Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "Pharisee in the Church Today" is Me

Pope Francis says there are Pharisees in the Church today.

Some people say, "When he refers to 'Pharisees' he's talking about the conservatives!" Others have noted that it was precisely the Pharisees who favored things like divorce and were therefore confronted by Jesus's radical Gospel teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

These are typical ways of "interpreting" Francis. But I find them frustrating. I already know this debate well enough. I'm interested in something else, namely, what do the Pope's words mean for me, right now?

This theme about Pharisees in the Church today is part of a consistent message of Pope Francis. What guidance for my own life do I find here? Is it even relevant to me? I don't think political terms like "conservative" and "liberal" are helpful when looking at the Church. I also oppose "divorce and remarriage," and the way it has developed into a kind of "normal" accepted lifestyle choice in the post-Christian West. I know that real consummated Christian marriage cannot be dissolved, and that this clear teaching of Christ cannot be changed: "They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Matthew 19:6).

Yet I recognize myself in the Pharisee. Pope Francis's challenge, to me personally, has always been to provoke me to look beyond my narrow way of loving people.

Yes, we really do need to witness to the truth in love. But it's so much easier, for me, to cosy up in a comfortable corner with the truth, and to say to (or at least think about) others: "This is the truth of what you should be like. Now take your messy life and go away. You bother me. Go fix yourself and maybe come back when you fit into my comfortable coherent little world."

That's the Pharisee that I am!

I thank God for the mirror that He has put up to my face these past five years through the witness of the Pope. The problem for me is my own self-love, my own satisfaction, my fear of risking my comfort in order to grow closer to God. And I so easily disguise my own laziness and love of comfort in the garb of a "prudent, balanced judgment," or a pious detachment from "worldly" things.

Woe unto me...the Scribe, the Pharisee, the hypocrite!

I am the "Pharisee" because I fail to trust in the grace of Jesus to change my heart. I am so timid! I am afraid to allow Jesus to empower me to really go beyond myself, to find the margins beyond my own self-sufficiency and the real people who are waiting there, desperately in need of my love.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Spirit Blows Like Wind in the Trees

"Those who are led by the Spirit of God
are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery
to fall back into fear,
but you received a spirit of adoption,
through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!'
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him."

~Romans 8:14-17

(image above: The Spirit Blows Like Wind in the Trees, my digital graphic design)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Young Heroism of Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano

October 29th commemorates Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano, an Italian girl who died of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in 1990, a few weeks short of her 19th birthday. 

Chiara Luce was a young person of our own time. She had aspirations and plans for her life. She loved to sing, to play tennis, and to swim. She had a hard time with math in school. She cherished her family and friends. When she fell ill, it was very hard for her. She wanted to live. In the long odyssey of her cancer treatments, she knew the force of her own human hopes that she might be cured. 

But Chiara Luce was also a girl of great faith. Shaped since childhood by the charism of the Focolare movement, she recognized in her illness a deeper calling from her suffering Lord. She accepted and even embraced this new, arduous, painful path, and offered her life in union with Jesus's cry of abandonment on the Cross. She said:
"I offer everything, my failures, my pains and joys to Him, starting again every time the Cross makes me feel all its weight. The important thing is to do God’s will. I might have had plans about myself but God came up with this. The sickness came to me at the right time... [and] now I feel like I am wrapped into a wonderful design that is slowly unfolding itself to me."
She was able to endure beyond her own capacity for endurance, because she trusted in Jesus, because deeper than all the very real pain was the mystery of relationship with Him.
"What a free and immense gift life is and how important it is to live every instant in the fullness of God. I feel so little and the road ahead is so arduous that I often feel overwhelmed with pain! But that’s the Spouse coming to meet me. Yes, I repeat it: 'If you want it Jesus, so do I!'"
I have mentioned before about Chiara Luce Badano and the very special friendship that (I can't help putting it this way) she initiated with me in Christ, in the "communion of saints" several years ago. I rely on her help, and I believe she has opened my eyes to recognize the extraordinary courage that the grace of God has engendered in some apparently "ordinary" young people in the present time.
Even in the tumult and complexity of today, the young generation remains a reason for hope. Youth are made for heroism, and if we try to love them, guide them, and prepare the ground for them, we should not be surprised by what God can accomplish in their hearts. It is encouraging to realize that Christ can bring them so far beyond our poor, flawed efforts as parents and educators. 

But it is not only for this that Chiara Luce is my friend. She also shows me the truth about my own destiny. But I am no longer young. I have grown old and complicated. I have woven badly many threads of my life and there are lots of knots. 

Chiara Luce amazes me, and, quite frankly, scares me in some sense. I find myself dizzy and powerless, gasping for air in the atmosphere she inhabits. But I am also drawn in my heart, fascinated and filled with longing even in front of these things that seem frightening and incomprehensible.

I acknowledge that I am far from God, broken, and above all proud. Only the humility that trusts in the transforming presence of Christ in my life can change me. I don't know how to "imitate" a saint like this. I can only beg for the grace of Christ to awaken and deepen in me the awareness that the circumstances of my own life are His gift through which He draws me to Himself. 

Blessed Chiara, pray for me. Pray for us.


This is an unofficial (i.e. non-liturgical) English translation of the Collect for her feast day. My hope is that God's grace will indeed "transform deeply my soul" -- beginning with an attraction to this light of love, a desire to live with this serene trust.

Father of infinite goodness,
who through the merits of your Son
and the gift of the Spirit
have set alight with love Blessed Chiara Badano,
transform deeply our soul
so that, following her example,
we too become capable
of always doing Your holy will
with serene trust.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever,

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Josefina Turns 11 Years Old

When I started this blog she was 4 years old. The other kids were 13, 12, 10, and 8.

Here we are, some seven years later. A lot has happened, or is in the process of happening. Two kids are in college. Another is a senior in high school who spent the first half of this year living in France. Another rides horses and is one test away from a black belt in karate.

Josefina, nevertheless, is not overshadowed by her older siblings. In some ways she's the only "child" left in the house, and she's certainly the smallest person around here. But she can fill a whole room with her personality.

That has always been true.

We're still having the "extended Birthday celebration." Tomorrow, she's going to bake her own birthday cake, and (I hope) we will gather everybody plus "Uncle Walter" for a family party. She's had some fun the past few days with her friends, doing this and that.

Jojo has basically grown up with me always being the one around the house. Though she is certainly a "youngest child" and a "Daddy's girl," she has also been a bright light to me on very dark days.

And she makes a perfect cheese omelet.

We are so proud of her, and so grateful for her.😊

She doesn't often fall asleep cradling the Bible, so I made sure to get a picture of this when it happened earlier this year.

She's still small in size, but she's becoming quite the young lady!

And here's our "comparison picture" of Daddy and Jojo: on the left, in NICU in November 2006. On the right, a recent pic.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Standing With Those Who Grieve

This is not an actual note written to any specific person. Rather, this is a draft of some basic considerations expressed in words by a writer who usually uses far too many words. 

What I would actually say to a friend who is grieving would depend on so many incalculable and utterly particular circumstances. But these words outline something of what I have tried, in different ways, to express before and what I would hope in the future to communicate to someone going through this pain.

"I'm so sorry for your loss.

"What you're going through right now is beyond anything I can imagine. Still I want to be with you, somehow, in your sorrow.

"I don't know how I can help. I wish I could explain the ways of God, but years and years of studying theology have taught me mostly that I do not understand God, but still I must stay and trust in Him. Grief is a long road. I just want to reach out to you and be a brother in the Lord.

"I believe with all my heart in the mystery of God's love in Jesus Christ. All of us are inside this mystery, and while we journey together we try to bear one another's burdens—even when we can't do or say much, we try, and I believe His love is somehow even in that 'trying.'

"That is my hope as I offer my heart to help, however I can, or else just to stand with you in your suffering, to stay together in Jesus."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Happy John Paul II Day!

Happy John Paul II Day! 

Eileen and I are grateful for this moment, and for all the moments of the monumental witness of his life.😊

Friday, October 20, 2017

People in History Who Suffered From Depression, Episode 1

I think I could write a whole book on People in History Who Suffered From Depression. Obviously I cannot make any kind of clinical diagnosis of people from the past (or from the present, because—as I frequently emphasize—I am not qualified as a health care professional; I am merely experienced as a health care patient).

Nevertheless I find again and again descriptions people give of their own experience (often in diaries or personal correspondence) of an affliction that hinders them to varying degrees and has a variety of symptoms that we associate with clinical depression. It debilitates people in many periods of history and many different cultures.

I'm not surprised.

Recently, one line of my research has taken me to English history in the era of James I (if you read a certain very fine publication, you'll see why in...oh, hmm...about seven months😉😊). We have this English gentleman Sir Tobias Matthew—that fellow in the picture, who looks "fine," does he not? In a letter to a friend written in the year 1609, he describes this complaint:

"I have sometimes such fits of melancholy, and to speak truly, I have seldom any other thing, that when they take me, I become as if I had been bitten with the torpedo [i.e. the stingray], and my wits fall withall into such restive tricks, as no spurring can get them on, to make one pace in the right way.... it is but a very dreaming away of my time, for I do nothing in it like a man awake, and this is that which of all other things doth most afflict me."

Tobie, dude, I feel your pain. It "doth most afflict me" too, sometimes.

The analogy to being bitten by a stingray was brilliant! (Haha, a "torpedo"—I had to google that but he obviously wasn't talking about what we mean by torpedo...although there are days more aptly described as being torpedoed in the modern sense.😝)

I find it very interesting that his "fits of melancholy" are not described in a moody, introspective way (that can happen too, of course, but Depression is a wider phenomenon than "feeling" in the sense of an emotional mood). He speaks of symptoms that indicate a continuity between physical and "mental" states. His "wits" are paralyzed in a way that can only be described with a physical analogy, a kind of numbness. He "does nothing like a man awake"—again, sleep is a physiological state of the brain. His description here is also accurate.

I'll have to keep a running series on this blog of Depressed People Throughout History. Our forebears may have more to teach us that we realize by their simple analogies. At least we'll feel a little less alone in the great human story.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October Frozen (A Poetic Fragment)

October frozen 
in pieces of still, silent time, 
in a dozen days of cool breeze
and warm sun 
and the shock 
of finding that beneath the surface 
of my skin 
I am ill-healed.

Below the clear bright skies,
hurricanes of torrential rains
wash and wash
over my eyes.

     (~in memory of a friend...)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Long Love of Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur died on October 14 at the age of 96. He will be remembered as one of America's truly great poets. I will always be grateful to my wife Eileen for introducing me to his verses years ago. 

Writing with simplicity and elegance but also drawing on an attentive perception of the luminosity of reality, Wilbur leaves a poetic legacy that glows like a hearth. It is the warmth and light of a disciplined, concentrated, intense fire.

I devoted some time to a graphic presentation of an excerpt from his poem "For C." which is dedicated to his wife Charlotte. They were married for 64 years, until her death in 2007.

"...there’s a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,
And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament."

~from "For C." by Richard Wilbur (March 1, 1921 - October 14, 2017).

May the Lord grant eternal rest to his great and good soul.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"...What Prayer Does Not Dare to Ask"

I love the Collect from the Roman Church's Liturgy for the 27th week of Ordinary Time. It's a radical cry for the grace and mercy of God. He is such a Mystery of Love that His power to change our hearts, to forgive us, heal us, and transform us is beyond anything we can conceive, and His Tenderness is beyond all our hopes and anything we would even dare to ask for.

God loves us. Jesus has gone all the way for us in the mystery of His death on the Cross, far deeper than we can fathom. And He is risen, so that we might live forever in a joy beyond all telling.

Therefore let us take up the journey of life anew each day without being afraid, but rather with hope, with trust. And let us PRAY:

"Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Christina Grimmie: Humble, Free, True to Herself

As we Americans still try to process the horrible violence and destruction that exploded last week in Las Vegas, and that continues to haunt our society, my thoughts go back to the awful event that took the life of Christina Grimmie on this night 16 months ago.💚

Christina once said, "Humility isn't 'getting squashed lower than we deserve.' It's seeing ourselves accurately before God."

I am struck by the fact that humility, as Christina defined it here, is an expression of how she lived her life. It was this struggle to see herself accurately before God—to recognize and be true to her real self—that made her so free.

When people saw Christina Grimmie on YouTube, or The Voice, or in concert, it was not only her incredible talent that struck them. It was also her passion, her readiness to take risks, her zest for life, her freedom. People loved her because of it.

Even more, Christina gave us hope that we too could be free. We don't have to be musicians or celebrities to discover the unique, infinitely precious value that each one of us has as a person made by God and called to share His joy.

Christina showed us how to stand before God and let Him reveal to us who we really are. She sang and made music because she loved it; it was her talent and it was a special way that the fire of God's love touched her heart. She was trying to make it in the music business, but only by being herself, by remaining true before God.

It wasn't easy. But she stayed true. She stayed humble. She stayed free.

Because she lived in the light of that fire, we were able to recognize the flame in ourselves: the love that shapes us, that empowers us to live freely, that roots us in God and gives us worth.

Humility means seeing ourselves accurately before God. God is the source of our value. He created us. He redeemed us. We are precious to Him beyond anything we can imagine, and we can be confident that He will bring us to the fulfillment of our humanity and the freedom He gives to us.

Christina Grimmie made tremendous, beautiful music and enjoyed some success in her brief career (though not nearly in proportion to her creativity and immense talent). Her great hope was to be an inspiration to others in her art and in her way of living, by being true to herself before God, by putting God first and recognizing that without Him "all is vanity."

This was what made her so outstandingly free, so human, so joyful, so genuine, so hilariously funny, and so dedicated to the struggle to keep her integrity as a person and fulfill her vocation. She wanted to inspire us also to take the risk of being humble and experience the joy of being free. She wanted us to learn that our value as persons is not determined by other people's whims, narrowness, or caprice. She showed us that we are not defined by the dominant mentality with its ruthless ambitions, or by what other people say, whether they like us or not, whether we fit in with the trends, how we look, whether we are young or old, rich or poor, whether we succeed or fail...whether we live or die....

This final promise of freedom is not something we expected to learn from her so suddenly and so soon. It is a hard and painful thing, and it will take time to learn through the pain and the strangeness of her absence from ordinary everyday life. It is an absence that many people all over the world experience to some degree, because of her powerful capacity to sustain connections through audiovisual and social media. But it is distinctly intense and immediate for her family and loved ones. The anguish of grief is itself a sign of the inexhaustible preciousness of a human person.

Moreover, after 16 months we continue to be reminded of the awful fragility of this present life with all the looming dangers and ferocious powers bent on destroying it. These powers would have us live in terror and desperation, as slaves to whatever claims to offer temporary security.

But evil cannot overcome the one who is humble. In a world full of violence, the inspiration of Christina as a person continues to reach us and help us. For her life has not "ended" in nothingness. She lives as a person; her life has been completed and accomplished, and she stands, ultimately, as her true self, with complete accuracy before God.

She is with God, and has not been squashed or defeated. We are confronted with this mysterious reality, and we must learn to place our hope there for ourselves too, so that we might live here in freedom. She does not want any of us to give up.

Today more than ever, Christina Grimmie's witness encourages us all to remember—even in the midst of our sorrow—that evil and death do not have the last word on human existence.

Monday, October 9, 2017

October Heat Has Been Hard on Us

I'm sure lots of folks are having a hard time with this weird, persistent heat and humidity in the mid-Atlantic States so far this Autumn.

Sure, it could be worse. It's not hurricanes or wildfires.

But even the weather we're having can be hard on some people. We've had temperatures in the 80s for days on end, then it cools off, then it gets hot again.

The Janaro home is having a particularly hard time, because our central air conditioning and heating control system has broken down, and requires major and expensive repair. Sounds like a "first world problem," I know, but first world homes get very hot when their controlling gadgets don't work.

And to put it simply, there's no money to fix it. I don't know what we're going to do. The Lord has always provided for us in one way or another (often in unconventional and even wacky ways). I know that. I'm just sick and this is overwhelming to me.

I've been sick a lot this year. The heat, however, is making it very hard. I feel like my brains are being cooked.

In a couple of days the temperatures will go down to the 60s, but then they go up again over the weekend. The house never cools down really.

It will be cold soon enough, though.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Saint Francis (Digital Graphic Art)


"You know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bullets From the Sky: The Horror of "Anonymous Violence"

People captured live videos as an open air concert turned into a war zone. 
We awoke yesterday morning to the horrific news of a murderous shooting spree at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A gunman with long range automatic weapons fired for a sustained period of time from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel, shooting at the masses of helpless people below, killed 59 and injuring over 500. May God have mercy on them, and bring healing.

What a world we live in!😞

Bullets from the sky raining down on a crowd of 22,000 people. The gunman killed himself before police were finally able to locate and storm his hotel room. His motives and the causes of his twisted character remain unknown. The shooter was a 64 year old retired accountant and local resident with no ties to any terrorist organization. He had no police record and no known history of mental illness.

And yet, without any prior military training or law enforcement experience, this man constructed the perfect sniper's nest in a tall hotel building across the street from and towering over the concert venue. He apparently gave no signals of violent intent or indications of hostility toward anyone, even as he was stockpiling weapons and ammunition over the course of weeks and meticulously planning and preparing to unleash mayhem on a large crowd of his fellow human beings.

What manner of madness is this?

If it was not to send a message, not for politics, not for some unholy ideology, then WHY? Is it just some random incomprehensible killing spree? It would not be the first of its kind. There have been too many in recent years. We are threatened not only by terrorist attacks, but also by inexplicable unhinged rampages by seemingly ordinary people who arm themselves to the teeth and wreak havoc in public places.

They kill strangers for no clearly discernible reason at all. They don't leave notes, or publish manifestos, or wave flags and shout battle cries. They shoot others, then kill themselves, and leave little or nothing behind.

This is not to say that the victims or anyone else derived comfort from the crazy paper trail of the Columbine killers, the political ravings of the Unabomber, the wild maniacal video of the Virginia Tech shooter, or the blasphemous invocations of "Allah" by militant fanatics in the name of their Islamist ideology. Still, it's only human to search for a motive for murder, even a bizarre motive.

But even if the investigation of Sunday night's massacre eventually turns up discovering some twisted motive that we can even remotely comprehend, many other instances will still remain "cold cases," left with nothing but speculation and hearsay, and to feed the wild imaginations of conspiracy theorists.

Is this "the new normal" in our society? Must we come to accept that we live in a world where people just gun down other people for no reason at all, where people assemble arsenals and plan tactical assaults on others without even communicating why they consider these others to be "enemies" who deserve to die?

This is a horrible evil that we can all recognize and agree about. It requires us to give some serious, attentive consideration to what we can do to step back from the edge of the abyss of a culture of anonymous violence, of violence for its own sake.

May God help and be close to the victims of this monstrous attack. Lord have mercy on the dead, console their loved ones, and heal the many physical and mental injuries.

Let us not forget these people. They will continue to need much care, compassion, and solidarity from us long after this story is replaced on our Twitter feeds by more recent attention grabbing and too often distracting "news items."

In addition to known casualty numbers at the Harvest Festival, thousands of people endured an unspeakable trauma during the several minutes of shooting, as they tried to flee the scene or take cover without knowing where the bullets were coming from, and as they watched others die before their very eyes. These people will continue to need healing and support.

In the aftermath of the terror, we also heard many reports of heroic actions, of people carrying wounded, or shielding others with their own bodies. Some lost their own lives while saving the lives of others. Even as we were stunned by blatant evil, we also saw the manifestation of the beauty of heroic goodness and courage. The good is so much greater, more beautiful; it draws our hearts and tempers our fears and anxiety. Goodness does not cease to glow. It never gives up the struggle against human malice, because truth, goodness, and beauty are the shape of reality, of being.

Evil, therefore, will not have the final word. But this was an awful blow.

It is with sorrow that we reflect that events of cruel and ruthless violence like this one are perpetrated every day throughout the world. Whole nations are engulfed in violence. Our technology, our mass communications, our unprecedented mobility, and our capacity to produce material things have certainly opened new possibilities for doing good in the world, for showing solidarity and mercy to one another. They have also enabled the globalization of terror.

Even as we redouble our efforts to fight these brutal killings and to protect people, we know that we cannot "fix" the human heart with any of the tools of scientific progress.

Ultimately, our hope is in God. Jesus, have mercy on us, on all of us sinners.


Puerto Rico in ruins, facing an escalation of continuing hardships

Meanwhile, we must not forget the continuing repercussions of natural disasters. This has a very specific claim on the attention on those of us who are Americans. Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the destruction wrought throughout the island by hurricane Maria.

There remains an urgent need for food, clean water, and the most basic human necessities as this territory of the United States of America and its three and a half million people endure an ongoing catastrophe.


We entrust to the Lord all those who have died or who are suffering in these difficult times.💚

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Thérèse of Lisieux, the Girl Who "Died of Love"

"Mourir d"Amour." 

Today we commemorate one of the greatest leaders of God's Girl Squad, Thérèse Martin, "of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face," of the Carmel of Lisieux in northern France (not far from Rouen where her spiritual sister Jeanne La Pucelle, "Joan of Arc," gave her own young life nearly 500 years before).

Thérèse taught her sisters in Carmel about radical abandonment and trust in God's love. And it was through love that she endured spiritual darkness and the ravages of tuberculosis that consumed her young life on September 30, 1897. She died at the age of 24, right at the edge of the horizon of that strange pale dawn of the twentieth century.

Her simple written words and witness quickly became known through the Church in all the world. In the coming days of darkness, she shined her astonishing light so that those who came after her would be encouraged to persevere in faith and trust in God's mercy.

She still shines that light in our time.