Wednesday, August 31, 2022

“Grass Gone Wild”

We say goodbye to August with this digital artwork from the famous JJ Studios, entitled “Grass Gone Wild.”

There will probably be plenty of heat around during September, but the rhythm of life changes once again as Eileen starts a new year at John XXIII Montessori Center, and school sessions gear up everywhere.

Before long, we’ll begin to feel the cool air of Autumn again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

“Little Maria” is Not So Little Any More

We see our granddaughter several times a week, and she always seems to be getting more adept at more activities, and revealing more facets of her temperament and more advanced modes of interaction with us and other adults.

Since Maria passed the one year old mark in July, this shouldn’t surprise us. We raised five babies (including her father), and we know what babies do: they grow into toddlers. Of course, every child has their own pace and their own endearing particularities. That may partially account for why it seems so “surprising” (and so exciting) to see each child grow.

That includes growing physically. Maria is a giant compared to last year at this time. Now that she’s been on solid foods for a while, she’s a champion eater. Still, I was surprised to see her chowing down on crackers the other day. But she’s become an expert with crackers, along with a wide spectrum of other solid foods. We still have to stay with her and watch her carefully when she’s eating things like this, otherwise she might try to stuff multiple crackers in her mouth at the same time. This kid is always ready to eat, and eat, and eat…😉

Her body is growing a lot, of course. She is also growing in awareness, in rudimentary communications skills, in dexterity and mobility. She crawls like lightning, and she can stand without support, but hasn’t done much yet in the way of “walking” (although that may have changed by the time you read this). She has some cheerful and funny facial expressions and gestures; I’d like to think that she is developing a sense of humor for her Papa’s goofiness. Still, food wins out in any bid for attention (see video below). 

If for any reason the video link is not accessible from this page, it may be down. Check back in a couple of days.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Head of John the Baptist

With shadow and light, Caravaggio conveys to us the drama of this feast day, “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.”

Sunday, August 28, 2022

When We Following Jesus, We Grow in Life

Here is a segment of the text my friends and I have been working on for this week, from the 2022 Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. Abbot Mauro-Giuseppe says these words in particular that strike me:

“The encounter with Christ gives and proposes this; that is, everything. So, freedom faces a choice of Christ that is not limited to His words, doctrine, example to follow, love for the poor, the miracles He can do, and everything that you want. The choice of Christ is the choice of Him in the totality of His Person; that is, the choice of Him present, of Him asking to be present in all of my life, asking to be welcomed….” And “those who agree and begin to follow Him, well or badly, those who want to remain attached to Him at every step of life, grow! They grow in life, in their humanity, in all that the presence of Christ makes different, more beautiful, gladder, more intense, more mature, meeker and humbler, more courageous, more capable of tenderness, peace, and the courage to affirm the true and the just decisively, to affirm Him, even to die for Him. Those who agree and follow Him grow in the holiness that is the fullness of humanity made possible for everyone, in every state of life or condition, by Christ’s presence and love. There is nothing of humanity that Christ did not come to redeem and bring to fulfillment. For this reason, we need only Him.”

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Old Age Shows its Nobility…

Old age invites us to rejoice in the passing of time.” From a recent General Audience of Pope Francis:

Friday, August 26, 2022

Jesus is Always Worthy of Our Trust

Jesus is always worthy of our trust. Indeed, we must trust in Him, hope in Him, no matter what.

Even when circumstances are shrouded in darkness, we believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. 

This affirmation is concrete and personal to a vital Christian faith. The Lord leads us through the darkest of dark valleys; He leads us and accompanies us even (and especially) when we feel lost and alone. The life of faith brings consolation, certainly, because God enters into a relationship with us. He is our loving Father, and all of reality abounds in signs, which are really gestures of His steadfast love and tenderness for each one of us. But the fullness of His love is the giving of His only Son to die for us so that we might rise to eternal life in Him.

Our faith strengthens us especially when we endure suffering, as we look to Christ crucified and suffer in union with Him. Suffering (in ourselves and also "with others"—com-passion) is an aspect of the personal path that each of us is called to walk with Jesus.
He is our light in the darkness. He transforms suffering into love—into His love, and He invites us to share in this love, the inscrutable inexhaustible suffering love from the Cross that saves the world

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

“Encouragement and Good Hope Through His Grace”

Listen to the Scriptural readings in the daily liturgy. They are God’s Word, given to us. Jesus, present in His Church, living concretely in His “Mystical Body,” speaks to each of us personally and builds up the communion we share with one another in His Spirit.

Jesus speaks to us. He stays with us. He encourages us to trust in the Father’s love. He strengthens and nourishes our minds and hearts in the Scriptures, especially through the gesture of proclaiming His Word in the Church’s liturgy. It is His gesture, His invitation to us, His gift of wisdom for our lives and closeness to us in our daily journey.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). From the first reading in the Mass of August 23.

Monday, August 22, 2022

What Does Mary’s “Queenship” Mean?

We honor the Virgin Mary as our Queen, as she is the Mother of Jesus our King.

In today’s world, we are perplexed by terms like “king” and “queen,” and they might conjure up in our minds images of excess wealth, self-indulgent spectacle, and invasive “authoritarian” despotism. But the “royalty” of Jesus (and His mother) is not like this at all. By His inexhaustible outpouring of love on the Cross (love for each one of us personally), Jesus reveals that the Mystery who is the source, sustenance, and goal of our lives is the God who is Infinite Love. Having Jesus as “King” — living within the love of His compassionate and merciful Heart — frees our own hearts from becoming interiorly enslaved to any of the ideologies of this world or the ruling powers who propound them (whether they call themselves “kings” or “prime ministers” or “presidents” or “premiers” or “chiefs” or “bosses” or whatever).

And Mary’s Queenship (her special participation in the fulfillment of her Son’s mission) is manifested by the extension of her maternal love to each of us. As the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are her children, and she accompanies us and guides us with a particular closeness, a constant attention, an unfailing tenderness, an incomparable intuition of who each of us is in our individual uniqueness as persons, along with all our particular needs and hopes, and the paths we must travel as we grow toward our fulfillment in God’s love.

Today (and everyday) we are grateful for Mary who has been given to us by Jesus in the communion of the Church to be the incomparable friend of our lives — Mary, our Queen and our Mother.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Late Summer Scenes

This time of year, everything is just kinda “heavy green” colored. But still moist.🌳 The September/October “Over-ripe, tired look” has not yet descended upon the deciduous vegetation.🥀🍃🍂😑 August can have some nice days, when cool fronts pass through - lately we’ve had a few of those.

Here is some “dashed off” digital art based on my own photos. Note that the Blue Ridge Mountains are still “blue”!

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

My “Special Concern” for Musicians (and All Artists)

For as long as I can remember, I have listened to all kinds of music and musicians (as well as being a musician myself for the past 50 years). Since I have my own multifaceted (mostly amateur) aspirations for creativity and engage in various artistic endeavors (musical, pictorial, and poetic), I know something of the particular intensity of the creative process, and the tremendous focus and energy it calls forth from those who dedicate their lives to this kind of work.

I feel like I “have a heart” for musicians and other artists, because I know that creative people have special challenges and difficulties, and that their lives are hard. And if they become celebrities at a young age, immense pressures bear down upon their artistic creativity and their humanity. They need to be regarded with compassion, and held up to God in prayer. We need to be patient with their foolishness, be attentive to whatever is good in their aspirations and work, hope that they will ‘grow up’ eventually, and grieve for those who tear themselves apart. (Too many times I have had to grieve in this way.)

Artists in general endure much suffering just from the demands of their creative work. In the strange and stressful and turbulent times we live in, they face additional special challenges. Among other things, artists must negotiate the perils (as well as the possibilities) of the explosion of technological media and media’s power to exaggerate the value of superficial fame. Artists whose work makes them famous - by virtue of its merits or by chance or by some combination of these factors - can end up having an exceptionally hard time in this regard. Fame has been destructive in many ways to talented people who are thrust suddenly into wealth and celebrity status without a human context that can guide them, and under intense pressure to produce continual novelties.

The Lord knows intimately their pains, the desires of their hearts, their questions and their (often hidden) cries for help. He knows how much or how little culpability they bear for their sins, even those behaviors that appear outlandish and preposterous to their followers and critics.

In no way am I implying that the chaotic, self-indulgent, vain, narcissistic, and violent actions that poison the atmosphere of the celebrity world are justifiable, excusable, or even tolerable. Objective moral evils can only be harmful for human beings and human flourishing, and God knows who bears what measure of responsibility for the distractedness and the “practical nihilism” that weighs so heavily on the dominant mentality of our society. I myself am a sinner who has been foolish in my youth and stubborn in my old age, and it may be pride and timidity as much as anything else that keep me looking "respectable" on my own small stage in life. 

If all we had was our own fragile human freedom, what could we do? But let us never forget that we are all human. We all have the same human hearts, underlying our differences of cultures and circumstances and various gifts, modes of expression, and sufferings. We all have the same human hearts, made for a mysterious happiness, wounded and broken, desperately in need of God’s love, forgiveness, healing, and transformation.

Through Jesus Christ, the grace and mercy of the God who loves us finds ways to draw us, surprise us, provoke us, and even "outwit" us. The Good Shepherd seeks out all His sheep, He knows our roads, and He travels them all the way to the end. 

The mystery of human freedom remains. We must walk freely with the Lord and struggle and fight against the evils we face and our temptation to settle for less, to be self-satisfied and self-centered. 

I pray especially for artists to be faithful to their calling, and me to mine and all of us. My hope is that the infinite mercy of God will win our hearts in the end.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Mary’s Bodily Assumption

“Today the Virgin Mother of God
was assumed into heaven
as the beginning and image
of your Church’s coming to perfection
and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people”

~from Preface, Solemnity of the Assumption

Saturday, August 13, 2022

How to Love Rightly the Things of This World

Genuine Christian faith entails the conviction that created things are good. As humans, we are meant to be "attracted" by the good in creatures, drawn to desire and love them, and drawn toward God through them, drawn to love God preeminently, who is the source and fulfillment of the being and goodness of created things. The problem is not "attraction" in itself. The problem is the mess that sin has made of our humanity. It is not that things themselves are evil; rather it is our sinful self-obsession, our drive to construct the foundation of our selves through controlling things by our own power, that skews our perception of their essential, gratuitous value given to them by God.

The “world” that Jesus warns His disciples about (see e.g. John 15:18-19) is not the same as “the material world” or the created world as such. It is rather humanity’s sinful “reduction” of the meaning of creation; it is the world distorted and abused by sin (the original sin we inherit from our first parents, and our own personal sins and connivance in the dysfunctional and destructive patterns of sinfulness that weigh upon every period of human history).

We deserve to be called “worldly" (in this negative sense) insofar as we willingly blind ourselves to the whole reality of the created world. This world is meant to be the place where embodied persons are called to give and receive love in a multitude of "incarnate" gestures and expressions, which are made possible by the wisdom and goodness inherent in things created by God that contribute to the meaningful and precious environment He entrusts to us, and the beautiful path of our history - our journey toward Him. By contrast, “worldliness” is the result of the effort to cut off the world from God. Our "worldly desires” perceive only "worldly goods," i.e. things merely insofar as they are subject to our own selfish grasping and manipulation.

Thus we do violence to the world God has created in the gift of His love. We covet, take, steal, hoard, violate, and destroy things because we refuse to receive them and give them. When we forget the gift of God, we cannot engage reality: we don't know how to "possess" things with freedom, to learn from them, deepen them by "collaborating" with their riches and marking them with the seal of our own personal creativity, and thus being able to give of ourselves through them. We are the ones who have brought evil and destruction into the world; we have made the world a deceitful, harmful, dangerous place.

But God loves the world. He loves us. The Father reveals the depths of this love by sending His Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh, who dwells among us, accompanies us, dies for us (and thus stays with us even through death) so He can raise us up, heal us, and transform us by joining us to Himself and drawing our hearts to Him.

In following Him we are led to rediscover all the created things of the world in Him. We begin to see ourselves and all things as having their true meaning in Him and for Him. There is nothing reductive about this, because reality is ultimately personal and interpersonal. The encounter with the Person of Jesus is decisive because He fulfills and transcends (in infinite depth) every person and every thing.

In Him, our lives and everything on our earthly path is transfigured. Even though it doesn't often seem that way, as we trudge through the many difficult and lonely days in this life, we hold onto the truth in love and hope, through faith in Jesus who has gone before us in death to resurrection. Thus we learn to engage life and the reality of the world passionately, attentively, but with peace and joy in our hearts, because we know that Jesus Christ has saved the world, and that He is with us in all our days.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Clare of Assisi and Her “Poor Ladies”

In his biography of Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure writes of Saint Clare of Assisi (feast day, August 11):

She was the first tender shoot among them and gave off a fragrance like a bright white flower that blooms in spring, and she shone like a radiant star. Now she is glorified in heaven and duly venerated by the Church on earth, she who was the daughter in Christ of our holy father Francis, the little poor man, and the mother of the ‘Poor Ladies’ (Pauperes Dominae).”

After 800 years, we know these devoted nuns as the “Poor Clares.” Their prayers - along with those of other communities of monks and nuns - “carry” the rest of us: in Christ, they sustain the Church… and the world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Christina Grimmie Inspires My Hope For the New Generation

Here we are now, marking six years and two months of remembering and honoring the life and legacy of Christina Grimmie.

I have written many words, and have attempted to express what I perceive to be the greatness of her heart, and the firmness of her commitment to follow Christ. I have tried to articulate the surprising and unusual character of her vocation to be a different kind of presence in the world of mainstream pop music and new communications media. She was not called to preach (though she was open and honest about who she was, and the One she belonged to); rather she was called to let Jesus work through her — to be with people and accompany them, to touch people’s hearts with the tenderness of His gaze, to shine His love in places that are often dark and distant, where there is a lot of confusion, alienation, and pain. In this human context, she was called to develop her talents and her passion for music, and to sing with her amazingly versatile, powerful and gentle, wonderfully expressive voice.

She was also a regular girl, who liked boys and video games and anime cartoons, who liked to have fun and be goofy. Yet she also had a strength and generosity of personality that drew people to her, and she was willing to risk herself… for her music career, and especially for her (mostly young) “frands” and for anyone who was sent her way — that they might know they were loved. Indeed, the way she was taken from this world seems to indicate that she remained faithful to her vocation to the very end, to the final moment of her bright beautiful young life. Six years later, people continue to “discover her” on YouTube, to be amazed by her music, and to encounter her joy and the embrace of her love that illuminates her videos and seems to reach people personally even now.

I have tried through these years to articulate what has struck me about Christina Grimmie. Maybe at times I have tried too hard to “wrap my head around” a reality beyond my grasp, a mystery that cannot be adequately articulated. Such is one of the occupational hazards of the writer and the intellectual, especially in the face of sorrow and tragedy. Still, those of us who practice the craft of words need to say things and write things. I have no “authority” to speak about Christina Grimmie beyond my own impressions (and the similar impressions of many others). I never met her personally, and I can’t say I knew much about her before her death. There is so much that I still don’t know about Christina, about her inner life, her fears, her flaws, her sufferings, her ways of prayer, her day-to-day perspective on life. (Some of these things we will never know in this present world.)

The way Christina presented herself and interacted with people on 21st century media, however, was remarkable (in fact, I have never seen anyone like her in nearly 60 years of my media-saturated life). She was full of music, but also engaged with a wide constellation of human interests and open to a world of people. Her terrific voice and her genius for music were (and are) obvious, but the depth of her humanity might not strike people who just watch a few of her videos, or even those who watched her jaw-dropping performances on The Voice in 2014. 

Beyond the astonishing musical versatility, her seven years on YouTube seem to reveal the growth and development of a normal teenage girl into a healthy and increasingly confident young woman. And that was, in fact, what was happening during that time. In the past six years, I have seen (and, hopefully, helped) three of my four daughters grow from normal teenage girls into healthy and increasingly confident young women (we still have 15-year-old Josefina at home, so the “growing” continues).

My daughters have their own sensibilities, talents, and aspirations. They have their flaws, obviously (as does their father), but they have known the love of Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him, to be faithful to their personal vocations — His ways of encountering them and shaping their lives, whatever may be the circumstances. The same can be said for my son and his wife, and then — of course — there is our first granddaughter with all her possibilities and challenges yet to come.

Fatherhood is very humbling. Yet, somehow — it seems — I have not been a complete disaster as a father (and I am not merely using self-deprecating rhetoric here; it is something of a wonder to me, given all my years of experience of failing so many times, and in so many ways). How can I possibly manage to be anything like a good father? By staying with Jesus Christ, by begging for His mercy every day, and — with the strength He constantly renews in us through the Holy Spirit — by loving and staying with my wife Eileen every day of our 26+ years of marriage, with our mutual irrevocable determination to love each other, forgive each other, and remain together all the rest of the days that lie ahead.

If I as a father… indeed, insofar as Eileen and I as parents have loved and taught our own five precious children well, it has been rooted in this foundation.

And there has been a lot of particular help all along the journey. In navigating these recent years (especially with regard to “teenagers growing up in the 2010s”😮), one of the important lights in the harbor for me, during the storms, has been the legacy and witness of Christina Grimmie. Not only her achievements, but also her “ordinariness,” has encouraged me to give my own daughters the “space” to grow. I have been freer as a father, I think, and more attuned to the mysteriousness of my kids growing up, more able to guide them in the craziness of a world that I don’t understand, because Christina dedicated herself to showing that these years can be a beautiful path. Of course, I also learned much from other families in my own faith community and their kids — who were (and are) the friends of my own kids — but in this epoch of media it meant something that Christina lived this out on what we perceive as the “larger platform” of being under the spotlight. She faced the challenges of growing from adolescence to young adulthood (that can cause parents many particular worries), and she met them and worked through them with genuineness, courtesy, and magnanimity — because through it all she persevered in her great love for God and for other people.

This was the most striking impression of Christina’s life: there seemed to be a special vitality that permeated all her remarkable successes and (even more importantly) the whole way she matured and grew as a person. She trusted in Jesus and sought Him in everything with an immense desire that invested her life with an urgent and intense expectation, opening her up more and more to the possibilities of being loved and giving herself in love.

In time I began to notice this in her videos — she was full of this great love, which made her “grow strong” more and more, which made her confident, authoritative, and courageous. That’s not to say that she never made mistakes. She probably made a lot more mistakes than I can imagine, but she didn’t let them defeat her; she knew she could always turn to the Lord for forgiveness and to her family, close friends, and Team Grimmie for support. I think she had a lot of hidden struggles, but she stayed focused and kept going with renewed ardor.

Christina has been a great sign to me that God loves this generation, and that He is accompanying them and sustaining them as He sends them forth into adult life, into a world that will pose complex problems and dangers that I won’t always understand. This confidence may appear paradoxical, given the tragic end that Christina met with on that night of June 10, 2016. There is no way to avoid the incomprehensibility of her death, and the sorrow that will always remain for us in this world. I also watched two people die in the past three years, and the fact that they were both over 80 years old didn’t take away my sorrow: they were still my father and my mother. Yet here too, Christina has helped me to walk with my grief.

Ultimately, Christina’s life is a witness to the reality of something greater than death. She always “welcomed strangers” at her meet-and-greets. She always wanted to welcome them “with love” and so, too, we can assume that she opened her arms “with love” to that final stranger who — unknown to her — had two guns hiding under his jacket…

Someone wanted hatred to defeat love on that night. But hatred did not win. When we celebrate Christina Grimmie’s life and legacy, we are acknowledging that her life was and remains a masterpiece. All of us will die, sooner or later. Nothing can change this basic fact. But Christina reminds us that what matters most is our relationship with God, who wants to forgive us, heal us, and give us a share in His unending life. I hope and pray that all of us will have some measure of the courage to love that Christina had, and that all of us will know how immensely we are loved by God.

Last month I walked my second daughter Lucia down the aisle in her wedding dress, to help her begin a new adventure, the great adventure of marriage and family. At the end of August she will turn 22 years old, the same age at which Christina “finished the race” and fulfilled God’s purpose for her life. In Christina’s circumstances the end was traumatic, especially for her own family and loved ones and, indeed, all of us “left behind” who still wish she were living this present life with us. None of us wants things like this to happen to our young people. God doesn’t want it. But He created people to be free, which means He doesn’t force them to love Him. When people turn away from God, they perpetuate violence against themselves and others, and God “permits” this because He respects human freedom, but also because He intends to overcome evil and bring forth greater good in His infinite wisdom and kindness and love for us. We don’t often see “how this works” but we have to trust in God.

The Lord didn’t give Christina a long life, but He gave her a life full of beauty and courage and love. Indeed, He gave her a life that touches upon what we mean by the word “heroism.” There was, I think, something heroic about her life. Heroism is inspiring. Christina’s heroism inspires me to have peace as time passes, as things change, as my parents pass away beyond this life, as my children grow up and leave home to follow their vocations.

Christina Grimmie’s heroism inspires me to look toward the future with hope, with greater confidence that “God is good / All the time” and that He makes us grow stronger “little by little,” giving us the strength He knows we need. He wants us to trust in Him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

“Become Like a Child…”

Today we commemorate Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), the great 20th century philosopher, Jewish Catholic convert, Carmelite nun, and martyr for her faith and her people at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. Above is some digital artwork based on the well-known black-and-white photograph of her.

I keep this quotation - from a letter she wrote to an intellectual colleague - on the shelf next to my bed, and it remains relevant for me every day: 

“Become like a child and lay your life, with all the searching and ruminating, into the Father’s hand” (Edith Stein).

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Transfiguration Gives Us Hope

Today is the Feast of the TRANSFIGURATION of Jesus. (Here is a reproduction of an ancient Armenian icon.)

"From the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'" (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus transfigured gives us a glimpse of the glory He has from the Father and wills to share with us, and reveals the transforming beauty of His redeeming love. 

Peter, James, and John behold the reality of what (on the threshold of His Passion) Jesus was about to accomplish through His agony and death on the Cross, through the fulfillment of His love for the Father (and for us) and His breathing-forth of the Spirit. 

"All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The “light” that shines on the face of Jesus is the glory of redeeming love, which illuminates all the moments of the journey of our own lives. It is a mysterious light, in which we walk with Jesus in faith, adhere to Him in hope, and grow in love for Him. It is the light of His presence, now, in the midst of our journeying, by which He changes us and draws us in the Spirit through the circumstances of our daily life (even the most desperate, painful, incomprehensible ones). 

The glory of His redeeming love gives meaning to our lives as we are led, amidst many struggles, to our destiny, to the glorious inheritance promised to the children of the God who is Love.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

More Summer Fun With Maria

“Go ahead, Maria. Stare at Papa’s big nose!”

Maria says “pa-pa” now, when she sees me (well, at least sometimes). She also says “ma-ma, da-da, na-na” and waves her hand and says “hi”!😁☺️ 

It’s so exciting!🙂