Monday, August 31, 2020

"He's Doing a Lot of THINKING...?" (Video Included)

So we have come to the end of August in the year of 2020. The human race has not yet become extinct. That's good news!!

And the Janaros had our main event of the year. Everything went off as well as we could have hoped. It was a fine wedding ... with a few distinctively "corona" peculiarities, of course. Perhaps I should use that masked man with the boutonniere as my "Self Portrait 2020."

Actually, people have been grumbling a lot about how awful the year has been, but I don't think any of the problems we are dealing with today will be gone by 2021. It could be frustrating for those who are counting on things eventually getting "normal" (whether it's through a restoration of "the old normal" or an adjustment to the all-to-frequently proclaimed "new normal"). This year is actually just bringing into greater focus the chronic abnormality most of us have living in for our entire lives.

Many of us are still affected somewhat by the lingering "atmosphere" of utopian scientism, the presumptuous prejudice that was the motivating (though illusory) aspiration driving "the modern world." It formed in humans (at least in the "first world") the expectation that science and technology could solve, or would very soon be able to solve, all our problems. This was, in fact, an abnormal way of living. Clearly, we are coming to see that the reality of things is "more complicated." We are now living through a traumatic period of transition, in which utopian scientism is simultaneously reaching the peak of its material achievement and being unmasked as a profoundly inadequate set of tools for fixing and perfecting humanity.

New powers and new techniques open up constructive possibilities, but they can also give rise to new problems. As long as freedom exists — wounded freedom, vulnerable to distraction, negligence, and malice — we will have an ongoing flow of human crises and problems that cannot be ended simply by the application of technology, the "forward march" of science, or any kind of social engineering.

Still, we are right to continue to try to make our external circumstances "better," and in this we have good hope of some real success. Sometimes, however, this kind of progress or reform is "messy," with inevitable mistakes, disagreements, and conflicts that arise not only from our failures in relation to one another, but especially from the dramatic character of life itself. This is the real "normal" in human existence: living with the awareness that we are engaged in a drama, with ongoing and sometimes unexpected challenges, and that in order to grow and thrive as human persons we must face these challenges together.

One source of the increasing interpersonal violence we direct toward one another in so many facets of life may be linked to the dizzying speed and power we have become accustomed to exercising over places and things. All this power has exacerbated our (utopian and self-deceiving) tendency to demand that every problem, every obstacle, be resolved quickly and completely or else ignored or denied. But other people come along and make things "messy." These other people who come from different perspectives, with different methods for approaching a problem, people who think and act out of their own experience of life and their own suffering, become intolerable obstacles to us as we seek to implement our (efficient, thorough) solutions and programs.

Thus our ideas become ideologies and "the other people" become enemies. We then feel free to heap contempt upon them.

Of course, it is sometimes the case that "the other people" are wrong. They still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, to be approached with a genuine compassion (that does not condescend, but truly sees the other as a person). Without allowing ourselves to be tricked or used, we should work together with them as much as we can.

We don't owe respect to discredited movements, ideologies, theories, or prejudices. We don't owe respect to Nazism, Marxism-Leninism, Racism, Obscurantism, Oppression, the Chinese Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, etcetera. We are not saying that we have to work with people who identify with these groups or their views. [In some cases, such as the CCP, we may be forced to deal with them because of the extensiveness of their power, but even then we must not compromise our moral principles, we should do whatever we can to help the victims of their violence, and in all cases we had better keep both eyes wide open].

But human persons are always worthy of love and respect. And in crises of worldwide proportions, we need to work together as much as possible. We need to cultivate the art of realistic collaboration, with patience in the face of complex circumstances and compassion for one another in our differences.

In the crises of our time, the way forward is messy. But it is possible to go forward if we do it together, as neighbors, as brothers and sisters.

Too often, however, we continue to fight against one another, smear one another with dirt, condemn one another, "cancel" one another, exclude one another from the status of being human persons with dignity and intrinsic value, and try to humiliate one another. This is not only just plain wrong. It is a "luxury" we can no longer afford.

The consequences of factionalism and strife in the global village will be catastrophic at levels far beyond what we have experienced thus far.

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Here is a video, where I don't develop these points. I listen to the river and talk about the fading sun and the shadows of the leaves, and then I talk about the need for cooperation and community. And I say that I don't have "solutions" to offer. I'm "doing a lot of thinking" — not to be evasive but to be thorough.

I'm a plodder. In a world full of InstaOpinions, someone has to plod. Even where I have strong and well-founded opinions that I venture to present, I still continue to plod — thinking things through in different ways, as events unfold, revising or following up on my presentation where necessary. This is what I have to offer: perhaps it will yield, in the end, a few insights, a few words worth saying.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Lucia Turns Twenty!


August 28th was Birthday number 20 for our dear daughter Lucia Janaro.๐ŸŒน๐Ÿฐ Happy Birthday Lucia! We love you!❤ (Sorry... you gotta let silly Dads do things like this, but not too often.๐Ÿ˜‰)

This means we have "only" TWO teenagers left in the family. Which, of course, means we've still got plenty of basic "parenting" ahead of us. 

Of course, we'll always be "Mom" and "Dad" to each and all our "kids" (even after, God willing, we acquire another set of names in the small voices of a new generation).

Indeed, as I have learned myself through the years in so many different ways (beautiful, dramatic, and even painful ways), you never stop being somebody's kid.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Saint Augustine's "Hundredfold"

Saint Augustine.

There's no end to what we could say about his life, his holiness, his wisdom, his importance as a theologian, philosopher, teacher, and writer.

Here is one particular thing (among many others) that amazes me about him: Saint Augustine is a special example - a witness for the whole world and the entire history of human culture - of what Jesus calls "the hundredfold" (Mark 10:31).

Jesus says that if we follow Him, we will receive eternal life... but also, we will receive a hundredfold in this life (along with "persecutions"). He also says "seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added as well" (see Matthew 6:33).

What does Jesus mean?

He does not mean the we should follow Him in order to get stuff in this life. That would be to reduce Jesus to our own measure. Jesus wants to transform us according to God's wisdom. He wants to give us a new mind and a new heart. He promises eternal life, which is the mystery toward which everything in this life points, and which is therefore the real meaning of everything in this life.

If we follow Jesus, if we trust in Jesus, we will attain the fullness of salvation - we will live forever in communion with God, in that transcendent joy that God has promised to those who love Him and remain faithful to Him. This is what corresponds to the longing of the human heart, and is the fulfillment that everyone seeks (whether they realize it or not). To amplify this point, Jesus also assures us that if we follow Him, our lives even in this world will be enriched in value and significance beyond anything we could aspire to according to our own measure.

Luigi Giussani often said something that resonates deeply with me, and corresponds to my own experience. He said that if you really follow Christ, you will also discover that you love your wife a hundred times more than you ever could have imagined; that you love your children a hundred times more, your work a hundred times more, your friends a hundred times more. You will discover the real greatness of this life, and you will even be able to embrace suffering.

There is a particular way in which Saint Augustine's life indicates this pattern. Here was a man who set out to be a great rhetorician, a master of articulation and persuasion, an all-around "artist with words." He pursued this ambition with relentless passion, but without understanding its true value. And then he found Christ, and he gave up all thought of being a rhetorician. He gave up the desire to be known for his speeches and writings and works in this world. He longed for Christ, followed Christ, and kept his heart fixed on Christ.

And from out of his singular passion for Christ - without even thinking about it, or caring, or noticing it - he wrote an amazing book. Desiring only to praise Christ, he wrote a book (his Confessions) that was not only the greatest book of its epoch, but one of the greatest ever written in human history. He gave the world inimitable and unforgettable Latin prose, soaring and poetic diction, and timeless, soul-penetrating insight into the heart of the human being.

Aurelius Augustinus the rhetorician and scholar, had he followed his own ambition, might have become a teacher with some following, or even perhaps a minor provincial statesman of his period. Students of late antiquity might have known his name. But Saint Augustine, by following Christ, became also a hundred times more in the history of this world. He wrote books that speak to every time and in every language, and he gave us words that ring out through the ages - words that rival any that have ever been uttered in human speech.

There is something of the hundredfold here, even if he himself didn't perceive it or concern himself with it - even if it has been more for our benefit than for his.
"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace" (Confessions X:27).

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Christian Vocation is an Ongoing Conversion

Christian life is a path of conversion from an egocentric posture to an ever deepening habit of authentic charity - an attitude of mind and heart that truly loves other persons for who they are, and for how Jesus makes Himself present to us through their own personal uniqueness. Our Christian vocation takes concrete shape in the Lord's call to love, addressed to us in daily life, in our families, in work and social environments, and on the internet too. And Jesus shapes our lives in such a way as to draw us along the path of loving Him and loving others. Our sufferings, too, are encompassed within this particular plan of healing and transforming love that Jesus has for each one of us as a unique person, whom He embraces in His infinite wisdom.

In answering the call of the vocation to charity, we must have great trust in Jesus, for without Him we can do nothing. But He is with us, working in our lives and teaching us through His Spirit how to grow in genuine self-giving love. We must not become discouraged by our persistent imperfections and selfishness, but continue to work toward cooperating with God's grace and growing in love.

Saint John Paul II speaks of the Christian life as an ongoing conversion, a work-in-progress through which God's love is integrated into every aspect of our lives, bringing personal and social healing and transformation:
"What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. Therefore an educational growth process is necessary, in order that individual believers, families and peoples, even civilization itself, by beginning from what they have already received of the mystery of Christ, may patiently be led forward, arriving at a richer understanding and a fuller integration of this mystery in their lives" (Familiaris Consortio, 9).

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thirty Years Ago: Encountering a New Humanity (Part 1)

In the midst of this year, with all its confusion, I have had much occasion to remember what happened to me 30 years ago, and how important those days remain for me. I have been struck by this in spite of many distractions (or, rather, it has proven resilient and vital again and again in response to what would otherwise be nothing but frustrating distractions).

Thus I have recognized and relied on the ongoing relevance of an essential and formative encounter that began for me in those days, and that continues to grow even with my stubborn and complicated character, my strange and peculiar life, and all the resistance of my pride.

It was in the year 1990 that I "first became involved with" a group of Catholic Christians on the campus of CUA (where I was studying theology as a lay student at the Dominican House of Studies). At the time, I saw this involvement primarily as a rather clever choice that I was making to associate with like-minded young people.

Yes, young people. I was 27 years old in 1990. 

In spite of the campus meeting place, not many who belonged to this group were students. It was mostly Catholic young urban professionals, men and women in their 20s, well-educated, intellectually inclined, and (with a few exceptions) single.

"Joining this group" was an intelligent choice, one of the few I have really made in my largely hesitant, mediocre life. But it was so was much more than "my choice." It was a gift given to me, a crucial event that happened to me. It was a whole beautiful and mysterious path that opened up for my life — a path that was to shape profoundly the ensuing 30 years (though I have often wandered off to the side or moved very slowly during that time).

Every week, the group met for Mass, then gathered in a classroom for what seemed like a disorganized and free-wheeling discussion about how we were experiencing and living our faith. Afterwards we would go out for pizza. On weekends and at other times we would also hang out, not just for fun, but also to explore the awareness we were trying to cultivate that we were a community in Christ. The discussions at the weekly meetings were loosely based (often very loosely) on a reading for the week from an intriguing and difficult text, a book by an Italian priest that had only very recently been translated into English.

The priest was Monsignor Luigi Giussani. The book was The Religious Sense.

But I have forgotten another very important reality. In the midst of the large weekly meeting there were always a few Italians. They were students or professionals working in the Washington D.C. area who also participated in Giussani's movement in Italy. They didn't try to take over the group, or put on a show of being "experts in Giussani-ism" (๐Ÿ˜œ). They had not come with a "plan" to "start the movement in the USA." But they were active and engaged with the rest of us, and they had a kind of groundedness and freedom which shaped them as very distinct, self-possessed, confident personalities who were also some of the most open people I have ever known.

We were pretty clueless as to what this "movement" was all about or what the heck we were doing. But the Italians didn't really try to "explain it" to us, and they certainly didn't try to impose anything on us. Rather, they befriended us with what I later realized was tremendous confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ and His presence among us. And they shared their own experiences with us of "Comunione e Liberazione,the immense Catholic movement in Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) through which they had discovered that Christ was real, that He was the meaning of all of life.

Being with them and with one another (and studying this seemingly incomprehensible book), we encountered Jesus Christ in a particularly vital way, a way that corresponded to the depths of our own humanity, and a way that called us to be incorporated more profoundly into His Body, His Church, with a greater attention to reality, a deeper charity, and a passion to be witnesses in the world to Him. An ecclesial movement called Communion and Liberation thus began to be (and continues to be) a small but tenacious and fruitful gathering of people who live their Catholic faith with the "accent" of this particular charism, fully and faithfully inserted within the whole Church and in the society of the USA.

Two people I met in those early years of belonging to CL stand out immediately for me. One of them was Msgr Giussani himself. I have written already about his particular counsel and encouragement for me in my professional vocation as a teacher. I didn't meet him until 1991. But the other person is someone I met on the first day, when I went into that classroom for my first experience of the "School of Community." It was more than an "occasion" — the fact is that everything that happened to engender, build up, and sustain my companionship with this person over the years remains rooted in that friendship with Christ that we both began to experience in those days, 30 years ago.

That person is sitting here with me in the same room as I write these words. Her name was different 30 years ago; it has long been changed to what it is today: "Eileen Janaro."๐Ÿ˜‰

[to be continued...]

Monday, August 24, 2020

Crescent Moon at Dusk

This is a sliver of the moon in the evening sky from last week. The "crescent moon" is lovely, and this composition (in the early evening, near the horizon) definitely got my attention.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Desire of Our Hearts For "True Gladness"


We ask the Lord our God, our Father, to fill our hearts with His love, to change us, to give us a new life that is beyond anything we could ever have imagined if He hadn't made us for it and called us to it. We ask Him to fix our hearts on that place where true gladness is found.

I want to point out some of the really profound "Collect" prayers that we have on the Roman rite liturgical calendar around this time of year. Last week's and the current week's prayers (i.e. the twentieth and twenty first weeks of Ordinary Time) are great examples.

Here is the prayer from last week:


Here we acknowledge the transcendence of God, and also the transcendence of our own destiny. Our God is "above all things" and has destined for our fulfillment "good things which no eye can see," the joys of communion with Him. We have a supernatural destiny which is beyond ourselves while also made accessible and intimate to our humanity by God's loving initiative, His grace in Jesus Christ.

Grace engenders a relationship of love: God loves us in such a way that we are empowered to love Him and "attain" His "promises." He reveals and gives this new life to us through Jesus, who is the meaning of our existence and all of creation. Here "we pray" to God our Father, we ask Him to "fill our hearts" with His love so that we are moved and changed and transformed that love. His love "warms" our hearts, engages them, forges within them a new way of experiencing and responding to reality and to Himself. Grace enables us to love Him "in all things" as well as "above all things," so that in this world in which we live we already begin to find Him and be drawn by Him.

Jesus who has taken our humanity wants to transform the depths of our hearts so that through His love our "human desire" will surpass itself. We are called to 'lose ourselves' not in some nihilistic way, but with the confidence that in communion with the Trinity we will enter into a mysterious 'beyond' in which nevertheless we will also 'find ourselves' and the goodness of all things in a super-eminent way.

God's grace has already called us and prepared this destiny for us, which we can only attain through a loving and hopeful faith in Jesus. In the Church's prayer we ask for the grace that enables us to grow in this living faith, to move forward in the journey to our fulfillment.

The prayer for the current week is similarly rich in the way it touches upon the essentials of freedom, grace, and destiny:


There is a beautiful reference here to the communion of the Church, in the sense of the unity we share in moving forward together toward a "single purpose," a unity which God has already given us through baptism into the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Here too, we are asking to grow on the path toward fulfilling His purpose. We ask God to give us a greater measure of love for His will and desire for His promise, so that faith and hope may also be strengthened and focused on "that place where true gladness is found."

Again and again we see that the "hinge" of the Collect each week is found in words such as "grant us, we pray" or some similar form of asking God - in His love and mercy for us - to give to us that which is the foundation and the vitality of our gift of ourselves to Him, in love.

This corresponds to His grace working in us, His Holy Spirit transforming us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Mary the Gate of Dawn, the Mother of Mercy

On the feast day that one might call the "Octave of the Assumption" - the celebration in which we honor the "Queenship" of Mary - I have found myself drawn to to an icon that is little known in the West, but that represents an important "meeting place" for Baltic peoples and Slavs, for Latin Catholics and Byzantine Orthodox.

Some years ago, I obtained an inexpensive print of the icon of the Virgin Mary called "Ostrobramska." The image was fascinating and distinctive, but the accompanying description - unfortunately for me - was in Russian.

Today that wouldn't be too much of a problem; I could just scan it with my phone and use the app of my choice. The English that popped up wouldn't be pretty, but I'd at least be "in the ballpark." But this was long before Google Translate. In fact, it may have been before "Google anything"!

I probably used "the World Wide Web" to search for information, with the dial-up modem and the dong-dong-bidong noises and the waiting and waiting... and hoping no one else needed to use the phone (because there was only one "phone line" in the house, but... never mind: kids, ask your parents and they'll tell you what it was like๐Ÿ˜‰).

One way or another, I found out more about this beautiful icon. It was (only) about 500-or-so years old, and was in a chapel in the eastern gate of the city of Vilnius... or Wilno... or ะ’iะปัŒะฝั (Vilnya) depending on what language you are speaking (Lithuanian, Polish, or one of the Eastern Slavic languages - with variations that I can't go into here). It was probably originally painted (perhaps on commission) in a Western European Renaissance style for this important city in a remarkable kingdom that flourished for several hundred years, but that we don't learn much about in school: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The "original" painting
This was the golden age of Polish culture and political power, when the Jagiellonian dynasty - who ruled as Kings of Poland and Grand Dukes of Lithuania - consolidated the dual monarchy into a confederation.

Like most "golden ages," it didn't last very long (historically speaking) and by the end of the 18th century, Russia, Austria, and Prussia - through a series of partitions - had removed it entirely from the map.

Nevertheless, although the population of Vilnius was diverse and existed under various political regimes, the icon was always honored. Popular devotion had long credited the Virgin of Ostrobramska with intercessions that brought miracles. At some point (18th century) it was "clothed" in the gold and silver exterior it has today - in the fashion of Russian Orthodox icons.

A miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, not visibly holding the child Jesus, but in a more "Apocalyptic pose" - with the the sun, the moon, the stars ... then the crowns (at various stages worked into the iconography). Here is Mary, at the crossroads of peoples and cultures, responding to the needs of all her children, gently working for peace and reconciliation.

Does that sound "familiar"? No wonder I loved this image. Obviously it's not the same as "La Madrecita" (nothing is quite like Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe) but there are some symbolic correspondences. Above all, there is the fact that Mary - being a good mother - is never far from her children, especially those who have great need of her.

Here she has been honored in a popular pilgrimage destination for Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians - both Catholics and Orthodox. Let's just say, these are not peoples who have been inclined to like one another under ordinary circumstances over the past several centuries (or more). But Mary is Queen! And she brings peoples together and makes peace.

And not just any kind of peace: She bears God's gift of himself to the world, God's peace, God's compassion for our brokenness, who comes to save us in his mercy.

Painted Russian Orthodox icon 
When the smoke of the early 20th century's "Great War" finally cleared, the Ostrobramska icon was for a couple of decades in "Wilno" in a temporarily independent Poland. Once again, Poland was a borderland for "Western" Europe. Just as they had once held back the imperial ambitions of the Swedes in the north and (crucially) the Ottoman Turks from their south (think 1683), so Poland had kept the Bolsheviks and their revolution confined to Russia... at least temporarily.

Meanwhile the devotion to the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gate of Dawn had spread among the peoples of the region (with copies of the icon "written" in various styles) and was taken by emigrants to the rest of the world.

In 1927, the Pope gave special recognition to the icon, giving it the title "Mother of Mercy." This is particularly striking, given the fact that on April 28, 1935 - the Second Sunday of Easter (the Easter Octave) - Mass was offered in the Ostrobramska church for the first time in the presence of a new image (not of Mary, but of her Son), which was presented through the collaboration of three relatively unknown people: there was an artist and professor at Wilno's Art Academy who painted it, then there was the priest who said the Mass, and finally there was a sister from a convent in Wilno of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Not much note was taken of this event at the time.

This new icon of Jesus with the luminous rays of red and white coming forth from his side was destined to become much more widely known than Wilno's/Vilnius's Ostrobramska, the Gate of Dawn, the Mother of Mercy. For it was an icon of him who is "the Divine Mercy," painted by Eugene Kazimierowski according to the precise directions of the sister whom we now honor as Saint Faustina Kowalska. The Mass was offered by her spiritual director, Blessed Michal Sopocko, who guided Saint Faustina in the following and the written expression of her singular, extraordinary charism, and who later himself became its faithful promoter.

It was the Mass of the Octave of Easter, which today is known as "Divine Mercy Sunday." And today, in the city of Vilnius in the small but independent country of Lithuania, the original image painted by Kazimierowski has been restored. It is the model for all the essential elements of the many stylistically varied icons of the Divine Mercy, through which the merciful Jesus is presented throughout the world.

The Mother of Mercy leads us to... Mercy. That's what Mary's Queenship is all about.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Wisdom of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

HAPPY FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX!

Bernard lived from 1090-1153. This energetic monastic reformer, theologian, advisor to popes and kings, prolific writer, contemplative, witness to the love of God, and Doctor of the Church is one of the giants of early medieval history. The first half of the 12th century saw the continuation of movements of ecclesiastical renewal as well as the growth of new and complex problems that had emerged in the Second Millennium after the birth of Jesus. While Christians from the West held the Holy Land for the first time, the breach between Eastern and Western Christendom continued to widen. Meanwhile the first sparks of rationalism flashed through the minds of European philosophers (e.g. Abelard) as Aristotle and other Greek philosophers were "rediscovered" through Arabic sources.

Amidst the many affairs of Church and society in his days, Bernard stood larger than anyone else because of his holiness, wisdom, and fairness. But more important than any of these things, he was a monk of Clairvaux, dedicated to prayer, lectio divina, labor according to the primitive ideal of Saint Benedict, and above all caritas, the love that God empowers us to have for Him because He has loved us first. Bernard represents the golden age of the Cistercian reform, and for me personally - nine centuries later - he evokes memories especially of my many visits over the years to the monastery "down the Valley" in Berryville, Virginia. Like the brightness of the "sparse" spaces in the Abbey church on a sunny morning, he "lights up" Cistercian simplicity with the ardor and warmth of Christ's incarnate love.

Here are some quotations from the Saint Bernard:

"For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him."

"He who will not submit to God’s sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self; but he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will."

If human beings could become "masters of all in heaven and on earth, they would soon find all insufficient, and discover that they were forced to seek Him who is wanting still. They must seek God Himself... the soul must cry out...'What besides Thee have I in heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth?'"

“If we wish to have Christ for a guest often, we must keep our hearts fortified by the testimony of our faith in the mercy of him who died for us, and in the power of him who rose from the dead... Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead for our justification. He ascended to heaven for our protection, sent the Spirit for our consolation, and will someday return for our fulfillment.”

"In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps.... While she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal."

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How Can We Be Inspired By "Good Example" in Strange Times?

Ideas, by themselves, are not enough to change our humanity.

We really learn how to be different and more profound human beings when we encounter other human persons who are already living this difference, right before our eyes.

What I'm referring to here, generally speaking, is the importance of "good example" in the development of human life. I want to suggest, from an interpersonal and relational perspective, some aspects of how we grow through the good example of others.

Of course, we should note that "bad example" subverts our humanity by hijacking the dynamic of interpersonal relationships under false pretenses, distracting and manipulating it in distorted ways that violate and enslave the human person. As is usually the case with evils, the decadence and corruption of persons through "bad example" and toxic pseudo-relationships require a more complex treatment, even if we're only trying to outline their dynamics in broad terms. I will address these problems in another post. In this post, however, I want to focus on the good example of persons and the ways it can "reach" us.

We need examples of people who live rightly and well, but also (and this is important) such people will have an impact on us to the degree that their actions move us and engage our lives in a concrete way.

The full measure of human engagement, of course, calls for humans to be present to one another in time and proximity, in the immediate physicality of literal "elbow-to-elbow" companionship that characterizes the sharing of deep friendship, healthy family life, and the local "togetherness" of community. Even here, there are different degrees and different ways of this kind of concrete sharing of life.

Moreover, external proximity to a beautiful and inspiring person is not enough; in order to learn from them and grow from their example, we need to see them with our hearts. We need to be awakened and drawn by their remarkable actions, and by the "resonance" of their goodness with the fundamental needs and questions of our own humanity, so as to enter into the more profound and convincing perception of reality they possess, from which they draw motivation.

Ordinary circumstances provide the paradigm for the environment in which these constructive encounters can (and should) take place. The immediate, physical conditions of human life are foundational and irreplaceable for full, healthy human relationships. But we can still encounter human persons, be engaged by them, and be moved and changed by the goodness and beauty of their lives even when they are not "with us" directly, or even if we have never "met them" in a proximate physical way. Humans engage one another through communication, and real communication is one of the ways that the impact of a human life can be "extended" beyond their immediate place and even down through the generations who come after them.

People who lived hundreds, thousands of years ago can still touch us profoundly through communication: that is, through their words or other modes of expressing themselves, and by the fruits of their actions that continue to shape history. We also "meet" them through stories of their lives that are rooted in what has been handed down about who they were and how they lived.

In these current days, our ordinary circumstances have been shaken up in so many unexpected and unpredictable ways, and we have been thrust into awkward and peculiar situations and strained experiences of both proximity and distance from one another. Old and new forms of communications media (from reading classic books to ZOOM) have been both a source of sustenance and a context for frustration as we try to find provisional ways to stay connected, navigate "spaces," and find a healthy solitude that is not swallowed by loneliness or anxiety.

Whatever restrictions we face, and whatever means are available to us, we can grow by encountering the good example of others. Communications media can help us "meet" one another, in normal circumstances and in times of crisis, if we stay faithful to our own humanity as our hearts reveal it to us, and if we remember the real person who is at the origin of every kind of expression in every form of media.

Giving good example, and following good example, are always necessary, but we can and will find ways to help one another even in the midst of the greatest trials.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

"You Are Worth SO Much More"


This is a "verbal hug" from Christina Grimmie. She posted this on her Facebook page eight years ago.๐Ÿ’š 

The words, and the love behind them, are still on her page, offered to anyone who needs them.

Christina proved, again and again, and with her whole life, that when she said "anyone" she really meant ANYONE - the particular person in need, the person reading this post, or seeing her videos, but especially the person in front of her in the particular moment.

She always had sincere words, posts, jokes, songs, or hugs - whatever she could give in the circumstances - for persons who needed to be welcomed, to experience their value, to know that they were loved. That's part of the reason why she still speaks so powerfully even today.

She still "reaches" people, with love.๐Ÿ’š

Friday, August 14, 2020

Love "Stretches Out a Hand" To All


Maximilian Kolbe offered to take the place of another prisoner designated for reprisal execution in Auschwitz concentration camp.

He gave his life on August 14, 1941, as a witness to the Love that is greater than the most hideous violence, the Love that redeems and saves the world.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Unassuming Heroism of Hong Kong's Agnes Chow

Agnes Chow Ting: on a regular day (left); and on the morning of August 10, when police arrested her at her family's home (right).

Earlier this week, the People's Republic of China's enormous Communist Party moved the forces of its unfettered power against someone it perceives to be a threat to the "security" of a nation of one and a half billion people. This dangerous secessionist revolutionary, plotter with foreign enemies, and instigator of disruption between Hong Kong and the Motherland is "disguised" as a university student barely beyond her girlhood years. She "seems" like an "ordinary kid" who would rather be reading, watching Japanese cartoons, studying, swimming, playing her flute, or spending time with her friends.

The Party, however, knows better. Thus a special police unit arrested 23-year-old Agnes Chow Ting on August 10th, implementing the procedures of the infamous new 'National Security Law.' She has since been released on bail, and it's not clear whether any charges have been filed against her... yet.

Agnes Chow is a danger to China's "national security"? Really?

It must be said that while Agnes may be young and soft spoken, she is very articulate about her convictions. She cannot be silent in front of the CCP's efforts to swallow Hong Kong and erase its identity and civil liberties. But it is "dangerous" indeed, in today's Hong Kong, to disagree with the ideas and plans of the Communist Party in Beijing and the local forces it controls. It is especially dangerous to attempt to communicate your objections to people in other countries that have relations with China - countries that acknowledge the very peculiar arrangement of Hong Kong's "special autonomy" under the provision of One-Country-Two-Systems; countries whose people expect a bare minimum of respect for civilized society within the States that participate in the community of nations (or at least a plausible veneer of respect that - hopefully - puts some limits on violent, unaccountable oppression of persons by their own governments).

It is dangerous, in today's Hong Kong, for an "ordinary kid" to cry out for justice, or even for decency, courtesy, humanity....

Agnes Chow Ting is variously referred to as "Agnes Chow," with the stress on her "Anglo" first name (which for her is also her Catholic baptismal name) or "Agnes Chow Ting," which includes her Chinese given name "Ting" (meaning 'slim' or 'graceful'), or "Zhou Ting" which is the modern Chinese transliteration of her Chinese name, with the family name first as is customary.

[NOTE: Hong Kong's democracy moment is pluralist and "secular," of course, which doesn't preclude the fact that some of its participants (including Agnes Chow) are inspired by their Christian faith. While I discuss many secular events in this blog, my own Catholic Christianity is "in plain sight" and (I hope and pray) always informing and focusing my attention on the whole of reality in all its factors, even in articles that don't explicitly make reference to God, Jesus Christ, or the Church. 

In this piece I will make references to faith, not in order to advocate theocracy (I don't), but because I am looking at a human person who is a Catholic. Agnes Chow acknowledges her faith but doesn't emphasize it in her political activism. The Hong Kong Movement includes a wide variety of people from different religious or non-religious backgrounds, and in any case "flying a Catholic flag" would not help her cause or the Church in present circumstances. I don't know how strong or thoroughly catechized her faith is, or any particulars about her journey in following Jesus Christ, but she is an impressive and brave human being and I'm inclined to presume that her faith is foundational and vital, even if I don't know how "coherent" it is for her. 

And my readers won't be surprized that I am jazzed by the fact that her baptismal name is "Agnes"!๐Ÿ˜‰ It's a good name, and it establishes a connection in the "Communion of Saints" with a singularly courageous girl from 1700 years ago. I also have an "Agnes" - my daughter Agnese Janaro - who is nearly 22 years old, which is if nothing else a constant reminder for me of the "youth" factor in this Hong Kong movement. From what I know, I could easily imagine my daughter and Agnes Chow being friends. In any case, I'm going to refer to Agnes Chow Ting as "Agnes," not because of my "Western cultural bias" but because it is the most immediate human and personal connection I have with her in that great, transcendent and also totally real "family" that is Christ's Church.]

Agnes Chow was an unlikely political activist. Her appearance as an "ordinary kid" is no disguise; she really was an ordinary kid (and continues to be an ordinary young woman). Nothing marks her out as "revolutionary" by temperament or inclination.

She was a shy kid who was (and still is) close to her family, who worked hard in school but wasn't noted as being "extraordinary." She didn't have lots of friends, and felt awkward about herself in early adolescence. She never dreamed of doing anything like public speaking. She liked to swim. She played in the school orchestra. She had a lively imagination, and was fascinated (as are kids today all over the world) by the wide variety of Japanese animated stories that are classified under the genre of "Anime." (In a future post, I need to write about the world of "Anime," and the diverse and sometimes intense themes it deals with: from nihilism and bizarre criminality to the search for deeper identity and moral conviction.) But on all these points, Agnes Chow came across as a nice 21st century high school girl from a good home with a loving family, who was struggling with all the normal problems of growing up.

At the age of 15, the last thing on her mind was politics. But then she saw pictures on Facebook of high school students publically protesting the attempt by the mainland to impose a "moral and patriotic education" program in their schools. Here were other kids her age, marching in the streets. They argued that the "patriotic education program" was really a program of Chinese Communist PartyState brainwashing and propaganda. Agnes researched it for herself on the internet, and it didn't take her long to find that she agreed with their judgment.

Sometimes young people can "smell a rat" in situations where the adults are fumbling around with their noses plugged by understandable adult preoccupations like "I want to keep my job" or "we need to keep this school open" or "we can make this program 'work' by stressing the good stuff and ignoring the rat as much as possible" or (a very real and anxious preoccupation, especially for educators) "we need to keep the donors happy" (alas, kids, be merciful to your elders - someday you will understand that even great ideals are not realized in this world without money, and you must struggle with all of money's power and complexity and the compromises it demands; though you don't need to sacrifice your integrity for money, you will be tempted and you will make mistakes, and you will need to pray as you spend more time and energy than you ever imagined in this perpetual wrestling match with the necessities and dangers of money).

It must be said, a significant group of teachers were pretty quick to call "B.S." in this case. This was a large, stinky rat. Still, the students smelled it first. And they didn't just argue against it. They made a student "strike," and gathered by the thousands outside the government offices and held a continual demonstration. Agnes Chow's internet searching eventually landed her on the website of a high school student group called "Scholarism." She decided to volunteer to help.

Her conviction and commitment moved her forward. At first she was afraid of practically everything that was "public," even handing out flyers. But, as she later remarked, she realized that "You must overcome your fear, and do it" and this, in turn, "makes [you] more and more brave to try the next step." Soon, the shy 15-year-old girl was introducing other speakers, then participating in press conferences and giving her own public speeches. She became one of the faces and voices of the Scholarism group, often appearing next to the brilliant, intense boy with black glasses who was its leader: Joshua Wong. They made much more "noise" than the PartyState had expected or wanted, and so the government withdrew the mandate for the program.

It was a victory for education, for truth... and it was won by the kids.

No, their parents didn't put them up to it. Agnes's parents have worried a lot about her (and I don't blame them). They are not political activists. They are devout Catholics, and they raised their daughter to care about justice, the common good, and helping those in need. They taught her not to live by lies.

That's enough to turn your kid into a radical in today's Hong Kong.

Agnes continued to work with Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, Nathan Law, and other Hong Kong young people during the "Umbrella Revolution" protests of 2014, and she co-founded a political group called Demosisto. She ran for the Legislative Council, but was disqualified by election officers because of Demosisto's position that Hong Kong people have a right to "self-determination." Then she traveled to educate others about Hong Kong, and gained supporters especially in Japan (Agnes speaks Yue Chinese [i.e. "Cantonese," the distinctive speech of southern China, very different from the now-standardized Mandarin originating in the northeast], Mandarin Chinese also [I assume], English, Japanese, and Korean).

Now she's been arrested, and may well be rearrested once some remotely plausible "charges" against her can be invented. They want to make her disappear. Indeed, they are right to consider her a threat... not to "the people," but to themselves. Agnes Chow is a talented, dedicated, courageous young woman who is speaking truth to power.

Dear blog readers, you know me. If great events are in the making, I always want to know "who is the heroine in this story?" Inevitably there is at least one, and usually there are many. Certainly "heroes" - i.e. heroic men - interest me very much, but I still find that I'm drawn in a particular way to the heroic women of history.

I'm not sure why.

Maybe it's because they're underestimated and their significance is too often underappreciated. Maybe it's because they're particularly eloquent about the impact of historical events on their personal interiority. They illuminate the personal dimension of history, articulating through their own experience how events involve the drama of persons, relationships, families, and communities.

Maybe it's because I was raised by a heroic woman, I married a heroic woman, and I have four daughters (and now a daughter-in-law) who are heroines-in-the-making (each in their own way). They have already proven to be quite tenacious and impressive in their own aspirations and achievements.

Now let me be clear; I am not "expecting" giant-sized accomplishments or imposing preconceived notions of greatness on anyone: I'm not pushing my girls to climb Mount Everest or fly a spaceship or become President - if they want to, that's fine, but what matters (for women and men) is to be faithful to one's vocation, to seek God's will, to worship Him, adhere to Him, and find one's fulfillment in Him.

This usually involves the hidden, apparently ordinary fidelity in daily life that forms the foundation of the specifically (and uniquely) Christian heroism called sanctity. We are all called to become saints, by the grace of the Spirit, following Jesus, loving God and our neighbor. Sometimes we are also called to take on outwardly heroic roles on different levels of historical action.

And although Hong Kong undoubtedly needs saints (and they may have some new martyrs before this ends), our discussion of the drama of Hong Kong right now primarily concerns terrestrial affairs. The greatness we mark as beginning to emerge here is temporal, political, and social. It is also incipient. It is still mostly in the realm of aspirations, initial efforts, possibilities, and the willingness to take big risks. It is not without flaws and pitfalls, and it needs much clarification and purification. It calls for not only courage, but also wisdom, patience, flexibility, and more than a little luck. Here I suppose the old adage could be applied: "Some are born for greatness, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

One of the signs that a social movement is driven by genuine, healthy, sincere aspirations for human dignity and freedom (as opposed to "tribalism," ideology, the lust for power, or the seeking of revenge) is the degree to which it finds itself being carried along by "unlikely" heroes and heroines. There may be gifted leaders and visionary thinkers in such movements, of course, but it's reassuring to find at the heart of it all that there are many people who are shaping events - great events - simply as a consequence of their decision to do the right thing. They make a commitment to something that they recognize to be good, they stick with it, and then - often without even realizing it - their own stature grows.

One of the reasons I hold real hopes that something good will come from the Hong Kong Revolution is that it involves so many people who are just trying to do the right thing. They are not troublemakers, thugs, egoists, or ideologues who want to change the foundations of reality or engineer a new kind of human being. They just want respect for basic human dignity, for themselves and for everyone in their society.

This is a "revolution" that was literally started by high school kids... and not primarily the rebellious, psychologically traumatized kids, but precisely the "good kids." They have everything to gain in terms of wealth, social status, and opportunities for themselves by playing along with (or at least ignoring) the emerging system that is taking over Hong Kong. But they refuse to play along with the system. They have been challenging the system for eight years, and are now putting their young lives in iminent danger. And there is clearly only one reason why they continue to do this.

They know that this emerging Communist PartyState-dominated system is wrong. What it's trying to do to their people is wrong.

In the end, the young people of Hong Kong may have to endure the system's oppression, but right now, they have a chance to make a difference. They have a chance to take a stand that will write an indellible chapter in the history of their people. These are the circumstances that shape the history of a people, even if - at the time, for all we can see - their protagonists "fail" to attain an immediately quantifiable objective.

Ordinary people will make sacrifices and take risks in order to sow seeds that will bear fruit in time.

This is the hope of Agnes Chow Ting. She hopes for "the dawn" that will come after a long long night. She expressed this in poetic form on Instagram during last Summer's protests:


A very rough English translation conveys something of the sense of her words:

"In this city where bullets fly, 
how extravagant is a smile.
The breeze smelled like tear gas,
blowing the untied hair frizzy and curly, 
and the neatly combed bangs became messy. 
Holding the black helmet recently picked up on the street, 
with a gas mask around the neck, 
putting the eye mask on the forehead temporarily, 
preparing for an unknown nightmare. 
We have been looking forward to the coming of the morning dawn. 
Look, the orange sun illuminates our faces in beautiful and warm colors.  
It is not dazzling; we can remove the helmet 
and look at the beautiful morning light with hope. 
In this city where bullets fly, 
I hope we can continue to remember the warmth of the dawn."

When I read this, I wrote her a message of support. But I wanted to support more than just the political struggle. I wanted to reach out to her as a person, and help her to remember what makes these efforts (and everything else) ultimately worthwhile:
"Agnes Chow, your reflections move me deeply. You are so young for so much suffering (my children are your age), but God will lead you.
"Your patron Saint Agnes was a girl who stood up against the power of Ancient Rome, and Jesus gave her strength to be faithful to the end. Today the people in Rome still love her. She will help you too, and all the brave girl saints of history (think of Joan of Arc), and the beautiful Chinese martyrs.
"I know we never feel as brave as these saints and heroes, but they are here for us. They understand you and all your fears and they will help you to be the person God wants you to be in the place He has given to you: your beloved Hong Kong, the terrible evils you face, your own struggles, your friends’ needs.
"Jesus will never abandon you. He is always there to give you the strength you need and to forgive you, so that you need not condemn yourself. Go to Him with everything.
"Pray. This is the revolution.
"We are praying with you and for you. I pray for Hong Kong, but not only for that, but for you as a person. Jesus has placed you in this movement for freedom, and He wills that it will have enduring value (even if you don’t “win”) - but He loves you first for yourself, always, whatever may come, whatever your own failures too.
"He loves you. Trust in Him for everything!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Christina Grimmie's Embrace of Life


Once again I have taken time to remember Christina Grimmie, after four years and two months. It's fitting, because — as I have said before  she too has "become family" to us. I know she shares our joy in this past weekend.

This picture is titled, simply, The Hug.

I put care and the use of many tools and techniques into this unusual piece of digital artwork (based originally on a photo found long ago — credit to owner — I think it was in the Philippines). Perhaps it's not very accessible. I don't know if it expresses everything I wanted, but it catches something.

Christina was the one who said she felt "like a mother" to all her frands, and that each of us had been entrusted to her by God for a special reason. She probably had the teenagers in mind, of course... but she didn't put limits on God's will, or preconditions to her welcoming embrace of all those God sent to her.

I have come to realize the extensive, vast, encouraging strength of the heart that was the source of so many hugs like this, and I too have been welcomed and affirmed (mysteriously) in this great embrace.

Monday, August 10, 2020

"Full Meaning and Firm Hope"


"The center of existence, what gives full meaning and firm hope to our often difficult journey, is faith in Jesus, is our encounter with Christ. This does not mean following an idea, a project, but encountering Him as a living Person, to be fully involved by Him and His Gospel" (Benedict XVI).

Sunday, August 9, 2020

John Paul and Emily are MARRIED!

Here are a few pictures from yesterday's happy day (I didn't take many, since there were real photographers on hand for that).

The wedding went as well as anything could go in this crazy year. Requirements, recommendations, modifications, etc. in both the State of Virginia and the Diocese of Arlington are sufficiently "open" at this time that we were able to have a nice gathering for the ceremony and a reception too. It's still an unpredictable world, but Virginia has been better off than many other places, and God willing it'll stay that way and other places will improve. As for the world, it never has "guaranteed" anything regarding easy circumstances and it never will. The joy of this day was a gift for which we are deeply grateful.

We continue to pray and do our best and trust in God's goodness moving forward.

But I have so many impressions and thoughts that I still have to sort through and ponder before writing more about this day. So for now we'll stick to pictures. First of all, I'm so happy to present Mr and Mrs John Paul and Emily Janaro:


Here are John Paul and his four sisters (they have all "grown up" on this blog, but just in case you haven't seen them lately, they are - from the left - Lucia, Teresa, Josefina, and Agnese):


And here is the most recent, up-to-date, and complete picture of the Janaro family:


We haven't had many chances to "dress up" in 2020. My role as "Father of the Groom" was relatively easy. In any case, I rose to the challenge... of putting on a suit!๐Ÿ˜‰ Well, in any case, I found an excuse to take some goofy selfies:


Meanwhile, Eileen looked stunning. I sneeked a picture of her and John Paul during the "Mother-Son dance" at the reception. I'm so blessed to have such a great lady for my wife, and I pray that John Paul and Emily will have as much joy as we have known in these years, and that they will be blessed with children as great as the ones God gave us!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

"Lord, It Is Good For Us To Be Here"

August 6: The Transfiguration.

Here is a selection from a sermon of the great twentieth century Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Father Alexander Schmemann. This exhortation, drawn from the richness of the Russian spiritual tradition, draws on the mystical depth of the Gospel that shines as the 'hidden light' of East and West.

"Jesus knows that in the hour of his ultimate sacrifice, ultimate self-giving, everyone will flee in fear and forsake him. But right now — so that afterwards, when everything is finished, the world would still have some evidence of where He is inviting people to come, what He is offering us as a gift, as life, as the fullness of meaning and joy — now, therefore, hidden from the world and from the people, He reveals to three of his own disciples that glory, that light, that victorious celebration to which man is called from eternity.

"The divine light, permeating the entire world. The divine light, transfiguring man. The divine light in which everything acquires its ultimate and eternal meaning. 'It is good for us to be here,' cried the apostle Peter seeing this light and this glory. And from that time, Christianity, the Church, faith is one continuous, joyful repetition of this 'it is good for us to be here.' But faith is also a plea for the everlasting light, a thirst for this illumination and transfiguration. This light continues to shine, through the darkness and evil, through the drab grayness and dull routine of this world, like a ray of sun piercing through the clouds. It is recognized by the soul, it comforts the heart, it makes us feel alive, and it transfigures us from within.

"'Lord! It is good for us to be here!' If only these words might become ours, if only they might become our soul’s answer to the gift of divine light, if only our prayer might become the prayer for transfiguration, for the victory of light! 'Let your everlasting light shine also upon us sinners!'"

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

This is Actually Happening!

I may not be posting much content on the blog in the coming days because there's this... ummm... WEDDING that is... really happening. Earlier, I posted this on Facebook:


Of course, my wife and the girls are busy, busy, busy. As "Father of the Groom," however, not much is required of me in the ceremonial stuff. It still feels weird because... well, it's 2020, haha... but also, a wedding is like "Didn't we just do this fairly recently, not long ago?"

Oh yeah, that was our wedding.๐Ÿ˜ฎ (That was 24 years ago? Really!?)

Don't worry. There will be pictures eventually. Right now, all I gotta do is find some pants to wear.๐Ÿ˜‰

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Guitar Poetry: The "Sound" of Three Centuries Ago


Recently I was doing some research that led me to dip into a bit of seventeenth century English poetry (and, as you might imagine, it doesn't take much to "lead" me into such explorations). I happened upon Crashaw's delightful poem "Music's Duel," which relates a contest of tonal virtuosity between a lute player and a bird.

It's a vivid poem, for a variety of ways in which it gives verbal description not only to the sounds of music but also the gestures of the musician. I took particular note of the Caroline era guitarist, who clearly possessed both passion and considerable skill. 

Though arthritis has slowed me down quite a bit, the youthful version of myself (as depicted above, about forty years ago) might have been up for a similar challenge. He probably would have at least fancied himself up for it.

One thing the excerpt from this poem below makes clear: in the 1600s those dudes could play! My man "the Lute Master" ROCKED.

****************************************************************************

Excerpt from "Music's Duel"

[The Lute's Master "awakes his lute'"]

...his hands sprightly as fire, he flings
And with a quavering coyness tasks the strings.
The sweet-lip't sisters, musically frighted,
Singing their fears, are fearfully delighted...


The humourous strings expound his learnรจd touch,
By various glosses; now they seem to grutch,
And murmur in a buzzing dinne, then jingle
In shrill-tongu'd accents, striving to be single.
Every smooth turn, every delicious stroke
Gives life to some new grace; thus doth he invoke
Sweetness by all her names; thus, bravely thus
(Fraught with a fury so harmonious)
The lute's light genius now does proudly rise,
Heaved on the surges of swollen rapsodies,
Whose flourish (meteor-like) doth curl the air
With flash of high-borne fancies: here and there
Dancing in lofty measures, and anon
Creeps on the soft touch of a tender tone;
Whose trembling murmurs melting in wild aires
Runs to and fro, complaining his sweet cares...


~Richard Crashaw (1646)

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Sense of the Mystery

Jesus Christ does not suffocate our humanity. He exalts human desire, deepening the sense of the mystery...

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Hong Kong: Suffocated By "Security"?


Hong Kong Summer 2020.

They say if you put a frog in a pot of hot water it will jump out, but if you put the frog into a pot of cool water and very slowly turn up the temperature to the boiling point, the frog will be dead before it realizes it's being cooked.

They teach that in "Oppressive Regimes 101" in Dictatorship Training School, don't they? And yet the CCP seems to have forgotten this technique, or they have no desire to use it while the world watches them cook beyond recognition what remains of the One-Country-Two-Systems arrangement with the great city of Hong Kong.

The hammer began falling almost immediately after Beijing's imposed "National Security Law" went into effect a month ago, when it became clear that there was to be no distinction between the newly sanctioned crimes related to "sedition" and acts that had previously been protected under Hong Kong's Basic Law as "free speech" and "free expression of opinion." In the first days, people were arrested for displaying or carrying this admittedly provocative banner:



Open support for "independence" had previously disqualified people from running for the Legislative Council, but it was not illegal simply to voice, discuss, or display it as an opinion. But, as of July 1, apparently, expressions favoring independence became seditious "speech crimes."

Even if one were to stretch the boundaries of plausibility and concede (in recognition of the mainland PartyState's jurisprudence of paranoia) that simply expressing the desire for independence on a sign is equivalent to inciting sedition, that would not be sufficient for the new order. They were determined to push back harder and much further on Hong Kong's freedoms.

Soon it was announced that the 2019 Protest Slogan was also illegal. "Liberate Hong Kong. The Revolution of Our Times" was commonly used in the anti-extradition protests, not as a call for independence or for overthrowing the local government, but for reforms that would preserve its distinctive system and institutions from the encroachment of CCP repression.



But explanations of meaning are fruitless. Law enforcement has been ordered to regard the 2019 slogan as seditious.

The "thought-police" are searching for even more targets. In response, some recent Hong Kong demonstrators displayed signs, placards, and papers that were completely blank. Their point was clear enough. So far, however, humor has not been declared dangerous to the State.

But given the current raging censorship, discussions of the distinctive historical and socio-cultural identity of Hong Kong are not likely to make the cut. One certainly does not expect to see slogans like this one in the future:


That puts it "negatively," of course. It's an angry statement, but there's a point behind it. A more positive expression (which you still probably won't see anymore) says it like this:


Certainly, the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong people are ethnic Chinese. They are descendants of Chinese people who freely chose to emigrate to a place outside China's jurisdiction, beginning in the 19th century.

Does the current mainland Chinese Communist PartyState have a right to rule them without regard for the heritage of their forebears? Does the PartyState have a right to erase Hong Kong from history, to have it swallowed up into a southern Chinese ocean port megacity? Does it have the right to suppress an established social realm with its own legal system, customs, and civil liberties?

In the olden days, there was a term for asserting such "rights" — conquest. Today's international community needs to pay attention to what is happening here.

"Hong Kong is not a place. It's a PEOPLE." In my opinion, this expresses one of the fundamental underlying historical facts about the population of this unique Southeast Asian city-state. From my own (admittedly outsider, but somewhat informed) point of view, I think it's necessary to probe beyond the injustices of 19th century Western powers and take seriously the history generated by actual local people on the ground. Many are not aware of the fact that "Hong Kong" was not an ancient Chinese city, nor did it have a distinctive Chinese history or culture prior to being ceded to the British in 1842. It was a rocky island inhabited by a few fisherman and an occasional haven for pirates.

I have no intention of crediting Britain's East India Company or its deplorable opium trade for anything, nor can it be said that the British colonial administration created the Hong Kong city-state we know today. The British wanted to set up a minimal port and trading station under the Crown. They did not find Hong Kong island particularly attractive and tended to neglect it as subsequent "unequal treaties" with the collapsing Qing Empire ceded much better "extraterritorial" sections of the large eastern Chinese port cities for their usage.

This was China's "century of humiliation," and it might be insulting to imply that anything good came out of those years, or deserves to endure. But Hong Kong has a very peculiar history — built by Chinese immigrants from the Pearl River Delta — that grew within the context of those times. Today's unique Hong Kong society is the achievement of these immigrants and their progeny (who speak Yue, or "Cantonese," rather than the standardized "Mandarin" of the most of the mainland), and others who followed them as refugees from the wars of the 20th century. They built up Hong Kong with the clear intention that it be a place distinct from mainland China, especially following the CCP takeover of the mainland in 1949.

Hong Kong became an international crossroads in the last century, and a beautiful and unique city (also with its own special problems). It should have been given a say in its own future. It was moving on from British colonial rule, prepared to claim and integrate into its own established identity the political and social institutions that had already emerged organically within itself. But owing to the pressures of international alliances and geopolitical and economic schemes, Great Britain betrayed its Crown Colony.

Without asking Hong Kongers, the British entered into a treaty to hand them over to the mainland Chinese government. It included 50 year special provisions for "domestic autonomy" (which would make no sense apart from the presumption that the Hong Kong people would continue to develop their own institutions). But nothing for Hong Kong was specified past the year 2047.

Optimism may have hoped that, at the end of 50 years, the people would have the freedom to decide their own future. Chinese Communist Party history, however, suggested that after 2047, Hong Kong would simply be absorbed into the homogeneous New China as an accessory to its grand development schemes. In any case, the treaty stipulated that Hong Kong was to become a "special autonomous region" of China, with its own domestic governance (at least this was the agreement negotiated between Britain and China, without any participation or radification of the process by the people of Hong Kong). Again, without its own consent, a "Basic Law" (a sort of "semi-constitution") was established for this unique civil society. The arrangement was summarized by saying that Hong Kong and China would exist as "one country with two distinct domestic political systems." Hong Kong's legal system, courts, legislature, currency, and civil liberties would all remain under its new "Basic Law." The arrangement would last 50 years. Guarantees of CCP compliance with even the letter (not to mention the spirit) of "One-Country-Two-Systems" were... rather thin.

This was proclaimed as the "liberation" of Hong Kong from colonial rule. But Hong Kong people could be forgiven if they felt more like serfs whose land was being transferred from one master to another. They also knew that the new master could not be trusted.

From the beginning, the Basic Law was a mashup, overwhelmingly (but not absolutely) weighted in favor of Beijing control. Pro-Democracy legislators were able to serve as something of a check on mainland power, along with the clear expression of popular will through mass demonstrations. In the last decade, however, China increased its zeal to integrate Hong Kong into its plans for economic growth (and political control) even before 2047. Hong Kong people resisted these efforts. Young people, even high school students, were especially active. They realized that the future of Hong Kong was their future, and they had to make their aspirations, protests, and voices heard.

Since 2014, the struggle has been consistent and the repression has increased until it exploded into the huge demonstrations and brutal police response tactics of last Summer and Fall.

The PartyState bided its time, or so it appeared. Some wondered if perhaps the CCP didn't know what to do with Hong Kong. But this year, after the emergence of Coronavirus delayed everything, the Party arranged for its "National People's Congress" (the annual legislative body it controls) to approve the "amending" of Hong Kong's Basic Law (again, without Hong Kong popular consent) by a new National Security Law for the region, that gave special criminal status to broadly defined acts of "sedition," "incitement to sedition," and other related acts. These crimes were placed under mainland jurisdiction outside of Hong Kong's intrinsic legal system. The new provisions have been widely viewed as gutting what remains of Hong Kong's civil liberties and, effectively, of its "autonomous status."

Benny Tai
As I noted earlier, in their rapid implementation of their new broadly articulated "Law," the CCP and its loyalists are going in hard and fast. They are also stirring up an overall atmosphere of fear and repression. Last week, Umbrella Movement nonviolent activist and pro-Democracy law professor Benny Tai was fired by Hong Kong University (even though the academic senate had previously voted to retain him). According to the BBC, Tai said that "the decision to fire him was 'made not by the University of Hong Kong but by an authority beyond the University through its agents,' ...adding 'I am heartbroken to witness the demise of my beloved university.'"

The next day, four students were arrested under the new "Law" for posts they made discussing the future of Hong Kong on social media (i.e. "speech crimes" and media surveilance). Then, moves were made to prevent the pro-Democracy faction from taking over the Legislative Council in next month's elections. Twelve candidates who had been selected by the huge turnout in last month's "informal" pro-Democracy coalition "primaries" (there are no formal political parties in Hong Kong) were disqualified from running for the Council. For many of them, their mere objection to Beijing's new Law was deemed by election officials sufficient grounds to declare them unfit to serve as legislators. Moreover, the elections themselves were "postponed" until next year, obstensibly because of "concerns over the pandemic" but in reality so as to ensure that every tooth has been removed from the opposition tiger before holding a vote. Indeed, by next year the whole tiger may have "disappeared."

None of this would be especially surprising if it were merely the ordinary workings of a dictatorship behind the curtain of its undisputed territory. At this point, however, Hong Kong is at the center of a ferocious dispute that cannot be obfuscated by propagandistic pretense. Beyond the legitimate claim of Hong Kong people to self-determination, there are indications that the mainland Chinese government is violating international treaty obligations that go all the way back to the original (flawed but internationally recognized) handover agreement. China is simply not free under international law to eliminate the One-Country-Two-Systems arrangement (guaranteed as a condition of the treaty at least until 2047). The insistence of the United States, the UK, and continental Europe on this is not a bluff (indeed, this is the only issue that has united — almost miraculously — the entire spectrum of rivals in the U.S.A.'s current dysfunctional politics).

One would think, even by their own logic, that "cautious pressure" would continue to be Beijing's approach (and one suspects that many in the Party and in the business sector would prefer that). Admittedly, it's surprising that the world's largest One-Party State can't seem to get a handle on this tenacious opposition movement. But the National Security Law, one would think, has now given them more than enough power to "restore order" (or establish new order) using what passes in dictatorships as "discrete methods," without interference and in whatever form they wish. However, the CCP is not (thus far) proceeding in this manner. They are not slowly 'boiling the frogs' of Hong Kong people's freedoms or the demands of the International community. Perhaps we are seeing (finally) a page from the Mao Zedong playbook, one that has a less subtle technique summarized by one of his favorite maxims: "Smash them!"

Or maybe the CCP has simply become desperate.

Hong Kong Internet humor, as in Xi memes such as this, will also become more difficult to post.







One sign of desperation is mistakes. Sloppy mistakes.

On August 1, news reported that arrest warrants had been issued for six Hong Kong expatriates — some of whom have recently gone into exile — on charges of "suspicion of [advocating? working for?] succession" and/or "colluding with foreign forces" to subvert Hong Kong.

Their names are Nathan Law, Samuel Chu, Wayne Chan Kakui, Honcques Laus, Simon Cheng, and Ray Wong.

According to the Security Law, China claims they can go after these criminals even outside the jurisdiction of the country. Perhaps they are hoping (ironically) for some form of extradition of the alleged criminals from their places of exile. That's not likely.

But here's where the whopper of a mistake comes in. One of the six, Samuel Chu, emigrated long ago from Hong Kong (before the handover in 1997) and has been a citizen of the United States of America for the past 25 years. In other words, the Chinese are claiming they can arrest Chu for exercising his rights as an American citizen.

Certainly, Mr. Chu is no friend of the CCP. He heads a lobbying group in the USA called the Hong Kong Democracy Council. But what were the Chinese thinking?

"It's such an outlandish claim that they somehow have jurisdiction over an American citizen lobbying the American government," said Chu. Indeed, it would be an understatement to say that a "diplomatic crisis" would ensue should the Chinese attempt to arrest a citizen of the USA for actions he undertakes in his own country, actions that are not crimes here (quite the contrary — Chu is exercising his rights under the US Constitution).

Indeed, in the olden days, this might have qualified in the practice of international affairs as a "casus belli" (a cause justifying a declaration of war). No one would advocate such measures today, but it might be worth noting just how much "fire is being played with" in the affair of Hong Kong. It's not excessive to call this "arrest warrant" a reckless mistake.

Response thus far from the Chinese government? <crickets...>

The underlying principle is boundlessly brazen: essentially, if they claim that they can arrest and punish Chu — an American — for using American free speech to criticize them in America, then what would stop them from arresting anybody in the USA (or anywhere else)? They could arrest me for this blog, though I cannot imagine a more frivolous waste of resources than coming after me. The point is that we have here a mockery of international law.

Or, as Chu has noted with more than a touch of irony: "We are all Hong Kongers now."

Chu is convinced this is indeed an expression of desperation by the ruling Party, that "they are scared of losing control. They know that if Hong Kong can continue to be a place of resistance, it threatens their control all over the mainland." He may be right.

There are some who think that President and Party Secretary Xi Jinping has overreached in his rapid consolidation of power since 2013. To attain such a pinnacle in a 100 million member Party like the CCP simply can't be done without roughing up a lot of people and making lots of enemies in the process. Xi has tried to cultivate a Mao-like status as a folk hero, which is not an easy project (and the plague and floods of 2020 are not helping it). Granted, the Great Helmsman survived a few "setbacks" (indeed!) but his stature as founding father along with his boundless reservoirs of cunning and ruthlessness put him in a category beyond anything Xi can aspire to. But since we don't know Xi's limits, and have no idea who (or what set of circumstances) might replace him, we ought not to have any fanciful hopes for the future of mainland China's Communist PartyState.

China is immense. There are no short cuts to understanding a great ancient civilization and the efforts made to govern it. I do not believe — however — that the ultimate Western philosophical import, "Marxism-Leninism," does them any good service. No amount of "Chinese characteristics" can extract Communist ideology's essentially violent core.

My question of the moment (and it is probably a foolish one) is simply: "Hong Kong has its own unique history, its own stories, its own sufferings. Why won't they simply allow Hong Kong to go its own way, as an independent city-state founded by the labor of primarily Yue-Chinese (็ฒค่ฏญ) immigrants from Guangdong (and others) who — struggling creatively under their unique circumstances of British colonial rule — forged their own distinctive political and social institutions, their own legal traditions, their own distinct culture, their own identity as a people entitled to self-determination?"

If this is what the Hong Kong people want, why can't it be worked out?

On August 1, Nathan Law — the 23 year old veteran student protester and sometime political prisoner, who had been elected to the LegCo and then unseated, and who went into exile last month — posted a statement on Twitter. May I point out that Nathan Law is the same age as my son. Many protest and opposition political leaders in Hong Kong are the age of my kids. They have carried themselves with great dignity under unimaginable pressures since 2014. As far as I can tell, they are not ideologues or rabble rousers (no doubt there are plenty of those in a very large and disorganized protest movement, but students like Nathan Law are not among them).

Certainly they are young, but they have shown singular potential and they will mature with time. Any country would consider such a spirited and courageous rising generation a precious resource. It would be a tragedy if they disappeared from Hong Kong's future. History is strange and unpredictable, but I cannot help feeling that — somehow — these kids will continue to make history, and to shape the future of Hong Kong in the face of whatever odds.

Here is Nathan Law's Twitter statement:

"Like all of you, I found out from news reports that I — along with five other Hong Kongers currently overseas — am on the wanted list for having violated the NSL. I have no idea what is my “crime” and I don’t think that’s important. Perhaps I love Hong Kong too much.

"Since 2014 I have experienced a lot of ups and downs: from student leader to a Legislative Council member, and from a prisoner to an international advocate, I have not for a moment betrayed Hong Kongers’ values and democratic aspirations.

"I’d be dishonest if I said I could’ve imagined six years ago that, by the time of Hong Kong’s complete destruction under Chinese control in 2020, I’d be so far gone, truly not knowing when I could return home. I was prepared when I left Hong Kong to be in exile; but this becoming a reality still disappoints, incapacitates, and frightens me. Indeed who can enjoy freedom from fear in the face of China’s powerful political machine? What we can choose is how to respond to this fear.

"For me, it’s with action: I’ve always advocated for democracy in Hong Kong, for sanctions by foreign governments against officials who stifle human rights, for an international response to concentration camps in Xinjiang and the collapse of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

"The arrests, the disqualifications, the wanted bulletins — these are indications of our need to remain active on the global stage. That Hong Kong has no place for even such moderate views like ours underscores the absurdity of Chinese Communist rule.

"I really love Hong Kong: its terrain, its culture, its vibe. But what I most love are Hong Kongers’ values and the future of its every inhabitant. What I now face is far greater than my own gains and losses. The price of displacement is what I’m willing to pay.

"At the same time, I hereby reiterate: My advocacy work overseas is conducted in my own personal capacity, without any collaboration with others. Since leaving Hong Kong, I have also stopped contacting members of my family. From now on I’ll sever my relationship with them.

"My social media will remain active. I hope, too, that all of you can stand strong to resist the white terror rather than succumb to self-censorship. I’ll also try my best to protect my safety. Please don’t worry about me. I still have faith in the future."

Nathan Law