Monday, April 22, 2024

USA Finally Passes Ukraine Aid Bill

The United States House of Representatives finally approved the latest installment of military aid for Ukraine, thereby sustaining its pledge of solidarity and support (if not “alliance”) for the Ukrainian people, who continue to struggle against the murderous invasion of Russian forces led by Vladimir Putin’s Rogue State. It remains remarkable that this aid has been held up for several months by political controversy in the U.S. Congress. It seems pathetic that 112 members of the majority party in the House still ended up voting against the bill. American voters need to ask these congressmen and congresswomen why they favor the interests of Putin’s Russia and its allies—North Korea, Iran, and China—over the needs of the Ukrainian people, the security of Eastern Europe and beyond, and the requirements of international law.

However, we now have further reason to hope that Ukraine’s courageous people will continue to have access—at least for the present—to the resources needed to hold off Russia’s attacks.

Anything that keeps Russia from advancing in Ukraine is to be welcomed,” as Ukraine continues to mount “a defense of life, liberty, and our freedom of conscience… Ukrainians are very grateful to people of goodwill in the global community, and in a special way to Americans who are in solidarity with their (Ukrainians’) valiant struggle for God-given dignity. They’re also very grateful to American Catholics, most of whom not only understand, but pray and help” (Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak, Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church, Archeparchy of Philadelphia).

War is horrible. This is all the more reason for Ukraine to defend itself (and be supported by others) against Russia’s aggression, which—by perpetrating systematic genocidal atrocities against the Ukrainian people, as well as by continuing to flagrantly violate international law, respect for the borders of its neighboring nations, and its own previous diplomatic agreements—only increases the horrors of this war and guarantees more horrible wars in years to come. 

Putin’s criminal dictatorship is imposing war on Ukraine, while threatening other nations and the peace of the whole world. We need to stand with Ukraine, for the sake of a just and secure peace. May God have mercy on them and their persecutors, on all who suffer as victims of war and violence, and on all of us.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Life in Christ: Our Resurrection Has "Already Begun"

Through baptism, we are united with Jesus and made adopted children of God and heirs to the fullness of His Kingdom. We have been given a participation in the Divine life, and through supernatural grace this life grows within us and transforms us. Grace awakens and sustains in us the very freedom by which we cooperate with its working in us, and become lovers of the God who has loved us first.

The Easter Season is a time of abundant grace for the newly-baptized, who died to sin and rose to new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil. At Easter, all Christians renew their "baptismal promises," their adherence to Christ living in His Church, fostered by the path of the liturgical seasons and nourished concretely by the sacraments.

Christ has entered the history of our lives and claimed us as His own, beginning with the event of our baptism. His love always comes first, opening up our lives to follow Him and to be His witnesses—to further "embody" His saving love in the lives of others as our Christian vocation unfolds.

God gives Himself to us; He draws us into a personal relationship with Himself; He is leading us to our destiny which is to share forever in His glory, to behold and to love forever the One who is the fullness of all goodness, to belong to Him forever.

The glorified Jesus is with us now, in the Eucharist above all, and also through His actions in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, and in the abundant ways in which the life of the Church "specially consecrates" by signs, gestures, exhortation, commissioning, or other “official” actions many people, places, and things that engage us as Catholic Christians every day. Here too we must remember our very selves, our families, and our “faith-communities” in which we travel together as brothers and sisters—members of one another in Christ, consecrated by baptism as “a royal priesthood, a holy people.” We are “the Church,” gathered together to worship God through Christ (joined to Christ’s once-for-all offering of Himself “made present” for us in the wonder of the Eucharistic Sacrifice), and called to serve one another in the communion of “agape,” and to help and strengthen one another through friendships founded on Christ.

All of this is bound up with the fact that Jesus also lives "in" us by the Holy Spirit, in our prayer and our love for God, one another, our neighbor, and all people (as we live out this love in different ways). In our hearts the Lord has already mysteriously initiated the gathering up the whole of creation for that final, definitive renewal of “all things.” For Christians, eternal glory has "already begun," secretly, in the very heart of this ordinary life, because Jesus has embraced all human life and defined it according to the measure of His love. Through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, the Father pours out this love in the depths of our hearts, empowering us to exist and act in new ways, supernatural ways, for His glory through His Son, Jesus, who lives in us and consecrates through us the times and circumstances entrusted to us in history.

God dwells in us, engendering within us a new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls us to cooperate with His redeeming and transforming grace right now, in whatever actions we undertake, and whatever sufferings we endure.

The Risen Jesus is shaping our whole humanity: our eating and drinking, waking and sleeping, living and dying.

Christianity is not external to the "real," mundane, humble, humanly-ordinary concerns of our lives. Rather, it illuminates them and opens us up to their true meaning.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

April Flowers!

The Dogwood and Cherry Blossom Trees along with Buttercups and Tulips in many different hues display their bright banners all around us this time of year.



Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Remembrance and a Question: "Have We Gone Numb?"

Marking the 17th anniversary of the horrific and excruciating ordeal of Virginia Tech University.

Many, perhaps, have forgotten this day. In the past 17 years, there has been so much more violence: so many school shootings, public venue shootings, and innocent people dying, bleeding and dying at random, people dying because they were in “the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time,” because violence came, unbidden, to a place where they should have been safe, and with an explosion of bloodshed, stole their lives from them. 

This is not a television show. This is the reality of our society—the society we are making for ourselves out of our anger and negligence, our undisciplined cravings and the brutality of our relationships, our neglect of the defenseless, our crass ignorance, our cowardice. And beyond the intolerable atrocities that shock us on the news, there is a whole hidden world of assault (hiding in plain sight) where many innocent human persons—our brothers and sisters—are attacked, brutalized, wounded again and again, or killed and discarded. This is what happens in a society that is too busy, too distracted, too self-absorbed, where people don’t want to see the pain beyond the media spectacle and the ugly curiosity it generates. This is what happens in a society where hearts have grown small, where love has grown cold.

Are we becoming NUMB? Have we made ourselves comfortable with a society full of murder and violence and fear—a "culture of death" that places so little value on the inalienable dignity of every human person? I must examine my own conscience on this question. It would do us all good to be "unsettled" (and more) by the killing that goes on and on and on… 

But #VirginiaTech, I will never forget your sorrows. For the last 17 years, your beautiful and inspiring commemorations of the 32 Hokies who were gunned down on this day help bring consolation and healing. I join you in remembering those who died, those who survived, and all their loved ones, and all my Hokie peeps today.

๐Ÿงก๐ŸคŽ๐Ÿ’” #VirginiaTechHokies #RemembranceDay

Saturday, April 13, 2024

"Never Give Up" on Jesus, No Matter What...

Rejoice! Christ is Risen from the dead, Alleluia!

We are in the Easter Season. We celebrate with joy what has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the glory of His victory over death and evil.

But we don't need to pretend that we ourselves are no longer suffering. Everyone endures trials and tribulation of one kind or another. There is immense suffering at all levels of life, from the depths of our hearts to the desperate struggles of nations and peoples. Our times are likely to see worse things...

Nevertheless, let us remember that Christ is Risen, and that He remains the center of history, the Source of our strength, the goal of our journey through this world.

Jesus is Lord! He defines and gives measure to every moment of our lives, directly, personally, by the power of His love for each one of us. All of life: the aspirations and successes, the compassion and courage and works of love we do, and the disappointment, the suffering, the sins, the failures, the weakness, the most appalling afflictions and all the incomprehensible, banal, repetitive, small, and apparently meaningless moments we endure and live day after day. He remains with us in the fullness of His victory. He dwells among us, He is "God-With-Us" and He has endured every sorrow so as to stay with us and draw us to Himself—to draw forth even the renewal of our freedom, and the growth of our freedom...if we will let Him. We can't begin to imagine how much He loves each one of us, how much He loves every single human being.

"Never Give Up" on Jesus. He is Risen! Rejoice...even when sometimes that "joy" feels like nothing but the bare grip by which we hold on to Him in the dark with wild hope and refuse to let go of Him even when everything seems crazy or lost.

Friday, April 12, 2024

The "Horizon of Eternity"


"Jesus does not eliminate the concern and search for daily food. No, he does not remove the concern for all that can make life more progressive. But Jesus reminds us that the true meaning of our earthly existence lies at the end, in eternity. It lies in the encounter with Him, who is gift and giver. He also reminds us that human history with its suffering and joy must be seen in a horizon of eternity, in that horizon of the definitive encounter with Him. And this encounter illuminates all the days of our life. If we think of this encounter, of this great gift, the small gifts of life, even the suffering, the worries will be illuminated by the hope of this encounter."

~Pope Francis

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Inspired By Spring…


“Inspired By Spring 2024, no.1” (#DigitalArt #JJStudios).

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Freedom for the Ukraine Byzantine CATHOLIC Church

The Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church celebrated Easter this year according to the Western calendar. This is the Church of native Ukrainian Christians in full communion with Rome, which is relatively small but tremendously important both for Christian ecumenism and as a consistent and vivid witness to Ukraine's independence as a people and a culture.

For them the fire of Easter candles was unwelcomely augmented by the fire of a renewed Russian bombing campaign.

The importance of an Ukraine free and independent of Russian political power, or even a so-called Russian "sphere of influence," is perceived with particular clarity and urgency by Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics, who have a long and painful history of struggling for freedom against the “errors of Russia.” Perhaps it could be said that they originated the path that in recent years has been taken up by the now autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church and other Orthodox communities in Ukraine. For six centuries, these Orthodox churches—following the widespread rejection of the Reunion Council of Florence and the fall of the Byzantine Empire—were subjected to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church even as their people were subjected to the ruler of Muscovy, who proclaimed himself the heir of Constantinople's imperial status. Moscow declared itself to be "the Third Rome" and its rulers took the title of "Caesar"—the Divinely-appointed "Czar" of a "Holy Empire."

The Muscovite Russian Empire soon appropriated the history of "Kyivian Rus" and swallowed its lands and peoples. But there were a few churches among the southern Rus who continued to work for full communion with Rome, and finally achieved it in 1596. The ensuing centuries were not easy for the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church. This Church was illegal in the Orthodox Empire of Czarist Moscow. Moreover, its adherents struggled (even though they were supported by popes) to preserve their distinctive Byzantine and Slavonic heritage in Latin Catholic Poland, while finding a greater measure of tolerance in the multi-ethnic, multi-national, somewhat chaotic Habsburg confederation. 

Through it all they never forgot that they were Ukrainians. In the 20th century, the cruelest of all the Czars—Joseph Stalin—tried to "liquidate" the Ukrainian Catholics by a forced merger with the Russian Orthodox Church that he manipulated and controlled.

Many Ukrainians—Orthodox and Catholic—emigrated to the West in those dark years. Ukrainian Catholics flourished in North America and elsewhere. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I was within walking distance of the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic cathedral of the regional eparchy. From my youth I knew about Byzantine Catholics and was able to participate in their profound liturgical life.

I also knew about Ukrainians and their nation, their beloved Ukraine which they (rightly) regarded as a "captive nation" of the Soviet Union. Many years ago, I made the mistake of asking a Ukrainian woman if "Ukrainians were basically like Russians." With firmness and dignity she replied, "We are not Russians. We are Europeans!"

There are some important and very particular dangers that most Westerners (including Western Catholics) don't understand about the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Latin-rite Catholic Church is permitted to exist freely (albeit carefully) in the Russian Federation at this time. Churches are not tolerated, however, if they follow the Byzantine Liturgy and Byzantine spiritual traditions while also expressing full communion with the Pope. Russia itself has not (yet) had an enduring Byzantine Catholic presence among its own people, the only exception being the brief flowering of an authentically Russian Byzantine Catholic Exarchate in 1917 after the abdication of the last Czar (which I have written about here). Sadly, the success of the Communist Revolution put an end to this young church (or, I prefer to believe, planted it deep in the earth like a seed still destined to grow and bear fruit).

The Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church endured even after it was driven underground by Stalin, however, with support from the Ukrainian diaspora communities, and it emerged again after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an independent Ukraine. The democratization of Ukraine has guaranteed full freedom of religion to the Byzantine Catholic Church. By stark contrast, invading Russians have already proven that the Putinist fantasy of a "Great Russia" that absorbs Ukraine into itself has no place for a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. In the areas invaded and occupied by Russian troops, Ukrainian Catholic churches have been shut down or destroyed, and Byzantine Catholic priests have been driven out of the regions or arrested and tortured.

Here we see one of many reasons why Russia must not emerge from this criminal war with so much as an inch of illegally conquered or "annexed" Ukrainian territory. I raise this point, among other reasons, in the hope that it might stir the consciences of some fellow Catholics in the USA who are tempted to believe the lies of Putinist propaganda, or blindly follow American politicians who propose to solve "in one day" the profound problems of this war, or who dishonor our country by withholding promised support that Ukraine needs to continue to defend itself.

But the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic bishops themselves make the case for the legitimacy of national self-defense, the need for assistance, and all the reasons why Russian aggression is criminal and indefensible in a thorough and admirably clear statement released last month. This is the statement from the Synod of bishops in Ukraine, who minister daily to soldiers and their families, civilians in bomb shelters, migrants and refugees and all the victims of Putinist violence. It is worth reading. Here is the link: Rescue the Oppressed from the Hand of their Oppressors.

Please, read this document. 

Latin-rite Catholics must not remain ignorant about the sufferings of our Eastern-rite brothers and sisters, who deserve our special attention even as we pray and work for the upholding of the inalienable human dignity of every person afflicted by this horrible war. And the realities addressed by the Ukrainian Catholic bishops are among the key issues for an honest and constructive dialogue that might prepare the way for a just and lasting peace.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Easter Octave: The Sunday of Divine Mercy

We come to the conclusion of the “eight days” that constitute the superabundance of our celebration of the “Day” of Christ’s Resurrection: “This is the Day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24). Now follow the days and weeks of the Easter Season, culminating in Pentecost.

It is also Divine Mercy Sunday, instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II in recognition of the deepening of awareness in the Church of the centrality of God’s merciful love at the heart of the Paschal Mystery. The body of Jesus, pierced in the heart by a lance, pours forth blood and water, which indicate the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism through which the Risen Jesus gives Himself to us and conforms us to Himself.

Today’s Collect:
 .
God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

The writings of Saint Faustina—the twentieth century Polish nun who conveyed the details of the image and the key elements of the devotion to God’s Mercy—indicate that Jesus willed the Sunday after Easter to be specially dedicated to His Mercy.

O blood and water, which poured forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you.” Trust encompasses our living faith, our personal relationship with Jesus our Savior. Trust grows through the faith that believes in His redemption, adheres to Him in hope, and grows in love for Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Triune God who made each one of us and calls us to an everlasting communion with Divine Love.

Everything is grace, the gift of God’s merciful love. With wonder and gratitude, we pray for the grace to say “yes” every day to Jesus, to follow Him on the path of the journey to our True Home.

Friday, April 5, 2024

The Mystery of Mercy Embraces Our Whole Humanity

For whatever reason[s], I'm feeling stiff and slow and tired and overwrought and confused as we approach the end of Easter Week. It's a physical thing, and there's nothing "new" about it. Rest usually clears things up, eventually. So, I shall try to get some rest.

Obviously, we have all been through tragic and difficult events. The weather has also been unseasonably cool and windy. When Spring finally comes to stay, it will bring some improvement for my tired old rheumatic beat-up Lyme-disease-damaged body (which includes the fog and the mush in my brain).

We're all provoked, I think, to let Jesus take over our minds and hearts more profoundly, to let the Spirit of the Risen Lord bring His healing mercy to the more hidden levels of our broken lives—the failures and limitations and stubbornness and resistance to God’s love and the fear and self-grasping that run so deeply in each of us, in our own personal history and our relations with one another.

Jesus is Risen from death. There are no "gaps" in our humanity that are too big for Him to fill.

Well, I'm too tired to say any more right now. Jesus, save me, save us! Have mercy on us! 

I shall never give up on the mystery of your mercy.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

An Easter Week of Mourning Losses Past and Present

Me and my Dad, around 1979.

I miss my Dad, who died five years ago (on April 3, 2019). I have reflected much upon him on this blog and also about so many other events that have happened since that day. This year’s remembrance of his death, however, comes during Eastertide, and at a moment in which our local community continues to mourn the terrible loss of last week.

Jesus Christ is truly Risen, Alleluia! And He says to Doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29). What a precious gift is our faith! But the obscurity of death — of the final passage from this life to the fulfillment of eternal life — remains difficult for us who continue our pilgrimage through this world. We need to help one another, console one another, and pray for those who have gone before us on that final journey, as God’s purifying mercy prepares them for the perfection of union with Him.

Our Easter joy struggles to “see” through the clouds and darkness that remain on our path, and sometimes the challenge is great. We may not feel joyful — indeed, other immediate circumstances of these days might pull our emotions in many directions. But our joy still has vitality. It can still be “lived” (regardless of how we “feel”) in our persistence of moving forward on the path of the good news of the resurrection. There is much we do not “see,” but faith and hope adhere to things beyond our sight, beyond our comprehension, and sometimes beyond bearing for our fragile human psychological and emotional structure.

When we can’t “keep it together” and are overwhelmed by the exhaustion of our poor humanity, then there is no shame in “falling apart”—but let us make even of this affliction a prayer full of the poverty that opens to God our Father in humility and hope.

While I still miss Dad (very much), the loss of him and my mother has grown more over time into an "acceptance." Their "not-being-around-anymore-on-earth" has taken shape in my life as part of the current terrain of my pilgrimage. I remember them every day and feel a new kind of closeness to them, among other things through the bond of praying for them every day. "Requiem Eternam…"

This Easter, I also pray for the repose of the soul of a young man whose body will be buried on Friday. And I pray for those who have been broken by his tragic death last week, that with God’s grace and in God’s time, peace and healing will come. At every moment, the Risen Jesus is with us. He draws all our broken pieces of humanity together in Himself. He redeems our sorrows and transforms our wounds. Still, they hurt terribly. Oh God, save us! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all. It’s so hard.

I pray for — and have really begun to long for — that Final Day when we will all be together again, with all the tears wiped away. Until then, “we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Remembering Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, right after the celebration in his hospital room of the Vigil Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday.

He was, in an important sense, so much “more” than a Pope. He was a human being full of a passion for life, for the goodness of reality, and full of com-passion for suffering of every kind. He was this gigantic man for whom it was obvious that Jesus Christ was everything: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the cosmos and of history” (Redemptor Hominis, 1). He lived this as a fact, as an interpersonal relationship, as an ardent discipleship, as an adventure of truth and love — and he inspired my generation to want to live this way.

He was a convincing sign that Jesus is the answer to our humanity, that He more than deserves our trust.

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Risen Body of Jesus Heals and Transforms Us

Jesus is Risen!

This is not a metaphor. He is risen in a true human body, His body. This fact is central to our Christian faith.

We need to be saved by the Word Incarnate, because we are bodily beings. Jesus makes it very clear to the disciples that He is not a ghost. He is transformed but totally, concretely human. He is a man with a body—the same man the disciples knew before—who has conquered sin and death and evil. He is glorified in His humanity, which is a mystery, but one that gives “more weight” to this real humanity rather than detracting from it. Here it is important for us to see that the Risen Lord does not “undo” His crucifixion; He rises with His wounds (hands, feet, side) in His glorified body, wounds transfigured by Divine Mercy, to be forever signs of His forgiveness. 

His glorified wounds are a constant and particular invitation to us. We all have wounds and we all hurt one another. The consequences of the violence we carry out against one another are real, and the disfigurement, the pain, the bitterness, and the anger may last long after the wounds become scars. But we who have been wounded must not allow ourselves to be reduced and defined by these afflictions so that they diminish the truth about our lives in our relationship to our destiny, the fulfillment of our true selves which has already begun, and is already shaping us in the present moment.

The Risen Jesus shows us His wounds, and reveals to us that our own wounds have meaning. The Kingdom of God manifests itself, the world begins to be transformed into the New Creation, when—in union with Jesus crucified and risen—we forgive those who have injured us, we love our enemies, we pray for our persecutors.

This does not mean we ignore justice, trying to pretend the wounds are not there. What we seek is the conversion of our enemies—not only that in their sorrow they might try to repair what they can of the damage they have done to us—but fundamentally that our enemies might become our friends, together with us in the Body of the Risen Lord, united in His forgiveness that brings new life—eternal life.