Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Simplicity of "Papa Benedict"

On this day, eight years ago, we said goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI as his retirement took effect. We watched him take a helicopter from Saint Peter's Square after a moving final encounter with people there and all over the world via television and the internet.

Eventually, after a time at Castel Gandalfo, Benedict would move into the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican to begin a new phase of his own personal vocation, taking up a life of prayer and solitude which continues even to this day. It is a genuinely hidden life, entirely detached from the office and active ministry of his successor Pope Francis, yet enduring as another special way of "serving the Church."

And we still benefit so much from the treasury of wisdom Benedict XVI gave us in the teachings of his papacy. Even with all his learning and erudition, his aim was always simple: to point to Jesus, to encourage us to trust in God's immense love for us, and to allow God to transform us in Jesus and raise us up to the measure of our vocation to eternal life.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Confucius Remarks on the Stages of Life

Lately, a notable passage of Confucius - found near the beginning of the Analects (in "Part 2" of a common editorial presentation in 20 parts) - has made a fresh and unexpected impression on me. For the sake of (over)simplification [cheap thinking?] I refer to this passage as his "remarks on the 'stages of life.'" 
Though I am for the most part decidedly not "caught up" with Confucius's indicated age-levels (no "perplexities" by age 40? seriously?), I am provoked by his characterization of the decade of life that I have nearly finished (having reached the age of 58 last month). It may touch on the peculiar struggles and challenges of this transition from "middle age" to "seniorhood." Here is the whole quotation, beginning with the age of 15:
"At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. 
"At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. 
"At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities.
"At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven.
"At sixty, I heard them with a docile ear. 
"At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart;
for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right."

When I turned 50, I thought it was a big deal (read the post from 2013😉). I wasn't entirely wrong. It was supposed to be the age where people finally begin to get a vital, "naturally experiential" grasp of the larger perspectives of life. It's almost inevitable, because by age fifty we have lived a good chunk of life, and we finally start to "see" what our grandparents were always talking about (and what our parents may still be talking about).

Speaking as a philosopher, this might be what the Master is getting at when he says, "at fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven."

But it was not until age sixty, Confucius says, that he "heard them with a docile ear." It's one thing to start seeing what your life is all about, but another thing entirely to say "yes" to that understanding, to be at peace with how your life has worked out and what remains to aspire to (in terms of life in this world, with its relative concerns, which are real even if they are incomplete in themselves).

It is a challenge, emotionally and psychologically, to arrive at "docility" without veering off into cynicism and narrowing of the heart.

And how am I doing with all of this? Well, of course, the mercy of God in Jesus Christ brings a new and more radically hopeful dimension to everything, even our failures and weaknesses and disappointments. I am learning more and more how much I really depend on Christ's healing presence in my life.

Looking at things from the perspective of humanistic and psychological maturity (as well as the mysterious, deeper realities of life) proposed by Confucius, however, I would say that I have to develop a whole lot more docility in the next two years. I shall do my best...

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Knock and the Door Will be Opened

What could be more worth reading and pondering on this blog post than the Gospel passage from the liturgy of February 25th?

"Jesus said to his disciples:
'Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; 
and the one who seeks, finds; 
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 

" 'Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

" 'Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. 
This is the law and the prophets.' "

~Matthew 7:7-12

There is also the Collect from the week, where we recognize once again that everything - even our good works - are founded on, sustained, and brought to fruition by the gift of God.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Melting and Moonlight

Here is some of my digital artwork from these sudden warmer days of thaw flowing into the creek, later setting suns, and the rise of February's full moon.


Monday, February 22, 2021

The Chair of Saint Peter


Today we celebrate in a special way the unique Apostolic ministry bestowed by Jesus on Simon, to whom He gave the name "Peter." 

"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

From ancient times, the bishop's church in every local Catholic Christian community has been called "the Cathedral," not because it's especially large or fancy, but because it has the bishop's "chair" ("cathedra") from which he presides at the liturgy and which representes his ministry and the responsibilities of his office. Like many of the terms and archetectural features of the early Church, it was adapted from styles and practices of imperial Rome in late antiquity (such as the "chair" where officials heard and judged cases, which had practical as well as symbolic value).

What is essential is the bishop's vocation to the service of authority passed down to them from the Apostles and established by Jesus so that His followers would be united in faith and charity in every place and time. Of course, the Bishop of Rome (i.e. "the Pope") has the central responsibility for the whole Church as the successor of Saint Peter (who was the first bishop of the originally small and beleaguered Christian community in Rome and who was martyred on Vatican hill in the year 64).

[The actual, physical chair(s) have a long history. Pictured here is ancient relic in a byzantine/early medieval setting, kept within Bernini's famous reliquary in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.]

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Bright Skies, Frozen Ground

It's still pretty frosty around here. And cold! But evenings are getting "longer."

I'm staying warm (when I'm not out taking pictures) by keeping busy in my digital art "studio." I have been working on various things, including these two stylistically (and technically) diverse renditions of different perspectives on a dramatic 5:30-ish PM late February sky.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Lent 2021: May God's Love Convert Our Hearts

Once again the great season of Lent has begun

As we embark upon our journey toward Easter, we are charged with the task of calling to mind our sins with sincere repentence and taking up afresh the invitation to follow Jesus with renewed conversion of heart.

Christians claim that through the encounter and embrace of Jesus Christ we have come to know the love of God himself. If this is really true, why do we keep "forgetting" God's love and going back to selfishness, egoism, distraction, envy, and strife?

Every day we fail. Even those who aim the highest find that they fall short again and again. Should this be a cause for discouragement? Certainly not.

It should be cause for humility, for prayer, for turning and returning to the sources of grace, the places where Jesus "touches" us. Our faith makes especially clear the fragility of our humanity, our immense poverty, our utter dependence on God for everything.

The "good news" is that God's goodness and mercy are infinitely greater than our weakness, and that he has totally embraced our lives in Jesus. We must not give up, but on the contrary cling ever more fully to him.

Moreover - knowing the depths of God's love and our own frailty - we have all the more reason to look upon the struggles of every human person with compassion. Knowing God's generosity and our own vulnerability, we have every reason to forgive others when they hurt us.

We cannot be complacent. We must always strive to say "yes" to the love that God our Father pours out over our lives each day through the heart of Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Let us praise and worship our God who is Love, and beg for his love to change us, to turn us into lovers, and to show the wonder of his beauty through us on the roads of this world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Fashioned By His Grace...

I love this prayer for today, from the "Sixth Week in Ordinary Time" in the Roman liturgy, so I want to share it before the Lenten Season begins tomorrow. 

Once again there is the emphasis on GRACE in this prayer. We ask God to "grant" the gift of being "fashioned by his grace" into a worthy dwelling place for him - with "hearts that are just and true" - and we ask for this gift of healing and transformation, as always "through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Monday, February 15, 2021

Prayer and "The Beloved"

Here are two different "digital designs" for a text from Pope Francis's Angelus message of February 14. Obviously, the words are much more important than my experiments in presentation.😉

And here are some roses!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Your Will Corresponds To My Destiny

Lord God, Creator of all that exists,
Infinite Mystery who gives meaning and purpose and fulfillment to reality,
I ask You to show me Your will,
and to give me the grace to do Your will.

You, my God, are the absolute perfection of Truth, and Goodness, and Beauty. 
Your will is Your Glory, the radiance of You who are worthy of all my love,
and Your will is entirely "for" my life, my true identity,
to shape me into the unique person You have created me to be.
Your will corresponds to my destiny, to the real "me" 
and there is no other possibility for me to be happy, fully human, truly fulfilled
except through free obedience to Your will.

And what do You will for me?
You, the Infinite Mystery, who are infinite inexhaustible Love:
Your will is to give Yourself to me,
pouring Yourself out in the gratuitous freedom of love,
revealing Your Glory by reaching down to me in my lowliness.

God who is Love,
Holy Trinity, One God.
Father, You sent Your only Son to dwell with us and save us.
Jesus, you took our humanity to Yourself.
You became our brother,
so that, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we might be transformed
as Your brothers and sisters, into children of the Father,
called and destined to share forever in the Glory of Eternal Love.

My God, I adore You, I give thanks to You, I love You, I trust in You. 
Jesus, I trust in You.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

"We Must Have Confidence in His Strength"

February 10 is the feast of Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict. February 11, of course, is the beautiful feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the annual World Day of Prayer for the Sick.

Facebook also reminded me of the profound words spoken by Benedict XVI eight years ago in his Angelus of February 10, 2013. The next day he announced his resignation from the papacy and his embarking on what has proven to be a long "monastic journey" which continues to this day. In Benedict's apparent "weakness," the strength of God is at work in hidden ways.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Continuing to Remember the Person She Became...

I have a few more things than usual going on these days. But that doesn't mean I want to forget Christina Grimmie.

My own graphics, articles, and renewal of her memory have been consistent for me for over four years. It is my own participation in the vital legacy of this extraordinary young woman. Indeed, my monthly commemorations have a "history" of their own, which is highlighted for me by the various ways that the Internet reminds me of my posts from previous years.

Remembering how Christina's brief words and gestures struck me in the past "surprises me" today by showing fresh vitality and relevance to new circumstances and events in my own life. The love that inspired Christina's life always finds new ways to prove its value. 

Christina offered to Jesus in faith and love her great gifts of voice, music, and magnanimity of heart. In this way - expressing her spectacular, undeniable talent and dedication combined with her humble compassion and openness to every person she met - Christina poured herself out for her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and was able to share His love in the midst of the secular entertainment world.

In her 22 years on this earth, she made incredible music, inspired and encouraged people, spoke simply but with a depth of sincerity and commitment that gave life to her words, and lived the joy and the risks of a great love... Her total gift-of-self in her passion for music and her unconditional love for people was her witness to the glory of Jesus who is God dwelling among us and who gives meaning to everything.

Confident in His love, Christina was not afraid to love others. Her light shines brighter today than three years ago when I first posted the graphic I share again here. It is a light that will endure.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Josephine Bakhita, “Fortunate” Daughter of God

Today we celebrate a woman who was empowered by the love of God, and gives hope to powerless women, abused women, trafficked women, and oppressed women and men throughout the world. 

She was abducted from her African village and native people of South Sudan in the latter half of the 19th century. She never remembered her birth name, but the Arab slave traders had called her "Bakhita," which means "lucky." There was nothing that looked lucky about the horrible abuse and mutilation that she suffered for years as a slave in Northern Sudan, but then she was brought to Italy, found Christ, and was baptized Giuseppina Fortunata ("lucky"). 

She became a religious sister and for 40 years worked at the convent and among the people simply but with profound charity. She not only forgave her oppressors, but said she would kiss their hands if she saw them, because they brought her to Jesus (ultimately, in God's plan). She lived a heroic and exemplary life of confidence in God, with the strength and humility of an immense self-giving love and dedication to the practice of the works of mercy.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, you now live in the glory of God's beatifying presence. But in today's world we need you more than ever. Please pray for us, and for our many needs, with all the compassion you showed in your earthly life towards everyone who encountered you.

Pray for us to follow Jesus with ever greater trust and love as we journey through this world, that we may attain the joy of eternal life.

Pray for us to turn away from sin, and devote ourselves to the love of God and service to one another, that his glory may shine more brightly in our lives and be reflected throughout our communities, peoples, and societies all over the world.

Pray for an end to the many degrading forms of violence that plague our world, especially the oppression of the poor, human trafficking, and child abuse. Pray for all women, especially those who suffer from lack of recognition of their full and equal dignity as human persons created in the image of God.

Pray for all those who are endangered in various ways by the ongoing COVID pandemic and the many distressing consequences related to it. 

Pray for an end to racism, and for an overcoming of all the interpersonal and social evils generated by it. 

Pray for your native land of South Sudan, for those suffering persecutions, hunger, the ravages of war in Africa and through the world, for an end to all forms of slavery, and for respect for the dignity and beauty of every woman and every man.

Pray for our homes, families, children, elders, and all those entrusted to our particular care. Pray for our perseverance, that we will never give up searching for God's will, and that we will trust in him when he shows us the way. 

Pray for us, that we might love and forgive our enemies out of the conviction that God loves us and them, and orders everything in his wisdom and mercy to the good.

Friday, February 5, 2021

"Obedience" is a Scary Word

In my previous reflection about the Mystery who creates me, calls out to me, and brings me to fulfillment, I said: "What should I do? Obey Him."

Yes, obey ... That's a scary word, and it makes us feel like backing away or hiding. We want to do our own will. We want to be self-sufficient. We think that "freedom" means the unrestricted ability to do whatever we want, no matter what it is. We want to be the independent source of our own value. We also fear being "constrained" by the will of others; we fear that they will force their will upon us and use us to satisfy their own agenda. How can we "trust" anyone?

This, of course, has been a problem "from the beginning," as we well know.

But it's hard just to be alone with our "unrestrained freedom," and eventually we realize that we don't really know what we want to "do" with it. We want to "act," to choose in a way that makes us flourish and grow (somehow). Realistically, we need to "be involved" with other people and the reality of life if we want to use our freedom. We want to find a way that at least appears to get us closer to whatever-it-is that we want, and that seems to give us some security that we will be able to act (or be "part of the action") to obtain - and to keep - the "thing," the state-of-being, and/or the societal organization that will help establish and convince us of our own value. The world abounds with proposals for these kinds of "ways" and this kind of action, all of which require us to commit our freedom to some plan, some system, some method, some person who claims to know what is right (but who is really, ultimately, no different from us). Usually these proposals end up disappointing us, and we may become discouraged or even trapped in bad or dangerous living situations. 

Too often, these proposals for how live freely are very attractive on the surface, but they are not what they appear to be. They promise to enlarge our freedom, but they end up diminishing it and obfuscating our identity. We are tricked into a false enthusiasm that puffs us up for awhile, but ultimately collapses and buries us. Then, we find ourselves suffocating under this weight, but we are told to conform to the party line, to obey orders, and give over our humanity and our very lives to those who wield power...or else!

In today's world, we fear this word, "obedience," not only because we are stubborn and self-willed, but also because it is often misused to serve the claims of power. I refer here specifically to the pride and ideological and imagination-manipulative schemes of humans who impose their power on others, who are without a proper mandate to exercise authority (or who are exceeding that mandate). These "powers" are self-appointed and (often cleverly) self-assertive; they invade the space of our humanity by lies and violence because they lack genuine authority. They are not dedicated to serving the good of others, to using external material forces as resources to benefit the human community and the created world entrusted to our care. They value their ideas, systems, or "tribal" instincts rather than love for the human person or reverence for the freedom of the person. 

Our anxiety about "enforced conformity" is understandable. And we are especially vulnerable in these uniquely complicated times. We are living in this vast, enormous, frighteningly interconnected world of unprecedented material forces, naked ambition and stripped-open defenselessness, speed and excess in every direction, distracted interactions of multitudes and terrible loneliness, pressure for external success, alienation in a boundless sea where we fear drowning without ever knowing which way to swim for safety.

That same world has so many wonderful and enriching possibilities. Humans are aware of themselves in an unprecedented way as being dependent on one another. There can be a beautiful sharing of resources and marvelous new solutions to basic problems, as well as the opportunity to appreciate one another in new ways: to give and receive all over the world from our diverse cultural riches, personal talents, and expressions of beauty. There is so much good everywhere, so much good in people, in the beauty and ineradicable dignity of each person, in so many facets of their lives, their accomplishments, their institutions and communities, their cultures and social life. But there is also darkness and strangeness, weakness, duplicity, and a kind of radical insufficiency in everyone too... including ourselves! And there are incomprehensible people who conceal dangerous flaws, perverseness, even wickedness beneath an "exterior" that appears good.

And it seems that never before this global epoch has all of this goodness, badness, and ugliness been so shaken together, tossed about through immense changes, and spilled out all through this brave new world in combinations and circumstances and proximity and sheer quantity - in a way that is new to human history. How are we going to live as intelligent, free, loving, compassionate human beings in the midst of all this? 

We would be foolish to ignore the wisdom of the past, of accumulated human experience. We still can learn much from it. But we also need to find new ways forward. We need to find a deeper way of "possessing ourselves" and loving ourselves so that we can freely give ourselves within the context of challenges our ancestors never knew. We need a deeper awareness of our own human freedom and more profound and vital modes of human cooperation and solidarity. We need to learn to trust one another and to "trust reality" (and not become cynical in front of the goodness we see, but open and hopeful in front of it).  But how?

Perhaps that frightening, seemingly ambivalent word "obedience" is relevant here.

The fundamental point here is that we are talking about obedience to God. This is the real meaning of the word: to adhere to and follow the One who is the source of my freedom, of the uniqueness of my personhood; He is the one who generates the freedom that is really "mine," that awakens, searches, and longs to find its real fulfillment, the freedom to really "become myself" - in the inexhaustible love of being-in-relationship to the One who is Love.

Obedience to God's will. Let's be clear: this word does not signify the subjugation of my humanity and the abdication of my dignity to someone who exercises definitive power over me from a place that is extrinsic to my true self, and who would thus perpetrate violence against me. (It may be "God's will" to permit me to suffer violence at the hands of others, but my adherence to Him secures my inner freedom and promises meaning and goodness for me as its fruition.)

We need not fear obedience to God. He is not another threat. He does not crush us. He is not another "Boss." He Himself transcends, goes beyond, this whole world of powers and forces that rise up and pass away in the universe. He is the freedom of Infinite Love, who cannot debase us because He creates us, who cannot violate our freedom because He generates and opens up that very freedom that each of us possesses in the depths of ourselves.

His "will" is the design of His wisdom and love. His will is good because He is Good (all the time!). His will is the love that makes me to be myself and makes me a lover of Him and all my brothers and sisters and everything He has created, because He is Love.

He seeks us, He draws close to us, He "reaches down" to us. And the most astonishing thing is the unimaginable gratuitous gift that by being so humanly particular has touched every moment of human history and invested everything with new meaning: God has come, to share our humanity. He is here. He has come to dwell with us.

Only Infinite Love can overflow in such mysterious superabundance that He can enter the world, take our flesh, become human like us, save us, give Himself to us, call us in a total way without doing violence to us because He is Love, emptying Himself to become our brother, our companion in the flesh.

Jesus Christ, crucified, died, risen to imperishable life - the life that cannot be destroyed, the life He desires to share with us from the depths of His heart. He wins our freedom by "emptying Himself," by pouring Himself out in love, for us. He does not overpower us. He does not lie to seduce us. He looks at each one of us with love, and says, "follow me."

I want to obey Him. His will is the only thing that can correspond to my destiny; He knows the happiness that will correspond to me, and fulfill my freedom.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Welcome to February "Snow and Melt and..."

So it snowed on Sunday night and Monday. I know, snow-laden branches, you've seen it again and again. (Notice that it didn't really end up being all that much in our area.)

I felt lazy... I mean, I felt like being artistic! So I jazzed things up a bit in ze "studio virtuale." Just a little bit:

A not-quite-"instant" Instagram fan fave. Not too difficult, thanks to digital cheating ... err "techniques." (ha, really, it's cheating!😉)

Then I did an artsy take on the "look-at-the-overburdened-Rhododendrons" annual theme.

By Tuesday, the melting had begun. Now with sunshine and receding snow, my favorite Winter greens are back! Oh yeah! So tough.🌿 You just get unvarnished photos for their re-emergence, and then also some hardy ivy keeping its color going strong.

Snow white retreats for now. But it will be back...

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

He Knows “Me” Through and Through

Not my thoughts, but Your thoughts; not my will, but Your will be done

But why?

His will is unfailing truth and goodness, because He is Wisdom and Love. He knows "me," infinitely better than I know myself; He creates "me" and He is my destiny. And He is the Infinite One, who is all good and worthy of all my love.

What do I know of all this, really, profoundly, beyond all the words and ideas I think I have mastered? 

Very little, and that is so easily obscured or forgotten through most of my days. I know that everything exists for His glory, and that He is here for me, He loves me, He is faithful to His promises. I have seen enough in my life to know that I should trust Him. He convinces me, occasionally by great and clear events but most often by obscure signs; whatever the case, His grace strengthens my adherence, my hope that hangs onto Him, and it enkindles love for Him who is Goodness itself.

Most of the time, however, I am absorbed in my own plans, my ideas, or my emotions. I'm distracted. Still, He draws my attention to His loving presence, and He enables me to remember that He is the meaning of my life. I "rediscover" my need to pray for the grace to be more focused on Him.

My life is in God's hands. What do I know by virtue of my own understanding regarding the future: the future of a 58 year old man in the 21st Century? Will there be some joys, some shocks, some achievements, some pain? Probably. Perhaps. In what proportion? I don't know. 

What about death? Definitely

But when? And what happens, experientially, in that moment? Will I die slowly or quickly? Today, or in thirty years? Am I "ready"? Come Lord Jesus! Father, deliver me from the evil one! Mother Mary, pray for me in that hour... Then there is the judgment by the just Judge who is also Mercy, whom I hope to adhere to without wavering through what remains of my life and through death, united with Jesus who died for me - indeed who made my death His own, somehow.... through this mystery of His salvific love.

I don't "know" much about these things, beyond what I need to know in order to stay with Him, to take the next step in faith and trust (when I'm paying attention). But He knows. He knows everything. He knows me, entirely, exhaustively, with implacable, immeasurable love.

What should I do? Obey Him. Follow Him. Trust in Him. Not simply because I'm "terrified" of being without Him. For all the incoherence of my "decidedly-not-holy" life, I want to be with Him because He is "what-it's-all-about." Everything, including me, has been created for His glory. He is the source of all meaning and goodness. Moreover, He has made me a person. He generates the personal depths, the freedom and the responsibility, the "heart" that constitutes the uniqueness of who I am. He alone knows who I really am, through and through.

I am relationship-to-Him (as is every person). He makes me in His image. 

And He is Absolute Love. He is my Father.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

“A Light of Revelation”

[from Mosaic of the Presentation in the Temple, Mark Rupnik.]

Happy Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

It has now been 40 days since Christmas, when we celebrated the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh who has come to dwell with us, to reveal the glory of God and the immeasurable depths of His love for us. 

Today Jesus is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Here He is revealed to the faithful of the Old Covenant who have ardently awaited His coming. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, there are a few who recognize the baby Jesus as the Messiah in this joyful "epiphany," as Simeon testifies: "My eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of all nations. A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).

Then "Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'" (Luke 2:34-35).

Since Jesus is the "light of revelation," today is also a special day for the blessing of candles, "Candlemas." Two weeks from tomorrow we begin the liturgical season of Lent, in penance and preparation for the observance of that Holy Friday when Jesus takes our sins upon Himself... and the Resurrection of Easter Sunday. 

Christ is our Light in every darkness.


At the beginning of today’s Mass, there may be a formal procession, where this beautiful prayer is used:

Monday, February 1, 2021

Illuminating Life's Path

Here is a text from a homily of Pope Benedict XVI on February 1, 2012 - the last full year of his pontificate: