Saturday, April 30, 2022

Wars, Rumors of Wars, and Russia’s Aspiring “New Caesar”

The decade of the 2020s has already been full of strain, tension, and alienation for people all over the world due to the constraints and disruptions of COVID-19. For some it has led to unforeseeable tragedy, but for everyone it has represented an abrupt shift in the ongoing “meta-crisis” that is the emerging new global epoch as it unfolds its unprecedented possibilities and dangers.

And now we have war, once again, involving the world’s largest and most ambivalent protagonists of the use of technological power. Here I don’t mean the brave and suffering people of Ukraine, who - even as they seek to defend themselves with whatever weapons they can get - are drawing on deeper interior resources of strength and resilience, resources which they must continue to rely on above and beyond any promises or alliances with those who live by the material logic of technology alone. Ukraine is an emerging nation, and must struggle not only against their appallingly brutal enemies but also guard their souls from the counter-materialism of those who claim to be their friends.

I see no way around the unimaginable consequences of this already-escalating global conflict. The wealthy First World countries in Europe and America are plunging in with little understanding of the whole context of the Russian imperialist faction’s historical ambitions and Ukraine’s (and other nations’) historical sufferings. Ironically, this ignorance might be a "lesser evil" in the present circumstances; the secularist West is focused on Russia's violation of international law and human rights in their aggressive invasion of Ukraine. This, at least, is a legitimate and concrete concern that everyone can understand and agree upon. News services everywhere are deluged by the awful facts and abundant testimonies to the ruthless and indiscriminate war Russia is waging (which is sadly consistent with the way Putin has used his war machine in the past, most recently in Syria). Our information resources and audiovisual media have little chance to exaggerate, sensationalize, politicize, or otherwise spin these events into the kind of combative entertainment that their distracted, shallow, soul-starved viewers clamor for. They don’t need to. We can satisfy ourselves and our restless curiosity by the feeling of being enthusiastic spectators in a war that seems far away from our own lives, but still made vivid by media technology. What we don’t see is how the war and its consequences draw closer to us every day. 

NATO’s European and American countries—with some hesitations—have responded to Putin’s war in a way that suggests that we think it can be contained to the Slavic world and resolved by the right combination of face-saving and wheeling-and-dealing. As the months have passed, however, we are slowly moving toward the recognition that the factors involved in this war are beyond our grasp. Meanwhile, the Western alliance continues to isolate Russia with economic sanctions and pour billions of dollars and ever-more-sophisticated weapons into Ukraine. While this increases Ukraine’s chances of defending itself, it also may increase Putin’s intransigence and, perhaps, his readiness to widen the scope of the war and bring a new level of destructive technology into play, under the (not entirely untrue) pretext that our nations have already become de-facto belligerents in a war against Russia. This danger will grow especially as the invasion of Ukraine drags on and Russian casualties continue to increase.

I am not saying what should or should not be done to “change” the situation. I’m just trying to clarify my own understanding of what’s happening. I hope I’m wrong about some of it, and indeed the unfolding of historical events are influenced by many factors that cannot be predicted.

Nevertheless, what we are seeing currently suggests that escalation is unavoidable, and can be said already to be taking place. European Union, British, and American interests in supporting Ukraine are probably more complex and ambivalent than the altruistic platitudes about “freedom and democracy” that we hear everywhere right now. But what is undeniable is that Putin’s government in Russia is dictatorial, centralist, kleptocratic, belligerent, and mendacious. It is sure to get worse before it gets better. Putinism may be more tolerable than Soviet Communism, but that hardly justifies ignoring its invasion of neighboring countries and its own peculiar crimes. The Western alliance (and the U.S.A. in particular) cannot be faulted for calling out these evils and insisting they stop (notwithstanding our own hypocrisy, and our willingness to tolerate and/or ignore the evils of other regimes and the oppression of other peoples - which, to be fair, we may not always be able to address in a practical manner).

And, although Soviet Marxist-Leninist ideology is no longer a force in this region, there are other, older ideologies that may fuel the present conflict, or grow in influence so as to affect the future.

Unfortunately, Moscow today has turned all its forces in the “wrong direction” (in various respects) by renewing its centuries-old “Imperial Dream” of hegemony in Eastern and Southeastern Slavic areas and domination of the shores of the Black Sea. It is the dream of a “Greater Russia” whose conquests are justified by its unique Christian and historic “mission.” (I do believe that Russia and all the Slavic peoples have particular and rich contributions of Christian witness for our time, and unique gifts to share with the world, but this univocal, reductive “imperial dream” is not the way to fulfill such tasks.) 

The new Post-Communist version of the dream mashes up pseudo-mystical aspirations with a crass materialistic power grab for regional resources, marshaling all under a repressive centralized regime, a mega-State designed not according to the Marxist minds of Lenin and Stalin, but still too pervaded by their “guts” (particularly Stalin’s)—their will to grab power and impose it by whatever violence is judged to be “necessary.”

Putin is probably more motivated by the mega-State, but Moscow’s imperial dream may be important for solidifying his strange alliance with Russian Orthodox clergy. There is the danger that this old dream - which is nothing less than the Muscovite “restoration” of Eastern Orthodox Christendom - is a worldly dream of reconstructing a very old power that Moscow has long coveted. The Imperial Dream began in the 16th century when Moscow declared itself “the Third Rome” after the fall of Constantinople, claiming the ancient Byzantine imperial pedigree for its relatively new rulers, who styled themselves “Czars” (the Slavic rendering of “Caesar”). Moscow’s archbishop was also invested with the title of “Patriarch” so that the church’s status might correspond to—and be subject to—the dignity of the new Caesars. All too often, the church’s witness to the Gospel was to be obscured or diverted thereafter by Russia’s Emperors to serve their own worldly ends. 

The Imperial Dream tied the Russian Orthodox Church to a particular nation and the will of its autocratic rulers. The ensuing centuries were rich with many holy people, a heritage of profound Christian living, and - eventually - an abundance of martyrs. But too often the hierarchy was dominated by the overwhelming temporal power that held the real primacy in the Dream. In the 18th century, Peter the Great even abolished the Moscow Patriarchate’s status, which was only restored in 1917 by a Synod that had begun meeting during the brief period after Nicholas II’s abdication, when the Duma (Russia’s Parliament) had declared freedom of religion from government control. (As I have written elsewhere [see HERE] the Russian Byzantine Catholic Exarchate in full communion with the Pope also blossomed briefly during this period.) By the time the Orthodox synod had declared the restoration of the Patriarchate, however, the Bolshevik Revolution had prevailed. Future Patriarchs would either be imprisoned (and/or martyred) or be forced into various forms of subservient collaboration with an atheist regime.

But history has more tenacious roots than we think. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, there has been a religious renaissance in Russia, and many Russians once again identify as Orthodox Christians. There is much to be encouraged about in these developments. But the rise of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship has also seen a resurgence of a Neo-Muscovite Imperial Dream. The essential worldliness of such an ideal (even wrapped in the mantle of opposition to globalist moral decadence and secularism) can only be a distraction away from whatever renewal of genuine Christian faith is happening among Russian people today.

How far might Putin and his followers go with this new Dream? Are we seeing the rise of a new form of an old ambition: the “Christian Caesaropapism” that prevailed in Constantinople in the second millennium, prior to its decline, and which was then adopted by the “Caesars” of Moscow up to the dawn of the 20th century?

Czarist Russia had a deep and long-lasting fascination with Constantinople, and sought to wrest it away from Turkish rule and restore it to Orthodoxy (and establish its own political power there). Perhaps we should revisit Russia’s 18th and 19th century clashes with the Ottoman Empire, including the complex events of the “Crimean War.” Does this have any relevance for the current Empire of Putin? In practical terms, probably not. Obviously, the circumstances of Czarist times were vastly different from today. Still we might use our imaginations to venture beyond realpolitik, and ponder the extensiveness of the dreams that motivate people and can become new ways to dress up the desire for power. 

The symbol of today’s Russia: the Byzantine two head eagle

It’s not utterly far-fetched to imagine that Russian regional hegemony (including control of the Black Sea) might someday (sooner or later) lead some lmperial Dreamers to take the “dream” all the way to Istanbul, in a new effort to reclaim the ancient Basilica of Hagia Sofia for Orthodox Christianity and restore the city of Constantinople within the Third Roman Empire. This time, however, the Empire would be governed not from the Bosporus but from Moscow - the self-appointed “Third Rome” after Constantinople’s fall nearly 600 years ago. Of course, this is stretching the whole theme too far (even if maybe this scheme might sound “pretty good” to some traditionally-minded Christians). Its achievement would come at an extremely high price. In fact, a wholly Russian Imperial realm effectively controlling everything from Saint Petersburg to Constantinople would be problematic in many ways, and is virtually impossible to picture in today’s context. That doesn’t mean that no one dreams about it, or holds out hope for it in the future. Stranger reconfigurations have happened in history.

Meanwhile, the idea of a Greater Russia—united under Moscow and a conception of “Orthodoxy” as primarily a common civil ideology, a politically useful (and ultimately State-controlled) ideology—presents itself more plausibly, but also with more hidden dangers. Obviously, witness to Jesus Christ and life centered on Him would lose its essential focus, regardless of how much religious talk and action remained about Him. Bishops might even be tempted to bless government injustices, or to refrain from speaking out when they should. Such temptations are common in the secular world, but the Imperial Dream would tend to urge a certain particular enthusiasm from its religious ministers, and would reward those who would propagate it. 

Moreover, the New Imperial Dream would not tolerate anything even perceived as a potential rival. Greater Russia, specifically, would certainly apply “pressure” for the “reintegration” (i.e. the suppression) of the recently constituted Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kyiv (and canonically independent from the Patriarch of Moscow), which was recognized by Orthodox churches under the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2018, but rejected by Moscow. Moreover, Greater Russia would utterly oppose even the continued existence of the “Greek Catholic Church” of Western Ukraine (much less would it hold out any hope for taking up again the building of an Eastern-rite Catholic eparchy in Russia itself). The Ukrainian Catholics would once more be forced underground, because their very existence would be a fundamental challenge to the State/Imperial claim that a Church’s identity and authority are entirely subordinated to and ultimately in service of the Empire. The New Imperial Dream of a unified Greater Russia would insist that all Russian Christians acknowledge the Moscow Patriarchate’s primatial role within the (one and only) Russian Orthodox Church, which would be bound up with the de-facto more fundamental claim of Russia’s temporal leader to be a kind of “New Constantine” ensuring the order of a newly emerging Russian Byzantine Christendom. The “Christendom” of the “Third Rome,” ruled by a centralized Russian dictatorship, would not be a hospitable place for the growth of Ecumenism among its own subjects. It would be—especially—a realm hardened in opposition to the Successor of Saint Peter and fiercely intolerant of Christians in full communion with him, i.e. Catholic Christians.

(There is a prophet from Russia’s past whose voice might be heard again, who denounced these pretenses in his own time: Vladimir Soloviev. But that’s another story for another day.)

These scenarios may all seem outrageous, but they are on the minds of more than a few pious Russians and are quite familiar to Vladimir Putin. But it is tragically wrong-headed to endeavor to build an allegedly Christian-inspired society that rejects the Papacy in favor of the hegemony of a partisan Super-State posing as a mythical Empire. And, we might add, this dream society would be built on top of the graves of a new generation of martyred and murdered Ukrainians: Ukrainian Greek Catholics, whom this Empire must reject by its very nature; Ukrainian Orthodox Christians who refuse to surrender their faith to the de-facto institutional control of the “New Caesar;” Ukrainians of all religions or ways of human seeking who continue to insist that being Ukrainian is important to their journey in this world, and that no foreign power has the right to divest them of their national allegiance and cultural identity, to drive them from their homes and destroy their land.

And so we find ourselves back in Ukraine, where people of good will from various traditions—but let me note here in particular Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox Christians—have marched side-by-side, from the Maidan protests of 2014 to the present-day defense of their country. Let it be clear to my own fellow Roman Catholics in the West: this real Christian and human solidarity is a far greater hope for the reunion of these sister churches than the fevered dreams of a “Greater Russia” dominated by future self-appointed “Caesars” in a “Rome” of their own design.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Saint Catherine of Siena is a Friend to Those Who Suffer

"I can do anything through Christ crucified, for I know truly that he does not lay a heavier load on his creatures than they can bear. So I want to leave the measuring up to him and, for my part, bear these things with true patience... I know that whatever God grants or permits, he does it for my good, so that I may be made holy in him" (Saint Catherine of Siena, 1347-1390).

[Image depicts part of the tomb of Saint Catherine of Siena under the main altar at the Dominican church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. She was a great “friend” and a big help to me when I lived in Italy many years ago.🙏🙂 Buona Festa!🍝🥗]

Thursday, April 28, 2022

I’m Too Worn Out to Say Anything, But…

I would like to write a blog post, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to complain about my declining health. Everything is becoming more exhausting, including intellectual work - that one sphere of life where my energy has not yet failed me. The whole thing is an old story, but age (perhaps) and the pressures of recent years are wearing me down. Years of taking strong (but necessary) medications have taken their toll on my body. I still have good days, but today is a day when I just feel beaten up.

I don’t need any additional medical advice. Just prayers, and whatever anyone can offer to help me remember that I’m not alone (even if I am too weak to respond, it will be much appreciated). Of course, I’m so blessed by friends and family who love me, but I’m also congenitally complicated, and they don’t always know how to respond to me. I don’t blame them. And everyone is so busy all the time (this is the universal affliction of first world people). I have it too, at least in the measure that I condemn myself for being “unproductive” (though, in fact, I haven’t done too badly). I’m depressed in a manic world.

What I must do is love and act in the ways I can (not only with my talents but also my suffering), not concerned with doing many things, but if possible going deeper in a few essential ways, without anxiety about how much or how little lies ahead for me to do. “The only thing that matters is to do God’s will” - I know that this is true, but I struggle against it like all other sinners; I resist letting God’s love be the measure of my life. His love is so mysterious… Still, God is good, all the time.

Also, I don’t think He’s finished with me yet.

I will try hard to recover something of my strength (or find new sources of strength, and focus more on using my strength for what really requires my attention). Somehow, I am convinced that my charism has not yet fulfilled its purpose, and that I am still called to give and endure many things, to face challenges and difficulties on a larger scale than I have yet known. This is how it seems to me, but its all in God’s hands. 

We will all need encouragement in the times to come, we will need to remember that the risen Lord walks with us even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Divine Mercy, Salvation, and Peace

April 24 is Pacha (Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox churches. It is the Eighth Day, the Octave of Easter in the Western Christian world, and - in particular - “Divine Mercy Sunday” in the Catholic Church.

Jesus, I trust in You. Have mercy on us and on the whole world. Free us from sin, fill us with your love, and bring us all to eternal life. Grant peace to our poor world, especially to the people of Ukraine.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

More Easter Photos, as Promised…

Here is a visual chronicle of Easter Week. Some of these pics have already been posted on other social media platforms, but others are exclusively for blog readers!

Food, flowers, family, kids, people-who-were-once-kids who have grown up so fast, sunshine and flowers and snow too! In all things, hope in the One who is Risen and who renews all things, hope in the promise of eternal life with God and a New Creation, the dawning of a Day that will never end.

Friday, April 22, 2022

“Brothers and Sisters Who Share the Earth”

“We must act like brothers and sisters who share the earth, the common home that God has given us” (Pope Francis).

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Maria’s First Easter Sunday Dinner

Maria sat in a high chair with us at her FIRST Easter family dinner on Sunday!

There she is, surrounded by her Daddy and Mommy and Great Uncle Walter (who has been such an important member of our family through the years). It was beautiful to be joined by “the next generation” in our gathering together around the table. We had so many holiday meals with my parents at this same table in the past. As we celebrated Christ’s resurrection last Sunday, it felt like my parents were “with us,” looking upon us with love, happy to see the ongoing fruition of their lifelong labors, and with their souls full of joy…

I thought much of them all through the day, but it was with a sense of immense gratitude, and peace.

I’ll post more pictures during this week.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Christina Grimmie Loved the Joy of Easter

The celebration of Easter always brings my memory around to someone for whom this holy day was so full of rejoicing and gratitude.

This girl here.

This image (reconceived artistically) originated in a screenshot from a video posted ten years ago, on Easter Sunday, by Christina Grimmie. Accompanying herself on piano (as she always did), Christina sang the hymn “In Christ Alone.” (See the video HERE.) It was one of those occasional moments - one of those discrete but consistent moments - when Christina proclaimed by words her deep faith and love for Jesus Christ. On Easter 2012, she shared a few words about the One whose redeeming joy permeated every aspect of her life. Christina was “compelled” by the love of Jesus to follow a very special path during her brief time in this world. She brought the joy of the resurrection “to the margins” of popular culture and the struggles and anxieties of today’s young people. She brought Christ’s light into the strange and distorted realm of 21st century entertainment, to many people who were touched in ways known only to the Lord, and to lonely kids on the Internet all over the world. She accompanied people through her own talents and interests, with her amazing voice, her luminous smile, her passion for life and determination to live it to the full, her affirming warmth, her “hospitality” that welcomed especially those who were sick, troubled, confused, or burdened by sorrows.

She was a companion to so many people, even along roads where ardent Christian faith was ordinarily unwelcome, but she stayed with people and walked with them with love, with the gift of herself, her music, and her interest in other people’s desires and dreams and problems - in their humanity. And she risked herself, allowed herself to be vulnerable, goofy, funny, stylish - and if she made mistakes she did not allow them to defeat her. Christina persevered on the path the Lord had entrusted to her, living faithfully her offering of her life to Jesus while walking the roads of the world - of human fragility and ambivalence - and shining the light of His love, His joy. 

Christina lived and worked hard to develop and share her artistic genius within the circumstances of the so-often-manipulative music and entertainment world: the world of celebrities and red carpets, of pressure to impress, to measure success according to the opinions of others; the world of “stardom” with the extremity of its superficial adulation, its fickleness and craving for novelty, its illusory promises and inevitable disappointments. She endeavored to be “in” this world as much as possible without compromising herself, or betraying the One to whom she belonged. It was often a razor’s edge, and who knows how many times or in what ways she may have slipped or stumbled, but she knew she could find her feet again through repentance and forgiveness in the embrace of a merciful God.

She also found support, affirmation, and purpose from the group of people who connected with her in special ways, through YouTube (where she was one of the great creative pioneers), her other media accounts, her concerts, and the long meeting-and-greeting sessions after those concerts. She found that the ardent creative vision God had given her - expressed within her gratitude to Him and the “risk” of her adherence to His plan with unconditional love - engendered a unique kind of personal connection with others who were inspired by her and responded to her personally in whatever way they could.

Here Christina encountered God’s merciful embrace in new ways, through the love of others whose hearts were touched (and are still being touched) by her way of being so profoundly human but alsodifferent.” Christina’s “different humanity” - her way of engaging reality, her persistent expectation to find the positivity of everything, the seeds of redemption in everyone and every circumstance - opened the space for the Lord to engender among others (her frands and Team Grimmie) a hope and a love that became very precious to her, far beyond what is ordinarily meant by a “fan base.” 

She loved this friendship and these people who showed her the human face of Jesus (regardless of whether or not they were Christian). And it was possible for her to find Jesus, meet Him, and serve Him in this way. The truth is that Jesus has united Himself with every human person because He takes up the particular humanity of everyone, shapes everyone’s path, and creates everyone’s destiny (working secretly by His Spirit to draw the hearts even of those who do not yet know Him). Christina intuited this, when she wrote her song “With Love” and dedicated it “to the Lord… and to you guys,” the Team Grimmie she loved so much, the friendship that she said on more than one occasion that she loved “more than life.” I think she intuited that the “open friendship” of Team Grimmie was intrinsic to her offering of her life for glory of Christ, that it was worthy of her daily attention, and of the ultimate risk of her vulnerability in front of the unknown. She could love “more than life” because she believed in the resurrection.

As for the Team Grimmie friendship, it continues to grow. Christina’s unconditional “welcome” - her arms open to every person, all the way to the end - has become a great space to find strength and hope for the resurrection, where we can encounter the incredible depths of Christ’s redeeming love.

Happy Easter Week to everyone!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

Christ is Risen! 

Here is my prayer: God our Father, in the coming Easter season may we hold fast to Jesus, confident in the light of the Holy Spirit that He is truly the Lord of our lives and the Lord of history, and that His saving love gives meaning to everything, bringing redemption, healing, renewal, and transformation to our hearts, our actions, our sufferings.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Holy Days, Unholy War: Ukraine’s Suffering Continues

Soon we will begin the celebration of Easter in the West. We will rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus, and be renewed in hope on our journey toward the fullness of God's Kingdom even in the midst of many present trials.

As I noted, however, at the beginning of Lent, Eastern Christianity's seasonal feasts follow the pre-Gregorian calendar, which often results in a different date for Christmas and Easter. This year, the celebration of the Resurrection in the East will be a week later (April 24) than in the West.

For Russians and Ukrainians - whether from diverse strands of the Orthodox Church or from the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church in Ukraine - tomorrow is the beginning of Holy Week, of walking the Way of the Cross. Looking at the burned-out ruins of Ukrainian cities and the mass graves of Ukrainian civilians wantonly murdered, we don't have adequate words.

What kind of madness has seized the brain of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin? 

He has been Master of Russia for 22 years, and he has had his own way without opposition in a vast country full of people longing for a better life, and with abundant natural resources to be plundered with impunity … and also used for the common good. He is nearly 70 years old but is apparently not satisfied with the scope of his empire. Instead, he has unleashed the terror of a full-scale offensive invasion and shameless indiscriminate slaughter upon a brother Slavic nation, and he doesn’t even have the honesty to call it “war.”

The Ukrainian people - already subjected to so much violence from previous Russian rulers and to the unspeakable brutality of Stalin’s genocidal artificially engineered murder-famine in the early 1930s - are once again under the fist of a Russian dictator who not only crushes them but has the audacity to claim that he is doing it “for their own good”!

Poor young Russian soldiers: they have been told lies, fed illusions, and poured into the sovereign territory of their neighbor country in a cruel and aimless fashion, and not surprisingly they have fought poorly and chaotically, with a disastrous combination of incompetence and destructiveness. Their personal deeds in the war no doubt are various, and we don’t know how many have soiled themselves with rape and murder, how many have followed orders from habitual fear, how many have wept over the confusion of the “special operation” gone horribly different from what they were told, how many have found the courage to resist the unjust orders of their superiors and obey instead the law of God. 

We rarely know the stories of the ordinary soldiers in the wars especially over the past century, so many of whom were conscripted by force, armed with weapons more powerful by far than any known to human history, and driven out to play the power games of corrupt rulers. The the leaders of the West have their fair share to answer for also in this “Hundred-Years-(Plus)-War” that has, in part, created the globalized world we all share today for better and for worse. Many good things have been accomplished in the global village, and peoples of the world have come to know, appreciate, and empathize with one another as never before. We are learning new ways of working together.

We must work together, because this same globalized world is full of unprecedented violence, not only with its continual local wars everywhere fed by an international arms trade, but also with all its monstrous structural overreach and inequity, its poisoning of the health of our planet, its sundering of the delicate and gratuitous relationships of families and communities from which cultures arise and history is perpetuated. Let us have no illusions about “the West,” which has little to offer the Ukrainian people beyond a woefully compromised (and yet mysteriously tenacious) awareness of the importance of human dignity, intelligence, freedom, and responsibility. These are the most noble natural gifts with which human persons are endowed, but which contemporary westerners - long accustomed to a cultivated ignorance of the One who gives us these gifts - have twisted toward the unmoored pursuit of our own small, confused, and often contrary urges, impulses, and whims.

Can we respond more adequately to Putin’s unvarnished, unjust brutal war that mocks our pretenses? Right now it costs little to “cheer for Ukraine,” but we have no idea how the ensuing months and years will unfold. This is, after all, a war that began in 2014 with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the fomenting of civil war in the Donbas. Most of us in the West lost the thread of those events when other more novel distractions began to dominate our Twitter feeds. But the war continued and self-appointed Tsar Putin made his plans.

Ukraine as a nation, and the Ukrainian people are Putin’s victims, even as they surprise the world with their justifiable efforts to defend themselves. What will become of them? Pray that the Lord gives them the courage and the mercy to open their hearts to a readiness for reconciliation and forgiveness, so that their suffering hearts might not harden into vindictiveness and a spirit of vengeance that will only perpetuate the cycle of violence. 

The Russian nation and people are also Putin’s victims, from his ideological lackeys to his duped soldiers to their parents who worry about them and mourn them, to all the people whose minds are spun by new multimedia forms of vintage KGB propaganda tactics, to ecclesiastical leaders who cannot bring themselves to challenge a temporal ruler who answers to no one - clerics who perhaps unconsciously wish they had a hierarch to appeal to, an Apostle with authority founded on something stronger than the confines of their “national church” or particular heritage - however great and ancient it may be.

Easter Sunday approaches imminently in the West, and soon in the East. Here in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate victory over death, but let’s pray that this victory can be reflected - however tenuously, with whatever fragility - now, in the circumstances of this temporal historical moment.

Pray for Vladimir Putin. His war of aggression is an offense against God, against humans created in the image of God, against the body of Christ who shares our humanity, and especially Slavic Christians, brothers, who must spend these upcoming Holy Days fighting and killing, brother against brother … and how shall they then approach the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharistic Body and Blood of their Risen Savior on the feast of Great and Glorious Pascha, on Sunday April 24? This coming week, Christ will weep and sweat drops of blood in Gethsemani for them.

Jesus, we trust in you. Convert the heart of Vladimir Putin. Heal his blindness. Move his heart to STOP THIS HORRIBLE WAR! Let him initiate the real penance he must take up for his own and his predecessors’ crimes and outrages against the Ukrainian people, and all the other afflictions imposed on peoples and nations by what the Virgin Mary called at Fatima “the errors of Russia.” Even by the world’s standards, Russia has not yet reckoned with its past hundred years, with the Soviet Communist epoch, with the blindness of its leaders and protagonists. Russia cannot really claim any legitimacy even as a regional leader in the Slavic world until it passes through a period of humility, seeking forgiveness, and what its own great 20th century literary prophet Alexander Solzhenitsyn called “self-limitation” and “inner cultivation.” In the years of his great struggle against the still-intransigent and systemically repressive Soviet Union in the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn insisted that the Russia of the future would not be able to ignore or continue to lie about its ugly 20th century crimes. Yet the lies continue and grow stronger. The mendacious myth of Stalin as a national hero grows in proportion to Putin’s neo-Stalinist consolidation of personal power.

Lord have mercy on Russia. Convert Russia. Free her so that she might share her true and profound gifts with the world.

Lord have mercy on Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Protect them. Give them grace to bear their sufferings. Reawaken more deeply their religious sense and the depth of their faith.

Lord have mercy on the West, on we who gorge ourselves with excess and ignore those in need, we who have forgotten our souls and are bewildered about our bodies, obsessed with appearances, worn away by envy and self-loathing, or just overwhelmed and broken by a society too fast, too superficially demanding, too invasive of senses and interiority.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, All-Holy Theotokos, pray for us. Virgin of Tenderness, pray for us.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Jesus Entered Into Solidarity With Us All

Here is a selection from the homilies of Saint John Paul II that I am reading, that marks the foundation of the events we remember and celebrate in the nights and days ahead:

“Jesus worked in the spirit of a great love for every human person, on the basis of the profound solidarity which he had for those created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1).

“What is this solidarity? It is the manifestation of the love which has its source in God himself. The Son of God came into the world to reveal this love. He already revealed it by the fact that he himself became man, one of us. This union with us on the part of Jesus Christ, true man, is the fundamental expression of his solidarity with every human person. It speaks eloquently of the love with which God himself has loved each and every person. Love is confirmed here in an entirely special way: one who loves seeks to share everything with the beloved. It is precisely for this reason that the Son of God became man. Isaiah had prophesied of him, ‘Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured’ (cf. Mi 8:17; Is 53:4). Jesus thus shared the same existential condition with every son and daughter of the human race. In this he also revealed the existential dignity of each and every human person. The Incarnation is an ineffable ‘re-evaluation’ of the human person and of humanity!

“This ‘love-solidarity’ stands out in the entire earthly life and mission of the Son of Man, especially in regard to those who suffer under the weight of misery, whether physical or moral. At the end of his journey there will be the ‘giving of m life as a ransom for many’ (cf. Mk 10:45), the redemptive sacrifice of the cross. However, on the way leading to this supreme sacrifice, Jesus' entire earthly life manifested his solidarity with mankind. He summed this up in his own words: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45).  

“He was a child like every human child.  He worked with his hands by him alongside Joseph of Nazareth, just as all people work. He was a son of Israel; he shared in the culture, tradition, hope and suffering of his people. He, too, experienced what often happens in the life of those called to some mission: misunderstanding and betrayal by one of those whom he himself had chosen as his apostles to continue his work. For this he experienced a profound sorrow (cf. Jn 13:21).

“When the moment drew near in which he was ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28), Jesus voluntarily offered himself (cf. Jn 10:18), thus consummating the mystery of his solidarity in the sacrifice.  The Roman governor found no other words to describe him before his assembled accusers except ‘Behold the man!’ (Jn 19:5).

“Pilate was unaware of the mystery but not insensitive to the attraction which issued from Jesus even in that moment. His words tell us everything about Christ's human reality. Jesus is the man; a true man who, like us in all things but sin, became a victim for sin and entered into solidarity with all, even to death on a cross.”

~Pope John Paul II (General audience of February 10, 1988)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

“Even Then Will I Trust”

I’m just sharing some texts here from the Psalms of Holy Week.

War is raging brutally, not only in the world, but above all in each of our hearts. We are afflicted, assailed relentlessly, wounded beyond our own capacities for healing. We cry out to the Lord to deliver us.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

“Those Who Plead Before You…”

Here is another powerful “Collect Prayer” from this Fifth Week of Lent, as we approach the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. Our plea is raised to a God who is near to us, who is kind, who transforms our hearts, whose mercy sustains our hope.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Three YEAR Anniversary of My Father’s Death

Dad passed away three years ago today. And what strange, arduous years they have been (though also years of maturing, change, and new life). In some ways, it seems long ago, yet I still miss him so much. 

May the Lord bring us all together again, forever in the glory of His Eternal Love.✝️❤️

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Dreaming of a Shenandoah Spring

Welcome to April 2022! Real Spring colors have been a bit slow to develop this year, perhaps due in part to the cool(er) and blustery weather we’ve had.

So I decided to use my imagination, and the tools of “JJ’s (virtual) Studios” to create my own dream of Spring warmth and shimmering colors of tree and field - with the Blue Ridge Mountains standing in their ancient vigilance on the horizon - in this piece titled “Dreaming of a Shenandoah Spring”:

As I have noted elsewhere, graphics tools simulate painting techniques in many ways that make it “easier” to project desired visual effects (or even to discover - sometimes accidentally - new kinds of effects). Still, this assistance engenders new artistic efforts along with the flexibility it brings. The digital artist is still inspired and challenged to bring forth a synthetic reality, an expression of beauty, from the elements of light and color that are the material of his or her work. As a serious creative effort, digital art 
entails its own kind of intensity, concentration, difficulty, and frequent experimentation, rough drafts, and half-finished “failures.” Even the apparent advantage of the “easy” availability of so many materials and stylistic elements can complicate the process of judging the combinations and subtleties that best realize the artist’s own creative intuition.

Nature, by contrast, has a wonder-filled givenness and simplicity that have an inexhaustible capacity to inspire and amaze the heart. And Spring is stirring and emerging in nature too, and I’m happen to waken from my dreams to its freshness: