Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Christina Grimmie Passes Four Million YouTube Subscribers

Dear friends, the late Christina Grimmie's original YouTube channel needs only 124 more subscribers to reach 4,000,000.❗.

Go to her channel and SUBSCRIBE. 

It doesn't cost anything, ever. It's a chance to be part of history, and to support one of the truly bright lights in the crazy world of YouTube. 

SUBSCRIBE! 😊 🎶 Click here:

This is the channel Christina began nearly 10 years ago, as just a 15 year old kid from New Jersey who loved to sing and play Zelda (she never even changed the name - it remains "zeldaxlove64"). Her vocal and musical talents were extraordinary and continued to develop right up to her tragic death at the hands of a deranged gunman after a concert on June 10, 2016. Today the channel is maintained by her family in her memory, and posts occasional posthumous material.

You've heard the story from me many times already. You know how much I have come to love and admire this amazing young woman and her long-suffering, courageous family ... and not just because of the music.💚  .

Below is a very early "description" she posted in the "About" section of her channel. In spite of all her subsequent successes, she never changed this description during her lifetime.  .

I can't help thinking that, somewhere deep down, she had a sense from the beginning of what she was doing. It was a risk she had the courage to take, and to persevere in amidst many difficulties. In any case, as the last sentence of the "description" shows, she knew why she did it.  .
"I'm a full on Christian, by the way. Jesus is my Savior and I looove Him and sing for Him."
She knew the One who made it worthwhile to sing, or make music, or have fun playing Zelda, or start her own channel on YouTube and post content on what was still a new and unusual medium. He is the One who makes life worthwhile, who suffuses ordinary circumstances and things with His grace, so that they become the opportunities and the humble bearers of His extraordinary love. He is the One who can make even a brief life beautiful and worthy of remembering. He is our Savior, our Hope.  .

From the start, she knew Him. She loved Him. She sang for Him. Full on...

Sometime around 8:00 EST this evening, the Christina Grimmie channel passed the mark of 4,000,000 subscribers. It is a tribute to her pioneering efforts and the endurance of her legacy.💚  .

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why is It So Hard to Just "Be Together"?

There is a great and very necessary mode of loving in which people discover the value of just be-ing together.

Too often we think the only reason to actually be with others is to accomplish a common work. We get together in order to do things, and then we go back to being (more-or-less) solitary individuals.

We feel awkward and inadequate just "being around" a person if we don't see any way of being useful to them. This feeling is especially acute when we find ourselves with people who have problems or are suffering. What can we do for them? This question might raise intense, complex, even frightening emotions.

Of course, many of us have some sense of "just being together" through the fullness we experience in the company of a spouse, family members, and very intimate friends. When we are with these persons, things we do together and ways we help one another are "built-in" to the dynamic of being together. In a healthy companionship many interactions become almost "natural"—which doesn't mean mechanical and meaningless but quite the opposite: it means the habitual realization of freedom in integrally human gestures of self-giving full of personal vitality.

Suffering, however, raises a distinctive kind of challenge even for these relationships. When someone we love endures a great and debilitating suffering, we may find ourselves running out of ideas for how to "help" them. We suddenly feel incompetent, and might think we are "letting down" our friend or loved one. This is most difficult when we really can't do anything (or anything more) to resolve their problem or help them.

Here we need to see the value of "just be-ing together." We can remain with them, and recognize that our sense of being powerless is linked to their own utter vulnerability in suffering. The bond of love and friendship that unites us means that their pain is going to affect us. Just by staying with them, we can live the very precious gift of friendship, and affirm its reality. A true friend can "share" and accompany the pain and struggles, anxiety and suffering of their friend by an empathy that draws on the bond of the relationship itself.

This can mean just being with a friend even when there is no immediate thing we can do or say, because there is no "solution" and there are no words for what is happening. Still, we can be together, we can be with them, we can be present in solidarity and love.

This is more difficult than we might think. We have a kind of natural inclination to distance ourselves from another person who is suffering, especially when we feel like we can't fix their problem, ultimately because it forces us to face the deeper levels of our own radical "helplessness," the fundamental limits of our resources as finite persons. That's very hard, because we tend toward wanting to possess and control the circumstances of reality (even in relationships). Deep down, we live with the assumption that we are self-sufficient.

This is what makes us tend toward a hyperprotectiveness of the total environment of ourselves and those we care about. We want to build a fortress out of life so we can be safe. Why?

Because we are afraid.

The more we are fixated on "keeping our lives," i.e. measuring their meaning according to our own limited measure, the greater our fear.

Too often in our society today, people know only their own measure. They don't want to see their limits, beyond which their interpretation of reality loses coherence, and (so it seems) all meaning and value slip away. People distance themselves from anything or anyone that interrupts their distracted preoccupation with the apparently controllable aspects of reality and makes them face those radical limits.

People are very afraid.

And it is terrifying to be helpless and alone and losing something (or someone) into the void of an ultimately meaningless universe that is not held in the hands of Infinite Love. People are secretly afraid that life has no permanent meaning, that love doesn't win in the end, that everything is swallowed up by nothingness.

Those of us who believe in Jesus and worship God also feel this fear and sense of helplessness, because ultimately we walk by faith in the One who is true, good, and beautiful, but who is also the Infinite Mystery. Faith does not "resolve" the mystery of God or of reality; it brings it close to us and gives us a path and a reason to hope even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Mystery has entered our history and made the path for us. Jesus didn't say He had come to explain the often difficult ways and obscure challenges of our lives. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He says, "follow me" not to form an exclusive club, but (among other things) to draw us more intensely into the experience of being human, all the way to the Cross.

So even in faith we feel this great fragility of being human, this sense of "helplessness"—but we learn that it is rooted in our need to live in dependence on something greater than ourselves (on the One who lovingly holds our destiny and accompanies us and every human being). Even in the anguish of our lives and the intense feeling of fear and loss, He is opening a path for us and a "space" inside us so He can lead us and shape for us a good and beautiful fulfillment that we cannot yet "understand."

We live in the world with a HOPE for a transcendent fulfillment in which everything that is real and good is transformed, and therefore "nothing is lost." Often we can't see what this means for our concrete aspirations, circumstances, and relationships, or why there is still so much experience of frustration and loss (so much of the incomprehensible element of "sacrifice" that we don't grasp even when we know it's necessary).

We don't see the whole meaning of it; indeed, we see very little in the obscurity of faith. But Jesus sees. He has endured it all and He is risen. He lives (indeed He is) the fullness of being human and He stays with us... even in the unbearable silence of our incapacity to fathom our own weakness.

Jesus knows that we will forget and fail, become afraid and run away, just like the disciples in the Gospels. He will seek us and find us, like the Good Shepherd that He is, and approach us with His open heart full of forgiveness and renewal.

But how beautiful it is to remember Him, and find courage in Him to love and be a companion to another human person, to be with that person with their inexpressible pain.

Life is an immense, beautiful, mysterious gift. We must do our best to be good stewards of the wonders entrusted to us, to act prudently and responsibly to improve our own lives, our families, our communities. We must recognize and build up the good.

But we are not the source of goodness and meaning. We do not control reality. We are not masters, but servants.

We don't need the power to build the world to our own measure, to grasp what we determine to be good for us and flee from (or make war against) what we think threatens our self-asserted power. God alone is good. What we do need is the experience of being loved by Him.

Jesus has come to give us God's love.

And when we know we are loved by Him, we become instruments through which He can bring the experience of being loved to others.

The giving and receiving of love through helping one another is especially needed in these tumultuous times. We need to offer a true attentive love for the particular person, the way we know God loves us. There is much of just "being-with" others in this love, unabtrusive accompanying, listening, being present—with the remembrance of God's love and our destiny of being transformed in Him, Jesus.

For this we must pray a lot, from the heart, worship, love Him, bring everything to Him. From prayer, we can shape all of life into prayer, into loving Jesus. And we need the Church and the sacraments (the concrete "moments" in which the Lord breaks in, even physically, to touch the history of our lives). We need to insert our lives within the time of the Church and walk the incarnate path of ecclesial life, patiently, because learning to love takes time.

We forget Jesus. I forget Him 99.9 percent of the day. But in the Church we are reminded, and we can open our hearts and allow His grace to transforms us, in His time and according to His goodness and love.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Rhododendron: It Stays Green and it Never Gives Up

RHODODENDRON, I salute you! You endure everything. 

You are gobbed by snow, encrusted with ice, tossed by winds and wilted by bitter cold all through the Winter. But with a little sunshine you perk right back up and spread your ever-GREEN leaves in triumph. 

You are tough, but you have beautiful flowers. You make me smile!😊

Sunday, January 27, 2019

World Youth Day 2019: Far Away, Yet Close to Me

This past week, young people from all over the world met with Pope Francis for the "World Youth Day" festival in Panama (Jornada Mundial de la Juventud in Spanish, hence the "JMJ" logo). I was able to follow the progress of the events, not only from news reports, television, and live streaming, but also in a more particular way through the Instagram Stories posted by people I know who attended the events.

Those brief personal "reports" from friends in Panama were precious things. They were new channels through which the grace of the "JMJ" extended itself to distant places, including my "place" thousands of miles away physically but close in the heart and soul.

It also meant even more to me to follow this year's JMJ events, since they coincided with the twentieth anniversary of my first pilgrimage to Mexico and my first visit to Latin America in January of 1999. The occasion of that trip was also a papal visit of Saint John Paul II. Although it was not World Youth Day, John Paul's itinerary included two large public events that I was able to attend. The spirit of Panama this past week, with its distinctive Hispanic openheartedness and fervor, brought back memories of those days. 

Youth festival pilgrims, streamed via Vatican Media.
And then, of course, I will always love the WYD gatherings because of my own experience of the festival (again with John Paul II, who founded it) all the way back in 1993. I know how great the experience can be for young people, and the grace that works so deeply in these days.

Finally, the joy was more personal for me because of the presence and involvement of a number of my young friends who are dedicated to "Música Católica"—an emerging movement of outstanding Hispanic Catholic Christian artists who make contemporary Praise and Worship music (very beautiful, stirring, prayerful music) for appropriate Catholic settings. Through Instagram stories and messages, I was able to communicate with some of them during the week, learn of their experiences, offer prayer and encouragement, and receive the assurance of their prayers. It was a very special time of living the mysterious unity we share as brothers and sisters and "members of Christ's body," a unity that bridges physical differences, that transcends nations and cultures even as it enriches them and enables us to share them with mutual appreciation.

To my beautiful friends from Argentina, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and many other places in Latin America: "¡Muchos Gracias!" I am learning to love the Spanish language (and to understand more, with less help from Google); and I am also learning to love (though I can't understand it😉) "whatever-that-language-is" that people from Buenos Aires speak (😉😉--just joking, jaja). It's the very distinctive Porteño "accent"...

As long as I'm on the topic of "people from Buenos Aires," the most famous of all the Porteños was in Panama to give of himself to young people, encourage young and old alike, and above all to preach the Gospel. Here are some very moving words (in Vatican trans. English) of Pope Francis, from last night's vigil:

Papa Francisco streaming to my screen via Vatican Media.

"The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. 

"That life is not salvation up 'in the cloud' and waiting to be downloaded, a new 'app' to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still, less is it a 'tutorial' for finding out the latest news. The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. 

"The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown. He is the first to say 'yes' to our lives and our history, and he wants us to say 'yes' along with him.

"Saying 'yes' to the Lord means preparing to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity, and often enough too, with its conflicts and annoyances.... It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws. 

"Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or 'distilled,' yet no less worthy of love. Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner. He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.

"Why did he do this? Because only what is loved can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed. 

"The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.

"How hard it is at times to understand God’s love! But what a gift it is to know that we have a Father who embraces us despite all our imperfections!"

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Crisis of the New Epoch: Power Without Wisdom

We are living through a large, complex social upheaval that has been taking place over the course of the last two centuries. This upheaval is of historic proportions, and involves all the factors (good and bad) that are weaving together the histories of diverse peoples into the first "global epoch." One of the driving and defining forces of this still-emerging new epoch has been the dazzling, unimaginable progress of mass technology—the human capacity to manipulate material realities in nearly every facet of life.

This gigantic emergence and vast dissemination of human power, however, has not found a corresponding deepening of the wisdom necessary to judge how it can be used in ways that serve the whole good proper to human persons. The vocation of the person in the world has a terrestrial dimension (to contribute to caring for creation and building up history) and at the same time and inseparably an ultimate dimension, to journey through this world with a responsibility and tenderness for others and for all things in relation to a transcendent destiny.

In these tumultuous times, however, we have access to immense powers (and are caught up in the use of those powers, as individuals and as a society) but we don't have the necessary wisdom to know what kind of activity is worth doing. We need a deeper wisdom that perceives the dignity of human persons and the central purposes of human life—with its fundamental orientation toward transcendence, its responsibility toward present human needs and the heritage of future generations, and its task of intelligent and attentive stewardship over the natural environment.

Without wisdom, our powers have no measure. We continually enlarge and use these technological "extensions" of our physical capabilities in ways that are grandiose, but that may also be reckless. If we don't know why life is worth living, or are not at least seriously committed to engage the distinctive value of the human person and the full range of goodness in the created world, we degenerate to inconsiderate motivations rooted in selfishness, tribalism, greed, and envy.

We cannot deny that we live in a world of many wonderful possibilities and many tools of unparalleled utility. At the same time, every aspect of human life bears marks of accelerating complexity, confusion, and affliction. To cite the most obvious example: While human beings have never had such material wealth as some of us have today, other human beings suffer from unimaginable levels of poverty and degradation. Efforts to resolve this inequity by changes in the structures of power or by empiricist economic schemes may appear to "work," but they usually generate new (and even worse) problems.

This is inevitable in a globally interconnected world insofar as we try to "govern" power by the exclusive exaltation of technique to the neglect of an integrally humanistic and genuinely ecological wisdom. When we lack wisdom—when we fail to engage reality in all its factors and recognize the full scope of the good—it's not surprising that we don't know how to focus our power to determine the ways of constructive activity (or restraint) that are called for in real circumstances, or gage the importance of the consequences of what we do. Power without wisdom leads, inexorably, to violence.

Many people have begun to realize that we need this wisdom, and are searching for it in various ways. But so many of us are intoxicated by our enormous powers and captivated by the illusion that they bestow on us unrestrained and easily acquired "freedom." We are willing to allow them to rage wildly, serving neither the temporal good of this world nor our destiny of eternal life with God. We thus reduce ourselves and others to objects in the vast field of material things we control (or try to control). We struggle to manipulate one another or openly oppose one another as rivals in the fight for power—as self-contained, striving individuals or as members of exclusivistic "tribes"—rather than living in friendship and cooperation as persons-in-communion. Or we try to lose ourselves in attachments to whatever spectacles of power or ingenious schemes captivate our fancy.

We lack wisdom and we don't seek wisdom. We are fools. Gigantic, titanic fools.

This is not a pretty picture of the human race. Certainly, it's only part of the picture. After more than a half of a century of life experience, I have lost most of my naive optimism. But I have also learned not to underestimate human resilience. Humans are both fragile and tough. We are full of surprises.

Here, however, I am stepping back from my usual method of seeking out and highlighting truth, goodness, and beauty wherever I find it—however small, tenuous, or submerged in ambivalence it may be. Here I am outlining the shadows rather than the light. (The "shadows" generally have more bearing on my strange poetry rather than my usual efforts to write encouraging prose.)

I cannot ignore the enormous danger that we humans face if we do not rise to the occasion and affirm the fullness of our humanity in these times, in the midst of the furious emergence of the new epoch.

I should say that we will only "rise to the occasion" if we permit ourselves to be lifted up and opened within the depths of our spirit, the core of our person, by the gift of a Wisdom greater than our own.

This is where I place my hope.

Outside of this hope, we can talk about our "values" and about the importance of "spiritual things," but practically speaking we live like materialists, and we are becoming a materialist society on an increasingly monstrous scale. We measure real human worth by the quantity of power a person or group exercises over material things, a power that grows on the strength of technological cleverness and pours into the bottomless hole of human cupidity, aimless curiosity, and the endless cravings of covetousness.

Corresponding to our insatiable hunger for things is the demand for "open possibilities." This entails an illusory flexibility which we think allows us to toy with and then escape from permanent commitments. We fail to see how this attitude distroys our personal lives and hurts everyone around us, how it fragments society, how it impoverishes future generations.

What is the use of an ideal of freedom that is afraid to realize itself in the commitment of the person, as person, to real life and real love? Aimless "freedom" is bent toward disconnection: we are led to believe that "freedom" means being free to grow continually and exponentially in material power, possessions, comfort, and security; free to accumulate unencumbered experiences; free of commitments or a sense of responsibility for the future; free of the demands that others make of us in real human relationships; free to do whatever we want, to be autonomous, to use other humans in temporary combinations and then return to our own radical isolation, to be unconcerned, unbounded, self-defined, alone...

Where will such "freedom" lead us? It will make of our poor selves a desolate landscape where the winds of fear will blow relentlessly and our distractions will increasingly elude us and eventually flee, leaving in their wake an unmasked, inescapable, terrible loneliness.

I have lived long enough to see the trajectory of this false freedom, how it leads to sadness, to the monstrous poverty of the person surrounded by material riches. I have recognized again and again in myself this inclination toward "disconnection" that seems to fill the atmosphere of wealthy societies in our time. It has caused incalculable damage that has hindered the human maturity of whole generations of people—with significant variations, of course, for different persons depending on circumstances and their own connivance in this mentality, but in a way that has left everyone "bruised." The First World's "poverty of loneliness" has not only exacerbated perennial human forms of violence within human relationships; it has opened new dimensions and new contexts for the crippling psychological experience of trauma (a topic that deserves further consideration in another essay).

In any case, we who have been wounded cannot fill the hole in ourselves, the emptiness of our uncommitted lives, with pseudo-connections forged by the same logic of power that has isolated us. We are easily manipulated by manufactured "identities," inflamed "causes" and angry reactions, or this phenomenon I have called "tribalism." This term doesn't refer to traditional tribal societies (except as a caricature of them). The "tribalism" of the new epoch is a kind of social alchemy where our common fears, interests, lusts, and desire for vengeance are melded together by demagoguery into an irrational ideological partisan group. It has the worst insular features of a "blood bond" without any real, concrete human connections such as those that were traditionally the basis of "clan loyalty." Instead, the new post-modern tribe is united by ideology (or "imagology" - made out of manipulative images) dressed up in pseudo-familial garb (including, by extension, nationalist or racist or class-based or any variety of "identity banners" that reduce human persons to unnatural pieces of enthusiast, belligerent, power-seeking groups). These tribal collectives grow, thrive, defend themselves, and make war according to their own bizarre common imaginings and their technologically enhanced "instincts."

We have seen these things happen before in the turmoil of this emerging epoch. We don't want to see them re-emerge in full force on a global scale. In our times, we must be determined to be human persons, to respect and honor one another, to take the risks of love and commitment, of freedom and responsibility, and to seek wisdom

Friday, January 25, 2019

Twenty Years Ago: A Beautiful Experience

TODAY, January 25, 2019, is the 20th anniversary of my first pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It coincided with Saint John Paul II's fourth visit to Mexico, and the publication of the synodal document Ecclesia in America.

It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had.

It was an absolutely CRAZY day, but with a gratuitous peace at the heart of it all.❤️ I'll try to write a longer blog post, maybe tell the whole story... soon.

Today I am full of gratitude to Our Merciful Mother.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Saint Francis de Sales: "Why Do You Worry?"

Today is the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

You gotta love this man.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Day of Prayer for Unborn Children, their Mothers, & Our Society

The Catholic Church in the United States of America marks January 22 on the liturgical calendar as a "Day of Prayer and Penance for Legal Protection of the Unborn." This corresponds to the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that effectively struck down all laws against abortion in the USA. This removal of legal protection, or even the possibility of establishing laws, was an act of colossal social irresponsibility.

Let us be honest to the testimony of our consciences, and call these things by their proper names, not shirking from what we know is really going on.

Abortion is the direct killing of an innocent human being, the child in the womb of his or her mother. It is an act of violence against the mother, who is severed permanently (in this world) from the person of her child. Regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, the child is a person created by God and entrusted to another person, a woman who is given the precious, intimate, irreplaceable relationship of being mother to that child.

Very often a "crisis pregnancy" occurs in the context of a dysfunctional family situation or outside of any stable family connections. The immediate organic community of father, mother, and children is broken or never existed in the first place. Nevertheless, the conception of a new human being still engenders the primal and essential human relationship of "mother-and-child." A pregnant mother in a crisis is, simply, two people who need help. Depending on the circumstances, they may both continue to need help long after the child is born, and they will certainly need connection to human community and the experience of solidarity with others.

We must not push away, banish, or marginalize the mother and child. Instead, we should spare no effort in this society to create environments where this fundamental interpersonal relationship is supported and permitted to grow. This is a task that makes claims on the mother's wider family and friends, local communities, constructive institutions on various levels, and, if necessary, government assistance. This also includes incorporating (in ways permitted by circumstances and the personal safety of mother and child) the relational responsibilities of the child's father.

But this is not what we do.

Instead, we have retrenched more deeply into the malaise of our own social isolation, and -- in a stunning perversion of the language of personal freedom -- we absolve ourselves of responsibility, solidarity, and real compassion for the mother and her unborn child and replace it with the ideological assertion of "a woman's freedom to choose."

She has "the right to choose..." we say in this society. She is "free to choose..."? What? What are her choices? Here is a strange silence, an awkward pause, a lack of articulation among our people, who are otherwise so easily given to voluminous speech about everything. But the object of this allegedly "autonomous" (but in fact terribly lonely) choice is left dangling in our social discourse. It's an awful sign of our desire to evade the fact that we are presenting mothers with the option to have their children killed in the womb. They are "free to choose" this option; indeed it is facilitated and encouraged by our social environment. In fact, more and more, it seems that mothers facing difficulties are expected to make this choice.

And so the mothers go to the killing centers, whether burdened by great fear or psychological pressure, acting with varying degrees of reluctance and/or indifference, or deluded by a false sense of empowerment. Their choices here are irrevocable, and they have to live with them (forever...if it were not for the presence of a Greater Love, and the possibility of forgiveness).

Do we even care about these women, these mothers and their disappeared children?

Certainly. That's why some of us want legal protection for the unborn and for their mothers. Right?

In order for laws to endure in a stable manner, however, they need at least a chance of taking root in a society. What would have to change about the way we live in order for this to be possible?

I do not think that legal protection of the unborn (and the equity and compassion their mothers need) can be a lasting achievement for this society unless we all change our way of viewing our own lives and our relationships with persons, as well as our assessment of the relative purposes of material things, and our appreciation for the common good of our society.

The "normalization" of abortion has been a monstrous catastrophe. Let us remember, every abortion kills an innocent and defenseless human being made in the image of God. Presently, the "first world" is virtually unanimous in proclaiming that the freedom to choose abortion is a basic human right. Today we remember with great sorrow the role the USA has played in helping to spread this delusion.

We pray and do penance for all these things, and for our own complicity in this ugly culture of death. Legal abortion has been a catalyst in the proliferation and expansion of the death culture, but it also emerged from a long existing and broader malaise and continues as a brutal symptomatic expression of a violent society in which we all participate, dragging one another down in various ways, making war against one another in deeds, in speech, in the thoughts of our hearts. This is no way to foster a culture of life.

Reform always begins with myself. I need to change, to be converted, to see reality and respond more truly in the way I live my life. I am a selfish, sinful man. Lord, have mercy on me.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Saint Agnes Day

Statue at St Agnes Parish, Arlington, Virginia
Today we celebrate one of the greatest of "God's Girls," who suffered martyrdom on this day over 1700 years ago. 

Agnes of Rome (c. year 304) chose Jesus as her only love. She put Jesus first in everything, and neither the allurements nor the violence of the powers of this world could take Him away from her.

This girl and all her sisters still bring light to the depths of darkness; they bring defenseless goodness face to face with all the weapons of evil. Century after century their stories inspire us. In the most diverse places and cultures, they give themselves with burning ardor, with great and pure devotion. 

All these loves that, to the eyes of this passing world, seem to end with early and brutal deaths: how is it anything more than a long series of unbearable tragedies?

Because the One they loved died to destroy death forever. He lives. They live in Him.

And so their love has not ended. Their love endures, through the years, and the centuries. They become our friends through the communion of saints, and sometimes they "find us" in the course of our own particular lives and engage us in profound and personal ways.

Thank you, dear Saint Agnes. You have always been a great friend to our family.

"What I longed for, I now see; what I hoped for, I now possess; in heaven I am espoused to Him whom on earth I loved with all my heart" (antiphon for Saint Agnes, January 21).

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Keeping My "Balance"...Sort Of...

Somewhere, it's Summer!
I'm trying to endure this strange weather (and my strange mind and body) by working a lot with digital art software and applications, along with a touchscreen-sensitive stylus, maybe some texts like the one below, and my own peculiar imagination.

Using brain and hands to engage in creative work helps balance out the "overthinker" in me. Sure, it's not quite the same as painting on canvas or even sketching on paper. Still, notwithstanding the technological medium, hands and fingers are very necessary for many aspects of this detailed work (with or without the stylus). And I can do it even in my bed. The "tools" are all in one "place" and are easily accessible. 

It's a very scaled-down form of pictorial art, but it's a different kind of "mental exercise" than reading or writing (my primary work) and it seems to help ward off the less felicitous preoccupations that my brain can easily fall into. It uses different mental resources and a different kind of energy.

"Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:15).  .

Friday, January 18, 2019

God's Love Seeks Every Human Person

What would our lives be like if we really believed and recognized that the grace of God is at work, mysteriously, in the heart of each and every human person we meet?

What if we could look at each human person we meet with some sense of the way Jesus is looking at them in that moment?

We would see the world differently, and have a different attitude toward others and ourselves. We would be bolder in the ways of love.

We know it's true that the Lord is always working in hidden, inscrutable ways to open the hearts of people to receive his love, or to grow in that love.

We know that the most wretched, horrible, morally ugly, disgraceful, malicious, violent, evil human beings on this earth at this moment are loved by Jesus with an inexhaustible passion.

We know that he seeks each of them, that he is under the weight of all their horror, that he has borne it all and is in himself the source of a transforming grace that can, in the flash of a millisecond of freedom that permits it, wipe away all the guilt of every imaginable sin and engender a response of love that utterly changes the person.

Mercy does not eliminate justice, because every sin has been atoned for by Jesus. Every sin.

Never give up on Jesus!

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

~Pope Francis

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ten-Year "Challenge"?

Oh well... since everyone else is doing it, I might as well join in. Here's the "then" and the "now," comparing 2009(ish) and 2019.  .

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Father Benedict": The 'Thirst for the Infinite' Continues

I recently came across this text (see below) from Benedict XVI among notes taken some time ago. Gosh, it's nearly six years since those earth-shaking days of early 2013 when Benedict resigned the papacy and entered into the secluded life of prayer that he continues to this day.

Josef Ratzinger has lived a vast life of service to Christ and the Church, as priest and theologian, bishop, cardinal, pope, and now as the nonagenarian hermit who remains in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City.   .

His long thirst for God still burns in silence and hiddenness, and still participates (in ways beyond our imagining) in the inner vitality of the Church's life, and in the often anguished search of human beings for the face of the Mystery who gives meaning and purpose to their existence. Though "Father Benedict" (as he prefers to be called today) rarely communicates publicly and no longer exercises an active teaching mission in the world, he has left us many profound words from his years as Pope. They remain as a precious legacy within the Church, still offering nourishment for meditation on our faith and for living our relationship with God through an encounter with Jesus that enables us to pray with all the depths of our humanity.

As our current Pope Francis continues to carry the burden of the Petrine ministry in his 83rd year of life—with all its responsibilities and its many sufferings—he is no doubt encouraged by the fraternal presence of his predecessor. It is a unique situation, which I don't think anyone expected to last this long, and which is so idiosyncratic that it's not likely to become a custom in the Church.

In these tumultuous times, however, it continues to serve purposes ultimately known only to God.

Here is the text from a homily in 2011, when the decade now drawing to a close was still young. But the truth they express is not bound by time, and speaks the very heart of the person:

"Man bears within himself a thirst for the infinite, a nostalgia for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which drive him toward the Absolute; man bears within himself the desire for God. And man knows, in some way, that he can address himself to God, that he can pray to him. Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the 'expression of man's desire for God.' This attraction toward God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, which is cloaked in many forms and modalities according to the history, time, moment, grace and finally the sin of each one of those who pray" (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience of May 11, 2011).

Monday, January 14, 2019


"It is essential to the weakest members of our community that those who care for them do so together. These members say to us, 'For me to live, you must love not just me, but each other, too.'"
~Henri Nouwen

Friday, January 11, 2019

Christmas Ornaments and Stuff, Part 2

As the official liturgical season of Christmas draws to a close on Sunday, we will finish up the ornaments show here with this photo-dumping post.  .

The tree, of course, will stay up because we are too lazy because we like to keep the decorations around for the "forty days" until the Feast of the Presentation and the traditional day of blessing candles ("Candlemas") on February 2. More importantly, we will keep the Nativity scene in place just like they do in Saint Peter's Square in Rome.  .

This time is also usually the pre-Lenten season of Carnevale in Mediterranean and Latino cultures (perhaps best known in the USA as the season leading up to Mardi Gras in New Orleans). In 2019, however, "Fat Tuesday" is not until March 5 ... so, (who knows?) the tree's artificial life might be extended even further.  .

Before you know it, "Daylight Savings Time" will be back.😉 But anyway... here's more cool stuff from and around the tree:

And FINALLY this genuine piece of Peruvian folk art: About the size of your hand, with doors that open and close, this dyptich has a Nativity scene on the upper level and... I'm thinking shepherds and sheep and stuff on the lower level. Bright colors from a place where it's Christmas in the Summer!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie's Great Love is a Sign for Us

Credit to original, in Philippines, 2014
Another Christmas season has been "different" this year, because it has sent us to the Internet to listen to the spectacular voice of Christina Grimmie.

How often I find myself thinking that I know what I'm going to hear, only to listen and get blown away all over again. What character, nuance, power, drive, tenacity, softness, sweetness, and fluidity are in that voice! And what ardor, what soul....

It amazes me, and breaks my heart.

In so many ways, it breaks. my. human. heart. 

It breaks my heart... as someone who hates violence, cares about young people, and mourns over the sheer catastrophe of this senseless murder of a beautiful human being...

As a trained musician of nearly 50 years who follows the ambivalent and too often corrupt trends of popular culture, who remains astounded by this singular musical talent, this unparalleled voice, this powerful creative energy of musical arrangement and composition, with all the immense possibilities for further maturity and development that will never be realized (sometimes the artist in me, inescapably aware of what 'might have been,' wants to bang my head against the wall!!!)...

As a professional scholar and philosopher of communications media who even now scarcely believes that today's barrage of endless fleeting images and words can carry the weight of an authentic human encounter and the serious self-gift of a person (and yet she accomplished this and continues to do so, and I cannot deny it even if the only explanation is that it's a kind of miracle)...

As a father of teenage and young adult children, with a father's heart and hopes, who can only empathize as best I can with the overwhelming sorrow of another father (and now also a widower) who has borne it all with such quiet dignity... And as a fellow Christian who knows that the merciful and saving love of Jesus is not a cheap escape from tragedy and suffering and death but the reality that gives meaning to our own mysterious and awful passage through every darkness.

I am filled with sorrow.

But even within that sorrow there is a light that grows brighter, a great beauty... though it's a kind of "unbearable beauty," at least for our weak human nature.

Recently I saw these words again in another one of Christina's tweets: "I would reach out and hug every one of you." She said things like this so often, and really meant them. What might sound cliché coming from someone else has an ardor and genuineness when she says it.

I do not think she was a naive person. She knew that this kind of unconditional love carried a risk, that this level of openness entailed a readiness for utter vulnerability.

But she lived this openness as a vocation from God, for Jesus and "for His glory." She spent her life to bear witness to the love of Christ: not by being a preacher or a theologian, but by living within her own human circumstances, letting Him suffuse her talents and aspirations and then being a shining light of His love in a secular environment that so often seems hostile to Him.

Her vocation was not cultural criticism, however; it was the living out of a human-yet-transformed existence right in the midst of the contemporary popular music scene. Christina did so many things "just like other people" while somehow being "different" in a way that woke up people's hearts. She didn't do everything perfectly. She made mistakes. But she sought to remain faithful to her relationship with Jesus, and to let His beauty shine through the gestures of her music and her openness to the people given to her through that music.

"I would reach out and hug every one of you," she said to her frands. She was powerful in kindness and gratitude, and the fact that it was all for the glory of Christ did not diminish its specific focus: she loved her frands, the people given to her. She valued them, celebrated them, cherished them, expressed wonder over them, and made sacrifices for them. She didn't always articulate her own deep awareness of the bond between Jesus and the least of His brothers and sisters. She spoke of it from time to time, simply, gently, and discreetly. But it was an awareness that formed her way of seeing everyone and everything.

She followed Jesus in this humble but radical way of loving, and she died on June 10, 2016 "reaching out to hug" someone "with love."

This is a very remarkable fact, and I do not think it is a coincidence.

The God who died on the cross for us calls us to follow Him, but He does not play games with the our lives. As Christina once noted in another tweet, God "allows terrible things to happen" and He wants us to "trust Him" even when we don't understand how He can possibly bring good out of these things. But trust needs something to grab hold of, and so God gives us various kinds of help: His Spirit moves in our hearts, and He leads us to recognize that He is at work in this world. He empowers us to continue on life's path with Him, renewing our confidence in Him and letting us glimpse -- within this life -- many different signs that His love triumphs over evil.

Christina's love "all the way to the end" is a sign, I am convinced. "I won't be diminished, eclipsed, or hidden. You're gonna see my light blaze back to life like the Phoenix rise," she sings in the posthumously released song "Invisible." The Phoenix, for Christians, is a symbol of the Resurrection.

I'm not making any of this up. I'm not even trying with any great effort to notice it. It just keeps striking me over and over, even as I am preoccupied with so many other concerns. It strikes me too when I remember, and will not leave me alone within the boundaries of my own sorrow.

It keeps surprising me, it moves me... and I think the reason is because it's there, it's real, as real as her irreducibly unique face. She is a sign of God's love for us in Christ that is greater than death.

A sign is not an explanation, nor does it necessariy make us feel better. The point of the sign is for us to follow it - and I want to point out that one doesn't have to be a Christian to be struck by it. The concrete sign, accessible to anyone through her music and the images and videos on the Internet, is the gift she has given of herself, which even now becomes vital and personal--gently and over the course of time--to anyone who takes her unique legacy seriously. It is her great love, that "somehow" endures...

The tenderness of this face can speak to any person and we can all let our hearts be drawn by it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Christmas Ornaments and Stuff, Part 1

It's time for me to just post some photos here that have already gone up on other social media platforms.

Included here are some of Eileen's old hand-crafted wooden ornaments from her high school days living in Germany, some views of our Nativity Scene, pictures of our unusually tidy and decorated living room, and other curiosities.

We love to take full advantage of this season of light!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Wine Study Number 1 (2019 edition)

Let's see what kind of art we might be able to fashion digitally from glasses of wine on our table during the holiday season.😉 .

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Light that Shines is HIS LOVE

God has come into the world to give Himself to us. He who is Love created us, who are nothing without Him, because He wanted to raise us up to a share in His life, into a relationship of communion with Him who is eternally inexhaustible love, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God loves me. What does this mean?

It means He gives me my life, my self, everything. He is the Source of everything. I am "His-gift-of-me-to-myself" in every moment, as it is He who sustains me in being, because He loves me.

But this is only the beginning. His love means so much more!

God loves me. In creating and sustaining me, He gives me myself. But in Jesus, He gives me Himself. God is the Great Lover. In Jesus He comes to win my heart for Himself!

My dear friends, in knowing this truth we are so blessed! Yes, our lives are very hard. But we have hope in Him. This world is full of people who do not know Him. This world is full of people who are just "lost"—who have seen nothing but violence and darkness, and know nothing of the beauty of life.

They know nothing of how or why they exist.

Still, God has created them out of Love and for Love. He has come for them as much as for us, and He seeks them.

Look how much we have been given! Why us? By faith, we know that the Infinite Mystery beyond all human searching has revealed Himself and wants to draw us into a new life. We know that He is our Father and that He loves each one of us. But we are unruly children who don't seem very grateful. Indeed, we barely show Him any attention at all. Yet God has given us the gift of believing in His Son Jesus and living by His Spirit so that we can participate in His love for the whole world, so that we can witness to His love and be instruments through whom He reaches others, especially the most broken and helpless of people (and there are always such people in our lives, within our reach).

God wants us to share His love by our witness, which is above all embodied in our gift of ourselves to others in Him and by the power He bestows upon us in the Holy Spirit. He who is the Great Lover wants to make us lovers. He wants to transform all of human history into a love story where the glory of His love prevails, shining His light into every darkness.

And so in this Christmas season and beyond, let us be grateful for the amazing gift of God's love, but let us also look for ways to witness to Him by giving ourselves.

We have been made for love. We're all aching to give ourselves away. Let us help one another to cultivate a passion to give more, to love more.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany: God Reveals Himself

The Epiphany is the culmination of the Christmas holiday season. Liturgically, it is a specific feast day that comes on January 6, which has diverse reference points in different liturgical traditions. What is common to all, however, is the celebration of the Incarnation as God's manifestation of Himself to the world.

Jesus in the flesh, in His concrete, visible, audible, tangible presence, is the definitive revelation of God wherein He "speaks" (and gives) the fullness of Himself in the Person of the Son, the Word made flesh. January 6 celebrates the "public" appearance of Christ, the "beginning" of the communication of Himself to others beyond the immediate circle of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds (the prior presence of the shepherds makes Christmas itself a kind of "epiphany" which is a special gift to the poor and lowly).

In the Latin Western tradition, the Epiphany is linked to the specific event of the arrival of the Magi. These kings or sages (or perhaps both) "from the East" represent the Gentiles, the peoples of the earth beyond Israel and "outside" the particularity of the historical Covenant of Abraham and Moses, whom God has destined to be united with the fulfillment of Israel in His Son.

From the beginning, Jesus is acknowledged as God revealing His glory for the whole human race, and the center of all creation.

COLLECT for Epiphany, Roman Rite:

O God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory
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.

Currently, the Sunday following the Epiphany is a distinct feast day in the West, the "Baptism of the Lord," which marks Jesus's baptism in the Jordan by John. This manifestation event is Trinitarian, with the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the appearance of a dove.

For the Byzantine tradition, and most of the ancient liturgical traditions of the East, January 6 celebrates this baptismal event. This is the Theophany in a very special sense, not simply as the beginning of Jesus's public ministry, but as the first public manifestation of the mystery of the Trinity. It is also full of an abundant symbolic resonance for the history of salvation, the humanity of Christ, and the whole of creation.

The Byzantine liturgy for the Theophany is rich in the joyful acknowledgment and praise of the glory of God revealed in Jesus, and the celebration continues for eight days.

TROPARION: At Your baptism in the Jordan River, O Christ, the worship due to the Holy Trinity was made manifest, for the voice of the Father bore You witness by calling You "Beloved Son," and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a Dove, confirmed the immutability of this declaration. O Christ God who came forth and filled the world with light, glory to You!

KONTAKION: Today You have appeared to the world, O Lord, and Your light has shone upon us who, realizing who You are, sing to You a hymn of praise. Inaccessible light, You have come and made yourself known!

O Creator of the world, You appeared in the world in order to shine upon those who live in darkness. O Merciful One, glory to You!

O our Saviour, through the greatness of Your mercy, You cleansed the sinners and the publicans, and now Your light shines upon those who live in darkness. Glory to You!

The many Christmas seasonal traditions have as one of their common themes Christ as the true light who has come into the world, the light who dispels the darkness of sin and death, the light of the nations, that light that awakens faith and leads us to our destiny.