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.πŸ’š 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)

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Pope Francis: Jesus Calls Us His “Friends”

In his Wednesday homily for May 8, the Pope noted the importance of the fact that Jesus calls us “friends.”

Monday, May 6, 2024

I Feel Like a Soggy Worn-Out Stiff Wooden Plank

…with rusty nails still hammered into it.

Didn’t I say that I love this time of year? I do, but the transition from one season to another is glitchy, especially in Spring, when the temperatures and humidity can fluctuate from one day to the next. Lyme Disease has helped make my body into a pretty accurate meteorological instrument. I don’t know for sure why things are this way, but I still get periods of more intensive arthritic and myofascial pain, exhaustion, sensory overload, and brain fog. More intensive than my “baseline,” which is dodgy but tolerable in my slow-paced  life.

Inevitably, when this happens weather is involved. Cooler air, rain, and humidity came in yesterday and today I woke up stiff and soggy and too tired to read or even smile at anybody.


By the way, May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Many of our local people in the Valley have been through this whole mess, and are therefore already “aware,” even if they would prefer to forget.

But more on this another time.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

“May-the-4th Be With You?” Alec Guinness Found Grace

May the Fourth be with you.” This year the old joke makes me chuckle.

I am currently finishing up writing my monthly column for Magnificat on the story of Sir Alec Guinness (the actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi and many other great roles on screen and stage). His real-life journey took him on a greater adventure than any of his movies. 

I have been working with lots of material from biographies, memoirs, and letters. It is a very moving story of grace and humanity. As is so often the case, my little two page column (coming up in the December 2024 issue) cannot do justice to the story of how Alec (and, soon after, his wife Merula) first found faith in Jesus, and then were drawn to the fullness of belonging to Jesus in His Catholic Church.

I am doing my best to shine a light on these “stories” of conversion, hoping to inspire others to continue and expand this work. Conversion is a miracle of supernatural grace, and it's something that happens to real and concrete human persons who live (or have lived) in specific moments in history. Only God knows all the mysterious interior details of anyone's "conversion story," but we can glimpse many "signs" on the path of a person's life that can inspire us and fill us with wonder and gratitude. 

I think it helps to point out more fully the particularity (and, indeed, the peculiarity) of every person called by the Lord (conversion doesn’t eliminate a person’s individual character but—on the contrary—renews and deepens it). It also helps to see the incredibly diverse circumstances that have led people to their encounters with Christ.

Jesus is at work all through the world, and He knows how to bring us to Himself. Writing these articles every month for a dozen years, I have chronicled a lot of conversions from every part of the world, from every period in history, and I have seen that God our Father loves each of us (and all of us) in ways beyond anything we can imagine. He seeks us and sends His Son Jesus to find us and bring our hearts near to Him

Whatever wretched unhappy condition we find ourselves in, God wants us to draw near to Him in our hearts. He loves us! His love will open our hearts and place within them the beginnings and the increase of our capacity to love Him and one another.

Conversion happens when people stay with the One whose Heart has woven the mystery of Infinite Love into the fabric of human history from within—inside history, inside relationships and communion. Our very freedom itself can be made whole, rejuvenated, changed. 

Stay with Him. Don’t run away and try to hide in the vortex of your own loneliness. Or, if you do run away, turn back and draw near to Him once again. Stay as close to Him as you can, with your heart. Inside that “staying” there is the beginning of a prayer fashioned by the Holy Spirit—God who creates and sustains your heart to love Him and be free—a prayer already rising up within you, a prayer that opens your heart if you permit it; and then the Lord can begin to heal and renew your heart.

Time is a mystery in all of this. It took a long time for Alec Guinness to “find” the fullness of Christ’s Catholic Church, just as it took time—sometimes a whole lifetime—for many others I have written about. Grace made paths for them to walk, and that grace was able to be effective because they stayed with Christ according to what they knew, according to what struck them and convinced them as they encountered His presence in their lives. They didn’t “go away.” They didn’t close themselves up to the working of the Spirit, or—at least—they didn’t remain closed. They allowed themselves to be “led onward” by what Newman called the “Kindly Light.”

Staying with Christ, asking, following. This is what makes for Conversion. It also deepens conversion and trust—and this is what we all need.

We are all “Great Conversion Stories” in the making. Lord, have mercy on us!

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Saint Athanasius: The Grace of Easter “is Always Near…”

Today is the feast of Saint Athanasius (296-373), the fourth century’s unshakable “defender of orthodoxy.” During times of epochal change in the Greco-Roman world of Late Antiquity, and times of confusion and betrayal among Christians regarding the Arian heresy, Athanasius courageously upheld the truth of the Divinity of Son of God, who took our human nature in Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Athanasius endured many trials and persecutions during his long life, but was sustained by holding fast to Christ. His feast always comes during the Easter Season, which he particularly extolled. The Risen Jesus—Creator and Redeemer, conqueror of sin and death, Only Begotten Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, Lover and Savior of humankind—was Athanasius’s enduring joy. This joy “enlightened” his faith-filled mind and heart, because his “ardent desire” and “thirst” for Christ were greater than any fear of the sufferings brought upon him by the lies and manipulation of the Arian faction—even when its “rationalist” reductionism of the Gospel became the dominant ideology of the imperial power that tried to impose it by force on the Greco-Roman world. Athanasius never gave up. He brought his desire, his afflictions, and his thirst for truth and life to the Living One who alone could sustain him and fulfill him: Jesus Christ living in His Catholic Church.

Here is a quotation from the Festal Letters of Saint Athanasius:

“The time has arrived which brings to us a new beginning: the announcement of the blessed Pascha, in which the Lord was sacrificed. We eat, as it were, the food of life, and constantly thirsting we delight our souls at all times, as from a fountain, in His precious blood. For we continually and ardently desire; He stands ready for those who thirst; and for those who thirst there is the word of our Savior, of which, in His loving-kindness, He uttered on the day of the feast; 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.' Nor was it then alone when anyone drew near to Him, that He cured his thirst; but whenever anyone seeks, there is free access for him to the Savior. For the grace of the feast is not limited to one time, nor does its splendid brilliancy decline; but it is always near, enlightening the minds of those who earnestly desire it” (Festal Letter 5).

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

It’s May 2024… Can You Believe It?

A “May Flower” for a warm sunny May Day.

…well, it’s “just a dandelion” but worthy of a moment’s attention.πŸ™‚

Monday, April 29, 2024

Saint Catherine of Siena Teaches Us to Trust in God

Today is the feast of the magnificent 14th century Saint Catherine of Siena. She was one of the most amazing women who ever lived, the youngest of 25 children, chosen to experience and communicate to the world the astonishing, relentless, mad love of God for every human being.

She spoke fearlessly to those in power, to the wealthy, the clergy, to anyone who would listen. She moved the hearts of popes, brought reconciliation to warring factions, served the poor and the sick, and prayed tirelessly for great sinners—many of whom converted and became her most ardent followers and collaborators. She was also sometimes humiliated, often misunderstood, and afflicted by abundant physical and spiritual sufferings and temptations, without ever wavering from her total abandonment in trust to the infinite mercy of God. 

Catherine was not only a “visionary” abounding in charismatic graces, but also a true contemplative, a mystical soul immersed in God’s saving love even while engaging with tremendous charity and courage the tumultuous circumstances of her times, which were marked by the many dramatic problems in ecclesiastical and civil life that characterized the emergence of early modern Europe. One of four women specially venerated under the title “Doctor of the Church,” Catherine left for all times and places a record of her testimony to her experiences of the mysterious embrace of Christ the Bridegroom of her soul. His love burned through her and made her 33 years of life an unforgettable fire whose embers still glow, warming our hearts and giving us hope even today.

She was a vital presence for me when I lived in Rome in 1993-1994, from her repose under the main altar at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and out into the church piazza, into the streets, into the air. Catherine, from Siena, from the Tuscan hills came to be the friend of the bishop and the people of Rome for nearly 700 years.

She held the fires of divine love in her heart and in her hands, and she continues to draw people near to Him—this humble woman, this “familiar friend” who helped me to begin to learn something of the steadfastness of the mercy of Christ 30 years ago in Italy, during a particularly beautiful and difficult time in my own life.

"I can do anything through Christ crucified, for I know truly that he does not lay a heavier load on his creatures than they can bear. So I want to leave the measuring up to him and, for my part, bear these things with true patience... I know that whatever God grants or permits, he does it for my good, so that I may be made holy in him" (Saint Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380).

I want to share a few more words from Catherine in the graphic at the bottom of this post. In these words she speaks powerfully about her desire for God. They can help us grow in understanding the fundamental truth about life, the direction and ultimate meaning of our own existence.

All of us have this infinite desire in the depths of our hearts—Saint Catherine’s mystical awareness of being made for fulfillment in the inexhaustible reality of God is true for each and every one of us. The longing for God is the “motor” of our heart that moves us every day. We search for goodness and meaning. We want “more,” and nothing in this world can satisfy us. Rather, the realities of this life open us more and more to that “mystery deep as the sea,” the One who makes all things and calls us to dwell forever in communion with Him, to see Him—face to face—in the superabundant fulfillment, the blessedness, of His infinite life forever. 

We have all been made for God. 

What Catherine experienced and communicated with a special conscious awareness is the truth for all of us. The happiness we all seek and hope for can only be found in God, and this life is our journey toward Him, where He prepares and enlarges our hearts by His grace and mercy for eternal life. 

Saint Catherine, pray for us, that we might not shut Him out of our hearts and close ourselves up in our false ideas of self-sufficiency. Pray for us that we will let Him open our hearts, heal us, and transform us in His wonderful merciful love.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Long Evening Sunlight Has Returned

The woods are a youthful green, and the sun is now setting after 8:00PM. This is one of my favorite times of the year!🌀️🌿🌱☘️🌼

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Popes, Grandparents, and Grandchildren

This day marked the tenth anniversary of the canonization of Pope Saint John Paul II, an event recorded in the archives of this Blog. Pope Francis emphasized the Church's commitment to Saint John Paul's enduring legacy. He expressed the need to carry on John Paul's commitment to affirming the dignity of every human person created by God and called to eternal life, and building a culture of life and peace through works of mercy by which we are conformed to the Father's love in Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis also had a special audience with a gathering of grandparents and grandchildren, where he emphasized once again his important witness to the significance of elderly people for society as a whole, and the crucial value of interaction among the different generations for the vitality of humanity's history and God's plan to forge the human community as a "diamond of love." The Pope's words are especially encouraging for those of us who have begun to embark on our own senior years in life, and also to learn so many wonderful things through our grandchildren.

"Our society is full of people who are specialists in many things, rich in knowledge and useful means for everyone. However, if there is no sharing and each person thinks only of himself, all that wealth is lost; rather, it becomes an impoverishment of humanity. And this is a great risk for our time: the poverty of fragmentation and selfishness. The selfish person thinks he is more important if he puts himself in the foreground and has more things, if he has more things… But the selfish person is the poorest, because selfishness impoverishes. 

"Let us think, for example, of some expressions we use: when we talk about the 'world of youth', the 'world of the elderly', this world or that world or another… But there is just one world! And it is made up of many realities that are different precisely in order to help and complement each other: the generations, the peoples, and all the differences, if harmonized, can reveal, like the faces of a big diamond, the wondrous splendour of humanity and creation. This too is what your being together teaches us: not to let diversity create rifts between us! No, let there not be rifts… Not to pulverize the diamond of love, the most beautiful treasure God has given us: love.

"At times we hear phrases such as 'think of yourself' and 'you don’t need anyone'! They are false phrases, which mislead people into thinking that it is good not to depend on others, to do things by yourself, to live as islands, whereas these are attitudes that only create a great deal of loneliness. Such as, for example, when because of the culture of rejection, the elderly are left alone and have to spend the last years of their life far from home and from their loved ones. What do you think about this? Is it good or is it not good? No! The elderly must not be left by themselves, they must live within the family, in the community, with the affection of everyone. And if they cannot live with their families, we must go to visit them and stay close to them. Let us think about it for a moment: do we like this? Isn't a world in which no one has to be afraid to end their days alone much better? This world is sad, clearly yes, it is sad. So let us build this world, together, not just by devising care programmes, but by cultivating different projects of existence, in which the passing years are not considered a loss that diminishes someone, but an asset that grows and enriches everyone: and as such are appreciated and not feared.

"And this brings us to the final aspect: love, the love that makes us wiser. It is curious: love makes us wiser. Dear grandchildren, your grandparents are the memory of a world without memory... We must not lose our memory. Listen to your grandparents, especially when they teach you, with their love and with their witness, to cultivate the most important affections, which are not obtained by force, which do not appear through success, but which fill life."

Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Good Shepherd Leads Us Home to the Father

The fourth week of the Easter Season focuses on the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” who leads His flock on a path of unity that reflects His union with the Father. Our salvation and our vocational path draw us into the eternal life of God who is a Communion of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose Mystery is written on the depths of our hearts. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father” (John 10:15-18).

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:27-30).

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Opening Our Hearts to the Holy Spirit

In today’s General Audience, the Pope encouraged us to be open to the Spirit, who renews and strengthens our faith, hope, and love. We must pray. We are made for this openness-of-heart to the God who gives us our very being, our selves, and who wants to give us Himself and lead us to eternal life.

Monday, April 22, 2024

USA Finally Passes Ukraine Aid Bill

The United States House of Representatives finally approved the latest installment of military aid for Ukraine, thereby sustaining its pledge of solidarity and support (if not “alliance”) for the Ukrainian people, who continue to struggle against the murderous invasion of Russian forces led by Vladimir Putin’s Rogue State. It remains remarkable that this aid has been held up for several months by political controversy in the U.S. Congress. It seems pathetic that 112 members of the majority party in the House still ended up voting against the bill. American voters need to ask these congressional representatives why they favor the interests of Putin’s Russia and its allies—North Korea, Iran, and China—over the needs of the Ukrainian people, the security of Eastern Europe and beyond, the stability of the NATO alliance, and the requirements of international law.

However, we now have further reason to hope that Ukraine’s courageous people will continue to have access—at least for the present—to the resources needed to hold off Russia’s attacks.

Anything that keeps Russia from advancing in Ukraine is to be welcomed,” as Ukraine continues to mount “a defense of life, liberty, and our freedom of conscience… Ukrainians are very grateful to people of goodwill in the global community, and in a special way to Americans who are in solidarity with their (Ukrainians’) valiant struggle for God-given dignity. They’re also very grateful to American Catholics, most of whom not only understand, but pray and help” (Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak, Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church, Archeparchy of Philadelphia).

War is horrible. This is all the more reason for Ukraine to defend itself (and be supported by others) against Russia’s aggression, which—by perpetrating systematic genocidal atrocities against the Ukrainian people, as well as by continuing to flagrantly violate international law, respect for the borders of its neighboring nations, and its own previous diplomatic agreements—only increases the horrors of this war and guarantees more horrible wars in years to come. 

Putin’s criminal dictatorship is imposing war on Ukraine, while threatening other nations and the peace of the whole world. We need to stand with Ukraine, for the sake of a just and secure peace. May God have mercy on them and their persecutors, on all who suffer as victims of war and violence, and on all of us.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Life in Christ: Our Resurrection Has "Already Begun"

Through baptism, we are united with Jesus and made adopted children of God and heirs to the fullness of His Kingdom. We have been given a participation in the Divine life, and through supernatural grace this life grows within us and transforms us. Grace awakens and sustains in us the very freedom by which we cooperate with its working in us, and become lovers of the God who has loved us first.

The Easter Season is a time of abundant grace for the newly-baptized, who died to sin and rose to new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil. At Easter, all Christians renew their "baptismal promises," their adherence to Christ living in His Church, fostered by the path of the liturgical seasons and nourished concretely by the sacraments.

Christ has entered the history of our lives and claimed us as His own, beginning with the event of our baptism. His love always comes first, opening up our lives to follow Him and to be His witnesses—to further "embody" His saving love in the lives of others as our Christian vocation unfolds.

God gives Himself to us; He draws us into a personal relationship with Himself; He is leading us to our destiny which is to share forever in His glory, to behold and to love forever the One who is the fullness of all goodness, to belong to Him forever.

The glorified Jesus is with us now, in the Eucharist above all, and also through His actions in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, and in the abundant ways in which the life of the Church "specially consecrates" by signs, gestures, exhortation, commissioning, or other “official” actions many people, places, and things that engage us as Catholic Christians every day. Here too we must remember our very selves, our families, and our “faith-communities” in which we travel together as brothers and sisters—members of one another in Christ, consecrated by baptism as “a royal priesthood, a holy people.” We are “the Church,” gathered together to worship God through Christ (joined to Christ’s once-for-all offering of Himself “made present” for us in the wonder of the Eucharistic Sacrifice), and called to serve one another in the communion of “agape,” and to help and strengthen one another through friendships founded on Christ.

All of this is bound up with the fact that Jesus also lives "in" us by the Holy Spirit, in our prayer and our love for God, one another, our neighbor, and all people (as we live out this love in different ways). In our hearts the Lord has already mysteriously initiated the gathering up the whole of creation for that final, definitive renewal of “all things.” For Christians, eternal glory has "already begun," secretly, in the very heart of this ordinary life, because Jesus has embraced all human life and defined it according to the measure of His love. Through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, the Father pours out this love in the depths of our hearts, empowering us to exist and act in new ways, supernatural ways, for His glory through His Son, Jesus, who lives in us and consecrates through us the times and circumstances entrusted to us in history.

God dwells in us, engendering within us a new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls us to cooperate with His redeeming and transforming grace right now, in whatever actions we undertake, and whatever sufferings we endure.

The Risen Jesus is shaping our whole humanity: our eating and drinking, waking and sleeping, living and dying.

Christianity is not external to the "real," mundane, humble, humanly-ordinary concerns of our lives. Rather, it illuminates them and opens us up to their true meaning.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

April Flowers!

The Dogwood and Cherry Blossom Trees along with Buttercups and Tulips in many different hues display their bright banners all around us this time of year.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Remembrance and a Question: "Have We Gone Numb?"

Marking the 17th anniversary of the horrific and excruciating ordeal of Virginia Tech University.

Many, perhaps, have forgotten this day. In the past 17 years, there has been so much more violence: so many school shootings, public venue shootings, and innocent people dying, bleeding and dying at random, people dying because they were in “the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time,” because violence came, unbidden, to a place where they should have been safe, and with an explosion of bloodshed, stole their lives from them. 

This is not a television show. This is the reality of our society—the society we are making for ourselves out of our anger and negligence, our undisciplined cravings and the brutality of our relationships, our neglect of the defenseless, our crass ignorance, our cowardice. And beyond the intolerable atrocities that shock us on the news, there is a whole hidden world of assault (hiding in plain sight) where many innocent human persons—our brothers and sisters—are attacked, brutalized, wounded again and again, or killed and discarded. This is what happens in a society that is too busy, too distracted, too self-absorbed, where people don’t want to see the pain beyond the media spectacle and the ugly curiosity it generates. This is what happens in a society where hearts have grown small, where love has grown cold.

Are we becoming NUMB? Have we made ourselves comfortable with a society full of murder and violence and fear—a "culture of death" that places so little value on the inalienable dignity of every human person? I must examine my own conscience on this question. It would do us all good to be "unsettled" (and more) by the killing that goes on and on and on… 

But #VirginiaTech, I will never forget your sorrows. For the last 17 years, your beautiful and inspiring commemorations of the 32 Hokies who were gunned down on this day help bring consolation and healing. I join you in remembering those who died, those who survived, and all their loved ones, and all my Hokie peeps today.

πŸ§‘πŸ€ŽπŸ’” #VirginiaTechHokies #RemembranceDay

Saturday, April 13, 2024

"Never Give Up" on Jesus, No Matter What...

Rejoice! Christ is Risen from the dead, Alleluia!

We are in the Easter Season. We celebrate with joy what has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the glory of His victory over death and evil.

But we don't need to pretend that we ourselves are no longer suffering. Everyone endures trials and tribulation of one kind or another. There is immense suffering at all levels of life, from the depths of our hearts to the desperate struggles of nations and peoples. Our times are likely to see worse things...

Nevertheless, let us remember that Christ is Risen, and that He remains the center of history, the Source of our strength, the goal of our journey through this world.

Jesus is Lord! He defines and gives measure to every moment of our lives, directly, personally, by the power of His love for each one of us. All of life: the aspirations and successes, the compassion and courage and works of love we do, and the disappointment, the suffering, the sins, the failures, the weakness, the most appalling afflictions and all the incomprehensible, banal, repetitive, small, and apparently meaningless moments we endure and live day after day. He remains with us in the fullness of His victory. He dwells among us, He is "God-With-Us" and He has endured every sorrow so as to stay with us and draw us to Himself—to draw forth even the renewal of our freedom, and the growth of our freedom...if we will let Him. We can't begin to imagine how much He loves each one of us, how much He loves every single human being.

"Never Give Up" on Jesus. He is Risen! Rejoice...even when sometimes that "joy" feels like nothing but the bare grip by which we hold on to Him in the dark with wild hope and refuse to let go of Him even when everything seems crazy or lost.

Friday, April 12, 2024

The "Horizon of Eternity"

"Jesus does not eliminate the concern and search for daily food. No, he does not remove the concern for all that can make life more progressive. But Jesus reminds us that the true meaning of our earthly existence lies at the end, in eternity. It lies in the encounter with Him, who is gift and giver. He also reminds us that human history with its suffering and joy must be seen in a horizon of eternity, in that horizon of the definitive encounter with Him. And this encounter illuminates all the days of our life. If we think of this encounter, of this great gift, the small gifts of life, even the suffering, the worries will be illuminated by the hope of this encounter."

~Pope Francis

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inspired By Spring…

“Inspired By Spring 2024, no.1” (#DigitalArt #JJStudios).

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Freedom for the Ukraine Byzantine CATHOLIC Church

The Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church celebrated Easter this year according to the Western calendar. This is the Church of native Ukrainian Christians in full communion with Rome, which is relatively small but tremendously important both for Christian ecumenism and as a consistent and vivid witness to Ukraine's independence as a people and a culture.

For them the fire of Easter candles was unwelcomely augmented by the fire of a renewed Russian bombing campaign.

The importance of an Ukraine free and independent of Russian political power, or even a so-called Russian "sphere of influence," is perceived with particular clarity and urgency by Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics, who have a long and painful history of struggling for freedom against the “errors of Russia.” Perhaps it could be said that they originated the path that in recent years has been taken up by the now autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox communities in Ukraine. For six centuries, these Orthodox churches—following the widespread rejection of the Reunion Council of Florence and the fall of the Byzantine Empire—were subjected to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church even as their people were subjected to the ruler of Muscovy, who proclaimed himself the heir of Constantinople's imperial status. Moscow declared itself to be "the Third Rome" and its rulers took the title of "Caesar"—the Divinely-appointed "Czar" of a "Holy Empire."

The Muscovite Russian Empire soon appropriated the history of "Kyivian Rus" and swallowed its lands and peoples. But there were a few churches among the southern Rus who continued to work for full communion with Rome, and finally achieved it in 1596. The ensuing centuries were not easy for the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church. This Church was illegal in the Orthodox Empire of Czarist Moscow. Moreover, its adherents struggled (even though they were supported by popes) to preserve their distinctive Byzantine and Slavonic heritage in Latin Catholic Poland, while finding a greater measure of tolerance in the multi-ethnic, multi-national, somewhat chaotic Habsburg confederation. 

Through it all they never forgot that they were Ukrainians. In the 20th century, the cruelest of all the Czars—Joseph Stalin—tried to "liquidate" the Ukrainian Catholics by a forced merger with the Russian Orthodox Church that he manipulated and controlled.

Many Ukrainians—Orthodox and Catholic—emigrated to the West in those dark years. Ukrainian Catholics flourished in North America and elsewhere. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I was within walking distance of the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic cathedral of the regional eparchy. From my youth I knew about Byzantine Catholics and was able to participate in their profound liturgical life.

I also knew about Ukrainians and their nation, their beloved Ukraine which they (rightly) regarded as a "captive nation" of the Soviet Union. Many years ago, I made the mistake of asking a Ukrainian woman if "Ukrainians were basically like Russians." With firmness and dignity she replied, "We are not Russians. We are Europeans!"

There are some important and very particular dangers that most Westerners (including Western Catholics) don't understand about the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Latin-rite Catholic Church is permitted to exist freely (albeit carefully) in the Russian Federation at this time. Churches are not tolerated, however, if they follow the Byzantine Liturgy and Byzantine spiritual traditions while also expressing full communion with the Pope. Russia itself has not (yet) had an enduring Byzantine Catholic presence among its own people, the only exception being the brief flowering of an authentically Russian Byzantine Catholic Exarchate in 1917 after the abdication of the last Czar (which I have written about here). Sadly, the success of the Communist Revolution put an end to this young church (or, I prefer to believe, planted it deep in the earth like a seed still destined to grow and bear fruit).

The Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church endured even after it was driven underground by Stalin, however, with support from the Ukrainian diaspora communities, and it emerged again after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an independent Ukraine. The democratization of Ukraine has guaranteed full freedom of religion to the Byzantine Catholic Church. By stark contrast, invading Russians have already proven that the Putinist fantasy of a "Great Russia" that absorbs Ukraine into itself has no place for a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. In the areas invaded and occupied by Russian troops, Ukrainian Catholic churches have been shut down or destroyed, and Byzantine Catholic priests have been driven out of the regions or arrested and tortured.

Here we see one of many reasons why Russia must not emerge from this criminal war with so much as an inch of illegally conquered or "annexed" Ukrainian territory. I raise this point, among other reasons, in the hope that it might stir the consciences of some fellow Catholics in the USA who are tempted to believe the lies of Putinist propaganda, or blindly follow American politicians who propose to solve "in one day" the profound problems of this war, or who dishonor our country by withholding promised support that Ukraine needs to continue to defend itself.

But the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic bishops themselves make the case for the legitimacy of national self-defense, the need for assistance, and all the reasons why Russian aggression is criminal and indefensible in a thorough and admirably clear statement released last month. This is the statement from the Synod of bishops in Ukraine, who minister daily to soldiers and their families, civilians in bomb shelters, migrants and refugees and all the victims of Putinist violence. It is worth reading. Here is the link: Rescue the Oppressed from the Hand of their Oppressors.

Please, read this document. 

Latin-rite Catholics must not remain ignorant about the sufferings of our Eastern-rite brothers and sisters, who deserve our special attention even as we pray and work for the upholding of the inalienable human dignity of every person afflicted by this horrible war. And the realities addressed by the Ukrainian Catholic bishops are among the key issues for an honest and constructive dialogue that might prepare the way for a just and lasting peace.