Thursday, December 12, 2019

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Today is the beautiful day, December 12, the 488th anniversary of the wonderful, inexplicable image appearing on the tilma of an indigenous Mexican man - an image intended to mediate the special, intimate presence of our loving and merciful Mother Mary.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is with us above all to draw us into her tenderness. She wants us to give her our burdens and sorrows and to listen to her so as to discover in a new way that each of us is loved, personally, intimately, by her Son Jesus.

Each one of us matters. Each one of us has a purpose. Above all, each one of us is the child of a good God who will not fail us in time of need.

Our Merciful Mother gives us Jesus her Son and our brother. And she knows and cherishes each of us as his brothers and sisters, as her own children, and she attends us with great compassion throughout our lives.

In Spanish / En Español:

Hoy es el hermoso día, el 12 de diciembre, el 488 aniversario de la maravillosa e inexplicable imagen que aparece en la tilma de un hombre indígena mexicano, una imagen destinada a mediar la presencia especial e íntima de nuestra amorosa y misericordiosa Madre María.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe está con nosotros sobre todo para atraernos a su ternura. Ella quiere que le demos nuestras cargas y penas y que la escuchemos para descubrir de una nueva manera que cada uno de nosotros es amado, personalmente, íntimamente, por su Hijo Jesús.

Cada uno de nosotros importa. Cada uno de nosotros tiene un propósito. Sobre todo, cada uno de nosotros es hijo de un Dios bueno que no nos fallará en tiempos de necesidad.

Nuestra Madre Misericordiosa nos da a Jesús su Hijo y nuestro hermano. Y ella nos conoce y valora a cada uno de nosotros como sus hermanos y hermanas, como sus propios hijos, y nos atiende con gran compasión durante toda nuestra vida.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie is a Bright Beautiful Light for the Future

A decade is coming to an end in a few weeks.

For the last three and a half years, I have turned my attention nearly every month to remembering Christina Grimmie.

Again and again I find myself rediscovering her vitality, her creativity, her innocence and joy, her passionate dedication, her magnificent voice, her irrepressible music, her strength, vulnerability, humor, and gentleness, her greatness of soul — all these gifts of herself that she shared with people all over the world, that have left an indelible mark on the past ten years.

Christina's bright, innovative, resourceful personality reflects much that is good and promising in the younger generation who will be the protagonists of our future, the "kids" who grew up in the 2010s (among whom are my own son and four daughters). Her remarkable resilience has reminded me not to underestimate this generation.

I'm glad for that, because the path forward into the 2020s and beyond is far from obvious. The 2010s have been a traumatic decade. Communications technology has exploded in ways no one had previously imagined. This has engendered a wealth of new and interesting social media connections among millions of people and across vast distances. But the result can become a dizzying and often directionless interaction that only aggravates the deeper loneliness that people endure amidst a bewildering multiplication of superficial information and options for distraction. Meanwhile, the harshness of events and the proliferation of violence have too often shattered the foundations upon which people thought they stood in their relationships with one another. And so we find it harder to work together, to understand one another, to trust one another. Our families and our communities are more fragmented than ever.

Our awareness of our dignity and responsibility as human persons has not grown in proportion to our power to manipulate the material elements of the world. As a result, our capacity for destructiveness in earthly and human environments has become more ominous and threatening.

Still, when I look at the face and listen to the voice of Christina Grimmie, I find reasons for hope. This may appear ironic, given that her own life story can easily be interpreted as an illustration of the increasing danger and fragility of trying to live a generous and self-giving human life in today's world. I have written elsewhere why I don't think this is an adequate understanding of her story. At the center of her life was (is) a much greater Reality that remains a source of renewal in ways that are mysterious but also undeniably human.

Even though she will not accompany us into the next decade on the plane of earthly history, Christina is a seed sown deep into the life of our time and the experience of many representatives of the young generation. Her legacy is not only a foundation for the future, it will bear fruit in special ways, in new forms of maturity, responsibility, and open-heartedness among those who remember her and cherish the gift she has given of herself.

I am confident that she will be remembered and cherished by many, and discovered by many more in the years to come.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Mary "Bumps" Juan Diego Off the Calendar This Year?

Hey, it's December 9... the day we honor Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (his Nahua name - "Singing Eagle" - is pronounced, to the best of my knowledge, as "Kwat-LA-twat-zin").

Anyway, Happy Feast of... wait, what?

Ah well, at least in the USA, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was moved to today (because yesterday was the Second Sunday of Advent) but without the usual obligations [so don't panic, ok😉]; which means that my home boy Juan Diego gets "bumped" from his feast day AGAIN. (I don't think he minds it a bit😊).

In any case, the Guadalupe Days have begun once again, to culminate on December 12, when we commemorate the gift of Mary's image to the world, and in a particular way to the lands and peoples of the continents we call "America."

It's time to begin pointing out that the 500th Anniversary of Guadalupe is in 2031. God willing, and with Our Lady's help, I will be there with family and friends (for once, we all need to go together). Between now and then, a dozen years of adventures await.

Some of us may be called home before that day, but she will bring them near to those who remain in the world, and we will know their closeness when we are all together with her.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe can heal the wounds of our hemisphere and bring reconciliation and solidarity to our peoples. If we ask her, she will do it ... but she will make us her collaborators and we will have to work hard and be patient.

Just ask Juan Diego about that! 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

God's Mercy Empowers Us to "Hasten" Toward Him

Even though the first week of Advent is already over, I have been meaning to share this brief but rich and moving Collect Prayer from the week's liturgy:

O Lord, I really need this.

Your power, your mighty strength, you, O God our Creator and our Father — you love us! You are "on our side" in the struggle of existence; radically, not only by sustaining us in being, but also  even when we are divided against ourselves  you are "for us" by the grace of your mercy.

My sins impede me from attaining the fulfillment for which you created me; but in your mercy you want not only to remove this impediment, but to hasten me forward.

Your mercy wants to recreate me, turn me around, and draw me toward the fullness of my personal destiny in Christ  that adopted sonship that you have fashioned for me in your wisdom and love. I don't comprehend how this "place" in your Kingdom is really for me  that it's the true "home" I'm seeking, which I have glimpsed and tasted obscurely, by faith, in my family life, in these mountains, in the hospitality of friends, in every beautiful thing.

I really need this prayer. We all do. O Lord, come to our help with mighty strength.

In this Advent season we cry out to our Father, we show him our weakness, but we trust in his power and goodness. So we pray "that what our sins impede, the grace of your mercy may hasten through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Stir up you power, O Lord. Wake up and stir up my heart, so that I will remember that I have been made for you, so that I will hasten to seek you and rejoice to find you!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Teresa Turns Seventeen!

Our dear fourth child and third daughter Teresa had her seventeenth birthday yesterday.

She is growing up to be an amazing person (as anyone who knows her will acknowledge). She's already a budding entrepreneur, horse owner (and rider), karate black belt, soccer player, barista, and so many other things. Now she's looking to buy a car (or, maybe, a truck?) with her own money.

Yes, we are proud of her. She is above all a lovely young person.

When I was very young, I was known as "Walter's Brother." More and more these days, I'm known as "Teresa's Dad," which is a happy thing for me.

Yesterday, Facebook took me back through the decade in its "memories" segment, showing me various posts (with various pictures) about Teresa's birthday and "how big she's getting, etc." I decided to string them together, first just for me and Eileen, but I thought it would be fun to share too.

This is what a decade looks like.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Here Comes Saint... Ummm.... Y'know!😊

Here's the scoop for this day of the year (and, yes, we still do it!😉). But wait, the Dad is confused...

"Saint What's-His-Name"? It's not that I didn't know who he was, of course.

Anyway, the shoes did go out, not only Jojo's but EVERYBODY'S shoes. The kids themselves (even the ones in university) make sure this happens, and of course the Mom, who gets the candy.

All in honor of ... ummm .... hmmm .... THIS GUY:

Saint Nicholas. Awesome!

Hope you all are having a Happy Saint Nicholas Day!⭐

"We humbly implore your mercy, Lord:
protect us in all dangers
through the prayers of the Bishop Saint Nicholas,
that the way of salvation may lie open before us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever" (Collect, Roman Liturgy).

Of course there are the "gold" coins. But dark chocolate too. And Stollen Bread?!! Really?!! You rock, Saint Nicholas.

Now I'll remember you. Next year I'll say, "Saint... ummm.... y'know The-One-Who-Brings-Stollen-Bread!"😜

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Advent is a Time of Expectation

This episode of My Front Porch comes to you from... the dining room table! I take on more of a "lecture style" here (maybe it was the table?) so it's a bit like a combination of theology and exhortation.

But never mind the peculiarities and quirks of the messenger. What matters is that we live these days with an awareness of our hearts' longing for Christ, and his coming to be with us.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Challenge to Live For God Each Day

What a marvel it is to awaken to a new day!

God holds us, and offers us this splendid gift which is "today." It is a fragile but also tenacious gift, never to be "taken for granted" as though our existence came from nowhere and depended on nothing for its sustenance.

This year, I have had to face death in a way that I never have before. Faith and prayer do bring great and sustaining consolations when a loved one dies, but they do not simply remove the psychological shock, the emotional disorientation, the sense of loss, or the clumsy and strange unfolding of the path of grief.

I can’t even imagine the experience of losing a parent while being a child or a young adult or while raising my own family with small children. Both my parents played such important roles in all those stages of my life, and I thank God for that. But there’s no easy time to lose your own father or mother. All those years of having them with us lead to a different scope and very particular sense of loss. Still, faith brings some consolation and a more profound hope even within these spaces of pain.

One peculiarity of this for me, as I approach the age of 57 (and it may be due in part to my own excessive self-consciousness) is that my experience of the death of my father - and now the increasing neediness of my mother - has stirred up in me some vivid anxiety over my own mortality.

This is in many ways a salutary thing. No one "knows the day nor the hour," and we must “stay awake” and ready for the Lord when he comes. But beyond that, I feel more and more the weight of years of chronic health problems, even if I have reached a certain level of “stability” (in the management of what remains an unpredictable, unstable condition).

And then there are the usual “risk factors” of this season in my life. I can only do my best with the appropriate self-care and the use of available medical resources. All the more reason for me to check disproportionate levels of emotional anxiety, obsessive worries, and the many other possible new tricks my brain may try to play on me.

Nevertheless, even in the proper mode of human reflection, I find that I cannot evade the fear of death. Indeed, I am afraid of death: its inevitability, its uncertainty-as-to-WHEN, its radical finality and darkness in relation to all I have ever known before.

The remedy, of course, is to live in hope of the salvation promised by Jesus to those who follow him. I try to be faithful and to walk in the vitality of an active hope and love. And I also "tremble" (rightly) at the judgment that will come with death.

Judgment is inherent within God's loving gaze upon me when my life is OVER. I will be measured according to the truth, in light of what my freedom could have actually achieved through grace, in response to God's calling - to the unique personal vocation that he gave to me.

If I died today, God would not pretend that my response to his invitation to a liberating and transforming communion with him - offered and empowered by the superabundance of his love - has been anything but paltry, timid, and half-baked.

From my present vantage point, I can only surmise that I have made a rather poor job out of living my Christian vocation, with all the wasted moments of life, the distraction, the laziness, the vanity, the self-indulgence.

For an old sinner like me, "purgatory" can seem in some ways a consoling thing. But I cannot be presumptuous even about that. Today, here and now, I am called and challenged to live. While I still live, and for what still remains my part, I cannot for a moment be content to "settle for" some level of mediocrity in my relationship with God. A slothful quietism very quickly degenerates into worldliness, cynicism, and a destructive envy of those who continue to move forward.

Here I have found sober and useful reflections to help me prepare for the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which can be specially fruitful during this Advent season. Here too I find important resolutions for whatever remains of my earthly journey. While I live, I shall continue to pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to sustain in me the struggle to refrain from evil, to be attentive, to do good, to be open to the Spirit's grace and inspirations that here and now call me to draw closer to him. Even at the 11th hour, "time" calls me to "labor in the vinyard" of my own heart, and in service to others.

Every breath of this life contains the possibility (and the challenge) to pray, to hope, to do our best, to try to grow in the love of God, and to wrestle with all that still hinders us - all the while trusting in Jesus and abandoning everything to the Father's infinite mercy and goodness.

Monday, December 2, 2019


It's Advent 2019. Emmanuel. God comes to be with us.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent: Finding Jesus in My Life

Advent anticipates and prepares for the celebration of the "epiphany of God" in history through a man named Jesus, born in Bethlehem of Judea 2000 years ago. Advent also is a reminder to prepare for the final coming of Jesus Christ in glory at the end of history, as its fulfillment.

Finally, Advent is a special time to focus on making our hearts ready for that crucial and often neglected (or undervalued) "coming of Jesus" that happens for each one of us...right now, in this moment - indeed, in every moment of our lives.

Jesus is always coming, because Jesus is the center of my life.

That is not a "pious statement." It is, simply, a fact. It is the truth. It is the truth about my life and about the life of every human being.

When I say this, I'm not just trying to "look at my life from a Christian point of view." It is not a remark expressing the boundaries of my "cultural outlook" or my "Traditional Catholic Ideas" or my "theology." It is not a reference to a "symbol" for a system of moral values.

"Jesus is the center of my life." This is a statement of faith. And faith is an affirmation of reality. It is a way of adhering to the truth. Ultimately, the truth is a Person, and He has come into the world to invite us to a more profound relationship with Him. Jesus is here, and I believe in Him.

My faith is not an exercise in trying to "apply my theories about Jesus" to my peculiar circumstances in life, or to measure my life by the paradigm of an abstract Jesus or a mythological Jesus. My life is living with Jesus, really. That is the truth about my actual life, whatever my theories or imaginings may be.

This does not mean I live like a saint. For me, actually living with Jesus means ignoring Him much of the time, or else trying to hide from Him, bargain with him, manipulate Him, use Him to my own advantage, and also trying to love Him, and succeeding in really loving Him a little (too little, and certainly never enough). If this relationship depended on my innate affective coherence, it would be utterly pathetic.

The good news is that it doesn't depend on my power or my measure. Jesus takes the initiative. He comes, and He changes me and shapes my life. I am continually rediscovering again and again that He is really here, now, that He loves me, and that He is the One who is in charge... of everything.

A living faith means "bumping into" Him again and again, finding Him in reality, finding Him shedding light on things, and bringing joy and strength. If this faith has any vitality at all, it comes from Him. He manifests Himself and draws us to Him by His grace which works mysteriously within our freedom, empowering us to recognize Him and follow Him.

This faith means finding Him also in desperation and misery and pain, finding Him with us in our suffering.

I know that it means sometimes feeling like I can't find Him, but still knowing that He is with me in the darkness.

He is with us. He has come to make His dwelling with us, to share with us His inexhaustible life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the life of the One God who is Infinite Love.

He wants to be with us, to stay with us, to love us. The Advent season reminds us of His coming, and gives us the opportunity to grow in our capacity to welcome Him.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Everlasting Way

The Lord knows all our thoughts and our ways, our journeys and our rest. He guides us by his hand.

"Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way"
(Psalm 139:24).

Friday, November 29, 2019

His Words and His Mercy Endure Forever

None of us knows when we will die. 

We receive every moment of every day as a gift from God for the fulfillment of our own vocations. Each of us is a unique person, a mystery whose life is held by the wisdom and goodness and mercy of God. 

The moment of death--that final moment in the history of our becoming "who we are"--is also God's gift, designed to correspond to the fulfillment of the unique calling that each of us has received. It is the passage to the whole encounter with the Destiny that defines every moment of our lives.

In Jesus that Destiny embraces our death from within, becomes a presence within its solitude, and transforms it into a moment of hope and self-abandoning love. What might otherwise seem like the loss of "myself" becomes, in union with Jesus, a moment to give myself over wholly to the Father in complete trust.

The inevitable horizon of death encourages us to live every moment in trusting self-abandonment, in union with the One who said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

A meditation such as this can certainly be a great source of spiritual encouragement. But I won't deny that, most of the time, I feel overwhelmed and afraid in front of death and all its mysteries. What can I do?

Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I'm afraid.

Jesus, I can only abandon my fear to you. And I'm not sure I even know what it means to "abandon" anything to you, or whether I'm "doing it right."

I have to give that to you too, Lord. I abandon the "abandoning" to you.

Take over, Jesus. Carry me. Mother Mary, hold on to me.

Jesus, your words will never pass away. And your word is the promise of the Father's love and mercy. Jesus, I trust in you!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving: Full of Gratitude and Hope

It may be windy and chilly, but it's still Thanksgiving! Storms may come, but when I listen in silence to my heart, I can hear the pulsing tenacity of this immense gift of life, moving forward on its journey full of gratitude and hope. 

I am grateful for all the "signs" - great and small - along this road, those that remind me of my destiny and especially those who accompany me, who sustain me, who have been entrusted to me. May we all be together at the end, with all our gratitude shining bright and all our hope joyfully fulfilled.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Chinese Metaphor for the Seasons of Life


luò yè guī gēn

“When a leaf falls, it returns to its roots.”

This is a traditional Chinese proverb, which I read recently in reference to the desire of an elderly person to return to the village of his birth, to die and be buried with his ancestors.

Chinese wisdom sayings are both earthy and thought-provoking. For over three thousand years, the Chinese people were perhaps the most "rooted" people in the history of human civilization. They were an ancient people living the seasons of their lives from generation to generation on the ancient land.

In some ways it was a simple, humble, deeply communal life. Perhaps it was also somehow "stuck," tired, overripe, shriveled, diseased, incurable, suffocating...

The explosive upheaval of China over the course of the last century and a half lends itself more to metaphors of apocalypse than to those drawn from "the good earth." So much has changed, and changed, and changed again for this great people who are one-fifth of the human race.

How much have the roots been torn up, and what has become of China's long, grand, courteous, and peculiar heritage with all its patiently cultivated humanism and all its cultural wealth (and all its stubborn old flaws)? How much has remained among the people of the habits and manners, the venerable customs and entrenched corruptions, the wisdom and folly of such a deep past? What unimaginable, monstrous crimes might still be inflicted on China in the future? What rich resources of humanity - both ancient and new - may yet be transformed and fulfilled?

As I walk upon the ground and watch the leaves fall here, from trees native to Chinese soil that have found their way to the other side of the world, I ponder these questions. The future of this world is inexorably bound up with the future of China.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Benedict XVI on Evangelization as Response to God's Call

"Whenever you feel inadequate, incapable and weak in proclaiming and witnessing to the faith, do not be afraid. Evangelization is not our initiative, and it does not depend on our talents. It is a faithful and obedient response to God’s call and so it is not based on our power but on God’s."

~Benedict XVI

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King Gives Us the Fullness of Life

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. It is important to remember what we mean when we say that Jesus Christ is King.

It does not mean that He is a tyrant. In fact, it means the opposite of any such notions.

In Jesus Christ, God dwells among us not to repress our humanity but to empower us to the fullness of life. As Christians, we ourselves are anointed in the Holy Spirit and attain a "royal" dignity. We are not slaves, but "members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19), adopted children of the Father and "heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17) to eternal life, which means for us a created participation in God's own life destined to be fulfilled in the everlasting embrace of beatitude. There is no human status or power or freedom that can even begin to compare to this. Moreover we are each one of us called to a share in bringing about the Kingdom of God; we are called to participate in the realization of God's wisdom, His plan, His design, which in fact constitute the meaning and the fulfillment of all things.

This vocation encompasses and validates the whole scope of our humanity. 

In this life of time and space on this earth, God's Kingdom is present in mystery, which means it is the very depth and center of reality as God constitutes it in the course of history. Through faith, hope, and love, we become—in Christ and the victory of His redeeming gift of Himself—protagonists in building up God's Kingdom, in the joy of the Holy Spirit and in the recognition of God's love that conquers all things, even suffering, death, and sin.

The transfiguring glory of eternal life begins within our lives right now. As Father Julian Carron says, Jesus has come "to reawaken our selves so that we can confront any challenge. Christ was not made incarnate to save us from the work of our reason, our freedom, our involvement, but to make it possible; because this is what makes us human, what allows us to live a life of passionate adventure even in the midst of all its difficulties."

We acknowledge the kingship of Christ by living in Him with the whole of our humanity, by trusting in Him in whatever circumstances of life we face. We suffer in so many ways, but this is never meant to defeat us, but rather to open us up to the ever-new possibilities of God's inexhaustible love.

This is why we say, "Never give up!" 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Saint Cecilia and the "Victory of Christ"

Happy Saint Cecilia's Day!

This is a special day to me for many reasons.

Stories have been told down through the centuries of heroic young people who have offered their lives in the service of the Lord. They come from many different places, nations, and cultures. Though their time in this world was brief, their sacrifices have borne abundant fruit beyond what anyone could have imagined, and we remember them throughout the year with joy. The Church assures us that in their short lives the victory of Christ has been definitively realized.

The stories of the young saints are for the edification of all of us.

One of the oldest of these stories concerns a heroic young woman who loved Jesus, witnessed to him and inspired those around her, endured many trials with trust in him, and finally gave her life for him. Cecilia was a second century Roman martyr who was known for praising the Lord in song.

She remains today—in the presence of God—profoundly united to us in the communion of saints, and in a particular way as the friend and helper of all musicians and singers. "The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life" (Isaiah 38:10).

Today is "Music Day" in many parts of the world. Cecilia, an apparently "ordinary" girl with a beautiful singing voice who was killed because of her love for Jesus Christ, is still honored and loved after 1800 years. To be clear, she is not worshiped as if she were a goddess. That is not in any way the understanding of Catholic Christians (like me) or others who observe the ancient Christian traditions regarding martyrs and saints.

Cecilia is known as a "patroness of musicians" not because she is viewed in a pagan mythological sense, as if she had some primal, demiurgic control over the essence of music itself. God alone is the Creator of all things, and Jesus Christ his Son is Lord and Redeemer. Superstitious attitudes may spread among some Christians, but these are aberrations. The "patronage" of the saints merely recognizes them as living persons in God, who remain in solidarity with us on our journey to eternal life, and who have a particular solicitude for activities and circumstances that they themselves embraced in some fashion during their own earthly journey.

Saint Cecilia was a young person devoted to the Lord who expressed her love for him with music. Why should she not even now continue to have a special concern for all those who wish to sing and make music? She who is a free daughter of the Father, who reigns now in Christ, remains in a vital relationship with us. She is still a human person and she still loves music as an aspect of the concrete vocation that shaped the particularity of her love for God. For millennia, musicians have turned to her with confidence that she is someone who understands them.

Thus you can find countless images of Cecilia in different cultural contexts. Often she is depicted with a musical instrument. Sometimes (such as in the picture above) she is playing a keyboard of some type.

What a beautiful person is Saint Cecilia! How much she means to me because I am a musician, and because I endeavor to discern the search for God, the longing for God, the need for God, as well as the love of God expressed in music. And though I am no longer young in years, I have been entrusted with the care and mentoring of many young people—and beyond this the echo of the song of youth still resonates in my heart.

Today when I think of youth and music and a love for Jesus and his brothers and sisters (who are all of us), a love that shines even greater than the darkness of death, I find many signs for hope. I have neither the knowledge nor the competence nor the authority to call anybody "a saint," and nothing I say here should be construed as anything more than my own human opinion regarding people who inspire me, or certain facets of people's lives that I find inspiring. It is in this sense that I find today many "signs for hope."

One of them is here. Right here:

Christina Grimmie singing and playing the piano on YouTube in 2012.

I come here on Saint Cecilia's Day, because Christina Grimmie still amazes me.

And it's not just her music that amazes me.

I make no claims to "know" anything beyond what can be known by an ordinary Christian (and, indeed, a rather poor example of a Christian in my case). I am just one very foolish old man. My observations and opinions and words don't count for anything.

So look for yourselves. What do you see? Here was a kind, good, generous young woman, with an astonishing musical talent. She never hid her love for Jesus but she wasn't pushy about it, and she liked many things that "regular kids" in the 21st century like. She wanted very much to be successful in popular music. She made mistakes. She was a sinner in need of forgiveness. Finally, she was the victim of an act of violencethe violence that, especially today, seems to want to set fire to the world and watch it burn.

It is such a sad, tragic, awful story. There is no denying the terrible pain of it, especially for her family and those who knew her personally.

Something remains to be said, however. People still say it, three and a half years later. Even people who don't know Jesus, who don't think about God, who aren't into any kind of "religious talk"even they say it: Christina Grimmie loved greatly. She had a great love that opened its arms to embrace the whole of life and every person entrusted to her, all the way to the end...

This is not the story of Saint Cecilia. There are no wonders or miracles here, and no evil empire with ruthless judges who openly and obviously persecute Christians. There are no ultimate courageous declarations of fidelity to Christ in front of the wickedness that opposes him.

Rather, what appears here looks like a senseless murder by a deranged fanatic.

Who knows what Christina might have been struggling with at that time, what sufferings she might have been going through, what worries or preoccupations were on her mind that evening, or how tired she was after a gig in a small theater on a hot night in muggy central Floridathe night of June 10, 2016.

She was well known, but not a big "star" (even though the music industry widely recognized her enormous talent). That night, she didn't go to a $500-dollar-per-ticket VIP lounge surrounded by a platoon of hefty security dudes. It was "meet-and-greet everybody" after the show, give 'em hugs, listen to them, sign stuff, be especially encouraging to anyone who seemed shy or troubled.

It was just "loving people," because that's how she lived.

More than once she told people, "Jesus loves you so much! As do I." It was like she just "naturally" affirmed and offered her own love right alongside (or "inside") the love of Jesus Christ himself! But she didn't say this too often. Most of the time, she just lived it. She was living it that night, when she opened her arms to hug people who had lined up to meet her, one by one, to welcome each of them with love.

These were simple gestures. And yet her young life was full of them. Certainly she sinned and fell short more than any of us will ever know. I don't want to artificially romanticize the challenges and difficulties she faced, or try to polish over the bumps and the flaws in her story that, really, I know very little about. But I do know that Jesus said that "much is forgiven where there is much love" (see Luke 7:47). And weren't her days full of persistent, humble, apparently "ordinary" expressions of a great love?

She knew the Source of love, and was held by him. She sings: "When I'm ready to fall / You're the one / Always holding me up / With love." For me, she continues to be a sign of hope.

Thank you, Christina Victoria Grimmie.💚 Your name "Christina Victoria"like the greatness of your lovepoints to the "Victory of Christ." And that victory is my hope.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Remembering Apollo 12

The journey of Apollo 12 took place 50 years ago this week. 

As he came down the ladder of the lunar module on November 20, 1969, Pete Conrad—considerably shorter than his pioneering predecessor Neil Armstrongquipped, "it might have been a 'small step' for Neil, but it's a large step for me!"

I actually have clearer memories of the whole mission, being by that time a smart first grader. In less than two months, we would begin a brave new decade, ushering in the year 1970! It was clear that we were entering the Space Age. Apollo 12 had a few difficulties but they were handled smoothly, and we started to feel like “going to the moon” was going to become pretty routine.

Next April, however, will mark 50 years since we first heard the words, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Do You Say "Matilda" in German?

This day takes us back to the Benedictine calendar and the medieval abbey of Helfta in central Germany (depicted in the miniature on the left). 

Gertrude the Great's "elder sister" in consecrated life—who was among her teachers as well as a guide and friendis commemorated among Benedictines as one of the particular saints venerated in the order (I may be wrong, but this seems similar to the status of "blessed" in the Roman church). Mechtilde ("Matilda") was also known for her mystical closeness to the Heart of Jesus.

"O good Jesus, I love You, and whatever is not in me, I beg of You to offer to the Father in its stead the love of Your own Heart.... I offer You, therefore, this love, in order to supply thereby for all that is wanting in me" (Saint Mechtilde von Hackeborn, c. 1290; feast day November 19).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Life is a School Where We Learn to Trust in God

I have spent too much of my life trying to "bargain with God" instead of simply abandoning myself to His never-failing love. But life is a school where God teaches us how to trust in Him and draw enduring vitality from living in relationship with Him.

Some of us need a lot of "schooling."

But we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the interior Teacher in the ways of love, and often He leads us along hidden paths by His gentle guidance, correction, and instruction, "writing straight" with our crooked lines, "outwitting" in His Wisdom all our narrow efforts to keep God at a distance.

Our loving Father has made us for greater things. He knows how to "raise us" to be children and heirs to His kingdom, and Jesus knows how to win our hearts and draw us onward in the Spirit.

Jesus knows, from the Cross, all the deep places that need healing and rejuvenation in our lives.

Then, of course, there is that precious gift that Jesus gives us (from the Cross), His Mother Mary.

Totus Tuus! With Mary, I can say those words like a child who sometimes just runs to his Mom, not knowing what's going on, who is anxious, confused, who keeps making mistakes.

She especially teaches us that abandonment meets a tender embrace, a nurturing and strengthening goodness.

And kids run to their Moms a lot, every day.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Gertrude, the Benedictine Tradition, and Me

Today two women are honored on the Roman calendar. My observation over the years has been that in English speaking countries, Queen Margaret of Scotland - 11th Century Anglo-Saxon refugee, reformer of Christian life in her adopted country, and apostle to the poor - is usually the chosen option for the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours of the day. This is understandable and entirely appropriate.

But when I was 18 years old (in the Spring of 1981) I happened upon a book on my parents' bookshelf, started perusing it, and was drawn into a compelling and astonishing reading experience that turned my life upside down. The book was The Seven Storey Mountain. In those days, Thomas Merton's famous conversion-vocation-witness-/-literary-masterpiece still also had a certain level of cultural proximity and relevance (especially for an intellectual, curious, perplexed, adolescent "bad Catholic" such as I was at the time).

It blew me away.

In fact, it had been doing that to its readers - especially young Catholic men - for two generations. More than a few ran off to monasteries themselves after reading it (some persevered, many others left during the turbulent days of the 1960s). Merton's own unusual monastic life and legacy - with all the complexities surrounding it (these may be topics for other blog posts) - if anything extended the interest in his 1948 classic well into my post-Vatican-II generation. No doubt it will continue to be read and to touch hearts, but in my youth it had some lingering flavor of something "modern" and "contemporary," of recently living persons and events of a historical period that was not entirely "the past." I don't know how to express this precisely, but I think it is one element of the special impact this book had on my life.

The later Thomas Merton was (and still is) often misunderstood. Unconventional, brilliant, flawed as he was, he remained faithful to the Church and to his vocation to the end, in sometimes difficult but genuine obedience to his superiors and with remarkable charity and affection for his brothers at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. It was this real devoted love and sense of belonging that he expressed in a letter to his own community two days before his accidental death in 1968 at an international monastic conference in Thailand, ten thousand miles away - a journey he made with the approval of his abbot.

In any case, I knew little or nothing of this in 1981, when I encountered the early Merton through his honest testimony, his vivid and compelling story, his masterful prose and singular poetic sensibility, and above all the graces of God that accompanied my first reading of The Seven Storey Mountain so many years ago.

Thomas Merton
And though I didn't run off to enter a Trappist monastery, it was the beginning for me of an ongoing and appreciative relationship with the Benedictine spiritual tradition. We have Cistercians in the Shenandoah Valley (at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville) and they have been a great help to me at various points in my life. Among other things, I have learned to love their saints.

As I noted at the beginning, two medieval women are commemorated on the Roman calendar today. One or the other (but not both) may be chosen for the proper prayers of the liturgy. But for Benedictines the world over, worthy Saint Margaret's memorial is tomorrow. Today is always observed as the proper Feast Day of that other amazing woman, known to history as Saint Gertrude the Great. She was a 13th Century German Benedictine nun, a scholar and counselor to many, and a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

Thomas Merton studied and wrote about medieval Benedictine and Cistercian monastic life, and helped inspire a renewal of interest in its saints. He was no stranger to Gertrude, nor was she to him, as is clear enough in his conversion story. Today happens to be the 81st anniversary of his baptism, first communion, and reception into the Catholic Church, which occurred at Corpus Christi parish - home of the Catholic chaplaincy for Columbia University in New York City - on November 16, 1938.

In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton indicates that on the day itself, he was joyfully aware that it was Saint Gertrude's feast. No doubt, she was also very much aware of him.

Gertrude isn't called "the Great" for nothing. She was something of a phenomenon in her own time, and has remained a special heavenly friend down to the present day. The Benedictines and Cistercians have always known this. "Gertrude had the power to stay the clouds of heaven as also to open its portals, for her tongue had become the key of heaven," proclaims the antiphon from today's Benedictine office for Morning Prayer. These words correspond to a powerful witness that still speaks to us after 800 years. We have only a few of the many texts she wrote during her lifetime, but they testify to her transcendent, personal relationship with Jesus, which she attributed to His boundless love overcoming her own weakness and incoherence.

In her Spiritual Exercises - which were called "a rare jewel of mystical spiritual literature" by that most German and most "Benedictine" of Popes, our own recent and much beloved Pope Benedict XVI - Gertrude continually calls our hearts back to the memory of the love of Jesus for us:

"Ah! Wake up, o soul! How long will you sleep? Hear the word that I announce to you. Above the heavens there is a king who is held by desire for you. He loves you with his whole heart, and he loves beyond measure. He himself loves you so sweetly and he himself cherishes you so faithfully that, for your sake, he humbly gave up his kingdom. Seeking you, he endured being seized as a thief.... For you, he cheerfully surrendered his flower-like body to death" (Saint Gertrude the Great, Spiritual Exercises).

Gertrude experienced the deep tenderness, but also the power and mysterious relentlessness of Infinite Love who draws close to us: "O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth" (from Gertrude’s The Herald of Divine Love).

Gertrude knew intimately the One of whom she spoke. She recorded (or confided to her sisters in the medieval abbey of Helfta) many special visions of Jesus, which formed in her an intense awareness of God's compassion. These testimonies remain a source of great encouragement for us, a witness to just how much, how beyond measure, is God's love for us and His wanting to be with us.

On one occasion, she reported these words from Jesus: "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end” (ibid).

We must trust in Jesus. Whatever may be the trials or the darkness of this life, He is with us. He wants, with all the ardor of His Heart, to be with us, to love us, to save us, heal us, and transform us. Saint Gertrude, pray for us to remember His presence and His love, and to call upon Him with confidence.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mother Cabrini on Prayer

"Prayer is powerful!

"It fills the earth with mercy, it makes the Divine clemency pass from generation to generation.

"Right along the course of the centuries wonderful works have been achieved through prayer."

~Saint Francesca Cabrini

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

God's Love is Here For Us

O Lord, you are not a distant God who lays impossible burdens on us and then condemns us when we fail.

You are the God who loved us before we ever thought of you, whose love is the very Source of all our life in you and obedience to you. You are the God who took our sins upon yourself and died for us. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy us sinners.


He offered Himself for us. His heart was opened for each one of us on the Cross, and His heart remains open, calling out to us. 

He longs for each of us, and His desire to be with us pours out like a flood through all of history, to every time and place, from that moment when He dies on the Cross for our sins. 

He does not withhold His love from us because of our sins. His love is here for us and offered to us who are sinners, so that we can be changed by it and saved by it. 

On the Cross Jesus wants to win our love, by giving Himself totally for us.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie Still Looks Upon Us With Love

This day marks three years and five months. Has it really been so long? Yet the stature of her short life grows steadily (albeit mysteriously and quietly), and her witness more convincing.

Christina Grimmie was someone who looked right at you through the screen. She wanted so much to see you, personally, and somehow - through that ardent desire in union with Jesus Christ - her gaze would find you, and me, and anyone who needed to be seen, encouraged, affirmed, valued.

Today, living in the heart of Jesus, she looks upon us still. She sees us more deeply than ever... with love.💚

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Thirty Years Ago: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Above: the Berlin Wall, as it looked in the 1970s and 80s. / Below: the Berlin Wall on the night of November 9, 1989.

Before that day thirty years ago, anyone trying to climb the wall to escape Communist East Germany would have been shot. But after months of demonstrations in Soviet bloc countries, and unprecedented changes in Eastern European governments, this "front line in the Cold War" in Berlin finally gave way and it all turned into a massive spontaneous celebration. (By the way, those lights in people's hands are not cell phones. They're cigarette lighters. That's how it was done in the old days.) 

In the West we watched these scenes on TV news and we were astonished, wonderstruck. It was like a miracle.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The "Spiritual Company of the Church"

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, 
and let perpetual light shine upon them. 
May the souls of the faithful departed 
through the mercy of God rest in peace.

From the Pope's Instagram:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Three Generations of the "Virginia Janaro Men"

Here is a "Throwback Thursday" collage featuring some fathers and sons (and uncle and nephew, older brother and younger brother, and grandfather—i.e. "Papa"—and grandson). 

Top left: me with Dad, 1978 (I'm 15, he's 43). Bottom left: me with Dad, 2015ish. Top right: me, Dad ("Papa"), and "Uncle Walter" with John Paul, 1998 (John Paul, obviously, is the little kid). Bottom right: John Paul, me, Dad, and Walter, 2014 or 2015 (last picture of the "three generations of Virginia Janaro men"). #TBT #AllSouls #November #EternalRestGrantUntoHim #RememberingDad

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Bright Short Afternoons

On a bright, short November afternoon, red and yellow and even some stubborn green all glitter in the waning sunlight.

Pretty? Yes. Gorgeous!! The problem is that the sun is setting and it's 5pm in the afternoon, which is rather early for my preference. But, well, it's November... #NoComplaints