Friday, January 31, 2014

January Cold and White

What can we say about the first month of 2014? Cold, cold, cold. Icy, clear, colorful, bright shining windy days. The powdery white snow of January remains on the ground. It will melt soon enough, and we will cease to think of these days that we endured with grim humor -- these days that have surprised us with their beauty.

May we never lose the wonder that springs up from these scenes, that lets us see that we are still children, and that everything is really fresh and new.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Adventures in New Media

My spot in the Twitterverse. Brave new worlds.
Well, we have celebrated the fact that the blog is now three years old.

This is also (more or less) the third anniversary of my overall big splash into the world of New Media.

Actually, "tiny ripple" is more like it. But it was big for me. I had spent my whole life in teaching and print media. I did a lot of hard work that people don't have to do anymore (that whole subject deserves a post of its own).

Media have changed very much in my time.

I learned how to sign my name at the age of four (that would be 1967, uh huh). Sometime over the course of the past few years, I have forgotten how to sign my name. Now that everything is digital, it seems like the only time I have to sign my name is on a birthday card (and, depending on who it's for, sometimes I have to remind myself that my first name isn't "Daddy").

My editing career started with working on the high school newspaper. By the way, dear millennial friends, have you ever wondered why "cut" and "paste" are called cut and paste? Scissors and glue, man. I've cut. I've pasted. And I'm proud of it. I've seen a "Press" actually press ink onto paper. It was beautiful. I'm not saying I want to go back to doing it that way. But considering how rinky-dink it all was, we did amazing things.

Anyway, we thought that "word processing" was the revolution. And it did bring fundamental changes to writing and publishing. But interactive media have really changed the scene. As it has turned out, I've been following the changes more attentively than might have been the case under other circumstances.

Getting sick changed my way of working. Was it the Lyme disease that triggered another long ride on the neurobiological roller coaster inside my brain? I don't know, but it was some ride.

Through all the ups and downs I read history voraciously (and a good amount of literature too) . I pretty much took a break from the theology/philosophy routine, but otherwise I read and read and read. And I managed to write a (non-academic) book of my own and get it published. I also piddled around on the Internet, but not much.

Three years ago, I had just begun to emerge from another bad episode of my "rheumatism"* thanks in part to some new medications.
[*Footnote: Lately I've taken to using the old fashioned term rheumatism to just cover the whole wammy of my illness and all its various symptoms (including "the brain fever," i.e. all the various kinds of "mental rheumatism" that flare up). "Rheumatism" is a (deliberately) vague term that sometimes (but not always) indicates "inflammation." Certainly, my chronic condition involves things that are literally or at least metaphorically inflammatory (even the mental symptoms "flare up," or maybe I should say "flare down" but in any case they get swollen and they hurt). More importantly, however, rheumatism signifies an overall physically-based affliction that goes up and down, that comes and goes, more or less. But you never get rid of it entirely. Still, you do what you have to do to control it, and if every so often you have to disappear for a bit, people understand: "it's his rheumatism." I'm just trying to simplify discourse. I'm not hiding anything: the more technical clinical and diagnostic presentation of my medical conditions and their shorthand initials are in my book and often enough on this blog. But trying to identify what exactly is going on in every flare-up is like trying to nail jello to a wall. My doctors know enough to help me for now, and there is some serious business, but we're managing it. Meanwhile, I'll make my references general and folksy. People don't want to hear about it all the time, and I don't want to write about it all the time. Is that okay?]
It was a very hard period of my life. At times it was awful, really. God was working deeply during those years, but I don't yet understand much of what he was doing (probably I don't even need to know... not now, anyway).

Early 2011: the days of the wild
hermit and his crazy long beard!
But in 2011, I started to feel better with some consistency. Meanwhile, people had been reading my book and it was really helping them. Not only friends and acquaintances but also people I had never met were contacting me to express their gratitude.

I began to get the sense that God was calling me to do something to promote the book more. My vanity was not the defining motivation for this (which is not to say that I don't have plenty of vanity, haha... but there was something else that was more important). I felt that this light belonged on a lamp stand, and that I had to take some responsibility for that.

But how? I was feeling better, but I was hardly in any shape for a book tour. So I looked at the Internet, at blogging and "social media," in the hope that I might find some ways of networking and promoting the book. And it certainly has proven useful in that regard.

But I also discovered something that, after many years of publishing and writing, was a completely new experience: a way of interacting with my readers and getting to know them, and a medium that brings together writing and conversation in a way that is filled with new possibilities, even if it is also filled with danger.

In fact, I had found the possibility to interact with all sorts of people, all over the world, using the written word and other forms of creative expression. I found also the possibility to continue, or resume, conversations already begun.

Thus began my Adventures in New Media, which have taken me in directions I never could have imagined. I've made mistakes and I've wasted time, but I'm learning and I'm praying that God's grace will sustain me and lead me in his ways.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Years of Blogging: I Am Grateful For The Journey

Happy Birthday to the Never-Give-Up-Blog,
Happy Birthday to the Never-Give-Up-Blog,
Happy Biiiiiiirthday to the Never-Give-Up-Blooooooooooog,
Happy Birth... well, you get the idea.

This blog is three years old today.

That's right, three years of writing fairly regularly and sometimes thoughtfully. For someone with my constraints, it means a lot to my own sense of... I dunno... "self-worth?"... (or delusions of grandeur or whatever) that I've kept this little enterprise going consistently for three years.

It began as a whim, an idea that I tossed out to my then small group of Facebook "friends" (which pretty much consisted of people I had known a long time, and also my former students):

So I got five "likes" and sixteen "comments" which was quite a response for me in those days. Many of the responses were simply "Yes!" (often with exclamation point). That meant something, because these were people I trusted. Still, I wanted to know whether they were actually saying something more than just, "Sure. Go for it, man!" So I asked more precisely:

A small chorus of "Yes, we want to read YOUR blog" was raised in the combox. These were people I knew, people who were dear to me in various ways, people who were able to perceive that I might be able to do something well. Notice how I have discreetly concealed their identities. Many of them know who they are, even if they rarely actually read the blog, hahaha (but don't worry about that... although, you could always start up now).

You gave me encouragement, dear good friends, and one of the things I want to do on this anniversary is say, "Thank you." (Of course the problem is that you're not reading this now, haha! If I get the chance I'll PM you the link to this post and thank you personally.)

Anyway, you convinced me, and on January 29, 2011 the first of more than 600 posts was proclaimed to the Facebook world:

It has been worth the effort, and remains so. I have discovered that the blog is a kind of literary genre in its own right. I have some frequent readers, more than enough to encourage me to keep writing. (Of course, as an incurable teacher, I only need a handful of people to give me the sense that I have "a classroom," even though sometimes the material here is unusual for a classroom, being so introspective, and sometimes painful.)

There is something about the charism of teaching that can't help being stirred up. It's an impetus that always wants to foster opportunities and places for learning and growing. It's so strong and so implacable that even when I'm suffering, even when I'm losing my mind, I want somehow to turn it into an opportunity for people to learn something. So I try to present my experience. I wrote a book about being sick. I wrote, and I continue to write about mental illness.

I try not to be didactic. Rather I try to walk on this journey together with everyone and observe the slopes and bends and surprising things on the path. I am the person who notices things and wonders at their beauty, their strangeness and even their scariness. Still I look and I try to see the significance of what I find along the way, and I can't help wanting to draw others over to look for themselves. "Come and look at this!" I want to say.

Even (indeed especially) if I find it inside myself.

For I am more convinced than ever that even down to the deepest depths we are all traveling together and we are all going to the same place. We must, therefore, help one another.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Day St. Thomas Aquinas Went Shopping

My favorite story about Thomas Aquinas is the one where a young novice in the community was sent by the Superior to grab "one of the other friars" and go buy some fish.

This novice was very new. He saw only a community of more or less anonymous Dominican friars in black and white habits -- men who had committed themselves freely to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The first friar the novice came upon was the stout, older fellow with a big brow who was pacing or perhaps sitting with his books and papers, pondering something and probably not looking very busy.  The novice said to him, “The Prior wants you to go buy fish.”

Friar Thomas Aquinas was in fact engaged in doing his daily work: a work that was destined to play a singular role in the exposition and clarification of Catholic doctrine and theology; a work that also bequeathed to humanity philosophical breakthroughs that would lay foundations and open up new vistas in metaphysics and epistemological realism; a work that brought about the historical integration of Aristotle into the Christian west, and that established the charter for the reconciliation of faith and reason, thus opening the way in the future for so many great advances in the humanities and natural sciences; a work that also gave us the foundational exposition of a political philosophy that would shape what is best and most enduring in the emerging "modern" Western Civilization, and so many other things that bear upon what we need to learn now, in the dawn of the new epoch of the third millennium.

"The Prior wants you to go buy some fish" said the novice. 

And then Thomas, without a word, closed his book, set aside his magnificent intellectual labors, and went off to the fish market.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What Our Souls Seek

The "Peace Cross" from Elementary Atrium
Lord Jesus, enfold us in your most compassionate heart and give us confidence in your merciful love.

I know this can seem so distant and abstract when we face real problems in life. But he is still there. I often don't "feel" that presence, so I beg and beg that God will shape me in whatever way I need to be so that he can draw me more and more. I need him to place in my heart the love he wants me to have for him and for others.

Draw us, Lord, that we may know that your love is what we have been made for, and what our souls seek.
So often we don't feel his presence, or have any idea what he might be up to. But in the end, we'll see how all the pieces fit together, and how every sorrow and all our fragility and all the humbling moments are gathered into a story of Love beyond our understanding.

We live now in hope. We are begging the Lord to give us the strength to believe that everything we live through has a meaning, that loving someone has a meaning even in the sorrow of losing them, that all the ups and down have a meaning, our weakness and our sins have meaning, that to live life and receive joy and endure pain is worth it!

We must go, with all our complicated lives, go to the Father like children and just give everything to Him. Jesus, take care of everything!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Finding God's Mercy in a Parking Lot: A True Story

Many years ago, when I was a graduate student living in Texas, I used to meet on Saturday mornings with a church group. We would pray the Rosary together in front of the local Women's Health Clinic. It was a small building with a path from the sidewalk directly to the front door. Next to it was a parking lot.

We were gathering in a public space in front of the clinic to pray. We also brought literature from a nearby Crisis Pregnancy Center, where some of us had connections. The brochures of the center were not shocking or upsetting. They offered other possibilities, concrete possibilities for pregnant mothers facing all sorts of difficulties. They offered committed personal support, as well as financial and other life-situation support, real support for the mother and her child.

Many pregnant mothers are driven to desperation because they don't know that there are people who will stand by them and help them. And it can be very difficult to reach these mothers to offer this kind of help. For us, the only practical way was to approach (as gently as possible) the women who were walking on the sidewalk from the parking lot to the clinic entrance. We would try to talk with them and listen to them if possible, or at least we hoped that they would take the brochure and consider it.

What we had to offer was real help, from a network of good and loving people. It's sad this offer was sometimes misunderstood, and that it was necessary to present it in such an awkward manner. But here were these women, these pregnant mothers, wrestling with so many pressures and influences: the pressures of insecurity and self-image, of society's expectations, or even the pressure of those who were supposed to be loving and taking care of them. Or perhaps they were ashamed, or angry, or afraid, or simply allowing themselves to believe the lie, and falling into the abyss of violence that opens up under the thin veneer of apparently easy solutions offered by this brutal and manipulative society. In such circumstances, one must risk offering help, even at the price of being awkward or misunderstood.

Not many women came to this particular clinic on Saturday mornings, as I remember. Still we prayed. Sometimes our turnout was small too. On this one Saturday morning, it was just myself and a little Hispanic woman who barely spoke English. After a little while, she told me that she had to go.

It would just be me, alone, with the brochures. It hardly seemed worth staying. But before she left, the woman held out a card to me and said, "take this." The card had a picture of Jesus on it, patterned after the painting of St. Faustina, with the inscription "Jesus I trust in You." There were prayers on the back of the card. The image was of the blood and water pouring forth from the heart of Jesus. The image of the Divine Mercy, the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness and healing. Mercy.

Today, this icon, its prayers, and the chaplet of mercy are central to my life. But back then I did not know much. I thought, "Oh, another one of these cards; I have some of these at home and I really don't need...." But I took the card and thanked her. I wanted to be polite. After a moment of fiddling with the card, I stuck it in my back pocket and forgot about it.

Really, I just wanted to go home. I was not an experienced "sidewalk counselor" and I am not confrontational by nature. As I mentioned before, offering this literature was awkward. It was a gesture all to easily misunderstood.

Then a car pulled into the lot and parked. A woman got out of the car and began walking towards the clinic. I was terrified. "Why am I here by myself!?" I thought. But somewhere in the midst of all this I remembered that I was not alone. I represented the Pregnancy Center; I was there on behalf of a community of people who cherished the mother and her child, and were dedicated to fostering this relationship--with friendship and with material assistance--from the beginning. So I held out my trembling hand....

The woman was smartly dressed, and walked with a confident stride. She was probably in her thirties. I felt a certain relief just looking at her. And then she gave me something like a smile, and said, "Oh you don't need to worry about me. I'm just here for a pregnancy test." She looked at me with a bright, benevolent face and nodded to me.

I won't deny that I breathed a sigh of relief. She seemed kind, and very self-assured. A few minutes later she came out the door, and seemed to nod and smile at me again. I smiled back as she walked toward the parking lot. And I remained standing there, with my brochures and my rosary beads, looking at the clinic and thinking about how I really should be going home. The place was closing soon and there wasn't any reason to hang around....

"Excuse me," I heard suddenly, from the parking lot. "Excuse me, I want to ask you a question."

I looked over at the parking lot, and there she was, the nice woman who had come for a pregnancy test. She was sitting in her car with her window down. She must have been waiting in the car for several minutes, but I had not noticed.

"Sure," I replied.

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

I was taken aback. "Sorry, what?" I replied, a little confused.

The kindness and the smile were gone. Instead it was controlled (but very strong) anger and confrontation. "Who the hell do you think you are?" She yelled from the car.

Oh boy, I was thinking. This lady sat in the car for five minutes and then decided to have an argument with me? As I said, I'm not the confrontation type, but I knew my facts and I was ready to have an argument if that's what she wanted. So I walked toward the car in the parking lot and said something like, "What do you mean?"

The woman's features had changed. Her expression was full of righteous anger, and she was positively intimidating to this graduate school kid who spent most of his time reading books. Still, I went right up to the window of her car.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" She roared at me. "Trying to impose your beliefs on other people!"

I can't really explain what happened inside me at that moment. Part of it, frankly, was that I didn't want to get into a verbal slugging match with this lady. She was angry with me, I thought. But there was also something else; something inside me gave me the sense that the frequently hashed out "argument" that seemed about to begin wasn't really the point of our encounter. It was something else.

Who do I think I am? I wondered. Not much, but I am here to represent the pregnancy center. I don't even work at the pregnancy center, but I'm here to deliver their invitation, their offer of love.

And then some very gentle, unpremeditated words came out of my mouth. I spoke without any tint of argument, and I realized that I was speaking sincerely: "We are here to offer opportunities for the mother and the child. All we want to do is to love both the mother and her child."

She was not impressed, and continued to speak angry and confrontational words that I don't remember. Again and again I said (as if I were somehow being moved to say it), "All we want to do is to love both the mother and her child."

"All we want to do is to love both the mother and her child."

Her anger began to abate slightly. "Well," she said, "You don't sound like most pro-lifers I run into!"

I was not going to go down that road. I only had one thing to say, and every time I said it, it came straight from the heart and filled with some mysterious compassion that was not my own. Love.

"All we want to do is to love both the mother and her child."

"Well," she said, "if more pro-lifers talked like you, maybe people would listen." She had calmed down, and was making an effort to continue her remonstrative tone.

I didn't know anything about who she may have encountered in the past. I just kept listening to her, and spoke quietly about giving help and love and support to the mother and the child. I was just a kid barely out of college who didn't know much about life, whose own heart was crying out for mercy, leaning at the car window of a professional, accomplished woman who looked like she could have been any of the women that I see every day.

It seemed like she was having a burst of temper about issues and people who bothered her. But she was cooling off. It was clear that, really, she was a nice lady.

She was just a human person.

I was someone who gave out literature for the pregnancy center. I didn't work there. I was someone who read (and occasionally wrote) articles, and voted pro-life. I also prayed and carried signs. I'd prayed at many clinic buildings, but someone else was almost always giving out literature, trying to communicate with the women, the mothers. All of these were worthwhile activities.
I knew the issues. I had read many things. I certainly had empathy for the poor women, in a kind of abstract way. 

But I had no experience whatsoever to prepare me for what was about to happen. I had no idea.... 

"All we want to do is to love both the mother and her child."

The falling water came suddenly, like the bursting of a dam. The water gushed. Suddenly this woman was crying and sobbing, crying with a deep sadness, weeping, sobbing. I was stunned. What was happening? I had never in my life seen a person weep with such desperation and pain and sorrow.

I said nothing, but I found that I was not "uncomfortable" or embarrassed. I simply stayed there with her, present to her, a companion to her anguish. At some point I had begun to realize that grace was at work. This was grace. I was a stupid sinner, but it didn't matter. The Holy Spirit wasn't being picky. God wanted this woman to know that she was loved.

She slowly struggled, attempting to regain the control that she had practiced for so long. She struggled, kept weeping, then breathed and tried to speak to me.

"When I was... ... ... in high school... ... ... ... ... I had... ... ... ... I had an abortion."

And she wept more. And with the tears she continued, "my parents... I was so afraid... I just couldn't tell my parents... I couldn't...."

Then she looked at me with her great wet eyes and asked, "What can I do?"

I didn't know anything about the beautiful ministries that help women to find healing after abortion (see links below). This was many years ago; I'm not sure what was even available for something like this. I certainly didn't know about it. I stood in front of the unimaginable pain of another person who was seeking something from me. Where had it all come from?

"Love the mother and the child."

Love. Was it really so powerful, after all? Was this what was at the root of everything: this terrible, marvelous, desperate hunger for real love? What would we discover if we could all see behind the faces of one another for a moment? How poor we are in front of each other. We want to love and be loved, but the hunger seems overwhelming. We grasp at whatever is at hand in life, knowing that it's not enough, misusing it, ruining it, trying to satisfy our hunger and finding no food. It's not surprising that we are so afraid of life, so afraid of love, so afraid of one another. Such a vast hunger. How can we be fed? What do we have to give?

"Ask God to forgive you," I said, "pray to God and ask Him for forgiveness."

The words came very simply. Ask God.

And then I suddenly remembered. The little Hispanic lady. She gave a card with the image of Divine Mercy. The image of Jesus. It was in my back pocket. I grabbed it.

"Here," I said. "Take this. Pray to Jesus. Ask Jesus to forgive you."

"I will," she answered, looking at the card, at that Face. "Thank you."

"I'll pray for you," I said.

"Thank you." And she drove away. I don't remember, but its possible that the motor had been running all along.

She drove off into the enormous city, so many years ago. I never saw her or heard anything about her again. I am ashamed to say that, over these many years, I have too often forgotten to pray for her, for this woman, this broken mother whose name I never knew. I pray for her now.

Since then I've come to know quite a few women who have had abortions. They are among my friends and family. I probably know many more than I realize, because there are so many, and it remains such a secret pain in a society where "everything is permitted but nothing is forgiven."

I've also learned about the tremendous healing work done by ministries such as Project Rachel and Rachel's Vineyard (please click these links, look at them, and go to them if you or someone you know has need). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing really can happen for mothers, and also for their husbands or boyfriends (i.e. fathers), or anyone else who has shared in this kind of trauma.

Please pray for my friend in the parking lot on that day long ago, and for all mothers who weep for their children.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Mothers of Anguish

Relationships are fundamental to the identity of the human person. Each of us is made to love and to be loved, and this reality is inscribed in our humanity. Even as we come forth from the hand of God, we are conceived in flesh and blood drawn forth from our ancestors.

We are made for love, and so we are given our very existence within the context of a human relationship.

We come into the world in a state of complete dependence and reliance upon another person to whom we have been entrusted in the most intimate and fundamental way. That person, in turn, is invested with an ineradicable and unique responsibility for each one of us, a responsibility that she will never be able to separate from her own self.

This is the radical bond that unites the child with his or her mother.

Some would have us believe that this bond can be cast aside or terminated by a procedure that in reality is a terrible act of violence. This act, known as abortion, succeeds in killing an innocent human being.

But it fails, utterly, to break the bond between the mother and child, a bond that is more profound than physical death.

This is not a case in which the child ceases to live due to some undesired, tragic accident. Rather, here the mother seeks to put aside the very existence of her child; this is true to some degree even when she does not fully understand what she doing, or when she is acting under extreme distress. Nevertheless, there is a profound sense in which what she seeks is impossible. Even if her child dies by a procured abortion, the woman remains a mother, and she lives with this fact no matter how much she may deny it, and even if no one else knows about it.

The relationship remains; it is greater than any human power, and it cannot be unmade by any human power.

So often these mothers find themselves in frightening, awful circumstances, enduring abuse, hounded by the pressure and manipulation of others. But in being separated from their children by abortion, they find not freedom, but a weight of emptiness. They become the mothers of anguish.

These mothers are everywhere; they live on your street, they pass you on the sidewalk or in the aisles of the grocery story, they are your co-workers, they are sitting in the subways you ride, they are at the gym, the restaurant, the tennis court, the pool. They are in every crowded room, in the building where you work, they are your doctors, lawyers, teachers, classmates, they are members of your church, they are your friends.

They are often accomplished women; they may be full of warmth, genuine affection, and empathy. They may be social, outgoing, witty, expressive and full of laughter and smiles. They hide from us their haunted dreams and their tears. Sometimes they succeed in burying their anguish, blocking it from their own awareness even for years. But it never goes away.

Millions of these people wander through all the world. We hear statistics about abortion, and we should remember that behind every one of those numbers there is a mother who has failed, and who carries the weight of that failure. It has become her awful burden. But it also remains as a possibility for hope.

The relationship between mother and child remains, and so there is the possibility for reconciliation and healing. Still, the mother needs help. She needs others who are willing to listen to the agony and sorrow that pour out of her soul. She needs to know that she is loved, not in a condescending way, but in a humble companionship that affirms that we all depend on an ineffable and inexhaustible mercy.

So many mothers hide from their pain, distract themselves, and pass through life with a dark sense that their loss is forever, that they carry a deep and excruciating wound that must remain hidden, that the world refuses to recognize, and that they cannot speak about even to themselves.

But there are roads to healing, and places of healing. We must all do what we can to help people find the way. We must invite them to be with us and to walk with us on the path of love. But there is no place on this path for the self-righteous, for we all stumble, and we all fail in our responsibility to accept and bring to fruition the gifts that have been given to us.

We cannot "help" anyone except out of the awareness that we ourselves need forgiveness and healing for so many things. Our task is not to put ourselves forward as superior to others, but rather to indicate -- in poverty and humility, but also with unshakable conviction -- where hope can be found.

Who am I to speak of any of this? I'm just a poor man with a blog, a disabled man, still crushed by the fact that he is incapable of doing the job he loves. What do I have to offer? I've tasted the bitterness of life, but I have been healed and wounded (in a different way) by mercy; I have a heart, I can listen, I am not shocked or surprised by anything, and I condemn no one.

I know that every person I meet is broken and yet loved by an Infinite Love. I haven't always known this. I've had to learn it, and I continue to learn it every day. I know that the road of mercy opens up before me, and I know that I must share it with others. I must share with them this unconquerable hope that is greater than all our failures.

Mothers (and fathers) who are in anguish for children lost through abortion can find hope and healing through programs such as Project Rachel and Rachel's Vineyard Ministries. Never give up hope.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Agnes of Rome: The Recklessness of Love

It may be said that the spirit of the early fourth century martyr St. Agnes of Rome has so pervaded the Christian traditions of religious and consecrated life that we risk taking her foundational witness for granted.

This heroic young girl was more than a martyr during the last great persecution of pagan antiquity. Her motive in giving her life for Christ had a special focus: she presented in a personal and also public manner a witness to the mysterious new way of loving that Jesus had made possible for the heart of a woman. "My Lord Jesus Christ has espoused me with his ring; he has crowned me like a bride" proclaims the ancient antiphon. In another liturgical text, she speaks these words while dying: "What I longed for, I now see; what I hoped for, I now possess; in heaven I am espoused to him whom on earth I loved with all my heart."

Since the days of the New Testament, women had sacrificed the possibility of marriage and motherhood in order to follow Jesus in a deeper way. But St. Agnes gave physiognomy and voice to consecrated virginity as a marriage to Jesus, a singular spousal dedication to him that engages a woman's heart completely, beyond the competition of all human interests and even life itself.

The radiant life and sacrifice of a 12 year old girl, and no doubt her continual intercession thereafter, have fostered an awareness in the Church of her own deepest life.

"I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his beauty." There are various stories about St. Agnes, but what is certain above all is the singular ardor with which she embraced martyrdom when it was imposed upon her. The words she speaks in the liturgical tradition are not attributions placed on her lips by some later "theological" development. They are echoed in the fourth century homilies and writings of St. Ambrose, Pope St. Damasus, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and others. St. Agnus was venerated from the beginning by the clergy and the people of Rome, and then throughout the Western Church and also in the Eastern Churches.

The words she speaks in these ancient liturgical texts bear witness to an extraordinary charism, to a new ideal that transcended the boundaries of every kind of human love and transfigured the openness and intensive affectivity that are at the depths of every woman. The Christian virgin was not like the pagans of Rome or other ancient cultures, when women set themselves apart only for a time, and whose service was something less that a total dedication of the interiority of their persons.

The Christian virgin consecrates herself completely. She reserves that personal secret that women possess in an especially intimate way (her "purity") for Jesus alone and exclusively, body and soul. She dedicates entirely her fruitfulness and nurturing qualities of body and soul to Jesus and the grace he gives through the Holy Spirit.

We must try to appreciate the fact that St. Agnes showed the world a kind of life, a freedom, an originality, a way of giving and loving that were new for human beings, and especially for women, in the long and tired history of the human race. She indicated that women are cherished, ultimately, in a way no one had ever imagined.

She displayed the transcendent passion, creativity, and freedom of belonging to Jesus. St. Ambrose speaks thus of her martyrdom:
As a bride she would not be hastening to join her husband with the same joy she shows as a virgin on her way to punishment, crowned not with flowers but with holiness of life, adorned not with braided hair but with Christ himself. In the midst of tears, she sheds no tears herself. The crowds marvel at her recklessness in throwing away her life untasted, as if she had already lived life to the full.
Adorned with Christ himself, she had already lived life to the full....

The witness shines brightly to the fact that for the spouse of Christ, nothing is lost. The sacrifices that are made do not express contempt for the goodness of earthly life, but rather the ecstasy of a love that seeks the Source of all goodness, and thereby finds a hundredfold of fruitfulness even for the life of this earth.

Our statue of St. Agnes
St. Agnes, a young girl, a virgin, who flew to Jesus all at once in the recklessness of love, lived so fully that her presence and solicitude continue to this day. For seventeen hundred years, women have followed her example and given their whole selves to Jesus, loving him as their Spouse in prayer and seclusion, and also by serving him in those in need.

We call them nuns and sisters. We even call them "mothers." Today, more and more, we call them our friends and colleagues too, whether in religious habit or as lay women who consecrate themselves in the context of the many new charisms that the Spirit is giving to the Church of our time.

They have sought God and followed the lamb. And in this giving of themselves, they have been the colossal protagonists, the shining stars of love and hope, the bearers of peace and compassion to this world as well.

Agnes stands as one of the pillars of the greatest "women's movement" of all time, and her witness today remains as compelling as ever. She gave up marriage on this earth and everything else even to life itself. And in Christ she became a true mother to generation after generation of daughters to this day -- of women who want to give themselves away beyond the reckoning of this age, and thus live life to the full.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Snowstorm Has My Official Permission

We've had a couple of good snowfalls this season, and I've taken more than enough pictures of the magical stuff. Snow. How cozy.

Okay, I've had enough. Can we have Spring now?

Eh, it's only January 20.

Jan. U. Ary. Goes on and on and on and on.

Finally, it comes to an end, only to be succeeded by... February!

There's the useless nonsense with the groundhog. Did he see his shadow, or not, or did he see dancing pigs with wings? It doesn't matter. It always means the same thing: SIX. MORE. WEEK. Of Winter.

But never mind that. Right now it's still January. And another blizzard is coming our way. "Winter Storm Henrietta" or something like that? More snow. The novelty has definitely worn off.

Still, it's not likely to heed my objections. So it's best to look on the bright side.

Snow is pretty. Snow is fun for children. Snow gets on the walkways and driveway, but now I have a big strong young man in my house who can shovel it (as long as we let him consume half the refrigerator).

Snow gives us all a chance to spend time together. No homework. No teacher prepping. The white wet deluge pours out of the sky and swirls in the wind, while we stuff a towel at the foot of the door to bolster the insulation so we can stay dry, warm, and comfy inside. We drink cocoa and watch classic episodes of I Love Lucy

Then when the storm is over, the kids go out and later the bathroom fills up with wet winter coats. It's a happy time.

So, okay, I guess I approve. As long as we don't lose (a) the internet; (b) electric power; (c) cable; or (d) food and water. In that order. Winter Storm, you may proceed: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Seek God in Every Human Life

What would our lives be like if we really believed that the grace of God is at work, mysteriously, in the heart of each and every human person we meet? What if we could look at every human person the way Jesus is looking at them in that moment. We know it is true, that the most wretched, horrible, ugly, disgraceful, malicious, violent, evil human beings on this earth at this moment are loved by Jesus with an inexhaustible passion. We know that he seeks each of them, that he is under the weight of all their horror, that he has borne it all and is in himself the source of a transforming grace that can, in the flash of a millisecond of freedom that permits it, wipe away all the guilt of every imaginable sin and engender a response of love that utterly changes the person. Mercy does not eliminate justice, because every sin has been atoned for by Jesus. Every sin. Never give up on Jesus!

God is in everyone’s life.
Even if the life of a person has been a disaster,
even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else,
God is in this person’s life.
You can, you must try to seek God
in every human life.
Although the life of a person
is a land full of thorns and weeds,
there is always a space
in which the good seed can grow.
You have to trust God.

Pope Francis

Friday, January 17, 2014

Affirming the Embrace

"What others think or don't think of how much you do does not matter, nor does your judgment of yourself. All that matters is that mercy has taken you for ever, from the origin of your existence. Mercy called you to love, because mercy loved you.

"Holiness means always affirming -- before everything else, in everything else -- the embrace of the Father, the merciful, pitying movement of Christ, his gesture, that is he himself, independent of everything that stirs and has the appearance of life in us" (Luigi Giussani, The Psalms, pp. 185-186).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lost in the Valley of the Shadow

We are the sheep of the good shepherd. Very often, we find ourselves lost and alone, far from the good pasture, wandering in dark places.

But even when we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we must not give in to fear, for he is with us. We hold close to him in faith, a faith that comes to life through the breath of love, however faint that breath may be.

“You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (see Psalm 23:4).

The rod and the staff may thrash the sheep like heavy blows in order to prevent the sheep from thrusting himself blindly in and out of the thickets of that valley of shadows. The sheep may have to endure the hard stinging snaps of the shepherd staff again and again, because his staff is the only thing the sheep can feel in the darkness, and the shepherd is determined not to lose the sheep; indeed he is determined to keep the sheep as close to himself as possible.

It is probably in the most terrified and the most lost moments of the journey, when we are bleeding from so much running away and rolling in the brambles, that he raises us up and carries us on his shoulders. And we bleat and thrash and struggle because he locks our legs together in his strong hands. It is good that he is so strong. He is stronger. Love is stronger.

We must never lose our trust in God. We must hold on to him, in the midst of the fury, with our understanding wherein we know by faith that his promise is true, with our love wherein we already know that his mercy is at the end of all things.

Monday, January 13, 2014

He is Our Shepherd: Are We a Dumb, Conformist Flock?

Not exactly a highbrow image for
the human community? Hmmm....
Jesus is the good shepherd, and we are all his sheep.

The "pastoral metaphors" in Scripture are often taken by us as picturesque and superficial. We feel a vague warmth about them but then pass them by without much consideration. We've heard them so many times.

But such metaphors are often misunderstood by critics of Christianity as images of obscurantism, fear of initiative, or escape. It is thought that Christians would rather conform themselves to a flock and follow a superior being than use their own reason to judge and construct their own lives.

We Christians might not be so comfortable about being called sheep if we gave it some thought. Aren't sheep supposed to be really stupid? They have to be put in pens, and led into pastures just to find the food they need. Alone they are vulnerable, lost, and -- of course -- always easy prey for the wolf.

What does this image have to do with the rational human being? We use reason to accomplish spectacular feats. We build cities, measure the distance to stars, find cures for diseases, develop computer software and master ever more refined information technology. Sheep?! We're not sheep! It seems like an insult to compare the human person to a sheep, or the human community to a mindless flock.

Perhaps we have forgotten what this metaphor intends to convey.

It is interesting to note that recent neuroscientific studies indicate that sheep are not so dumb after all. In fact, their cogitative skills are surprisingly high among the animal species. Science has confirmed what grizzly shepherds have always known, namely, that sheep can recognize faces and sounds, and even respond to their own distinctive names.

The animal instincts and sense-cognition of sheep are markedly relational. What appears to us as an anonymous flock is in fact a group of animals that have high capacity for memory and recognition. Studies have shown that sheep remember one another's faces as well as the faces of their shepherds. They distinguish and remember the bleating of their companions and other familiar sounds. They even develop particular one-on-one familiarity; i.e. sheep within a flock can become "friends" with other particular sheep. They are highly competent animals in their own sphere and within their own environment. What makes them vulnerable is the larger context of an unknown world abounding with dangers and predators.

Sheep thrive by sticking together. They are domesticated not by coercion, but by the guidance of their relational instincts and the training of their memory. It turns out that a flock of sheep is not a mass of stupid, indistinct, and anonymous beasts that follow blindly according to the most primitive instincts. On the contrary, it is group of animals with a high degree of interactive sophistication, who remember and recognize the distinctive features of one another and of the human beings who care for them, protect them, and help them find the things they want: food, water, and an optimal environment in which to reproduce. There is some indication that these capacities for recognition and memory also correspond to a surprisingly high level of emotional responsiveness. There is an "animal affection," an emotive bonding within the flock, and between sheep and shepherd.

None of this would be news to shepherds anywhere in the world. For millennia, they have cared for their flocks, and they could easily say something like, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me" (John 10:14).

Human beings are not sheep. Human beings are persons, each with an identity, intelligence and freedom that are embodied in flesh and blood, and yet also transcend the whole material universe. Every human person is unique and inviolable, possessing always an intrinsic value worthy of being loved for his or her own sake. At the same time, human persons are profoundly related in families, friendships, communities, peoples, and a world in which we must learn to recognize and remember one another's faces and to call each other "brother" and "sister."

The shepherd, the sheep, and the flock are images that help us to reflect on some aspects of the mystery of who we are. They are only images, and so they have their limits, but they also have evocative power and poetic beauty. With careful attention, we may discover that these images have greater depth and nuance that we thought. Moreover, for Jesus, these images are a starting point for drawing us all up into the mystery of his relationship with the Father.

"The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:2-5).
"I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again" (John 10:14-17).
"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one" (John 10:27-30).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Whole Universe is Refreshed with Mystical Streams

through the presence of the Lord
the waters of the Jordan river
are changed into remedies.
the whole universe
is refreshed with mystical streams.
the sins of mankind
are blotted out by the waters
of the Jordan river.
paradise has been opened to mankind,
and the Sun of righteousness
has shone upon us....
the Lord comes to be baptized,
so that mankind may be lifted up....
the land and the sea divide between them
the joy of the world,
and the world is filled with rejoicing.

~ from Byzantine Prayers for the Theophany

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"God-With-Us": Let Us Live What We Celebrate in These Days

From Bethlehem to the Jordan, we have celebrated in these days God's "opening up of himself," his giving of himself to us. He who is the Mystery that every human person seeks; he who is on "the other side" of the *More* that every person pleads for in front of reality: he has done something beyond all of our dreams and our myths and our philosophy and our striving. He himself--the Infinite Mystery--has come into our reality, into actual human flesh and blood.

God is with us. He had made his dwelling among us and remains with us. He has intervened directly and totally in the story of the human race. God himself dwells in the midst of our cruelty, barbarism, blindness, idolatry, and willful ignorance of his compassion and love.

God has given everything; he has poured himself out in love, and in so doing he manifests his ineffable glory, for God is Love. The fullness of the revelation of God is in this love that overcomes sin, that embraces us and heals us. The Infinite Mystery is Infinite Mercy.

And Divine mercy has a human face and a name: Jesus.

Jesus is the reason for the joy and wonder that fill our hearts in the Christmas season, and at any other time when we recognize in life some sign of him for whom we hope. We celebrate his coming with the awareness that in the risen and glorified Jesus (and in Mary) the New Creation has already begun in its fullness. Meanwhile, we remain in this present age so that we might grow into the fullness of perfect adherence to his mercy, and so that we might announce the gift of God’s love in our world of fear and illusion, frustration and weakness, violence and malice, searching and incomprehensible suffering.

In front of the suffering of our brothers and sisters we must witness that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the search for meaning and the yearning for love that God has fashioned in the depths of every human heart. Only Jesus really knows me; only he can answer for me the question, “Who am I?

Christians must become more profoundly aware of this fact. They must not rest content and comfortable (or afraid) behind closed doors. They must beg the Lord to deepen the conviction and the ardor of their faith and love, so that they will perceive more concretely that the glory of Christ is the real, superabundant, unimaginable answer to every human misery, every human cry of anguish, every authentic human desire for something more than the limits of this world can give.

We Christians: we need this capacity to see life as it really is. Then we will be able to give love, to bring healing, to meet human needs with God's mercy, to be witnesses.

The "New Evangelization" calls upon us, first of all, to become more deeply aware of the fact that Jesus himself corresponds to the mystery of the human heart -- my own heart, and the heart of every person I meet. We must beg God to give us the grace to see our world, our circumstances -- vividly -- in light of this truth.

We must beg God to teach us how to pray, to open our eyes and our hearts to recognize his presence, to be changed by his "humble glory." We must seek him in the life of the Church, drawing strength from the Eucharist and the sacraments, and from one another in the companionship that is born from this new unity we share in his mercy and love.

We are called to have a faith that lives on the concrete, day to day level with conviction and deep, abiding joy. Jesus is Lord. He has all things. He is the meaning of the universe, the meaning of history, the meaning of today, this day, this moment, now.

He enters into our "now" and transforms it into an invitation to respond in love to the mystery of his love. His presence empowers our hearts and draws us to respond more and more in love to his love, to abandon ourselves to his love.

He is here: he who is the Source who sustains all things and "saves them from nothingness." Human beings live in fear of the Ultimate Mystery; they flee from it because it appears to them to be a gaping abyss of darkness. A true Christian does not deny this mysterious abyss, or seek to replace it with some ideology or cheap sentiment. A true Christian lives the mystery of being human all the way to the abyss and suffers it's darkness. Christian faith knows that Jesus is here too, and above all.

Jesus has fathomed the abyss of our own mystery, and calls upon us to trust in him because the abyss is Eternal Love. The abyss is Mercy that will finally take us beyond yearning and longing, beyond ourselves and our limits and into the fulfillment for which we have been made. He is here and we will be saved if we adhere to him and hold onto him and never let go. 

To seek, to live, to bear witness to the enduring presence of Jesus in the world, the presence of Jesus who embraces the whole of life: this is the most essential thing we can do to carry the mystery of Christmas beyond these days of celebration, for it is through us that Jesus continues to appear to the world and make himself known.

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's Still the Christmas Season: The Light Shines For Everyone

We continue to follow the star.
Grant, we ask, almighty God,
that the Nativity of the Savior of the world,
made known by the guidance of a star,
may be revealed ever more fully to our minds.
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.
– Amen.

Thus we pray on the Friday after the feast of the Epiphany. The final week of the liturgical season is crowned with Sunday's feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the event known as the Theophany in the Eastern churches: the manifestation of God. It is at the baptism in the Jordan that the Trinity is revealed and the sending of the Son openly proclaimed. As Jesus rises up from the waters, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father is heard, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (see Matthew 3:13-17).

Christmas is all about the manifestation of God. It is about God making his epiphany in the world. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The shepherds, the poor of Israel, are summoned to be the first witnesses to God's definitive presence in the world.

At the same time, a star rises in the heavens, a sign appears on the horizon of the human search for goodness and beauty, for truth and meaning. The Mystery: the holy, infinite, unknowable One who is the Source of all things, and who draws with implacable persistence the heart of every human person, shines upon the horizon and beckons them to follow this light.

The nations, the peoples from all corners of the world embark upon a journey guided by the light: those who are poor in spirit, who are searching and hungering for the Mystery, and who are wise enough to know their complete dependence on this Mystery, who have allowed themselves to be wounded by the hunger that is within them, who have listened to the promise whispered in their hearts even if they have not understood it.

They follow the light.

There are others too, who are awakened from a slumbering life by the fire of this light that stirs their soul. It comes as a surprise, a completely new beginning for them, even if it is true that the light has always been there beneath their shadows.

The peoples journey from afar, carrying with them the things that are most precious and most weighty: their hopes, troubles, questions, and also their sins, and their need for healing.

And they find the glory of God manifested. They encounter Infinite Love humbled before them, gazing upon them with the face of a child.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Wow, Some Weather We've Been Having," Said Everybody

Massanutten mountain: It was even colder up there
I can't think of anything that will be less "news" to you (if you live in the USA) than another story about how crazy nuts cold it has been this week!

But it is the main event that has been on our minds (not to mention our bodies) during this past week. Americans have been briefly united by a snowstorm and the "polar vortex" that came in its wake and brought ice-age temperatures to much of the nation.

And I know, my dear northeastern and midwestern friends, that you had the worst of it. Of course, you took it in stride because you are the toughest and just simply the most rugged people. Frozen winters? Mosquito infested summers? Hey, I bow to you. Okay? ;)

Still, it was freaky freezing here in Virginia and points further south.

We all felt like brothers and sisters this week, as we braved First World Problems in their most dire form: How to get the car started when it's one degree (that's fahrenheit, which means -17 celsius); how to get from the car to the nearest heated building without getting blown off our feet by 40 mph winds; how to get to the car at all (for those of us who had lots of snow); and -- by far the most desperate problem -- how to entertain ourselves during the days when we were stuck inside the house.

Some snow. Some sunshine. Our house looks cozy. Nobody went out to play!
Winter is interesting because, really, nobody can control it. We try to control it by watching the Weather Channel obsessively, but it still comes upon us and asserts itself. Suddenly, we all feel small and needy. We help one another out. We talk to our neighbors. We think about where we are going, take our time, and are grateful for whatever we manage to do.

In snow and cold, we are all realists. It's something in front of us, not a fabrication of our self-posturing. We have to deal with it, and it establishes the method by which we must proceed. People have profound disagreements about methods when it comes to politics and economics, but everyone knows that snow must be shoveled and scraped, and that we must be well protected against the cold.

This is the face of bravery and boldness
And this is the face of cuteness. In her best coat.
Everybody knows it's cold; we can feel it. (boy can we feel it!) No one thinks of being ideological about the fact that we need to bundle up. I didn't see anyone walking on the street this week in just shorts or a bathing suit, and claiming that they didn't "believe in cold." Imagine some guy: "I'm a warmist. This cold is just an oppressive structure imposed by the meteorological elites (or 'the government,' or a lack of tolerance for temperature diversity, or whatever)."

"You're a 'warmist'?" I'd say, through my scarf. "I'm a human being. Either you get inside or I'm calling 911 so that someone can come and get you and prevent you from freezing to death."

That's why weather is such a universal topic of conversation. It's something we all have in common, and it reminds us (implicitly) of many of the deeper things we have in common, the things that motivate us to deal with the weather because it's a factor in our real lives, an aspect of reality that we cannot ignore or censor from our awareness just because it doesn't fit in with our projects.

It reminds us that being human is a mystery, a gift, and a responsibility.

[By the way: Always keep an outdoor extension chord around the house. A LONG one. If the starter lock in your car doesn't turn because it's frozen because the car has been out all night because you don't have a garage (you have a carport) because you live in "the South" where things like this don't happen... you'll need a hot air blow dryer. And plenty of patience.] 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

This Mysterious Joy

"Let us witness to the newness, hope and joy that the Lord brings to life. Let us feel within us the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing" (Pope Francis).

The Pope has invigorated the theme of evangelization by indicating how important is the characteristic of joy. We can sense this joy in the radiance of his own face. Looking at him, we can't help but want, somehow, to feel in ourselves whatever it is that motivates such a genuine smile.

Still, we know that "joy" is something more than a superficial emotion. It passes through the profound center of the person, as an outpouring of the vitality of God's engagement of the depths of human reason and human freedom.

It is in the overflowing of joy from the heart that we are sustained by experiences of delight, comfort, and peace. Our witness to Jesus is concrete because we know him, because he has entered into a relationship with us and has awoken our adherence to him in faith and love. Our witness to Jesus is joyful precisely because it is a witness to him, his presence, his love for us and for the world.

It is important to remember that in witnessing to the Gospel we don't have to try to "manufacture" by our own power what we think are feelings of joy within ourselves. If we just love Jesus, seek Him with our hearts, let Him love us, and be true and humble with other people, we will be joyful witnesses. Others will see this "human-but-different reality" that has taken hold of us, this newness of life, and they will be provoked by the awakening of hope within themselves.

And we will find joy. We will feel it, not like some emotional stimulation or psychological power that gives us dominance over ourselves and others, but rather we will feel it within the motion of love itself. We will feel joy within the living of our relationship with Jesus and others, within our attention and service, within empathy, patience, and the freedom to wrestle even with our weaknesses.

Joy consists in finding our identity in something greater than our limits and our brokenness, something that embraces us in our fragility and renews us. And we will find that joy accompanying us in unimaginable places, in the darkest abysses and the most profound suffering, present in ways that are inaccessible to the "surface level" of our awareness and that would evade any reflexive psychological description.

Because it doesn't depend on us. It depends on Jesus, in whom the joy of God's Word penetrates the depths of the earth and renews all things.

Whatever the trials we face, whatever fragmentation of our frail conscious perception by the agony that washes over us, we will be sustained by this mysterious joy, sufficient enough to keep going forward and to surrender ourselves to our loving Father with trust.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Birthday and the "New Math": 51 = 5 + 1 = 6.

So I had my 51st birthday. Unlike last year's turning of the biological odometer, this didn't seem like a big deal. We had a quiet day, just the family, while the snow fell and the wind howled.

I told Josefina that I was younger than her because she is now seven, but I am five and one. Five plus one equals six, haha!

I think she actually got the joke.

Anyway, I never have time to feel "old" for very long. The kids keep me young at heart....

As does my wife who cooks fantastic birthday meals. The Greek ancestry that no doubt stirs somewhere in my Mediterranean roots was roused by Moussaka and Zucchini pancakes. Thank you, Eileen:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year, But a Familiar Path

Selections of texts on the Gospels
by Benedict XVI (WordAmongUs)
On this first day of the year 2014, I have been doing some spiritual reading about the the Mother of God from a book of homilies by a beautiful and holy witness to the Gospel. We have forgotten about him, and I am not proposing any nostalgia, much less hinting that I prefer him to his successor (who also leads us to very good pastures).

Let us not think we can find our security in life by pretending to be insider-journalists or wise critics. Let us instead be led by the Spirit, and transformed in our minds. Let us listen with hearts that hunger and thirst for the truth of life; let us look with eyes that seek the face of God. Let us listen, and when we speak let our words be the pleas of our hunger and our seeking.

God gives us shepherds to lead us, to guide our hearts so that God can shape them from within (mysteriously) by his grace, so that he can give them the seal of a love that we cannot imagine. We will never learn about our real selves except by following the God who made us, the God who is Love and who gives himself away in love by becoming a child, born of a woman.

Things are not so much different from one year ago. There is still the New Evangelization, and it still means first of all that I myself must hear the call to be converted, to change, to be conformed to the will of God. And doing God's will is not slavery, because God is Love, and because his will for me is the mysterious truth of who I am. It is the way that I am called to be in his image and likeness, to be a gift of love.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. Pray that we will say "yes" to God's love, so that the beauty of Jesus might shine brightly in the world.

Here are some words I read today:

"God's will is not a burden;
God's will gives us wings to fly high,
and thus we to can dare,
with Mary,
to open the door of our lives to God,
the doors of this world,
by saying 'yes' to his will,
aware that this will is the true good
and leads us to true happiness.
Let us pray to Mary,
Comfort of the Afflicted,
our Mother,
the Mother of the Church,
to give us the courage to say this 'yes'
and also to give us this joy
of being with God
and to lead us to his Son,
to true life."

~ Benedict XVI