Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Vine and Branches

"Dear friends, each one us is like a branch that can live only if, through daily prayers, participation in the Sacraments and charity, we can boost our union with the Lord. Whoever loves Jesus, the true vine, bears the fruits of faith for an abundant spiritual harvest. Let us beseech the Mother of God that we may remain firmly connected to Jesus and that all our actions have in Him the beginning and the end" (Benedict XVI, on today's gospel). .

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

"Not as the World Gives..."

Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27).

Monday, May 3, 2021

Jesus is the Way to the Father

May 3rd honors Saints Philip and James, two of the Twelve Apostles (this is the younger James - not the son of Zebedee - but "James the Less"). They are joined together in the Roman calendar because of the basilica that was built on the site of their relics (bones), which were brought to Rome and reinterred there in ancient times. The basilica today is called Santi Apostoli
In the liturgy for today's celebration, we read in the Gospel the second part of the introduction to the what have been called the "farewell discourses" of Jesus (John, chs 14, 15, and 16). These words are spoken only to the Lord's closest companions, as the setting indicates (it is on the way to Gethsemane, following the Last Supper). The discourse of John 14:1-14 can be seen as an identifiable "segment" within the teaching presented in these three chapters. Everyone would agree on the crucial significance of Jesus's words here.

In vv 1-6 it is Thomas who asks the decisive question (and we read this part of the gospel last Friday). Today, Philip the Apostle asks the question that permits Jesus to provoke the disciples (and us) once again with the stunning, mysterious, and in a sense "overwhelming" affirmation of who He is.

We bring our questioning hearts before the Lord every day, begging for the fullness of life. Jesus continually reminds us, "I am the way and the truth and the life." So often we are afraid in a world where God seems to be absent, but Jesus draws close to us through the sacraments and through His presence in the companionship we share as members of His Body, the Church, and He says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to seek Jesus, hope in Him, trust that His presence is sufficient for us no matter how difficult the circumstances we face. God has drawn close to us, walks with us, stays with us, and draws us into union with Himself.

The gift of God in answer to our hearts is Himself. He is so much more than we ever would have imagined; He is infinitely beyond any possibility we can grasp by our own power. But His compassion is boundless. His infinity is the infinity of Love. He has promised to give us whatever we need to attain the fullness of His joy which is our destiny.

When I was younger, I had a Cistercian monk from Holy Cross Abbey in Berryvilke, Virginia as my "spiritual father" (we lived closer to the monastery in those days). After confession, he always gave me as penance the task of prayerfully reading chapters 14, 15, and 16 of the Gospel of John. As you can imagine, that takes a bit longer than saying "three Hail Marys." But I think Father Edward (may he rest in Christ's peace) considered this reading to be more a joyful than a burdensome penance, and he was right.

We will hear most of these three chapters during the daily liturgy between now and Pentecost, as we prepare to welcome the Holy Spirit who opens our minds and leads us into the truth these words express. Especially during these precious days of the Easter Season, we will be greatly blessed by these Scriptures. Our attention to them will bear abundant fruit.

Here I represent John 14:1-14, the Gospel texts from last Friday and today's liturgy, the words spoken by Jesus to Saint Philip, Saint James, and the other Apostles:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“'Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house
there are many dwelling places.
If there were not, would I have told you
that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.'
Thomas said to him,
'Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?'
Jesus said to him,
'I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me
then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him 
and have seen him.'
Philip said to him,
'Master, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us.'
Jesus said to him,
'Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, "Show us the Father?"
Do you not believe that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you
I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me 
is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me,
or else,
believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me
will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, 
I will do it.'"

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Christian Faith is a "Universal" Call to Love

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and He wants to be with us - with each and every one of the human persons He has created and redeemed. But "where" is He? There is so much to say about this question. I will take up different aspects of it in other posts.

Let us begin by acknowledging that Christ's presence endures visibly and efficaciously in the community of believers who adhere to Him throughout history, who are gathered by His shepherds - the successors of His original companions and eyewitnesses, the Apostles, in communion with - and under the leadership of - the successor of Peter. The is the Church, where Jesus gives Himself concretely to human beings and forms them into His people. We are thus distinguished (beginning with our new birth in the sacrament of Baptism) from other people, as a sign and instrument of God's presence and love which are for everyone, and which everyone needs in the depths of their being. We are distinguished - as "members of Christ's body" - not so as to be separated from the human race as a whole, but to be companions to everyone, to be brothers and sisters to one another and to everyone. 

In following Jesus, we are called to love everyone He places on the path of our lives with great esteem, respect, attentiveness, and patience; like us, they are journeying toward their destiny and we have much to learn from the riches of their traditions and the aspirations and struggles of their experiences. Love also impels us to an intelligent and articulate witness about ourselves. As Christians, we will invariably overflow with this testimony to the foundation of our own lives in Christ, in whom we have found the pervasive presence of the Mystery, corresponding to the whole scope of our humanity, of human reason and freedom. 

We will speak about and propose to non-Christians the joy of Christ and His redemption within the concrete circumstances of our human relationships with these people, according to the particular ways that the Holy Spirit leads us. Our growing relationship with God empowers us to be His instruments according to God's wisdom and God's working within the persons He entrusts to us. Prayer and love are the sources of evangelization.

Today there are billions of people who live their lives and search for meaning, not knowing Jesus but nevertheless prompted and shaped inwardly by mysterious graces that are at least preparing them for their ultimate, decisive encounter with Him - and which may even effect some secret encounter and response in their hearts which is mysterious to us and not explicitly understood by them. We have no claim to power over them, and we can learn from them and their efforts to express the mysterious ways of God. We love them, and gladly call them brothers and sisters because we belong to the One who is calling them and who continues to call us to follow Him as we journey through this life together.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Catherine of Siena: An "Ever Greater Hunger..."

She was a small woman, not one who would stand out for any visible reason in an ordinary crowd on an ordinary day.

This image is from her tomb in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. To go there felt like visiting a wise and kind friend nearly three decades ago when I was living in Rome. What fire she must have been during her life, drawing so many to a deeper relationship with Christ and counseling (even admonishing, with firmness but also winning affection) popes and princes and the great people of her time. Her time, of course, was the latter part of the 14th century: a time of restlessness and great change, a time full of problems and dangers for the Church and society in Europe. There was much need for admonishment in those days, along with courage, wisdom, clarity, single-heartedness, and witness to the reality of the presence of Jesus amidst a multitude of distractions, lies, and violence. In their basic needs and in their brokenness, those days were not unlike our own.

Above all, what was needed then (as it is so desperately today) was Love. The awakening and the remembrance and the renewal of human persons in their relationship with the God who is Love. 

April 29 is the feast day of the incomparable Saint Catherine of Siena, a daughter of God, and a free woman in the face of all the powers of this world. She was an instrument for conversion and spiritual growth to those around her, and she poured herself out in deep prayer, contemplating God's love and sharing the fruits of her contemplation with others (as her spiritual writings and many letters attest). She sought always to draw people away from the nihilism of sin and toward the infinite reality of a loving and merciful God:

“What heart is so hard and stubborn that it would not melt contemplating the affectionate love divine goodness bears for it? Love, then, love! Ponder the fact that you were loved before ever you loved. For God looked within himself and fell in love with the beauty of his creature and so created us. He was moved by the fire of his ineffable charity to one purpose only: that we should have eternal life and enjoy the infinite good God was enjoying in himself. Oh boundless love, well have you shown that love!”

Catherine knew that the drama of human existence, the boundless desire of the human heart, can only find fulfillment in the embrace of the Mystery who is Infinite Love, who is revealed to us in the heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

COVID Diary: Can You Believe It's The End of April 2021...?!

Why did they call this whole business "Covid-19" again? I guess it was because the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, at the end of December 2019. While we were popping champagne and prognosticating about the "new decade," a global time bomb was ticking.

Covid took over 2020 for so many of us (though lots of other important things happened too). Now it has stretched its shadow over the first third of the year 2021. One year ago, at the end of April 2020, I wrote these words:

Of course, I have been trying to remember to pray, beg, search, cry out to God, and "never give up" every day, in front of whatever situation I face, for more than a decade. Or at least I have been writing about it for more than a decade, beginning with my book published in 2010 (which is still in print - click HERE - and I'm not trying to market the book, but just to point it out if anyone is interested😉).

The fundamental truths about God's love in Jesus Christ, our need to trust in Him, and my being "a wreck of a human being" who is "not 'good at' any of this spirituality stuff" remain true (though the Lord is working - in His own time but implacably - to pick up the wreckage of me and make something new from it).

Meanwhile, Covid 19-20-21 is still around and having an impact on us all, even if some circumstances have changed. Here in the USA, the vaccination program continues to progress. Life has opened up a bit, in some places more than others. The general burnout from many months is beginning to be balanced by a certain guarded optimism.

Other parts of the world, however, are in much worse condition than a year ago: parts of Latin America and, especially, India are in the news every day. India is an enormous nation which has had a rapidly growing economy and infrastructure in recent years but also still much poverty, fragility, and vulnerability. A new variant of the virus there is stretching them beyond their limits. Last year, India was exporting life-saving medical equipment to the West. Now they need everything, and are the recipients of aid.

This is one of many unforeseen emergencies. For my own country, the crisis and it effects may soon begin to seem "far away" again ... except that in our times, nothing is far away. The human race has always been far more profoundly interrelated than our immediate material surroundings indicate, but in the present day we are growing more aware of that interdependence. It is an awareness that brings constructive possibilities and dangers that are beyond our power to control. At most we may begin to understand more about the emerging factors that are likely to play a part in the unfolding of the near future. We can learn enough to act responsibly, to collaborate with one another while respecting our diverse cultures and ways of life and giving space to freedom for creativity and growth.

We must learn, now more than ever, that we are all brothers and sisters. But we will only see this if we also acknowledge that we are all children of God.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The 2021 Oscars: It's About the Music

Yes, it's about the music ... at least as far as I'm concerned.

I don't know who will win from among the five nominations for this year's "Best Original Song" at the Academy Awards tomorrow night. The odds are favoring "Speak Now," written and performed by Leslie Odom Jr. (of Hamilton fame). There are good reasons why this song is the favorite: it's a terrific piece of music by an outstanding singer, brilliantly arranged and presented in the credits scene from the movie One Night in Miami (Odom is also nominated for "Best Supporting Actor" in this film). The initially subdued R&B tone rises gradually to reach something of the intensity of the gospel music that inspired the Civil Rights era.

Ooooh! It's awesome in its conviction, and in its balance of power and restraint. And simply as a soulful piece of music.

Too bad they can't have multiple winners. I have been riding along with the rich and beautiful Italian ballad "Io Si" by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini, which already won the more internationally attuned Golden Globe Award last month. I have already written about this moving song (see here and here), and about how Laura singing any contemporary song in Italian or Spanish is, simply, the best. (Well, that's my opinion, but I'm not alone in saying this, and in any case this is my blog...😉)

Which reminds me, the best part of the part-live, part-virtual awards ceremony will be during the introductory segment that begins on television at 6:30 Eastern Time. (But does anyone really watch these shows on TV anymore? The important things always end up on YouTube in any case, though I may actually watch this segment live.) All five nominated songs will be performed and presented virtually. Four of them will come from an outdoor rooftop stage in Los Angeles.

The fifth will be performed from a small fishing village ... in Iceland.

This is where the story of 2020's movie music really takes off. "Húsavik (My Hometown)" is a "dark horse" nomination that really shouldn't be a dark horse. Indeed, if we're talking about music that is actually part of a movie, what we have in this song is nothing less than "cinema magic." And the strange events that no one foresaw when the film featuring this song was made (i.e. the COVID crises and lockdowns beginning in 2020) magnify the impact.

When I first saw previews for Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, I was amused but not strongly motivated to make an effort to watch it. In previews and pictures of this comedy, we see Will Ferrell looking intentionally ridiculous as a middle aged man who aspires, along with costar Rachel McAdams, to represent Iceland at the world's biggest international singing competition. (Indeed, here in the USA we have no idea how big a deal "Eurovision" is every year for many nations from the Nordic to the Mediterranean to the former Soviet republics, and now even far away Australia. It has been called "the Olympics of music.") 

What I expected to be a zany and bawdy parody (and it was bawdy, but not as much as it could have been) of Europe's biggest pop stage by an American comedian, turned out to be a funny but also clever and affectionate tribute to the contest that has been hosted by different countries from one year to the next from 1956-2019. The movie was filmed in 2019, and it is set up as a fictional version of the "2020 Eurovision Festival."

Then, like so many other things, the real 2020 Eurovision was cancelled. That added some poignancy to the film (as well as providing it with the chance to occupy a unique and memorable niche in Eurovision history) but none of that would have mattered if there wasn't any good music in it. The movie could be flawed (it was) and the jokes might fall flat (plenty of them did) but it needed absolutely to have some good music.

There was, in fact, quite a bit of good music. And the climactic song was, as I said, a little piece of cinema magic. The songwriters (Savan Kotecha, Max Grahn, and Rickard Gorensson) are the primary nominees for the award, but a lot of factors make this song work. Rachel McAdams acts very well the part of the fictional (comically spoofy but also endearing) Icelandic singer Sigrit, especially at this peak moment. She also "gives a lesson" in lip-synching. 

The vocals themselves require dexterity, a variety of tonal qualities, shifts between English and Icelandic, and some big-note "heavy-lifting" at the end. A Nordic singer would be needed to lay down the vocal track. It wouldn't be impossible to find someone. Much Scandinavian pop music has, in fact, a very high artistic quality. It can be avant-garde, but generally it has a very strong foundation in solid musicianship. The writers had a good pool of talent to choose from for the actual vocalist. 

They made a terrific choice.

The experienced, skillful, musically precise, and wonderfully ardent 28-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter Molly Sandén was born to do songs like this, and she absolutely nailed it. Dang, it's gorgeous!

On Sunday night we will see Molly Sandén's own face and hear her sing the song again from the actual town of Húsavik on the northern coast of Iceland, population 2300 (some of the locals appeared in the movie). The fact that such a performance will be broadcast on the Oscars is already a "win" ... for everybody!

Swedish singer Molly Sandén recording (left) and Rachel McAdams playing the role of the singer of "Húsavik," from the movie "Eurovision, Fire Saga." It's one of the nominees at Sunday night's Academy Awards.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Virginia Redbuds and Green Hills

Here is some more Spring, in photographic form: the “redbud” trees are blooming all over the Valley these days.

You can also see that lots of green is coming out on the hills and onward into the mountains that surround us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Theology as Prayer in Saint Anselm

Saint Anselm was a great theologian, in the most true sense of the term. I have studied his thought and published about it in the past (see e.g. this article [click this link] from 2006). It is good to "visit with him" in a particular way on his feastday by reading words he wrote over 900 years ago. 

He was a thorough and rigorous thinker, who deserves the intellectual esteem he holds in the world of academic philosophy and theology. 

But unlike so many of us today, he was not a "compartmentalized person," doing theology some of the time and preaching some of the time and writing some of the time, and then eating, drinking, or sleeping some of the time. He would have said that he only did one thing, or at least that only one thing mattered: praying. I have begun to realize (after many years of reading and studying his work) that Saint Anselm didn't write theology treatises and then just "put prayers into them." His form of expression wasn't a stylistic device or a pious literary genre. Rather, he really prayed - and sometimes his prayer took the form of theological thinking and writing. 

For Anselm, "faith seeking understanding" wasn't the definition of an intellectual program. It was his living faith that sought God with all of his humanity (seeking, that is, more of what he had already begun to possess). In prayer - in a living relationship and constant loving communication with Jesus Christ - Anselm sought greater understanding with all the energy of his intellectual genius because he wanted to draw closer to Christ and belong ever more fully to Him.

This is what it really means to "do theology."

Here is an excerpt from one of Anselm's famous treatises prayed from his mind and heart, from Cur Deus Homo, 54:

"Consider, O my soul, and you, my inmost self, reflect, how much my entire being owes to Him. 

"Truly, O Lord, because You have made me, I owe my whole self to Your love; because You have redeemed me, I owe my whole self; because You promise so much, I owe my whole self. In fact, I owe so much more than myself to Your love, as You are greater than I, for whom You have given Yourself and have promised Yourself. 

"Grant, O Lord, I beseech You, that I may taste by love what I taste by speculation, perceive by affection what I perceive by the understanding. I owe You more than my whole self; but neither have I more, nor even this that I am can I of myself give up whole to You. Draw me, or rather this whole self of mine, O Lord, into Your love. All that I am is Yours by creation; make it all Yours by love.

"Behold, O Lord, my heart lies open before You; it tries, but of itself it cannot. [Lord, I ask] that what I myself cannot do, You do. Admit me within the chamber of Your love. I ask, I seek, I knock. You who cause me to ask, cause me to receive. You give the seeking; give also the finding. You teach how to knock, open to him who knocks...

"The desiring is from You; let me have the obtaining too from You. Cling to Him, O my soul; cling, cling with importunity. Good Lord, good Lord, cast not [my soul] away. It faints of hunger for Your love; revive it. Let Your sweet election satiate it, and Your unfailing fondness nourish it, and Your divine love fulfill it.

[Lord Jesus Christ], "occupy me altogether, and possess and fill me through and through. For You are with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God only blessed for ever and ever. Amen."

Monday, April 19, 2021

Social Media and the "Mystical Body of Christ"?

People move all over the world in this era (well, they did until COVID, and they will do it again in the future), yet that doesn't mean that they disappear entirely from our lives. Genuine friends remain vitally connected even "at a distance" by virtue of the crucial experiences we have shared together, our ongoing interpersonal commitment, and an enduring common bond of mutual concern. Underlying all these particulars is our essential unity as members of the human family.

There are many levels to the bonds that unite people in various ways, and friendship actualizes itself on all those levels. It is a fundamental human experience that has always found ways to endure separation and even grow deeper from long distances. Techniques and methods of communications media have developed since ancient times: not only for the conveyance of instruction and information, or for commercial transactions, but also to sustain interpersonal relationships between human beings. The "personal letter" (and a postal service that delivers it) is almost as old as writing itself. Then, in the early stages of the technological revolution, the telephone bridged time and space, and brought together the voices of people far from each other. And in the last few decades we have seen an explosion of instantaneous audiovisual communications media on a global scale.

Even with the complex problems and superficiality that have arisen in the "new media" culture, it certainly testifies to the fundamental human desire for connection, rooted in our basic perception of our common humanity and aspiring to grow through interpersonal relationships. Social media has lots of problems, but it can also foster and maintain bonds between people.

There is still more to say regarding human intercommunication and human fraternity. This realm, in a particular way and with a special significance, is being transformed and brought to fulfillment by that singular event in history and its enduring presence that call us - as individuals, as friends, as communities - to the fullness of life for which we have been created.

The whole human experience has an ultimate and concrete purpose; it has been taken entirely into a Greater Love. The Mystery beyond all things, the Infinite One who is the Source of everything, has embraced our humanity within a human Heart that He has made His own: He who shapes the destiny of every human person has chosen to accompany each of us from before our first heartbeat to our final heartbeat and beyond... with a human Heart of His own. His living Heart draws from within - in countless, untold, mysterious ways - the desire of every human heart. He draws each of us to the only destiny that can fulfill our real selves, which is to share His victory and His glory. This is Jesus Christ, who died and who has risen from the dead.

The miracle we celebrate in these days of Easter is the new foundation of human history, revealing the mystery of the Father's plan from the beginning: to put all things under the headship of Christ His Son (see Ephesians 1:10). Every facet of human experience, human interaction, and human life has been transformed and given a new meaning by the Person who has transformed our humanity by making it His own, by dwelling with us, by living with us a truly human life, by dying for us and rising for us.

As members of Christ's body, our friendships with one another are more meaningful that we ever would have imagined. We are "given to one another" for a reason, to strengthen the vitality of Christ's visible presence in this world. His grace and the purpose of His wisdom already pervade our friendship in all its human details, no matter how mundane. Though we so often forget this, it remains true that our relationships are encompassed within the flame of charity that rises from the Easter candle.

Jesus also encompasses our friendships with non-Christians: in our faithful witness to Him and the whole truth of His redeeming love, in the sharing of our common humanity (which is His humanity), in the mutual enrichment of an honest and open dialogue, and also in many hidden and mysterious ways which I will address in another blog post. The point I want to stress, in any case, is that connection-between-human-beings has been redeemed and consecrated by the healing and transforming love of the Risen Jesus.

This is something we must remember when we use social media. Saint Paul used the "social media" of his day - letters - to communicate with people in the communities he knew, where he had once lived. He even sent letters to communities he had never met, to places he had not yet visited (e.g. his letter to the Romans, written before he went to Rome). He had no doubt that through this media he was sharing his own person with other persons, joined together by the humanity of the Risen Jesus and the hope of eternal life. And the particular circumstances in people's lives mattered: they were the stuff of human relationships in Christ: he asks after the health of friends, praises others, recalls details of their past companionship together that have earned his enduring trust, and even advises Timothy to take "a little wine" for his stomach troubles. (I'm not going to cite all these references; most often they are near the conclusion of his letters).

Christians who belong to one another in Christ can, in a similar way, see value in the social media of today. It is true that it so easily becomes a distraction, but if we bring it every day to Jesus, entrusting it to Him and beginning again with the determination to remember Him in our use of social media, we will grow in our capacity to focus on what matters within the context of our day and all of our particular responsibilities.

What a blessing this can be for friends who no longer live in proximity to one another (or who can't see each other for a period of time due to constraints like those we've seen with COVID). We can all still share our joys and pains, and encourage and pray for one another even as we grow in new ways. 

Social media can actually be used by Jesus to help us remember that we are not alone in this world. We are together in Christ, in his Mystical Body. We can use the human tools of social media to help us remember that friendship in Christ never ends, that we carry one another into new places and continue to help one another in witness and suffering. This extends "down" to the details of ordinary daily life, which we can "share" - in some measure - in honesty and sincerity by means of our verbal and audiovisual communication.

Let us therefore be grateful to hear about and see pics of new things. We have opportunities here to stay in touch in a rich way. Even as God calls us to new things, old friendships will grow as we seek to grow in Him. This is a mystery, and it does not need social media to happen, but these are tools we can use to help us remember that the "Mystical Body" is not an abstraction.

Our friendship, our support for one another, and the witness it gives are good reasons not to give up on social media, in spite of its limitations or the flaws of various media platforms. Jesus Christ has won the victory in all things, and our confidence and strength are in Him.

Friday, April 16, 2021

"April 16" is a Day of Remembrance

This is a Day of Remembrance for me, along with many others.

I join them this day in remembering the horror of April 16, 2007 - the murder of 32 students at Virginia Tech University. 

I remember those who lost their lives (including those who sacrificed themselves to protect others). And I remember their loved ones and friends whose personal wounds remain, who have learned to walk with their grief (some of whom I know: my heart goes out especially to you, dear friends). 

Today many of us also remember and honor a University community that has carried on in these years with dignity and magnanimity and courage, flourishing in new ways while also insuring that we never forget this tragedy, and that we keep asking ourselves the questions it raises about the violence in our society, the absence of meaning that generates it, and the longing for an 'answer' to why such incomprehensible things happen in this world. 

Let us continue to work in constructive ways against violence, and for a society of wisdom, justice, and mutual love - even while we carry the pain of that "Why?" within us, suffering the need for a "resolution" that this world cannot achieve, but which we continue to hope for. 

We continue to hope that we might receive as a gift what we cannot manufacture by our own power.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Spring Puts On It's Own "Art Show"

Everything is blooming into flower or bursting forth from Winter slumber in the past couple of weeks. I don't need to bother posting my own colorful creations (though I will put a couple of them at the end anyway😉).

Here some recent photographs of buds and flowers (including close-ups), young greenery, sunsets at 7:45PM, along with just a bit of art.

And here are some flowers, streams, trees seen through through my imagination and the digital tools that enable me to communicate it (by making accessible a variety of old patterns and forms) in a "new language." #DigitalArt

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie: God is Still Here


I first posted this graphic meme four years ago (on April 10, 2017) in my monthly series remembering this amazing young musician, singer, songwriter, and ardent soul: Christina Victoria Grimmie. 

Her life of love "lived-to-the-end" continues to shine, to be a witness full of hope for me and many people around the world. She made no secret of the meaning and purpose of everything in her life, and the One in whom she placed her trust.💚

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Resurrection Calls Us to Newness of Life

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

The miracle we celebrate in these days of Easter is the new foundation of human history, revealing the mystery of the Father's plan from the beginning: to put all things under the headship of Christ His Son (see Ephesians 1:10). Every facet of human experience, human interaction, and human life has been transformed and given a new meaning by the Person who has transformed our humanity by making it His own, by dwelling with us, by living with us a truly human life "in all things but sin." 

Jesus never sinned, but that didn't mean He was "missing out" on something in His humanity. We sin because we are missing something that God intended for us to have. God never wanted us to sin. He made us free for the sake of love. And although He permitted humans to reject His wisdom, His grace and gifts, and allowed sin to wound the foundations of human freedom and human solidarity, it was only so that He could turn our failures into a more profound revelation and outpouring of His love, by healing us and restoring what was lost in a more wondrous and beautiful way. As Saint Augustine said (and as the Church sings in the Easter Vigil liturgy): "Felix culpa ... O happy fault ... that gained so great a redeemer!"

Sin itself, as we know only too well, adds nothing to the enrichment of our humanity; it reduces, divests, and destroys us, and in itself it is "no-thing" at all - rather it is our shrinking and withdrawal from the full measure of being, from truth, goodness, beauty, and the reality of life.

Jesus who is the Life accompanies us into the depth of the impoverishment that is the consequence of sin and death. Indeed, He "goes before us," bearing our sorrows all the way to the end out of love - as the gift of the Father's love - so as to open a new way for reconciliation with God, a new and inexhaustible life that overcomes all the violence we inflict upon ourselves and one another.

The Risen Lord invites us to a renewed and transformed life. He seeks us who are lost. He dies for us (and "with us") so that He can find us and save us. He wants us to rise with Him, to be free from the tombs in which we have imprisoned ourselves.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Sunday 2021

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, alleluia! 

⭐️Happy Easter Sunday to everyone!⭐️ Happy Easter Week, and Happy Easter Season (which continues until Pentecost)!


In his first Twitter message for this season of rejoicing, Pope Francis gave out an important reminder about how the Resurrection of Jesus reveals God's desire to begin a new life even now, today, in our hearts if we open them up to His grace and mercy:

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Two Years Since Dad Went Home to God

On this day, as we waited for the silent Jesus in the tomb, wrapped in his shroud, we also marked the second anniversary of my father's death. It was a pretty Spring afternoon at the cemetery where Dad's body is buried. Three generations of Janaros came together there to visit his grave (including his great-granddaughter now nearly six months in her mother's womb).

Death remains real and mysterious. We are "separated" from people we love when they die. There is real suffering in this separation, even if - radically speaking - it's only "temporary." I don't think we should be surprised if we find it hard to "get over" the loss, or "put it behind us." 

Maybe we can't completely overcome grief. Maybe we're not meant to. 

Perhaps a portion of this sorrow is instead something we learn to endure, to bear for the remainder of our own lives: a sorrow which - in this world of space and time, bounderies and limits - corresponds to the love that goes beyond those limits in its need and in its giving.

A Catholic cemetery is designed to be peaceful for the living as well as the dead. Its quiet natural beauty and the crosses and memorials of its stones are conducive to reverence and recollection, to the solitude that reminds us of our greater destiny, and that evokes faith, hope, charity, and prayer for our loved ones who have gone before us.

Tomorrow we celebrate with joy our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our hope to rise with Him. Our hearts look forward in that hope toward the promise of a New Creation, praying that the God-who-is-Love will draw all of us to Himself, transform us as His sons and daughters, and bring us all together forever, with every tear wiped away.

Friday, April 2, 2021

"It Is Finished"

"It is finished" (John 19:30). 

[Painting from the series "Crucifix" by William Congdon (1915-1998).]


And this appears to be a fragment of an idea for a poem (or perhaps it's sufficient for a whole poem) that I found in my journal from Holy Week of 1991:

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday of Half-a-Lifetime Ago (1991)


Holy Week and the Easter Triduum came at the end of March, thirty years ago. I have been revisiting a journal I kept with some regularity from 1990-1992. Back then I was expecting that I would eventually become someone important, and that "posterity" would therefore be interested in my "thoughts."

Thus, some affectation always got in the way of my writing. It still does. But - then and now - it's mixed in with some genuine observations.

I was writing on Holy Thursday, 1991. I was using the only "portable word processor" we had back then: a pen. I had much better handwriting in those days. I may have even been a better writer. I certainly had some choice words for "sophisticated cynics" and their "enlightened boredom." I have since had to wrestle in many ways with my own temptations to be cynical.

Therefore, I now have a bit more empathy for the "sophisticated cynics" than I did thirty years ago. Life is hard. Often people just get burned out, and they're just looking for a little "peace of mind." It's a good thing that the astonishing "foolishness of God" includes His patience with us: the way He "reaches down" to accompany us on obscure pathways.

Easter came on March 31 that year (five days earlier than this year). At this time in 1991, my father was about to turn 56 years old, i.e., he was younger than I am now. I still find that hard to imagine. I feel like my Dad was born "older" than I am now. Today, I believe he looks lovingly upon us as we prepare to mark two years since his death.

There is much to ponder as Easter 2021 approaches. The "foolishness of God" remains wiser than all our wisdom.

Anyway, here's "the kid." I'll let him speak for himself. God has been patient with him, and so I must also be patient.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Romano Guardini's "The Lord" Never Gets Old

So often, over the past 30+ years (i.e. since my days as a graduate student), this singular book has been one of my companions during Holy Week. The Lord is a book that has graced many bookshelves of Catholics since my childhood (including, if I remember correctly, that shelf in the home I grew up in, where I first encountered so many great writers).

It is a series of erudite yet bracing and provocative meditations on the life of Jesus Christ. It is provocative in a very positive sense, in that it challenges our comfortable images of Jesus and our efforts to "domesticate" Him to fit our agendas and our measure. It confronts us continually with the mystery of the Person and mission of Jesus, who is "The Lord."

Romano Guardini - a brilliant 20th century churchman towering in stature as a teacher, immense in influence even to the present day, yet also remarkably underappreciated - wrote many books on subjects ranging widely over theology, philosophy, and Western literature. He was also a pioneer in the liturgical movement and in pastoral ministry to young people many years before Vatican II.

He was a unique figure who defied categorization: an Italian by heritage who grew up and spent nearly his entire life in Germany, and spoke and wrote in German. He was not a systematic theologian, but the depth of his faith and learning inspired the theological studies and the vocations of many figures (including the last three Popes) and many currents of thought that came after him. 

His insights into Christian personalism were of significance to Saint John Paul II, while he was much loved by the German Papa Ratzinger. And Jorge Bergoglio began (but did not have the chance to complete) a dissertation on Guardini, and Pope Francis continues to draw from the wealth of Guardini's insights for following the narrow path of the Church's mission in a world of technological power.

Guardini was wonderfully attuned to the whole range of the aspirations and the tragedies of human life, and his lectures at the University of Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s were widely attended by Catholics and Protestants, and also non-Christians, agnostics, and anyone searching for truth.

It is useful to understand that The Lord was written within a precise context, as a perennially valid proclamation of the uniqueness of Jesus that perhaps owes something of its particular vividness to Guardini's open rejection of the Nazi ideology. Guardini was determined to oppose Nazi efforts to co-opt Jesus and reinterpret his life in support of their racist pagan agenda. 

Guardini had already criticized these views directly in articles, so that when the original German edition of Der Herr was first published in 1937, it was clear that he was holding up the mystery of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery as light in the darkness that was overtaking Germany. The SS responded by storming bookstores and ripping the books down from the shelves. The internationally renowned professor himself was too large a target (at that time) for open persecution, but Hitler's government "invited" Guardini to "retire" from his professorial chair at the University of Berlin. In the face of this attempt to silence him, Guardini took his course on "Catholic Worldview" to the Jesuit church across the street, and his lectures remained packed in 1939.

It was clearly not a situation that would long be tolerated. During the war years, Guardini was effectively "internally exiled" to a rural area, but he continued to privately publish and circulate pamphlets on the significance of the Christian life that sustained many ordinary Catholics in their fidelity to Christ and refusal to worship the idols of the National Socialist State. But Guardini's emphasis remained the profound positivity of "Christian existence," which is the fruit of God's gratuitous love that establishes a "new criterion" in front of all human circumstances.

For this reason, Guardini's preaching continues to resonate powerfully in today's very different global social and cultural context, and is relevant in front of any and all totalizing political and/or social ideologies. Guardini's intention was always to bear witness to the whole "uncompromising" reality of Jesus - so that Jesus might be encountered as the gift of the freedom of God's overflowing love - but also with acute awareness of the resistance raised in a multitude of forms by "the world" (the realm inhabited by humans insofar as they are closed to God and trapped within their own criteria).

The text quoted immediately below expresses the summons and the challenge that Jesus "the Lord" is for us, and how He becomes the criterion for seeing the whole of reality. The entire book illuminates the Gospels and the New Testament in light of this summons to conversion and the freedom it promises:
"One must cease to judge the Lord from the wordly point of view and learn to accept his own measure of the genuine and the possible; to judge the world with his eyes. This revolution is difficult to accept and still more difficult to realize, and the more openly the world contradicts Christ's teaching, the more earnestly it defines those who accept it as fools, the more difficult that acceptance, realization. Nevertheless, to the degree that the intellect honestly attempts this right-about-face, the reality known as Jesus Christ will surrender itself. From this central reality, the doors of all other reality will swing open, and it will be lifted into the hope of the new creation."

Here below is another particular selection from my reading this week, which gives insight into the seemingly "peculiar way" (in human terms) that Jesus "fails" to play the winning hand that his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem had given him. He is clearly pursuing something beyond the boundaries of merely human, earthly success:
"A man convinced of his high mission and placed in a similar position [as Jesus found himself in after Palm Sunday] would have done everything possible to drive home the truth. He would have spoken with the priests, the Scribes, with those who had influence among the people; he would have taken Scripture to hand and clarified his identity with the aid of the Messianic prophecies. He would have attempted to recapture the hearts of the crowd, to reveal to them the essence of his teaching, and to win them over to his side.

"Is this what happens? No!

"Jesus does proclaim the truth, and his words are powerful and penetrating; but he makes nothing like the effort we expect of him. And his manner is anything but winning; it has something uncompromising about it, harsh and challenging. One eager to do everything in his power to swing a crisis in his favor does not speak as Jesus speaks....The man we mentioned might also have reasoned thus: The time for persuasion is past; now for action! The adversary impermeable to reason must be met on his own grounds - force with force. He would have attacked each group at its weakest point. He would have played the Sadducees against the Pharisees and vice-versa. He would have appealed to the people, would have warned them, stirred them to action, would have denounced their leaders and won them over. Or he would have realized that the odds were against him and flee.

"Jesus could easily have done so. The Pharisees even expected him to: 'You will seek me and will not find me; and where I am you cannot come' (John 7:34-35). The Jews
[i.e. the elites of Judea] therefore said among themselves, 'Where is he going that we shall not find him? Will he go to those dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?' Our man would probably have done so. He would have gone to Alexandria or to Rome, certain of finding open ears there and hopeful of returning later under more favorable conditions. But this idea is totally foreign to Jesus.

"There remains one more possibility: that our man admit himself defeated and, according to his nature, exhausted, despairingly, or proudly die. Perhaps he would even fling himself into death, as the mysterious counterpole of success, reckoning on the logic of death and life, catastrophe and new beginning. 
Nothing of all this applies to Jesus, though attempts were made into the period in which 'the eschatological' was in
vogue [i.e. 19th century liberal protestant exegesis], to prove that when all possibility of earthly success was clearly out of the question, Jesus played upon the 'success of a failure,' on the mysterious intervention of God, hoping that from his death would come the fulfillment of all things. Actually, there can be no talk of this. Jesus does not capitulate; never is there the slightest trace of 'breakdown,' and it is as false to speak only of catastrophe, as it is to take his earthly failure in a bound of mystic-enthusiasm that tries to make a creative downfall of his death. This is unrealistically exalted and, by comparison with the truth, thin psychology.

"Here is something quite different. What?

"If we follow the Gospel reports of Jesus' last days closely, we find nothing of extreme concentration on a single goal; nothing of relentless effort or struggle in the usual sense of the word. Jesus' attitude is entirely serene. He says what he has come to say - unmitigatingly, objectively; not with an eye to its acceptance, but as it must be said. He neither attacks nor retreats. He hopes for nothing as humans hope and fears nothing. When he goes to Bethany by night and stays with friends because of the opposition against him, this does not mean that he fears his enemies, but simply that the ultimate is postponed because its hour is not yet ripe.

"Jesus' soul knows no fear, not only because he is naturally courageous, but because the center of his being lies far beyond the reach of anything fearful. Therefore, he cannot really be called audacious in the human sense. He is only completely free for what in every minute of his life must be done. And he does it with unutterable calm and sovereignty.

"The more closely we distinguish between Jesus and any other man, the more clearly we see that what is happening here is not measurable by human standards. True, it is conceived by human spirit, willed by human will, experienced by the most ardent and sensitive of human hearts; but its origin and the power with which it is consummated give Jesus a greatness outside human comprehension. So God's will is done, and Jesus wills this will" 
(from The Lord, 1954 English edition, pp. 344-346).

Saturday, March 27, 2021

COVID and the Ways of Our "Crosses" ... With Jesus

It is Saturday, March the twenty-seventh, in the year two-thousand-twenty-one.

Last year, March began with hints of Spring in the air. By the end of the month, however, the world seemed to have rolled off its axis and into a dark hole. The COVID-19 Pandemic came roaring into the United States of America.

The past year has had no precedent in my lifetime. Nothing like this ever happened: the sudden spread of an evasive highly infectious worldwide pathogen bringing mild illness to many and deadly illness to some (relatively, we might even say "few," but still far too many for us to do nothing); the heroic efforts of doctors and scientists to contain it, along with the often chaotic responses of political officials who admittedly needed to address many complex social and economic concerns but who also - here in the USA at least - had to spin their responses through the vortex of the pressures and political conflicts of an election year.

A year later, here we are, still "dealing with the Pandemic." Vaccines are being rolled out, and high risk populations and essential workers are getting them with varying degrees of success and/or difficulty. Possibilities are also beginning to open up for a broader range of demographic groups. The challenges of the vaccination campaign, nevertheless, remain formidable. Meanwhile, we have almost become accustomed to the infection-limiting rituals that have allowed businesses, stores, restaurants, and many schools to open after the lockdowns of last Spring. 

Generally, people continue to follow prudently the indications and recommendations of public authorities (which vary in many ways from one U.S. State to another, or even between different local areas within States). Lots of people continue to be devastated by the economic impact. Many others have been mentally afflicted by all the uncustomary stress and social restrictions that have been imposed, then lifted, then imposed again (this latter experience is even more characteristic of Europe, I think).

We have vaccines, which should work against mutations of the virus. Still, we remain in this weird zone of living differently and not seeing clearly how this will all play out. Some parts of the world, no doubt, will get control over Covid-19 more quickly and more effectively than others.

As a "semi-invalid" since 2008, I didn't think my material life would change all that much when everyone else was placed under restrictions. In fact, though I have appreciated from long experience the concerns and difficulties of others about being "stuck-in-the-house," the Covid world has also been bizarre and perplexing in new ways for me personally. I still have my own chronic health problems, which have not fared well recently. Lyme Disease is not acting up more than usual (technically I'm "cured" - no thanks to the medical people in my country who made up the still-very-disputed criteria for all this in 2007 - but I still have a "syndrome"... or whatever...) and I'm taking extra care to ensure that it doesn't have any reason to flare up.

Mental health is a different story. I have had some significant episodes of depression in this past year. Depression is the "funk," the bewilderment, the immobilization of healthy inclinations, the ponderousness of mind which I have come to recognize as "physical" - as an affliction of the physical dimension of the cognitive/emotional process. Of course, the human mind and heart transcend this process (in the depths of the spiritual person) but they don't detach themselves from it.

Sometimes I feel so ... isolated. I feel like an impenetrable blob, disconnected from everything. It's a "feeling" that I know doesn't define me, but still... it's a feeling, every bit as much as a punch in the stomach is a "feeling."

It's a form of suffering

I know that the greatest suffering peculiar to the Pandemic is endured by people who get the grave, life-threatening version of this disease, who are sick and isolated in hospitals: especially people who die alone, and their loved ones who could not be with them. I cannot imagine what an awful catastrophe this has been for them. My heart and my prayers are with them.

But other kinds of suffering in relation to these times are also real. Many have been afflicted in many ways.

A year of the COVID crisis has been a huge strain on my mental health. I will not emerge without "damage," but we'll work through it. I have medication, of course, and ZOOM consultations with the doctor. As Nick Fury says, "this is not my first rodeo," but I can only imagine how much strain this is for so many people - how much suffering people continue to endure, how desperate they have become.

It's so hard, my friends. I know. 

Some of you I have corresponded with via social media. Or I have heard of your distress in the news. Young people - who need to meet other young people, socialize with them, have a life of growing and experiencing new things together - my heart goes out to you especially. It has been hard for my own kids/young-adults to navigate this past year. In our area, the schools and universities opened last Fall and have managed to stay open. But I know that many young people are still struggling in more restricted circumstances. Let us hope things get better soon.

But things will never be the same for people who have lost jobs and/or had careers or businesses fall apart. I know how hard that is, how shocking, how traumatic. It creates a lot of material problems, but also causes its own type of grief. I know how that is. I'm still broken myself from my own previous experiences of this kind of loss. (You can read about my story in THIS BOOK [click HERE] - which is from 2010 but still relevant and, I hope, helpful.)

Grief. That's another thing I'm still trying to endure. 2020 seems like a warp in the time-space continuum. Grief got "shelved" temporarily (I don't know how else to put it), like time had just stopped along with everything else.

Last year, if I thought about the loss of my father in 2019, I felt - in part - a certain "relief" that we were able to accompany him through his own final illness (which was awful enough). Those days in March of 2019 seemed more precious last year, as I heard stories of elderly people dying alone in confusion and pain, in hospitals, without their children and grandchildren, sometimes (if they were Catholic) even without the sacraments of the Church, which are such a tremendous help to sick people.

We had so much time at my father's bedside. I am so grateful for that time, even though it was still shattering in its own way, even though it ended in his death.

Now, it is two years ago that he lay dying. I find that I am grieving again. I miss Dad so much.

Everything has gone "crazy" in the past three years. Last year the whole world "decided to join in" and turn upside down. But now I feel very close again to those days at the end of March 2019, my final days with my Dad, and all the days that came before, when he was still with us in this life. I wish I had loved him more, and listened to him more. He had such a good heart.

I'm glad he had so much time with his grandchildren. They gave him so much joy. His eyes-that-were-of-this-world are now closed, so he will not look upon his great-granddaughter when she is born in July (nor will she look upon him in this present age). But I will tell her about him, and we will pray for him.

I know that he is still near to all of us, through the Heart of Jesus. I know by faith... but such knowledge is the light before dawn, and sometimes it seems a luminous darkness. Faith does not take away grief. Grief must be endured, with all its strangeness. Faith reminds me that this endurance, and all our sufferings, have meaning.

Jesus does not leave us alone in our suffering.

Two years ago, while we kept vigil with my father, I wrote the words below (in the burgundy color) on my BLOG. Who is this guy who writes this stuff? Me, JJ, the Christian Wimp? I relate to the disciples when the storm came and Jesus was asleep in the boat, and they said "Help! Please wake up! We're going to sink!" I am "he-of-little-faith," and I'm not just playing humble here. Ask anybody who knows me. Ask my wife or any of my kids.

But I know what I write here is true, and I must say it. Sometimes I glimpse it myself... in a moment... like Peter when he stepped out onto the water. His initial boldness reminds me of myself 30+ years ago, as an aspiring young philosopher and theologian. And that too was born of faith. It still is, when reason sees the whole truth of reality in faith, when we walk on water toward the face of Jesus.

But most of the time, I'm like Peter looking at himself on the water and going, "What am I doing? This is impossible! It's crazy!" And then I'm drowning and I cry out, "Jesus, save me!" He grabs hold of me.

That's my whole life. Letting Jesus grab a hold of me. What matters is not whether or not I can water-ski. What matters is that He is here.

He is here. That's where these words came from, two years ago. The fact of His presence with us. He really is here: 

We walk with Jesus on the path of our own suffering, offering ourselves and whatever we are called to endure to God our Father, as He draws us by the Holy Spirit into a deeper participation in Christ's "Pascal Mystery" - the Event of His death and resurrection. Here God reveals and gives Himself as Love.

The Mystery who makes us and all things reveals Himself as "the Mystery of Unfathomable Love."

He always remains "Mystery," higher and deeper than our comprehension, but He is the super-luminous Mystery of Truth and Love who gives meaning and purpose to our lives. And He is the Mystery who shows His love for us by coming to dwell with us, the Mystery-made-flesh. 
He is with us. Our very flesh is akin to His flesh, as we were created - each one of us, and all of us, every human being - to be His brothers and sisters. 
And it is Unfathomable Love that takes up all our vulnerabilities and (for the sake of Love) bears them all the way to the end. He reveals the glory of Divine Love by taking upon Himself and enduring our weakness, our suffering, and even our sins by which we have separated ourselves from Him and one another. 
God loves us. He is infinitely "deeper" (as Love) than our hatred and violence and selfishness and all the horrible wounds we inflict by sin, and He wants to be with us. He is also deeper than our sorrows, burdens, fears, and infirmities. 
He is with us in our infirmities. Indeed He has made them His own by love, and has begun even now to transfigure them from within. 
We who live an apparently insignificant life in this frail flesh, who grow old and sick and dispossessed of everything we thought we could control as we slip away into the obscurity of death - we are grains of wheat sown deep in the earth with Jesus in His death, and the mysterious power of His resurrection already begins to bear fruit in us. 
Jesus is here, carrying us in our infirmities, because He wants to be with us. He does not love our suffering. He loves us. He is transforming our suffering, and He calls on us to trust in Him to continue and fulfill this work of purification and transfiguration He has begun in us.