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.