointment, but also those inexplicable joys that persist in the still center of the soul in whispers and sighs too deep for words.

I know that the Carmelites have revised their norms regarding their confraternity and have emphasized its specific relationship with the worldwide Carmelite family and its spiritual tradition. I’m not sure what that entails, but it’s not a kind of “third order” (Carmelites have a proper Third Order, just like the Dominicans and Franciscans, which diocesan priests and lay people can join). The Confraternity of the Scapular (I would think) involves more of an “awareness” of a relationship with the Carmelites, their charism, their profound tradition of penance, prayer, and the ways (even mystical ways—remember Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and of course the astonishing “little” Thérèse) to abandonment and union with God through the grace of Jesus Christ.

The proper enrollment in the brown scapular is important. I don’t know if it has become more “difficult” or whether parishes in North America have just neglected it in recent years. I haven’t researched this point much, to be honest. Nevertheless I recommend to you the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Ask your parish priest or any priest who helps guide you in your faith. Brown scapulars are still sold wherever Catholic religious medals, icons, or books are sold. Sometimes I tell people to just get a scapular and start wearing it (I don’t think Mary will have a problem with that). Then you can work through the particulars that enrich the devotion when the opportunity arises.

It is important to understand properly the “promise of not suffering eternal fire” within the context of living a life committed to Christ. The scapular—like so many other physical gestures and helps and objects that Catholics integrate into the practice of their faith (and to the perplexity of their Protestant brothers and sisters)—is a sign of the fundamental promises of Jesus who is God made flesh: “Whoever believes in me has eternal life.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). 

These are not promises that allow us to disengage from living our relationship with Jesus in the Church; they are promises that “move with us” as we adhere to Jesus in trust, abandoning ourselves to Him, cooperating with the grace of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do His will, keep His commands, worship and love God above all else, and love one another in Him. We live these promises in the hope that the Holy Spirit instills in us on our journey every day, as we trust that the love of God our Father is shaping our lives for the glory of His Son Jesus, which it is our destiny to share as His brothers and sisters. 

This too is the concern of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and us. She knows we need signs, gestures and objects that we can touch and wear and carry and gaze upon with our eyes. The scapular is a sign—something we wear that is physically linked to Christ’s Body, the Church—of the new life that has already begun for us in Baptism, that is nourished or restored by the Sacraments, that enables us even now to engage life in this world with the transformed knowledge and love of Christ. In hope and prayer we open our hearts to Him, living and hoping to remain in Him, to persevere in Him, to die in Him who has conquered sin and death.

Wearing the scapular is sharing in a gift from our Merciful Mother who is full of tenderness toward us, who is abundant in maternal solicitude and gifts that are close to the heart (the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe reminds me of this too).

Here are a few words from someone with a deep devotion to the brown scapular that he wore from his youth, the great Pope Saint John Paul II:

"Mother of Christ, let there be revealed, once more, in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the Redemption: the power of merciful Love! May it put a stop to evil! May it transform consciences! May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope!" (Saint John Paul II).

Monday, July 15, 2024

Saint Bonaventure: The Mystery of Christ Crucified

The mystery of Christ Crucified:

“…cannot be comprehended by anyone
unless he surrenders himself to it;
nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it;
nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit,
whom Christ sent into the world,
should come and inflame his innermost soul.
Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom
is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

“If you ask how such things can occur,
seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine;
in the longing of the will, not in the understanding;
in the sighs of prayer, not in research;
seek the bridegroom not the teacher;
God and not man;
darkness not daylight;
and look not to the light but rather
to the raging fire that carries the soul to God
with intense fervor and glowing love.
The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem,
fired by Christ in the ardor of His loving passion.
Only he understood this who said:
‘My soul chose hanging and my bones death.
Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God,
for it is certainly true that:
‘No man can look upon me and live.’

“Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness....
Let us pass over with the crucified Christ
from this world to the Father
so that, when the Father has shown himself to us,
we can say with Philip: ‘It is enough.’
We may hear with Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’
And we can rejoice with David, saying:
‘My flesh and my heart fail me,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my heritage for ever.’

~Saint Bonaventure (1217-1274)
from The Journey of the Mind to God, ch. 7

Sunday, July 14, 2024

“Summer Recuperation” With JJ on Video

Here I am, on a break from a walk at sunset, when the roasting heat cools down… slightly. It’s a grainy video because it was getting dark. Notice that I got a haircut and a beard trim. Just because I’ve been living like a hermit doesn’t mean I have to look like one, huh?

I'm still struggling, but trying to keep a sense of humor about it.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

“Benedict on Benedict,” or Jesus, Modern Popes, Ancient Monks

Today is the Feast of Saint Benedict, the sixth century youth who left his place among the Roman nobility to seek God “alone” in the wilderness. In the course of his journey as a monos (a “person alone”—apart from human society—from which we derive the term “monk”), he was first helped by, and later gathered together under his guidance, others who were similarly seeking God. Thus, he became the father of a monastic community, and began a movement that—through the ensuing centuries—became one of the key features of the foundation of the new civilization of Christian Europe.

Today is a good day to remember another person who took the name of “Benedict,” who after a lifetime of service to Church’s teaching office, also became a monk in a somewhat different way, resigning the Papacy and passing the final decade of his life serving the Church through prayer. The work of this “Benedict”—Josef Ratzinger, the late Pope Benedict XVI—will also yield as-yet-unknown fruits for the future in the Church and human society.

Let me note that I completely oppose the idea that the papacies of Benedict and our current Pope Francis (who has also taught me so much) should be cast in conflict with one another. Quite the contrary, in the midst of the tumultuous changes that have been shaking world events and human minds since I was born, the astonishing consistency of teaching, direction, and guidance of the Catholic Church by all the great Popes of my lifetime is something like a miracle. Not that everything that every Pope has said or done is perfect, but there is an overall solidity and groundedness—a multifaceted but unified Catholicity that charts the “narrow path” of truth and love through the explosive, gigantic, marvelous, and jarring circumstances and events that we are all still experiencing and enduring. 

The papal teaching office makes it possible for us all to hear together how Jesus wants to lead us in His ways and see reality as it truly is. Jesus is present and dwelling with us now in His Church, and He continues to guide and unify His whole People. Because of this, the Popes of our era have not only sustained and developed our understanding of the Catholic tradition (“reform-in-continuity”) but also helped us find some orientation in the otherwise disorienting times in which we live. Like the “miracle” of the Council itself, the Popes of this era have been instruments of the Holy Spirit that help us to engage the enormous challenges of the emerging new epoch.

Returning to Pope Benedict, it must be said that he is far from obsolete. His spectacular patrimony of papal teaching has not disappeared, but continues to offer much that can enrich us.

On the feast of Saint Benedict, we should recall once again Pope Benedict's masterful Catechesis on the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, which is both profound and accessible, the fruit of outstanding scholarship, a life of prayer and meditation, and the teaching charism of the successor of Saint Peter. In the excerpt below (and I encourage people to read the entire series of these homilies), Papa Ratzinger speaks of Saint Benedict, the Father of monasticism in the West, who also set forth an enduring path for all human beings who seek God and have been drawn by the invitation of God's love. 

"St Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Saint Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Maria: “Young, Wild, and THREE!”

Our oldest granddaughter celebrated her third birthday (July 9) in many ways, including by having pizza. She is such fun, and is growing into a regular little person! Happy Birthday, Maria!

Here are a few pictures comparing July 2021 with July 2024. (Notice that Maria is wearing her “Young, Wild, and Three” tee shirt while eating pizza. She indeed has all of these qualities! In reality, She and her sister Anna bring us lots of joy.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Friday, July 5, 2024

America: Prayer and the “Power of Love”

We had a perfect view of the town fireworks display from the back deck of the house that my son and his family bought at the beginning of this year. 
The United States of America has been an independent nation for nearly 250 years. The “Semiquincentennial” anniversary will in fact take place in 2026 —a year that once seemed quite remote, especially for those of us who remember the national celebrations of the “Bicentennial” in 1976.

For the whole length of my lifetime, my country has possessed more material power and prosperity than any society in the history of the human race. There are many ways in which this power has been used for the common good of the people of the U.S.A. and of the whole world. But we cannot deny that it has also been used to make entrenched problems worse and to help create a host of new ones that continue to grow.

Whatever political or social activities Americans take up in the coming months (and beyond), we really—desperately—need to pray for our country. Our material wealth is useless to us if we forget God, if we fail to beg Him for the wisdom and love that alone will enable us to use all He has entrusted to us for the proper realization of the good, and in service to the common needs of our interdependent world, especially in those places where poverty and violence cause so much suffering.

With God is the only true power: the power of love. Only God can give us hearts capable of measuring wisely and using well our material power in the service of works of mercy. Prayer and works of mercy are essential, especially for a nation that has been given so much. Prayer and works of mercy will bring healing to our country, and make us exemplary for the whole world.

Below is one of Collect Prayers that are optional for Catholic liturgical prayer on Independence Day.

Father of all nations and ages,
we recall the day when our country
claimed its place among the family of nations;
for what has been achieved we give you thanks,
for the work that still remains we ask your help,
and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation,
grant that, under your providence,
our country may share your blessings
with all the peoples of the earth.
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.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

St Thomas the Apostle and the Reality of the Risen Jesus

Today we celebrate Saint Thomas the Apostle.

The Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus said to 'Doubting Thomas': “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27). 

Caravaggio's famous 1602 painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas assures us that Jesus was speaking literally... for some people it "assures them" to the point of making them uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the jolting realism of Caravaggio has a point, and maybe we're right to feel "discomfort" in one sense. Ultimately, real Christianity is "uncomfortable" because it's not a collection of stories and ideas and rules that we can finally master and control by our own power (though people always try). Real Christianity is a Person; real Christianity is A MAN, a particular man from a particular place and time, a real man of flesh and blood and bones, of spirit and intelligence and freedom—a man who says of himself: "I AM the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

Real Christianity is the Word who became flesh to dwell with us; God the Infinite Mystery, the Source of all things, for whom the depths of our hearts yearn—whom we long to know and love—but who is always beyond our power, who cannot be grasped, to whom we cry out for a fulfillment we seek without being able to understand it: the Infinite became a man so that he could be with us as our brother, so that he could save us and bring us to a fulfillment beyond anything we could imagine.

The Mystery became flesh so that as a man he could enter human history and heal and transform it "from the inside," through his human life, death, and resurrection that initiate a New Creation beginning with his risen humanity. Still he remains a real man (Thomas is invited to verify this with his fingers that touch the transformed but still "open" wounds in his now-immortal but still human flesh). Through his humanity we are called to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) in communion with the Triune God forever.

This man, Jesus of Nazareth, is deeply involved in every person's life whether they know it or not. He calls us to a relationship with him. He is all wise, all good, entirely trustworthy and (if I may put it this way) madly in love with each one of us, with our particular humanity, our flesh and blood, our soul, our reason, our freedom. He loves me, he loves you right now, even if our lives are totally messed up, even if we've done terrible things, even if we have been running away from him. 

He calls us to a real relationship, which is going to be mysterious and difficult and better than anything we could ever do alone: it is an adventure in which we are not the ones who are "in control" (even as it engages all our intelligence, creativity, co-operation, and responsibility). "Blessed are they who have not seen, but still believe" (John 20:29). 

Believers are called "blessed" by Jesus. They are not called "comfortable." Living a relationship with Jesus Christ takes us way outside our boxes and way beyond our comfort zones. It's a "love story," after all. It corresponds to all our hopes, while also exceeding any kind of hope that we can measure. It promises and even now "begins" to fulfill all of our desires for life and love, while also "overflowing" them, because in Jesus God gives us Himself.

Jesus never said "Do not be uncomfortable." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Matthew 14:27, Luke 5:10, John 14:27). Do not be afraid. Trust in Jesus Christ, always!

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Remembering Mom Three Years Later

July 3rd is the third anniversary of the death of my mother, Joan M. Janaro (December 29, 1938-July 3, 2021).
Here's a picture of Mom, sometime in the late 1970s-early 1980s. May the Lord grant her eternal glory.

I will share here a few words I would like to say to my mother, in my heart: "Dear Mom, I miss you. I pray for you and think of you every day (often). I have only begun to realize how much you have given to me since the beginning, to Eileen and I in our marriage, to our family, your grandchildren, and even your great-granddaughters who didn't get to meet you in this earthly life. It never seems like you're very ‘far away,’ especially when the family gets together. Thank you for everything, Mom. I love you!"

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Christina Grimmie: Instrument of Christ's Love

[The Christina Grimmie Foundation and the people of “Team Grimmie” all over the world have been celebrating Christina Grimmie’s life and legacy in a special way during this month of June. On the last day of June, I thought it would be fitting to finish these reflections on Christina’s faith, which we all know was fundamental to her identity. I know that many Team Grimmie frands are not Christians, but I hope they will recognize this essay as my own effort—as a Catholic Christian—to appreciate the significance of her faith in Christ in light of my own faith. For my friends who aren’t Christian, this text represents my effort in an ongoing dialogue in which we can all grow in a greater mutual understanding of what we have learned about life from a multitude of diverse traditions, our own seeking of life’s meaning, and the ways in which Christina’s bright brief beautiful life has inspired our humanity. I am a man of many words, but I am also a good listener, and I have learned much from all of you. I offer these words humbly and with great esteem for each one of you. And, of course, above all “with love.” ~JJ ]

"Jesus loves you so so much!... As do I" (Christina Grimmie).

Christina still helps us to remember that Jesus loves us... Her witness was not only in words but also in her own love, her own embrace of others, her own willingness-to-give-herself in love to persons near and far. She saw herself as His instrument (as, for example, when she said in 2014 that her voice “belonged to Jesus,” and that she intended to use it “for His glory”).

Christina didn’t put on a big show of “being religious,” but her faith in Jesus Christ was central to everything she did. She once said on a YouNow livestream, “my faith is not just a part of my life; my faith is my life.” Thus, her faith—her commitment to Jesus, her trust in Jesus, her “belonging to Jesus”—was organically united to her way of experiencing life, and especially to her giving and receiving love. Jesus was “within” all her relationships, and He empowered her to look at each person particularly, to listen to and encourage and affirm the dignity of every person. Christina wanted to be an instrument of the “glory” of Jesus. His “glory” is His infinite love, His total giving-of-Himself to redeem, heal, and transform every person and bring them to live forever in God’s love. Jesus is the only One whose love saves us, and Christina knew that. As His disciple, she saw her particular vocation not as preaching with words, but—as a musician—to witness to His love through the gift of her music and the relationships with others that emerged from it in various ways.

Of course, her particular commitment to Jesus did not guarantee that she would always act in complete coherence with her vocation. She undoubtedly had her share of misjudgments, mistakes, fatigue, distraction, and sins such as we all commit even as we seek to follow the Lord. It takes time to grow in conformity to Christ’s love. Everything that we know, however, seems to indicate that Christina consistently returned from failures and continued to grow in the scope and depth of her gift-of-herself to Christ. She grew in her capacity to witness to and communicate His love as He filled her life, and made her service more spontaneous —which in a personal sense means not more “automatic” but more free.

Christina let Jesus work through her by the gifts He had entrusted to her as an “instrument” of “His glory (Love).” Thus, His love could become, in a profound sense, "present" to people through their experiencing her love: "Jesus loves you, AS DO I" —thus she witnessed to His love by giving herself... right up to the last gesture of the last moment of her life. 

Christina did not walk around with that kind of “dour face” that some people who regard themselves as “religious” seem to have all the time. She was openly, ardently Christian, but there was something different about her—she had a kind of freedom which definitely did not neglect her Christian morals, but also didn’t seem “constrained” by them. On the contrary, her fidelity to Jesus seemed to “open her up” more radically to the fundamental goodness of reality as redeemed by Him. She lived that exhortation of Saint Paul: “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). 

Christina was not afraid of life. On the contrary, she plunged into life with gusto, always seeking the good—great goods, certainly, but also the “ordinary goods” that are a daily part of life for the average 21st century teenager or young adult. She was very much a regular kid—someone her peers could relate to—who had crushes and boyfriends and heartbreak, who liked to have fun, play video games, eat pizza and ice cream, joke around with her friends, laugh a lot, watch movies and television, text and goof around on social media, and listen to many kinds of contemporary music. Yet she didn’t “lose herself” in her adolescent enthusiasms, but engaged these interests within the context of “something greater” that grounded her sense of self-worth (as a teen, she once described her three main interests—in a tongue-in-cheek but ultimately serious way—as “food, music, and video games… all united and raised up in Jesus.”  

From the very beginning of her career on YouTube, she made it clear in her description of herself that “Jesus is my Savior and I love Him and sing for Him.” But her love for Jesus was not ponderous or constraining, nor was it an extrinsic “agenda” of prosylitism artificially shaping her activities. Rather, her love for Jesus pervaded her life in a way that was sustaining and liberating, like a flame that illuminated her whole humanity—that made her more relatable, more “familiar,” more genuine, more human—but also “different,” like something breaking through her whole personality that was “new” and attractive, striking and unpredictable, surprising and wonderful. Christina generated an environment through her presence on YouTube that was welcoming, gentle, and congenial, while at the same time stirring, fascinating, and challenging. She shared therein her amazing voice and her passionate dedication to her music. This was enough to attract a following, but at a certain point, Christina’s growing YouTube fan base found themselves drawn to more than just the great music. They (we) were inspired and drawn by her extraordinary passion for life.

It was not an easy life. Christina didn’t hide the immense difficulties and struggles that she and her family faced. Her mother battled cancer for over two decades, and her family had many trials. She loved her mother, was inspired by her mother’s own faith and tenacity, and shared the awful vulnerability of the recurring cancer—“co-suffering” with her mother, crying out “why?” to God without ceasing to trust God, and learning from her mother how to “become strong, little by little.” Christina and her family were very close. Her parents and her brother moved with her from New Jersey to California in 2012. They supported her in her music career and her mission to give glory to Christ and love people through music and the great openness to those she called her “frands” (friend-fans), who were drawn to the space generated by her unique “hospitality.” 

People all over the world—people from diverse cultures, traditions, religions, and ways of thinking—were drawn together into “Team Grimmie,” a group that was, and continues to be, so much more than an ordinary “fandom.” Christina gave her love, and—with her awareness and desire to recognize the good in others—she rejoiced in the gifts and aspirations of her frands, their encouragement, their love for her. She recognized the presence of Christ in these dedicated people who appreciated and supported her from near and far. She communicated with as many as she could through her online platforms, and she loved to meet them face-to-face and spend time with them on her live concert tours in the U.S.A., Europe, and East Asia. Her “meet-and-greets” after her shows were free, open to anyone, and lasted as long as possible. She cherished meeting with her “frands.” She saw them as “entrusted to her by God,” and she was always ready to hug them, encourage them, or console them. She also had a real, unaffected, grateful appreciation of their love for her, and of the goodness she saw in them. They gave her strength. She experienced the closeness of the humanity of Jesus through them. Through their goodness and love, Jesus loved and sustained her with His Heart that encompasses every human heart.

Christina also sought out the good in people and places that are “on the margins”—complicated people, sick people, misunderstood people, confused people, troubled people. They all knew that she was a Christian—and many of them weren’t, but they never felt “condemned” by her. They knew she loved them, unconditionally, but not in a vague fuzzy merely sentimental way. She loved them in a way that “moved them,” provoked them, woke something up inside of them. Experiencing her love made them (and all of us) want to go forward on the journey of our lives, to take the “next step” that was calling us—notwithstanding the risk it entailed—to act to go deeper into the goodness of reality that was in front of us, to say “yes” with confidence to the challenges that we faced. Adam Levine (from Maroon 5), who was her coach on The Voice, said, “when I’m with Christina, I want to be a better person.”

She gave us courage. She still does.

Christina lived “in the world” with a heart full of the love of Christ, and therefore a love of every person in whatever difficulties or afflictions, a love for actual persons, a love for the person who was in front of her at any moment... without conditions. She belonged to Jesus, and this was her greatness. 

This was her heroism

I don’t think she was naive or careless. She knew the risks of love, and through Christ she willingly embraced them. She lived her life for Him, believing in Him, trusting Him. Empowered by His Spirit, her whole life became a great embrace, offered through her heart, that excluded no one. Such a love is not merely superficial and sentimental; it bears within itself the readiness to face opposition and danger, and even to take the ultimate risk. Her faith in Jesus made it possible for her to live this way, to risk being human in front of every person, in all the circumstances in life. 

I think that in her heart she had offered her life for Christ, to be an instrument of His love, long before the night of June 10, 2016. On that night, she stretched out her arms to make a space of love for one more person. She was following her Lord, as she had made a habit of doing in her life—living and growing in faith, no doubt making mistakes, sometimes getting tired or distracted, but moving forward, seeking forgiveness, growing ever closer to Him. She knew the path that her Savior walked, with love, for her redemption and the redemption of the world. She knew that He died with His arms stretched open with love for everyone. She also knew that this love conquered death. Love won the victory over death. 

It still seems incomprehensible to us. It still brings sadness and questioning. But let us live in hope. Someday we will see and understand how Christina offered her life for Christ, and the mysterious ways that He prepared her to share in His victory.

This is why people "still feel that she loves them"—even people who only discover her after her death. Her love continues to shine, to be personal even now, to inspire us and help us, because she lives now in the glory of Jesus Christ. In union with God through Christ, she has not forgotten any of us and she knows and loves the "newer frands" too, the ones who continue to discover her on YouTube, to hear her voice for the first time, to encounter her person and her unique form of witness even now, eight years later.

"Jesus loves you... as do I" —she witnessed to His love with her own love, with her whole life, all the way to her last moment on this earth, opening her arms to "welcome a stranger." I thank God for empowering Christina to give herself with such great love, a gift that has touched our lives in ways deeper than we know.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

June 29, 1996: The “Honeymooners” in Rome

June ends beautifully, with the great Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. This always leads me to reminisce about the Eternal City. As I've said before here, Eileen and I are both "Romans" by virtue of the (different) times we each lived and studied there in our youth, and by our great excursion together at the beginning of our married life. We 
spent three and a half weeks in Italy for our "honeymoon" back in 1996. We were able to make this trip because we didn't seek a "lovers' solitude" experience; we spent all but five nights at the homes of friends. It was a real trek, from Rome to Assisi to Florence to Ravenna to Milan to the Italian Riviera. I'm so glad we did it then, when we had the time and the energy of our youth. I'm glad that, while we were still able, we rode trains and buses, slept on floors or (worse) the infamous Italian "letto," and hauled bags that got bigger and bigger as we accumulated loot along the way! 

I recommend this kind of honeymoon for you young folks, especially if you are humanities buffs like us. Trust me, you will never be able to throw yourselves about with such freedom as in these early days of marriage. Soon come the babies, and the kids, and before they grow up your bodies will have slowed down, and you will have settled expectations and habits, as well as tricky joints and bad backs and arthritis. Many older people still travel with gusto, but that sheer energy and “flexibility,” that spontaneity and lack of preoccupation with agendas or plans are qualities that are strongest when you are young. 

Youth is the time to explore, to rough it, to embark on physically arduous adventures, especially with your spouse. Go somewhere beautiful and fascinating, full of human history and aesthetic richness. Or go on pilgrimage to the places where God's love has touched the world. You will build a foundation of common experience that will stay with you forever.

In Rome we spent a week and a half at an apartment not far from the Vatican, with a friend's mother. This lovely old woman cleared a room for us, made coffee for us every morning, and often fed us abundantly in the kitchen at night (even if we had already eaten). I have never found a restaurant that can match the culinary magic that happens in the simple Italian kitchen. Oh, my my!

We went to all our favorite spots in Rome and shared them together. We brought our newly married life to the tomb of St. Peter, and prayed a long time. We explored churches and ruins and great art. June 29th sticks in my mind because we went to St Peter's basilica for the ceremony in which the Pope (then Saint John Paul II) invests new Archbishops with the pallium, a woolen band worn as a sign of their particular responsibility and their communion with the Pope.

It was a beautiful ceremony, very crowded of course, so that we barely had a glimpse of the Pope. (We had no idea, at that time, that we were going to meet him in a few days!) Afterwards, in the midst of the crowds, we bumped into a little bishop from Malaysia—whose name I do not remember—and struck up a conversation with him. He was the first bishop to bless our marriage.

I wonder where he is today. He may well have gone home to the Lord by now. We never did get his name.

Among many things, Rome is also a place of unusual meetings and unexpected changes in plans. It is a place where all the cultures of the world gather, dialogue with one another, and celebrate together the One who brings true unity to the whole human family.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Treasure and Heart

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:19-21).

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The “Culture of Relativism”

“The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary

“We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.”
~Pope Francis, Laudato Si 123

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

“June Moon”

I worked this piece from a recently-taken photo of the moon climbing the twilight sky after 9:00 PM. It’s a “virtual design” (sometimes it feels more like sculpting-from-a-distance rather than painting because the tools are so diverse and I do lots of shaping and moving things around). It is not the result of  “AI Roulette”—I have been working with Digital Art for over a decade. These pictures (beginning with my own photos) take time and sometimes too much work. 

A kind of “sense of direction” develops as I select photos and try different digital techniques. It’s a process of using digital “materials” to make a work that embodies a creative intuition. (And, in the philosophical sense, the light and colors that are effected by all that underlying computer programming still constitute matter. They aren’t “spirit”! They are material elements that can be shaped into creative configurations that aspire to express the awareness of beauty.

So here is “June Moon” by JJ, made in JJStudios.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Saint John the Baptist

John the Baptist is my patron saint (although, since I was born in January 1963, I was also named for the current Pope of the time, who is now known as Saint John XXIII — so I figure that I “picked him up” as another patron when he was canonized in 2014☺️). But with Saint John the Baptist I get two feast days: his birth on June 24 and his martyrdom on August 29. Heaven knows I need the prayers….

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Our Lives are a “History” that is Mysterious and Meaningful

We did have a very happy anniversary in a simple way, full of so many memories—indeed, it was a different world in 1996. Our personal "world," in particular, has changed a lot. A local Janaro family picture on our wedding day was quite different from the most recent local family picture (from Anna’s baptism last December). I have posted the latter picture more than once recently. On the other hand, this 1996 picture—which dates from the pre-social-media era—is seldom seen unless we get out the “photo album” from our wedding (I have begun to scan these old pictures, but there are lots of them). One thing that strikes me this year is that my Dad was 61 years old and my Mom was 57 when we got married. And now, I am 61 and Eileen is 57.

The generations have shifted. Our “history” is moving forward.

So many people who were at our wedding have passed on. I miss those friends (including one of my groomsmen), most of the older generation of relatives that I knew since childhood, and especially my dear father and mother. They have completed the journey of this life, and have entered into the final and definitive encounter with the Mystery of God. 

We no longer see them in this world and we miss them; sorrow is a profound part of being human. And yet, slowly with time, our sorrow begins to be changed, to open up beyond itself, to be turned into something like peace that even has hints of the flavor of joy. 

Human life is historical, which means it changes. But we know that God has come to dwell with us, and He fills all history and our own lives, all the changes and losses (even those that are painful and overwhelming). He fills all of life with His promise, and He asks us to trust in Him.

Jesus is God-with-us, the center of the cosmos and of history. He stays with us in our own “histories of our lives,” takes our sins and sorrows and bears them Himself, and gives meaning to everything.

So we have a great hope that grows mysteriously (sometimes, it seems, “strangely”) with the passage of the years. We miss our loved ones, but we know that they remain in our lives—and not in a merely vague and hazy manner generated by our own mythopoetic reconstruction of our memories of the past. We remain together with them in Jesus Christ crucified and risen, glorified at the Father’s right hand, sending the Holy Spirit to transform us—Jesus present in His Church, present in a powerful way through the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage that marked our wedding day, 28 years ago, and that remains to this day as a fountain of grace that sustains our lives and our marriage. 

Dear Jesus, thank You for everything. Grant that we may always remember You and adhere to You. Carry us both, in Your Mercy, to the fulfillment of Your eternal embrace, together with those who have gone before us, with those who are with us now (children and grandchildren), and with those yet to come—the generations of the future.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Our Anniversary: 28 Years!

Here’s what I “said” to my wife today…on my social media platforms, because I don’t mind if the whole world hears it. I am full of awe and gratitude.

Here on the blog, I’m also posting the original, higher resolution photos that I used in the composition of this “virtual card.” 

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!”