Sunday, January 31, 2021

Ten Years of Blogging

Facebook reminded me the other day that another anniversary of the Never Give Up blog was approaching. It all began with a question:

A dozen or so people responded positively. That was quite a few responses on Facebook in those days (at least for me). So I began. I don't think I ever considered that I would still be blogging ten years later, or what it would all add up to (more than 200 posts a year).

Indeed, what does all of this represent? Part journal, part notebook, part scrapbook, part reflective journey through the events of a decade... it has been a "space" for many things. The possibility that other people might read or look at some part of what I post here provides some motivation for me to keep up the effort. I have invested in quite a few posts over these ten years a level of attention equal to what I would normally devote to "published articles" and there is a sense in which blogging is kind of like having my own "magazine."

Certainly, if I want to circulate my understanding, perspective, or opinion about something, the blog is an immediately accessible forum where I can put forth a serious effort and expect to reach a significant amount of interested readers. As a university professor, I am used to making presentations for small groups of people; thus, even a few readers are enough to "fill a classroom." I am not a publicist and do very little (beyond sharing links on my own social media pages and to my email subscribers) to "promote" the writing, personal photography, and digital artwork I post here.

The internet provides media platforms that have the potential to reach an audience of millions. Yet I don't aim this blog at a large readership. I remain here with more modest aspirations. Some posts are no more than simple observations, short quotations, funny pictures, or jokes. Sometimes a post can be a draft or a fragment of a project that needs to be continued, revised, and polished. Or a way of making accessible some personal reflections that might be useful to others. But there are also posts that approximate what I might present in a public lecture or are sufficiently polished to be "published articles" in the more old-fashioned sense. When I write, I always try to write well.
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But I am content with a level of sharing my work here that is less formal: like what I might present in my own living room, or in a university cafeteria, or a classroom. Even if it amounts to nothing more than a "virtual office space" open to anyone to visit, with all kinds of resources and images tacked on virtual "bulletin boards" or piled in disorganized heaps, still I have found it worthwhile to continue "keeping the door open." ... Of course, the "open door" means that anyone can come in and have a look around. Ordinarily, however, this has been an advantage. Troublemakers are usually not much interested in bothering to make an effort here, but the possibility remains for those who might find something useful. And it means that some of my posts are more widely read than my articles in standard publications. Occasionally, things I have written here have reached thousands of people all over the world, receiving the kind of multiplication of publicity that the internet makes spontaneously possible (though I wouldn't say that anything has "gone viral"). Most of the time, this is due to the already existing "popularity" of the people or topics I happen to be addressing. My objective is to say something worthwhile or to work through my own thoughts and emotions; not to be trendy. I am grateful that there are significant groups of people who appreciate what I express and share it with others. It inspires me to be attentive to saying things that really do matter, and perhaps addressing aspects of common concern in a way that I am capable of doing because of my particular understanding and perspective, and my talent with words.

I do find that, after ten years, my themes and often the content of my reflections have not changed all that much. There are truths, reflections, and questions that are worthy of repetition. In these matters, I have the need to remember, renew my adherence, and ponder over and over. It's a form of discursive meditation, and I don't apologize for "saying the same things" over and over (but seeking greater depth). Often I find that I "rediscover" the enduring truths with a revitalizing freshness, and I am sure there are some readers who appreciate my sharing that with them (even if too many people in our information-content-saturated society find it boring).

First and always - in everything I write and in all my crafts, all my work, all my eating and drinking, all my joys and sufferings - I am searching for the face of Jesus Christ. I don't always mention him or make reference to him in these writings. But I have been loved by him, and embraced by him, and I know that he is the fulfillment of all things. He is the "answer" to all the essential human questions in front of the mystery of reality and ourselves.

Jesus is "the answer," but not an "easy answer." 

His embrace, his presence, his
steadfast love and fidelity, are known and followed (even "experienced" in an ever more convincing way) by the faith, hope, and love which his Spirit awakens and sustains in us. This is the gift of God's grace, given in the freedom of God's love, but also intended for everyone and even now "at work" mysteriously in everyone - even those who don't know Jesus or have left him - with the discretion and the persistence of Divine love always preparing "places" within the human person whom God has made for eternal life. 
Jesus therefore gives Christians confidence in himself, his redemption, and his promises so that we are able to live the whole drama of being human with the vital hope that he is drawing us to himself through every circumstance, that every good thing is purified, transfigured, and fulfilled in him. We search all the more passionately for meaning, side by side with our brothers and sisters in the human family with all their various ideas and conditions, within the (sometimes awful) depths of human experience, human aspirations, human questions, achievements, and sufferings. We long to see his face - the One who reveals God's love - in the depths of the mystery of life. This longing is only fulfilled in attaining our eternal destiny, but it begins now. It is the love that wounds us in this life, wounds us with longing, but also opens our hearts to solidarity and compassion with every human being.

That is why I write this blog. I am seeking the meaning and value of life, within life's circumstances: I am seeking the face of Jesus, asking to recognize his presence throughout life, and - by posting these words - inviting others to join me. That is my aspiration.

Everything human has a place here. Whenever the human heart awakens and begins to wonder (however obscure or overlaid with distorted preconceptions it may be), I want to be with that heart, somehow, because I love the One who is drawing those hearts and because he loves them with a unique, beautiful, tender love.

So I write about explicit features of the Catholic Church and "religious topics," but I also write about my family, about literature and cultural studies, about the dramatic times we live in at the dawn of the global epoch, about the challenges of unprecedented technological power, about nature and the flowers and leaves in my neighborhood, about media and communications trends, and about many kinds of people: the Pope, bishops, philosophers, workers, people fighting for political and civil liberties, people suffering from physical and mental illnesses (including myself), heroic people and people whose lives end in tragedy, ordinary people and people with great talents and oversized aspirations, sports superstars and the sports world, artists and musicians, rock stars, performers and celebrities, sinners and saints.

Some of these writings are better than others. By their nature blogs are "works in progress" - at least, blogs like mine which are places that permit "waters to be tested." The informality of my efforts here is underscored by the fact that I have never been paid a single penny for anything written for this blog. This is a place for my personal expression, my contributions to discourse at various levels, and my own search for meaning that I share as an educational gesture with anyone who wants to read what I'm writing.

As I said above, Jesus is at the center of everything, and my longing for him is what has moved me to blog over these past ten years. I hope that I have been faithful to him, and I hope that I will remain faithful.

The very first blog post is a quotation from Luigi Giussani that remains a continual reminder to me: "No gesture exists that does not involve the whole world. That's why we get up every morning: to help Christ save the world, with the strength we have, with the light we possess, asking Christ to give us more light and more strength."

Below are the first three blog posts from ten years ago, January 29-31, 2011. If you feel like squinting you can read them, or you can just see them on the bottom of the first page of this blogsite:

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Glory in His Gift

The brief beautiful Post-Communion Prayer from the past week expresses in a very simple way our radical and total dependence on God through Jesus Christ.

It's easy enough to miss the richness of such a short prayer, but it is worthy of attention, as are all the small ways that God gives us each day that enable us to love Him and share in His life.



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

"Still Life" (Indoors)

Since the outdoors has not much fun lately, here is an indoor plant. A "Still Life" by JJ. ๐Ÿ˜‰


Monday, January 25, 2021

Our Lady of Guadalupe and Her Children "in America"

Chapel in Los Angeles Cathedral (art by Lalo Garcia)
It has been 22 years since my first "encounter" with Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Mexico on January 25, 1999. Many things have changed since that time, but my basic convictions from those days have only grown stronger.

I believe that we Anglo-American Catholics are called to a special solidarity with our southern neighbors, especially Hispanic Catholics. This conviction arises not only from historical and geographical circumstances, but also and in particular from the plea of the Pope and the bishops of this hemisphere 22 years ago at the Synod on America, which resulted in the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (1999) — I was privileged to be present in Mexico City when this document was promulgated, and my attendance at related papal events with Saint John Paul II and pilgrims from numerous countries has permanently imprinted upon me the deep significance of the need for solidarity among the peoples of "the American continent." And this solidarity is rooted in a particular way in our being placed — in common — under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I have made three times a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City; her presence on our soil is a special blessing that has never ceased to astonish me and fill me with hope; she is indeed the Mother of all who dwell here, in what she called "this land" back before there were any borders. For the "American hemisphere," in my opinion, Guadalupe is not just "another Marian devotion." It has a particular relevance. La Guadalupana is a unique sign for us especially (but not only for us, because the reality at the shrine is a living miracle; as an image of Mary, nothing like it exists — it is as scientifically inexplicable as the Shroud, and the only way to describe it is to say that it is the "presence" of Mary, as she told Saint Juan Diego, "build me a house," and "I will dwell there"). We in the United States of America must come to know Our Lady of Guadalupe, we should have her image in our homes and in our hearts, we should pray to her for healing of the ills that beset our country and our continent.


What I have just said is supremely relevant to the actual social issues in our country today, and to how we approach them. It is relevant to how we understand ourselves and our responsibilities toward one another. To be sure, Catholics who are citizens of the different nations of the American hemisphere have to deal "hands on" with many specific problems. It is only human that we find different viewpoints, different perspectives, and different concerns about the specific steps that we should take to move forward. Government officials, civil society, public opinion, and our various roles within society touch upon these problems in different ways. We each have particular responsibilities in life, and it is within our own fidelity to our personal vocations that we make our most constructive contribution to building up the common good. 

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God became man. He wants to live the details of our lives with us, and bring forth with us the fruits of community, solidarity, healing, and peace. He wants to build up among us the social goal we seek: a culture of life. Even more, He Himself — present, acknowledged, celebrated, and loved — is the culture of life, because "He is life" and even those who don't know Him seek Him insofar as they seek the truth about life.


If we want a culture of life, we must first of all ask Him for life. We must pray. We all think that we already know this, but I don't think we really understand what this means for how we live and think and make decisions. I don't understand it. I will forget about God within five minutes after I finish writing this. But I think it has something to do with prayer being at the center of our decisions and actions, rather than floating around the periphery. In prayer is the awareness that we depend totally on God and that He is present, now, with us in Jesus Christ. This is at the center, at the core, at the depths of every moment and every thing. This is what it is all about. How easy this is to forget.

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God gives us signs to help us remember. For America, one of the great signs is Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let's face it, Anglophone Catholics in the United States know very little about the concrete significance of this sign. This needs to change. She is our Mother, and she is there (if you go on pilgrimage there you will understand what I mean). Even if we can't visit her, we can honor her, we can recognize this extraordinary presence among us, who is closer to where we live than many of our own relatives.


I do not believe that we Catholics will succeed in any of our hopes for the future of the United States unless we place Our Lady of Guadalupe at the center. She didn't come here for nothing. She has a plan. The Virgin is very concrete — she is, after all, a woman dealing with little children. 

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As we live our lives, and formulate, reconsider, and reformulate our opinions and engage in constructive dialogue with one another, let us first of all embrace La Guadalupana's "plan" for America: North, Central, and South — for all of us who live on "the land" which she has specially blessed with her maternal solicitude since the beginning of the modern epoch.

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This "plan" is not a detailed program. Various conversations, ideas, and proposals for accomplishing the good in solidarity with one another will no doubt emerge from our commitment to take up the love of God and the love of our neighbor with a particular tenderness and awareness. For all of us, however, it begins with prayer, attentiveness, and openness to God's will.

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It is fundamentally a matter of the heart. It is a matter of living as brothers and sisters of Jesus and one another in "the land," under the care of our Mother, formed by the guidance she gives us from her mother's heart.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Gift of Every Human Life


As we give thanks to God for the gift of human life, we pray that the laws of nations will recognize the human dignity and protect the lives of children in the womb, respect and support their mothers, show compassion to the poor and vulnerable, the persecuted, abused, and forgotten, and defend every human person from conception to natural death, through the whole course of their earthly sojourn. 

Every human person is precious to God. Every human person is worthy of love.



Friday, January 22, 2021

The Miracle of Human Life Becomes More Vivid to Me

This is my grandchild, taken from a sonogram several weeks ago. 

Of course, the "live sonogram" is always much more amazing, because it's a video and the child moves around (a lot!). 

It seems like only yesterday that Eileen and I watched in wonder the sonogram video of this child's father (it was 24 years ago, actually). 

Of course, no matter how old we are now, every single one of us "started out" this way!☺

What a tremendous mystery it is to be human, to be given the gift of life as a person - always worthy of love, care, affirmation, support, and protection - and to be entrusted to others, to relationships that span multiple generations, and by which each one of us is placed within a family, and introduced into the history of the whole human family where we are all brothers and sisters. 

We all belong to this great history, we are each called to take our place within it, to live and help one another as we journey through it, contribute to its heritage (even in the smallest ways), and finally pass beyond it to its fulfillment - which is our destiny because we are all children of God. 

As I get older, the miracle of human life becomes more vivid to me: I have been a vulnerable child totally dependent on others, a parent whose children depended on me, again a son whose dying father needed so much my love and active concern at the end of his life, and now embarking upon the road of yet another kind of presence and solicitude for my children's children, for this new child (whose profile in this picture indicates that the kid already has "the Janaro nose"๐Ÿ˜‰). 

My own life has not always been easy. It has had a lot of suffering. But it has always been worth it. And when I fail (which is a lot!), it is always possible to remember what I know is real, what has value, and to begin anew.

Eileen and I want to say this today: "Dear precious grandchild, we love you!"❤

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Saint Agnes Witnesses to the Transformation of Life in Christ

She was not the first woman to sacrifice the possibility of marriage and motherhood in order to follow Jesus in a deeper way. 

But Saint Agnes gave physiognomy and voice to consecrated virginity as a marriage to Jesus, a singular spousal dedication to him that engages a woman's heart completely, beyond the competition of all human interests and even life itself.

The radiant life and sacrifice of a 12 year old girl in third century Rome, and no doubt her continual intercession thereafter, have fostered in the Church an awareness of the Church's own deepest life.

In an ancient liturgical antiphon, Agnes says: "I am espoused to him whom the angels serve; sun and moon stand in wonder at his beauty." 

There are numerous stories about this extraordinary heroic young woman, but what is certain above all is the astonishing ardor with which she embraced martyrdom when it was imposed upon her. It was for her the culmination of the singular commitment and focus of her life, which was her response - empowered by the Holy Spirit - to the gift of the love of Jesus, experienced in a profoundly personal that raised up and defined the whole form of her life.

Saint Agnes was venerated from the beginning (right after her death) by the clergy and the people of Rome, and then throughout the Western Church and also in the Eastern Churches. This was not unusual for martyrs in the early centuries of Christianity. But there was another aspect of her witness that was radically significant for Christian and human history. Indeed, we must try to appreciate the fact that St. Agnes showed the world a kind of life, a freedom, an originality, a way of giving and loving that were new for human beings, and especially for women, in the long and tired history of the human race. She indicated that women are cherished, ultimately, in a way no one had ever imagined.

She displayed the transcendent passion, creativity, and freedom of belonging to Jesus. Her martyrdom was transfigured into a joyful procession in which she made haste to give her whole self to Jesus, not only fearlessly, but with the conviction that in him she would attain the super-eminent fullness of life: a life immeasurably beyond anything she could have attained naturally even if she had lived a long life on this earth. “What I longed for, I now see; what I hoped for, I now possess; in heaven I am espoused to Him whom on earth I loved with all my heart" (expressed in another antiphon of the ancient liturgy that honors her on this, her feast day).

Agnes's witness shines brightly on the fact that for the spouse of Christ, nothing is lost. The sacrifices that are made do not express contempt for the goodness of earthly life, but rather the ecstasy of a love that seeks the Source of all goodness, and thereby finds a hundredfold of fruitfulness even for the life of this earth.

St. Agnes, a young girl, a virgin and martyr for the love of Jesus Christ, thus lived with such fullness that her presence and solicitude continue to this day. For seventeen hundred years, women have followed her example and given their whole selves to Jesus, loving him as their Spouse in prayer and seclusion, and also by serving him in those in need.

We call them nuns and sisters. We even call them "mothers." Today, more and more, we call them our friends and colleagues too, whether in religious habit or as lay women who consecrate themselves in the context of the many new charisms that the Spirit is giving to the Church of our time.

They have sought God and followed the lamb. And in this giving of themselves, they have been the colossal protagonists, the shining stars of love and hope, the bearers of peace and compassion to this world as well.

Agnes stands as one of the pillars of the greatest "women's movement" of all time, and her witness today remains as compelling as ever. She gave up marriage on this earth and everything else even to life itself. And in Christ she became a true mother to generation after generation of daughters to this day -- of women who freely choose to give themselves away beyond the reckoning of this age, and thereby to find a fullness of life beyond measure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"An Anchor For the Soul"

This was an eventful day in my country. A peaceful and successful transition was achieved in the executive branch of our federal government.

Many unpredictable circumstances will contribute to how public affairs unfold in the coming months and years in relation to the various levels of USA government(s) and society. Obviously these matters will remain an ongoing source of attention, concern, constructive engagement when possible, and prayer for all of us here and throughout the world.

But more than enough has been said about these things. For our part as Christians, let us be always committed to truth and charity, to civility and dialogue, and to building up the good according to the responsibilties that have been entrusted to us in our daily lives.

For this, we have a firm place to stand, an "anchor of the soul" - Jesus, for whom we live. He has conquered sin and death, and as Lord of history he calls us to share in his victory, to place our trust in him as we live in our times, in our work, in our personal and social responsibilities, in our families and communities, as we endeavor to love God and our neighbor, struggle against obstacles, and endure suffering. 


This is also the Week of Prayer for Unity Among Christians, a matter of particular importance in these times of anxiety, uncertainty, and divisiveness that can pose a special challenge to our efforts to grow closer to one another in love, to be brothers and sisters.

In the Roman Catholic liturgy this week, the Collect is a simple prayer:

Less simple, perhaps, have been my attempts to virtually "illuminate" this prayer in my "digital scriptorium." Here are a few different examples that represent - if nothing else - a continuing learning process and a helpful exercize. In any case, appending them here allows them to be archived.


Monday, January 18, 2021

30 Years Ago: The "Gulf War" Begins

Since last Fall I have been peeking in from time to time to a journal I kept from September 1990 to May 1992. Not long ago, these ruminations and the events that inspired them were 25 years old (i.e. in 2015), and I reproduced some selections in this blog. In the blinking of an eye, it seems, the same journal is now 30 years old.

Now we are marking the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the "Gulf War," or the first part of the USA's war in Iraq. The 1991 war was aimed at driving Saddam Hussein's regime out of Kuwait, which Iraq had invaded the previous Summer. The rapid and enormous military mobilization and response led by the USA was over in a few months, and "victory" was proclaimed (for the first time in what was to become an unnerving habit in years to come). in fact, it was only the beginning of a perplexing and problematic struggle in that part of the world that had many unforseen and sometimes catastrophic consequences over the next three decades.

If we think about it, we can see how the West is still involved in the implications of what happened a hundred years ago when the British and French created a constellation of "nation-states" out of the ruins of the Arabic domains of the Ottoman Empire. (Then, of course, Israel was established after World War II.) The inattentiveness, the lack of vision, of the victors at Versailles in 1919-1920 not only prepared the foundations for another war 20 years later, but also bequeathed unresolved political divisions and tensions even to the present time.

But 1991 was a "heady" moment in the history of the modern Western world. With Eastern Europe suddenly free and apparently "democratic," with the Soviet Union tottering (it would fall by the end of the Summer of '91), with China once again "reforming and opening" and its people free to get rich (the recent bloody events of Tiananmen Square being conveniently forgotten) - it appeared to many Westerners that "we had won." We had reached "the end of history," which, ironically, was not a Communist utopia but the global triumph of materialist consumerism (though we articulated this in the more lofty, but ultimately vacuous, idealism of "freedom" and "liberal democracy").

In fact, many good things and many genuine freedoms and new human possibilities opened up during this time. But in the midst of real "victories" that we still do not yet understand - and that have only begun to sprout from a variety of sources, some of which remain hidden to us - we in the West were myopic to our own endemic problems and fatal weaknesses. 

The secular West is not "dead" yet, in 2021, but the sickness is obvious and impossible for anyone to ignore. In '91 it was still possible to pretend vigorous health, or even renewed vitality. Even today, the dying West is surrounded by the clamor of its "children" - some rebellious, others perplexed, and a few (perhaps) curious and wondering about the relics of what once gave youthful life to a culture that has become a monstrosity in its dying "days" (years, decades, even centuries in historical terms).

All of this is the context of 1991's grand intervention into the Persian Gulf, that began a new chapter in the struggles of the Middle East. Hardly any of the particulars of the drama in the region, or regarding the radical Islamic groups that would emerge during and after the USA's interventions, were predicted in 1991. At the time, the Gulf War was a very popular undertaking in the USA. It was notable for being the first war to be "televised live" (it being the early days of 24 hour cable news). For the media and many who watched in this country, the war seemed to have all the superficiality of a sports game.

That troubled my younger self. I saw yet another sign of the decadence of our society in the manner in which people seemed happy to sit on their couches and "root for the team," even if no one really knew why "the game" was being played. I was not referring to the servicemen and women in the military who did their duty in good faith, and exhibited courage then (and later) in difficult circumstances.

Now, in 2021, I am looking at my old journal as a historical artifact of what feels like a very different period in time. Yet these past events fit into the bigger picture of the ongoing epochal shift that is creating the first globally interactive world, for better or for worse (or perhaps for better and for worse, with respect to different aspects of life).

In any case, here is what the 28 year old graduate student wrote (by hand) in that journal during these January days 30 years ago:



Sunday, January 17, 2021

Wow, Laura Pausini is Such a Great Singer!!๐ŸŽถ

Below I have posted a link to a very moving song, sung by one of Europe-and-Latin-America's most celebrated voices. 

Most anglophones still don't know this legendary singer. Yet she has sold over 70 million records worldwide, which is insane considering that she has never broken into the Anglo-American English language market. She has over one billion streams on Spotify. Obviously, lots of people around the world love her music.

Laura Pausini is already the undisputed “Prima Donna” of Italian popular music (and arguably - at least for the pop melรณdica style - the “Primera Mujer” of Hispanic music, with her quarter century of Spanish language songs deeply influencing a whole generation of Latina and Latino singers). 

Laura has a superb, powerful, versatile voice that enables her to sing a broad range of styles, and appeals to audiences of all ages. She is a magnificent artist with palpable charisma, but also a woman who hasn’t let global superstardom go too much to her head: she manages to be both classy and down-to-earth; she is openhearted, funny, accessible, and lovable to people from a variety of cultures: not only from her native Italy, but also Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and many other places that all feel that she is "one of their own."

It's a remarkable natural talent she has: to have a genuine "international appeal" while still keeping connected to her roots, with her family and friends in the small village of Solarolo near Ravenna in Italy.

Laura's latest song, “Io Si” - featured in the movie The Life Ahead starring the remarkable 86 year old Sofia Loren - has been nominated for an Academy Award. I hope she can add the Oscar to her American Grammy (first Italian woman ever to win one, ironically for an album in Spanish from 2004) as well as her six Latin Grammys and countless international prizes. 

Here is Laura from a recent event, singing “Io Si” in Italian but speaking in English (which is her fifth language). You don't need to understand Italian to appreciate this beautiful song: (mobile site click link HERE)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

January is Still January After All

This has always been a month of crazy variations in weather for the mid-Atlantic region of the USA, as far back as I can remember. And my memory from living in this area goes back forty years.

At the beginning of the week I was singing the praises of mild sunny days. Indeed, things got even warmer, so that on Thursday I was out in short sleeves, not just for a walk but also to soak in the sun while reading (see #1 [picture] below๐Ÿ˜‰).

By Friday, however, the weather started getting angry. The heavy, gray, damp air moved in.

This afternoon, the rising wetness and the (relative) lowering temperatures brought on the sudden surprise documented in #2 [video]. I was lucky I didn’t get caught in the middle of this burst of rain-snow-sleet-whatever-it-was.

The squirrel in #3 [video - zoomed in] was not so lucky, but it made a fast dash for shelter. There was some “white stuff” (so it would appear from the pine tree in our backyard shown in #4 [photo], which I took from inside the house, behind the kitchen window). There was a bit more of it later. None of it stayed around for very long.

That’s January in Virginia. Next week could bring all sorts of surprises. And then comes February!




Friday, January 15, 2021

Why Do We Burn Against One Another?

Fires of anger and pain are burning in the world today. 

Human fires are ablaze, exploding beyond the bounds of human frustration, scorching the earth with divisiveness, vengeance, greed, rapaciousness, robbery, cruelty, murder. Human desperation seems intent upon burning up the world in fury, because it finds that nothing in the world can satisfy the human heart.

We cannot satisfy one another, nor can we repair the injuries we inflict on one another. So we entrench ourselves in opposing factions and continue to tear one another apart.

An eclipse of ugliness is upon many places in the world, covering over many facets of life with shadows. For too long we have sought this darkness, to cover over everything in reality that cannot be controlled by our own power. We have wanted to indulge the illusion that we are answerable to nothing beyond ourselves, that we are the masters of our own individual universes. Yet we cannot control our inevitable conflicts with others who grasp for the same power, and so we burn against one another.

This is what is at the core of our social problems, our political catastrophes, our wars. Our violence is a sign that we don't know why we're alive, and that we're frustrated and desperate in the face of our failure to generate our own identities and purposes for living.

But why are we alive?  

We have been created and called to find our fulfillment in the Infinite Mystery of God. We are given freedom so that we might grow in love as we journey toward God through history together with those who have been entrusted to us. But we are so indigent, so terribly vulnerable, so desperately in need. We stand before one other like open wounds, aching for "something" we don't know how to articulate, nor how to give to one another.

We are aching with our need for the love of God, and we will never have peace if we try to live our lives and organize the world pretending that God doesn't exist.

But where can we hope to find God?

It is Jesus Christ who brings us God, brings us healing, and brings us together.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Luminous Spaces

It is the middle of an eventful January 2021. In the midst of all our trials and tribulations, the world has not disappeared. And God is still good. All the time.

As of this moment the breath of life is in me, this being in accordance with God's wisdom and loving plan leading me to my eternal destiny.

I shall breathe deeply.

The first digital art image below captures something of the impression of a nearly perfect Winter afternoon in the Shenandoah Valley. Bright sun with a few clouds, 52 degrees(F), barely a breeze in the brisk air, and luminous spaces in every direction on the paths of my walk today. 

Rejuvenating!

The second digital art image presents the January sun as it sets beyond the pine trees.

Monday, January 11, 2021

In Violent Times, Christina Grimmie Shows Something "Greater"

Now it's four YEARS and seven months. But we love her more than ever!๐Ÿ’š 

I have been marking the tenth day of each month for a long time, in memory and sorrow certainly, and yet from the beginning there has always been something more. This young woman continues to become more meaningful, more luminous, more a brilliant light and a source of courage for me.

Indeed, in these violent times, Christina Grimmie helps us all to remember what is greater, what gives ultimate value to life, what cannot be destroyed.๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’š

Sunday, January 10, 2021

THEOPHANY: The Dove, The Father's Voice, The "Beloved Son"

We rejoice and are filled with wonder on this great and glorious feast day! 

The Christmas season culminates in the celebration of "the Baptism of Jesus," known in the early Church (and still in the Byzantine tradition) as the "Theophany." If we reflect on the icon here, we can understand better the significance of the event of Jesus's public participation in the "purification ritual" of John the Baptist, as recorded in the Gospels.

The emphasis is the mystery of the Trinity revealed, as the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove and the Father's voice is heard ("theophany" is the "appearance of God"). 

Jesus is immersed in the waters, not for his own purification (he doesn't need it, obviously) but to consecrate the waters of the world by contact with his body and to begin the restoration of all creation as the New Adam. Jesus is naked (sometimes, as here, portrayed with a loincloth), which symbolizes the restoration of Adam's innocence before the Fall. Strange beasts and humanish forms under his feet symbolize the demons defeated by Jesus. John the Baptist gazes not at Jesus but at the Holy Spirit, corresponding to his own testimony in John 1:32-34. Angels wait upon the shore in adoration and readiness to serve Jesus who is the Lord of all creation. 

This is just a very brief reading of the icon. As we reflect on this symbolism, let us not be led to think that this is nothing more than a clever and imaginative mythological story. This imagery conveys the truth about a real event that happened to a real man, Jesus. He is revealed as the Father's Son, annointed by the Holy Spirit. These signs point to the opening up of God's Trinitarian Love to us, the Love that transforms us and brings all creation to its fulfillment.

"This is my beloved Son..." The voice of the Father singles out Jesus, and identifies Him in relation to human destiny. This man Jesus is the answer to the human search for the Mystery that sustains everything and gives ultimate meaning to life. God has answered the question of our hearts by entering our history as a man, giving His life to us, and accompanying us on the journey to our destiny, to live in the glory of His love forever. 

Christians receive the sacrament of baptism from Jesus, through His ministers, because God's love for the world and for every human person is not abstract, distant, cold and inaccessible. God has touched us in Jesus, our brother. His love enters our history and changes us. 

Let us therefore be grateful for our baptism, or - for those who do not yet know Him - ardently seek this encounter with the Mystery who heals and saves and brings the heart to fulfillment. Here is the "touch of God" who has come to meet every person on their journey, and who will begin to draw to Himself whoever opens their heart and asks for the truth and beauty of life.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

"He Shall Bring Forth Justice to the Nations..."

"Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. a bruised reed he shall not break, and as moldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

"I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness."

~Isaiah 42:1-4

Indeed, God the Father has sent His Son, the Eternal Word, to dwell among us. Joy to the world!



Friday, January 8, 2021

Love (1 John 4:8-16)

Love

(1 John 4:8-16)

Whoever is without love does not know God, 
for God is love.

In this way the love of God 
was revealed to us: 
God sent his only Son into the world 
so that we might have life through him.


In this is love: 
not that we have loved God, 
but that he loved us 
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.


Beloved, if God so loved us, 
we also must love one another. 

No one has ever seen God. 
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.


This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit. 


Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. 

Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God. 


We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Strange Days, But "He Will Come, and Life Will Change"

The international celebration of Epiphany this year marked a day of distressing events in my own country, as well as much ongoing suffering in the world. Here in the United States of America, it is a cause of great sorrow and concern to witness the violence that we have nursed for far too long in our hearts pouring out into our streets, and into the Capitol Building in Washington DC to disrupt the special session of Congress that met to formally certify the results of the recent Presidential election.

For all the increase of our material power, our times continue to show how weak and vulnerable we are as human persons. This immense, complex society we have constructed is in reality so fragile.

But Jesus has come to bring the Father's mercy to embrace us in our weakness. Whatever darkness and troubles may lie ahead, He is our hope and strength.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Year's First "Challenge": Turning 58

January 2, my birthday, turned out to be a beautiful warm sun-and-clouds kind of day. I treated myself to a good long walk this morning. Vistas of the Blue Ridge are everywhere!


I guess I could call the pictures juxtaposed below the "58 Year Challenge" (well, more like "57 Year" because I'm probably one year old in the first picture๐Ÿ˜‰). Certainly no one would call me "babyface" today.


Thanks very much to everyone for the "Happy Birthday" wishes on various social media platforms. I always appreciate reading them and thinking of all of you, whether you be near or far, young or ... ahem ... "mature," etc. 

Wishing you a very Happy New Year!๐ŸŽ‰⭐

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Christmas Octave Ushers in 2021

Today is the “Octave” of Christmas, and is dedicated in a special way to Mary, the Mother of God. “Christmas Day” is celebrated liturgically for eight days, and thus coincides with the end of the solar calendar year and the beginning of the new year. Thus we welcome the year 2021.

Meanwhile the “Christmas Season” continues to Epiphany and after. Keep celebrating the event of Christmas, the miracle of God’s love who has come to dwell with us.⭐️✝️