Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kate the GREAT!

Catherine of Siena, Catherine the Magnificent, Kate the Great've been so good to me. Thank you! 😊

Happy Feast Day!

And just a note, folks: sometimes the words of this amazing lady can seem overwhelming, but we should understand that she does not want to make light of sufferings (which she had in spades) but rather to give us HOPE in Christ crucified, that God will get us through and bring us to Him.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The "Written Word" Goes Around the World

There are all these creative possibilities for communication that have developed or have been refined in the past six years, and here I am... still blogging.

Maybe I should do more videos or something.😜 But whatever I do, I'll keep writing. Writing remains powerful and irreplaceable.

The development of written languages was the original "social media revolution." Ironically, the explosion of "new media" technology, far from replacing the written word, has expanded its use in all sorts of ways.

The "basic blog" is practically old fashioned. I am working (slowly) with pushing my limits in some other areas. Nevertheless, when I was on my high school newspaper staff doing "paste-up" in 1979 we never would have imagined something like the "basic blog" in our wildest dreams. If we ever even thought of such a wildly distant year like 2017 (!) we assumed there would be colonies in space, with artificial environments that functioned according to the intricate calibrations of ENORMOUS computers!! 😳

As it turned out, we're still imagining space. Meanwhile we fill the earth with our thoughts and pictures and sounds and we have become masters of the craft of communication.

Still, from blogs to comboxes to Twitter and Facebook to memes to messaging to online journalism to Amazon (books? bigger. than. ever.) to Wikipedia, Gutenberg, etc to the amazingly resilient e-mail -- the written word is everywhere like never before in history. As with the development of all human things, we can see in writing today new levels of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

That's all the more reason for people who aspire to the good to "stay in the game"!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April Flowers

Here are some up-close looks at a few of the lovely blooming things that we have seen over the past week in our beautiful valley.

And this one wins the best picture award, though I must say that bee photobombed this shot. I didn't even notice it when I was taking the actual picture.

Nature at work:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Persons in Our Lives Who Call Us to Love

It is so easy for us to forget that the human beings we encounter every day are real persons. We easily fall into the habit of seeing them as widgets whose purpose for existing is reduced to fulfilling our needs.

Maybe sometimes we're not so selfish. We try to give and take, to be fair, to be nice and polite. Still, we know that we are not adequate to the reality that they bear; we are numb to the miracle of the unique persons all around us.

Part of it is simply the weight of being human. We're tired. We're in a hurry. We're troubled by our own frustrations, anxieties, fears of being hurt, fears of failure. Sometimes we're hungry. Or we have indigestion or we're constipated.

Many of us are in fact physically and mentally incapable of handling stress. The wiring in our brains is all messed up. We have issues, we have defense mechanisms, we have walls that we have built to protect ourselves, we have genetic predispositions to react in certain ways, we have hormones and endocrine systems that are out of balance. Biotoxins flow through our blood, the environment poisons us, youthful impulsiveness drives us or the relentlessness of getting older wears us down. This is the human environment from which our conscious intentions, thoughts, and desires emerge.

But the fact is that we have free will. We are each responsible for ourselves and our own actions. Our human material limitations may decrease our culpability for particular acts (or failures to act) in various instances, but they don't take away our freedom entirely. Whatever problems we may have, our freedom is still summoned to grow in love. Every encounter with a person is an opportunity to love, however small. The call to love is greater than all our weaknesses.

We must learn to adhere to this greater reality that is love. Yet we remain weak and wounded. Where will we find the strength for this adherence?

The call to love is a grace, and it is drawing us toward healing. Healing comes from grace. The capacity to recognize the human person comes from Jesus, whose presence we must learn to recognize. How? We must pray. We must ask for Him to heal us and transform us. We must receive Him in the sacraments. We must follow those who have already grown in the art of living. We must listen, and be humble.

We all have "neighbors," people who have been placed beside us in the circumstances of life and who are therefore in some way entrusted to us. They are spouses, family members, coworkers, friends, people we serve, people who care for us, people in our communities, people who are in front of us with particular needs.

How do we treat these people every day?

The need to recognize the person in front of us, and the possibility for love, penetrates the whole day. But this call of love is blocked by our evasion, impatience, words ill-spoken, the subtle workings of our drive for power and manipulation, or just plain distraction.

There is material for an examination of conscience right there: one that brings humility, and sorrow, and a memory that commits us again to the vocation of love and the work that it requires.

Of course we fail again and again. But Jesus is present in our lives by the grace of His Spirit who works in our hearts and through the life of the Church. We have a Father who loves us, who sent His Son to save us. Jesus has conquered our weakness. We must never be discouraged. We must keep going to Him, seeking Him, asking for Him, letting Him build us up through the instruments of His grace, and learning more and more to recognize Him in other persons, in every circumstance, asking for our love.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Gratuitous Wonder at the Heart of Life

Our being, our life, and everything we have belong to God. 

At the same time, we truly belong to ourselves because He gives us to ourselves. This is the gratuitous wonder at the heart of life.  I am who I am because I am His creature. 

Everything that is “me” is the effect, here and now, of his direct and personal creative and sustaining love. 

This is what matters, even without professional honors, or a job, or even the ability to do much of anything. His love is everything. Outside of that love there is “nothing.”

Our hope is to live entirely in Him and for Him. And it's a real hope, because He has made it possible. He has made a way for us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our Sorrows Will Be Turned Into Joy

Here we are in the midst of Easter Week, and many among us are facing serious trials. Even in my own local community, people have endured the death of loved ones or the onset of serious illnesses, as well as that vast, ineffable galaxy of sufferings that fills everyone's days.

The proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus does not make our pain go away. Does it really matter to the sorrows we experience right now? Or is it just an abstract religious truth, or something that only has meaning for people who don't care about life here and now?

I went for a walk in the woods and took pictures of the wildflowers (whose appearance is beautiful but brief, fragile, inconsequential). Then I made this video. I put it in the "Front Porch" series, even though it's longer (and not on my porch, obviously).

I believe we have reasons for the hope that is in us:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter 2017 From the Janaros!

The Janaro Family. Front row: Agnese (18), Teresa (14), Josefina (10). Back row: John Paul (19), John (aka
"Daddy"), Eileen (aka "Mommy"). Insert right bottom corner: Lucia Janaro (16 - currently out of the country
participating in a student exchange program... we miss her this year, but more on her story another time).
After Mass, we had a picnic with some friends and their families at the beautiful Virginia Arboretum.
We brought with us a hamper full of prosciutto and strawberries and cheeses and olives and wine.
Then we came back home and had dinner in the evening: Rigatoni with Corsican beef and more wine.

Christ is risen, alleluia!
He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Good Friday 2017.

Outside the context of the Catholic liturgy, Bach gives us some good music for today. The Saint Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday in the year 1727. That's 290 years ago, give or take a day! Deep music by a man of deep faith.

It looked like this coming from the composer's own hand:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

He Loves Us to the End

In these holy days, Jesus embraces the great mystery of his Passion; he "loves us to the end." He gives himself to us on the Cross, and in the Eucharist, with a love that goes beyond all our ideas and expectations. Jesus becomes the companion of all our sufferings, and he unites himself to every person's death.

None of us knows when we will die. We receive every moment of every day as a gift from God for the fulfillment of our own vocations. Each of us is a unique person, a mystery whose life is held by the wisdom and goodness and mercy of God. The moment of deaththat final moment in the history of our becoming "who we are"is also God's gift, designed to correspond to the fulfillment of the unique calling that each of us has received. It is the passage to the whole encounter with the Destiny that defines every moment of our lives.

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

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

Being a Christian means that even now "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Christ Suffers This Week

Sunday's ISIS sponsored suicide bombings of two Coptic churches in Egypt joined the blood of dozens more men, women, and children with the blood of their Savior whose Passion and Resurrection we are about to remember and celebrate in the next three days.

Pope Francis's plea for an end to terrorist violence and the conversion of the terrorists and those who profit from this state of war was posted on Instagram the next day: 

Meanwhile, in the readings for "Spy Wednesday," as Jesus mourns the coming betrayal of Judas, the Psalms sing of the bitter gall that human beings offer to the Suffering One who thirsts for their love:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Death is an Ordinary Moment

Many of the events of this past year have made me more deeply aware of the mysterious and fragile space that marks the difference between life and death.

Death is a moment like any other moment in time, inescapable in its approach, while it also strips away everything except that which really matters.

More than once I have found a way to speak of these things in poetry (for another poem, see HERE). I cannot "explain" or interpret my own poems. I have some sense of how my imagery strikes me, but poetry by nature is concrete and particular. It permits (and sometimes demands) that not all the loose ends be tied. It also insists on the freedom to dialogue with the reader's own perception and imagination.

So I won't pretend that there's any easy accessibility here. I hope there is something evocative for those willing to be patient with the author's efforts.

This poem is serious, even grave, but it is not sad. It is not sad! On that point of interpretation I must insist.

We Fall

(for C.V.G.)

We fall, we fall, we fall
with fingers still breathing,
stretching away the air,
then curling tight into knuckles,
burrowing holes down to the skin;
with lips straining shapes of words
stuck behind the throat:
so many words summoned, suddenly,
to a single silent note of strained,
inaudible song.

We fall, we fall 
with large hard stone hands catching limp shoulders,
cradling everything in moist numb shadows,
nearly sleep,
but for the raging fire beneath the breast:
it burns and burns,
burns beyond bearing,
an explosion of uncontained fire,
the blazing furnace of a bright star 
glowing down on pools of crimson water.

We fall, we fall
in long lush fields thick
with riotous wild green grasses
growing up
tossed in shivering breezes
or standing in still dull air,
spiked shadows cast against
the face of the sun.

We fall
and break the warm earth
where roots wind down to the dark,
and worms bend thin throbby bodies
exercising elastic muscle,
and fungi spread slow poison
beneath their pale soft sponge clusters.

We fall
into water,
melting streams of water rush over
thirsting, burning bones.
Water pours through the cracks
of broken cartilage,
and the stubborn fire shrinks and hisses
and fades into a gentle light.
Tense fingers exhale, soften, float free,
borne away beyond reaching
or grasping.

Rivers burst, overflow;
we are flushed hollow and deep, and buried beneath
bare trees soaked in floods of liquid clay.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie: "God is STILL HERE!"

πŸ’šThis is so true.πŸ’š

And a lot more crap has happened in the ten months since the murder of Christina Grimmie.

But now more than ever, in remembering her tremendous witness of life and love, we grow stronger and more deeply aware of our conviction that "God is good, and HE IS STILL HERE!" πŸ’š

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Passion Sunday" - Entering Holy Week

Finally, this year's unusually late observance of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus approaches.

●We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world!●

Detail of mosaic by Mark Rupnik

Georges Rouault, Crucifixion

Friday, April 7, 2017

America, a President, and a War on 04/06/17

Dateline Washington, D.C. The first sentence of this lead article in a well known New York newspaper gives a brutal summary of the day's big event:

Dramatic language from journalists, not surprisingly. But was this rhetoric warranted?

On the sixth day of April, in the latter part of the second decade of a young century that had already provided so many amazing and terrible surprises, the United States of America did something that committed them irrevocably to a war that had already been raging for several years, a war of unthinkable brutality and global scope.

When he ran for election only months before, the President had been touting his commitment to non-intervention. And now?

Those who read this blog know that I have been marking certain moments in the centennial remembrance of what was then known simply as The Great War. The war of 1914-1918 was indeed a horror unlike anything in human history up to that time. But it later acquired the peculiar distinction of being recognized as the initiation of a new genre of belligerence when it was renamed "World War I."

I wasn't planning on any flashy, "click-baity" ambiguity for this day. But it has been difficult for me not to allude to the sometimes creepy irony of how current news can "echo" the news of the past.

On April 6, 1917 -- after overwhelming approval from both houses of Congress -- the President of the United States declared war against the German Empire and America officially entered the still-undecided and seemingly unending slaughter in Europe.

The London Daily Telegraph was happy to herald a new era of cooperation between the Anglo-Saxon "democracies" (England was also an Empire all over the world, but... well, irony and all that).

One could say that April 6 was the centennial of America's stature as an international military power, and the beginning of what has since been known as "the special relationship" between America and Great Britain in international affairs.

As an American, I love and honor the soldiers who served our country in good faith, courageously and honorably risking their own lives and doing what they perceived in good conscience to be their duty. I especially honor those buried much too young in the graveyards of Europe along with larger numbers of their brothers from Europe's lost generation. In this war, as in most ugly wars, the terrible evils must be attributed to a colossal failure of statesmanship, and in a larger sense to all of us, because "war is a punishment for sin." We would do well to remember this today.

Indeed, I did not expect to find any striking ironies regarding the date of this event. I still hope that future historians will have no need to draw morbid parallels between April 6, 1917 and April 6, 2017. After all, the world is very different today in so many ways. The issues it faces are different.

But human nature remains the same. "We" are no better, surely, than our forebears a hundred years ago.

Nevertheless, the fact that America's military intervention in Syria (a solitary event as far as we can tell) occurred on the one hundredth anniversary of America's entry into the conflagration of World War I need not be anything more than an odd coincidence. So we hope and pray.

There are real enemies of the peace in the Middle East today, and it is reasonable to help those who are trying to stop them and to be prepared to contribute to a constructive aftermath. Above all, the millions who are already suffering deserve our solidarity and commitment. There are many ways to help them, but it's hard to see how a dangerous, possibly global escalation of the conflict would help them or anyone else.

By the way, the President in 1917 looked like this:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I Want to Give Him Everything... But Not Yet!

"Whoever loses his life for my sake...."
Jesus says, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” And in this passage, the word “life” implies the whole of one’s “self,” one’s very person insofar as one feels a satisfaction in mere self-possession.

Why does God require this of us? There is always some part of us that feels that this is just asking too much. I don't even know what it means to "lose myself."

But this is not simply a moral exhortation that Jesus pronounces. Indeed, it is crucial for us to realize that this is not an external mandate that is merely imposed on us.

It is not as if we could have been happy as human persons by living a life of rational and courteous self-interest, if only the omnipotent God had not decreed this alien and seemingly unnatural requirement of total self-sacrifice as a “condition” for earning some future happiness.

At some level, I am continually tempted to view it in this way. God wants "all of me" but I don't want to give "all of me...yet." This is where the bargaining starts. I want to find some way to give God "enough" for the day so that I can just keep the rest of myself and seek the things I prefer according to my own measure, my own fancy, my anxiety over my own security.

I am afraid to abandon myself completely to God, because I don't trust Him enough. But life is a school in self-abandonment, and God teaches us by His grace to give ourselves. It is original sin, and our own sins, that cause us to fear “losing” ourselves and to perceive this as a suffering that diminishes us.

God teaches us that the need to "lose ourselves" is not an external, imposed command of some capricious omnipotence. Rather, it is at the very heart of what it means "to exist," because existing is a participation in the mystery of Infinite Love.

What we must begin to learn is that “going beyond ourselves” and becoming, continually, a self-gift is the only way that we can truly exist as persons. Persons are created to exist in relationship. Our spiritual intelligence and freedom are the capacities to adhere to reality and “go out of ourselves” in the affirmation of our relation to reality, and in free, loving communion with other persons and God. We lose ourselves, we give ourselves away...not to oppression and slavery, but to the mystery of love, of a fulfillment of existing.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Is Technological Power Destroying the World?

Is technological power destroying the world?

The short answer to this question is, "No."

But as we continue to reflect on what some have called the emerging global "epoch of power," we have to look more fully at the issues and concerns involved in even posing such a question.

As befits the genre of bloggery, I will merely raise a few points here that strike me as crucial in light of my own experience and reflection as a human person, and also as a Christian.

Technological power can be terrifying or inebriating, depending on how we look at it. It is, in any case, power that we hold in our hands, but always within a deeper context. Whatever power we possess, we have acquired it by engaging a reality that is fundamentally given to us (that we will never be able to generate in an absolute sense) -- a reality intrinsic to the existence of the world and our own existence as persons endowed with intelligence and freedom.

We can use our freedom to build up or damage the world in profound ways, but we neither create nor will we destroy the foundations of reality. These points require greater exploration (beyond what we can do here) into the philosophy of ontology, the phenomenology of "gratuitousness," and related themes where reason and faith intersect: the mystery of transcendence, God, creation, providence, and especially redemption and its impact on history.

If we simply look at things from a concrete human point of view, however, we must recognize that technological development is "natural," not because humans impose rationality on the otherwise meaningless stuff of material things, but because (and insofar as) humans use reason (not just abstractly but embodied in human-life-in-a-created-world) to engage the reality in which they find themselves. Technological development (in the positive, constructive sense) occurs when we discover, foster, and apply the potentialities inherent in the natural world to cultivate an environment that serves as a flourishing and beautiful space for the communion of human persons.

There is plenty of room for creativity here, for "high tech," for "comfort" even (which has its place, not as an absolute, but as something entailed by the desire for a greater mutual benevolence, a deeper extension of hospitality). There is nothing inherently wrong with a great development of human "power," but it must be developed in a truly reasonable way, in coordination with the values inherent in creation and the dignity and purposes of human life. 

The industrial and the various technological revolutions have not done it that way, however. Or, rather, technological development has been carried out in a very ambivalent fashion: for good motives and bad motives and (alas, poor weak humanity) most often for mixed motives. 

As a result, humans today have this massive power over the material world, but (all too frequently) at the expense of other less powerful humans and the health of the whole physical cosmos. People of good will recognize the urgency of the need to grapple with these appalling consequences of our use and abuse of technology. The situation has become evident and dramatic in a way that cannot be ignored.

It is understandable why this presents such a frightening prospect. We recognize that the tumultuous expansion of human power in this period of history has also given rise to unprecedented dangers to human life, societies and cultures, and the very survival of the earth's environment.

Can we improve this predicament, relieve the present suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, and avoid future catastrophe? The answer to this question depends on our willingness to confront the great challenge of our time, to face the essential problem that must be engaged if there is to be any hope of addressing the others. To put it as simply as I can, we must find the deeper resources of our humanity that will enable us to integrate the development and use of human power with personal and interpersonal responsibility, with solidarity with our neighbors and stewardship within the created world. 

How? That is a good question with no simple answer. We need to find the human position from which to ask such a question rightly and sincerely.

In finding such a position, I hope we will move toward a more profound awareness of being human persons living in communion with one another in the world. Each of us can only aspire to move in this direction in life and in relation to our neighbors even if the whole world seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

As a Christian, these circumstances lead me once more into the presence of the One who is the savior, redeemer, and hope of every human person and all of history, Jesus Christ. I pray that we might discover in a renewed and deeper way the centrality of Jesus Christ for the whole cosmos and its fulfillment, and of our need for a personal relationship with Jesus at the center of our faith. And may He lead us to recognize the central value for human society of the whole human person in relation to other whole human persons.

First of all, I pray that the Lord might grant to me this renewal of life in communion with Jesus and my neighbors. My responsibility begins with myself and I need this for myself.