Friday, September 17, 2021

"The Uncertainty of Wealth": Does STUFF Make Us Happy?

"For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.

"But you,
[Timothy,] man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness....

"Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life"
(1 Timothy 6:7-11, 17-19).


Ah, "the love of money...." Why do we love money so much? Because it enables us to get stuff. It gives us the power to pursue all our often dangerous (and usually foolish) desires. We want to grasp all the stuff we think we need to obtain security, even though in reality it is vain to measure ourselves by what we possess, by our power over stuff, by "rely[ing] on so uncertain a thing as wealth."

Yet today it seems that the sheer quantity of stuff and the rush to accumulate it define the entire horizon of human life. Obsession with stuff has become a kind of social pathology of monstrous proportions. As a result, many people are sad. We "have pierced [our]selves with many pains." 

Many of us humans are dis-illusioned. Our pride has been shaken. We have experienced unimaginable power over things in this world. We have lived "like gods," with the average first-world person taking for granted his or her easy access to a vast infrastructure of stuff that would have utterly astonished the people of Saint Paul's time. (Imagine, just for starters, the light switch...!) Yet Saint Paul's words to Timothy continue to be vindicated.

We have so much power over the stuff of this world. And we are so bored!

Time plods on relentlessly. Everything is reduced to stuff: stuff to do, stuff to move, stuff to say to people, stuff to eat, stuff to read, stuff to achieve, stuff to "experience," stuff going on in the world. It's not so surprising that people are materialists. We are preoccupied with stuff. Indeed, it's no surprise that people are desperate materialists. We are drowning in stuff. Things that once seemed so interesting and full of promise are grasped, devoured, taken apart, and ravaged until they become dull, monotonous, and disappointing. Stuff. Everything ends up in storage bins, in storage facilities, because for some reason we can't just let it go.

Many of us are afraid to let go, because we think, "What else is there?" Our power always runs into limits. We can't stop time. We can't go back to the past. We have misused the material world in pursuit of our foolish and dangerous desires, and now we are staring at ruin and destruction. 

We are not so powerful after all. Are we in fact nothing but weak, fragile, apparently insignificant specks of cosmic dust whirling about an inscrutable, implacable universe? It seems as if all things follow their course and then disappear, and that they have been doing so for millions of years.

But... no! We can immerse our lives (especially today) in the distractions of stuff, but there are those moments when we "come to our senses" and realize that what we really want is something more, something that is beyond our power.... Then we become conscious of the "piercing pain" of our utter impoverishment in front of the Mystery that illuminates reality, that awakens desire and yet eludes our grasping - our effort to reduce the Mystery to something we can dominate. Then we become aware of our need to have our lives changed, to seek, to cry out from our poverty, to decide on an adherence, a fidelity, an allowing-ourselves-to-be-measured-by-Another

In the end, all our self-defining and self-acquiring power only leads to a more profound awareness of our insuperable limits, but also of the inextinguishable human aspiration to go beyond those limits - to endure, to flourish, to love and be loved without limits. But this aspiration takes us beyond our own power; it reveals the need for a relationship with a Mysterious Other. It requires "trust" in something - some One - beyond our "control." The One who is the source of all things, the source of their attractiveness, their fascination, their promise: the ineffable One who is beyond all things, the One who is source of all that is good.

What can we do? We can cry out for that "beyond," or we can give up on finding meaning and goodness in life (but does anybody really, completely "give up"?). We have a dramatic choice: prayer or the void. Prayer or nothingness.

Ironically, we don't have the power to choose "pure nothingness." We don't have the power to destroy our own being. Despair, instead, turns into nihilism, and spends itself in deceit, resentment, and violence. 

Prayer turns to the Mystery and says, "You are here." Prayer turns to God and says, "I belong to You. Rescue me. Save me."

Christians are supposed to know about their need to pray. Christians have encountered Jesus Christ, and have come to know that the love of God gives all things meaning in Him. Still, Christians easily forget what we have encountered; we forget the teaching to which we have been entrusted. So often we turn what is supposed to be a living relationship with God into a set of ideas that spend most of the time "in the back" of our minds while we live in the world grasping for stuff just like everyone else. We may follow some rules ("no stealing") or at least we try to convince ourselves that we are following them, but our hearts are easily taken in by the dominant mentality that measures the value of human existence in terms of riches, wealth, and superficial achievements. 

We must hold fast to Christ, and we must pray. Emotionally and intellectually the experience of prayer can seem dry and insignificant just like everything else we do. Indeed, that is the great lie: that prayer is just more stuff that we do during the day. 

Prayer is, first and foremost, something that God does in us. He whispers in our hearts, opens them, awakens them. If the desire to lift our minds and hearts to God stirs within us - however faint and weak and wretched that desire may seem - it means that God is attracting our hearts. He is drawing us to Himself. 

God calls us to pray everyday. He has given us the words. "Our Father.." To accept God's words and address them to God in obedience to God is already the beginning of the conviction that the "stuff" of the day is more than it appears to be. Hallowed be thy Name / thy Kingdom come / thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Pray! Perhaps it seems "dry" and "distant." Perhaps we don't pay much attention to the words. We should try; we should yearn to speak with God. Often we begin the words and our minds are immediately sucked back into the stuff that surrounds us and that appears so real, the stuff that is perishing all around us. Still, the most fragile prayer is an event that takes place within our hearts. We may feel like we are only "saying-the-words" but in our hearts there is the beginning of the affirmation of eternity

If we are faithful to prayer - to the desire to pray that has been awakened in our hearts - God will bring all the rest: the attention, the conversation, the conviction, the transformation of the way we look at reality. He will do so in His time, according to His plan. But we must be faithful. We must pray. Pray, pray, pray. Even if that means just saying the words and believing and hoping in God. We do not need to fall into disappointment, discouragement, and nihilism. 

Jesus. His very name is a prayer. "God saves." God, save me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Exhaltation of the Holy Cross

"Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

"Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."


~Philippians 2:6-11



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years After the Towers Fell

It has been two decades since the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 that left such a terrible mark on the beginning of the 21st century for the USA and the whole world. We commemorate this anniversary with prayer and sorrow, and consolation and help for those who continue to suffer losses that cannot be forgotten.

"9-11" still shocks and saddens me in some particular personal ways. I know people who lost loved ones on that day, as well as relatives and friends who were among the first responders and who then continued to respond in the days and weeks that followed. Also, New York City was my "home town." Although we moved when I was 9 years old, I remember the city very well and returned frequently. I spent a lot of time there in my youth, and it always felt like "home." My ancestors came from Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to live and work in this city and built the foundations of our family in the USA.

I haven't been back to New York in recent years, but it was one of the "old stomping grounds" of my youth, and it is full of memories.

The person in the picture is me (yes, it is really me—stop laughing!) in the summer of 1983, on the Staten Island Ferry gesturing to the barely visible Manhattan skyline in the foggy distance. It's not just the picture quality here; I recall that it was this sort of cloudy day, though I can't recall who took the picture. Needless to say, we had no selfies back then.

Can you see the two exceptionally tall buildings through the mist, standing far above the others? I remember when those "Twin Towers" opened ten years earlier, in 1973, not long after our family moved from our native city to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For a long time, they were just part of the landscape of New York.

During the course of many visits, I went up to the top and marveled at the amazing views. (It was fun to take visiting Europeans up there; in fact it's fun just taking them to New York, which is not like anything they've ever seen except in the movies). I remember hanging around various parts of the buildings day and night. I walked right past them, barely noticing them as I hurried somewhere else. I saw them from many angles of the Manhattan skyline. I saw them from airplane windows....

It seemed like they would just be there forever. Like mountains.

The nightmare that took place 20 years ago was inconceivable for a large part of my life. We in the First World at the end of the twentieth century grew up with images and/or fears of nuclear war, totalitarian dictatorships, systematic genocide, and the destruction of entire nations. We also knew the peculiar anxiety (which still exists today, and has expanded to other realms of life) of living with ever-increasingly complex and opaque political bureaucracies and the ever-expanding power of technologically sophisticated weapons capable of wiping out millions of people by putting into action protocols that nobody really understood. It seemed almost that the world could be destroyed "by accident," and that political violence in general was becoming something anonymous.

Of course we also knew about "local wars" in the global South. Thanks to the ingenious simplicity and the cheap but durable, portable, and effective AK-47, guerrilla warfare had been raised to a whole new level of destructiveness. Still, those of us who grew up in the First World during the Cold War era tended also to view these wars in large, abstract terms. Great ideologies were supposedly enacting geopolitical strategies through "proxy wars" all over the world. The local revolutionaries and resistance fighters seemed to us (with a few notable exceptions) "faceless" instruments in the global power struggle, and only historical hindsight has begun to allow us in the West to see the immense complexity of human motivations, local rivalries, ethnic conflicts, and sometimes ancient grievances that were behind the allegiances in these local wars. 

Indeed, as the millennium dawned, many of us in rich countries - gaping in awe at our vast technologically sophisticated arsenals and having just lived through a decade in which the Great Enemy (Soviet Communism) had been vanquished, had grown "a bit distant" in our sensibilities regarding the true sources of political violence in this world. Perhaps some of us had also grown distant from another essential, irreplaceable factor in the struggle against evil: our own courage

But that all changed on September 11, 2001. There had of course been terrorist attacks in recent years, but nothing remotely on this scale. Yet it was a group of young men armed with nothing but box cutters, a few flying lessons, and the fury of a suicidal fanaticism, a boundless rage and resentment, and a perversion of their religious sense: the deepest and most implacable human drive that searches for the ultimate meaning of life was twisted by fantasies and nihilism into a violent project to bring down the two tallest buildings in the world into a raging fire of death.

This blasphemous and inhuman horror, along with the personal catastrophes and the countless instances of heroism that followed, proved once again a very old truth.

It proved that the greatest power in the world — for violence and destruction or for valor and courage and solidarity — remains the human heart with its designs, its choices for good or evil, and the ever-renewed gift and vocation that draws the human heart to love and to hope and to begin again.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie Remains a Great Help to Me in This Time

I haven't posted since June any particular "remembrance" of Christina Grimmie on the 10th day of the month, which has become a custom for me personally.

This does not mean that I have forgotten about her. Quite the contrary. This has been a time of great change and great sorrow for me, as my mother passed away on July 3 even as I continue to grieve for my father's death in 2019.

Both my parents have gone forward toward that fulfilling and definitive encounter with the Mystery. Even in the light of Jesus Christ — who reveals and communicates to us the healing, forgiving, and transforming love of the Mystery, who teaches us to call God "Our Father" by the grace of the Holy Spirit — we still walk by faith in this world and not by sight. Without the accessible presence those we love most in this world, those who have guided us from our first footsteps, there is an unavoidable sense of sorrow and even a new sense of "loneliness." Even though they are "not far" from us, even though it is "only for a season," even as our hope in eternal life grows stronger, still it is difficult to walk this part of the human journey.

We are called to "lose ourselves" in order to find ourselves again in the Kingdom of God, in that inheritance which our Brother Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, offers us a share. It is a mysterious inheritance, beyond our limits in ways we can't imagine, but that we know are good. Life and death are mysterious, but ultimately they are the mystery of indestructible love.

Many who have gone before us — passing beyond the life of this world — still shine for us like lights, like stars that seem distant and yet can be surprisingly warm. They remain our friends who encourage us to persevere, and who wait for us to join them when our labors in this world are done. My parents are now among them, and I have an inkling of their nearness even in the midst of the "loneliness" of going on without them.

There are others whose witness continues to resonate, to reach people and help them to become stronger. The love through which they gave themselves in this life becomes in some way "greater" — as a very particular and personal affection that shares in the boundless love of the Heart of Jesus and in precisely this way (in Him) it becomes more than ever "theirs" personally, as they "find themselves" in Him who in His Resurrection is "the firstborn of many brothers and sisters."

I never met Christina Grimmie in this world. How is it that she is such an important sister in Christ, such a friend to me, such a source of hope and strength in the often-encroaching darkness that threatens us all in these recent years?

Why do I love her so much?

I have reflected upon this (here on this blog and elsewhere), but have hardly exhausted it. But I do love her, and have found her to be a constant friend. There is nothing esoteric or strange about this friendship. Rather, I think it has to do with what we call in the Apostles' Creed "the communion of saints."

And now, in these recent times, as I struggle with grief and loss such as I have never known before, Christina continues to shine on as a bright beautiful star who encourages me to go forward, to not be afraid to love.

Five years and three months after her own tragic death while opening her arms to "welcome a stranger" (as she had dedicated herself to doing every day, with her music and her life, for the glory of Christ) Christina Grimmie is more than ever a great inspiration and a great help to me.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ten Years of “The Picture Phone”😉

I was LATE to the "game" of live interactive audiovisual communication. TEN YEARS AGO, we experienced our first Skype call! On a clunky laptop, with an external webcam.💻📹 Things sure have changed...😜😳 #LivingOnZOOM2020

……………………………………..... And alas, though we tried - and did make a few brief and awkward connections - my Dad was never able to catch on to how it worked.🙁 My parents used Internet and email, but that was their limit. Dad got a flip phone, but he didn't like it very much. And needless to say, in these kinds of tech things, Mom relied on Dad. Thank God we got to see them a lot "in real life"...

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Many Faces of Miss Maria

She keeps growing! Such an expressive little face (the last pic in the series really needs a caption). Anyway, Maria Janaro is two months old on September 9.☺️❤️




Sunday, September 5, 2021

A Journey of Ongoing Conversion, Renewal, and Transformation

PREFACE: Over the past decade, I have drafted many reflections on this blog in a kind of "homiletic style." In fact, I have no mandate to preach; I am merely trying to carry out the common task enjoined on all Christians by their baptism to exhort and encourage one another in fraternal love. This gives me hope that some of my words might be helpful to others.

More fundamentally, what I write here represents my own exercise in reflection on the truth and remembering what I have seen and heard, what I have encountered and begun (however obscurely) to "understand" through meeting Jesus Christ and following Him in the Church.

More than anything, I am seeking encouragement, and begging the Lord for a deeper conviction regarding His loving presence in my sinful, over-complicated, weak, confused, incoherent life. Since I have studied theology and am a somewhat competent rhetorical hack, these reflections may sound like they are expressed by someone with a greater existential grasp and a more authoritative coherent practical life than anything I could possibly claim for myself.

I am a wreck. I speak to try to remember what has touched my life, and if these words have any value it is because they reflect the experience of life that fills the whole of the great tradition of Christ's Church, guided by her teaching authority and witnessed in the lives of her saints down through the ages. In the company of such witnesses, seeking the face of Jesus to whom we all belong, and throwing myself upon the mercy of God, I endeavor to speak of these things. I claim as my own only the flaws of these words. I hope and pray that the Spirit of God shines through, so that we all might learn and grow closer to the God who loves us.

REFLECTION: A JOURNEY OF ONGOING CONVERSION, RENEWAL, AND TRANSFORMATION

The life of faith is a struggle, an ongoing task, an experience of learning to love in a true, Christian way.

It grows from a renewed encounter with Christ into a fuller and more thorough conversion away from the tendency of selfishness and toward the cultivated dispositions of sincere self-giving.

The Holy Spirit works within us to heal us (each according to our own history, circumstances, and unique personal vocation), to free us from ways of "loving" that are stunted by the ambivalence of our wounded humanity, by our selfish tendency to reduce other persons to mere "things," by our craving to amplify and impose on reality our distorted perceptions of self and others.

The Christian life is a path of conversion from an egocentric posture to an ever deepening habit of authentic charity - an attitude of mind and heart that truly loves God as He is in Himself, and that truly loves other persons for who they are in themselves, i.e. children of God and brothers and sisters redeemed by Jesus and called to share in His inheritance.

Our Christian vocation takes concrete shape in the Lord's call of love, addressed to us each day, which draws us into communion with Him in silence and prayer, in adoration, thanksgiving, and hope in His mercy. The same call of love permeates all aspects of our lives and human relationships: in our families, in work and social environments, in various responsibilities, in the joys of life, in play, in the beauty of things.

God shapes our lives in such a way as to draw us along the path of loving Him and loving others. Our sufferings, too, are permitted and find their "place" within this particular plan of healing and transforming love that our Father has for each of us as unique persons, embraced in His infinite wisdom.

In answering the call of the vocation to charity, we must have great trust in Jesus our Savior, for without Him we can do nothing. But He is with us, working in our lives and teaching us through His Spirit how to grow in genuine self-giving love.

We must not become discouraged by the apparent persistence of our imperfections, selfish tendencies, and fragility, but continue to work toward cooperating with God's grace and moving forward on the path of love that He opens in front of us.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Gregory the Great: Servant of the Servants of God

Today is the feast of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, the 6th century Benedictine monk who articulated the path to holiness in a compelling and enduring manner, even as he served the Church in Rome and in the world, calling himself the "Servant of the Servants of God."

Here are some of his wise and evangelical words, that remain pertinent today:

"Our Lord and Redeemer entered the world and gave the world new teachings. He offered the contrast of his new way of life to our old one, which was nurtured by our vices. What did our old and carnal nature know how to do except to hang onto its own belongings, to seize if it could what belonged to someone else, and to covet what it could not seize? Our Physician brought from heaven remedies for every single moral fault. The medical art cures fevers with cold compresses, and chills by applying heat. Similarly, Jesus prescribed qualities contrary to our sins: self-restraint to the undisciplined, generosity to the stingy, gentleness to the irritable, and humility to the proud. Let us listen to Christ's words: 'Those who would come after me must renounce themselves.' He tells us that we must renounce ourselves. Some may not find it difficult to abandon their possessions, but it is extremely difficult for us to abandon ourselves. Renouncing what we have is not so much; renouncing what we are amounts to a great deal.

"...Christ said: Those who would come after me must renounce themselves. We cannot go beyond ourselves if we do not know how to sacrifice ourselves. We transplant seedlings to help them grow, and so we can say that we uproot them in order to make them increase. Seeds disappear when we put them in the earth, and then spring up to renew their kind; it seems as if what they were is being lost, but that is how they receive the ability to become what they were not."

Thursday, September 2, 2021

More "Remembering" My Mom and Dad (Part 2)

The old furniture was never cluttered while they lived here.
The beginning of the month of September has not been easy for me in the years since I was forced by illness to put aside the "active classroom teaching" aspect of my educating vocation. 
Right now, everyone is "moving on" to new things, It's a new school year, and there is a freshness in the air. They are going back to school - including Eileen to teach at John XXIII Montessori, Jojo to the age 12-15 Program, and Lucia and Teresa to the university (Teresa is a freshman at Christendom, wow!)...  they are all going back to school. And I am not.

It makes me a bit melancholy. 

This is not a clinical issue. It's just an "ordinary mood." This year, of course, it's mixed with other emotional complications. I have participated in "academic years" since my mother brought me to my first Kindergarten classroom in 1968. Mom left me "alone" that day... for a few hours. It was easy to adjust those new circumstances and to grow into them. Kindergarten was fun!

Now, it seems like there are so many new circumstances that I must adjust to, or simply endure.

This September is my first school year since "becoming an orphan." Yes, I feel a little like an orphan sometimes, even though I'm 58 years old. It seems silly, but the feeling is there (along with my embarrassment about it). I don't understand why; perhaps in part it's because I am in some ways emotionally greedy, self-centered, and childish. I'm not exaggerating about this; people who know me well enough have seen these problems in my broken, sinful life.

But I don't blame myself entirely or solely for these character flaws (much less do I blame my parents). I grew up in the U.S.A. in the 1970s, and our generation is a socially and culturally damaged generation. I'm sure others my age know what I mean, whether they are willing to admit it or not. 

My parents raised me as well as they could, but we were all a bit disoriented. Everything was spinning wildly in the wind - not only confusion among many people in the Church, not only moral principles, but all the simple features of life that allow people to live in common and form friendships. Customs, day-to-day values, the pace of life, even the food we ate - these things were all changing. Our lives and behavior were dictated by "experts," and stretched out among artificial products relentlessly peddled by the ubiquitous images of advertising. We were given no direction from those we admired and considered as models of success, or our more proximate early-Boomer elders (i.e. adult "examples") except to indulge our whims with whatever means available, as long as we were nice to other people and didn't break the law (in fact, we were not very nice, and we broke the law a lot).

The new "global village" sometimes felt - in the psychological realm - like a kind of prison. It was run by rival "gangs" of style-shapers and opinion makers inevitably taking turns on top. Of course there were many good things accomplished during those times, and many sincere people who worked hard to make the world better. And we couldn't complain if anyone had asked us, "Are you not entertained?" Oh boy, we were nearly "entertained" to death. 

Really, I have to say that overall the "global village" was a constraining and stressful place for a kid in the 70s, especially a oddball creative kid like me. 

But the love and discipline of my parents was a great help. Even when I got into trouble, I could always "feel" the inner boundary that our home life established - a boundary that was the "shape of love" between us: it was a love I needed, and I did not want to get "lost" outside of it. This was immensely important in growing up, and most of it came from my parents just living the way they did, and from their fidelity to each other. I have no words that can express my gratitude for what they gave us by building a loving, stable, safe, happy home, and - above all - a home that loved Christ and was faithful to the Church.

Still, there are aspects of my personality that even today remain so immature, that seem stuck in a pre-adolescent mode of interaction, an uncertain self-esteem, and a "sense of responsibility" dominated by fear. But this is not Dad's fault or Mom's fault. Sure, they made mistakes; after all, they were living in the midst of the same confusion. It was hard to be a parent in those days too (and it has not gotten any easier). 

I never doubted for a moment that my parents loved me. My Mom would lose her temper and yell at us sometimes, while my Dad could appear somewhat distant and aloof sometimes, but we knew these were just the limitations of their personalities. They were flawed human beings. But they loved each other and they persevered in that love. And they loved us and gave us a home that continued to nurture us long after we stopped living there. That home of their hearts was "big enough" to become a special, joyful place for their grandchildren as well.

I realize more poignantly now what a great gift these things were to us (and how increasingly rare it is to be so blessed).

Thank you Dad. Thank you Mom. I love you both! May God reward you forever in His eternal embrace.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

"Nurture in Us What is Good..."

The Collect prayer in the liturgy this week is another of those apparently simple that we might easily miss, but which is in fact profound in its encompassing of the foundations of our journey through this life. 

It is good to “take time” with the these prayers of the Church, to dwell on them and “with them,” to let our hearts be formed by them.