Sunday, March 29, 2020

"...With You is Forgiveness"

"If you, O Lord, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word....
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption."

~Psalm 130:3-5, 7

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The World is His Parish

The streets of Rome are empty these days.

Italians are doing their best to persevere against the COVID-19 epidemic, spending most of March quarantined in their homes. Similar measures are being taken in many parts of the world. Public gatherings are canceled. Gatherings for religious services have been curtailed or suspended on their own initiative.

The Catholic Church in Italy (and many other places, including dioceses in the USA) has gone beyond dispensing people from their Sunday Mass obligation. Masses are not even being offered with large public congregations. Priests still offer Mass every day, but in empty churches... or, at least, churches without physically present parishioners. What they have are videocameras that bring livestreamimg Masses to unprecedented numbers of "virtual participants," who unite themselves in spirit and heart with Christ's Paschal Mystery which remains the center of the Church's life through the ministerial priesthood.

One 83-year-old priest has a worldwide congregation as he says Mass every morning with his small staff in the chapel at his residence in Rome. Pope Francis from his own place of quarantine is proving more than ever to be the world's pastor. In addition to his daily Masses and Wednesday Audiences, the Pope has led several gestures of prayer for an end to the pandemic. Yesterday's event was especially moving.

With the world "connected" through Vatican Media, Pope Francis preached in an empty St Peter's Square, venerated a large crucifix, prayed to the Virgin Mary,  and then held adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament with a special blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (usually given only at Christmas and Easter), "to the 'city' (of Rome) and the world."

At the beginning of this service, the Pope was seen walking through the middle of the large square, alone, with rain pouring down on him. By the end he was visibly limping, no doubt from the sciatica that pains him, as he carried the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament.

I am so grateful for this 83-year-old man, with part of one lung missing, who is in the highest of the "high-risk categories" for dying if he were to be infected by the coronavirus. His courage is not a surprise: Francis has never made any effort to preserve his life. Since becoming Pope, he has seemed continually ready to offer it.

Now his witness grows greater. In this singular crisis, he is pouring out his life for his flock, and to make the closeness and tenderness of Jesus known to all the world.

It gives great authority to his words, which are worth pondering in their entirety, and so I present them here from Vatican News (below or click this LINK to Vatican News website):

Friday, March 27, 2020

More Spring, Up Close

Ready to get UP CLOSE?😮 ...with buds and flowers...😉

One good thing about not living in the city: we can get lots of fresh air without worrying much about "social distance," since it's just sort of the-natural-state-of-things — normally you walk out your door into your yard and a neighborhood with roads but not much traffic. It's different from the city, where there are always crowds of people.

I grew up in cities. I love cities, the variety of humanity on the walkways, the shops, the cafes, the restaurants... But over the years, I have become accustomed to the quiet environment of the country. It has much to recommend it in any circumstances.

Here's some of what I have been seeing these days: 

[1] Daffodils in bloom. [2] Leaves popping out on (some of) the trees (many trees remain asleep; it's still March, after all). [3] Hyacinth ("Virginia Bluebell"). [4] Baby leaves up close. [5] Cherry Blossoms in the Valley. [6] The good old Dandelion, which is always ready to pop up on a warm day.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lent Becomes More Concrete, More Meaningful For Us

Picture from Greenfield in Strasburg, late March 2019
The coronavirus pandemic "shutdown" will no doubt have many long term consequences (one of which, we hope, will be the control and eventual eradication of the infection). At the moment, in the midst of Lent, it touches all of us in one way or another. It's a particularly difficult "penance" for those who are sick and their caregivers. For many others, the economic implications are already a source of present suffering. Basic features of our way of life — that we have taken for granted for generations — may not be the same in the future. The past month has taught us that even tomorrow is unpredictable.

For people all over the world, the immediate impact has been a more or less vigorous quarantine, which involves various limitations and changes in the routines of daily life. We can live these days with a greater awareness of the gratuitousness of existence. This thing we call "our life" is inexplicable and utterly fragile if we consider it to be "closed-in-on-itself," as if it were constituted entirely within the limits of what we can materially measure and predict. Only insofar as we trust in God can we realize our inherent dignity and aspirations for life's enduring meaning.

This is a fitting source of meditation for the season. It is also a difficult one. For our family, the past three Lents have been full of experiences of abrupt change, illness, unpredictability, and the urgently felt need to depend on God.

Two years ago at this time, we were in the process of moving my Dad out near us after he collapsed physically and experienced the sudden and frightening onset of severe dementia. One year ago, we were keeping vigil at his bedside as he lay dying. He passed away on April 3, 2019. The first anniversary of his death is nearly at hand.

This Spring of 2020 is something else all together. I miss my Dad. That would have been true in any case, but in the present circumstances my memories are even more vivid and my heart goes out to people all over the world who are losing their beloved elders (old and/or infirm persons are the ones who are most susceptible to fatality from COVID-19). The lives of our elders are precious, beyond any quantitative calculus.

One of the hardest things about our sheltering-in-place is that we are in the Shenandoah Valley while Mom is still at the Assisted Living facility in Arlington (this remains a temporary transitional arrangement, but the plan for her and us to move to a bigger house out here and all live together is — needless to say — on hold for the present). Mom's facility is strictly closed to visitors, so we can’t see her right now, but thank God she’s well-cared-for and we can talk on the phone. They’re taking all necessary measures and precautions. Mom is very frail, but lucid and in good spirits — all things considered.

Of course, it's not possible to predict or guarantee anything. We can only do our best to be prudent and to follow the proposals of those who have authority to attend to the common good. Beyond that, however, we have hope; we carry on with confidence that the infinite wisdom and goodness of God holds us all in his love. In Jesus, the reality of God's love embraces every aspect of our humanity. In our sorrows we discover more and more that Jesus is the central reality of our lives.

It has been hard in recent years. But Lent and Easter have become more concrete, more meaningful to us as the vital ecclesial "memorial" of the events of salvation that correspond to the questions, the needs, and the suffering of our own specific lives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Beginning of Everything

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Saint Oscar Romero: Transfigured in Eternity

On this evening forty years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred at the altar while celebrating Mass in San Salvador. His heroism in life and in death is now universally acknowledged by the Catholic Church that canonized him in 2018. Romero's prophetic legacy has proven both perceptive of his own time (with his integrally Christian and human vision of "liberation" as transformation in Christ) and rich with meaning for today's very different circumstances.

The Cold War that seemed to define so many Third World political liberation movements in Marxist-Leninist terms has long ended. The ideology of dialectical materialism with its utopian collectivist dream has been jettisoned by power seekers. In its place we have a broad spectrum of secularist political tribes and criminal organizations that occasionally try to cover themselves over with intellectual justification but are largely focused on controlling societies to serve their ambitions, greed, or other peculiar vices. Of course, there are also those who are dedicated to building a genuine political order in the service of justice and the common good.

El Salvador has endured a horrible civil war followed by a series of unstable regimes. The poor are still poor, threatened now by gangs, cartels, and all sorts of anarchic violence in a region still lacking an equitable relationship with its titanic northern neighbor.

Now the year 2020 is giving all of us a taste of the fact that our sense of control over reality is something of an illusion. Our economic and social power is not as secure as we thought. The dynamics of global interconnection has opened up new kinds of vulnerability, and the fragility of nature itself increasingly protests our presumptions of unlimited increase of material wealth.

What is the hope of society? The gospel shines its light all through history - a light that illuminates life in this world even as we journey toward the fulfillment of eternal life. As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ is the source of all our hope. Everything belongs to the Risen Christ. We are called to reflect the light of his reign in every part of this world, even in the building up of temporal societies and the identities of peoples. But we work within the world in the freedom of Christ, not with worldly violence. Our politics does not attempt to impose the gospel; rather we are stirred by the hope that the gospel awakens in us of the transcendent Kingdom of God (which encompasses the transfiguration of all the goodness and all the meaningful work of history in Jesus's glorified humanity). By the light of loving faith and hope, Christians can engage society with a politics shaped by justice, equity, compassion, and mercy.

I believe that this is what Saint Oscar Romero preached. This is the heart of his prophetic witness, from which we still have much to learn.

Excerpts from Romero's homily of Sunday, March 2, 1980:

"The plan of God has to prevail over all human plans if these plans want to be truly human plans and not anti-human plans. The Church always has before her eyes the human person. This is the star that guides the Church’s journey, a journey that is often misunderstood and at times slandered because many people want their temporal plans to prevail. 

"Yet for the Church, the human person is that which is most important: the human person, a child of God. It is for this reason that we are pained when we find dead bodies, men and women who have been tortured, men and women who suffer. For the Church the goal of all plans has to reflect the plan of God which is focused on the human person. Every man and woman is a child of God and in each person that is killed we find Christ sacrificed and for this reason we also venerate our martyrs....

"This is how God desires to find people: freed from sin and death and hell, living the gift of his eternal life, immortal, and glorious. This is our destiny and so as we talk about heaven we are not speaking of some form of alienation but talk in this way in order to motivate people to work with more energy and joy and to accept their great responsibility toward the world. 

"No one works on this earth and on behalf of the political liberation of people with more enthusiasm than those who hope that the liberating struggles of history become incorporated into the great liberation of Christ. We must come to the understanding (as the Council states) that everything that we sow in this world, for example, justice and peace, and calling people to use common sense, all of this we will be transfigured in the beauty of our eternal reward....

"Saint Paul..places in opposition the followers of Christ and the enemies of the cross of Christ who only seek worldly benefits, who only aspire to worldly things. 'Their god is in their stomach and their glory is their shame.' Saint Paul uses these harsh words in order to declassify those plans of history that only seek temporal goods and then present the great plan of God who desires to incarnate in the plans of the earth his great divine plan. 

"God is telling us that from the perspective of the resurrection Christians are inhabitants of eternity and thus they journey on this planet and work on this earth because they have to give an accounting to God, but their definitive land is where Christ lives forever, where we will be happy with him, the great liberator of freed people. The people who are freed will be those who have made their own that which Saint Paul calls the power that enables them to use the energy that they possess [in Christ] and that enables them to submit everything to God....

"My sisters and brothers, we are not weak when we speak as Christians about our faith in Christ. No one has the power of a Christian who has faith in Christ who lives and is the power of God. What leader of humanity is able to tell his followers that he lives forever? What victorious person in the world can point out to all the world the great victory of his death and resurrection? These are not false considerations but the fundamental reality of our Christian faith. Christ has risen and death no longer has dominion over him.

"The destiny of the risen Lord is to subject all of this to his kingdom so that one day he is able to hand over to God the universal kingdom, the kingdom of women and men, the kingdom of history where even his enemies appear to be chained beneath the power of Christ who has overcome death forever. Jesus has said that this is our faith that overcomes the world and for this reason the plan of God can rely on the greatest power...

"The theology of the transfiguration is telling us that the path of redemption must first pass through the cross and Calvary but beyond history lies the goal of Christians. This does not mean that we become alienated from history but rather that we give a more profound meaning, a definitive meaning to history. From the time that Christ rose from the dead the torch of eternity remained hidden in the history of time. From the time that Christ rose in history people have retold this story to encourage people and make people aware of the fact that Christ lives and those who work with him will live forever. From the time that Christ rose and was transfigured for all people in history, Christ is saying to all his followers: 'whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live.' This same Christ had encouraged Saint Paul when he..told the Christians community: 'Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all thing into subjection to himself'....

"My sisters and brothers, let us not lose sight of the transcendence of the Christian message no matter how great our concerns or our responsibilities in the struggles of people. Let us not be content with immanent energy but let us also realize the need for transcendence. I would like to see many politicians and young people and women and men organizing themselves but I would like to see this being done with a profound Christian meaning. May these same people bring this witness of transcendence to the process of our people because more than ever before our people need this Christian witness.

"For this reason those involved in the liberating process of our Salvadoran nation can be assured that the Church will not abandon them but will continue to accompany people in this process. The Church will do this with the authentic voice of the gospel, the voice of transcendence and the voice of Jesus. The Church will continue to demand of all liberators that if they want to be strong and effective then they must place their trust in the great liberator Jesus Christ, and must not separate themselves from him for any reason."

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Rejoice in the Lord

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is "Laetare Sunday," and we are invited with vibrant roses to "rejoice" as our Lenten journey progresses. In the midst of many difficulties this year, we can still find reason to "rejoice," because the Lord accompanies us through everything.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"The Passing of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict"

March 21 used to be Saint Benedict's feast on the Roman calendar, but it continues to be observed (along with numerous other days, including July 11) by the Benedictine tradition.

It commemorates his death and entrance into eternal glory, and remains a solemnity on the particular Benedictine liturgical calendar. (Pictured here is the image of Saint Benedict from a Rosary of the CL Fraternity.) Therefore, I want to wish a Happy Feast of "The Passing of Our Holy Father, Saint Benedict" to all Benedictines monks and nuns, all those in the Benedictine tradition, all oblates, all members of the Benedictine family (which in the broad sense includes the members of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation), and to all who follow the 1962 calendar.

God bless all Benedictines and Cistercians and all who follow his 1500 year old Rule as a "school for the Lord's service." 

Holy Father Saint Benedict, pray for all of us especially in these times of pandemic, and watch over the sick, those who care for them, and the overall needs of our societies. Protect us from every evil, and turn our hearts toward one another in the midst of our present difficulties.

Help us as we "pray and work," that we might "love Christ over all things," and "never despair of the mercy of God."

Friday, March 20, 2020

SPRING Has Not Been Cancelled

Spring is here!! (Not everything is "canceled," apparently...😉) 

Go visit a spacious park, if one is open near you (please, observe recommended precautions).

If you have a little patch of your own ground, explore it and you will discover bright little treasures all around you. It's surprising how much beauty we miss right under our noses every day.

Even the smallest spaces of action are not simply restraints. They are the gifts of our day - gifts full of promise that lead us on the path to Infinite fulfillment even under the paradoxical sign of present inadequacy and frustration. But difficult circumstances are not fruitless - surprising possibilities will reveal themselves to our patience and our persistent prayer. Never give up!

Take care, everyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Saint Joseph: Guardian of All Our Families

"With the Blessed Mother, I beg the Lord to free the world from every form of pandemic" (Pope Francis).

On this Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis and the entire Church in Italy prayed the Rosary for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and for all those who are suffering because of it. People throughout the world were invited to join with this prayer at 9:00 PM European Time (4 PM EDT in United States of America). Italy remains the hardest hit nation after China, with many other countries (including the USA) experiencing the same patterns of spread of the virus as the Italians passed through ten days ago.

Various precautions have been established or recommended by many nations, in what has already become a unique phenomenon of global solidarity to slow the spread of COVID-19 and seek better treatments for those who develop serious illness.

The prayer from Rome was livestreamed throughout Italy and the world: a small and selected gathering of priests, religious sisters, and faithful (observing the recommended space distance between each other) said a group rosary with hymns and meditations at the basilica of San Giuseppe al Trionfale. The Pope joined in from his residence at Santa Marta, while Italians prayed from their homes (with the entire nation observing quarantine).

The meditation covered the five "Luminous Mysteries" of Jesus's public ministry. The Pope had announced his participation yesterday, at which time he said, "Mary, Mother of God, health of the sick, leads us to the luminous and transfigured face of Jesus Christ and to his Heart, to whom we turn with the prayer of the rosary, under the loving gaze of St. Joseph, Custodian of the Holy Family and of our families."

Earlier today, Pope Francis offered these reflections:
Dear brothers and sisters,
I unite myself to the moment of prayer that the [Italian] Episcopal Conference is promoting, as a sign of unity for the whole country.
In this unprecedented situation, in which everything seems to be crumbling, let us help each other hold fast to what really matters. This is the advice I have received in so many letters from your Pastors who, in sharing such a dramatic moment, seek to sustain your hope and your faith with their word.
The Rosary is the prayer of the humble and of the saints. In its mysteries, they contemplate, along with Mary, the life of Jesus, the merciful face of the Father. O, how much we all need to be truly comforted, to be wrapped in [this] loving presence!
We measure the truth of this experience through our relationship with others. At this moment, they are our closest relatives [with whom we live during the quarantine]. Let us be close to one another, being the first to be charitable, understanding, patient and forgiving.
Though you may be confined to your own homes, allow your hearts to expand so they may be available and welcoming to all.
Tonight, we are praying together, entrusting ourselves to the intercession of Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family, Guardian of all our families. Even the carpenter of Nazareth knew precariousness and bitterness. Though he worried about the future, he knew how to walk the darkness of certain moments, always letting himself be guided by God's will without reservation.
The Pope also offered this prayer to Saint Joseph (text from Vatican News English):
Prayer to Saint Joseph
Protect, O Holy Guardian, this our nation.
Enlighten those responsible for the common good, so that they might know — like you do — how to care for those entrusted to their responsibility.
Grant intelligence and knowledge to those seeking adequate means for the health and physical well-being of their brothers and sisters.
Sustain those who are spending themselves for those in need, even at the cost of their own safety: volunteers, nurses, doctors who are on the front lines in curing the sick.
Bless, O St Joseph, the Church: beginning with her ministers, make her the sign and instrument of your light and your goodness.
Accompany, O St Joseph, our families: with your prayerful silence, create harmony between parents and their children, in a special way with the youngest.
Preserve the elderly from loneliness: grant that no one might be left in desperation from abandonment and discouragement.
Comfort those who are the most frail, encourage those who falter, intercede for the poor.
With the Virgin Mother, beg the Lord to liberate the world from every form of pandemic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Quiet Saint Patrick's Day

I hope it was a Happy Saint Patrick's Day for everyone.

We didn't have beer. We didn't even think about beer. But we remembered Saint Patrick, a patient evangelist who endured many trials.

And though I didn't see shamrocks in the yard, there were plenty of green things stirring and awakening and beginning to sprout.

God's beauty shines in such little things that come and go as the seasons pass. May He bring joy to your hearts.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"We Even Boast of Our Afflictions..."

"We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

"Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope.

"And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God 

has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

~Romans 5:1-5

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"The Early Bird"

"The Early Bird" (March 2020). This is a piece of original digital artwork by JJ.⭐

Friday, March 13, 2020

"Staying Home" During a Pandemic.

The new coronavirus human infection (COVID-19) that began in China's Hebei Province at the end of last year is now a global pandemic.

The USA is just starting to realize what's at stake here. For a long time, it seemed like it was a problem for "other people," which is the way epidemics tend to be regarded when one is not personally affected.

I started to pay more attention only when the virus moved to Italy a few weeks ago, because my daughter Agnese and her classmates were there for their "Semester in Rome." Our school, like most American universities, made an early call to end its program and get the kids home with proper precautions at the beginning of this month.

At the end of February and beginning of March, there was a sense that the situation in Italy could rapidly escalate, but no one expected the events of the past week. Italy is "shut down" as I write, and much of Europe and North America are following the same trail. Up until recently, it had been too easy to downplay COVID-19, because it's a complicated disease that manifests itself in different ways. It was too easy for us to think of it as just "a very bad version of the flu" because we were focused on hypothetical statistics like "death percentage" and on the idea that "most people get it only mildly." Whereas (as Italy shows, and they have a good health system there) the extensive spread of the COVID-19 virus creates significant overall problems in a modern society that has any sense of responsibility at all. 

The virus spreads widely among humans; most get only a little sick and some (perhaps many) never develop symptoms at all. But it hits vulnerable sectors of the population much harder, where it can develop into an serious acute respiratory illness. This is where the emergency lies. Though it may only be dangerous to the health of a few, it is the responsibility of all of us to protect them.

If the virus is unchecked, the result is a rapid spike in people who need hospitalization and special medical care. The ICUs are quickly overwhelmed, and there are not enough doctors, equipment, beds, etc. for patients who require real and immediate critical attention. This is exactly what has happened in Italy. Meanwhile, hospitals still have their regular flow of inpatients and urgent cases. The situation is comparable to a wartime crisis with ongoing civilian casualties. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers are exhausted, pushed beyond the limits of human endurance. In Italy, they have been heroic.

A healthcare crisis of this magnitude (or worse) may be coming to the USA and other countries within days or weeks. We must do everything we can to prepare for it and mitigate its impact as much as possible. With sufficient resources, most of the COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization "will live." But they will need specialized and long-term treatment. Otherwise many more of them will die or suffer permanent serious lung injuries. There is no making light of the desperate nature of the problem for them or for health-caregivers. That means, simply, that it is a serious problem for all of us.

What can we do?

The whole society needs to slow down the spread of the virus in order to slow down to a more manageable level the flow of people needing hospital care. COVID-19 spreads easily, many people might get it without ever knowing (but still spread it to others), most get nothing more than mild symptoms, but the "small percentage" of people who end up with serious pneumonia and other complications is still a huge number when they are all going into the healthcare system at the same time, needing intensive care and special medical equipment.

One thing we can all do is practice "social distancing" - a nice way of saying that public events need to be cancelled and public gathering places closed for a certain period of time. For the technologically-driven economies of the Global Village, this presents an unprecedented challenge. It is difficult to estimate the financial repercussions, and here too we all must be prepared to help the real human beings whose livelihoods are seriously disrupted or ruined. This is going to cost a lot of money over a significant period of time, and society as a whole has to be prepared to help shoulder the burden. It's encouraging to see that so many in the world recognize that what is ultimately at stake are values beyond price.

Maybe we will learn more about solidarity as we recognize the need to take care of one another, especially our elders and chronically ill people.

In any case, right now we are all going to have slow down and stay home. That in itself may not be such a bad thing in the long run. For many reasons.

I have had lots of experience with being "homebound" for long stretches of time (due to disability) during the course of the last two decades. It's not easy. For me, embracing my "material limitations" is an ongoing struggle. I can also say, however, that new possibilities "open up" within the limits, and I recognize them if I'm paying attention. 

Life is a gift, and there is always value in it, always a way to go "forward" - to draw closer to its fulfillment, to rediscover the Mystery at its roots that gives meaning to our actions and carries us through our sufferings. 

It's not easy. We have to persist, always ready to begin again. But we also have to be patient with ourselves... and with each other.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Christina Grimmie's Courage Helps Us Face Today's Troubles

Christina Grimmie was born 26 years ago today.

All over the world, those who help preserve her legacy ("Team Grimmie") mark this day, remembering her with a wide range of (sometimes conflicting) emotions, but above all with gratitude. We know that her brief beautiful life was, and remains, a great gift to the world.

Now, in 2020, as we all face more and more open dangers from epidemics and natural disasters we cannot control, and from the massive coalescence of human ignorance, negligence, and violence that surrounds us on all sides and exposes our tremendous vulnerability, we need more than ever witnesses who show us what makes life worth living.

What is there to hold onto beyond the "vanity" of all the worthless things that preoccupy us so much — the vanity that becomes so terribly obvious in a great human crisis? This year, Christina's birthday comes at a time when people all over the world feel the urgency of this question.

Presently, whole nations are being called upon to make significant sacrifices in an attempt to moderate the spread of a pandemic respiratory virus that can be life-threatening to older people and dangerously overwhelming for the resources of hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Whether we are close to the immediate effects of the pandemic of COVID-19 or more removed from them (for now), we need encouragement. Ongoing uncertainties make people anxious and often unreasonable. Even the strongest among us have fears and misgivings.

We need courage in the face of this threat, and other perils that will come after it in the future. To engender and sustain courage, we need to see more clearly the path that leads to the goal of life. We need confidence that we are made for something greater than all the forces that try to grind us down. At the heart of reality, there is a Mystery that is obscured from our limited view, but is always the source of our hope: a Mystery that guides all things, that fulfills life's promise; a Mystery of wisdom and beauty and love.

We can move forward if we reach toward this love with open hands and hearts, and remember that it's real, that it's worth living for, that it's worth dying for.

This year, especially, we have good reason to celebrate Christina Grimmie's birthday. Looking at her face, we see the promise of life, and  remembering her great heart, her outpouring of love, her heroism of loving to the very end  we glimpse that the fulfillment of life is a reality greater than death.

Her life was not wasted. It was a gift of love that continues to make a difference in the world, bringing healing, building bonds between people, radiating goodness, shining light in dark places.

She is truly and fully herself, living in God's heart, calling on us to be brave, showing us the way of love that pertains to all our circumstances and responsibilities, our maturity, our work, our sufferings, and whatever we need to do in dealing with COVID-19 and everything else the 21st Century throws at us. This is the "way of love" that she followed: the way that brings joy to life and that overcomes the fear of death.

Happy Birthday Christina Grimmie! Thank you!!💚💚 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Jesus on the "Rulers of Nations"

Jesus summoned [the disciples] and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.

"Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. 

"Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:25-28).

Monday, March 9, 2020

Happy Birthday Eileen!

Eileen's birthday was on March 5, and we managed to get everybody in on the celebration by stretching it out over several days.

Happy Birthday/"Birth-WEEK" to my dearest wife!

With family still (mostly) local, but no longer living in the house (or else no longer being around much at home), it's rare than any event brings us all together other than the BIG holidays.

So we do things in parts.

I heard that "Mrs. Janaro" had a good birthday party with her students at school. I'm glad for that. She loves her students and works harder for each of them, individually, than anyone knows (as is proper her particular pedagogical role, which is to facilitate the students' encounter with reality without drawing attention to her own personality).

It's been an exceptionally difficult school year, because of circumstances I cannot describe here. The timing of certain events couldn't have been worse in light of the needs of our own family. But she perseveres, and has been able to adjust to new situations and temporarily increased responsibilities. Age is slowing her down, but only a little...

She is a heroic teacher, which - among other things - means that she is underappreciated. For what it's worth, I appreciate and admire her. I'm grateful that I can listen to her when she gets home from school and encourage her.

For her birthday there were a few things we did. On Thursday night, Josefina and I took her out to dinner. It turned out to be Mexican food, and it was delicious (and thirst-quenching). The pictures don't do justice to it. I got her some little gifts too. Flowers are usually the way to a woman's heart, but in the case of this woman, a "Funko Pop!" figurine of Washington Capitals' star Alex Ovechkin is even better!

Most of "the kids" (including John Paul) came to dinner on Sunday. Agnese is still with some of her classmates, who returned from their (sadly😢) abbreviated "Semester-in-Rome" on March 4 and are serving out their "two weeks" (none of them have gotten sick). 

Teresa cooked dinner and also baked this incredible cake topped with fresh strawberries. Mom didn't want candles, not because she minds the number the candles would indicate, but she's just not much for the candle-blowing-thing (and its just as well, right now, that nobody "blows" on common food😷).

Dear Eileen, I am so grateful for you, more than any words can express. I thank God for you!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Remembering That Face

O Lord, there are some days when your “presence” seems so hidden.

And the beautiful world and all you have given me as a created person and through the gift of your grace seems covered by shadows. A mist in my mind clouds over the truth and goodness of things, and even my own heart seems a shallow and empty vessel.

Dear God, where are you? Where am I going? By what strange paths do you lead me? Sometimes I feel so lost, alone, afraid, and confused. Save me, O God!

Let me look upon the face of your Son: that face of Him who is every joy and all fullness, the face of Jesus. Let me remember that face, and dwell upon that face with confidence and trust and love.

"Turn to me and have mercy on me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress."

~Psalm 25:16-17

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

March Has Begun, and Spring is Near!

Here is an old farmhouse, an old tree, and old hills in wintry old Virginia:

It's exciting to know that the sparse landscapes of Winter will begin to bud and bloom with the colors of Spring in just a few weeks.

Hooray for March 2020! Though is has been chilly some recent days (and nights) the bravest of the forsythia buds have peeked open and a few have put forth their petals.

Meanwhile, the days are nearly 12 hours, the sun sets after 6:00 PM, and - with the imminent arrival of "Daylight Savings Time" (on March 8) - it will be setting after 7:00 PM.

I appreciate that, as I especially love walking in the evenings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Raissa Maritain: “Living in the Whirlwind”

Don't just start "browsing" through Raissa's Journal unless you are prepared to have an ice bucket of God's incomprehensible 'crazy' love dumped on your head.

The Journal is Raissa Maritain's posthumously published reflections on six decades of living (along with her husband Jacques) a life of intense faith as a layperson in the twentieth century world. 

There are words in it that will give you shivers. You will remember the mysterious, awesome, and infinite God who loves us. By the very reality of His love drawing near to us, He shatters all our sentimental substitutes and comfortable notions of 'cheap grace' – all the domesticated categories we would like to use to contain Him.

Yet here is found also the hint as to why our own lives can seem so inexplicable. The identity and vocation of each of us is hidden in Him, and His love has set out to transform us.

I'm not sure I understand the words quoted below.

Surely here we are within the paradox of needing to "lose ourselves for His sake" if we are to have the life to which He calls us. We are called to go forth to God "without-keeping-back-anything." Even in our journey of "one step at a time," the steps are measured by Him.

How often life itself teaches us this when we walk by faith. There will be rest and consolation enough, but not "on demand," not according to our own conception of ourselves and our limits. One day we will understand fully what a good thing it is that God leads us according to His wisdom and love, and our gratitude will fill our hearts. For the present moment, we have faith, hope, trust – we adhere to Jesus, we cry out to Him, we beseech His mercy, we never give up on Him.
“Surely we are to be pitied, we who are tossed in the waves of everything that constitutes suffering in this world, of everything which, like ourselves, is all misery and need, we who 'seeking peace and pursuing it' can nevertheless only find it under the goad of a thousand trials, in labour, in noise and in the midst of the world.
“We walk in darkness, risking bruising ourselves against a thousand obstacles. But we know that 'God is love' and trust in God is our light. I have the feeling that what is asked of us is to live in the whirlwind, without keeping back any of our substance, without keeping back anything for ourselves, neither rest nor friendships nor health nor leisure – to pray incessantly and that even without leisure  in fact to let ourselves pitch and toss in the waves of the divine will till the day when it will say: 'It is enough.'”
~Raissa Maritain

Sunday, March 1, 2020

What Saint John XXIII Learned From His Parents

From a letter of Saint John XXIII to his parents:

“Ever since I left home, ... I have read many books and learned many things that you could not have taught me. But what I learned from you remains the most precious and important, and it sustains and gives life to the many other things I learned later in so many years of study and teaching.”

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Friday, February 28, 2020

The "Neo-Pagan Politics" of Today...and Tomorrow

Here I would like to pick up and continue the considerations regarding "political idolatry" from the theme of the February 17 post (click link: "The Political Idolatry of the Emerging New Epoch"). The social orders of the near future might well claim for themselves a "divine" status, as did ancient pagan Rome and other empires of the past. This would not require any mythological symbolism, or indeed anything easily recognized as "religious" or "superstitious."

Rather they may well be constituted entirely from secular motivational ideologies or systems of imagery. All will be confined, nevertheless, to the measure of this apparently physically accessible world — extended in unparalleled ways through space and time by a vast and pervasive technological power, but ultimately limited to overinflated monstrous new forms of immanence.

These tribal, ethnic, partisan, national, or utopian ideological "divinities" will not be worshipped in temples. Instead, they will be "soft idols" — empirically complex, constructed social bonds that engender their own compelling "aura" (some manner of fearful and attractive force).

They will also have their own peculiar "rituals" which will command different and more psychologically manipulative kinds of "sacrifices" from their adherents. The dignity of the human person will be much violated in the environment generated by this "neo-paganism." Parts of the world already endured crude (albeit openly, horribly brutal) forms of such regimes in the 20th century. What is yet to come, and even now is beginning to take shape, is something more subtle, perhaps more externally "comfortable," but also pernicious in ways difficult to uproot. Whatever its form, the contours of a neo-pagan political idolatry are frightening to consider.

The neo-pagan political order, in its full realization, declares itself the Ultimate Concern of human life. It defines success and failure; It measures what activities are worth pursuing; It determines what should be praised and what should be blamed; It establishes the categories of your social engagement and It INSISTS that you are explained by these categories; It stigmatizes any creative and constructive proposals that deviate from Its system; It establishes which people deserve attention and which people should be neglected and discarded; It measures "greatness" as whatever conforms to ITSELFIt insists that everything said here accurately describes Its political opponents but has nothing whatsoever to do with ITSELFIt has zero sense of humor and zero capacity to poke fun at ITSELF.

[O great New Epoch of untrammeled material power, here are your gods! Bow down to them!]

The invasive trajectory of neo-paganism (as I have distinguished it from the revival of ancient superstitions) already dominates current perspectives. It runs through the whole spectrum of today's politics. It is a disease that is very easy to catch. It is dangerous.

I think that sooner or later Christians and others who want to hold to love of God and real love of neighbor (with "neighbors" understood to be the actual human persons who need us individually or communally, whether on the street, in the womb, at the border, etc) are going to LOSE to one or another of the implacable emerging trends of neo-pagan politics.

I wish this were not the case. Indeed, I hope I'm wrong. Miracles, after all, are possible even in politics. Let's all pray for a miracle. "There are precedents" (as Thomas More says). And a miracle will humble us all.

However, if events follow the ordinary course of God's providence with all the space he has given to fallible human freedom and its consequences in the unfolding of history, Christians who have been relying on political scheming to "make things better" are going to have to face increasingly inescapable failure.

I am not making a declaration of pessimism. I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I am a person of hope. I believe in the victory that has already been won for all time and beyond all time, and I have hope that the reflection of its light may yet illuminate the problems of our time in a fruitful manner for temporal society. For now, I am trying to situate those problems within a larger context. Rather than elaborate on all the various symptoms, I think it might be useful to make a more general diagnosis.

Let me be clear: I am not saying, "we should all just give up on political activity." More on that below, but right now I want to make a distinction. I think that Christians who are so much embroiled in politics because they are expecting to effect some wonderful overall political fix from within the present system are headed for failure. I'm not "hating on them." This is just the way I see it unfolding. My hope and prayer is that they will accept failure rather than silencing their consciences, "adjusting" the criteria for their judgments in order to fit into the system, and eventually even becoming acolytes of the neo-pagan order (again, forgive the blunt image — but there are historical precedents for precisely this kind of tragic turn).

On the other hand, there are people whose political activism within the current system is vigorous but specific: they are trying to further this or that initiative, or obtain this or that improvement, or patch this or that hole, or blunt the impact of particular or more general disasters. There can still be success in the pursuit of these objectives, and this work will still be possible — I hope — for a long time. I admire these people. I don't often grasp their methods, nor do I have the energy that is given them to fight for these things. This is a difficult path. But I discourage no one from following their particular mission in good conscience and good faith. Go for it! But "keep God first," pray every day, and be careful. There are dangers for everyone who ventures into the halls of power.

What I'm saying is that the whole political system is becoming "neo-pagan" (even if some who hold power still invoke Christianity or find it convenient to use faith in their strategy). In the midst of the upheaval of this emerging new (and tumultuous) epoch, politics across the board is once again becoming an uninhibited thrust toward a total grip on human society, and an ultimate defining measure of human personhood and its dignity.

Whether they realize it or not, whether or not they have "good intentions," the political forces of today aim to fill the pervasive gap in a society that has forgotten God and lost sight of the transcendence of the human person. There are so many ways to exercise power over people who are so impoverished in their hearts and souls. People are tossed about in a raging storm of "new things" they can't control, that increasingly shape their imaginations, that torment them with confusion about their own identity. "What does it mean to be human?" The question is drowned out by a desperate cacaphony of reductive identity claims, neo-tribal "ritual chants," conflicting demands for recognition, and endless rounds of misinterpretation and distraction.

The space left empty in the human spirit by the lack of this question is easily occupied by political forces. They have (potentially) access to dimensions of power beyond anything we can yet imagine: not only the "hard power" that relies on physical coercion, but also (and especially) the "soft power" of a multitude of subtle and diverse forms propaganda and new ways to distribute "social reward" for those who cooperate (and to marginalize those who don't).

In this new epoch, many will wield these demiurgic weapons without even realizing it. They will see themselves as giving order and meaning to the chaos of the ever-expanding "extensions" of technology and "information-overload" that have swept up the lives of multitudes of people into tangles of irresolvable complexity. Our power-politicians will come to us as our "saviors," with solutions (impressive ones, even), but also with the expectation of gratitude and unambiguous fidelity. And just as there were many pagan gods who made war against one another in the ancient myths, so there will continue to be many political power-systems that will fight and demand loyalty in different ways.

How can a Christian find a place for activism in an increasingly imposing neo-pagan political order?

This is an important question. The time may come when faithful Christians (and anyone who sincerely loves the human person as the image of God) will no longer be able to even pretend that proximate political "victories" are possible without compromising our consciences.

This would be very hard. But it wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen. I think circumstances are leading in this direction. Nevertheless ultimately we may all be better on account of it, because it will require us to acquire a fresh perspective.

We will feel the need to remember who we are and who we belong to and who is the foundation of our freedom and our community. This alone is of inestimable value. But it will also engender practical wisdom on many more mundane levels. We will be compelled to find more space for creative endurance in our political activity, including non-violent protest and prophetic witness (with all the risks these actions entail). Perhaps we will find that we can accomplish more for the good of people in our local environment or in other limited connections insofar as these can be wisely and carefully sustained. We may even begin to discover the value of a new kind of politics that has as its motivating ideal a commonwealth of greater human depth, with renewed forms of that openness to transcendence which is intrinsic and essential to every human person.

This new kind of politics does justice to our humble aspirations to build up the common good and for some of us to be entrusted with political office. But it is a politics that learns to "play the long game," that does not define itself by the desperate need to WIN the next election.

We can make a beginning in this new political mentality now. It's likely to be a very small beginning, without much coherence, but just taking that first step will have real political significance. We will be letting go of political fantasies, and entering the realism that embraces all the factors of participation in common life here and now, with an adequate perspective on its possibilities and limits.

This means coming to terms with the fact that a single election or legislative proposal has at most relative importance in relation to our long term goals for the renewal of the foundations of politics. But in this way our reason will be freed to grapple with the particular problems that come within the purview of our freedom, allowing us to propose specific actions shaped by a political vision that is not subservient to the "success" of one or another of the presently dominant neo-pagan ideologies or tribal cults. We will look for concrete action that enables us to take responsibility for our society step by step.

Much of this will seem inglorious in our own eyes (though some humble, apparently insignificant works may be celebrated for their heroism by future generations). In any case, we will be free from craving for glory and recognition, because we know the real basis of our dignity as persons and the value of our work.

It is crucially important to begin, however poor and divested of power such gestures might appear to be.

We may not even agree about how to take this first step, but we all need to GET OFF the various factional roads that currently dominate political and social life — roads that lead inexorably to "worshipping Caesar" (trusting Caesar, forgetting God, forgetting to be human).

This task is urgent. It will be less traumatic and wrenching, I believe, if we do it NOW, before it becomes an evident and inescapable duty for all of us.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

God's Love is the Measure

We have begun our annual season of penance and preparation for the celebration of the great mystery of our salvation, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Last year's Lent seems vivid to me in this moment, encompassing as it did the long vigil of our family with my father during his last days, his death on April 3, and his burial in the hope of the resurrection. We continue to pray for him and entrust his soul to the mercy of God.

Sometimes I think I have "gotten used to" his passing from this life, but then other times it feels like it just happened and the sorrow hasn't diminished at all. It can be overwhelming.

In any case, this year's Lenten pilgrimage begins for me in a different way than ever before. It all seems more "concrete," somehow. My emotions are perplexed and I don't feel very strong. Jesus, have mercy on me!

Ultimately the mystery of God's love is the measure of everything.➕

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A Call to Life and to Relationship

"Human beings ... possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself.

"Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. 

"The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a 'Thou' who addresses himself to another 'thou'. The biblical accounts of creation invite us to see each human being as a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object." 

~Pope Francis, Laudato Si 81

Monday, February 24, 2020

"Rose Study, No. 10"

"Rose Study, No. 10" (it has been a while since I did one of these and posted it here).

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Signal Knob in the Morning Light

This is Signal Knob, the northern peak of Massanutten Mountain, as we see it from the East side in the late Winter morning light. 

We see it in so many places around here that we could almost get used to it. In the past, I drove by this particular view every day. I can still almost see the mountain from my window at home. It ends up in many of my pictures, somewhere on the horizon. 

It's a part of this place, and it's been here for a long long lonnnnng time.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Remembering Luigi Giussani

Today is the 15th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Msgr. Luigi Giussani. It is very beautiful that this great priest died on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, in light of his remarkable devotion to Peter's successors.

His longtime friend, Saint John Paul II, would go to join him in eternal life a month and a half later.

But before that, the ailing Pope sent his personal representative to celebrate the funeral of this great “teacher of humanity,” a Cardinal who once said, "Fr Giussani changed my life." Within two months, that Cardinal became Pope Benedict XVI.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world from Rome, another Cardinal helped present his own country’s first editions of some of Giussani’s books, saying “He has helped me to appreciate and live more deeply my own priesthood.”

Seven years ago, as this Cardinal prepared to retire after a lifetime of intense service to the Church, planning to reside in and become chaplain of an elder care home, he received an unexpected call from Rome for one final service. A conclave.

But it turned out to be rather a longer task. On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis.

But Giussani did more than inspire the Popes of our time. He taught thousands of ordinary people in Italy and all over the world. One of those people is me, even if I have been one of the more distracted of his students. Still, insofar as I have anything worthwhile to communicate, the credit must go first of all to the two men in the first picture who taught me and showed me how to stay with Jesus.

My dear friends of the CL Movement: it is distance and distraction that keep me from seeing you more often, but it is also illness and my debilitating condition. I miss you all, but hold you close in my heart and prayers.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Is There Anyone?" Demi Lovato's Long Hard Road

"A hundred million stories / And a hundred million songs / I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody's listening to me / Nobody's listening."

I have a big place in my heart for Demetria Lovato.

She has had so much pain, and has been fighting so hard. Over the past decade, she has fought for success, and to use her talents and expand her creativity, while fighting against bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, anorexia and bulimia, and other forms of self-harm.

"Anyone, please send me anyone..."

The depression-and-mania-swings came first, before her days as a teenage star on the Disney Channel, where she introduced everyone to her remarkable charm and sense of humor, and before her career as a pop/R&B singer established her as a familiar face and formidable voice in the 2010s.

But all the fame and the money and the scrutiny of emerging social media platforms only made things more difficult for Demi as she struggled with her body-image and with the propensity for self-medicating that she inherited from her estranged (and since 2015 deceased) father. Still, she kept trying, not only to return from setbacks but also to share her vulnerability with a level of honesty that only proved itself more admirable by the generosity of heart and guileless effort she put into it.

After her first public breakdown in 2010, she went through treatment, wrote articles to encourage other teenage girls, and made a documentary where she spoke frankly about her illness and addictions and how important it is to get help. She seemed determined to set an example of "being in recovery." She wanted so, so much for things to work out. (And she was very impressive... even a little bit too impressive, perhaps?)

"I need someone."

But being "honest" about such things is like peeling an onion: there's always another layer underneath. It's a process. I don't think Demi realized the layers of that process back in 2011. Still, her struggle was sincere, candid, and earnest. She helped raise mental health awareness especially with the younger generation.

"I tried and tried and tried some more / Told secrets 'til my voice was sore..."

Demi has tried and tried, and told plenty of secrets. She is generous and gutsy, and really has a passion for showing people that mental illness and addiction are real, by letting people see so much of her own suffering.

It's inspiring.

But I have many years of experience with mental illness and I know how it can drive or exacerbate all kinds of self-destructive behaviors. And I know that life is long and hard. A lot of things change. We don't have the strength in ourselves alone to engage and endure life's challenges, difficulties, and confusion.

We need roots. And good soil is hard to find in the storms of our times. So, dear Demi, I am worried about you. I'm concerned for you.

"I feel stupid when I pray / So, why am I praying anyway? / If nobody's listening."

I have known about Demi Lovato's story over the past decade, and I have followed her mental health journey with a sense of solidarity because I understand some of these deep psychological and emotional holes she has been in, even if I haven't faced some of her other specific issues.

But in the past, I wasn't really interested in her music.

I knew that she had a strong singing voice. But (as I've said before) I don't go in much for the music that's big on the charts "these days" - a designation which for me, at my age, covers a whole decade. From the general and vague impressions I had of her overall image, it seemed to me at first like she was just making a kind of Disney-manufactured "teen pop." Then later, her presentation of her music took on many aspects of mainstream pop's typical overloaded sexualization in style, imagery, and theme (though less than some of her peers). It's a recording industry trap (especially for talented young women) that so often spoils or banalizes music even as it objectifies and disrespects the female body.

I'm not being a prude or trying to be mean. I'm just looking at the reality of things. And I've been around long enough to see how this approach plays out in the long run.

This bodily objectification is pushed on women artists today as "empowerment." But in fact, it's a depersonalized reductive and excessively sensualistic pseudo self-assertion that only weakens them and makes them slaves to the trends of the market. It frustrates their deeper need for a relational intimacy within the inherent boundaries that guide and protect genuine human relationships. And for someone with body image difficulties, trying to wear all these outfits to "be sexy" (i.e. according to someone else's definition) and then trying to stay "sexy" day after day, constantly comparing your body and finding that it falls short of a (fake) "ideal" - all this must be a living hell.

Demi, I'm so sorry that you have been burdened with all these things, with so much pain from such an early time in your life. You are a very special person, with abundant gifts, a rich sensitivity, and a deep desire to share yourself, to inspire others, to be a good role model, to be courageously authentic even in your vulnerabilities. You are awesome. I have so much respect for you as a human being; I know how hard it is to deal with mental illness, and I can also empathize with your sufferings in the complications of self-harming disorders and addictions.

I have admired your tenacity in this struggle. I know it's really hard.

You have serious bipolar depression - this chemical imbalance with a hereditary foundation in Dad (and Mom too), which has been aggravated by the addictions to alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, and other drugs. Being famous in the entertainment industry has brought additional pressures. I can't imagine what it must be like, to feel that everyone is watching you and expecting you to "look" a certain way. It has exacerbated your difficulties with your body image (so that even your success in music has been scarred by terrible anxiety because, as you once put it, "no one loves a fat rock star"). I can appreciate how all of this weighs on you and conspires to push you to harm yourself more, binge eat even more (and purge), drink more, and take more pills.

But you know that you don't have to do this. You don't have to live this way. You are worth so much. I know it can be very difficult to see sometimes, but it remains true. You are precious.

Demi, you are a person, and the value of yourself is beyond measure. 

I think you are growing toward the realization that you can be free from all this other junk. It's not worth what is ultimately an ephemeral affirmation from people who don't care about the whole reality of you - all that you are as a human person.

"I used to crave the world's attention / I think I cried too many times / I just need some more affection / Anything to get me by..."

You deserve more than just "anything to get you by." And you will find much more. Music matters to you, and that's good because music is a beautiful thing and you are exceptionally talented. But remember that your humanity has a far greater beauty (in itself) than anything you can create.

As an artist, you still have much to give. Your voice has an epic quality, a deep range, compelling strength and precision. You have already worked hard and demonstrated so much of its potential, but there are new vistas opening before you. Take all that aspiration and energy and all the talent (which has gotten you this far) and aim higher! In music, aim for the level of artistry that you are capable of achieving.

I know you won't see these words, but they express what I ponder in my mind and heart, trying to articulate what I would say to you if I could. These are the words I am highlighting in blue type.

I find myself addressing Demi in my thoughts and on this page which she will never read. But this is what I would want to communicate to her (and to anyone else going through any of these kinds of trials). Others must be saying some of these things to Demi, because she seems to be turning a corner in many important ways in her life (as well as in her art).

I am definitely interested now in where she is taking her music (her voice continues to develop impressively, and the prime years for her as a singer are just beginning). She may be finding a new creative groove, and gaining the personal balance she needs to make some really outstanding music with her powerful emotionally evocative voice. (But, first of all, Demi, take care of yourself, please! You are a person first, a precious human person.)

Several weeks ago I wrote a couple of long articles about the Grammy Awards, or about topics more or less related to them: recorded music, celebrity, a few of the artists who won awards. I did promise to write one more article. Something awesome happened at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards last month. Though I didn't watch the show, I was able to see and hear it on the Internet the next day.

It was all over the Internet. Demi Lovato sang, for the first time since 2018. And she Brought. Down. The. House. Wow!

Behind this musical event, however, there was the resilience of her humanity and her determination to continue to live and tell her story, with new levels of honesty.

In 2012 she made a documentary called Stay Strong, in which she speaks openly about her bipolar diagnosis, her drug use, her self harm, her eating disorder, and her experience of being in recovery.

She acknowledges in the video that she is still 'not always perfect.' No doubt she learned much from her first rehab experience, but in fact she was already falling off the wagon. More interventions would be needed.

In her second documentary in 2017, Simply Complicated, she admits - with unflinching candor - that she was using cocaine even during the interviews on the 2012 documentary. We might wonder at this point: How can we believe anything Demi Lovato says about herself? But skepticism would miss the point of what's really happening here.

Demi is opening up about so many difficult and very complicated and perplexing experiences, even while she is engaged in the very process of trying to cope with them. It's not surprising that she doesn't tell us everything, hides things, cheats and backslides and doesn't even want to admit it to herself much less us.

The fact is, she doesn't have to tell us anything at all. How many well-known people have faced similar circumstances and kept everything private? I don't blame them. But Demi - unpolished, beaten down, damaged, and confused on lots of things - has an exceptionally big heart. She's trying to be open about an ongoing experience, to give us a window into the reality of her suffering. It's a long hard road she has to travel. Demi, her care givers, her family, everyone involved is undergoing a learning process, and she's allowing us to see that. It's pretty remarkable. Obviously, these documentaries are not for everyone. They really are for "mature audiences" who are able to use discretion.

In 2017, she celebrated five years of sobriety, and the latter documentary takes us through many of the ways that were helping her keep it up. It gives us a frank picture of how grim things had gotten beneath the surface before her second breakdown. Apparently, however, she had found some stability, although she admits in the video that the eating disorder is still flaring up sometimes.

But she had so much to handle in the time to come. Life got harder in 2018 (we don't know why, and she doesn't have to tell us) and this now 26-year-old girl with a huge nine million dollar house in Southern California fell in with bad company. Somewhere in the midst of this new wandering into booze and drugs, she got onto some downers, something like oxycontin - but "from the street," jacked up with the cheap but dangerously strong drug fentanyl that is often used to "stretch" the quantity of illegal opioids (without informing their desperate consumers).

On July 27, 2018, Demi Lovato nearly died from an overdose. After several days in the hospital, we all heard that she was going to pull through. But she pretty much removed herself from the relentless gaze of the public eye for a long stretch after that.

Though it's impossible to know from a distance, this quiet period of over a year seemed like a time for healing and rebuilding and renewing her life.

Then word came that she was working on new music and preparing a comeback. I was a bit nervous that she might be rushing things. (This is another frustrating feature of pop music and entertainment culture: the relentless demand to stay up-to-date. Of course, many performers love the spotlight and are anxious to get back to it, and Demi had recorded six albums in ten years.) Everyone would have understood if she had decided to take a few years off. But some artists are driven to create and some performers are driven to get back on stage. They have the urge to give more of themselves, but also perhaps a distorted dependence on cheering crowds and the grandiose but fleeting euphoria they bring. The spotlight is a dangerous place.

Of course, we hoped for and wished her all the best.

Demi Lovato took the stage at the Grammy Awards show on January 26, 2020 in a billowy white floor length gown with just a piano player accompanying her. The crowd of celebrities and VIPs at the Staples Center seemed to remove their "invisible masks" for a moment. Everybody remembered that they were just human beings, whose hearts couldn't help rejoicing just because she was alive. People were glad to see her. Millions watching the awards show were glad to see her.

She began to sing and then faltered, choking back sobs. The crowd cheered her on. She could have sung any song, if what she wanted was merely "more attention and affection" from the audience. But in this moment, Demi showed her depth as an artist. She had a new song, shaped from out of the dark and seemingly hopeless caverns-of-the-soul that she had fallen into (and that she is no doubt still trying to find her way out of). And she sang it with all of her anguish and all of her hope, in a bold, resonant voice that was impossible to ignore. People weren't expecting anything like this. They were stunned by what they heard:

I tried to talk to my piano
I tried to talk to my guitar
Talk to my imagination
Confided into alcohol
I tried and tried and tried some more
Told secrets 'til my voice was sore
Tired of empty conversation
'Cause no one hears me anymore

A hundred million stories
And a hundred million songs
I feel stupid when I sing
Nobody's listening to me
Nobody's listening

I talk to shooting stars
But they always get it wrong
I feel stupid when I pray
So, why am I praying anyway?
If nobody's listening

please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone, oh
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone

There is another verse (which I quoted earlier) but this conveys the power, the moving quality, the soul-provoking character of this song which is called "Anyone." In this song, Demi reaches back and gets hold of something deeper than her own personal struggles or the struggles of people who suffer from mental illness and/or addiction: she finds a suffering, a terrible fear, a loneliness that every human being experiences in some form or other - the agonizing question that often lies buried deep in the heart but bursts open in all the painful and incomprehensible moments of life that we all face.

A question, a lament, an angry frustration that gives way to a plea...

And suddenly, in the very expression of loneliness it becomes a dialogue - it's a desperate, begging plea but there is nothing degrading about it. It's our plea, the cry of the human heart that knows its own need. The cry of the human heart, stripped bare, uncomfortably exposed for most of us.

We want quickly to cover it up, interpret it in terms of the sick person, the desperate person, the person on drugs with a broken brain who is crying for help. But the song doesn't ask for "help." It asks for "someone." It doesn't ask for "someone to talk to" or "someone to help me" or "someone to take this problem away." It just asks for someone. Indeed, it yearns just for the be-ing of another: "is there anyone?"

Demi herself perhaps can't bear to reflect on the absolute vulnerability of this song. She points out its significance (rightly enough, in its most immediate sense) by indicating that she wrote it and initially recorded it four days before her overdose in 2018. It emerged from the particularities of her desperate state at that time.

Still, she sang it at the Grammy Awards in 2020, and the immediate and compelling character of the performance proclaimed it in the present tense, a year into her third recovery. The question doesn't go away. It doesn't get healed. It grows deeper.

"...why am I praying anyway? / If nobody's listening..."

This is a terrifying question, and something of an angry question. It doesn't assert that there is no one to hear her prayers. Rather it expresses frustration at the inaccessibility of this mysterious one who seems beyond the reach of words. This should be the point when the singer gives up. "Nobody's listening..." Instead, Demi plunges directly into this unbearable silence, with the agony of her own need.

"Anyone, please send me anyone / Lord, is there anyone? / I need someone, oh / Anyone, please send me anyone / Lord, is there anyone? / I need someone"

On the second time around with this refrain, Demi cuts loose and puts all her voice into it, wailing but without losing her pitch. She slays some high notes that take your breath away. She's putting everything she has into this plea, this empty space, this eloquent wound: "please send me anyone ... / I need someone"

Demi is not a "conventionally religious" person, but she believes in God, and she prays. (Lots of music people believe in God, regardless of how messed up they are - because music is the sound of the human heart searching for transcendence.) Right now, I'm not interested in what she thinks about this or that. I'm just hearing her voice coming right out of her heart, and ... this is a prayer. This is a prayer. It's also an impressive work of art, making something beautiful out of these experiences of suffering, and putting it out there and lifting it up as far as it can go.

But first of all, it is a prayer.

"Lord, is there anyone?"

What can I say when someone is praying such an open and ardent prayer?

I can't say anything that will "answer" the depths of the question, the need, the plea expressed in this prayer. I myself have this need. My life is shaped by this same plea.

I have been given the conviction that there is a "someone" who is the meaning of life, and who has taken up the whole of life to transform and fulfill it. But this does not change the fact that I need the presence of this "someone" in every moment of living (quite the contrary!)... I need to reach out and adhere to this "someone" - reach out even in the dark, or just cry out and let that "someone" hold me always, even when I feel like I'm free-falling through the rushing air or drowning in the overpowering waters.

Therefore, I want to join my own prayer with Demi in her prayer. This is the prayer from my own heart (which she has helped me to remember - thank you, Demi). This is the prayer from the depth of what I know to be my own need: "Lord, I need someone. I need the One who makes me to be myself, who has awakened and who shapes my heart in its fascination with the goodness and beauty of reality every day, and in its anguish when so much that I think is secure slips through my hands like sand and vanishes. Lord, I need you.

"Come near to me now. Open my eyes to see your face [because all the theology and eloquence in the world will not save me]. I need a human face that reminds me of your love, every moment, every day. You came into the world, Lord, in human flesh and blood, with a human face, and you gave yourself. You didn't give yourself to us so that you could become a myth or an ideology. You didn't come just to give us more rules.

"You came to be with us, and you called us together so that you, yourself, could accompany us on the journey that leads to you. And you told us to love one another, because we can't do this thing called life all by ourselves. We can't make this journey alone.

"We need someone. I need someone and it's too easy to forget that need during so much of my time. Please send me anyone ..."

... and I could qualify that further with all kinds of words (I have already used too many) but I'm going to leave it open. Demi is taking that risk, plunging her heart into the Mystery of God. She has great courage. I don't, but I want to follow her as much as my small heart can right now, and join her in taking that risk... What am I afraid of? "God is good. All the time." Why should I be afraid?

Demetria, let me tell you something. Often "I feel stupid when I pray." Yes, I do. You expressed it very well. There are lots of reasons why we might feel stupid when we pray or sing or do anything else.

You and I have these strangely wired brains that are firing all over the place, signals and chemicals, too much here, not enough there. We can trace the pattern of ancestors with these precious, odd brains who passed them on to us. But there's not just the hindrances of our complicated wiring; there are strengths and gifts and aptitudes that come with it too. And our brains serve our beautiful minds, our intelligence, our creativity.

I heard you say recently that you are going to "accept" your body. You're not going to pretend it's perfect, and you're going to keep fighting the urge to try to make it look "perfect" by messing around with the way it works with food. You also need to "accept" that very special part of your body that is your brain. It's not perfect, and you can't make it "feel perfect" with a sledgehammer of induced chemicals you get on the street (you know that better than I do).

Take care of your brain, Demi. It still has amazing possibilities to heal and to grow in new ways. Work with your brain.

There are fine medicinal tools that can give our brains a little help, and doctors who know how to guide us to use them very carefully. You may not be able to use those options, but I'm sure the people who are helping you with your recovery know what's good for you (and what's not good). Listen to them. You're praying for "someone" and these people are gifts - persons who are with you, who are part of the answer to that prayer.

Keep praying, especially when you feel stupid doing it. There are those throughout history who have great wisdom in the ways of prayer, and they say that - sometimes - "feeling stupid when you pray" can be a sign that you're getting closer and deeper to the One you seek.

That lovely name, "Demetria" - I don't know what your parents had in mind in giving it to you, but it's a Greek name and it links you to a very special young person from the early fourth century, Demetrios of Thessalonica. He was a warrior, a man of real courage, a defender of the poor, a martyr for his faith, and - according to the traditions of many peoples down through the centuries - a wonderworker, a worker of miracles, a source of healing. I'm just tossing that out there, because he's a real person and I have found that these people are not so far from us as we may think. There are others who can help you too - perhaps some people you have known during your own life. It's not superstition to ask for their help. It's a relationship with another person, a friendship with people who have gone before us.

We're not ever alone, really. Sometimes we feel that way because of our illness. Sometimes we feel that way because we are made for a greater love, and the whole of life is a journey to that Love. Sometimes when our hearts feel broken, it's because they are being made bigger. Or it's a combination of all these factors and others too, because God writes straight with crooked lines. Life is messy. Do your best, day by day.

And (I'll say it again) keep praying, no matter what. Never give up. This is fundamental and essential. You've got a song. Sing it.

Demi, I am not going to have to write a memorial article about you. Because you're going to make it. You may not always be able to "stay strong," but please, just "show up" every day. Show up for the people that matter, the people who have been given to you. Make your music, perform too, put on a show if you want, but don't get lost in all that. Don't disappear from the lives of the people who really love you.

This song shook me. Dang! There's a lot of pain here, beautifully expressed pain. It ends with "nobody's listening" but those don't feel like the last words, Demi. This is not the voice of somebody who is giving up. Bring whatever you're feeling to God, all the "nobody's-listening"-feelings however deep and awful. It has been a hard road. But the assertion your mind suggests to you from those feelings (that, really, "nobody's listening") - that assertion is not true. In any case, just give it all to God and let God carry it with you. Then keep going, step by step. "Please send me anyone..." That is your heart calling out to the One who made your heart. The Lord will not fail you.

Be assured also of my own poor prayers for you, and my prayers along with you, dear Demetria, as a fellow sufferer and sinner and brother. And keep the plea, the yearning of this song in your soul, and of the songs yet unknown and unheard that will be born from it.

***Everybody else, listen to her. It's been a long hard road for Demi Lovato. Stick with her through to the end of this song. <<<<--- click this link.

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