Monday, October 30, 2023

Pope Francis Concludes Synod and Entrusts the World to Mary

This month of October 2023 has been full of events—both foreseen and unforeseen—that have summoned Pope Francis to continue meeting his enormous pastoral responsibilities as Successor of Saint Peter with great love and courage. 

On Sunday, the month-long gathering for Part 1 of the Synod of Bishops was concluded harmoniously and in an atmosphere of fraternal charity. One should recognize the fact that the private nature of the deliberations—and the counsel given to participants not to engage with journalists in individual, day-by-day assessments of the Synod’s work—were intended to help to facilitate an open and frank dialogue within the Synod’s sessions. The Synod needed a communal environment that was free from the distractions and pressures of over-politicized small partisan interest groups whose hopes (or fears) about this or that particular issue tend to dominate press coverage and social media chatter. To accept the need for this privacy was not a capitulation to a lack of transparency, but a gesture of trust in the Holy Spirit to guide the delegates gathered together in the Synod, so that they might grow in faith and love, and engage in prayerful discernment the contributions and concerns expressed by countless people over the past year within the context of local Christian communities. All the questions, listening, dialogue, and discernment are in the service of a deepening of mature faith and a more ardent missionary openness among the whole of the People of God.

We must always remember that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and that He will not lead her astray. Living the Church in a “synodol” way in the 21st century is a daunting but essential task that needs to grow with time in order to allow the truth of the Gospel to shine more brightly and be perceived as truly incarnate in the unprecedentedly vast array of diverse cultures and histories of all the peoples in the now 1.3 billion member Catholic Church throughout the world. For this meeting to be fruitful, it was necessary for everyone to listen and contribute in an orderly way to an experience of “walking together” toward Christ and discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit. It was a matter of recognizing that we share the same faith within a variety of human and personal differences, religious “styles” and cultural forms. 

It was also a matter of making space to encounter people with difficulties and particular problems in their relationship with the Church. This is not easy or comfortable, but here again we need to remember the One to whom we belong. We need not fear listening to anyone, because the Lord is present with His Church, and His mercy will empower us to discern what people are saying from their hearts, what they want to offer, what are their struggles and sufferings, what we share and how we can journey together, how we can accompany them, and guide them to discover more fully the light of the Gospel, and how we can co-suffer with them and enter more profoundly into the freedom of the healing, forgiving, and transforming love of Jesus — the Word made flesh who knows all our wounds from within, and encompasses all our sufferings in His own inexhaustible Crucified Love.

The “miracle” of a deeply faithful Catholic people witnessing the Gospel of Christ’s salvation with a conviction that comes from their own hearts (with its accompanying joy), and living out that conviction in all the environments of this enormous world with the love that comes from God and reaches out with unquenchable ardor and the Spirit’s power to make us “all things to all people” — this is a Church that “walks together,” not only because we can “help one another” but because our identity consists in being one body in Christ. We are Christ’s Church, and we must be faithful to our vocation in Him. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium 1). We must pray to remember who we are, and to remain with Jesus in all times and circumstances, in whatever challenges and trials we face in today’s world.  

The Synods of October 2023 and 2024 will be blessed even if they don’t go “smoothly,” even if some methods and procedures are found inadequate, or are improved upon or changed in the future. We must, of course, pray for all these gifts that God wants to give us to meet the particularly intense drama and the urgency of our time; we pray with trust because we know the greatness of God’s love for us, and thus also for our neighbors, for everyone. The effort of the Synod itself is already prayer that seeks to know how the Lord wants to use us, His sons and daughters, in countless ways for serving His burning Heart’s desire to light fires in every human heart.


Beyond all these challenges, the Pope is being called to stand firm yet again in the face of the latest flare-up of the longstanding violence between Israel and Palestine, and violence and death all over the world. On Friday, the Pope consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Once again he has appealed to the tenderness of the Mother of Jesus. We must all join in (some excerpts below) to pray for these terrible wars to end, for those who are being dehumanized by the violence they perpetrate, and for all who suffer…

Excerpts from Pope Francis’s Prayer to Mary at the conclusion of last Friday’s “Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace”:

“Mary, look at us! We stand here before you. You are our Mother, and you know our struggles and our hurts. Queen of Peace, you suffer with us and for us, as you see so many of your children suffering from the conflicts and wars that are tearing our world apart…. Turn your eyes of mercy towards our human family, which has strayed from the path of peace, preferred Cain to Abel and lost the ability to see each other as brothers and sisters dwelling in a common home. Intercede for our world, in such turmoil and great danger. Teach us to cherish and care for life – each and every human life! – and to repudiate the folly of war, which sows death and eliminates the future.

Mary, how many times have you come, urging prayer and repentance. Yet, caught up in our own needs and distracted by the things of this world, we have turned a deaf ear to your appeal. In your love for us, you never abandon us, Mother. Lead us by the hand. Lead us by the hand and bring us to conversion; help us once again to put God first. Help us to preserve unity in the Church and to be artisans of communion in our world. Make us realize once more the importance of the role we play; strengthen our sense of responsibility for the cause of peace as men and women called to pray, worship, intercede and make reparation for the whole human race.

“By ourselves, Mother, we cannot succeed; without your Son, we can do nothing. But you bring us back to Jesus, who is our Peace. Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, we come before you and we seek refuge in your Immaculate Heart. Mother of mercy, we appeal for mercy! Queen of Peace, we appeal for peace! Touch the hearts of those imprisoned by hatred; convert those who fuel and foment conflict. Dry the tears of children – at this hour, so many are weeping! – be present to those who are elderly and alone; strengthen the wounded and the sick; protect those forced to leave their lands and their loved ones; console the crestfallen; awaken new hope.

“To you we entrust and consecrate our lives and every fibre of our being, all that we possess and all that we are, forever. To you we consecrate the Church, so that in her witness to the love of Jesus before the world, she may be a sign of harmony and an instrument of peace. To you we consecrate our world, to you we consecrate especially those countries and regions at war.”

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Chiara “Luce” Badano: Guided by the Radiant Light of Christ

Today, though it’s a Sunday, can still be marked with celebration of Blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano (1971-1990), a very precious “spiritual friend” to me and many others in our time.

Chiara Badano was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 18. An active teenager full of life and aspirations, Chiara hoped to be cured of the cancer and underwent all the standard medical treatments of thirty years ago. But above all she was committed to God's will, and she knew that in the embrace of the crucified Christ, even her suffering was endowed with meaning for the salvation of the world. She offered her powerlessness and pain in union with "Jesus Abandoned," and endured everything with a transfigured joy in the awareness that the mystery of the Cross was at work in her. 

Near the end, she said, "I have nothing left except my heart, but with my heart I can still love!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Do We “Get Used To” War?

Most people don’t want to “get used to war,” but it happens. We get used to it in one way or another. There is the temptation to try to protect ourselves from the flood of “information” about the evils in our world by becoming more harsh, more habituated to disappointment, more cynical about the dignity and value of human life. And yet, our hidden sadness only grows deeper.

The truth is that we all have too much war on the frontiers of our own hearts, and we feel powerless in the struggle against it. What can we do?

We can beg for the mercy of God, and ask God for the courage to take the next step toward peace—within ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nations, and among all the peoples of the world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Antonio Claret: Hunger and Thirst For God’s Love

October 24 is the celebration of the 19th century Catalan bishop and missionary Saint Antonio Maria Claret. Today’s issue of Magnificat offers a rich meditation from his Autobiography, from which I cite this excerpt that especially struck

We can find the “hidden treasure” of God’s love “by asking and longing for love continually and incessantly, without ever failing to ask or without getting tired of asking, even though it delays in the coming. It is necessary to pray to Jesus and Mary for it, and especially to ask our Father in heaven for it through the merits of Jesus and his Blessed Mother, and to be most sure that our heavenly Father will send the Holy Spirit with this love to him who prays in this manner. [We must] hunger and thirst for this love, just as he who is really and truly hungry and thirsty in his body always thinks of how he can satisfy his hunger, and to this end asks anyone who might be in a position to help him. It is thus that I am determined to seek for love with ardent desires and aspirations.

~Saint Antonio Maria Claret (1807-1870)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Saint John Paul II and “New Media”

October 22 is ordinarily the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II. This year it falls on a Sunday, which takes liturgical precedence. Still, it is a day to celebrate his outstanding legacy, and implore his ongoing intercession.

One of the last major statements that John Paul II published in his 26 year papacy was an Apostolic Letter on the “Rapid Development of Communications Media” (January 24, 2005). Those of us who remember him know the powerful use he made of transportation and communications technology at the end of the Second Millennium. His great pilgrimages all over the world were already further “extended” by means of broadcast television. In his final months, however, he also saw that communications media were on the cusp of further expansion in ways that would form new “spaces” of human interaction, raise new challenges, and offer new possibilities for evangelization and human development.

Without underestimating the magnitude of the changes which few of us foresaw in 2005, John Paul II took the opportunity to exhort us all — one more time — to “be not afraid.” His hope for humanity was always magnanimous, not because he was naive about the extent of wickedness and corruption in the world, but because he knew the always-greater power of Christ the Redeemer, who is the center of the universe and the Lord of history. John Paul II taught our generation to adhere to Jesus Christ, to His love and mercy, and in Him to engage the whole scope of human experience with confidence that Christ is the meaning and fulfillment of everything. His grace and wisdom make it possible to face new challenges in bearing witness to His Gospel and upholding the dignity of every human person in an ambivalent world that continues to change in so many confusing ways.

“The world of communications … is capable of unifying humanity and transforming it into — as it is commonly referred to — ‘a global village’. The communications media have acquired such importance as to be the principal means of guidance and inspiration for many people in their personal, familial, and social behavior. We are dealing with a complex problem, because the culture itself, prescinding from its content, arises from the very existence of new ways to communicate with hitherto unknown techniques and vocabulary.

“Ours is an age of global communication in which countless moments of human existence are either spent with, or at least confronted by, the different processes of the mass media. I limit myself to mentioning the formation of personality and conscience, the interpretation and structuring of affective relationships, the coming together of the educative and formative phases, the elaboration and diffusion of cultural phenomena, and the development of social, political and economic life.

“The mass media can and must promote justice and solidarity according to an organic and correct vision of human development, by reporting events accurately and truthfully, analyzing situations and problems completely, and providing a forum for different opinions. An authentically ethical approach to using the powerful communication media must be situated within the context of a mature exercise of freedom and responsibility, founded upon the supreme criteria of truth and justice.”

Saturday, October 21, 2023

How Can We Learn to Give and Receive Mercy?

Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). The need for mercy presses itself upon us in these days, as the clouds of war darken the skies all around us. War should remind us that we are all broken and conflicted within ourselves, and in our daily relationships with one another. Jesus tells us to “be merciful” to one another, but it’s so difficult. How can we learn to give and receive mercy?

Sometimes it seems like we're trying to put "mercy" in a box and dole it out according to our own measure. This is an effort that cannot succeed, and it's just as well because our measure is so meager.

The mercy of other people is at best a sign and an instrument of the ineffable, overflowing mercy of God. We must turn to Him, beg for His mercy, and ask Him for the grace to be drawn by His love so that we will adhere to Him and trust in His mercy.

I beg to remember His abiding love every day, to remain in Him, to trust in His mercy. He knows me. In His mercy He knows the undying thirst of my soul; He knows my heart's longing in a way that I don't even begin to understand. I pray that I might trust in Him to lead me to my destiny.

I want to live this relationship with the God who makes me exist in this very moment, the God who is Infinite Love. I want to live in adoration and gratitude to the God who is all-powerful and all-good beyond my understanding, the God who is “my Father.” I must trust in His mercy to give me what I need (because I don't know what I need — I don't really know my true self). I must trust in His mercy also to break off from me the things that keep me from attaining the real fulfillment for which I have been made, which is nothing else but Him.

I need to trust His tenderness and His gentleness, which endure even when all other affirmations or consolations are absent and I feel abandoned and alone. In this solitude I can only cry out to Him and long for Him in the firm conviction that He hears me, He wants me, and that the darkness and emptiness are the vast spaces of the mystery of His inexhaustible Heart that holds me.

I know that God “wants” me because He has sent His Son (God from God, the Person of the Father’s Son, who is always with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the inexhaustible mystery of the Trinity, the Mystery of Eternal Love, the One God who is a communion of Three Persons). He has loved me—and all of us—in His Son, His “Word” who is not only “spoken to us” but who has become flesh, taken our human nature, born of the Virgin Mary to dwell with us, die for our sins, rise from the dead to create us anew. 

Jesus is God made man, our brother, and He loves us. He came into my life, my own history, first — through an event, my Baptism. And through His enduring presence in His Church, I grow in this encounter with Him—adhering to Him through faith, in the life of faith, hope, and love that His Spirit engenders within me. I believe too that He loves every person, and that this same Holy Spirit is at work in the history of every person, working within the mystery of their own freedom, drawing each of them according to a wisdom greater than our understanding. 

I can trust in God, who has taken hold of my whole life (and who embraces the life of every person) through the humanity of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows who I am, and He carries me in my suffering and accompanies me through all the depths of darkness and the experience of feeling abandoned and alone. He has made those depths His own. His mercy is His brokenness on the Cross, which He invites me to share.

The best way we can show mercy to one another is to help bear one another's burdens. We are called to open our hearts—with great humility—to the mystery of the other person's suffering. This is what we need from one another. It is the way that we can discover the presence of Jesus in every person's life, not with condescension but with a great reverence for the person.

I must welcome this person, because this person is loved by Jesus. It is the great Heart of Jesus that gives value and dignity to every person and to all our relationships. Whenever I speak to a person, my words should be shaped by the desire that Jesus come more fully to us both — to heal us in His mercy and draw us together along the paths of His mercy. I beg for the grace of this humility, for myself, for you — my dear brother or sister — for all of us. I am not “naturally” humble or welcoming of others. None of us are, in the measure that God calls us to be. He calls us to be like Him. We cannot make ourselves “like Him” by our own strength; we need the transforming power of His grace that forgives our sins, gives us a share in His life, and empowers us to live in a new way — to love one another and to be merciful to one another. We must all beg for the grace of this adoring responsiveness in love to the God who is Love.

As Pope Francis says, "We cannot trust in our own strength, but only in Jesus and in His mercy." Indeed, our strength is much too small to fathom the mercy of God. Our strength is too frail to bear His weakness on the cross.

Jesus, enable me to be merciful.
Have mercy on me.
Make me an instrument of Your mercy.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Francis: “War Erases the Future”

Words from Pope Francis’s General Audience of October 18, 2023 (courtesy of Instagram):

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

October 17, 2023: Praying and Fasting for “Justice and Peace”

Catholics and other Christians and people of good will around the world have been p
raying and fasting on this day for “justice and peace” in solidarity with all those who are suffering: terrorist victims, hostages, and their families; civilians trapped without basic necessities and under bombardment; Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Muslims, and Christians… Here are some words from my brother and sister Catholics ‘on the ground,’ immediately involved, offering their sufferings and themselves…


“We have offered our readiness at least to try to bring the hostages back, at least some of them, this is being attempted. It is very difficult because, for mediation, you need to have interlocutors. And at this moment, it's not possible to talk to Hamas… Am I ready for an exchange? [i.e. to voluntarily become a hostage to Hamas in exchange for the release of the other hostages.] Anything, if this can lead to freedom and bring those children back home, no problem. On my part, absolute willingness.”

~Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 
  Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem


“We want peace because war does no one any good. We want this brutal war to end. Many people have lost their loved ones, their homes, and everything they have. We ask for justice: justice and peace. The Palestinian people also have the right to live. We ask not to punish the population because of a fanatic group. And then we ask that you pray for us.”

~Sister Nabila Saleh, 
  Holy Family Catholic Church, Gaza

Monday, October 16, 2023

When We Lose Someone to Suicide, the Wound Remains…

Below is a poem that I wrote over a decade ago and that has appeared on this blog before. I don’t know what to say about it, really. I know that on a beautiful October day, 18 years ago, I learned of the tragic death of a very special friend—a friend from a family that has been close to our family for three generations. He had visited us with his brother fairly recently, and we knew that his depression had turned in a dangerous direction (though apparently he was able to hide it from people in general). 

His depression was different (and much more severe) than anything I have suffered in my “constellation” of mental illnesses over the years. He was very sick. We knew he was struggling, and that there was a danger… but who imagines that these things can really happen?

This seems like it was a long time ago, and I have mourned and grown and have been healed in many ways. It’s a different time in my life. I am passing through the grief of the deaths of my own parents (who were his godparents). I have also mourned together with other friends whose families have been plunged into sorrow over suicide. There have been too many people who have lost their lives, and too many families who have had to endure this suffering.

But it’s been a long time since the death of my friend, and so much has happened since then. I would think that the “emotion” expressed in this poem would be something I would feel only “remotely” at this point, as an attentive compassion to others who go through this, and as a cry to God in prayer that the epidemic of suicide might not be such a scourge in our part of the world—where we have so much wealth, where we think we can be “safe” and secure, where we have so many resources for improving mental health, where we have “awareness” and where much is being learned and put into practice to improve people’s lives and address their many hidden crises and traumas. 

Much good is being done. Many lives are being saved, and many people are being treated successfully for illnesses that were scarcely acknowledged to exist when I was a child. My own medical and therapeutic treatment for depression and OCD, sustained by a supportive environment, must be regarded as a success (my physical health… well, that’s another story, but overall I manage it). Without mental healthcare I don’t know what kind of bizarre husband and father I would have been during the past decade-and-a-half (during the time the kids were growing up and needed a loving and mentally stable father). Instead, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it seems that I have done okay—I now have four basically normal young adults (😉), a couple of great in-laws, and — what a wonder! — grandchildren. (We still have a teenager at home, of course, so stay tuned… the adventure goes on!) I am grateful: for the grace of God, the love and patience of my amazing wife, and access to good mental healthcare in the ways I have needed it.

We need an “army” of mental health professionals today—an army that is strong enough to be compassionate and tender, to bring merciful aid to those who are suffering. Many people don’t get the medical care, the therapy, the counseling, the accompanying that they need for the disorders and traumas and wounds that they suffer in this unprecedentedly stressful and tumultuous world. Humans (especially in the “rich world”—the “West”—the world I know best) live in environments and with powers and possibilities that no human beings have ever had before. We also live with a hyper-vulnerability, being continually invaded by these new forces we think we control. We are exposed and turned inside out by gigantic (sometimes monstrous) collective and interconnected experiences that can dominate our interiority, crowd out self-reflection, and confuse our need for transcendence by overwhelming us with spectacles of material power that are only transitory, that leave us frustrated and hollow.

This is the “front” in our war. It is a strange war. The enemy is opaque. But the explosions are all around us, in the emergence of this ever-evolving artificially-constructed human world—a world of unprecedented power that envelopes us, that we think we are “using” but that we don’t understand (with wisdom). Therefore, it invades everything we do with its own relentless dynamics, shaking us, stretching us, deluding us, exhausting us. We are all at least a little bit “concussed.” We need the place that has been called the “field hospital,” where there are inexhaustible resources of mercy for the whole of our humanity. Mental healthcare needs to be vitally connected to the “field hospital;” it can contribute to bring healing because it is a work of mercy.

Life. It’s hard for everyone. There’s no shame in admitting it. When we recognize our vulnerability and ask for the fullness of life, for true freedom, for an answer to our yearning hearts, then we begin to live in a new way, unmasking the “absolutist” pretenses of every finite power, and beginning to understand with wisdom, begging for the gifts that enable us to engage this gigantic world with a gigantic compassion. Mostly we will fail, we will be overwhelmed, we will be wounded. But it is the begging that matters, the giving-over of our weakness to that “Weakness that is stronger than every strength” (see 1 Corinthians 1:25).

My memory of my beloved friend, and of that day nearly twenty years ago, is full of hope. But it’s not a “cheap hope.” Even though many other needs and challenges have come since then that have “distanced” me from the tragedy, I still know that losing my friend to suicide remains an open wound. It still cries out to be healed. Occasionally its vividness rises up, prompted by this or that circumstance. I can’t really explain. There are tears, and I do not understand them, but they flow… even now… once in a while. They cry for healing, and for a greater love—a love that hopes all things, endures all things… a love that never ends.

We all need healing. We all have wounds that cry for a greater love.



In Memory of a Friend

"He didn't seem like he was depressed and was always smiling. This is shocking" (Anon).

A bright autumn day
sunlight flashing on the windows.
A clear day, blue with painted hues of leaf.

I stood strong and tall
in the breezy wind
and felt life once again
like great power
from my head flowing down through me.

With large strides
I passed over the fields
drinking fountains of expansive air.

And with the red sun playing on my head,
I burst through the door
but her face was bloodless white.
I stopped, and suddenly
the October air froze on my skin.

She searched my face
with a gaze of shiny wet cheeks
and spoke your name,
and this single word
had a weight
that said everything.

Fire arose in my bones
and spread all over me
until it found my eyes.

And the sun flickered in the shadows.

              --in memoriam, jp, +october 17, 2005

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Israel and Palestinian Gaza: The Brink of Full Scale War

We wait, holding our breath, as Israeli ground forces mobilize on the border of the Palestinian territory of Gaza, an impoverished, desperately overcrowded, chaotic strip of Mediterranean coastline where most of the population of 2.1 million people live a daily struggle for survival. They are hemmed in together behind Israel’s defensive wall in conditions little better than prison—conditions that have arisen in consequence of the failure and breakdown of previous diplomatic agreements for a process leading to a “two-state-solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the midst of these multitudes of innocent civilians there are also groups of anti-Israel militants who hope to overthrow the State of Israel with help from hostile Islamist neighboring countries and (even) governments. They want all Israeli people to live in fear (including those who have politically opposed the current hard-line government and have actively worked for Palestinian rights); they practice terrorism as a form of jihad (“holy war”), and those who die performing terrorist acts are regarded as “martyrs.” Meanwhile some Israelis would like to drive all Palestinians from the land, and until then impose as many restraints on them as possible. The failure of dialogue between these two peoples has left the field of action bereft of the possibilities for creative and human solutions, and that space has been filled by polarized ideologues who are ready—once again—to place their trust in war. The innocent ones—the Israelis and Palestinians who seek peaceful coexistence, dialogue, real interpersonal and communal solutions—they are the victims and will continue to be the victims as this war escalates.

What can we do? We can stand in solidarity with them. We can pray for them—with real prayer, with the prayer that the Pope calls “the meek and holy force to oppose the diabolical force of hatred, terrorism, and war.” We can also make an offering to God and a gesture of solidarity by fasting. People all over the world will pray and fast for peace on this coming Tuesday, October 17.

Meanwhile, the Pope urges us to continue to remember “tormented Ukraine.” Really, these are not two separate wars. They are related in more ways than we realize. But regardless, we must have hearts and minds that are larger than the trending topics on Twitter/“X”/…whatevah. The suffering of peoples is made known to us in our era by “real time” multimedia. Some follow it as a form of “entertainment” while others feel powerless in front of the weight of all the suffering all over the world, and would prefer not to think about it. 

But seeing and hearing about these events can be an opportunity to pray-with and suffer-with our brothers and sisters in distress. It may seem a small thing, but—like a cup of water to the thirsty or a visit to a sick neighbor—it is prayer-in-loving-action, it is a work of mercy. We are human persons. We are not information collectors. We have hearts. Whatever our circumstances, our hearts can unite in begging for God’s mercy, and can reach out to accompany those who are suffering—we can’t “fix” them, but we can draw near to them, even if only in our hearts, so that they do not suffer alone. Our hearts can extend themselves in mercy, and we must beg God to enlarge our hearts. Mercy is the new reality that is building up and transforming our world. We are called to participate in this work, in this mystery of mercy.

Texts from Pope Francis and the assembly of Catholic bishops of the Holy Land:

“I continue to follow what is happening in Israel and Palestine with tears and apprehension: many people killed, others injured. I pray for those families who have seen a feast day transformed into a day of mourning, and I ask that the hostages be released immediately. It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very concerned about the total siege under which the Palestinians are living in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims. Terrorism and extremism do not help reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but fuel hatred, violence, revenge, and only cause each to other suffer. The Middle East does not need war, but peace, a peace built on dialogue and the courage of fraternity” (Pope Francis, General Audience, October 11).

“I continue to follow with great sorrow what is happening in Israel and Palestine. I think again of the many… in particular of the children and the elderly. I renew my appeal for the freeing of the hostages and I strongly ask that children, the sick, the elderly, women, and all civilians not be made victims of the conflict. Humanitarian law is to be respected, especially in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to ensure humanitarian corridors and to come to the aid of the entire population. Brothers and sisters, already many have died. Please, let no more innocent blood be shed, neither in the Holy Land nor in Ukraine, nor in any other place! Enough! Wars are always a defeat, always!

“Prayer is the meek and holy force to oppose the diabolical force of hatred, terrorism and war. I invite all believers to join with the Church in the Holy Land and to dedicate next Tuesday, 17 October, to prayer and fasting…

“I am looking at the Ukrainian flags: let us not forget tormented Ukraine” (Angelus, October 15).

Friday, October 13, 2023

A VLOG POST About Autumn, Time, and How We Grow

Here is a short “VLOG POST” from mid-October (filmed 10/13, revised 10/17). Our Shenandoah Valley has begun to “feel” the change of seasons. Sitting along Happy Creek at sunset in mid-October, JJ talks about the season of Autumn… in the year and in his life. Time is given to us to grow and bear fruit.

Here’s the link to “JJProf’s” YouTube channel:

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Christina Grimmie: “Wear Your Heart Out…”

It has now been seven years and four months since the murder of Christina Grimmie in Orlando, Florida at an open meet-and-greet after what turned out to be her final concert on June 10, 2016. In her honor, I have attempted to create a cartoon meme.

She remains a luminous witness even today to the truth that the Love of God through Jesus Christ is “all [we] need.”

Monday, October 9, 2023

A New Outbreak of Terrorism and War in Israel and Palestine

Last Saturday, the Islamic terrorist group Hamas carried out a massive attack on Israeli territory, using advanced technology to disable and breach the wall surrounding Palestinian Gaza and invade Israeli territory, seizing hostages and brutally murdering hundreds of men, women, and children in Israeli villages and at a local music festival. At the same time, rockets were fired from Hamas outposts in Gaza against Israeli targets.

My heart and soul go out to everyone who has suffered because of this monstrous and shameful attack, especially my many Jewish friends whose loved ones may have been impacted, or may still be in danger. This all must be terrifying in ways I can scarcely imagine. There is so much frustration, pain, and sadness that still afflict so many Israeli people: good people who wish only to live in their own homes, in safety and security, without grand ideological ambitions, in peace, freedom, and equity with all their neighbors who come from diverse religious and cultural traditions.

Why is there so much violence on this little piece of earth?

The political and military leaders of the State of Israel are determined to do whatever it takes to fight terrorism with all the power at their disposal—to restrain, cut off, and uproot the sources of danger to their people and their nation. But how? Are there means available that are not tainted by retaliation, feeding the cycle of violence, taking revenge for the shedding of innocent blood by shedding more innocent blood? Many good people find that this question has forced itself upon them. How hard it can be, in the face of great danger! It’s not a situation anyone would choose to face. In these circumstances, alas, it has evoked a response that increases suffering and sorrow.

Taken totally by surprise by the weekend attack, Israel has declared war on Hamas and has begun relentlessly bombing Gaza. The awful fact remains that these criminal and barbaric Hamas terrorists embed themselves and operate in the midst of the extremely densely populated and impoverished people of Gaza; they are indistinguishable from the rest of the 2+ million civilian inhabitants crowded into the confines of 365 square kilometers of the Eastern Mediterranean shore. Gaza’s Palestinian people—including women, children, and the elderly—are inevitably the victims of an ongoing Israeli bombardment of their region as Israel tries to seek out and destroy Hamas.

The present tragedy is that a “war against Hamas” (even motivated by an effort of self-defense) means war against the entire population of Gaza. Forgive me, but I cannot be silent: this kind of indiscriminate “total war” is never justifiable and can never bear fruit. There is no effective way to limit the destruction it unleashes. As a Catholic, I think that Vatican II expresses it well when it teaches that “war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation” (Gaudium et Spes 80). This teaching is also a reasonable inference drawn from the truth about human nature and the dignity of human persons. 

Yet the tremendous fears of the Israeli people are also reasonable, awful, and accurate: Hamas seems to have “upped its game” as a sophisticated and coordinated military threat that can plan unprecedented invasion projects and deploy technical force in new and more dangerous ways. It is hard to imagine that they could have acquired these capacities without third party training and support. Syria and Iran has been indicated as possible sponsors, and behind these Islamic countries that oppose any form of the State of Israel there lurks the long shadow of another hegemonic and increasingly nihilistic power that at this very moment continues to prove its dedication to waging criminal warfare. We cannot assume that Russia has ceased to export its ruthless and destructive tactics to violent militants in Africa and the Middle East, even though the notorious Wagner Group has allegedly been disbanded. It’s certainly “convenient” for Russia’s expansionist war in Ukraine that another “front” has opened up in the Middle East that will divide the attention of NATO, the United States of America, and the U.N. and perhaps draw that attention away from Russia’s plan to pummel the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine this coming winter.

Meanwhile, Palestinians and Israelis appear to be trapped in a toxic and intractable situation that will bring further death, destruction, and misery to countless Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the place known as “The Holy Land.” Alas, it’s a very old and very long story. In its most recent chapters, the modern dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a running source of hatred and violence that has been passed from generation to generation. It has been a constant feature of world news for my entire life.

I have not so much as a hint of how to resolve these conflicts. 

I know that I want the modern nation of Israel to flourish as a homeland for the Jewish people, who have such ancient roots and such a unique history in relation to this land. I also want others who call this region home to have their rights and freedoms fully respected. Religious freedom and uninhibited access to the places of pilgrimage (some of which are considered “holy” by Jews, Muslims, and Christians) are fundamentally necessary. In the abstract, there is widespread agreement on these points, but particular claims and counterclaims have become tied in knots that no one seems to know how to unravel. Assertions of power, terrorism, and war have only tightened the knots. Negotiations and mutual concessions take place between leaders, only to be reinterpreted by new political leaders or rejected by new militant “movements” (like Hamas).

Over the years, I have learned a little about the legitimate needs and the unjust actions of the various parties that have fought over this territory since I was four years old. Peace, even in the form of “coexistence” (which is the lowest level of human interaction, but which will suffice for now, in the present circumstances), along with respect for the rights, needs, and legitimate aspirations of everyone, the renunciation of violence, the commitment to ongoing dialogue to resolve disputes and understand one another better: these are the substance of agreements made by political leaders in treaties again and again and again.

Political leaders cry, “Peace!” but their is no peace. War rages in the ancient land that is so specially loved by God, the land of God’s covenant, of the Law and the prophets; the land where God Himself began to dwell with the human race and—by the events of His crucifixion and resurrection—won for the human heart an ineradicable destiny of union with Himself. Why?! Why so much bloodshed? 

The theologian might respond that “if the Lord’s Providence permits this terrible warfare, it must be because He foresees that it will ultimately lead to a greater peace that glorifies His infinite mercy.” It’s easy enough to say these words, and ultimately I think they are true. But this “theological observation” does not reduce the existential horror of these acts of violence, destruction, and death. What do I know about these raw, harsh realities? As a thinker and writer—and an old fool who has scarcely begun to understand the meaning of the words he has played games with all his life—I grasp for words like straws when confronted with the terrifying need to struggle against the twisted ways of the human heart when it is bent upon evil. I grasp for words, like the long reeds growing on the riverbank that I would lunge for when my boat was overturned, desperately hoping they might help keep me from being swept away by the raging current. 

Words: they may even be true, but they may also hurl us more deeply into the Mystery that sometimes seems so obscure—because we cannot make our eyes or our hearts “large enough” to trust the ineffable ways that Love triumphs over evil. Yet we must trust in the ways of Love. We don’t “understand” and maybe all we can do is suffer these ways of Love, suffering in hope (so seemingly fragile and yet resilient enough to give us strength to take the next step)—hanging on to the hope that Love’s promise will be fulfilled. Ultimately, where else can we go? God is Love, and we must never give up seeking and working for God’s peace even in the face of apparent impossibility.

But my heart finds no consolation, right now, in mere words. I weep for this sacred land. It has been like an open wound in this modern world—a world that has such ardent desires for “peace” without really knowing what peace is. Perhaps the suffering of the Middle East, along with so many other open wounds throughout the world, will open our hearts to an encounter with the One whose peace changes us, and thereby brings greater peace to the world. I weep, and I long for this peace; I beg for it, as I mourn the awful deaths of so many of my Jewish, Muslim, and Christian brothers and sisters and the corresponding afflictions brought down upon perpetrators and victims alike.

I weep and pray.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

An “Ever Closer Union” With Jesus, Through Mary

“In the Rosary we turn to the Virgin Mary so that she may guide us to an ever closer union with her Son Jesus to bring us into conformity with him, to have his sentiments and to behave like him. Indeed, in the Rosary while we repeat the Hail Mary we meditate on the Mysteries, on the events of Christ’s life, so as to know and love him ever better” (Pope Francis).

Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Synod: Learning to “Walk Together”

The XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has gathered in Rome after a long process of preparation that entailed meetings of dialogue among bishops, priests, and lay people in dioceses all over the world. It would be too much to generalize and simply say that it was a fruitful experience for the younger churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but a complicated, perplexing, over-structured, and sometimes agenda-driven process for the wealthy churches of Europe and North America. It’s not surprising that some of us in “the West” can be anxious about a process that appears to be intent on “listening to everyone.” We have had over a century of experiences (and reinforcing media narratives) that might well incline us to view all human interaction as a struggle of hyper-partisan power politics. This is not without reason, and indeed points to a potential human dynamic wherein ideologies can “hijack” a well-intentioned dialogue and turn it into an opportunity to sow dissent and confusion while increasing their own power in society.

Thus, the fears or the expectations of our peoples might easily stand in the way of our perceiving what the event and the grace of this “Synod on Synodality” really is for the whole Church. Pope Francis is pursuing “the synodal path” for reasons entirely different from the preoccupations of the Western media. He believes that this difficult effort is necessary because it is God’s will for the whole Church today, and for the Church’s evangelizing mission in the world. So often we fail to recognize that the Synod is an ecclesial event whose value cannot be measured by this-worldly criteria. Even if it yields nothing that gains our excitement, or appears to be “a failure” in earthly terms, we must not ignore what the Holy Spirit is trying to accomplish—where the Spirit is leading the Church—in these initial and vulnerable steps toward a more profound mutual understanding and compassion among the members of Christ’s Body, a fuller involvement of ourselves in the real possibilities for living in the world today (amidst epochal changes) as brothers and sisters of Christ, and as servants of everyone.

We have too little faith in the fact that Jesus Christ really is the Head of the Church, that He directs the Church in the ways of His redeeming love, and has promised to be with us always in our journey through this present life. But if we listen to Pope Francis with the expectation of recognizing the grace of God at work in him to lead the Church, we would recognize the supernatural value of this Synod with patience and confidence that it will bear fruit. Indeed, the fruits of the Synod are ripening even now.

Pope Francis knows this, and he is dedicated—as “Vicar of Christ” at the present moment in history—to lead the Church’s first new steps in “walking together” and being the light of the world.

We should listen to the Pope’s words (below, in bold type), as he preached in the October 4 opening Mass, in which he reminds us of the gaze of Jesus that defines us, communicates Divine love to us, and challenges us “to be a Church that, with a glad heart, contemplates God's action and discerns the present. And which, amid the sometimes agitated waves of our time, does not lose heart, does not seek ideological loopholes, does not barricade itself behind preconceived notions, does not give in to convenient solutions, does not let the world dictate its agenda. This is the spiritual wisdom of the Church, summarized with serenity by Saint John XXIII: ‘It is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate’ (Address for the Solemn Opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, October 11, 1962).

“Jesus’ gaze that blesses invites us to be a Church that does not face today’s challenges and problems with a divisive and contentious spirit but, on the contrary, turns its eyes to God who is communion and, with awe and humility, blesses and adores him, recognizing him as its only Lord. We belong to him and — let us remember — we exist only to bring him to the world. As the Apostle Paul told us, we have no other ‘glory except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14). This is enough for us; he is enough for us. We do not want earthly glory; we do not want to make ourselves attractive in the eyes of the world, but to reach out to it with the consolation of the Gospel, to bear witness to God’s infinite love, in a better way and to everyone. Indeed, as Benedict XVI said, precisely when speaking to a synod assembly, ‘the question for us is this: God has spoken, he has truly broken the great silence, he has shown himself, but how can we communicate this reality to the people of today, so that it becomes salvation?’ (XIII General Assembly, October 8, 2012). This is the fundamental question. And this is the primary task of the Synod: to refocus our gaze on God, to be a Church that looks mercifully at humanity. A Church that is united and fraternal — or at least seeks to be united and fraternal — , that listens and dialogues; a Church that blesses and encourages, that helps those who seek the Lord, that lovingly stirs up the indifferent, that opens paths in order to draw people into the beauty of faith. A Church that has God at its center and, therefore, is not divided internally and is never harsh externally. A Church that takes a risk in following Jesus. This is how Jesus wants the Church, his Bride, to be.”

Monday, October 2, 2023

A Note on “Grace” and Ancient Chinese Wisdom

[The Chinese text pictured is the title of Matteo Ricci’s book, “The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven,” written in Chinese by the great Jesuit missionary, and first published in Beijing in 1603.]

One aspect of my East Asian Studies Project involves reading and trying to appreciate more deeply the Chinese Classics and other ancient texts (in English translation, since I don’t know Chinese). In so doing, I cannot engage them otherwise than as a Catholic Christian, thus participating in some small way in a dialogue of great importance. 

From time to time, I record some “notes” here, especially on points that have arisen in discussion and efforts of clarification. I have only begun to study these things, so I don’t speak from any personal expertise. I have “impressions” that I am trying to verify as best as I can. Let me therefore present this question in the form of a NOTE: The Confucian emphasis on virtue as self-cultivation seems isolated from any awareness of the need for a relationship with God. How does the Confucian “superior person” resemble and/or differ from the Christian who lives by the Spirit and who “grows in virtue” by cooperating with the grace of God?

This seems like a huge question that involves other related questions. Some may think it’s comparing apples and oranges, but the question arises nevertheless for me as I read these texts, and I want to look at its various aspects, and hope to find at least a more firm orientation for my understanding.

There are many valuable insights in Confucian exhortations to live a humane life, but the realization of such a life seems to be entirely within the reach of human possibilities (and, indeed, restricted to a human scale). I’m far from certain that this is accurate, however. It may be more indicative of a presentation that calls for a full and explicitly developed context for considering human action. Having said that, I think perhaps the lack of a sense of the need for God’s grace may be one of the limitations of the Confucian ethical tradition—there was a similar “absence” in Ancient Greek philosophical ethics, which is why the Greeks had so little hope for the vast majority of ordinary humans to attain virtue.

The Chinese may have been more “optimistic” (Mencius especially) about human nature. They focused on that part of ethics that involves social order, though it extends deeper than “politics.” The Confucian ideal of the sage, the “superior person,” does seem to be self-cultivated(?), but there is also a pervasive emphasis on “the will of Heaven” that I would like to understand more fully. 

“The superior person will never suffer calamity, because he realizes that nothing is a calamity” (Mencius). I think Mencius is trying to say that everything has meaning—even that which we experience as suffering—when we are conformed (?) to the “will of Heaven” which orders all things. What does that mean? What is the intuition here, and what are its possibilities? There’s a lot of emphasis in ancient Confucian tradition to adherence to what has been “given” (to the point that, as the tradition develops, the “roles” in society become rigid and the place of interpersonal dialogue in the service of benevolence and harmony gets minimized). I don’t know if it goes any further than that, or what might be suggested in the aphorisms and dialogue format which convey these teachings.

I am trying to appreciate the inherent “openness” of some of these classical Chinese philosophers who didn’t have the ambition to “explain everything” (the systematizing came later) and left transcendent truth in the mode of an “open question.” This was a quality that deeply impressed Matteo Ricci and the early Jesuits, and it appears also in their Mandarin followers (especially in the converts who are known as the “Three Pillars” of the Catholic Church in “modern” [i.e. post 1600] China: Xu Guangqi, Li Zhizao, and Yang Tingyun). It also appears in the remarkable “founders” of the Church in Korea. It was Korean scholar-officials of the Confucian tradition who first encountered Christ through the Jesuits they met during diplomatic visits to Beijing. A few were baptized, and they returned to Korea and brought others to conversion so that there were 4000 baptized Christians by the time the first European missionaries came. 

I think perhaps the traditional wisdoms in East Asia were “open to grace” in ways we haven’t appreciated (or were in part efforts to articulate the movement of grace already at work within them, as it was among “the Gentiles” before the coming of Christ, and presumably continues to be [according to the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit] among those after Christ who have not yet had a decisive encounter with Him). 

After initial missionary efforts and sometimes striking success, the Church in East Asia has been hindered and persecuted mostly for political reasons (modern European colonial ambitions didn’t help). Otherwise, the Church might have grown much more widely in the 17th-18th centuries. God willing, it will grow now and in the future wherever it has the freedom to do so. Great 20th century Chinese Catholic converts like John C. H. Wu challenge us to appreciate the ways that Jesus will transform, revivify, and fulfill East Asian traditions. (I have written about Dr. Wu elsewhere; see this LINK.)

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Saint Thérèse in “Color”?

Sunday took liturgical precedence over Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s October 1 feast this year. But we still remember her and honor her. When she speaks like this, what can I say other than 😮⁉️ 

Yes, in order that Love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that it lower itself, and that it lower itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire" (Saint Thérèse).

Here are more astonishing and mysterious words from Thérèse, as she lay dying in agony from tuberculosis in 1897. How could this be possible?

And, of course, you’ve seen the famous black&white photo of Saint Thérèse as a girl of 15. Well, I used some basic digital tools and a bit of work and I got THIS result. I cannot guarantee that she “really” looked like that, since I had no information regarding the precise colors (eyes, hair, skin tone), but perhaps it gives us some idea of how she looked, or a more striking impression of her being a *real human being* of a relatively recent time (January 2, 1873 — September 30, 1897). Wow!