Monday, February 29, 2016

Leaping Toward the Future

I hope I'm not the only one getting "life coaching" from Facebook.

Why don't y'all just be a social media platform. We'll take care of the content. Sheesh. One day I logged onto Facebook and was greeted with this message:

Uh... "Good afternoon, Facebook algorhithm. So... can you bring me a cup of coffee?"

Anyway, I made the most of it. Indeed, it was a beautiful day without any help from me. Sunsets are after 6:00 PM by now, and traveling back up along the Ridge.

It would appear that March is coming in like a lamb.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Oldies but Goodies" Part 1

One thing I can do on this blog right now is represent some fun "Oldies" that pop up in places like Timehop. The Never Give Up BLOG--after all--goes back five years. One thing that strikes me in reading old entries is how much the kids have grown.

Josefina may still be pretty small physically but she has grown so much as a person. Here is a blog entry from four years ago, when she was age five.

Not that she doesn't still do things like this, but it's ...different now. Just read it and you'll see:

Friday, February 26, 2016

Brother Against Brother

Soon after posting about the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of Verdun, I remembered a reflection I had written that recently appeared in the MAGNIFICAT Lenten Companion. The film footage described below was not from Verdun, but from another stretch of the Western front.

Still, it makes for an appropriate followup as we try to put war in perspective:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

1916: The Killing Fields of Verdun

We have another date to mark in our Centennial of Infamy: February 21, 1916 (the English newspaper reports first appeared a hundred years ago today).

I have neither the energy nor the disposition at present to say much about the German offensive that began on the Western Front in these strange days. The Germans advanced into an historic region in the valley along the Meuse river, in a place that had been one of the "crossroads" of Europe for over a thousand years.

Ten months and nearly a million casualties later, the Germans and the French had traded back and forth about five miles of territory. Today we remember this monstrous nightmare of blood, fire, and madness as "the Battle of Verdun." We must bare our heads and weep for the multitude of men and boys from both sides who were ground up by the relentless machine of death.

Eyewitness descriptions of these days, weeks, and months of chaos are terrifying even to read. Let these words from the journal of a French officer suffice: "What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"

Even after the greater and more destructive war of 1939-1945, the killing fields of Verdun remain a singular monument to the violence, futility, and stupidity of human pride.

Friday, February 19, 2016

I Need to Listen More

I've been having a hard time over the past month. A very hard time.
Please pray for me.

This blog may slow down for awhile. I don't know. My faith remains firm. I'm still on Twitter:

I've been through all this before. I need to listen more. I shall listen to other people and music.

I shall listen to the Pope:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Everything is Present in Hope

Some things seem always the same.

Thirty years ago, I commuted between the Valley and Washington DC, where I had just begun graduate studies. I was 23 years old in February of 1986, and yet much was the same as it is now. I saw this same sky on a winter's afternoon. I breathed this same air and felt the same fading warmth of the waning sun.

And yet, the people whom I care most about in the world, the people with whom I now share every day, were unknown to me.

Thirty years ago, I had not yet met Eileen. I could not even imagine her or the life we would share together. So much that makes up who I am simply did not exist. The children did not exist.

The sky looked just as it does now, but I was alone.

And in another generation, the sky will again glow as it does now. What kind of turmoil will the world have endured between now and then? Where will we all be?

I will have continued, and perhaps completed, my part in this story. There is nothing vivid about the future, except what I have learned up to this moment, which convinces me that everything is already present in hope. I know that there is a story, and that I am not meant to be alone.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mercy and the Odd Ways that Books Get Written

If you're still looking for some good resources for living this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, it's not too late to get a copy of this very fine Year of Mercy Companion.

This is a special Magnificat publication of readings, prayers, and devotions that are worth holding onto even after the year is over.

Click HERE to learn more. Paper copies are still available, as well as ebooks in your favorite format.

A team of excellent writers and editors worked very hard to put this beautiful collection together. Since I only contributed a few entries to its 448 pages, I am saying this in recognition of the work of many others.

I am reproducing below one of my entries that appeared on February 11. It's hard to believe that it's been six years since my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy was published by Servant and Franciscan Media (the BOOK is still very timely and worth reading, and it is still in print and ebook - click HERE to get a copy for yourself or someone you care about).

I'm glad I had wonderful editors for the book who corrected my funky sentences (like that last one).

The Never Give Up book and its ongoing "sequel," the Never Give Up blog, are projects that were never on my bucket list. They were and remain surprising and fruitful things in my own life and, I've been told, in the lives of others.

Here's my reflection on how it all came about:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

An Event That Gives Us Hope

Pope Francis prays before Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at her Basilica in Mexico, at the center of the land that stretches from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego (Screen shots from CTV broadcast).

Here she is, the real Virgin of Guadalupe
in her "house" of nearly five hundred years.
She came in those days to one poor man
(and yesterday another poor man went to see her).
Then and now, her presencehowever incomprehensible and wonderful
to our understanding and scienceis simple in its meaning:
She wants to stay with us.

This event gives me hope.
Hope for eternal life, for glory,
for victory in the resurrection of the Man
who was born from the tiny space beneath those folded hands.

This event gives me hope.
Hope for our poor world,
for the building up of goodness and true freedom,
even as we journey through our time of sorrows.
Hope against violence, cruelty, and lies.
Hope for the reconciliation of peoples.

Hope for the land in which I live,
where there is a trail of earth and soil
from my doorstep to her threshold.
Hope for "all the people" in what she called "the land,"
this land upon which we are blessed to live,
entrusted to us by God
and specially blessed by this miracle,
this enduring sign of her presence.

The times are evil, indeed,
and the children of God are in distress.
The world so much needs a mother's tenderness and closeness.

Our land and all its peoplesancient, old, and newcry out
with so many pains,
so much suffering,
so much confusion.
We do not know how to go forward.

All the more reason to turn to Mary.

She comes, our mother, with consolation, counsel, compassion.
She brings Jesus, our only hope
who belongs to all of us,
to those who know Him,
and those who have forgotten Him,
and those who do not know Him yet.

She wants us to open our eyes,
to show us how we must love one another,
not only as a "solution,"
but above all to be true to who we are...

All people are her children,
all of us are the little brothers and sisters of Jesus,
and therefore
brothers and sisters of each other,
of one family,
a human family
so greatly loved that Love Himself
became her child, and our brother.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mary's Plan to Meet with Francis in Mexico

Pope Francis is in Mexico after his historic meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (more on this historic meeting in a future blog).

We know that Francis wants to spend personal, one-on-one time with the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is present at the Basilica in Mexico City in what can only be called the second most amazing image in the universe.

He expressed this particular desire before embarking on this trip.

The great news is that his "personal audience" has been arranged for Saturday. Vatican Radio had this report:

This "sort of secret room," as they call it, is a very small private chapel. The frame that holds the tilma can be turned around so that it faces the interior of this chapel.

We know well about this, because during his five (five!) visits to Mexico, Saint John Paul II spent long periods of time in this place. He would go during the night (after the Basilica closed to pilgrims) and pray long hours alone with Mary.

I have been told that security cameras in the chapel revealed some of these intimate moments (I have never seen any footage; I don't think they keep that sort of thing.) Supposedly, John Paul II would spend long periods of time with his face pressed to the glass, near the Blessed Mother's feet.

He prayed for the Church and for the world.

Dear friends, have confidence in Jesus and His holy mother Mary. Have confidence, whatever the storms of these times may bring.

Let us join Pope Francis in renewing our hope for our salvation, for the life of the Church, for a witness to the world.

The frame holding the tilma and its image as seen in the Basilica. The small chapel is behind this wall, and the frame can turn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Loaves and Fishes

What are we, O Lord?
Five loaves and two fish.
Take us, Lord,
and make us new
according to the measure of Your love.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Francis's Pilgrimage to Mexico and Mary

Pope Francis spoke by teleconference with Mexicans preparing for his upcoming trip to their country. There are many important elements of this trip, but I want to focus on just one here. The Pope's desire to meet with the Virgin of Guadalupe is absolutely real.

Jorge Bergoglio is no stranger to Guadalupe. He has been to "Mary's house," but this will be his first visit since his dramatic and unexpected transfer from Latin America to Rome three years ago.

I have no doubt that these words of the Pope, and this great desire of his "to visit the maternal house, and to feel the tenderness of her kind presence," are profoundly rooted in his experience, which is the experience of countless Guadalupan pilgrims (myself included).

Through the inexplicable phenomenon of the image on Saint Juan Diego's tilma, Mary "lives there." The whole miracle of Guadalupe has a purpose, and that purpose is the possibility of encountering Mary personally, with a kind of physical "presence," a tenderness, a hospitality, and eyes that look upon you before you think to look at her.

Pope Francis gets it. He knows this place. He knows that she has asked to see him "as one more son," and that he needs to see her, to bring to her all the suffering of our times.

Let us join him in placing our confidence in her.

"Do you want me to confide in you [one] of my greatest desires?
To be able to visit the Virgin Mary’s house.
As one more son, I will approach our Mother
and place at her feet all that I bear in my heart.
It is lovely to be able to visit the maternal house,
and to feel the tenderness of her kind presence.
There, I will look at her in her eyes
and implore that she not fail to look at us with mercy,
as she is our Heavenly Mother."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Here's How Virginia "Does" Blizzards!

The pictures really say it all:

Mountains of snow have been reduced to ... well, that, along with lots of soggy ground:

Meanwhile the melted snow has turned drainage paths into roaring streams:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Poor Earthen Vessels of His Love

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we Catholic Christians are encouraged to meditate especially on the mercy of God, to receive His mercy through Jesus in the Church, and to do the works of mercy.

It is an invitation to rediscover and take up in a fresh way our Christian and human vocation.

The Jubilee is a time to focus once more on what is essential. We are presented with the possibility of remembering and encountering anew the astonishing bond that God has established with us through Jesus Christ. As Christians we place our hope in the mercy of God who has become our companion in Jesus. Jesus wants to be with us, to remind us that we are not alone in front of the enigma of existence. We struggle every day with life, its joys, its suffering, its mysterious and inescapable destiny, but we know that He is here to respond to our poverty with His divine and human compassion.

And as we experience this compassion, we are called to proclaim it, to share it with one another and everyone in need. The call of God's love and mercy extends beyond ourselves; He burns with love for every person, and He longs to enkindle that flame in our hearts. For this reason the Christian is called to live and to manifest something new in the world.

This is our poor world, confused, struggling and seeking, full of human persons who have been created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ, and who travel along broken paths searching for the One who loves them and calls each of them by name.

It is a world in which many do not yet know Him, or do not know Him enough, or perhaps hold onto Him mysteriously in the depths of their hearts but without knowing all of the beautiful ways He wants to help them, strengthen them, and be a light to their steps. It is also a world of many who have rejected God or who ignore God, even as He continues to passionately seek them out and draw them to Himself. God's mercy works secretly in their hearts, but it also works through us and wants to manifest itself and give itself through us.

God wants the beauty and the glory of His mercy to shine through us, so that those who are weary and heavily burdened by the riddle of life's meaning may see that God Himself has brought something new into history that answers and indeed overflows superabundantly all the depths of the human question.

Here we are, poor earthen vessels of His love. We ourselves are so much in need of healing and of experiencing His love and mercy. Our mission is not one of winning over the world to our party, as if the fulfillment of human existence somehow came from our own selves, our ideas, our projects--as if it were the construction of our own brilliance and coherence, the assertion of our own power.

No. Being Christian means knowing that we are weak and broken, that we depend upon His mercy in every moment. We are sinners. We are not called to isolate ourselves and condemn the rest of the world. Our mission is to let Jesus win us, and win the world with us and through us.

The conversion of the hearts of others is linked to our continuing conversion, our growing in love for Him and our solidarity with all our brothers and sisters--our willingness to suffer and share with compassion all the pain and longing of being human, and to bring it all into the merciful heart of Jesus who is our healing and our hope.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A "Light of Revelation" For The World

Byzantine style icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem forty days after his birth, according to the Law.

Happy Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Today we celebrate the events that occur at the conclusion of St Luke's account of Christ's birth and epiphany. This feast marks forty days after Christmas (already?!) and a week before Lent begins this year.

Our brothers and sisters of St Nicholas Orthodox Church in U.K. have an explanatory chart for the classic Byzantine icon for this event (indeed, they have beautiful charts for icons of all twelve of the Great Feasts. Click the link above.)

Here is the classic icon for the Presentation and a helpful explanatory overview. (N.B. Westerners, "The Panagia" is an ancient Greek reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here we see it used as a proper name, "The All-Holy One.")

Western sacred painting follows a similar pattern as well. Here is THE PRESENTATION by the great early 14th century Italian painter Giotto Di Bondone.

By the way, bookmark the WEBSITE that I must acknowledge as source of the image above. Really, this site should be one of your "go-to" pages for all things Giotto.

CLICK HERE for Giotto, Giotto, Giotto!
Giotto's painting has the same basic iconic form that we saw earlier. Joseph has the doves. In Western tradition Mary has a blue mantle, while East usually clothes her entirely in red. Anna is at the far right. The Temple setting here is in the style of a Christian basilica.

It is significant, however, that here we see the beginning of a more realist style in the West, as Simeon and Anna are both drawn in profile. The Byzantine icon tradition continues to draw saints facing front with both eyes visible. (Note that Giotto still presents Mary and Joseph with both eyes in the classical iconic style.)

All through the world and in the many ancient Christian rites, this "Meeting of the Lord" is celebrated as an epiphany of God incarnate. We have returned one final time to the infant Jesus--the focus of much of our Christmas season meditation--revealed to the humble of Israel who awaited the fulfillment of God's promises with faith. Let us look at how many different traditions testify in images to this revealing event.

A Russian icon of the 15th century, by the incomparable master, Andrei Rublev:

Here is the "Meeting of the Lord" from the Armenian tradition:

The distinctive, almost childlike simplicity of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church:

Finally, a contemporary painting from sub-Saharan Africa:

We can hear the ancient Simeon speaking:
"My eyes have seen Your salvation,
which You prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).
A light of revelation for the Gentiles. The light still burns brightly in so many places.

Let us celebrate this feast with the light of Jesus in our hearts.