Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Andrew: Bringer of Good News

Today is the Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle.

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The Scripture says,
'No one who believes in him will be put to shame.'
There is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

"But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach unless they are sent?
As it is written,
'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!'"

~Romans 10:9-15

Monday, November 29, 2021

End of Autumn: Homage in Digital Art

In various styles of digital graphic art from "JJStudios," here are my final “pictorial words” for November, near the end of this year’s Autumn season:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Advent 2021: Seeking the One Who Seeks Us

We have arrived once again at the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Roman rite, even as the calendar of temporal events continues to pass through the final weeks of what - for many of us - has been an uncertain and painful year of 2021. 

Advent invites us to remember once again the glory of Jesus as the meaning of everything in our lives, including all the obscure and sorrowful things. The Word became flesh to bear our wounds and save us from sin (which is the source and perpetuator of pain through all of history).

Advent encourages us to lift up our hearts with hope to the fulfillment He has promised, to adhere to Him with greater trust, and to be witnesses to God’s faithfulness to our neighbors, accompanying them in their own (often confused, frustrating, even desperate) search for healing and the true value of life.

Now is the time to remember once again that in Jesus God’s love draws close to every person. What an immense love this is: God’s “longing” for each person He has created. He has “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” His Eternal Word made flesh and born of the Virgin Mary. 

May this beautiful Advent season prepare our hearts for the joy of Christmas (the celebration of which begins on December 25). 

Come, Lord Jesus!⭐️

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Holidays With Empty Seats and Dark Holes

For many, the coming holidays will be hard because of an empty seat at the table. Some of my friends in the USA are observing Thanksgiving today for the first time with the awkward anguish of That Empty Chair, the one that for so many previous years had been occupied by a beloved spouse, a parent, or even a child. These precious persons have been taken away from this life, sometimes by the course of nature and the fullness of their years (which - even when it’s not sudden or surprising - causes real sorrow for those left behind). But there are also many persons who have vanished "before their time," in strange ways, under circumstances that leave their loved ones gasping for breath and staring at the black hole that has burned suddenly into the midst of their daily lives… a hole that seems bottomless.

For me this year, there are some real reasons for grief, but also very much to be grateful for. And there is above all gratitude for the hope that sustains me through joys and surprises, changes and the passage time, and even in the midst of pain and sorrows.

But I know that for others, the trial is much more acute, and the empty seat at the table reminds them of an absence that is like an abyss that they and their families have been plunged into, where they cannot seem to see any light or find any foothold.

My prayer is especially for them, that they may remember that they are held in the darkness and in the depths by the forever-open-wounded hands of Love.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Boundless Reach of God’s Mercy

I came across this excerpt from my book Never Give Up, published nearly a dozen years ago, and it seemed worth posting here in these difficult days.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Jesus, Our Crucified King

************For some of us, this celebration of the feast of Christ the King is marked by the sorrow of a tragedy that happened to one of the young people in our community last week.

The pain of an incomprehensible loss is something we can only bring to a King who has carried all our sorrows, who rules by the love that leads us and makes ways for us through the darkest abysses.

Please pray for the soul of a young person, and for the consolation of their parents and family.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

It's "Papa Time"!

Maria Janaro is only four months old, but she already knows lots of people. She spends much of her week being cared for by her mommy and daddy and nanas and a whole bunch of aunts.

Her old "Papa" is usually content to be in the background. But he gets his share of "Papa Time" and - of course - he usually has his phone-camera ready at hand. This doesn't give him the right to "put words into Maria's head," but he couldn't resist a few captions for pictures he took on Monday.πŸ˜‰

Not to worry: Maria gets to "speak for herself" in the video.

Then, Papa decides to make a video. Here we go:

Oh my, how dramatic! But "all's well that ends well."πŸ™‚

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Saint Gertrude: The "Incredible Ardor" of Jesus

Today we celebrate Saint Gertrude "the Great" - of the 13th century Benedictine monastery in Helfta (Germany). She was one of the outstanding women of the medieval Church, a brilliant scholar, a counselor to many, and most importantly a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

Reports of Gertrude's visions, her special spiritual intimacy with Jesus, and her own prayers were written by her and/or her sisters at the Helfta monastery, many of whom were also saintly and highly educated during this period.

In one vision, Jesus reportedly said to her, "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end."

Gertrude's prayers are full of vivid imagery:

"O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful furnace..by whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth."

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The "Authority" of Christina Grimmie's Joyful Love

The origin of this picture was a screenshot from a video on Christina Grimmie's YouTube channel. It was through living human interaction and passionate music performances, as well as videos, social media, and recordings, that she gave herself during the past decade - gifts of love that have remained accessible and vital even now, five years and five months since she went home to the Lord. Her offering of herself and her remarkable talents along with her ordinary life with its many facets has - if anything - grown in power, authority, and capacity to touch the hearts of people since that day. It was then that Christina's commitment to God - her mission freely discerned and taken up - was fulfilled "to the end." She lived out to its completion, and in all its mysterious depths, her vocation to give glory to Jesus through "secular" popular music, and to love and accompany people in many places throughout the world (especially those who are wounded people, poor people, suffering people, or people in particular loneliness who need to experience that Someone loves them with an everlasting love). 

Christina's gift of herself continues to bear fruit today. For a young person, she had an unusual maturity in her conviction and persistence in loving others (even when the means she used were gestures full of youthful spontaneity and fun), because her love was grounded in her confidence in the redeeming mercy and tenderness of Jesus. Now that her "offering of her life" is completed in Him, the "authority" (the convincing power) of her love and joy becomes more evident. She is for us a "sign" of His love for us, and she is "closer to us" now even if - paradoxically - she has for a time passed beyond our sight. Still, she has left glimpses of herself in this world: so many pieces of media sound and imagery that extend to us even now the love stamped with her own unique personality, while also given as a witness to the God who has become incarnate - who has come to dwell with us and wants to stay with us

Thus, these pictures (see above and also below, the latter screenshots from videos variously posted on YouTube from 2015 European Tour) and the many other "virtual jewels" we have from her luminous life stand out from the overwhelming bombardment of sights, sounds, and information that pour over us every day. There is a freshness and a surprise and a mysterious personal quality that endures in them, and even grows with the passage of time and continues to "meet us" as our own earthly lives continue and we engage new challenges.

These images of Christina are precious to me, and reach me today in the fragility and anxieties of difficult circumstances I am going through right now, with the recent loss of my own parents, the changes in the rhythm of life at home as my kids grow up, the ongoing frustrations with my chronic illness, and the new and strange challenges of growing older. But Christina walks with me and engages my humanity even now, in part through so many vital images. They are not only "from the past" as if they were the remains of something inexorably lost, that provokes only nostalgia and, ultimately, sadness. They are a "presence" here and now, as extensions of Christina's joyful, loving gaze that reaches me, so that I feel "seen" and "known" in a remarkable way by someone I never met in this world. They have a kind of "authority" and special value in helping me remember that I am loved

Christina made all these gestures to us and gave all her attention to us in these moments from out of a great love for Jesus (which does not therefore bypass us, but precisely for this very reason includes us without limits or boundaries). She reached out to us from her own experience of His love (which is always present, always wanting us, always healing, forgiving, redeeming, transforming us); thus all the expressions of her life so rich in humanity and goodness have been woven together into a witness and an affection that still touches us, encourages us, and draws us closer to the Mystery of Infinite Love. Her beautiful face has joined its gaze on us to the One whose human face looks with love on every person, who cherishes each and all of us and has called us to share in unending joy. (Once again, Christina, I am so grateful to you!πŸ’š)

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Who is "Saint John Lateran"?

The focus of today's feast day might be a bit confusing, at least for English speakers. 

The shorthand phrase "Feast of Saint John Lateran" might give us the idea that there was a holy person in history (who we know nothing about) named "John Lateran," one of the multitude of "Saint Johns" out there among the saints. And there are lots of "Saint Johns" (believe me, I've checkedπŸ˜‰). Perhaps we might even ask "Saint John Lateran" to pray for us.

In fact, today we celebrate the dedication of the first great church built publicly within the walls of ancient Rome, the original cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, which the Italians call San Giovanni in Laterano. To this day it remains the Pope's official episcopal "seat," even though the more famous Saint Peter's in the Vatican has long since become the church closest to the Pope's residence and the sight of the majority of papal events.

The Basilica of Our Savior and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist was dedicated in Rome by Pope Sylvester I on this day in the year 324. It was less than a decade after Constantine won his victory over Maxentius, became Emperor, and gave Christianity legal status and full freedom within the Empire. Constantine had acquired private land holdings through his wife's connections with the prestigious Laterani (an old Roman noble family). He donated the property to the Pope for the building of a church. 

The initial church was erected not after the pattern of pagan temples, but according to the model of Roman public gathering places where formal events were celebrated with all the people. In place of the imperial triumphal arch, the new church used an arch dedicated to Jesus, the true Emperor of the whole universe, and His triumph over sin and death. This arch set off the sanctuary from the congregational space, and the "Christian Basilica" was born.

But why celebrate a building? After all, isn't it true that the "Church" is the People of God who worship Him in the liturgy? Why should the building matter? 

Certainly, Christians don't view their buildings as magical edifices that circumscribe divine power and subject it to human conjuring. They do not confine God within their walls. Rather a church building, like many other material things that are set aside for the worship of God Incarnate, is cherished because of the great liturgical gestures it makes possible. The community established by Jesus is human in the fullest sense, composed of bodily human beings who are called, as much as possible, to gather together in a particular place to worship God together publicly and visibly. For three centuries, such gatherings - whether large or small, tolerated or persecuted - took place in provisional places, sometimes even secret places, but in any case places that were less than fully inserted within the society and culture in which people lived their daily lives. It is proper to the wisdom of God's plan and the reality of the Incarnation - God dwelling among us - that there be acknowledged, visible, tangible human places where His people gather to affirm and encounter His presence.

This is one reason we celebrate the dedication of the "Lateran Basilica" nearly 1700 years ago. It has been rebuilt and augmented many times, but it remains the same place, the "Mother of churches" (as it is called). Our joy on this feast day is above all in Christ and in our belonging to Him together, but today we are especially grateful for the place where the Pope has his seat, where the Christians of Rome have gathered with him for 17 centuries, and also for the churches that make "homes" for us and for Christians all over the world, the places where we come together to be with Christ in the offering of His love for us.

Friday, November 5, 2021

May We Merrily Meet in Heaven

Lord, grant to those who have gone before us eternal rest and peace in Your presence, and at our journey's end bring us also to You, that we might all "merrily meet" in the fullness of Your joy.

This graphic is from Saint Thomas More's final letter to his daughter, Meg:

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

November's "Holy Souls" and Our Loved Ones

Already, it is November 2021!

We have begun this new month (and the final weeks of the liturgical year in the Roman rite) with the joyful feast of All Saints, followed by a special remembrance of "All Souls" — all of the "faithful departed," especially our loved ones who have passed from this life united with Jesus in His saving death.

They have embarked upon that mysterious final passage "from death to resurrection" by which the fullness of His healing and transforming love frees them and prepares them for the blessedness of the true life: to dwell forever in perfect happiness with Christ, in the unveiled embrace of the God who is Love.

For many of us, this year's "All Souls Day" (and this month specially dedicated to the faithful departed) has a special poignancy and sense of "intimacy" that we may never have experienced before. During the past year (or in recent years) many have had to "say goodbye" in this world to people we loved deeply and dearly - people who were part of the edifice of our earthly lives — whose living and breathing, whose voices and affection and encouragement, were as basic to "our world" as the ground under our feet, as the sun that lights our days, or as that sense of quiet joy and familiarity of "being at home." People have said goodbye to spouses, family members, brothers or sisters, or friends who were "like" brothers and sisters to them on their earthly journey. It is a comfort to entrust them to God our merciful Father who loves them and us with a greater love than we can ever imagine. It is a great and "intimate" consolation to be able to pray for them, and rely on their prayers for us. In this month, it is as if the whole Church gathers together with those who grieve, to console those who mourn. In November we especially consider the whole Church: the communion of saints who see God face to face, as well as those "arriving" at blessedness through a final purification that is mysteriously arduous (that's why we pray for them) but also mysteriously joyful, and of course those of who remain on this earthly pilgrimage united with Jesus as we struggle to "fight the good fight" and "keep the faith" until our time is completed.

This year's November is new for me. It's somewhat hard describe how it "seems to me." My Dad died in 2019, and I have written here about the sorrow and also the "peculiarity" of life without him. Yet my Mom was still alive, and she had much need for our help, and also gave much love, affirmation, and wisdom to her children, grandchildren, and (at least by feeling her kick from the womb) her great-granddaughter who was born six days after she died. My mother's death this past July, however, was like "the breaking of the last thread" between generations, between "the parents" and "the kids" (the "kids" being Walter and me — funny as that may be in the minds of younger folks).

This sounds odd, perhaps, but it is the way I experienced my parents: they were "together" not only as husband and wife for 59 years but as my parents. Since my mother's death, it has struck me that I not only miss her (so much I cannot even understand it myself) but I also miss my father more. It was as if he was still "partially around" as long as she was still around.

There are practical, physical reasons for this: their own home and their estate have become our concern, and though they were not rich in the first-world sense of being rich, there will be some material benefit for us once all the bureaucratic stuff is taken care of. This is beautiful above all (by far) because we know how our parents carefully arranged their modest material legacy so that it would help us and the grandchildren in our material needs. It is one more expression of their love which makes me grateful to them. No one knows what tomorrow may bring regarding material circumstances, but the provision they have made for us — this special gesture of the care they gave us through all our lives — is a priceless gift. I am grateful beyond words.

And even as I miss them, there is a sense in which I feel closer to them. I think they still "take care of us," even in some very particular ways of daily life. They are "not far" from us. Some day we will understand how this all "works" (persons, relationships, the human family, the generations, life and death, how Divine Love illuminates all of it...).

We were blessed to have these good parents, and it helps us to glimpse some sign that indicates the kind of love that our Lord has for each and every human person, and the special love He has for the poor, for the "orphans" of this world (and there are more and more who are orphaned by strife perpetrated by humans, through war and oppression, through many sufferings from without and from within families, and the confusion and materialistic shallowness in our covetous society that breaks apart human relationships and leads to the dissolution of family life). God wants these suffering people to know that they are His children, and that He seeks their healing. And we know that we are called, that we must find ways to be brothers (brothers and sisters) to those who have no home, no family, and those who feel lost and alone in this world.

May God grant eternal rest to those who have died, and consolation to those who suffer from losing them in this life.

Here is a picture of Mom and Dad from their younger days: