Sunday, June 13, 2021

It's Good to See the Steeple of Our Church...

Happy Sunday! Summer is in the air. ⛅️🌳

The future is in God's hands. At the present moment, I am grateful to see the steeple of our church regularly again. 

Circumstances still vary significantly in different places in the world regarding the status of COVID-19 and the continuation of public health restrictions, but in our mid-Atlantic region in the USA most of them have been lifted. We have been able to go with our whole physical persons to Sunday Mass, to worship together, to sing the responses in the liturgy, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist in the "fullness" of the sacrament of His love. 

He has sustained us through our trials, remains with us, and gives us hope that the future - whatever it may bring - is the road that takes us to our Father's house.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Pearl of Splendor

Just as the Mother of God is the unique human companion of her Son Jesus in His earthly mission and in her share in His glory, so also His particular feasts in the liturgical calendar are usually followed by days dedicated to Mary and her singular participation in His saving love. For the Saturday, June 12 celebration of the "Immaculate Heart of Mary," the Pope had another brief, beautiful reflection posted on Twitter and Instagram in various languages.

Here is what we read in English: “Mary’s heart is like a pearl of incomparable splendor, formed and smoothed by patient acceptance of God’s will through the mysteries of Jesus meditated in prayer” (Pope Francis).

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Boundless Love of the Heart of Jesus

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus allows us to dwell with particular focus on the ineffable love of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, that He offers to the Father and to us through His humanity. The Son loves us with His human Heart so as to accomplish our redemption and to "incorporate" us into His love for the Father.

The love of the Heart of Jesus saves us and empowers us as "adopted" sons and daughters in God's kingdom. 
The foundation of Christian life is God Incarnate, who touches our humanity concretely with His love. The Gospel text for the day (John 19:31-37) presents the love of Christ's Heart as the radical source of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Indeed, through the Eucharist, He Himself reaches us here and now as the One who loves us and gives Himself wholly to us.

The boundless love of the Heart of Jesus "surpasses knowledge," and 'pours out' all through history to accomplish the Divine plan. He draws us, frees us from our sins, renews us, incorporates us into His Mystical Body, and engenders a new kind of love in us for God our Father and for one another as brothers and sisters.

Here are some texts from the liturgy that struck me especially:

In the SECOND READING, Saint Paul speaks to the Ephesians: “I kneel before the Father, whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

The PREFACE to the Eucharistic Prayer bears the title: THE BOUNDLESS CHARITY OF CHRIST. "It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For raised up high on the Cross, he gave himself up for us with a wonderful love and poured out blood and water from his pierced side, the wellspring of the Church's Sacraments, so that, won over to the open heart of the Savior, all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation."

Both options for the COMMUNION ANTIPHON allude to Christ's life-changing, transforming love as incarnate and sacramental:

"Thus says the Lord: Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. Streams of living water will flow from within the one who believes in me" (Cf. John 7:37-38). 

Or: "One of the soldiers opened his side with a lance, and at once there came forth blood and water" (John 19:34).

The PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION expresses our desire that Jesus's love might change the way we see all of reality, the way we love the persons through whom He calls us to grow and move forward in this life's journey toward fulfillment in Him: 

"May this sacrament of charity, O Lord, 

make us fervent with the fire of holy love, 

so that, drawn always to your Son, 

we may learn to see him in our neighbor. 

Through Christ our Lord."

The COLLECT for the day invokes the "overflowing measure of grace" that comes from this open, total gift of this human heart - the Heart of Jesus - and "the wonders of his love for us."

On social media, Pope Francis encourages us to have confidence in Him: I invite each one of you to look with confidence to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to repeat often, especially during this month of June: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, transform our hearts and teach us to love God and our neighbor with generosity” (Pope Francis).

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie After Five Years: An Indestructible Love

πŸ’šAfter five years, Christina Victoria Grimmie's light shines on, gently and discretely, growing brighter, bringing warmth and strength to many wounded hearts, and still "reaching" new people, "meeting them" and touching their lives. 

The love that animated her life, through which she gave herself in the moments of all her days, right up to the end, is an indestructible love. It is the love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" - the love that "never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).πŸ’šπŸ’š

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!

If you're from our area of the mid-Atlantic region in USA, I know you've seen too much of the "17 Year Cicada Invasion." I apologize. Others may have heard that these bugs are everywhere! After 17 years of preparation, they finally emerge from shells like this one (it's pretty cool for a picture, I think). They are swarming all over the place during these brief weeks of their adult life, presumably mating, while they make noise and generally annoy human beings (otherwise they are harmless). Soon they will start dying everywhere. It will be a feast for Reepicheep if she has a taste for 17-year cicadas. 

I remember them from 1987 (when I was a grad student) and 2004 (when I was still an active teaching professor and father of a bunch of little kids who must have been spooked out - I don't recall any particular kid crises but they doπŸ˜‰). Now it's 2021. The next generation of this breed of cicadas will appear in 2038. 

I hope I'm still around in 2038, but NOT because I have any particular desire to see these bugs again!😝

Monday, June 7, 2021

Can We Build a "Plastic Paradise"?

We are passing through the end of an epoch, a time in history which has for several hundred years self-consciously called itself "the modern world." By this was meant not simply the "most recent" period of history, but in fact the decisive period of history, the period by which all events of prior history were to be measured and valued. The modern epoch saw history as a progression that was fulfilled in itself, in particular, in the rationalist, self-sufficient human being of the post-Enlightenment Western world.

Here, it seemed, humans had finally become conscious of themselves in a fully adult way, at the center of a world divested of all mystery, penetrated by human knowledge and rendered malleable to the benevolent energy of human creativity. We appeared destined to create a thoroughly "anthropocentric" milieu, a world entirely subject to our power to master its resources and shape them in the service of our ideas about humanity's advancement and our conception of what it takes to satisfy human needs and desires. We were prepared to construct a "plastic paradise" from the raw material of an otherwise meaningless reality. We considered it our responsibility to organize the stuff of the material universe in a rational, meaningful, and satisfying way.

Hmm, well... it's becoming clear to everyone that things are a bit more complicated than all that.

In these days, we have lived through the sudden chaotic spread of COVID-19 and the only partially successful, tenuous efforts to stop it. We also see the continual uncovering of political and social tensions that modernity naively thought had been resolved: the persistence of racism, militant forms of nationalism and other versions of partisan divisiveness, brutal wars, genocides, millions of refugees in desperate conditions, human trafficking on an enormous scale, and - among the affluent and "comfortable" - an ongoing dissatifaction with life in general, increasing isolation, and an ever-more-complicated obscurity regarding what it means to be human, and what constitutes the uniqueness of human personal identity. 

These have only been some of the more recent circumstances indicating that the "modern" project (which is in the irreversible process of falling apart) has lacked something essential for an adequate relationship between the human being and reality as a whole. Nevertheless the ideological narrative of modernity, with its promises of inevitable and benevolent "progress," has been enacting the drama of its final death scenes on an epic scale. For more than a century, the dominant pretentions of the modern West have spread throughout the world and have been generalized into a global mentality even as their apparent coherence has been imploding. 

We can recognize all of this without being reactionaries. We must affirm the many wonderful, unprecidented positive achievements of the modern epoch, and their unique contribution to human history. The ideals of human dignity, freedom, and progress - as well as the hope for a better future and a more fraternal, peaceful world - must continue to inspire us. But realism comes first.

We must face the fact that human life as a whole - lived out within the context of a greater reality - is much more profound than our manipulations and our ideological schemes. We have acquired vast amounts of information about the world and learned to subject things to human needs in a way that has genuinely improved life (in certain respects) for countless people. Yet we find that solving problems inevitably creates a new context that contains possibilities for new problems. These new problems rapidly rise up to confront us. Presuming our own mastery over reality, we change some things (for better and for worse), but mostly we rearrange the elements of our environment in a way that is beneficial in some respects but that cannot resolve or eliminate all problems, much less the dramatic, challenging, and arduous nature of human existence. Sometimes we presume to "fix" small problems but in the process we unwittingly create monstrous new problems. Thus we live in a world of technological enhancement thanks to the processes of harnessing energy from the earth's resources. We also live in a world of enhanced warfare, of weapons of mass destruction, of nuclear arsenals - as well as a rapidly corrupting and dangerously damaged natural environment.

We must realize that reality is not simply "plastic," but has an essential givenness and opens up to signify an ever greater Mystery, which we are invited to contemplate and collaborate with. We are called not to the absolute mastery of rationalist domination, but to intelligent, wise, discerning service to the truth, goodness, and beauty in the world.

How are we to carry out this service in the emerging new epoch, in the midst of people (including ourselves) with enormous ambitions wielding all the vast power that has been unleashed? There are no prepackaged solutions or easy answers to this question. We need to grow in our humanity, in an authentic awareness of our being human persons called to live in communion, and as caretakers and collaborators in the development of the rich potential and manifold fruitfulness of the material universe that has been entrusted to us. We certainly need human reason's practicality and ingenuity - now more than ever - but these must be more fully integrated within the whole scope of our intelligence, with its capacity for wonder, attentiveness to signs of meaning and value, and humility and patience as we journey over the mysterious paths of life. We need to seek wisdom, not as a conquest of the world by our own power and our urge to dominate and control reality, but as integrated personal insight for which we work with discipline and sacrifice, acquiring what we can while also hoping to receive the deeper wisdom that we need for the fulfillment of our lives - to receive it as a gift. 

This is an arduous task, especially for those of us who are accustomed to the illusion of unrestricted dominance over things by the power of our material wealth and our access to what we expect to be easy and infallible technological means to construct our fantasies and solve our problems. Have we ever really trusted this false sense of control? Look at the deep anxiety that gnaws away our insides even as we desperately distract ourselves from it with displays of vanity and false celebrations of our own power and apparent outward success. COVID has given many of us a taste (a reminder) of our own fragility. Perhaps we can set off on a new path.

Let us make a new beginning in the search for a truly adequate wisdom, and if necessary let us begin again and again each day without becoming discouraged. Though we must never give up, we should not be surprised if we are required to endure new difficulties and fresh setbacks in the years ahead.

Indeed, this world that is not "plastic" is also not Paradise. It is a world where the line between good and evil passes through every human heart, which will therefore never be perfected entirely by any human technical activity. It is a world in need of something it cannot give itself. Indeed, we are people in need of something we cannot engender within ourselves by any power we possess or knowledge we acquire.

After all, Paradise has been lost, and in any case was never meant to be the definitive fulfillment of creation. But in the face of mounting dangers and uncertainty, and all the cumulative wreckage of the past, we can still maintain a most firm hope. We know that the way forward passes through great trials and obscurity, but also abundant gifts which bring healing and transformation. We know that our path is the path of redemption.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Remembering "Tank Man"

June 4, 1989. Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. 

(Never Forget.)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Uganda "Martyrs Day": A Time to Grow in Faith

Since the feast of Corpus Christi is moved to Sunday on the USA's calendar, we deferred to the weekday liturgical texts and their particular feasts. Thus we shared once again in what is a very special holiday for Catholics in East Africa. 

The Uganda Martyrs are commemorated today, the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow royal pages on June 3, 1886. There are also other martyrs during this period who are grouped into today's feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the Beatification proceedings in the 1920s. 

(The image here is the official icon from the canonization of 1962.)

These martyrs are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years. Ordinarily, millions of pilgrims come to the Shrine at Namugongo (build on the place where the young martyrs gave their lives). But for the second consecutive year, the live, in-person celebration was drastically limited by public gathering restrictions related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Only 200 representative pilgrims were present at the Shrine for this years celebration, while millions more participated via television or internet-streaming. Uganda has (for Africa) a relatively sophisticated communications infrastructure. I myself participated in the Martyrs Day celebration "in real time" in 2019 from my home in the USA by way of Uganda NewsTV's YouTube channel. See this post HERE for an account of that experience, which seemed quite remarkable at the time; little did I imagine how crucial these media connections would soon become for Ugandans and everyone else, not only for holidays but for every day - for months and months at a time - to facilitate even our sense of local ecclesial unity in a time of crisis.

For Ugandans, who are so close to the memory of these martyrs, being confined to a mediated celebration "from a distance" was probably a deeper suffering than anything I can imagine. As a first-worlder who grew up in comfort and is well-accustomed to "watching life on television," I wonder if my own humanity is sufficiently vital and focused to really appreciate this kind of enforced remoteness from a sacred celebration so interwoven with one's own life and Christian identity (such as Martyrs Day is for Ugandan Catholics). Still, whatever the difficulty, the media resources clearly were a help for them this year.

In his homily, the bishop who celebrated the liturgy this year at Namugongo expressed the sorrow and also the meaning and value of bearing the burdens of what is (let us first-worlders not forget) still an ongoing global epidemic:

"This year, we assemble under exceptional circumstances. A slim number of the faithful are here physically. The multitudes are at home in virtual attendance. Not that they wished to stay away and watch television or listen to radios or indeed switch on social media platforms. No, it is because the Covid-19 pandemic has dictated and forced us into this terrible situation. We look like the dismembered body of Christ. We are scattered, but it would not be right to say we are in disarray." Rather, "in faith let us embrace this opportunity as guidance from the Holy Spirit that we should all spiritually internalise the example set for us by the Uganda Martyrs, that is, their deep faith, deep charity and of loving God to the point of shedding blood" (Bishop Silverus Jjumba of the Diocese of Masaka, presiding at the liturgy at the Namugongo Shrine, June 3, 2021).

Here is the Collect Prayer for the feast day:

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Light and Colors of June

Ah, plants.🌱 They don't change from year to year, and yet they always surprise!πŸ™‚πŸŒΏ 

Below, from left to right, we have (1) reddish tinted peony; (2) and (3) “mock orange” blossoms - which means that we won’t get any oranges here; (4) “witch-hazel” buds, which will flower later in the year; (5) out-of-control vines on a lush green maple tree; (6) white rhododendron flowers, which bloom later than the more exotic-looking purple ones.πŸŒ³πŸ’

Finally, at the bottom, there is a brief video from yours truly, who couldn't believe it was still light at 9:00 PM. The "Summer Season" has begun (broadly speaking), but I love especially these bright evenings before it gets too hot.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Saint Justin "Martyr" Witnesses to the Truth of Jesus Christ

My "Conversion Story" in the January 2014 issue of Magnificat was dedicated to the saint we honor today, known to history as "Saint Justin Martyr." It was a long time ago ... a phrase which applies in more than one way here (relatively speaking). 

For Justin, it was nearly nineteen centuries ago. He is the first Christian philosopher, and one of the first Church Fathers to pass on a substantial body of writing, as an apologist and as a descriptive witness to the already “traditional” liturgical and sacramental practice of the second century Church. His writings give further support to our conviction that the Church of Jesus was “Catholic” from the very beginning.

Clearly, Justin was an ancient Christian witness. He comes to us from “from a long time ago.” But, as I said above, there is another sense of a “long time ago” connected with the article I am presenting below. January 2014 has started to feel (in the context of the brevity of a single lifetime) like it was a long time ago. So much has happened in life since then. Still, there are things that remain consistent. Among them is the fact that I still write this monthly column of conversion stories for Magnificat - nearly a hundred have been published thus far, about people from every place, every historical period, every cultural background, people diverse in every way but all sharing a common humanity and all encountering the same Person, Jesus, from whom they received the fullness of life.

After nearly eight years of writing this column, I still find these stories fascinating and enriching.

Here is the conversion story of Saint Justin:

Saint Justin Martyr gives us a personal account of his conversion in the second century. He shows us that from earliest times, the appeal of Jesus corresponded to the most urgent desires of human reason and the human heart. In the first chapter of an authentic second century account called The Dialogue with Trypho, Justin gives his testimony.

Justin was born around the year 100 in Syria, from pagan ancestry. At an early age, he dedicated himself to the task of philosophy. To become a philosopher in late antiquity was not an academic exercise. It meant a dedication of one’s self to the search for truth. The young Justin perceived in the depths of his soul the need for the ultimate truth, the desire to lay hold of “the reason which governs all.”

He followed several different philosophers, but found that none of them understood the meaning of life. Then the Platonists awakened him to the possibility of a Mystery that transcends material things. He concluded that the meaning of life could only be found by escaping from the physical world and raising the mind to the contemplation of Divinity.

And then something completely unexpected happened to the young philosopher. It was his custom to walk alone by the sea so that he could devote his mind to the solitary effort of finding God. But on one of these walks, he met a Christian. This encounter would change Justin’s whole life. The Christian convinced him that the human mind could never know the mystery of God by its own power. The truth was that God had spoken, and revealed and given Himself in human history.

What is striking is that not only was Justin convinced by the discussion (which he represents in some detail in the Dialogue). His heart was drawn through this encounter with the Christian. He perceived, by grace, a way of understanding and living that was new: “But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me” (Dialogue 1).

It is also clear from another of Justin’s works, the Second Apology, that the Christians had already touched him by their witness of martyrdom, even before his decisive encounter with the man by the sea. Here he tells us that while he was still a Platonist, he heard many false accusations about the Christians, such as the common charge that they killed people in rituals and ate their flesh. But then he saw how the Christians had no fear of death or any other tortures, and he concluded even then that Christians couldn’t possibly be evil (see II Apology, XII). He was struck with wonder by the freedom of Christians, and their attachment to Christ even in the face of death.

Thus, Justin embraced God's gift of Himself in Jesus Christ and joined the “friends of Christ,” the Church. He went to Rome, where he proclaimed Christ as the true philosophy. The philosophers of the past had only fragments of truth. Jesus revealed the whole truth in Himself, and thus fulfilled the human search for wisdom and happiness. Saint Justin’s writings preserve precious testimony to the life and worship of the second century Church, and he earned his surname through his martyrdom in the year 165.