Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Draw Our Hearts Closer to You

"For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all people, and everything on earth...each one personally for all humankind and every individual human being" (Father Zossima in Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, chapter 25).

I have always been struck by these words that Dostoevsky puts on the lips of his famous fictional staretz. They may have been inspired by monks the author visited during a pilgrimage to several great Russian monasteries prior to writing his last and greatest novel, just as the character of Alyosha, Father Zossima's young disciple, was inspired in part by Dostoevsky's brilliant young friend and pilgrimage companion, Vladimir Soloviev.

The old staretzy and the youthful Soloviev were mystics. And there would seem to be some mystical intuition at play in this quotation. We are all certainly much more profoundly interrelated than we realize. I don't know how this "works," but it is a mystery that prompts both humility and hope.

By our sins we really do harm one another. Even our omissions are ripples within the chaotic cycles of violence that move through human hearts and cover the earth.

When we do not, in the strict sense, share by cooperation or negligence in the guilt of others' sins, we should still be humbled by our own poverty in fulfilling the vocations God has entrusted to us, by which he wants to flood the world with his love.

At the same time, we must be strengthened by a tremendous hope. For the ties that bind us all to one another also unite us all to Jesus, our brother.

He carries us all.

In him the unity of the human race and all of creation finds its fulfillment. In him are justice, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Through him, we can turn to one another again, forgive and be forgiven, and love one another as brothers and sisters of God our Father.

Jesus, you love every single human person,
without exception,
especially those who are the most lonely,
the most troubled, confused, and pained,
the most burdened with affliction.

You love those who do not know you,
those who run away from you,
those who reject you,
those who are afraid of you,
those who don't even know how to begin to look for you;
You love each one of them
because their hearts have been made for you.

Jesus, you love especially those who suffer from violence,
those who are beaten, robbed, driven out of their homes,
broken, crushed, neglected, forgotten,
left bleeding and dying while we pass them by
and hold onto our own cold, constricted souls.

Lord, forgive me for ignoring the burdens and sorrows
of my brothers and sisters,
for being too taken up in my own pain,
in my own loneliness and anxiety,

in my own confusion and restlessness,
in my not loving you enough.

Jesus, deepen my love for you today.
Draw my heart, and every heart, closer to you.
O Great Lover, win our hearts,
forgive us our sins,
conquer our fears,
heal our wounds,
show us your beautiful face.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Why I STILL Like Sports: Seven Years Later

It's time to celebrate yet another unusual birthday: the NEVER GIVE UP Blog is seven years old.

Since the subject of this, the second blog post of that day (January 29, 2011), is still pertinent and timely now in 2018, I have decided to repost it.

This is a brief and very general reflection about the world of sports. I used to post much more frequently about sporting events on social media back in those days, to the point of driving some of my friends crazy. I suppose I wrote this as a sort of explanation. Or rationalization. Or something like that.

In any case, I think it still holds true today. Here it is:

The culture of sports in our society, like most things in our society, is OUT OF CONTROL: the physical and psychological pressure on athletes, the preposterous amounts of money involved, the 24/7 media hyper-analysis, the scandals, the fact that athletes sacrifice their real life for their careers, etc.

I know all this and it causes me great sorrow. But I still love sports. Why?

The fact is that I haven't worked out all the reasons myself yet.

I have always been a sports nut. I don't think it contradicts my philosophical side. I used to love to play sports. I can't do much in the way of sports anymore, but I do love to watch.

There are many reasons, but one of them is this: Sports is, in our culture, a realm in which realism still prevails (at least on the field or court).

You are not allowed to have a personal interpretation of whether or not it was a basket. You can't say,
"well, it was a basket for me even though it might not have been a basket for you." It either went through the hoop or it didn't. Period.

There are rules, boundaries, the need for effort, the need to pay attention to other people, the need to submit to objective facts that you can't bend with your own mind.

This is fundamentally good and healthy.

At least on the field, sports have preserved the context necessary for some kind of real human drama, even if it is only play. We do, after all, need "play" in our lives.

It is hard, however, to bracket out the monstrous business of the sports industry, and how it devours people. Although it should also be said that many good people work in the sports profession, and sports on various levels make many positive contributions to our community.

Like everything else in our world, in sports we find the good, the bad, and the ugly. And there are many things in our culture that are much worse.

As I said, the bottom line on the playing field is that you have to deal with reality. By contrast, in my own profession, academia, you can say anything you want about anything you want and call it "interpretation" (as long as you know how to manipulate the system, push the right buttons, ride the prevailing trends).

In sports, you've got to sink that jump shot. The real ball has to go through a real hoop.

When the game starts, there is no huckstering, politics, or distortion. There is a field or a court and you've got to use it. You've got to play by the rules.

That's what I find refreshing and hopeful about sports.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Land Yields Fruit

"We should always be occupied with praying the Psalms or meditating or raising our mind to God, pondering within ourselves the blazing charity we discover and see in the blood of the Word, God's Son. For he has made a bath of his blood to wash away our sins. When we see and consider that God loves us so much, we cannot keep ourselves from loving...filled with God in holy desire, remembering and meditating on the wonderful blessings we have received from him" (Saint Catherine of Siena).

Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

~Mark 4:26-29

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

Detail, 14th century illuminated manuscript. Road to Damascus.

Since we celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St Paul this week, I thought I might repost the very first installment of my monthly Great Conversion Stories series as it appeared in MAGNIFICAT in the December 2013 issue.

Now it's 2018, my fifth year of writing this column. January 2018's issue marked Great Conversion Story number 50! And there's more to come.

Writing these continues to be a great learning experience for me, and I hope I have succeeded in sharing some of it with you. Click HERE to subscribe for upcoming installments of my monthly feature, along with many other informative and inspiring articles, daily prayer and Mass readings, and much more.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dolores O'Riordan: Missing You "When You're Gone"

"And in the day
Everything's complex
There's nothing simple
When I'm not around you
But I miss you when you're gone
That is what I do..."

~The Cranberries, When You're Gone (1996)

Dolores O'Riordan was laid to rest on Tuesday by her family after a Requiem Mass in the little parish church in Ballybricken, County Limerick—the same church where she grew up singing and playing the organ. This was after a week of shock, public mourning by all of Ireland (along with the sorrow of fans around the world), and still no news on what caused the sudden death of the 46 year old lead singer and songwriter of The Cranberries. 

Ah, the Cranberries! My wife and I saw them back in 1995 at Wolf Trap. It was packed, but we were (still) young, newly engaged, not realizing how footloose we were. The music will always be part of our lives, part of "the soundtrack" of a precious, unforgettable time. We share the gratitude of the Gen-Xers and early Millennials who were growing up with this special music in a remarkable period of musical creativity.

Poor Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan. What happened!??

She had a very difficult life.

Certainly it wasn't easy being the frontwoman of the second most famous popular music band in Irish history. It would have been simpler for her and the lads from Limerick (Noel and Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler) if rock-superstardom had never come so suddenly in 1993, if they had spent their music career as a band playing in pubs.

They wouldn't have been disappointed. They never dreamed of massive global success with all its dazzle and attention and its grueling (inhuman, really) demands. It was exhausting for Dolores, and it exacerbated all the deeper problems that no one knew she had at the time.

What made The Cranberries so remarkable? The band laid down a simple mellow rhythmic background and Dolores carried the melodies with her Irish soprano voice, which was a peculiar mix of ethereal Celtic floating, choir girl precision, alternative-rock edginess, and Gaelic-country-folk sounds, all topped off with riffs of yodeling.

That description makes it seem complicated. In reality Dolores blended it organically into her own signature style. The result was a band that made songs that were a little odd, a bit fringy, definitely original but also catchy and accessible. They had the broad appeal not of cheap novelty hits that everyone forgets in 6 months, but of classic songs that endure, that people never get tired of.

They also came on the scene with the kind of creative "kick" that put the "alternative" in the alternative music vibe of the 1990s. It was not unusual in those days to hear for the first time a new song from some hitherto obscure band and have your socks knocked off. I remember hearing Dreams, and thinking "this is nice, yeah" and then suddenly in the middle of the song there's a bridge where she launches into the yodel, like "laahh haa ya hay yah ya hay yah ey ahh haa ya hay yah ya hay yah haah yaaaah!" And I went, "Dang! What was that? That was terrific!"

The entire album was terrific. The second one was even better, with the uncharacteristically loud epic Zombie hitting the nail on the head about "the Troubles" of Northern Ireland in a way that continues to resonate with other conflicts and all the agonizing, ideologically driven, stupid violence of today. The songs on these albums were not complicated, but all the pieces were in the right place....

How is it possible that Dolores O'Riordan died last week!?

For me this hits harder than the increasingly common but still remote deaths of "celebrities" that I remember from my younger days. I kept up with the Cranberries, their periodic reunions, and Dolores's private and public joys and troubles.

I appreciated her honesty and openness about her suffering, and could relate to some aspects of it. This lady from the countryside of western Ireland—usually reticent, polite (when she wasn't manic), unvarnished, and matter-of-fact in her speech—told the world a lot about her life.

It was a life of physical and mental affliction: bipolar disorder with deep depression episodes, trauma from childhood sexual abuse by someone close to her family, anorexia, alcohol misuse, and (more recently) a very painful chronic back problem. She did love music, though. She also had a marriage that was happy at least for a while and three children to whom she was very devoted. She attempted suicide five years ago, but seemed to be pulling things together. The Cranberries were making new music.

What happened!?? 😔

Dolores O'Riordan had a refreshing, natural lack of concern for anybody's ideology or form of "political correctness." She told the IRA to stop killing kids, and to stop pretending they represented her or her family or ordinary Irish people. She told Rolling Stone magazine that abortion attacked the dignity of women and diminished them. She was a rebellious kid but still kept her connection with the Catholic Church, and said one of the best days of her life was when she brought her mother to meet the Pope. She told Ireland about mental illness (something they need to talk much more about over there). She set the example by telling her own story.

Nobody knows exactly what happened.

She was found dead in her hotel room in London on the morning of January 15. When I first heard the news, the shock of it was compounded by the fear that it was probably suicide.

This fear of mine was not from any disparagement of her character. I knew she was a brave woman. I knew how hard she fought; I read with empathy the accounts of some hard falls she took, and how much courage and spunk she put forth to get up again. And she couldn't have done so much without the love and support of her family, her Limerick, her Ireland. My heart goes out to each and all of them.💔

In any case, the playing out of the post-mortem seems to point away from suicide. What keeps us even now in suspense regarding the cause of her death is the unfinished toxicology report. Dolores was probably taking a variety of medications, which may have included increased pain management for her back.

There are many ways that tragic accidents can happen during intensive medication regimens, especially in unfamiliar surroundings, while traveling, under stress. Mistakes in dosage, unfamiliar side effects, shifts in metabolism, and other such factors can bring on dangerous complications while a person's mind is taken up with so many different things. Sick people sometimes walk on an edge just to get some sleep and pain relief. If they slip, even through inadvertence, the consequences can be dire and ultimately disasterous.

Whatever the findings of the toxicology report and the coroner in the Spring, I do not believe that Dolores died as the result of a free and terrible decision to give up on life. Rather to our eyes this will remain a tragic, sudden, inexplicable death. Ultimately, what more can we say? She was called home.

Dolores fought a long hard war. She struggled to survive not only the trauma from her childhood but also the emotional shell shock of being thrust onto a world stage when barely out of her teens, and forced through the relentless grind of mass-market-driven rock stardom in the mid-1990s.

Some might argue that she was young and willing to live in a high speed danger zone (they didn't know how broken she already was). We were young too and we loved it and paid our money. It's not easy to be an artist. It's even harder to be an "entertainer" in a world that idolizes entertainment.

There's nothing wrong with entertainment in itself, of course. But really, we should take better care of the talented, fragile human beings who sing and dance and make us laugh. The thrill of adulation is fleeting on both sides; what they need and deserve is our gratitude, respect, support, and collaboration in whatever ways we can give it.

They may need it more than we realize.

Grant, O Lord, eternal rest to your servant Dolores, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace.

We commend your soul to God.

And we miss you when you're gone. That is what we do. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

He Helps Us in Our Weakness

Sometimes in this life, people face afflictions that seem to exceed their capacity for endurance. Sooner or later we all find ourselves in these kinds of awful, incomprehensible circumstances. When this happens, everything we thought was strength in us seems to dry up. We gasp and cry out from depths of desperation we never knew existed.

What is going on in our hearts? Have we lost our faith?

Not necessarily. In these dark times, when all understanding seems to have abandoned us, our faith may indeed reach new heights. But we must let our hearts pray.

Our hearts groan, and we don't understand these groanings, but God does.

Let the heart pray.

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit..." (Romans 8:26-27).

Grief can be like this, sometimes.

But grief need not become despair. Within this pain, the Spirit is moving our hearts to speak to God in ways that are beyond our thoughts and understanding. Grief is like a deep rupture, an open wound, but it can be poured out. It can become prayer.

God will hear this prayer. He hears the cries of the poor. He helps us in our weakness.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Dignity of Every Human Life

"God our Creator,
we give thanks to you,
who alone have the power to impart the breath of life
as you form each of us in our mother's womb;
grant, we pray,
that we, whom you have made stewards of creation,
may remain faithful to this sacred trust
and constant in safeguarding the dignity
of every human life.
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." 

~Collect for the Roman liturgy for the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, observed in all dioceses of the U.S.A. on January 22.

"When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities—to offer just a few examples—it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble.... Concern for the protection of nature is incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo?... We need to develop a new synthesis capable of overcoming the false arguments of recent centuries" (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, On Care For Our Common Home, 2015).

Saturday, January 20, 2018

We Need Jesus

The world needs Jesus.

People need the love and mercy of Jesus. People need the freedom to embrace suffering in a way that does not crush them; they need to know and experience the companionship of Jesus in their suffering. 

People need the freedom to forgive and to let themselves be forgiven, so that wounds can heal instead of being passed through the generations until they become great scars that hinder the life of whole societies and cultures.

The world needs Jesus. We need Jesus. I need Jesus!

The love of Jesus is everything. Through his love and mercy, we can be changed and empowered to live a new life. We can become vessels of God's love. We can make God's love and mercy present in the world.

If we look at ourselves just in terms of what we can generate by ourselves, according to the measure of our own powers, we could never hope to do this. But Jesus loves us, and promises to take us beyond the limits of ourselves, to convert us and heal us of our sins, and transform us by the grace of his Holy Spirit.

He wants to make us real lovers of God and of human beings in the image and likeness of God. We should open our own hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit, give the Spirit "space" to work within us, ask him to change us.

God has created us and called us to share in his eternal life, to become and remain forever his sons and daughters in his uncreated, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit is already stirring up this vocation in the depths of our hearts, within the mysterious reality of our daily lives. He is calling us, inviting us to share his joy, even when this call seems inaudible, confusing, or distant.

It often seems perplexing to me, at least when I regard it as an actual proposal for life.

It's easy to talk about it, or talk around it. I can talk forever about being Catholic. I can talk about God and the Church, all the problems in the world, all the errors of people (the closer they are to me, the more eloquent my critique). I can talk about bishops and politicians, doctrine and social issues, who's "good" and who's "bad."

But actually to change, to love the way God loves? How will I ever reach that point? I can hardly even imagine becoming just a little bit less selfish. I could try, but I'd be more likely to fall on my face and end up feeling more guilty. What's missing from my life?

Jesus Christ. A real relationship with Jesus. I forget about him. I forget to communicate with him, to ask him to pour out his Spirit upon me, to renew me, to come and change me. I forget to entrust everything to him, to listen to him, to hope in him. I forget Jesus.

I can go around all day saying "I'm a Catholic, I'm a Christian, I know the right way, I'm one of the good people in this bad bad bad world" -- I can say all these kinds of things and still ignore Jesus Christ.

But I need Jesus. The love of Jesus is everything.

I need Jesus, truly God and truly human, eternally with the Father in the Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, dwelling among us, crucified and risen from the dead, our Lord, our brother: not just Jesus in abstract theological terms but a real Person who loves me and calls me to live in his love.

I don't know how to recognize him and live in a relationship with him. I need to change, but I don't know how to change. All I can do is ask, beg him to change me: "Jesus, change what needs changing in me."

We are always forgetting him. But he is infinite mercy. He comes to us again and again. He calls us. He doesn't want us to remain in our forgetfulness.

When we remember him, we should beg from the poverty of our hearts for his mercy. He knows what we need, how to draw us, to change us, to bring us closer to him.

And when we ask him to change us, we have already begun to love. A new energy, a new kind of life has been awakened in us.

"Jesus, make me the person you created me to be."

Friday, January 19, 2018

He Will Destroy Death Forever

"You have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress;
Shelter from the rain,
shade from the heat.

"When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rain,
the roar of strangers like heat in the desert,
You subdued the heat with the shade of a cloud,
the rain of the tyrants was vanquished.

"On this mountain the Lord of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

"On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations.
He will destroy death forever.

"The Lord God will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.

"On that day it will be said:
'Indeed, this is our God; we looked to him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord to whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!'"

~Isaiah 25:4-9

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Peace and Security (Digital Artwork)

"Peace and Security...Peace and Security"
(Original digital artwork, 1/18/2018).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Epiphany as Personal Encounter: Andrew and John Meet Jesus

It all began on an ordinary afternoon. "They went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon."

Last Sunday's Gospel reading continues the seasonal theme of God's "epiphany" in the world. But here we have the announcement of a more intimate manifestation, in the form of those personal encounters with Jesus that begin with the two disciples who follow the testimony of John the Baptist. We do not even know the details of what transpired on that afternoon—what exactly they "saw" when they went to the place where Jesus was staying—but it was enough to make Andrew himself into a witness to his brother, Simon (whom Jesus would call 'Peter'): "We have found the Messiah."

On that first afternoon, they met a man whose human face revealed the saving love of God. They experienced something beautiful and new in the time they spent with that man—beautiful, unique, awesome, meaningful, convincing, and worth following.
"John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
'Behold, the Lamb of God.'
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
'What are you looking for?'
They said to him, 'Rabbi' — which translated means Teacher —
'where are you staying?'
He said to them, 'Come, and you will see.'
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
'We have found the Messiah' — which is translated Christ.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
'You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas' — which is translated Peter" (John 1:35:42).

In his remarks prior the Angelus on January 14, Pope Francis articulates the factors involved in this very intimate and decisive moment at the beginning of Jesus's ministry, and how the same dynamic pertains to each one of us:
"Each one of us, in as much as we are a human being, is seeking: seeking happiness, seeking love, a good and full life. God the Father has given us all this in His Son Jesus.
"Fundamental in this search is the role of a true witness, of a person who first of all has made the journey and has encountered the Lord. In the Gospel, John the Baptist is this witness. Therefore he can direct the disciples to Jesus, who involves them in a new experience, saying: 'Come and see' (John 1:39).
"And those two will never be able to forget the beauty of that encounter, to the point that the Evangelist even notes the hour: 'it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.'
"Only a personal encounter with Jesus generates a path of faith and of discipleship.
"We can have many experiences, do many things, establish relations with many persons, but only the meeting with Jesus, in the hour that God knows, can give full meaning to our life and make our projects and our initiatives fruitful."

Monday, January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King: "I Just Want to Do God's Will."

"...I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

Today, the United States of America observes the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The image below presents the closing words of a speech King gave in Memphis, Tennessee, on the night of April 3, 1968.

These were his last words in public. He was assassinated the next day. This coming April 4th will mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Read from the Bible... Even Just a Little Bit 😊

Even the most casual encounter with the Bible can be fruitful. So if you're moving books around on a shelf and you come across a Bible, open it and read something.

I'm not suggesting any sort of superstitious attempt to find your "fortune" or predict the future by random Bible verses. This attitude is foreign to the receptive openness, the quality of listening, the hunger for the truth that we need to have if we want to be nourished by the Word of God.

Find a familiar or much loved text, or one appropriate for the season of the year. In this situation, what text you choose doesn't matter as much as just taking a moment to encounter God speaking to us.

All of God's Word has relevance for our lives, at any and every moment.

Here is the text of Psalm 62:6-11.

Good words to revisit in these times, in the "afterglow" of the Christmas season, in a new year when we do well to consider once again the foundation of our lives, the source of our hope.

Let us remember, then, to set our hearts not on our own power, wealth, comforts, youth, or any other thing that can so easily change: here today, gone tomorrow. Let us set our hearts on God, our refuge and our strength.

Let us set our hearts on God, who has come to dwell with us.

Friday, January 12, 2018

We Can Have a Relationship with the Truth

We cannot live without truth. Our minds are engaged in a constant search for the meaning of things and the purpose of our existence in this world. The life of a personal being yearns for truth, and demands the freedom to seek the truth and to adhere to it.

The more we come to know the truth--not an ideological scheme or agenda, but the truth about reality--the more we realize that all truth speaks of the Mystery that is the source and meaning of everything, a Mystery that is Personal in the deepest sense, and who calls us into a living, all-fulfilling relationship.

In presenting us with all the wonderful facets of reality, truth whispers to the heart that it is worthy of adherence and affirmation; it discloses all the goodness and beauty of reality, and thereby points to the One who is Good and Beautiful. This disclosure invites a response of our minds and hearts; it summons us to affirm the truth with conviction and joy, and to continue to seek it.

The work of discovering and deepening this adherence to the truth is personal, but this does not mean that it is a solitary endeavor that each person must carry out in isolation from all others. Quite the contrary. This is the common journey of the human race through all of history. It is the source from which peoples are generated, in which natural ties of kinship develop into the network of human relationships that advances through history and transforms genealogy into heritage and culture.

Human beings are born with the capacity to grow in understanding and freedom, but they cannot do this by themselves. Just as babies and children need to be fed, clothed, and sheltered in order to develop physically, so also they need care and mentoring in the life of the spirit. They need education.

The teacher, or educator, has always held a respected place in human communities. In their responsibility to pass on the heritage of communities and peoples, educators hold a kind of authority, and therefore are entitled to respect and a certain measure of trust in different ways, depending on experience, proven wisdom, office, or recognized scholarship. The educator also is very important in serving as a helper and a guide on the path of truth. 

The genuine educator points to the truth, not to his or her self. The truth, ultimately, is the Infinite Mystery who creates and calls the heart of every person.

There have, of course, been people throughout history who have proposed themselves as "the answer" for others. They are the manipulators and insurrectionists, the violent and abusive figures in history and life. In their "purest" form, they are the cult leaders and totalitarian dictators of history. They betray the relationship of persons which ought to exist between teachers and students, leaders and followers. They turn people into slaves, and they destroy families, communities, cultures, and societies.

But there was one man who was different. Once in history, a man came and said, "I am the Truth." Once in history a man said, "come to me, follow me" and that man was not abusive and manipulative and inhuman.

On the contrary, he transformed those who followed him.

They became, not less human, but a hundred times more profoundly human, and more than that, they themselves became reflections of the Mystery; they became--in a unique way--witnesses to the presence of the Mystery dwelling among us in this man

And their followers have carried the light of the hope of the human race down through the centuries, bearing witness to all the peoples of the world. This presence and promise remains alive in the communion of these followers, even in the midst of all their human frailty and their repeated forgetfulness and betrayal of that unique man in whom the Transcendent Mystery is given and poured out into the very heart of the world.

Jesus Christ is totally unique in history. He and he alone stands before the human person--with integrity, with spectacular greatness and goodness and beauty--and asks, "Who do you say that I am?"

The answer to this question is a continual source of amazement to me. The Mystery that sustains all of reality became a man.

Thus everyone's "personal journey" to a "relationship with the truth" finds its true path and its fulfillment in him. Billions of human beings don't really know him. Still, if they are searching for the truth, they are searching for him. In fact, it is he who is calling their hearts. He has come for each and all. He loves them. There is much that is mysterious about this, but for Christians it should inspire a great desire to make him known more and more to all the world.

The Infinite Mystery reveals himself by becoming man in order to give himself to us. He comes as loving mercy, to be our path and our sustenance and our fulfillment. He comes for the "personal journey" of each one of us, and he draws close to that personal dignity and the special quality, attractions, capabilities and aspirations that distinguish each of our hearts.

We have been created to give ourselves in love. He knows who we are destined to be by means of that gift of love, and he empowers us in his Spirit to achieve this destiny (which is the fulfillment of the humanity that is common to all of us, and also the complete realization of what is unique to each one of us as persons).

Jesus is the Eternal Word of the Father, who gives to all things their attractiveness and beauty and meaning, and then draws all things to himself.

Jesus draws every human person to himself.

The fact that all things find their fulfillment in him does not mean that we should conceive of created things in a reductive way, as having value only insofar as they are "religious stuff." By this I am referring to "religion" inasmuch as we (inevitably) conceive of it when we forget Jesus Christ, as a collection of merely human rules, customs, taboos, invented rituals, theoretical constructs, and power schemes.

Rather, to say that "all things find their fulfillment in him" means that He really is the Mystery: "All things were created through him; all things were created for him" (see Col 1:16).

His "particularity" in history and in our lives is not meant to suffocate us. On the contrary, it is the promise of freedom. It is the guarantee of God's love for each one of us. Jesus Christ is the truth! In him we really will find the fullness of life; indeed we will find "eternal life."

His particularity, his concrete presence, in the life and worship and ministry of the Church brings the Mystery of God close to us and communicates it to us, so that we might live forever as God's children, and so that we might see the vividness of God's mercy and goodness in every aspect of this earthly life, in its joys and hopes and sufferings.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie After Nineteen Months

This screenshot reproduces my very brief blog post from January 10, 2017. It marked the seven month anniversary of the murder of Christina Grimmie, the 22 year old singer, songwriter, musician, finalist on Season 6 of The Voice, and pioneering YouTube artist:


Now it has been one year and seven months.

People who have followed her career since 2009 (as well as others who are only now discovering her) continue to honor her remarkable legacy. Many of the nearly four million subscribers to her YouTube channel from all over the world—and above all the young people who were inspired by her example—still feel a sorrow for her death. It is a different kind of sorrow from the more distant, more nostalgic, and less "personal" sense of loss generally experienced by fans when a celebrity dies.

This, no doubt, is due in part to her youth and the circumstances of her death, and in part to the way new forms of media permit artists and performers to be (or at least seem to be) more accessible to their fans by letting them see more of their lives off-stage.

But there are other factors in play here.

Christina Grimmie really communicated herself through her music and her luminous personality, touching so many hearts even "from a distance" (and still doing so) in ways that can't be adequately explained in terms of her natural talents or of the powerful possibilities of the new communications media.

Thus people find themselves still in mourning for her, still "missing her." This sorrow is felt in various ways and with varying degrees of intensity, and with genuine and at times surprising emotion. Here too people with all kinds of backgrounds and temperaments find it hard to explain the intimacy and power of this sorrow, and why it continues to stand out in their experience.

It may not always be a healthy thing. Certain people who continually revisit their sadness (about this or any other tragedy) can become discouraged, excessively melodramatic, self-absorbed, or self-indulgent. Indeed, people can transfer their struggles and frustrations over many serious problems onto a single tragic event, especially one that has less real consequences for their immediate lives than their own more pressing and direct troubles. They don't want to (or may not know how to) respond to their own circumstances and direct sufferings. This is not to put them down, because suffering is always mysterious and cannot be met except with compassion.

If we know people personally who are stuck in this kind of sadness (wherever it might be focused), we can see that they need encouragement, direction, companionship, and in certain cases mental health care. We must help them in whatever way we can. But there are rarely any easy ways to do this. So many people in the world are burdened by human poverty—living in isolation, surrounded by deeply dysfunctional or broken human relationships, displaced by war or estranged by other more obscure, hidden, and petty forms of human violence.

Christina had a heart for all kinds of suffering people. She wasn't afraid to love them, and affirm them in whatever ways, with whatever simple gestures were possible in a given moment.

Here is Christina sitting on the floor in her room with a guitar,
live-streaming through her iPhone, chatting, taking requests,
picking up the tune or just singing off the cuff, and totally
blowing us away with her renditions and her amazing voice! 
But this unhealthy sadness is not the experience of most of Christina's frands (a term combining "fan+friend" which she applied to anyone who followed her music). For them, there remains a simple but decidedly human grief. It has not prevented them from going on with their lives, grappling with their own problems, and being grateful for the joys in life. It's not a morbid preoccupation that paralyzes them. Rather it's an ordinary grief that is "settling in" as part of their life-experience, but also an intimate grief with features like that which accompany the loss of a relative or friend.

The difference, of course, is the fact that most of them never met Christina Grimmie. Nevertheless they loved her, and they have no doubt that she loved them back. 

Thus, their sorrow is more and more taking shape as a constructive and creative energy, a desire to remember her and to collaborate in the work of securing her legacy. But here is a wonderful thing: the leaders of this work are precisely the people who knew her best, whose loss was incomparable, whose mourning has been (and continues to be) the most arduous and personal because they knew her best and loved her like no one else could—her family.

In the past 19 months, Christina's parents and brother have given their own outstanding witness. They have grieved openly and honestly, without pretense, without any facile claims to understand why God allowed this terrible evil to happen, but with a faith that continues to trust in Him.

They have also taken up the labor of building and sustaining the vitality of all she gave us in her brief, bright, burning life as an artist and as a human being. They have released more of her music that she had recorded before her death, including an entire album (All is Vanity), which is a vocally stunning, genre-fusing collection of songs that range from pop and electronica to soul and R&B. They also launched a charitable foundation in her name last Fall, and they continue to strengthen the bonds among thousands of Team Grimmie frands across the globe.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that in all this time, they have not spoken an unkind word against any person in any public or social media forum.

They were silent for a while after the televised public memorial service, at which they appeared and spoke and showed all of us their faith and their immense pain and their humble suffering.

They were silent, and who wouldn't respect that? Who would have asked them to do more?

But when they did speak, it was only with words of kindness, gratitude and encouragement, and it was with the desire to continue the presence and the active work of compassion and mercy that Christina had initiated and lived so well.

Along with Christina's closest friends from childhood, and no doubt with the love and support of many other family and friends, the Grimmie family is showing us how a deeply felt, catastrophic, heart-crushing grief can be acknowledged and endured and lived concretely without wrecking the persons afflicted by it. Somehow, with much patience and trust in God, love can begin to generate something new.

Brother and sister Mark and Christina Grimmie from this past year's
Christmas greeting posted on Facebook by the Grimmie family.
It may be very fragile and small. There may be setbacks and failures. But there will also be more possibilities. Good things take time and require faithfulness to God's plan. But there is every reason for hope. A seed sown very deep in the earth has started to grow. Something new has begun. 

And here's the thing: the Grimmies are not angels or space aliens or superheroes. They are not inimitable moral giants or great geniuses. Bud and Tina and Mark Grimmie are just regular, down-to-earth people; honest, frank, good New Jersey people. I was born a couple of miles and a bridge away from the New Jersey border. I have relatives descended from Italian immigrants still living in New Jersey. These kind of people are solid people, very real people.

I continue to be struck powerfully by the family and closest friends of Christina Grimmie, the people behind her old social media accounts with the address "@TheRealGrimmie" ... because they are so real.

We live in a world where the standard response to violence is vengeance and fury, or bitterness and cynicism, or discouragement and despair. The Grimmie family has been going through a range of emotions that I can't even imagine, and I'm sure they've had to confront within themselves some of these temptations to respond to violence with more violence, or to just give up on life.

Their hearts have wrestled with these responses. But they have chosen not to be defined by them. Instead they have chosen to respond with love.

This choice, by God's grace, is a light and an inspiration for all of us.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Two-Edged Sword

"The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account" 
~Hebrews 4:12-13

Sunday, January 7, 2018

From Distant Lands

Epiphany, Coptic Ethiopian tradition.

I do not know the reason why the Magi have wings.