Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Prayer at Day's End

Lord give us all good sleep
and heal the wounds of this day.
Refresh our spirits
and let us awake
to praise You in the freshness
of tomorrow's youth.
One day is enough for us.
One day's troubles suffice for our strength,
for we are small and weak
and wilt with the coming of night.
More than the span of a day
is beyond our power.
So take us, Lord, into Your Heart
and let us know the promise
of Your rest.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"I Ask With All My Heart: STOP! PLEASE!"

When he gave his message yesterday after the Angelus, Pope Francis remembered that today is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. As he addressed the current conflicts in the world of the 21st century -- especially those in Ukraine, Iraq, and Israel/Palestine -- the Pope pleaded for us to remember the past and learn the lessons of history.

Those lessons pertain primarily to the devastation of war that can arise so quickly when human passions triumph over reason and love. The effort to resolve differences by what he calls "courageous dialogue" is a process that must be taken up again and again, and carried through with perseverance.

"May God give the people and their leaders the wisdom and strength to carry along the path of peace with determination, resolving all disagreements with the tenacity of dialogue.... I hope the mistakes of the past will not be repeated."
"Let us remember that all is lost when there is war but nothing is lost when there is peace. Brothers and sisters: no more war, no more war. I think above all of the children, whose hope of a respectable life and of a future are wrenched away from them; dead children, mutilated children, children who play with remnants of the war instead of toys. Please stop, I ask you this with all my heart, stop, please" (Pope Francis, Angelus, July 27, 2014).

"I ask you this with all my heart: STOP! PLEASE!"

Why is the Pope pleading for peace on this day?

World War I was the beginning of a terrible lesson for humanity regarding the monstrous destructive possibilities of technological power. The ever greater possession of such power today corresponds to an urgent responsibility for us to become peacemakers: as individuals and communities, peoples and political entities. Francis's passionate words -- "No more war! No more war!" -- merely echo the tremendous plea of Paul VI before the United Nations on October 4, 1965: "Jamais plus la guerre!" (War never again!)

The Popes of recent times do not intend to establish pacifism as an absolute moral principle. We know that the Catechism (see, e.g., ##2302-2317) recognizes the justice of legitimate and proportionately restrained defense, and honors those who serve their countries and humanity -- those who stand ready to defend innocent, vulnerable people against violence and aggression. The Popes are not promoting an ideology of "pacifism." They are praying for something very concrete, a real peace based on the common effort for justice, solidarity, mutual understanding, restraint, and love.

In a world of globalized interdependence and unprecedented power, peace is imperative. Human beings must not look to war as a means of resolving conflicts or securing their own selfish interests. Too often, war has been "politics by other means." This has always been wrong, but the 20th century has taught us how horribly wrong it can be. We must be vigilant, because this horror begins within our own hearts, and today more than ever we possess the power to externalize our own violence in a way that brings catastrophe and unimaginable misery to whole peoples, and possibly the whole world. If we are to be peacemakers, we must grow in vigilance and responsibility.

But have we grown? Is the human race more vigilant and more responsible today than the people of a hundred years ago who initiated and cooperated in an explosive nightmare? No one wanted "the Great War" in 1914. It was pride and fear that sparked it, and stubbornness that kept it going after it had spiraled out of control beyond everyone's wildest imagination.

What happened a hundred years ago today? When we look at the events, we recognize a certain familiarity. We have these same kinds of struggles today, in different contexts. We have local tensions between peoples in specific places. We have great powers with complex interests, who want to control spheres of influence. We are afraid of one another. Have we learned anything?

What happened? Tensions in Central Europe between Serbia and the Austro-
Hungarian Empire rapidly escalated to the war declared by Austria at dawn, July 28, 1914.

Europeans still hoped that the conflict might be contained. Perhaps this would be "just another war in the Balkans." But as soon as the shooting began, the gravity of the danger became evident. Standing behind Serbia was the Russian Empire. The Tsar was under pressure from revolutionary movements and divisions within his own government. Russia's strong stand would unite the nation... though it would only be for the short term. Meanwhile the crumbling Hapsburg Empire, seemingly unable to adapt its traditional multinational organism to the exigencies of the 20th century, could not have shaken the rest of Europe on its own. But their neighbor had found success in establishing a powerful and prosperous nation-state. Germany felt strong, but also new, and nervous. They were uncertain about the growing strength of the French on their Western border and the Russians on the Eastern border. The German government and military command would decide that their alliance with Austria and a looming confrontation with Russia represented an ideal pretext for them to establish their own security by a preemptive war against their competitors on both borders. But then there was Belgium, and England's promise to protect Belgian neutrality....

On July 28, however, there was still hope for containing the conflict that had just broken out. There was hope for mediation, for mutual understanding between the parties. It would not have been easy to reach this understanding, and it is foolish to be naive about it. Nothing is more difficult that dialogue and reconciliation, which has to build step by step. It requires tenacity and a kind of inner heroism that perhaps has not yet been seen in the political sphere. It is a heroism we need very much.

Today, a hundred years later, there is still hope. Let us be vigilant. Let us pray for heroes to arise in our midst. Let us pray that we might become heroes, peacemakers, sons and daughters of God.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The News: How Can I Know What to Worry About?

Tensions, conflicts, disagreements, arguments, violence, destruction. I find it every morning when I read the news on the Internet. July 24, 2014 is full of such stories, with details of facts, unconfirmed rumors, analysis, predictions, hopes, fears.

In more than thirty years of reading/watching the news, I have seen many "decisive moments" that were unimaginable and inconceivable before they suddenly happened. (Only in retrospect could we trace the lines building up to these moments.)

I've also seen huge amounts of attention and analysis poured out over events that never rose to their expected significance. Other issues have built up slowly over the years, and I know from the study of history that great changes often happen gradually, without drawing much attention to themselves.

Still, these times we live in today -- with so much admirable achievement and so much dissipation and chaos -- seem to point to the inevitability of a shattering conflict. Yet rarely has there been an age in history when thoughtful people haven't had expectations of imminent perils arising out of what has always been called "the evil of the times."

Human history is always ambivalent, because the human heart is ambivalent. As Solzhenitsyn says, "the line between good and evil passes through the human heart." We so often look at the day's events and wonder, "When is the great crisis coming?"

We don't know where events are leading. All of us have the responsibility, in different ways, to be attentive to our environment and our circumstances and seek to foster the good as much as we can, even as we work for victories of goodness within ourselves.

Still, there is so much that is beyond our control.

Allow me for a moment to use a homey, "old media" analogy: I could have read the newspaper today. Read about more escalation in Ukraine, more Gaza, more "Islamic State," more suffering, more refugees. But my newspaper would not come with red markings indicating that here is the big story. Here is the story that signals the beginning of the end of an epoch, a gigantic catastrophe, a great crisis that is apocalyptic at least in the sense that a world (if not the world) is coming to an end.

There are no red markings in the paper today that say, "a hundred years from now, this is what everyone will remember." It's eerie, reading the archives of the London Daily Telegraph from a hundred years ago, from July 24, 1914. Seven columns on every page packed with the news of the times. An English reader would not have guessed that the kerfuffle in Central Europe was about to put his nation at war with the Dual Monarchy and Germany, that a generation of Europe would be hurled into an abyss, that a world that began with the imperial ideal of Rome was entering its final days.

The English reader could not have known this, nor could he have done anything about it. However, he might have been very nervous about a growing confrontation that was the urgent talk of that day. Irish "Home Rule" had finally been granted by Parliament, but the controversy only seemed to grow. The Protestants of Ulster were furious, while Irish nationalists were not ready to trust what would have been "Dominion" status right under England's shadow and still opposed by powerful opposition in the English Parliament.

The page above notes the continued growth of opposition militias, the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers. There was talk of civil war in Ireland, and in the next couple of days there would even be skirmishes. Ironically, both militias turned to Germany to purchase arms.

But then came the Great War. Home Rule was suspended and the men from both militias joined up with the rest of Great Britain's fighting generation to face a new and unexpected enemy. Only a few of the most radical of the Irish republican volunteers refused to join with the British army. They remained behind, apparently insignificant in 1914. However, their moment would come. Ireland would have civil war, independence, and continued conflict in the North that would still be writing headlines at the end of the century, and that today holds together only by a fragile peace.

Thus, the decisive moments of history continue to unfold, and our times are not different insofar as the struggle between good and evil continues in the world and in the daily challenges that our hearts face.

Only at the end will we see everything, at the true decisive moment -- a moment that is already ours in hope -- a moment when the world and all hearts will pass through the fires of Mercy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Not a Smiley Face

No, this is not a cyclops with a smiley face.

If only this sad similarity could make it so. What is this thing? It looks "familiar," in a way, as if it were just another instance of graffiti on a wall. Out of its context, there is little about this cartoonish marking that would cause us to suspect the sinister intent behind it.

This is the letter nun in the Arabic alphabet, corresponding to the Western letter "N" -- in standard typography it looks like this:

Thus we have an "N" with a circle around it, spray-painted on a wall. The circle with the letter nun, however, is found on walls and doors all over a town in the Middle East. The town is Mosul, in the province of Nineveh, in a country that -- for now, at least -- still bears the name of "Iraq."

The "N" stands for Nasara. Nazarene. It marks the dwelling places and the property of "the Nazarenes." This is a derogatory Muslim term for those who follow "the Nazarene," the man from Nazareth.

Jesus of Nazareth.

A violent Islamic jihad organization that styles itself (most recently) as "the Islamic State" is marching toward Baghdad. There they hope to realize the bizarre and destructive fantasy of restoring the Islamic Empire. There is a grim, grey bearded lunatic among them who has already proclaimed himself Caliph.

The I.S. is a revolutionary force born from the tumult in Syria. Their success in Iraq is due primarily to alliances with disaffected Sunnis who feel oppressed by the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad, and to the incoherence of the Shiite government, which has accomplished little beyond oppressing the Sunnis.

The world groans at these wars that won't go away. A passenger airline shot down over Ukraine. Israel and Gaza. And this too; what is one to make of it? Iraq is falling apart, and Kurdistan is beginning to look like the safest place in the region.

But there is a deeper violence at work here. The Islamic State gave the followers of the Nazarene an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a crippling "religion tax," go into exile, or be put to death.

The "N" marks the property of Christians. It indicates, ironically, that this property no longer belongs to them.

In fact, the Chaldean Christians have been in this region since the time of Jesus of Nazareth. They are the ancient inhabitants of this region, the children of Abraham's cousins. They have remained distinct from the Arabs who conquered them in the first millennium, but they have lived with them. Along with other ancient Christian communities, they have contributed to the formation of complex societies in the lands of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq (and also Egypt). These societies built up centuries of religious tolerance.

But these societies could not endure the political exigencies of globalization. It is an atmosphere where radicals flourish, and ancient peoples are worn down relentlessly.

The West has experienced terrorism at the hands of radical jihadists. Chaldean Christians, however, are being subjected to the horror of genocide.

The mad Caliphate is not likely to last, but it may last long enough to finish the work of dispersing and destroying the heritage of one of the world's most ancient communities. The Christians of Mosul have fled to Kurdistan. Their churches are being burned.

The Mass is no longer offered in Mosul. The people who have given continuous witness in the land of Abraham to Him who is the son of Abraham are perhaps finishing the long journey into exile that began a decade ago, when radical groups emerged following the downfall of the secular dictatorship.

We must pray and make sacrifices for our suffering brothers and sisters. We must remember them. We must embrace them in our hearts, in solidarity.

We pray, above all, that their faith will endure. A heritage may pass away. A people may disappear from history. But they will rise again, by the power of the One who dies no more, over whom death has no power. Because the Man from Nazareth is risen from the dead.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Brothers Janaro

Left: Walter and John Janaro (with Santa), around 1967. Right: At Dean's Steakhouse, around 2013. People say we have
the same facial expressions in these two pictures. I think they may be right! But we definitely have different hairstyles. :)

Happy Birthday to my older brother, Walter Janaro!

I'm sure he doesn't want to appear on this blog, but I'm also sure that my two biggest and most faithful readers (our parents!) would enjoy these two photographs that span most of the years of our lives. And indeed it has been a special blessing that, for the great majority of those years, we've lived near each other.

Reading with Jojo and Teresa
These day's he's known around our house as "Uncle Walter," and he belongs so much to our family that it's hard to imagine our life without him. I know that it is a real grace to have a brother who is a person of faith, who is close to me and who more than gets along with Eileen and the family. He is my only sibling, and his personality is very different from mine in many ways, although we also have much in common too. The strongest bond between us, however, is our faith in Jesus and our commitment to Him in the life of the Church.

My brother has always been a man with an amazing capacity for friendship. For many years, he has been a mentor for college students (he is the registrar at Christendom College), and also for high school kids in his CCD class, and for all sorts of people who pass through this little part of the world -- friends of friends, family members of students, neighbors, people from the parish, and from many other places.

This genial and loyal man has a great memory and a great heart for all the people he has known. College alumni have grown up and sent their kids to school, knowing that Walter would be there to make them feel at home. Walter has never married, but I think he finds himself called to play the special role that he plays in the lives of so many other people.

He has been a great friend to me, always a source of help, a voice for common sense, a loving brother. Thank God for him. Ad Multos Annos!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 16, 1914: THE ULTIMA RATIO

One hundred years ago, July 16, 1914, there was lots of important news in the London Daily Telegraph (which cost one penny).

After a couple of pages of stock and banking figures we arrive at the big news of the day: the scandalous divorce trial of an actress known as Queenie Merrill. Meanwhile, Parliament is buzzing about election reform, budgets, and what is clearly Britain's most pressing political problem: "Irish home rule." An advertisement for skin creme assures us that "it is justifiable for every lady to regularly use" their brand, in order to "render herself more attractive and her skin more lovely." There is much excitement over an upcoming international boxing match. Theatre listings are on page 10. More articles on page 11. Seven tight columns of this and that. Foreign news. Parliamentary debt. Ulster again.

What's this?

Next to a column on the formation of a new society for musical composers we have news of some sharp remarks from the Premier of the lower house of the Hungarian Parliament. "Austria-Hungary's relations with Servia [Serbia] must be made clear." There were reports of Bosnian revolutionary agitation (although "the reports turned out to be baseless") and reported fears for the safety of Imperial citizens in Belgrade; he had asked the Serbian government to insure their safety with appropriate "precautionary measures."

Clearly, the six paragraph article conveys some significant stress way over there in Continental Europe. There has been "agitation" in the region for the past two weeks, ever since a Serbian terrorist (possibly linked to elements of the Serbian government) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

This is serious business; any unrest "must be repressed with the utmost energy." However, it doesn't appear that the good Count Tisza wanted anyone to worry at this point. He assured the House that "the responsible authorities were fully conscious of the interests bound up with the maintenance of peace."

Nevertheless, the Premier wanted to make sure not to rule out what might become necessary as the LAST RESORT in the clarification of things. He said that "the State that did not consider war as the ultima ratio could not call itself a State."

After this statement -- the London Daily Telegraph  of July 16, 1914 informs us -- the Hungarian Assembly broke out in cheers.

Two weeks and five days later, Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, joining in alliance with France and Russia. World War I was about to begin. History was about to go totally off the rails, but I wouldn't have known it from reading the newspaper from 100 years ago today.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Saint Bonaventure Shows Us How It's Done

"He, therefore, who is not illumined by such great splendor of created things is blind; he who is not awakened by such great clamor is deaf; he who does not praise God because of all these effects is dumb; he who does not note the First Principle from such great signs is foolish. Open your eyes therefore, prick up your spiritual ears, open your lips, and apply your heart, that you may see your God in all creatures, may hear Him, praise Him, love and adore Him, magnify and honor Him" (Saint Bonaventure, The Journey of the Mind to God I:15).

As has become my habit, I have celebrated the feast of St. Bonaventure by "doing some theology." Or rather, to put it more simply, I have read, pondered, and written a bit, and I will offer a few ramblings here.

When reading St. Bonaventure, I am inspired by his meditations, in which the mystery of the Trinity is found everywhere, and the origin and destiny of all things resonate deeply. Bonaventure's Journey of the Mind to God is full of illumination until the point of the final abandonment of self in an ecstasy of love that leaves everything "behind," even the understanding. It is the darkness of losing one's self, of being conformed to the Cross of Jesus.

I also read with all the proper interest -- and all the strange, ambivalent instincts -- of the professional theologian. I am perplexed by Bonaventure's philosophical anthropology, where Augustine, Anselm, and Aristotle all meet and mix. The presence of God to the soul (and therefore to the intelligence) appears to be the presupposition for all knowledge. Yet this is not ontologism, surely. This is something else: something like Augustinian divine illumination and Anselmian apriori certainty of God, combined to serve as the light that bathes the mind and everything else with a wisdom that grows brighter and brighter for those who seek it. St. Bonaventure is describing how a human mind redeemed by Jesus and following Jesus experiences reality. He is describing how he experiences reality.

Nevertheless, the Seraphic Doctor is practitioner of the medieval scholastic method. He speaks with the ordered discourse of the University of Paris. We can't resist the urge to "take him apart," and isolate theoretical presuppositions, and perhaps we're not entirely wrong in this effort. Is Bonaventure advocating a dynamic intellect with some sort of "a-priori" luminousness of Divine presence and action impelling the mind to go out to meet reality (and return to itself)?

Karl Rahner and young colleague Joseph
Ratzinger at Univ. of Munich, mid 1960s
I can be forgiven, I think, if I find some affinity here with the epistemology of the enormously significant twentieth century German Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (1904-1984). I'm not the only one to compare Rahner with Bonaventure. Rahner appears to clarify how an approach like Bonaventure's can avoid ontologism by presenting this presence of God not as an innate object of knowledge, but as the (a-priori) condition of possibility for the knowledge of everything else. Rahner took in many directions his highly original effort to bring together classical Christian thought and modern philosophical approaches. His work was brilliant, yielding fascinating insights, opening new and fruitful perspectives, but also weighed down by an ambivalent project to rescue from itself the subjectivism of post-Kantian philosophy.

It has been argued (by, among others, his fellow German theologian Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI) that Rahner's intellectual system led him in the direction of certain theories and tendencies that gave priority to subjective experience over the objective encounter with Christ in the Church. The ultimate effect of Rahner's project on Catholic thought remains to be assessed, but in Europe and North America (at least) there hasn't been much to applaud so far (hashtag #Understatement). 

Unlike many Rahnerians and post-Rahnerians, St. Bonaventure doesn't end up in a metaphorical cul-de-sac (or off a metaphorical cliff). Why is that? I think it's because Bonaventure didn't worry (the way we do) about "Bonaventurianism." He didn't care about his "thought;" he cared about Christ! He was attentive to his task: he preached the faith, he taught it, he pondered it... because he loved Jesus.

We may try to tease out Bonaventure's theory of knowledge, but we must remember that for him it was never a matter of bare epistemology; it was always part of the Christ-centered, graced and mystical journey of the soul to union with God. It was always about his journey to God. As Gilson points out, the context of mystical theology shapes all of Bonaventure's thinking. Hermeneutics are important.

A mystical hermeneutic may be what we need to draw out the profound and enduring insights of Karl Rahner, the fruits of his own attention to his task over forty years, and his own journey to God, his love for Christ and the Church, his sorrow for the great alienation of the human being in the twentieth century. He found it necessary to enter into the "dark night of the world," to preach that the love of God draws close to the human person in the darkness. People are obsessed with the things of the world, and yet these things fall short of their desire; these things say, "go beyond us" but people do not see anything in this "beyond" -- our society has buried God and left him in the past. What, then, is this abyss beyond all things?

Here Bonaventure might say that the darkness seems like nothingness because people have allowed themselves to forget God -- that they only fear "darkness" because it seems to be an absence of the "light" that they (somehow) already "know" and therefore expect to find and want to possess forever. "Non-being is the privation of Being," Bonaventure says, and therefore "it cannot enter the intellect except through Being" (Journey V:3). As in Bonaventure's time, so also in ours, "when [the mind distracted by limited things] looks upon the light of the highest Being, it seems to see nothing, not understanding that darkness itself is the fullest illumination of the mind" (Journey V:4). Rahner would agree, and he sought ways to communicate this to people in a darkness deep and thick, an abyss that stretches beyond all of the unparalleled frenzy of dissatisfying activity and disorientation.

It is not my intention here to write an intellectual tribute to Karl Rahner, a theologian with whom I have significant disagreement, and about whom I've written and spoken with criticisms that I think are valid (even though they have not always been entirely fair to the complexity of his thinking). Rather, I am celebrating the feast of St. Bonaventure by studying and pondering this work we call "theology," a work that I have been called to lay aside for a time, for reasons that I do not understand but that I believe are good. In this darkness there is a light.

There is Jesus, who helps us by being present in the places where we seem to see nothing. He fills these places with His wounds.

For "one cannot enter into the heavenly Jerusalem through contemplation unless one enter through the blood of the Lamb as through a gate..., by the cry of prayer, which makes one groan with the murmuring of one's heart..., the cry of prayer through Christ crucified" (Journey Prologue:3-4).

Friday, July 11, 2014

Benedict on Benedict (and Other Things Worth Remembering)

Saint Benedict
Today is the Feast of St. Benedict. I think this is a good moment to remember the Pope Emeritus who bears his name, to pray for him, and to recall that his spectacular patrimony of papal teaching has not disappeared, but continues to offer much that can enrich us. Here we recall Pope Benedict's masterful Catechesis on the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, which is both profound and accessible, the fruit of outstanding scholarship, a life of prayer and meditation, and the teaching charism of the successor of St. Peter. His teaching is a seed destined to bear much fruit. Here he speaks of St. Benedict, the Father of monasticism in the West, and of an enduring path for all human beings who seek God and have been drawn by the invitation of God's love.

"St. Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Saint Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

For Ages "Fifty PLUS"!

My wife bought me this toothpaste.

"Hey, what is this... toothpaste for old people?"

No, (or, rather, yes) that would be me, actually. I am "50 PLUS" -- and marketing is determined to make me feel good about it. Elegant deep blue tones with gold outlines, because I am mature enough that I don't need cheesy and I don't need flashy stuff anymore.

What I do need is eyeglasses to read what the heck is in this. Here's a marketing tip from the 50 plus crowd: "We're more likely to buy stuff if we can see what it is. Just put it in nice big letters."

Of course, Eileen uses another toothpaste. For one thing, she's <cough, cough> still under 50 years old... or maybe I should say "50 MINUS" (heh heh). Also, we've dodged the famous marital crisis over squeezing the toothpaste tube for years in a very simple way: we each have our own tubes of toothpaste (if only everything were that easy).

Anyway, I hope this will help me to avoid "dental conditions people over 50 experience," which is so much nicer a way of putting it than saying, "your teeth might start falling out!"

I don't know; maybe it says that on the back, but I can't read anything on the back at all. Even if I could, I probably wouldn't remember it.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why Does Freedom Matter?

St. John Paul II on freedom. What does he mean? How do we understand freedom?

On this Independence Day weekend it is worth asking ourselves, "Why do we care about freedom, anyway?" And after we have gone through all the standard replies learned over the years, do we really know what freedom means? Do I know why my freedom is important for me? Do I know how to live freely? What does freedom mean, for me, for human beings, for society?

It doesn't mean "the absence of all restraints" or merely spontaneous activity without guidance about the reason why human beings act. A chaotic "freedom" in society -- a disoriented space for the expression of impulses, urges, appetites, and desires -- does not lead to a utopia of independent self-realization. Rather, it inevitably results in the emergence of an oppressive social system in which the strongest and most powerful people impose their desires on everyone else.

Fundamentally we need to be free because, as human beings we know that we are made to live for something, to pursue, obtain, embrace, and be embraced by the mysterious reality that calls out and awakens our freedom in the first place.

This embrace is what freedom seeks in order to realize itself. This is what freedom "wants" to do from the moment it springs up from the profundity of the human heart, and therefore this is what freedom "ought" to do. The word "ought" is not opposed to freedom. It does not imply the dehumanizing imposition "from the outside" of alien rules that reduce and manipulate the person. It expresses, rather, the exigencies of freedom itself.

Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II) was a man who knew what it was like to be deprived of freedom. He knew what it was like to be prohibited by human powers from doing what free people ought to do, which is to try to know and love things as they really are, to search for the meaning of life, to help one another, to cherish the dignity of every human person, to walk toward one's destiny, to love one another. Freedom is for love. And this love does not rest, does not become fully free, until it gives itself to the Infinite One who alone is worthy of it, who draws it continually, beyond all things, toward the infinite life that has been promised to every human heart.

We have been created for Infinite Love. This is why freedom matters.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday U.S.A.!

The United States of America (inc. Alaska) and her neighbors

This is my homeland. My ancestors came from the Mediterranean world, like so many others who immigrated to many countries in North and South America in the nineteenth century, in order to build a better life for their families and a better future for their children.

I am the beneficiary of the desire that brought my ancestors here, of their hard work and their struggles against discrimination and poverty, and also of the great possibilities and generosity of the nation that welcomed them.

Above all, I am grateful to God, who is Lord of all peoples and nations, for the blessings He has bestowed upon this country, my country. I am grateful that He has placed me here so that I might love this country with its great natural beauty, its peoples and their many stories, its freshness and vitality, and its passion for the ideal of a free and just civil society.

I pray that the Lord will forgive us our sins, heal the many wounds of the past, and build upon all the good that has been handed on to us, along with the many new events yet to come that He alone knows, and that He has shaped for our good in His wisdom. May He sustain our confidence in Him in the midst of all trials, tribulations, and suffering.

May we always value and love the dignity of every human being that we, as a new nation, proclaimed on the fourth of July, 238 years ago. God Bless America!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Silence of this Night

William Congdon, Crucifixion series
God is good, and we must turn to Him always with grateful hearts, even when things seem very dark, when we are afflicted, when we can't see the way forward or don't feel like we're getting anywhere, when we search and cry out to Him and we still can't grasp "why?" Jesus loves us with a patience and a tenderness that is attuned to all of our frailty.

Jesus understands and loves us. He understands being human.

We must never be discouraged by our complicated selves, and our struggles and weakness in the face of sacrifices that God calls us to make. These things are hard. He knows that.

And we must never measure ourselves by what other people say or insinuate or might be thinking. We must not be discouraged because we think that something that appears easy for others is a difficulty for us. God knows our hearts, and is teaching each of us to love in that unique way that corresponds to our destiny as particular persons.

Therefore, I must be quite certain that He loves me, and that He will enable me to live fully whatever circumstances I face, whatever burden I must bear. The way that I am called to live and suffer, however, is His way, and not my way. Thus I sometimes won't understand what He is doing in my life, and even when I cry out to Him, I may not always find consolation.

In the silence of this night He works most deeply in us. We must surrender ourselves to Him and trust in Him.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Use Well the Time We Have

"Repeatedly and in many different contexts, we have warned that courts must not presume to determine … the plausibility of a religious claim" (Supreme Court Majority Opinion, Burwell vs. Conestoga Wood Specialties / vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, et. al.).

We thank God for this exercise of restraint by the Supreme Court, given that the courts and the society as a whole regard us as eccentrics, at best. No one understands why we cannot simply join the twenty first century's march toward the triumph of Science, Reason, and Progress (see previous post).

But we cannot. We cannot abandon the dignity of the human person, created by God, created in the image and likeness of God. New kinds of power are being gathered today by those who want to engineer the future of humanity. The catastrophe that awaits us all beyond the horizon of this hubris remains as yet unknown. Those who are not already numb, however, can feel the chill of its monstrous shadow.

Still, we thank God. Today's decision means that (at least for now) government power cannot coerce Christians who own businesses to violate their consciences. It cannot coerce them into facilitating or provisioning activities which they know to be destructive to human love, human persons and relationships, human life.

We have, still, a little space and a little time.

Let us use this time well, to witness to God's love for every person, to continue to build up and bring healing and strengthen what is good, wherever we are free, for as long as we remain free.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Strange and Tragic News of June 28, 1914

June 28, 1914. One hundred years ago on this day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Habsburg imperial heir and political reformer, was assassinated by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo.

This was news even for Americans. And, as the New York Herald says, "consternation was created throughout the Courts of Europe" by an attack on one of their own; there was sorrow and disturbance everywhere that a member of one of Europe's ancient ruling families had been murdered in what was apparently a terrorist plot.

It seemed like a dark moment in the early years of the twentieth century, a disturbing thing that had inserted itself into what many hoped would be the century of the triumph of Science, Reason, and Progress.

No one yet knew that this was the spark that would rapidly set fire to Europe and begin a war like nothing the world had ever seen. No one could have imagined how the science, reason, and progress of the twentieth century would bring forth not only spectacular benefits for humanity but also unprecedented horrors on a monstrous scale.

The Centennial of the First World War has begun.

And a hundred years from now? What will the blogger of the future (or whatever it is they'll be doing by then) look back on in the year 2114? They will know decisions that will have been made and consequences we cannot imagine. Perhaps they will look back upon miracles for which we can only hope. Hope and pray.... When we recall the past, and even more when we look to the present, let us remember to pray.

Friday, June 27, 2014

We Want This Man to be in Charge

Happy feast day in honor of JESUS in His infinitely loving, totally poured out and given away HEART in which He really, truly carries each one of us. This feast reminds me of the important gesture we made most recently in January of 2012, when we participated in a parish group sponsored consecration of our home and family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

We publicly declare that Jesus, in His heart full of infinite mercy and compassion, is the "King" of our family. This is not for us some kind of antiquated decoration, but the expression of our desire, our prayer, that this man be in charge of our home and our family. We want this man with a human heart, who is God, the eternal Son of the Father, to rule our home. We are confident that this is in no way a compromise of our inherent dignity as human persons; quite the contrary, it is a gesture that affirms our freedom, because He is the Way for our freedom to attain its destiny.

So we turn to Him and entrust ourselves to His love and mercy. It wouldn't make much sense as "the symbolism of a human belief-system." It has meaning only as a response to a real man in history who really died on the cross, who conquered sin and death, and who has given Himself with an inexhaustible love to every human being.

We want Jesus to be our King. We want to share through His heart in the life of the God who is Love. We want to love: no matter how often we forget, or fall short, or even betray this love, we want to return and be renewed by the love of God. Insofar as we have anything like a "throne" in this house, He occupies it (with Mary and her heart, never touched by sin and therefore beautiful, and full of room for Him and for us).

They don't look like this all day long!
As the second photo on the right reveals, His throne is on the wall in the midst of everything and everybody, every day. (This photo also gives a hint of where the television might be.) In Jesus, God dwells among us. So it is not incongruous that His picture is in the living room in the midst of books, couches, gadgets, and TV; the place where we do stuff.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we entrust everything to You through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And You know what "everything" really means. It even means watching TV, because in whatever we do, we human beings are seeking the love which You give to us. Give us the grace to find You, to remember You, to live every moment shaped by Your promise which is our hope.

Dear readers, whoever you may be, God bless you all! Trust in Him. Give Him all the burdens and all the fears and all the sorrow. He stays with you. Why not just let this Great Heart love you? He really loves you. He loves all of us even when we're not paying attention (which is most of the time). He is carrying us home.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Scenes From a Wedding Anniversary

Here are a couple of the pink roses that my wife found when she awoke on June 22

The blog has been a little short on words recently. The stats indicate that it's been short on readers too, haha, although it's difficult to assess how many "hits" on a post actually constitute thoughtful reading of its contents. I still have my faithful "core readership" (Hi Dad, hi Mom! ... and others too) and I don't think they will object too much if I post more pictures and less dramatic thoughts.

Eileen and I celebrated our eighteenth anniversary on June 22. Lots of folks on social media already saw this picture from outside the church, after the wedding on that hot day in 1996. I need to make a better digital reproduction, but meanwhile this captures the happy feeling of that day in a better way than any of the professional photographs:

We were young and cheerful, running on adrenaline and a hundred concerns about the reception that had not even started yet, which was good because underneath it all we were both completely exhausted. Eileen had been up almost all night finishing the veil for the wedding dress (she made the whole dress herself -- well, actually with some help from her mother -- and it hangs waiting for our daughters if and when they should have need of it).

Pink flowers, but red wine
My wife has amazing energy now. Eighteen years ago she was a phenomenon (i.e. she's actually slowed down over the years, a little). Then and now, she does everything out of a simple and very rich contemplative soul. She is not a scattered person. My wife has always devoted her energy to things that take time, things that require patience and tenacity. Whether it's getting an education, making a wedding dress, raising a bunch of kids, nurturing friendships, caring for (and suffering with) a sick husband, cooking a Christmas dinner, or preparing the environment of a Montessori classroom: Eileen just does it, and sticks with it until it's done as well as it can be.

It was God's will that she should marry me. He knew that she needed a challenge for a husband. I'm joking, of course. Well... not entirely. I'm a challenge. But I have a pretty good mind (when it's working) and a big heart, and I am grateful to fill it by cherishing her, supporting her, and working with her in living a mysterious common life: a common mission to form and educate our children, and to extend this educating vocation into the wider community. We collaborate as teachers, with our children every day, and then in our works, even though we are usually in different environments using different pedagogical instruments.

I think if Eileen and I were shipwrecked with a group of people on a deserted island, we would probably start some sort of school.

I love her, and I just can't say it enough. In eighteen years we've been through so much hard stuff. When we got married we were "older" than many couples: I was 33 and she was 29. We had lived and traveled and worked and seen a thing or two about life (though not nearly as much as we -- or at least I -- thought at the time). I was a professor, a publisher, and an editor. She was an experienced teacher and had been the headmistress of a private school. We really liked each other and just enjoyed being together (we still do, very much). It was a good solid foundation from which to start.

But we have needed much more than anything we could have imagined back then. Above all we have needed the grace of Jesus in the sacrament of marriage in order to persevere together through the arduous and painful circumstances that life has presented to us. We walk together with a calmer but stronger confidence, because we have experienced the faithfulness of Christ's love. It strengthens our fidelity to have seen that He really is faithful. And yet we will be stretched and tested more in the future, and we will find Him again in new ways as long as we still have need to grow.

With all this we have also found much joy, peace, and trust, and with God's help we will continue to do so for many years to come.

I love you, dear Eileen.

We went to a quiet Italian restaurant at the end of the day: this was a joy!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Grain of Wheat

The Grain of Wheat

Jesus, Living Bread,
hidden love, secret gift.
Jesus, You.
The only You:
reaching, gazing, drawing near,
touching, entering the deepest place
through lips and mouth
as holy food.

The bread we break,
the grains of wheat,
fruit of the earth and work of our hands:
by Your word, Bread of Life;
Jesus, You.
The only You.
Your Risen Body, everlasting—
transfigured Love lifted up
to longing eye and yearning heart
under humble signs, veils
of the Glory in which Love humbles Himself.
Jesus, You.
The only You.
The bread, the food,
the grain of wheat fallen
into our little earth...
into our little sorrow, joy, work, hope;
into our little frustrations, bitterness, vanity, suffering;
into this curving, confining space—
buried with us, Your chosen dwelling place!

Into our breathless earth,
down deep into fallow souls,
shriveled soil, grown barren
from the dense, heavy weight
of so much unoffered love.
Jesus, You—only You!
O Lord Jesus Come!
Burst the ground of my heart
with a harvest of abundant fruit.

  (From my book, Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy published by
   Servant/Franciscan Media. To read reviews and/or purchase, click HERE.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Phonics and Father's Day Gifts

My Father's Day Promissory Note
One of the presents I got for Father's Day was a certificate from one of my children (guess which one) offering to make me breakfast. I'm sure that anyone who has a child in the six year old range learning phonics will have no trouble reading those words in the picture on the left.

Sometimes I feel like kids using phonics come up with more intelligent spellings for English words than the "official" spellings. Unfortunately, we do have to mess with their minds until all the correct (and counter-intuitive) written arrangements of the letters of the English alphabet become habitual for them.

In their natural innocence, however (i.e. while they're still learning), little kids make plenty of "smart mistakes." So it is that my certificate states:


Let's pass over the fact that we still need to work on when to use uppercase and lowercase letters. That sentence clearly says: "I'll make you breakfast if I can."


Well, let me tell you: this is our fifth child going through phonics and it works. Josefina is still catching up with her age level, but she is moving quickly. And a reasoning process is evident in these mistakes, such as "brekfist" which makes perfect intuitive sense. (Who would guess that the word break and the word fast, when combined, would spell breakfast [but be pronounced "brek-fist"]?)

Enough about phonics for now. On to the "brekfist," which turned out to be more like a snack or a light lunch when I redeemed my gift certificate the other day. Teresa and Josefina collaborated on the food preparation. I was even presented with a menu, from which I selected my favorite "Josefina specialty," cream cheese bread rolls, along with fried apples with cinnamon (by Teresa).

They laid it all out on the table in a lovely way. There were more food and drink options, and I probably should have made them work harder, but I'm just not a very big eater these days. Oh, and I already had my own cup of coffee.

My light repast, complete with folded napkin. A lot of cream cheese in those bread rolls too.

Disarmingly simple, but prepared with much love. And I must say, really yummy too! I also enjoyed the company of the two pretty young ladies at the table. Here they are:

I am truly blessed to be their father. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Set of Ideas? A Morality? Or a Person Who Changes Life...

It often seems that we can talk and talk and talk about the Catholic faith, but never even mention the name of Jesus Christ. If we do mention Him, it's often within the context of the "things" we are supposed to believe because we're Catholic. Or perhaps we'll acknowledge Christ as having a central place in Catholic doctrine.

This is not sufficient. This will not do!

To be Catholic is to belong to JESUS in His Church. Life is relationship with Jesus Christ. Without Him we can neither do nor suffer anything. As Catholics we must not presuppose this relationship; we must not take it for granted. We must not assume, "Of course Christ is at the center, yes, yes, yes..." because this center is a Person. Without a living relationship with this Person even "Catholicism" is reduced in our minds and hearts to an ideology, or a party we belong to, or a vehicle for our own ambitions.

Please, let Jesus be at the center of your "being Catholic," because we don't live for abstract ideas or for the project of becoming virtuous by our own power; we live for Him. He gives us the power -- the grace -- to live according to His will (which is His wisdom and love for each of us). He also forgives us, again and again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

He is Already With Us

God searches deep into the heart of every human person, of every one of us, because he wants to find us and to save us. At this very moment He is already with us in our wretchedness. He is already mysteriously at work. Cry out to Him! Never give up!

Click the link for St. Faustina's prayer: All Humankind Calls Out from the Abyss of its Misery to Your Mercy

Monday, June 16, 2014

People All Around Me

Home office. Sort of... Not a man cave but a camping spot.
It's summertime. I plop myself in the living room, in the middle of everything -- which is where I like it best -- and allow the surroundings to blend with my own work. When I open the Internet I open a window on the whole world, right here in the living room in the midst of my family. But in a profound sense the same thing happens when I open a book. A world of understanding is contained in those pages, and something much richer than digital imagery is required to visualize it: the human imagination.

I can easily get lost in these worlds of interactive media, articles, and old fashioned books with pages. But I don't like being thus "lost" -- I don't think the unconscious loneliness of it is good for me. Sometimes I have to be alone, but more often the hubhub that surrounds me is a good and congenial thing. I love being surrounded by people when I think. I also like being interrupted, which is a good thing because it happens plenty.

Don't just leave the pieces here!
The heat is keeping most of us inside right now. John Paul is playing the guitar in his own room (and learning too). Jojo is singing some tune of her own and making a puzzle on the floor. Some of the scattered pieces are under my feet. Drawers open and close in the kitchen, water runs, glasses clink. Actually, it's pretty quiet at the moment.

I write. I pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten me about words, and about life. How do I listen to His inspirations? I feel so dry, sometimes. Where is God? He is inside the needs and tasks of this day, in the children and their concerns, in the time Eileen and I have together, in the rhythm of my work and prayer. When I pray, "come, Holy Spirit," I am asking Him to manifest Himself; to enrich my awareness of His presence. He calls out and gives Himself through the invitation to love contained in the most ordinary circumstance.

His invitations say, "Love all the way. Do not stop at your own satisfaction. Seek the Source of what attracts you, and -- in affirming the goodness of whatever is given in the circumstances -- allow yourself to be embraced by the Source."

Of course, things don't always seem especially good. How often our situation appears to be dull, repetitive, and fruitless. Here especially we must call out to the Holy Spirit, and listen to the silence in which He whispers the secrets of Divine Love.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

His Innermost Secret

"By sending His only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed His innermost secret: God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange."

from Catechism of the Catholic Church #221

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Offering Our Day to God: What Does That Mean?

O Heart of Jesus, we offer You all our thoughts, words, and actions, our joys, sorrows, and sufferings of this day. We offer You everything.

What is it that we do (or at least desire to do, however forgetful we may be afterward) when we "offer" our day to God? "Offering" involves a fundamental recognition; it entails the affirmation of the reality of things according to that inner secret that constitutes their being and goodness: the fact that they belong-to-Another.

And so we cannot possess things by dominating them and reducing them to our own measure. Our life becomes "offering" when we use and possess and love things in a way that takes them completely seriously, because things are a hymn of rejoicing to the One who makes them be, and the only way to truly love them is to join in that hymn.

The ecstasy of the beauty of things is their giving-back-of-themselves to the One who sustains them and calls them to their own fruition. We offer our day when we join in with the "giving" of things, when we allow their song of rejoicing to enter into our awareness, when our engagement of reality becomes a prayer, a "blessing of the Lord" that gives voice to the hymn of creation: Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord. Praise and exalt Him above all forever!

How does this "offering" extend to love for another person? The greatest gift, the greatest beauty in all of creation is the other person. There is much to be said about this. For now, I can only reflect that in loving other persons I am loving others who, like me, are called to the joys of eternal life. This is where the true identity of every person is found. Every person is created in the image of God and called to share in the likeness of God and the life of God. This unique, sacred, personal vocation to belong to God is at the heart of who each person really is.

When I engage in a relationship with another person, I "offer" that relationship through the recognition that this someone is not primarily a source of satisfaction or utility for me, but someone who has a destiny, who is "for Another." To love a person as offering is to love them for who they truly are, that is, to love them for the sake of that Other and their relationship with that Other. It is to love their destiny.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Asking for the Joy that Endures Forever

The sloping valley, the ancient hills, the blue sky streaked with clouds all speak to me of joy.

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit" (Psalm 51:12).

Joy is the fruit of that secure relationship of love with something or someone good. But as St. Augustine pointed out so many centuries ago, every good in this world whispers, "I did not make myself. I was made by Someone Else...." It is only in that Someone Else that lasting joy can be found, the joy that encompasses and fulfills the promise contained in created things.

O Lord, give me the joy of your salvation! What am I asking of God? I am asking for the joy that endures because it is the fruit of a relationship with the One who is worthy of all my love because He is Eternal Love. He is the only One who can exhaust and engage fully and finally the love that has been awakened in my heart by the mystery of life itself.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost 2014

Come Holy Spirit:

"In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe"

(from Pentecost Sequence).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One+One=Three? Something Happened!

Life is a mysterious and wonderful thing. On June 1, 1997, a baby was born. A baby boy. A child. A human person. We named him. John Paul Augustine Janaro.

John Paul Janaro, obviously not a newborn here, but still pretty new.
Everyone is always talking about relationships and feelings and compatibility and men and women and marriage and who should get married and who has rights to what, and on and on. We want to know how we can maximize the mutual satisfaction of this unique physical, emotional, interpersonal bond between two people who love each other so profoundly.

Marriage. We go into it crazy, thinking that nothing could be deeper than our love, and all we want to do is hold onto the deepness and make it even deeper. "Me and you. You and me...." So what happens?

Oh, you mean "children"? People think, "Oh yes, we'll have children too. Of course." But here's the thing: we didn't "have a child" on June 1, 1997.

Saying that is just not enough. Life is mysterious. It wasn't just "a child." It was John Paul. It was him -- this person, unprecedented, unrepeatable, unimaginable, his own self, John Paul Janaro.

Nine months before that day, a universe was created. The Word spoke, and this person -- this "someone," unique, unfathomable, lovable, destined to know and love and exist even after all the stars and galaxies have burned themselves out, to live forever -- this person was created. One day there was me and Eileen and our love for each other, and the next day there was this person.

And then, on June 1, after making himself known in many ways as he grew under the heart of his mother, he was born. He came forth into the light and breathed the air and screamed his head off.

It's a moment when you realize that this "love" thing is a total revolution. My gosh. You make choices. You get swept up in emotions. You love each other and you open your hearts, but you don't "make" anything. Something happens: you don't deserve it, you can't earn it, and when this someone is given to you, it becomes clear that you have been given to him.

Yes, it's "cute"! It's also a friggin' MIRACLE!
Birth is a milestone. It's not the beginning, and it's not the end, but it's a milestone in which a human person says, "Here I am!" Soon it becomes virtually impossible to imagine a universe in which this person did not exist.

Love seems to overthrow mathematics. Mathematics says 1+1=2. Love says 1+1=3. (I'm probably plagiarizing G. K. Chesterton here. Surely he said this somewhere, but I've seen the truth of it for myself. And he would agree that my words, therefore, are not a quotation but a happy coincidence. It 's not about his or my silly writings, but about the fact that life is amazing.)

Love says 1+1=3. Eileen+John=Eileen, John, & John Paul. And Agnese, Lucia, Teresa, Josefina, and the love that continues to shine in the world through them. Are numbers really good enough for what we're talking about here? Sure, you can count children, but real love keeps going on. It keeps being a surprise and a gift that we can't measure.

We don't deserve any "number" of children; each one of them is a gift to us, and we in turn become gift to each one of them. When John Paul became my son, I also changed: I became his father. And this happens again, in a unique way, with each child. We grow in the giving of love, we become gifts of love when we receive the gift of a person.

Not everyone has children. But the miracle of children and families is a sign that the nature of love is the gift. We become ourselves by giving ourselves. This call to love is vivid in the family, because there is this other person who calls me "Daddy" -- I didn't make him, he is a mystery, but he claims me as his father and I want to belong to him in this way; I want to be this gift to him. So it is with each and every child. A family is persons given to one another in this very particular way, through the self-giving love of a man and a woman who commit to each other so radically that they open up a space where new human persons might be created (not on demand, not "made to order," but as the free gift of the One who has fashioned and designed marital love with wisdom and goodness). This mysterious Freedom does not always give children to spouses, but the Gift is always being poured out in ways that are beyond them, their own ideas, and their plans. Spouses who love each other truly open a place, and we must believe that in each gift of spousal love "something happens" that is more that their love, and that makes their love grow.

Families are the sign that this Love is being poured out, everywhere. They are called to manifest in a particular way that we are all gifts to one another. The family is a place where I learn that every human person can say to me, "You are my brother." We are all given to one another in circumstances that we do not control -- circumstances that call upon us to give ourselves in specific ways, with works of love that always have mysterious fruit.

Not everyone has children. But children are a sign for all of us that if we open up our love it will be shaped into an unfathomable gift that is always beyond our calculation. Whatever our circumstances may be, if we truly give ourselves in love, even the most simple gesture is carried in the hands of the One who can do all things, and who always does what is good, who always brings forth beauty, who brings everything to fulfillment.

This life we live is a mysterious and wonderful and strange thing. Sometimes we don't understand it at all. Sometimes it seems unbearable, and we suffer. On the other side of suffering, however, we see (or we will see) that through it all we have been loved.

Our son John Paul has grown in ways we can see and measure. My gosh, he has grown! But the deeper things are beyond our measure. What we see is something that prompts us to entrust ourselves to the mystery that we are all loved, and to move forward in the desire to see the face of the One who loves us.

Wishing you many more Happy Birthdays, John Paul. Thank God for you!

So what grade should I give this paper?

Baseball at age seven.
And then age 12.
And today, at 17 and growing UP.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Remembering the Uganda Martyrs

Icon of the martyrs at the Shrine
In graduate school I first became friends with students and priests from Uganda who greatly enriched my appreciation for the Uganda Martyrs. 22 Catholic martyrs of the late 19th century were canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964. They are commemorated on June 3, the anniversary of the burning-to-death in 1886 of St. Charles Lwanga and eleven fellow Christian servants of the Ugandan Kabaka (King). There are ten other Catholic martyrs during this period who are also grouped into today's feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the beatification proceedings in the early twentieth century.

It is unfortunate that the stories and even the names of their Anglican companions in this dramatic ecumenical gesture of common witness have been lost, as the Anglicans didn't have the kind of rigorous investigative process for beatification or the emphasis on individual saints that is so prominent in the Catholic tradition. The Catholic martyrs, after the collection of the testimony of numerous still-living witnesses, were beatified in 1920. October 18 will mark the 50th anniversary of their canonization, and the Catholic Church in Uganda is dedicating the whole year to a renewal of faith for millions of people who stand today as the heritage of the martyrs.

St. Joseph Mukasa
Among the martyrs who were not in St. Charles Lwanga's group are several outstanding adults, including St. Mattias Mulumba and St. Andrew Kaggwa, both catechists and married men with families. Another of the martyrs who particularly inspires me is St. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, who was the personal attendant of King Muteesa and his son King Mwanga II, and head of the royal household. He was able to obtain religious freedom for Christians (for a limited time prior to 1885), and his teaching and example led to a large number of conversions and strengthened the faith of many of the new Christians. But he also fearlessly rebuked King Mwanga for his superstitious and immoral life and in particular for the execution of a Protestant missionary bishop. The King saw this as a challenge to his absolute royal authority, and he turned against Christianity. Joseph Mukasa was brutally tortured and executed for teaching the Christian faith and for his defense of Christians on November 15, 1885. He is a patron saint of politicians.

This led to further executions of prominent Christians, and finally to the young men and boys who served the King. In addition to being pathologically obsessed with his own power, Mwanga was also a serial sex predator and pedophile. The Christians, led by Charles Lwanga, resisted the King's abuse and protected others from it. King Mwanga demanded that they renounce this faith that opposed his desire to turn his servants into a caged harem of boys subjected to his every lustful whim and brutal fantasy. Of course, they refused and were subjected instead to death for the glory of their newly found Lord, Jesus.

Bishops and pilgrims 2014 (from The Observer,
Online news and opinion journal from Uganda)
Today all these martyrs are the heroes of the Catholic people of East Africa. You can read each of their stories here on the website of the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, which is located at Namugongo, the sight of the torture and death of St. Charles Lwanga, 11 Catholic servants of the King (nearly all of them under 20 years of age), and a number of Anglicans as well. The Shrine is a place of pilgrimage all year round but especially on June 3, which is an official holiday in Uganda and is known as "Martyrs Day." This year a million pilgrims gathered at the Shrine from the region and the whole world to celebrate Martyrs Day.

The Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs
The story of the Catholic martyrs of Namugongo, including their final "death march," was preserved in great detail by Denis Kamyuka, one of the Catholic royal pages who was condemned to death with the others and taken all the way to the place where they were burned, only to be pardoned at the last moment because of the pleas of relatives who were associated with the King's family. It is because of his detailed testimony at the beatification process over thirty years later that we have a vivid narrative of their heroic sufferings and deaths.

Denis Kamyuka was present at the beatification of his companions and friends in 1920, and it is said that he wept for not being among them. But he was spared so that the whole world might know the story of the witness that was given on that day. You can read the story here. There is a litany of the Uganda Martyrs that is published by the Shrine; a profound and powerful prayer for the multitude of pilgrims who come from all over East Africa (and the world) to honor and seek help from these saints who are their forebearers in the faith. Click here for the litany and the invocations.