Thursday, April 16, 2015

Looking at Things, Truly...

Since I am 52 years old, I suppose this is my 53rd Spring season. My 53rd Easter season.

I have seen many Winters, indeed. This past Winter was, perhaps, the most beautiful one that I can remember. It was a long and contemplative time, full of unexpected surprises of beauty. No doubt taking pictures helped me to pay more attention, but it was more than that.

I spent a lot of time looking at things.

Now Spring is here with its brief, brilliant displays and waves of color. Our Valley has become a garden. And in this natural season of changes and growth in the temperate region of the north, Easter comes, proclaiming the victory of Love, the coming forth of the One who remains forever among us.

I am still determined to take pictures, and more importantly, to continue to look at all these things.


Whether it be blossom,
or budding twig,
or dark drippy patch of moss on rain soaked stone,
when we look at things,
even for a moment,
we are thrown into wonder,
and wounded
by the widening space of longing
that only grows deeper as the seasons pass.
Life runs everywhere
like flood waters washing over our thirst
and filling us
and bursting holes in our hearts so that we die.
But we are also reminded
that time's tomb cannot hold us.
For we have heard the promise.
It is the promise
that the wonder in the brief glory
of feathery flower petals
is worth seeing again and again,
even when we are old,
when the heart holes of longing are aching
and frail and beautiful,
burning open with soft fire as everything speaks,
in its singular simple way,
of the promise long held, and drawing near.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Death, Taxes, God, and Caesar

And so, it's April 15th. Happy American Tax Day. Blah! Boooo! Help!!!

Of course, not everyone waits until the last minute. Maybe you filed weeks ago. Maybe you're getting a refund.

Still, today is a day that we all must remember the fragility of our lives at the hands of the powers of this world. Even those who benefit from the system know that it is a ponderous, ambivalent, and sometimes capricious patron.

They say that there are two things that cannot be avoided in this life: Death and Taxes. It seems to me not insignificant that the One who embraced death for us all began His life by being enrolled in the census.

The Savior of the world was born in Bethlehem with the help of the Roman imperial bureaucracy and its tax system.

Joseph the Builder paid taxes. Jesus paid them too, in the many years of His quiet labor. When God took human nature, He became one of the multitude in the empire of Caesar. He Himself bid us to pay lawful taxes, to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Mark 12:17).

So today, even as we recognize Caesar's authority to tax our money, we remember also that we must render to God what belongs to God, our consciences. Yet God seems so far away when the forces of the world loom over us. It would seem like nothing for worldly power to crush the human conscience if it runs out of ideas for how to corrupt it.

And if there were nothing but worldly power and then death, what hope would we have? Where would we, who sin for the sake of convenience, find the strength to adhere to truth at all costs?

Only Jesus has defeated death, and in so doing has affirmed that the relationship of the human person to God is greater than every earthly power.

Our strength is in Him.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Christ is Risen, But What About Me?

How often does it happen that during Easter time we feel uneasy or troubled because we don't have the tangible joy we think we should?

Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead and we all sing, "Alleluia!" and eat lamb and sweets. Then we eat leftovers. We sing "Alleluia" all week.

And now here we are, still plodding along.

I know that I'm not in ecstasy. I'm not marvelously changed, or at least I don't appear to be. I still have the same faults, the same incoherence, and the same sufferings. Some people may even face new or greater afflictions in this time of joy and celebration.

Is there any connection between the liturgical season of Easter and our "all too ordinary" lives with our daily troubles and stumbling and even catastrophies? Does it make any difference?

We hope that we have been moved closer to God in these weeks and months of prayer and penance, solemn commemoration and reaffirmation of faith, and perhaps we have felt this or seen it in some concrete ways. However, we may also feel "stuck" in circumstances that haven't turned out the way we expected them. We may think, "Christ is risen, but I'm still suffering!"

Maybe my life and sufferings are different from yours, but deep down we are all on the same road. We are all sinners, and we fall and try to get up over and over. We can also have periods in life when it's just like groping in the darkness or collapsing from exhaustion.

And we may ask ourselves, "Where is God, like really, as a source of help?"

Don't get discouraged during this time, even if it happens to be Easter time. Jesus in His wisdom and mercy is drawing us to Himself even when our lives seem like an empty tomb and we still don't feel like we know where He is.

When it seems to me that God is nowhere in my life, the only thing I can do is cry out for Him. And trust in Him. And it seems not to make anything feel better or solve anything. I just have to do it again and again, in so many aspects of my own life.

But He does answer, and He works in His time and His way. Sometimes I can see this, but other times it may take years to recognize the first hints of the mysterious work that He accomplishes, and a full understanding can only be found in eternal life. He always gives enough for that next small step on the path, however small and weak it may seem. He gives enough for each little step.

"Ah, but sometimes it all just seems unbearable!"

That's because it is unbearable.

Only Jesus can carry this kind of pain, this pain that is the journey of a human life into the depths of the Mystery of God. My pain, my life: only He knows it all the way through.

The only hope is to abandon everything to Him. "Jesus, I give myself to you. Take care of everything." Again and again, whatever, and wherever, and how, and why... "Jesus I abandon everything to you."

And Mary is always there. She is there to carry us all the way to Him.

I pray in this Easter season that all of you, my dear friends, will be held by the infinite gentleness and mercy of God. I pray that He will pour out His healing grace into all the places where it is needed.

I don't want to sound like I am ignoring the hard realities of life by kicking up a cloud of "religious talk." I really mean that there is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to bring these burdens, this life, this cry of the heart.

Jesus on the Cross. Jesus risen from the dead. This is the hope that changes and transforms life, that saves us. Where else can any of us go? We have to go to Him, and give it to Him.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mercy Yesterday, Today, Forever

The Octave of Easter. Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Paschal candle continues to burn throughout the Easter season, proclaiming Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and forever.

Trust in His mercy.

He has loved us to the end, through everything. He is the beginning of a New Creation, and He draws us to Himself through love.

Trust in Him.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

We Need To See and Hear Him

John and Peter: why are these men running?
The Sanhedrin, that is, the rulers, the men in power "ordered [the apostles] not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard'" (Acts 4:18-20).

Listen to the Apostles. What do they say here?

What would we say?

Perhaps we might say something like, "we are willing (if it comes to that) to defend the doctrines we hold even if it becomes risky." We'd rather mind our own business, of course. Maybe dabble a little bit in "the New Evangelization" and some works of mercy. Because we want to, y'know, "practice" our faith. And, of course, keep the commandments. We'll do what we are obligated to do. And also what we think we're supposed to do in order to be "good Catholics," right?

Really, this is my attitude 99% of the time: I'm willing to do whatever is necessary for me to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, "I'm a good Catholic, or... at least pretty good...."

JJ, listen to the Apostles: "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard."

This is what it means to be "apostolic." This is a whole level beyond the best of my "99% of the time"! It's not a question of finding a way to fit Jesus into the "larger context" of my life. It's about being drawn into His life, so much so that living means witnessing (speaking, giving, looking at persons and reality in this new way). It would be easier to stop breathing than to stop witnessing.

Wow. How can we become like the Apostles?

In fact, we can't manufacture this attitude within ourselves by our own power. Like the first disciples, we need to see and hear Him.

Christianity, as Benedict XVI taught and as Francis continues to teach, is first and above all "an encounter with a Person who changes us."

Here perhaps we find ourselves saying, "Is such an encounter possible today?"

Many of us don't expect to meet Jesus, really, in the Church today. Yet He is the whole vitality of the Church. Everything comes from Him and leads to Him.

Maybe what we should ask ourselves is another question: "Do we really want to encounter Him, meet Him, see and hear Him, and be changed by Him?"

That's the question. It's also the beginning of a prayer: "Lord, give me this desire... Give me trust...."

Jesus will take care of the rest.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Resurrection: Teaching Us to Trust in Him

Happy Easter Thursday!

Today I present one of my favorite poems from my book Never Give Up (click HERE to learn more). Those of you who know the book are aware of the way in which its narrative is interspersed with poetic prayer reflections, not unlike those I've posted on this blog.

I thought this text was appropriate during Easter week, as our daily toil is touched by the glory of a great hope.

At the heart of this "Divine Mercy Week" is the aspiration and the prayer for the virtue of trust. We hardly even know what it means to trust.

Therefore we must ask of Jesus: "Teach me how to trust in You completely." For if we do not know, what else can we do besides ask? Ask, and ask with confidence, because He will answer. He will form that awareness, that simplicity, that spiritual childhood within us.


Jesus, I trust in You
even in the turmoil of this night:
O let me feel in its wild winds
the breath of Your eternal lips
        enlivening, expanding,
        spiriting dull flecks of my ashy ground
        into form, flesh, body
        of my New Eden everlasting.

For it is You who speak me,
You who call me by name in each moment,
You who penetrate
the spaces within me that I do not know,
the moments of me
        not yet birthed by time,
        nor conceived in the tiny gaps and crevices of my mind,
        nor even beginning to trace dim shadows
               before my near-blind eyes.

It is You who see me.
You who grasp my hand and guide me
in the valley of shadows.
For You have taken every hollow trench
and scaled every slope,
to stand in the fiery sun that has burned me.
You have won the victory
that You proclaim and celebrate each moment,
each day,
when You call my name,
when You call me to awaken
        to the frail pieces of light
        and gray dust of earth’s every morning.

Save me!
For only You know me.
Shut my eyes and stop my ears
from phantom shades who cry out:
        “your name is slave,
         your name is fear,
         blackness is your life.”

You call my name.
O open my ear that I may hear Your voice,
For You carry, whole, within Your Living Light,
the only “me” that will ever glimmer and shine—
        pool of light,
like splendid diamond
clean and cut
with the lines of Your Face.
My real name:
sounding like song, and gushing—
        fresh, cold, sweet water of life,
        that rises up from the deep
        deep well
                of Mercy’s hidden spring.
You call me by a name never spoken before
and never to be uttered again.
Let me live, O Lord, by faith—near blind, near deaf,
        straining the ear of earth to hear the echo of my name
        in gifted speech of hinted truth,
        though shallow like shells:
                Child, Beloved, Likeness, Your Glory
                                              Your Glory.

Lead me,
by the Glory that slips between the crack
of faith’s eye,
        to trust in You,
        to spy the promise of all made new.
Grant me that glimpse,
of all earth’s pain and weight.
Of my fighting, faltering,
fumbling heart’s hope
        washed in White Wonder.

                from Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy
                [click HERE to order; hard copy or Kindle available]

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

No Other Human Face

Left: detail from Ethiopian icon. Right: detail from Chinese illustration.

His face.
He belongs to all peoples,
and yet is always unmistakably himself.
No other human face has ever been loved so much.
No other human face
has ever stirred up so much hope,
inspired so much trust,
or drawn forth the anguish and the longing
and the aching need that cries out
from the depths of our hearts.

This face.

All through the earth he says,
"I am with you. I will stay with you always."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Happy Easter 2015

Happy Easter from the Janaros. Here's our Easter Sunday picture for 2015:

Yes indeed, the kids have grown a lot. Only five years ago, they all fit into a large box:

Of course, if we go back to the year 2001, it's obvious that we've come a long way. Back then, Teresa and Josefina weren't even around. It was three little tykes:

We wait in hope for the resurrection, when the good seeds of our days and years -- sown in the depths of earth -- will blossom and bear fruit in a perfection beyond anything we can imagine. And all our sorrows and tears, having poured out like rain watering the ground, will be wiped away. We will find beneath them our true faces, faces of joy.

Meanwhile, we've got plenty to do in the business of raising kids. Even little kids:
Jojo still enjoys hunting for Easter eggs!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Most Profound Darkness

"We watch full of hope
while awaiting His return,
when Easter will have
its full manifestation.

the darkness of night
seems to penetrate the soul;
sometimes we think:
'now there is nothing
to be done,'
and the heart no longer finds
the strength to love.

However, precisely in that darkness
Christ lights the fire of the love of God:
a flash breaks the darkness
and announces a new beginning.

Something begins in the most profound darkness

We know that the night is darkest
before the day begins.
However, precisely in the darkness,
it is Christ that conquers
and lights the fire of love.
The stone of sorrow is overturned
leaving space for hope."

~Pope Francis

Friday, April 3, 2015

Holy Cross

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you...

...because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

SAINT John Paul II, Ten Years Later

2005 was ten years ago.

It was a hard year. I was pretty sick. During Saint John Paul II's final illness, I was especially sick. I didn't realize at the time that I was on my way to getting better (temporarily). First, however, I would get much worse, to a point which I can only describe (without going into details that no one wants to hear and I don't want to recall) as abject humiliation.

It was a bumpy ride that year.

But April 2, 2005 was not a bad day. Just as thousands had gathered beneath his window in St. Peter's Square, we were all "gathered together" in a mysterious way, within ourselves, in our homes, in our churches. The whole world gathered around his bed to keep vigil and pray and say goodbye. It seemed almost tangible in those final hours that the end of human life is an opening up to God's embrace.

When he died at 9:37 PM, ten years ago, we wept. Something had come to an end. But something new also had begun.

I began praying to him almost immediately. He gained a new availability and a new closeness. He has continued to be a mentor to me, and is now so much more a companion and friend. He is an intercessor, and boy do I need him.

He left us with one final lesson before he died. He taught us how to suffer, to become powerless, to live in a physical state of "abject humiliation." He showed us that -- even in a state of total weakness and vulnerability and dependence -- the human person always remains a gift.

It's a lesson I'm still trying to learn.

But today, I recall a passage from the great encyclical Dives in Misericordia, 14. In the practice of mercy, the one who does good and the one who receives it both "give mercy" to each other.

It is good to consider this mystery of mercy as we commemorate the crucified Love of Christ who saves us through His abject humiliation, His "powerlessness" in suffering and death.

"Merciful love," John Paul II teaches, "by its essence is a creative love. In reciprocal relationships between persons merciful love is never a unilateral act or process." Even when it seems that "only one party is giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking... in reality the one who gives is always also a beneficiary." This is true above all because we "show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts t as if it were shown to Himself." Mercy is different from simple philanthropy: "An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us." Blessed are the merciful, in that mercy is expressive of "that conversion to which Christ has us the way by His words and example" and draws on "the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Spy Wednesday" Pancakes and Me on TV

Yes, we had pancakes for dinner.

No, I did not have thirty of them. But I had a good batch, with butter and honey.

This peculiar bit of "Catholic humor" where people mark Judas's betrayal by eating pancakes is a joke that we don't quite get. Really, pancakes aren't even silver.

Oh well, pancakes are pancakes, and one needs only the slightest excuse to eat them. And perhaps this humor holds onto the wild hope that Judas opened his heart in that final impenetrable moment as the noose was squeezing his neck. We can be certain that even in that moment, nothing was lacking to the mystery of the Divine mercy.

Still, God did not create us to be puppets or slaves. He wants to empower us to love Him freely, but He will not force His way into our hearts. Though we cannot rule out a miracle of mercy in his final moment, we can perceive from what we do know of Judas how the human person falls apart when he turns away from God.

And who among us is immune from the temptation to turn traitor under the weight of the mysterious ways of God? Lord, have mercy on all of us, sinners!

This morning I got a message from a friend saying that the priest who gave the homily for the morning Mass broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network had mentioned my name. This was followed up by some phone calls, so Eileen and I decided to watch the replay of the broadcast this evening.

When the priest began to talk about "John Janaro writing about Judas," I was surprised and also a little confused. I wondered, "When the heck did I write about Judas?" But he cited the text at length, and then I remembered that I had written the reflection for last year's Magnificat "Lenten Companion" for Wednesday of Holy Week.

He gave a fine homily that was based on the text I wrote. I'm glad those texts are still helpful. I probably have a book's worth of Magnificat reflections from these seasonal issues and from the Scripture commentaries.

Of course, Eileen and I both had that funny "gosh, wow" feeling that our generation (at least) still gets from being on actual television. The proliferation of new media platforms in recent years has not yet taken away the glow of that peculiar vanity that only broadcast television can stir up.

Objectively speaking, however, it was an interesting reflection I wrote for last year's Holy Wednesday, so I'll reproduce it below.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Of Lions and Lambs and Other Things

March has come to an end with a bit of the lamb and a bit of the lion all in the same day. Pleasant and windy in the morning.

We've had heat and cold, rain and snow this month, and we still wait for our first spring greens, although the buds are awakening in many places.

By the middle of the afternoon today, Spring showed one of her distinctive faces, as thunderclouds moved in rapidly and sent rain through the Valley. This should help the blooming of the long-awaited flowers.

As March and the Winter quarter of 2015 come to a drippy end, flowers are not the only things that seem "long-awaited."

Play ball!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Interpersonal Community: How is it Possible?

Humans are both individual and social by nature. And according to the plan of God in Christ we are called to live a great and mysterious reality, to discover the fullness of life in an interpersonal community.

But building genuine interpersonal community is a seemingly impossible task. We seem always to be caught in a violent tension that pits personal freedom against collective security and affirmation.

Though some persons of unusual quality attempt to affirm an absolute individualism, most of us are too vulnerable and too drawn to one another to be tempted directly by radical autonomy.

We recognize our value as persons, and also our orientation as persons toward relationship, to be-with-one-another, to live in community.

We are born into families that are woven together through larger groups devoted to various purposes, and we also build up social groups through our own commitments.

Yet "groups" have their own cumulative momentum, their own gravitational pull, their powerful tendency to generate uniformity. People can surrender their own creativity and sense of identity to the "group mentality," and become increasingly determined in thought and action by those who possess the most power. Or they may become afraid of "losing themselves" to the perceived power of the group, and draw back from sharing life, distance themselves in some measure, and fall into a passive (and lonely) indifference.

The only energy that can transcend this dialectic is love. And we are confident that love can prevail, because we know that we are sustained in being and called as persons-in-relationship, in community, by the One who is Love. The One who is Love and Communion is the source and fulfillment of everything.

Therefore, any "group" that is truly human is made up of persons who, in the original and radical sense, have been given to us by the mysterious design of Eternal Love, and to whom we have been given in turn, to love and be loved. And a group can only be truly human if it lives as a communion of persons, which means that it must respect and cherish every person within its sphere of vitality, because every person is made in the image of the One who is Love.

Each and every person in a group has a unique and unrepeatable value, and this must never be reduced to their productive contribution to building up the group and furthering its ends. This is true even (especially!) when a group is united in the pursuit of social, moral, or religious concerns. We must never forget this!

Each person is worthy of love for their own sake, above and beyond what they may or may not "do" for the group.

Even when a group is so large that we cannot know every individual person, we must always remember the dignity of every person. We can at least hold that love for every person in our hearts. We must cultivate the readiness of solidarity, the openness that welcomes the stranger and that lives human existence as a great companionship.

I remember Saint John Paul II. I met him personally, but I also heard him address enormous crowds and there too I felt that he spoke to me and loved me personally. Many others who remember him would testify to the same kind of experience. The charism of Saint John Paul II enabled him to speak directly to the heart of each person, to communicate the love of God for the person.

And now Pope Francis, through his words and gestures, exercises a similar kind of gift to touch our hearts personally, to exhort us, to challenge us and awaken us to new dimensions of God's love and new possibilities for courageously sharing that love.

These special charisms illustrate for us the kind of attention to the person that we seek within our own communities, in whatever collaborative efforts we take up, and whatever groups we belong to in society and in the Church.

We all must pray for the grace to be able to encounter the person with this kind of attention, to communicate and also to be aware, to revere, to attend, to listen to, to serve each person. This is the grace we need to be "leaders" according to the love of Jesus.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Now I'm Gonna Get Serious About Lent... Before... it's... Over!

Okay, so much for "experiments in purple." It's rather a bit of a penance just to look at this murky graphic.

It's taken from a tweet I posted several years ago during Lent. I must have been having a "good Lent" that year. This year... eh, not so much.

These graphics illustrate that I will go to almost any lengths to do something else rather than pray or do actual good works! Honestly, I'm too distracted. I keep saying, "I'll get to it... right after I finish this one more thing!" It's not healthy. It's a bad attitude. And I have decided I'm going to change. I intend to start right after I finish this blog post.

Still, I do want to point out the artistic scheme (pathetic, I admit) that I have attempted to realize in the above graphic by taking two simple sentences of type and running them through the filters and color alterations of PaintNet as well as adding some further details, so that in the end they look like a 1970s tie dye tee shirt gone badly wrong.

I set the words in an oval background of varying shades of purple that moves inward from a tomb-like darkness to an orange bright. Most of this came through blundering with purple-ish filters, but then I saw a sepulchre theme emerging and also the Lenten journey from death to resurrection, from darkness to day, etcetera. So I sketched in the cross to span the opening.

Josefina said, "That's good, Daddy!" Well, she wouldn't just say that about anything. She must like it. On the other hand, she's eight years old. Hmmm.

"But I'm learning something about the software, maybe," I tell myself. Community freeware like PaintNet has lots of possibilities but also limitations, and the instructions are not always clear, at least to me. So it's a process of "learn-by-doing," and discovering how different tools work by... well... using them. I suppose I could call it "media research." Or I could call it "therapy" (because this kind of activity is a stress reducer, at least until it becomes its own obsession). In any case, I suppose it's preferable to wasting time reading political and ecclesiastical gossip on the Internet.

But back to the subject of Lent: Ah yes, besides practicing some online discipline and giving up a few sweeties, well... I don't think I'll win any prizes this year.

And now Holy Week comes upon us. That was fast! The snow just melted. I still haven't spent all my Amazon gift card money that I got for Christmas! Holy Week, already?

A few weeks into Lent this year, I posted this graphic:

This seemed to resonate with many Catholic friends. Of all the things I've posted on social media, nothing has ever been "shared" as much as this Lent/Computer joke! Haha, oh boy... uh, gee... we're all in big trouble.

But really, I hope we've opened up a few places in our souls so that the love of God might work more deeply within us. Sometimes at the beginning of Lent we draw up a large list in the hope of arriving at perfection in six weeks (and most of our list has been scratched by Saint Patrick's day or has at least become "negotiable"). Then there are some of us who feel guilty because our friends have big lists and we... don't.

But these comparisons are not helpful, really. Every person has his or her own vocation, with its own challenges and steps. The most important thing is to take the step that this season places before us.

I tell my children to try to focus on one sacrifice, however "small" it may seem to be, and then be faithful to it. Offer one little piece of daily life, and commit yourself to that offering in freedom. It's not a matter of imposing new "personal laws" on yourself; the Church has penitential practices that are obligatory so that we have a minimal framework for our common life as Christian people. What we offer personally is offered for love, every day. Thus we learn to love a little more.

It is through love that we will begin to glimpse the beauty and goodness of the sacrifices that "law" requires, not only for the time of Lent and Holy Week, but also in the whole realm of morality and growing in Christian maturity. We will begin to glimpse, a little more, the beauty and goodness of the sacrifices and the suffering that life requires of us, and even sometimes imposes on us.

This is how penance becomes beautiful and Lent becomes a time of remembering God's presence. Holy Week is leading to the celebration of Easter, and this celebration is the greatest of all reminders. The whole of Lent would be pretty dark and hopeless if it didn't lead to the joy of Easter. And Easter is near.

Let us hope and pray for a greater attention during Holy Week, a more ardent love, precisely because Easter is near, the Paschal Mystery, the victory of God's Love over sin and death.

In a sense our whole lives are a "Lent" of preparation for our own death, to die with Jesus, so we might rise with Him in the forever-Easter of Love's gift, Love's triumph.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Expectation in the Air: Spring is Coming

Sometimes a picture just jumps right in front of you and says, "Take me!" Thus I was beckoned from beyond the black painted wooden fence.

As the edges of winter give way to spring, I find myself saying goodbye to the restraint and reserve of bare foliage revealing more distant views. At the same time, I can't wait to greet the world's bright blooming colors that are on the verge of awakening.

We've had clouds and cold mists, such as in the first picture, and also crisp sunny days too, like the day this downy woodpecker paid a visit to our front yard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dear Mary, Mother Mary

O Mother Mary,
perfect vessel of Jesus,
help us.

When everything still seems too impossible,
you are there, Mary.

I entrust everything into your hands,
and I ask you
who carried Jesus in your womb,
to bring Him to me
and me to Him,
to bring together
in your maternal heart
what the distance of my weakness
keeps apart.

Mary, you brought Jesus into the world.
Bring Him, ever more deeply, into my life.

Dear Mary, mother Mary.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oscar Romero, Martyr

"It is worthwhile to labor,
because all those longings
for justice, peace, and well-being
that we experience on earth
become realized for us
if we enlighten them with Christian hope.
We know that no one can go on forever,
but those who have put into their work
a sense of very great faith,
of love of God,
of hope among human beings,
find it all results in the splendors of a crown
that is the sure reward of those who labor thus,
cultivating truth, justice,
love, and goodness on earth.
Such labor does not remain here below
but, purified by God’s Spirit,
is harvested for our reward."

    ~Oscar Romero, Martyr, March 24, 1980

Monday, March 23, 2015

Building Houses With Stone Facades

I wrote about this topic not long ago, but I decided to expand on it a little more. At first I was just going to repost it, but that never really happens. I always end up working on older posts and developing them further. So hang in there even if some of this sounds "familiar":

We have heard that the Church is made up of "saints and sinners."

It would be useful to introduce a third category: hypocrites.

The difference between the latter two is that the sinners appear just as they are, whereas the hypocrites -- while not usually trying to pass themselves off as saints (this would hardly look humble) -- spend a great deal of energy trying to convince others and themselves that they are not in the "sinner" category.

The hypocrite scrubs the outside of the cup forcefully and energetically. The world is not going to think it sees a saint, but the hope is that it will see a "good person," an admirable person, perhaps even a person who is "making progress in spiritual growth" and who therefore deserves some credit. Indeed, most hypocrites like to see themselves this way.

I know all this stuff, because I'm a huge hypocrite.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ....but I admit it, so at least I'm not like those other hypocrites who don't even care about their hypocrisy. I'm humble about my hypocrisy, so at least I'm better than them!
"Thank you, God, for not making ME like the rest of those hypocrites. I openly admit my hypocrisy. I try to be better. I'm not judgmental, not like all those other judgmental and obnoxious people; I'm not like those people over there who run the 'Smash ALL The Bad Guys NOW' website and the 'Prudence and Compassion are for Wimps' blog, oh no, NOT ME. And I'm not like all those messed up immoral people in the secular Western culture, either. I'm good, basically. l follow the Church. I pray. I'm balanced and charitable. I'm...
Wait, what's happening here? Who do I sound like? Here I am, "in the back of the church" because I want to LOOK like the repentant tax collector, and meanwhile I'm saying, "Thank God I know I'm a sinner, not like that Pharisee up there in the front. And that I'm here at least, not like all those nasty people who don't come in at all!"
That's not what the real tax collector did....~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It seems that I'm the biggest hypocrite of all, because I want to fool everyone!

I can thank God for one thing: I'm also a terrible actor! Not many people are actually fooled by me (other than myself: I'm a master at fooling myself).

People who know me can easily see the wildly incoherent mess that I am as a human being, but also the good that is mixed into it (often in qualities and actions that are not the focus of my attention, that I don't particularly nurture in my efforts to construct my outward appearance).

They see it better than I do, because I'm desperately intent on fooling myself and I always at least partially believe the self-image that I try (or feel compelled) to construct.

Thank God, there are some people who love me anyway; they love the whole "package," and put up with my blindness as they try, gently, to lead me in the right direction. For me, there's no question that my wife ranks number one on the list of these people.

It's a patient and slow and long-suffering process for these people, to chip away at this hypocrisy that pains them because they can see how much it obscures the real beauty of the one they love. It's a great work of mercy.

Of course, I know I'm not the world's only hypocrite. Of the "saints, sinners, and hypocrites," the third category is probably the largest by far.

Hypocrisy can be a complex thing. There is the kind of hypocrisy that just plain fakes exterior goodness because it provides a disguise; a deceptive exterior allows greater freedom to rip people off and do all kinds of bad things without incurring suspicion.

But then there is a kind of hypocrisy that grows out of a genuine but desperate desire: people really want to be true heroes and saints. They see that it's good, it's beautiful, it's "what the world needs from them," but a subtle discouragement has worked its way into some deep places in their souls. They realize that they can't make themselves be really, truly holy. And yet, they know that's the way they're "supposed" to be, and the way they really wish they could be.

Most of us who consider ourselves "good Christians" probably know this feeling. We try to be "good," and we wish we could be "holy," but even with all the books and retreats and spiritual practices we just can't seem to make it happen.

So we try to do it on the cheap. We try to construct ourselves into the people we think we should at least "look like." So many of us are building houses of rotting wood with stone facades. There is real goodness in us, real aspirations, real gifts, but we try to use them to decorate the outside.

And we are afraid to look any deeper than this exterior, this facade, because we want to believe in our strength; we don't want to see the naked, cold, hungry, lonely person inside that house. We are afraid of that person -- that unsolved riddle that is at the deepest core of ourselves -- because we don't know what to do with that person, and we can't imagine that anyone else would want to love that person.

I know I'm being hypocritical in this way all the time, but I suspect that my experience is not uncommon. 

Really, who among us is not, in some way, in some respect, cheating (just a little bit?) in the project of building themselves? We're fibbing or we're faking or at the very least we're hiding the messy stuff.

We're hypocrites.

Woe unto us?

What can we do? After all, our Christian vocation and mission is all about witnessing not just with words, but with our lives. So if our lives are a mess, shouldn't we at least have a strategy to try to make them look good, y'know so as to "attract people..."?

What else is there? We can't just give up completely.

I think there is another place to start. None of us want to go there, because it means "going to the margins," to the furthest existential periphery, to the greatest real poverty we know. If we don't go there, then no matter how many things we do to help other people (even poor people), nothing will really change for us. 

We must seek out that one person whom we really wish more than anything would just go away, that cold, hungry, sorrowful person inside ourselves, that poor person. The person we are trying to make disappear behind walls of hypocrisy is our own self.

That person is starving for life, gasping for breath. Let us not suffocate that person entirely. Let that person breathe. Let that person show the wounds and admit the helplessness and feel some of the aching of the endless hunger and thirst.

But also, let the light of faith touch that person. Take the risk that Jesus has really gone all the way down... down even to there. Let that person cry out to God.

Because Jesus is there. He has already passed through all of our stones. He knows us behind all our hypocrisy and all our facades. He brings His love, especially, behind the walls.

Let that place inside us where there are no illusions be a place that begs for mercy. There is that place where we recognize that we are a total need for Him, and from that place let us cry out and give the whole mess and the hypocrisy and everything else to Him.

He will build us up.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why So Many Words?

I'm rarely at a loss for words.

I have a talent for generating words, and using them to express things in vivid and coherent ways. These words, however, emerge from a heart that is drawn up or pulled down by conflicting motivations.

I have asked myself, "How often, when I speak or write, am I truly seeking to edify reality, to affirm what is good? How often, rather, are my words angry, distracting, or selfish?"

So many wasted words! And yet I have a desire to speak the truth. I have the desire and the prayer that my words might be works of mercy and instruments of peace. Still, I am always running into obstacles, encountering the grasping and vanity and folly within myself.

I think perhaps we speak foolishly because we are insecure. We seek attention with our words, even at the expense of others. Why? Because we are afraid that we are not loved. Or, rather, we have forgotten that we are loved. We are not nourished by a vital connection with the One who loves us.

We need prayer. And not just more words of prayer. We need silence.

We need to let Him love us.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bread For Saint Benedict

The Transitus of Saint Benedict, from a medieval monastic manuscript.
Today is the old Roman calendar feast of Saint Benedict, as it is one of the days that ancient liturgical usage assigns to his death. Other references indicate the day as July 11, the current feast day in the Roman calendar. A decision was made in the 1970 revision to give precedence to the July date so that the universal feast of Saint Benedict would no longer fall during Lent.

The Benedictine and Cistercian orders, however, observe several feasts of Abba Benedict with the rank of Solemnity. These include July 11, but today is still marked for the particular commemoration of Benedict's passing from this life to eternal glory, known as the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

The end of Benedict's earthly life is a good moment to look at how it all began. We can observe the unfolding of his "conversion" -- in his case, the story of the vocation that took him from the Roman nobility into the desert, and then shaped him to receive the unique charism he gave to the Church.

A perspective on that formative experience is presented in this month's installment of Great Conversion Stories in MAGNIFICAT, between yesterday's and today's prayer sections. I'll shall place it here below as well.

I'm especially fond of this article, not only because of our own family's devotion to Saint Benedict, but also because of the way the story told here highlights a relationship in Benedict's life that so easily escapes notice, yet was so fundamental to the initiation and growth of his vocation.

Holy Father Saint Benedict, pray for all of us,
for the whole Church
and for all who follow your charism
or are inspired by its example,
that as we pray and work,
we might love Christ over all things,
and never despair of the mercy of God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not Alone

Right now, you exist because God loves you.

Think about this.

God loves you.

You are loved. You are not alone.

Never give up. Call on God.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Paddy's Day Photo Fun

It was a subdued but happy St. Paddy's Day for the O'Janaros.

Here's a bit of photo fun:

A shamrock being hugged by a mouse? Whose St. Patrick's Day pin might this be?

Yup. That pin says "Josefina" all over it!

Proof that I did my part by wearing green (short sleeves no less)

Actually, we did NOT have Pesto for dinner. I just wanted to experiment with graphics.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saint Patrick, Evangelizer and Convert

Tomorrow is a very special day for all my friends of Irish heritage, and for everybody else too. Saint Patrick's Day has come again.

Of course my Irish heritage "friends" include my wife (who is 50% Irish) and my kids (you do the math). So I guess I'm connected. :-)

First of all, however, Saint Patrick stands for all of us as a great evangelizer. He is also someone who underwent a significant conversion experience of his own.

My article about Saint Patrick's conversion in my Great Conversion Stories series ran in last month's issue of Magnificat (to which you can subscribe by clicking HERE).

I sometimes make articles from this series available on my blog, and I thought it would be appropriate to reproduce Saint Patrick's conversion story on the blog at this time, in honor of his feast.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Solitude of Our Tears

"The Lord Jesus... took upon Himself
the burden of all our mortal anguish.
His face is reflected in that of every person
who is humiliated and offended,
sick and suffering,
alone, abandoned, and despised.
Pouring out His blood,
He has rescued us from the slavery of death,
He has broken the solitude of our tears,
He has entered into our every grief
and our every anxiety."

~Benedict XVI

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

God Does Not Explain Himself, But He Promises to Stay With Us

"I will lead the blind on a way they do not know;
by paths they do not know I will guide them.
I will turn darkness into light before them,
and make crooked ways straight.

These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:16).

I love this verse. It's probably one of the sources of the well known saying, "God writes straight with crooked lines." As a person who makes so many crooked lines, I am much consoled and encouraged by God's promises and by His presence.

O Lord, I have so little vision of the mystery of my own life that we might as well call me blind. I am blind. I do not see or feel or understand the deepest works of healing that You are carrying out within my person.
You are leading me, especially and most profoundly, in those 'ways I do not know," the 'places of darkness' and all the crookedness of the wounds of my sins. You are leading me through so many secret sufferings, through the pain of my truest prayer that so often cries out for You, trembling with hunger. 
There is always this hunger, this longing for You, Lord, that seems overwhelming. Temptations pretend that there are other ways to fill this hunger, and they come from all directions. Ultimately, they pretend to offer something of You that I can grasp and make my own. But what they offer is not You (as I have learned by bitter experience). I want You. 
Where are You, O Lord? 
Baptism has made me Your adopted son, and has enabled me to live with You in the midst of Your People, my brothers and sisters in Jesus the eternal Son, "gathered" (ekklesia) throughout history and today in Your Church. The Church and the sacraments have brought me forgiveness and reconciliation, healing, growth and strength in so many ways. 
But the crushing human weight of the effects of original sin and the scars of my own broken life remain in me in ways I don't understand. I am still so blind. 
Yet You do not forsake me. You are leading me through the anguish and loneliness that come from being a broken human being who lives in broken relationships, who remains a sinner even with all he has been given, who suffers disappointment and fears death. 
Father, I am Your child in eternal life, but I am like a newborn baby even after these many years: small, helpless, crying out, and not yet able to see.... 
I am blind... perhaps in part because of Your mercy. You shield my eyes from the things You know I could not bear to see. Or You let me have a very small glimpse: just enough to know that the pain is there so that I can abandon myself to Your loving hands, and just enough to see that Jesus is here with me. 
Father, I believe that Jesus is here in the suffering, in the places that seem senseless, in the wounds that never fully heal.

God makes a way here, a way that I do not know. He does not explain these hidden ways to me, but simply asks me to trust in Him, to persevere on the path and share in the darkness and suffering that remain in me but no longer belong to me.

He has made them His sufferings. They no longer belong to me, and no longer define me, because He has taken them through love.

Therefore, I must not try to hold onto them, as if the incomprehensible depths of suffering somehow might give me a claim against God, a pretext to turn away from Him, to doubt His promise that He "will never forsake" me. I must not hold them up in God's face and say, "I accept that You exist, but I don't accept Your world" (as Ivan Karamazov says in Dostoevsky's greatest book).

My very bones cry out, "Why?" And yet as our dear late Lorenzo Albacete put it, "God doesn't give you an answer. He just shows up."

The "answer" cannot be a solution or a formula or anything that I can grasp with my mind. My mind cannot turn this darkness into light.

The "answer" is a fact that I must adhere to with my mind, with trust. This adherence is called faith. Even in the deepest darkness, I must have faith that He is here, that He has not forsaken me, that He is leading me on paths unknown.

God's answer is not a "solution" in the sense we think we want. It's not the ultimate "self-improvement" manual. Nor is it a social or political or psychological or intellectual solution.

God's answer is Love. His Love. God's answer to my anguish and loneliness is the gift of Himself.

Infinite Love doesn't "answer the question" of my pain; it is a response that is beyond all the terms I use to try to ask the question, and all the loneliness and anguish that drive the question. Still, it corresponds to all my human questions; it even intensifies those questions while inviting me to live them within this Love. Love transforms my longing, my emptiness, my wounds.

Love turns darkness into light.


P.S. -- God gives Himself in Jesus. He is Gift. He who is Love and Freedom can only be freely received. My human reason and freedom are respected by the God who created me in His image, as a person. Infinite Love gives Himself totally as a free gift. He wants to raise me up in this gift, giving me the capacity to receive Him and share His life.

This raises a new "question" for my reason, a profoundly practical question that I cannot escape. Should I accept this Infinite Gift? 

I can choose to say, "No."

A gift by nature is offered freely. True love by nature is the opposite of coercion; when we love someone we seek a free response of love. Clearly this must be super-eminently true for the Infinite Gift who is Love Himself.

He wants me to say, "Yes!" He will even empower me to say a "Yes" that shares forever in His life. But He will not force me to accept Him.

Therefore, I can reject Him. There is a great mystery here, because His creative love sustains me in my very being, which means that "I" can never "totally" reject Him because then I would cease to exist. I cannot exist, I cannot be "me," without depending totally on His Love that gives me my very being, and remains always the Source of "me."

Still, He makes me free. I do not have to accept His gift of Himself, His Love and His "way of love" that He has crafted to bring me to my fulfillment. I can resist Infinite Love. I can remain blind forever, because I do not want to let go of my limitations, my nothingness, my way of measuring reality which ultimately comes down to my misery and dissatisfaction. And I can spin endless rationalizations for why refuse to let go.

I can refuse to let go of my sufferings.

But why would I resist the Infinite Gift (who gives me my being) freely offering Himself to me forever? Such a resistance is not only the ultimate misuse of freedom. It is also the ultimate failure of reason. It is the victory of fear.

I cry out in the darkness, "Where am I? Who am I? Why all this pain?" and the answer is "I am with you. I will lead you. No matter how hard, I am with you!"

I am not given "explanations" about the mysterious depths of my own life. I am given Someone who is worthy of my trust. I need to let Him pick me up and carry me. He will never forsake me.

And He will open my eyes, when the time is right.