Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Morality and the Face of Mercy

"Christian morality is not the titanic, willful effort
of one who decides to be coherent and who succeeds,
a sort of solitary challenge in face of the world.
No, this isn’t Christian morality;
it’s something else.
Christian morality is an answer,
it is a moved answer in the face of the astonishing mercy,
unforeseeable, in fact, “unjust” according to human criteria,
of One who knows me,
knows my betrayals and loves me anyway,
esteems me, embraces me, calls me again,
hopes in me, expects from me.
Christian morality is not to never fall,
but to get up always,
thanks to His hand, which takes us."

~Pope Francis

Friday, June 24, 2016

Twenty Years Together

Eileen and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary on June 22. We had a lovely but pretty laid back day, which was just fine with both of us.

Honestly, it doesn't "seem like only yesterday." A lot of life has been lived. We have lots of memories. Yet, in contrast to many of our friends, it seems like we are still "early in the game." We have a kid in college, we have teenagers, and we have a... well, we have a Josefina (who is always "outside the box").

People my age often have in-laws and grandchildren and other adventures with their twenty-something- (or even thirty-something-) aged kids. These are experiences I still cannot even imagine.

God willing, we have plenty to look forward to in the future, and then also maybe (if time and health permit) we can visit Rome again as happy old folks and feel the Mediterranean sun on a beach while we eat linguine with fresh clams.

I thought that, in honor of our twentieth, I would revisit the photography of the years and give you a few peeks. This time, I am posting (as much as possible) pictures of just me and Eileen without the kids. Since Eileen is not a person who relishes being in pictures, it's not easy to find photos of just the two of us, but I have done my best.

What follows is a nice little photo album. I'm sure my own parents (who actually read this blog) will enjoy seeing these.

Wedding picture, June 22, 1996.
Wedding reception, June 22, 1996.
Sometime in 1996, early on.
Skipping ahead to around 2000. We're in Northern California where Eileen's folks live.
This is the summer of 2001. Again at Eileen's parents' house, at that time in the Bay Area. Always loved these visits.
The early 00's, when it was no longer possible to have pictures without kids, but while I was still clean shaven.
January 2004. Eileen is holding Teresa, who is about 13 months old.
June 22, 2004, our eighth wedding anniversary.
Spring 2005 (John Paul's first communion) and Fall 2005 (with Agnese).
Christmas 2005. This was one of the pictures that did not go out with Christmas cards that year. We're both laughing!
June 2007, at the parish picnic. A lot has happened since the previous picture. Josefina was born and back home after
her seven month odyssey in the hospital. My health is about to collapse, and Eileen will continue with great courage.
Easter 2008, during a difficult year. We decided that I should "retire" and Eileen would then begin the certification (and Masters degree) in Montessori Education that undergirds her present career. Here we didn't know how things would work out.
Christmas 2010. Eileen is teaching and all five kids are in the program. Somehow, I managed to write a book.
Summer 2011. Eileen has finished the work for her M.Ed. I've been writing a "blog" for several months.
Easter 2012.
2012 or 2013? At a Nats game. John Paul is with us too. He's taking the picture.
Christmas season/early 2013.
Christmas time 2014/2015.
Six months ago, at Christmas. I had to wear a summer jacket because it was so warm.
Easter 2016
We're hoping to do some more fun things this summer, so maybe we can get an updated picture soon.

Eileen Janaro, you are beautiful. Thank you for these past twenty precious years. I will always love you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thomas More: "A Taste of Your Holy, Blessed Spirit"

Give me, good Lord,
a humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient,
charitable, kind, tender, and merciful mind,
with all my works
and all my words
and all my thoughts
to have a taste of Your holy blessed Spirit.
Give me, good Lord,
a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity;
a love for You, good Lord,
incomparably above the love of myself;
and that I love nothing to Your displeasure,
but everything for the sake of You.

~Saint Thomas More

Monday, June 20, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

We Weep Wet Tears

We weep wet tears
while blood red roses bloom in the sun.
Life drains out from our eyes
and we feel like drops disappearing
in the ruthless rush of endless waters
pouring down a cold dark hole.

But our hearts know that it is not so.
We do not vanish into the arid night.

We each have faces
loved into our own shape.
And I know the unrepeatable jewel that is myself,
holding it in the light of love
for my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Time for Silence, for Mourning, for Listening to God

I have no words.

I have read so many words in these days, as if somehow we might be able to use our voluminous and conflicting words to forget the terrible fragility of human life, the awful vulnerability of our brothers and sisters and our own selves. We are so easily broken and dissolved, and nevertheless we are entrusted to one another. We are responsible for one another.

I have no words of my own for times such as these. They are too jarring, too painfully close to our broken hearts, too incomprehensible....

I need to listen again to what was spoken long ago, to listen as though I am hearing it for the first time:
"Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13).
Jesus said to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22).
"If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).
Whoever loves God must also love his brother, his sister. Do we even know what this means, or how to even begin to love like this?

This is a time for silence, for grief, for sorrow, and for listening to God.

Can we not mourn the fallen, console the sorrowful, and clear away our own noise to make space for God to come?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saint Barnabas the Apostle (June 11)

"The Church in Jerusalem...sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11:22-26).

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Forgiveness: Is It Really Possible?

Deep down, people don't believe in forgiveness. We may talk about it, but in our hearts we don't really think it's possible.

Why is this? It's connected to the deep alienation, the terrible loneliness that we suffer from and that nevertheless we think we must foster and validate in the name of individualism.

We are under the illusion that we must radically establish--each individually and by our own power--our personal being and value. But if I see "myself" as consisting in an autonomous project of self-definition, a project that I carry out alone, I will run into my own limitations everywhere. I will always fall short. And if I am truly alone, what can I do when I fail, other than condemn myself and suffer the condemnation of others.

Thus we become desperate. We try to bend reality itself, so that we can define our failures as success, and demand that others do the same. This can only be brought about by a refusal to look at the heritage of human experience, and the dynamics of real life and its inherent direction. We end up doing violence to ourselves and others. This violence, in turn, must be justified and redefined. We try to extend our redefinition of humanity into the realms of politics, society, and culture, and even to suppress those who dissent. The truth is that we are afraid to be alone with the horror of what we have made of ourselves.

But perhaps our society may begin to notice that redefining the standards of what it means to be human, among other things, doesn't work. We still bump into our own limitations, everywhere. We who claim to be "free" are in fact a society obsessed with guilt, terrified of failure, and full of self-loathing. We flee into addictions in a desperate effort to distract ourselves. To put it simply: we are not happy.

But what if I am not "alone"?

What if the core of my person consists in "belonging-to-Another"? What if my real life is in fact a relationship with the Source of all meaning and goodness? And what if I begin to realize that my very be-ing in this moment is the result of the fact that I am being loved by the One who is Infinite Love?

If this is true, then I am "good" and my humanity is a gift. A precious gift. I am precious to Someone. And when I fail, I can seek forgiveness. I can hope that the One who is Good will make me good. This hope is written on my heart, and I do not need to suffocate it. There is forgiveness.

We do not need new definitions of humanity and new social totatitarianisms to impose them. We need the prayer for forgiveness. Each of us and all of us need the prayer and the hope for forgiveness. We need forgiveness and mercy from the infinitely merciful One who always holds our hearts with love. And we need to forgive ourselves, and (this is especially important) to forgive one another.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Do We Live as "Brothers and Sisters," Really?

Do we really believe that Jesus makes us brothers and sisters in a unity that is more intimate than anything in this world? Do we really know what it means to live as members of one another in Christ, journeying together toward our common destiny of eternal life and love in the Trinity?

It's so easy, as Catholics, to have a moment in which we recognize, "this is the road for our journey!" But then we walk that road like we are strangers to one another.

I have a very hard time with that. For me, the road is so weird and I get lost all the time, or go around in circles. I can't do this alone. I need something more than polite fellow-travelers on this trip. Even though I constantly fight to preserve the illusion of my "autonomy" and the fantasy of my own self-sufficiency, I know that I need to live my faith together with other people.

So where can I go? The Church, of course! But what does that mean? There's the local church ...what do I find in the typical vibrant American [or insert your country here] parish? There are the sacraments, first of all, -- the fountains of Christian life are given in them. But how is this life lived intensely? Well, the parish has many kinds of groups. I may encounter something here that really changes me. Or I might just find lots of well-intended activity going on. That's good and worthwhile, but by themselves good activities are not enough. After they're over, I get into my car and drive back to my lonely fortress. Is that what the New Testament calls "the fellowship of disciples"?

I need help for my whole life, relationships, everything. I need "community." This is a fundamental human need, and for a Christian this need only intensifies. But let's face it: building and sustaining a real community is the hardest thing in the world. People always end up fighting and dividing into factions. Catholics? Oh boy, we fight more than anybody.

So where can I find intense "Catholic community"?

What about just giving up my mind and my freedom to someone who seems to know it all, some self-appointed "benevolent Catholic dictator" who just tells me what to think and what to do and relieves me of the awful burden of being a human person? I must admit that this option can be very tempting. "Conformity" and "comfort," disguised as "obedience," could shape my notions and my behavior into a formulaic routine, and give me a sense of superiority, but they would also also suffocate my heart -- that depth of me that says, "I am someone, I have been made for a reason, I have aspiration, I have hope, I don't just want to be reduced to a 'part' of a project, not even the cosmic project!"

What else is there for me? Should I just embrace and exalt my aloneness? I could say, "I'm gonna do what I think is 'Catholic' [i.e. whatever I want, as long as I can rationalize it by some veneer of Catholic theology or piety] and just blow off everybody else." For me, personally, that's the short path to the psych ward. Others seem to get by with this attitude, except that it's really crummy for their spouses (who often become ex-spouses) and their children and anyone else who needs them or tries to care about them. Not a good option.

I don't want to be alone. I need people. Clubs and casual friends and the internet are not enough. But being part of some kind of "collective" not only is humanly unhealthy, it also just covers up the loneliness. And there can be a lot missing even from the experience of being in dedicated Catholic groups that work together for the good of the Church. People can share an activity (even passionately) without sharing their lives. Passion for the cause can become a cover for not acknowledging the poverty of my person, for not sharing myself, for not loving and for not being honest about my own vulnerability, my own need to be loved.

I can even "belong" to a "movement," and wear it like a badge, and conform myself to its external style, and do all the "stuff," and still not invest myself. I can cover up the fact that I'm poor and that I need God. I can hide it from others, and from myself. I can choose mere conformity over the struggle to live with others heart-to-heart. It's so much easier than the risk of exposing my suffering to myself and others, and then suffering even more as I discover that they don't fully understand me and they can't fix me.

It's also true that I don't want people meddling in my life. I don't want to let them see my faults and then tell me what they think "I have to do." That's because I lack humility, first of all. I mean, let's be real here. I'm a proud man and I don't know how to be humble. I don't like being corrected by anyone else, even (especially!) when their corrections are spot on. I'm proud, therefore I'm afraid.

But there is another reason for this fear that I have. So often in life, my experience has been that people come along, stand on their platform, rebuke me, and then they go away! It's as if they are saying, "You don't really belong (and we won't really love you) until you correct these aspects of your personality, and you have to do that all by yourself. Then, after you've filled up all your own personal holes, then we will be with you and love you." I shouldn't be surprised by this, however, because I do the same thing to other people.

We do this so much to one another. Precisely those of us who are most committed to the ideals of community and relationships and solidarity: We do this. It happens in movements and committed Christian communities. It happens (too much) in "Catholic" marriages and "Catholic" families where we pride ourselves on our Catholic values, on how we "do things right" and how we are so different from all those screwed up families and screwed up people out there in the bad, bad world.

How different are we, really? We have an indissoluble marriage, a big family, a good Catholic community, or even an institution or movement "that has been praised by the Pope." But how do we live? Do we live as "brothers and sisters," really? Or, rather, do we live our real lives alone. Then we come out to "help" one another every so often. Then we go back to our own inner shells, to being alone.

Even when we are "together," we can easily live this dialectic of loneliness and invasiveness, reducing our togetherness into a kind of violence and alienation. This happens insofar as we forget about Jesus, insofar as we forget about the Holy Spirit. This forgetfulness can happen even when there's lots of talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Church and the Eucharist and the sacraments and community and the dignity of the human person and all the rest. It's easy to "domesticate" these words into our vocabulary and forget about the mysterious, intimate, concrete realities they signify.

I don't want to belong to a group of people who just correct my behavior and call me "brother," but forget the real Jesus, and therefore don't really, actively love me. That's not the life of the Church. That's manipulation. That's the dynamic of a fundamentalist sect. It's just another form of power imposing itself upon the weak.

Without Jesus emptying Himself on the cross out of love for sinners, for each one of us, for every human person, without Jesus and His love to the end... what are we? Nothing!

With Him, and depending completely on Him, trusting in Him, we really live the mystery of the Church. We are His presence in the world. This is our vocation, and this is what He wants so ardently, for us and for others, because He wants to love. What can I do except beg Jesus to make this happen in myself, my family, my friends, that the Holy Spirit will make this new life grow in me, change me, transform me, taking up all the weakness and the fear, opening up all the selfishness.

When we talk about our relationships within the Church, we use these terms: "brothers and sisters" and "members of a body." Why? Are we just being nice? Why these metaphors, or even better, are they just metaphors? The Church is our Mother. Baptism is a new birth. We are brothers and sisters and more, members of Christ's "mystical" body (and "mystical" means real, but in a mysterious way beyond our understanding). Thus incorporated into Christ's body, we are members of one another.

Is all this just "Christianspeak"? I hope not. Because this is what I want! I want brothers and sisters. I want a family. I want to belong to God, to call Him "Father," and to have the freedom to be with others in my life and say, "I am your brother" and "you are my brother, you are my sister."

You--my brother, my sister--you help me just by the fact that we are together, you help me even when you fail or forget. We live our fidelity to Jesus and the whole of His Catholic Church together, on the daily level. We can help one another to deal with all the junk that comes along every day, and when we look at one another, we'll start to remember that because of Jesus all of this junk has value.

And, if you think I'm being stupid about something, go ahead and tell me, because that's what brothers and sisters do. Of course you might be wrong, but if you think you see something that I'm missing about myself, you'll take the chance. I might get angry, but together we'll work it out (eventually, with patience) and we'll grow. We can look to our elders whose wisdom and example are a gift to us. We can forgive one another for having different personalities and therefore bumping against one another all the time, every day. Because we know we're a family and we're not going to go away and stop loving each other. We are together in Him. Jesus. We help one another to follow Him to the place where our hearts will all finally be at home.

Is it possible to live this way? Is it possible to even begin to live this way? It must be possible, because this is the life that God wants to give us. The Christian vocation is to love every person, of course, but the vitality of that love comes from the unity, openness, and freedom that Jesus gives to Christians who love one another. Thus we are exhorted to
"Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:1-6).
This is at the heart of Jesus's prayer for all his followers:
"...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:21-23).
Is it possible to live this way, daily, together? It must be possible. It is, more than anything, what the world desperately needs from us. We can at least begin. We can begin to want it, desire it, ask for it. We can begin to live this way, and then begin again the next day, and every day.

As for me, I run away from this life every day. It scares me to death (why is that?). But it's still what I really want. I beg for it. Jesus, I know that this is the only way to live really, to find myself, to walk the steps of each day, to attain my destiny.

Jesus, help me to begin again.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Real Hearts That Love Us Personally

This weekend the Roman rite has observed the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which occur every year on the Friday and Saturday after Corpus Christi Sunday.

We do not worship the Sacred Heart of Jesus or honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary as though we are addressing these body parts in isolation, disconnected from their whole, integral glorified bodies, abstracted from their whole humanity. On the contrary, when we love and adore the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we love and adore Jesus. When we trust in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we trust in Mary.

When we speak of the human heart, we mean not merely the central organ of the circulatory system. We also mean the central focus of the mysterious interiority of the bodily person. Humans are spiritual and physical, transcendent and concrete, knowing and loving in and through a presence in space and time.

Jesus and Mary are fully human. Living in glory, the Risen One and the Mother who has been taken up into the full, definitive participation in that glory continue to be human. We don't understand how it "works," but we believe that Jesus and Mary live perfected in the flesh. The real Jesus. The real Mary.

To love Jesus in His Sacred Heart and Mary in her Immaculate Heart is to discover that they are not abstractions, that they are not a collection of ideals or cultural constructs that attempt to express some kind of alienating spiritualism. They are persons of flesh and blood, and their engagement of our lives is real and concrete, specific, particular. They love us.

Jesus loves me, and Mary loves me... "from the heart" in all the human intimacy this entails. This love is expansive beyond all imagining and mysterious beyond comprehension, and thus so often seemingly "distant" or even "absent" from our psychological sensibility in times of trial and suffering.

But they are always with us, and we must let them carry us even when all we can feel is our own pain.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Learning to Be Attentive

This reflection appeared for today in Magnificat's "Year of Mercy" Companion. It's always good to remember the tremendous mercy that surrounds us every day, the touch of God that reaches us again and again in the most ordinary ways and through the people closest to us:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

John Paul Turns NINETEEN Years Old

Happy Birthday to my adult son.

During the years of this blog he has passed from middle school to college. In January of 2011 he was still 13 and his voice was as high as the girls. Even then, of course, he was his own inimitable self.

We have marked various birthdays, sports moments, and his high school career. Now he is a rising sophomore in college.

We're so proud of him. Dear Lord, keep him always in Your care.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Mary said, "All generations will call me blessed,
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name" (Luke 1:48-49).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

For Corpus Christi: "What is this Love?"

What is this Love?

What is this Love,
this Love inexhaustible
broken into crumbs,

poured out in earthen vessels?

What is this Love?
Love Creator of the burning stars;
Love Creator of the angels—
     those great, gigantic, magnificent, comprehending spirits.

Love Creator of the human being….
     The glorious human being:
     master of the earth and its things,
     yet a tiny speck under the sky;
     image of God,
     dust and ashes.
     great and miserable,
     hungry humanity, hungry with a thousand hungers….

This is Love's impossible gift;
Love inexhaustible,
     broken into crumbs,
     poured out in earthen vessels.

Love beyond all measure
become a morsel of food and drink
     in our tiny mouths.

Given and given, poured out and broken,
Love to the end, scattered
     beyond the edges of all wandering,
     finding, filling
     the hidden empty starved spaces
     of the most distant secret silent cries.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Value of Work

What is the value of our work? Are we merely part of a vast process for the production of things and the attainment of quantifiable "results"? Surely this is not adequate. There is more that must be said about the real worth of our efforts.

Every kind of human work requires the investment of ourselves, and therefore the "return" on that investment doesn't find its ultimate value in the realm of external things we can measure. That doesn't mean there aren't measurable results from our work, and that we shouldn't seek them; it just means that those results will never be greater than our value as human beings engaging our world and impressing upon it the distinctive mark of our own intelligent action.

We promote careers and education and using our talents and doing this and that--these things are important; they are factors of real life. But no one should feel dehumanized because of the particular work they do, however humble it may appear to be. Every worker is an acting person addressing his or her world in freedom.

There's really no such thing as "unskilled" labor pure and simple. Human action is the original "skill" that not only shapes the material world but also constitutes it as an "environment" of personal achievement.

Ultimately, however, work is a way of loving. It is shaped and aimed by particular constructive needs, and so of course it seeks results. But the dignity of human work is not measured by the results. It is something more than a material value.

The dignity of work consists in the self-giving of human persons. As a gift of the person, as love, work cannot be bought or sold for any price. The only adequate response to love is love.

Work is the way we build up our environment by giving and receiving love. Thus the world is personalized, it becomes a place where human persons dwell together, a place of community.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Only From You

Jesus, I feel within me 
a great desire to please You
but, at the same time,
I feel totally incapable of doing this
without Your special light and help,
which I can expect only from You.
Accomplish Your will in me
 – even in spite of me. Amen.

~Saint Claude de la Colombiere

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Everything is Changed

In the difficulty and awkwardness and apparent impossibility of mundane life, there God is present.

And this is not some abstract mysticism.

This is something that is really true, in every moment, because God became a Crucified Man and penetrated the depths of every sin, every moment of misery, and even the dull tedium of every day.

Everything belongs to His merciful heart, everything is changed, and filled with the hidden possibilities of love, because everything can be offered.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sky Blue, Cardinal Red

The rainy season appears to be at an end, and Spring is rapidly turning to Summer. The mornings are bright but still cool, with clear blue skies and birds everywhere.

This Cardinal seems to be marking his turf and eyeing Reepicheep. A nest must be in the making.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Suffering and Solidarity

We are all suffering in various ways. It's true.

Some endure greater trials than others at any given time, but we can't really judge the measure of each other's sufferings. Our responsibility is to stand together and help one another in whatever ways we can, to remember that we belong to one another as children of God and brothers and sisters in God's family.

All of us are called, ultimately, to give everything: to pour ourselves out in the complete surrender by which we will truly find ourselves forever through the total and definitive gift of ourselves. God knows the paths that each person needs to travel to make that gift. Everything remains in His hands.

One of the ways God embraces us is through our compassion for one another. Some people are in situations where there is no way to provide them with any immediate comfort, but we must share one another's sufferings and be present to one another nevertheless. To those of us who try to console others, it's important to remember that we never know how we might be helping someone even if he or she doesn't seem to gain some "practical" benefit, or appears unaware of our efforts. Much more important than how a suffering person reacts to what we say or do at a particular moment is how much love and solidarity are really contained in our gestures.

Let us try to think of ways, even very small ways, that we can "stay with one another" in the painful and dark places of our lives.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Power and the Freedom of Faith, Twelfth Century Style

The Great Conversion Story for May 2016 focuses on the drama of a king named Henry and his best friend Thomas. I have reproduced it below. To see this column every month (and many other terrific aids to prayer and the Christian life) please subscribe today to the wonderful MAGNIFICAT magazine. Available in print or digital forms.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It Rained, And It Rained, And It Rained...

Pictures from these wet days of May:

Wet buttercup blooming.

It's pretty muddy out there.

One crow, against the world.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Water and the Spirit

"Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
'Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow
from within him who believes in me.'
He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive"
(John 7:37-39).

Our Easter has been fulfilled at Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit, fill us with Your gifts and dwell in our hearts!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Saint John Paul II, Confessor

The blood of John Paul II is honored as his chief relic.
Today is the anniversary of momentous events in the history of the twentieth century.

It is the 99th anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the shepherd children at Fatima. In the ensuing months these three small children were given a mysterious glimpse of the drama and the horror that awaited the Christian people and the whole world in the years to come. The Virgin Mary also reaffirmed her special closeness to the Popes, whom, she said, "would have much to suffer."

Thirty five years ago, on May 13, 1981, that suffering reached a climactic moment that touched all of us. Thirty five years ago today, Saint John Paul II shed his blood for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.

In the early history of Christianity, people who endured persecution for Christ, who were afflicted with the wounds of torture and imprisonment but not put to death, were styled "Confessors." Sometimes they returned to their communities, where their ongoing witness encouraged others in difficult times.

John Paul II's body was pierced through by the bullet of a professional assassin from Turkey, Mehmet Ali Agca. It was the perfect execution of an operation that had been planned for months by various criminal organizations headed, allegedly, by agents of the Bulgarian secret service.

It is likely that Bulgarian agents were carrying out orders from the Soviet Union.

John Paul's 1979 visit to his native Poland had shaken the foundations of the totalitarian atheistic Communist system. His witness to the faith and to the dignity of the human person lit a fire in the hearts of the Polish people, a fire that grew bright the following year in the rise of the independent trade union Solidarity.

The Soviets and their minions had "motive," certainly, to desire to be rid of this meddlesome priest. They had plenty of opportunity to access the young Pope who was so accessible to the people everywhere he went. It would not have been difficult for them to arrange the hire of a professional gunman with obscure connections and set in motion a plan to kill the Pope.

In fact, the Agca plan was a success by every standard of human evaluation. He was able to fire a perfect shot at close range.

But there remained one inexplicable fact: John Paul II didn't die.

Miraculously, the bullet did not pass through any major organs, though it did significant damage to his intestines.

The Pope underwent hours of surgery as the faithful and people of all religions and viewpoints prayed and hoped and worried desperately.

He survived. He would later insist that "one hand pulled the trigger, but another hand guided the bullet." He was convinced that the Mother of God had protected him and saved him on that day. He had shed his blood in the exercise of his office as successor of Saint Peter. But he remained with us for almost 24 more years.

They were years of eloquent witness, years that gave us courage.