Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is There a LIST of "Things-to-Do-to-Become-a-Compassionate-Human-Being"?

Lately, there have been quite a few blog posts and articles that feature lists of "what not to say" to people who are suffering, followed by brief explanations of why people can be hurt by these things even when we say them with the best of intentions. These lists often apply to "invisible" or often misunderstood afflictions: "Ten things you shouldn't say to people with Depression." "Five things you shouldn't say to people with chronic illness." "Ten things you shouldn't say to people who are grieving." Every day there seems to be something new that perhaps we've never thought about before.

I have also read blogs and comments expressing some frustration with the whole (cumulatively overwhelming) explosion of these various lists. At a certain point, it begins to seem like anything we say is going to offend someone. We end up feeling even more nervous and uncomfortable around people whose problems we don't understand. Is there anything we can say that won't offend them or increase the weight of their afflictions?

I must say that I have found reading some of these lists to be very useful. I suffer from chronic illnesses, and I know that certain points listed are valid and good for other people to know. I also have found helpful insights into types of suffering that I don't appreciate from personal experience. For example, I have no way of knowing what it feels like for a woman to have a miscarriage; so I appreciate some tips on how to offer condolences and be a friend without acting like an oaf.

This kind of awareness, however, is about more than just giving (or taking) offense. It's helpful toward learning the art of compassion. Many people want to be compassionate, and anything that contributes to their practical understanding of the suffering of others has some value. We do need to learn how to build one another up, to share one another's burdens. I think these lists can make a contribution here, even if they do tend to seem a bit constraining. It's good to combine such things with more positive information about how we can be helpful, what we can do that will make a difference.

Perhaps the thing that should be stressed above all is that these lists can never give us a guaranteed "formula" for approaching human suffering and loving another human person perfectly, without mistakes. They may help us to focus in certain ways, but true compassion is always personal, and the only way to really learn it is by giving it and receiving it within relationships with real people. Even the most basic human interactions require an awareness of the other person, an investment of one's self, an attention and a tenderness that are foundational to a relationship. There is simply no other legitimate way to approach a human person (and even though we forget this and fail constantly, we must keep trying again and again). There are no shortcuts to developing strong and deep human relationships; they must be cultivated with patience and persistence. Compassion always grows in this way, by means of a love that can't avoid taking risks and therefore must be resilient. We need to stay with one another and keep loving one another concretely even though we will always make mistakes.

Human relationships are forged through compassion, and we will never be able to make them safe and easy. We must learn, be attentive, and develop the habits of a courageous empathy, but still we will never find a foolproof set of rules or behavior patterns that will always "work." Human persons and human suffering are too particular and too profound to be resolved by any system, or penetrated by any wisdom that we may attain by ourselves.

We will always be weak; we will always fall short in love, and we will often hurt one another. A million lists won't solve this problem.

Only Jesus solves it, but He doesn't solve it by magic. He works in us through real life, with our good intentions, our weakness, our efforts to learn, our commitment to one another as persons, the investment of our time, and the forgiveness, perseverance, hope, and compassion for one another that His Spirit engenders within us.

Our hope is in Him. He gives us the strength to persevere in love, and His grace transforms us into instruments of His mercy.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

James Foley: "I Am So Thankful."

American journalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS on August 19th
Earlier this month, I marked significant dates in the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. But August 2014 has written its own pages in the history of war and death. The rolling of thunder grew louder in eastern Ukraine as Russia staked its claim through military intervention. Meanwhile, the I.S. (or ISIS) fanatics continued to perpetrate violence and destruction in Syria and on the ancient Plain of Nineveh. An especially vivid image of this past month was the horrifying beheading by ISIS of American journalist James Foley, which was presented to the world in a bizarre YouTube video intended to terrorize the West while also advertising the ISIS agenda to radical jihadist sympathizers everywhere.

The unanticipated surprise in all of this, however, was the hidden strength of the man ISIS chose to murder. James Foley had dedicated himself to reporting the human stories and the suffering of various war torn regions. He had been captured before, in Libya in 2011, and held for 44 days, during which time he found and later testified to the sustaining power of prayer. The longing to be close to his family had drawn his mind to the Rosary that his grandmother always prayed, which he said using his knuckles for beads.

This memory apparently remained with him when he was captured again a year later in Syria. After two years of shadowy captivity, he managed to communicate with his loved ones by means of a fellow reporter who committed his message to memory before being released. In the days following Foley's death, his parents shared the contents of this remarkable communication with the world. Included in his words was a clear indication that, once again, he was being sustained by prayer.

Whatever may happen in this world -- whatever terrors and havoc may afflict us in these days or in times to come -- James Foley reminds us that prayer is the only adequate human response, the only possibility that never fails. Prayer places us in the presence of God, whose love bridges the gulf of separation, enlightens the darkness, and awakens gratitude even within the most trying circumstances of life. Foley's words have a force that the perpetrators of human violence do not understand, a force that is greater than every human power. This is the power of God's love, which unites us to Himself and is the enduring source of the unity we share with one another.

"I know you are thinking of me and praying for me.
And I am so thankful.
I feel you all especially when I pray.
I pray for you to stay strong and to believe.
I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray."

James Foley (from a message to his family and friends, June 2014)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Josefina's Cooking Show

I've been meaning to post this recent clip of Josefina chopping vegetables and playing the part of a television chef. She loves watching cooking shows on PBS Create, and she has a knack for learning things quickly.

Eileen just put the music on for fun, and then I got the camera going and this cute snippet developed spontaneously. This should bring a smile or two on an evening when many of us may need it. So, here's the show that she herself (at 0:17) calls Josefina's American Kitchen Table:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Conversion of Saint Augustine

Here is a blurry photograph of the February 2014 edition of Magnificat (pp. 228-229). Today is a good day to revisit it.

If you don't have your own copy of this terrific magazine, you should subscribe right away by clicking HERE! Okay, okay... in case you don't have this issue and you don't want to squint, here is the complete text in blog format. Happy Saint Augustine's Day!

The story of St. Augustine’s conversion is one of the most famous in the history of Christianity, and indeed in the history of Western humanities and literature, thanks to the penetrating account of it that he gives in his epoch marking autobiographical work, the Confessions.

Augustine was born in Roman North Africa in 354, during a period of transition and religious instability that saw the rise of the recently legalized Christianity even as it struggled with the great heresy of the Arians, various gnostic groups and oriental mystery religions, and the prevailing decadence of the pagan social milieu.

As a young man, Augustine went to study at the cultural center of Carthage, where he was introduced to pagan morals. He took a concubine and embraced the Manichean sect, while also sharpening his mental and rhetorical skills. Eventually he traveled to Rome and Milan, abandoned the intellectually weak Manichean system, and dedicated himself to a genuine pursuit of truth through philosophy. Soon he found himself grappling with the claims of Christianity as his aesthetic and intellectual objections to it were overcome. What remained was the need for a conversion of heart, which came finally in the famous reading of Romans 13 in the garden in Milan (Confessions VIII.12).

The story of Augustine could be understood as an intellectual and moral journey, and these are certainly crucial elements. But its important, also, to emphasize the personal communication that pervades his whole experience of conversion. The Confessions make this clear by their genre; they are written as a prayer to God, and this is clearly more than a literary device. Augustine makes it clear that God’s grace and mercy, given through the Church, is the profound source and focus of his conversion. He learns that philosophy is not enough; that truth and salvation are constituted by a personal relationship with Christ, the Truth in person.

We see this too in the crucial role that the companionship of particular Christians plays in Augustine’s life. They bring the Church close to him in a way that opens him up and enables him to overcome his objections of mind and heart. The key person, of course, is his mother St. Monica. Her maternal love and her constant, ardent prayers for his conversion were a continual witness to him through all his wanderings. And she joyfully received the news moments after grace finally won over her son’s heart.

Also of great importance is St. Ambrose, who received him with fatherly kindness when he first came to Milan, and by cultivating his friendship and trust, drew him to attend his sermons. Augustine’s admiration for the beauty of their style soon grew into an attraction to the radiance of the truth they imparted. He would eventually be baptized by St. Ambrose on Easter 387. “To him was I unknowingly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to You“ (Confessions V.13).

The world honors St. Augustine as a founder of Christian philosophy and the great prose writer of late antiquity. But Christians know that he was above all a Christian person, transformed by the love of God that reached him through human instruments: the prayers of St. Monica, the friendship of St. Ambrose. They helped him to discover that Truth has a human face.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Remembering a Very Special Summer

Northern California (pic by Agnese). So glad they had this time!
The Janaro family summer is coming to a close.

It was a time of many blessings for us. The pace definitely slowed down. We rested. We spent more time together. We didn't worry about the school week. We watched the World Cup, and some late night movies. Eileen and John Paul played tennis. I worked a little with John Paul on the guitar, and he practiced quite a bit on his own. He's getting pretty good. When everyone else is gone, we will continue to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to some of that great Music-That-Nobody-Else-in-the-House-Likes.

We all had some good conversations, and in general there was more space for personal time, one-on-one time without the looming shadow of all-the-stuff-that-needs-to-be-done hovering over people. Eileen and I even talked about literature... a little bit. What a beautiful thing it is to linger over the morning coffee with my wife. (It's not so easy to find time during the school year, so I will have to make sure that I don't miss the opportunities when they do come.)

Then, of course, there was the California trip for John Paul, Agnese, Lucia, and Teresa. They have been back for a week now, and school is beginning for the three high school kids. It was a great vacation for them, and a lovely interlude for us as well with Josefina here at home.

Of course, there were also all the usual mistakes and tensions of daily life. In this blog, I always emphasize the good stuff, but of course we're a normal family. We get irritated with one another, negligent, stupid, stubborn, negative, and all the rest. And we have enough Italian blood to put fervor into whatever we do (good or bad). In other words, there's plenty of yelling in the house. But there's also good food!

John Paul & Agnese hiking in Yosemite
So far, our teens have been specially blessed with good companions and a human environment that permits them to grow through the challenges of adolescence in a healthy way. Still, these are challenges, and they are not easy. Eileen and I have been discovering new dimensions of motherhood and fatherhood in our relationships with the kids. The top four kids can pretty much "take care of themselves" on the physical level, but they have different kinds of needs -- more intangible and personal.

It's really hard to discern and help at this point. It demands attention, availability, and patience. These kids need guidance and space to be free; they need space to test their freedom, and to (OUCH!) make mistakes. None of my disabilities excuse me from the very real task of being a father to them, and I praise God for the grace that makes me able to give of myself to my children in the way that they need me now. Several times this summer, I was able to help one or another of the kids with their personal challenges in ways that convince me that they really need me as their father.

Teresa with one of the Big Trees
I can't go hiking or boating or fishing with them (like I dreamed when they were little). But I get up in morning and beg Jesus for the grace to love these persons, to be a father to them. I entrust myself to St. Joseph, asking him to pray that God make me the man, the husband, and the father He wills me to be.

And every day, I fail. I fall short in my attention, in my courtesy, and as an example to them. I fail them, not because I'm too tired or too sick. No, I fail them precisely in those responsibilities that are within my power, in ways that I see clearly and want to fulfill. I forget, and I give in to selfishness, laziness, and the temptation to turn my wit toward cynicism.

I struggle against this every day, in all my relationships. With trust in Jesus, I will continue to struggle. I will continue to ask the Holy Spirit to form the virtues and gifts in me that empower me to give myself to my wife, my children, and my neighbor... i.e. anyone who has been entrusted to me in God's plan.

And when I am in a dark cloud, I am still called to give myself, even if all I have to give is my difficulties, my aching cry to God, my incomprehensible solitude. Is this a gift for others? Never give up because God knows what He is doing. God knows what others really need from me.

Now I walk in the dark and Mary, my merciful mother, holds my hand.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Something REALLY Happens

We are called by God to a new birth. The struggle of this life is the mysterious and dramatic transformation by which mortal, broken human beings become children of God in Jesus Christ.

But there is so much that I cannot see yet, that I don't understand. So much struggle that seems futile, because I'm so small. I'm like the dying seed in the earth. I can't imagine the fruit that will emerge from my being broken open and emptied. The truth of life is this passing through death to resurrection, and even when we follow this passage with trust in Jesus, the whole "death" thing is still dark.

God lifts us up to His Kingdom, where "glory" is the radiance of Infinite Love. It sounds great on paper, but suffering reminds me that this transformation is something that happens to me. I am afraid, I feel powerless, I need to be carried. God is a consuming Fire -- and I believe that this fire is love and mercy, but I need a tenderness, a gentle presence, a great inspiration, an implacable dedication, and a unique sympathy for me, as a person, so that I can give myself and let myself be carried by God's fire.

From the depths of His own heart pouring out His love on the cross, Jesus entrusts each of us to His mother. "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing beside her, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home" (John 19:26-27). Every word Jesus speaks from the cross is relevant to the whole mystery of our salvation. If Jesus really matters for every single person, then we must recognize that the gift of His love encompasses every person being entrusted to this woman.

Mary is my mother. Even when I forget, she doesn't forget. She remains at the cross till the end, and so she remains with me. She has always a mother's heart for me, for you, for everyone. Through her we learn to be children. Through her we learn to let go of all the fear.
Mary, help me in the dark. Be with me at the hour of my death, and through all the moments of my dying. Remind me that I am loved. Remind me that I am small and that you are carrying me, with a tenderness that won't let go.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rest For Weary, Burdened Souls

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

It rained yesterday and into the morning. I spent a lot of time troubleshooting computer problems. In between I read the relentless news: a crisis on the streets of a St. Louis suburb, a heroic American journalist beheaded by the ferocious "Islamic State" in Syria, and in the "borderlands" almost due north of the Levant, rumors of the Russian military crossing into Ukraine. Wars, and rumors of wars.

Jesus said, "I will give you rest...."


Our weariness and our burdens are heavy. But He is "gentle and humble in heart." The "rest" and "ease" that He promises do not necessarily coincide with physical or psychological or emotional relief. It's about the heart. It's a promise for our hearts.

It's a promise for my heart.

I feel weary and burdened, and also rather pathetic because I am laid low even within the comforts of my own home. After all, I'm not a refugee in the desert. I have not been bombed, or taken prisoner. But I know something of what it feels like to be helpless. To be afraid. And I know there is a secret suffering in every life. In our weakness and our cry to God we have a mysterious solidarity; we are together in our greatest solitude.

That is where Jesus comes to each of us. In that solitude He calls each of us by name. I'm not a hero. I have no courage. Still, He calls me.

Sometimes we must be stilled and silenced by that loneliness so that we can hear His voice, so that we can remember that we have a need to listen.

And He speaks to me with a compassion that reaches me. He understands me. He makes a promise: "You will find rest." He says, "Come to me" and "learn from me."

"Learn from me." Sometimes we are brought back to the place where we remember that we need to learn from Him.

That's what I want to do, and I believe that if I stay with Him I will learn. I believe this, and I trust in Him... even though I forget all the time, I forget He is here, but when I remember Him, I trust. And that trust is already the beginning of a change in my heart.

I know only too well what it's like to be burdened and not know any place to go with my heart. When I trust Him I discover that He is already changing me. I'm not alone. I'm with Him, and my hope is alive. I'm beginning to learn.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Depression: Why I Haven't Blogged About It

Shifting clouds, with some open spaces.
Last week, a celebrity tragedy provoked lively and sometimes intense discussion about depression and mental illness. Television and the standard media outlets gave out a steady stream of commentary, analysis, and speculation. Internet, social media, and the blogosphere also presented a very wide spectrum of opinions.

Some of the things expressed were simply cruel, and/or appallingly ignorant. Others were well-intended but poorly expressed, or clearly emerged from people theorizing abstractly in realms beyond their competence. Others still were conflicted and even disturbing because they came (at least in part) from people's own experiences and sufferings, and their awkward attempts to make sense of personal traumas. Then there were those who wrote good and sympathetic things, and those who honestly opened up about their own vulnerabilities. Finally, as always, there were a few offerings that were remarkable and truly able to educate, clarify or render vivid through personal testimony the objective reality of depression and mental illness.

I watched/read/listened-to a lot of this discussion. With the exception of a couple of brief comments, however, I did not contribute to it.

I found myself at something of a loss for words.

I've been struggling with my own most recent bout of depression in the past several months. I'm working with my doctor. We've tweaked the medications, and I've made some adjustments to my regimen. It's... okay... kind of.

People see me and say, "Oh, you look good!"

Dear friends, it takes an immense amount of energy for me to "look good" during the brief period of time you see me.
Try to imagine this for a moment. I am not here describing a real circumstance that I currently face, but trying to use an analogy to help people understand what it's like to have an "invisible illness." Imagine: what if I had a painful back injury, but I appeared after church on Sunday looking straight in posture, with no apparent pain? I am cordial, even animated in conversation. As far as you can tell, my flexibility is pretty good. I look "fine," basically. Right?
What you don't see, however, is that I'm wearing a back brace under my shirt; something well-concealed but essential for me to spend a few hours in an upright position. I've taken pain medicine. I'm going to be exhausted by the time I get home, take off the brace, and collapse into bed. But you won't see any of that. Do you still think I'm doing "fine"?
That's the analogy. When you've seen me lately, I've been wearing a "mental brace." I'm not doing this to "pretend" I'm okay, but because I really want to be myself for a little while, to communicate, to be with my friends and neighbors. This depression is not so severe as to obscure entirely my interest in life, or my interest in people. Please don't avoid me because you think it will make my life easier. Quite the contrary. I need to "wear the brace" and get out as much as I can manage, not because it's therapeutic or because it's making me get better (because it's not, really... we go over the hills and valleys of chronic illness by using a whole bag of tricks, and sometimes just riding it out). I "get out" from under the cloud (whenever possible, for however long) because I'm a human being. It's worth the effort.

I need the same "mental brace" when I write, which may account for why I am not writing very much lately. It's worth the effort to do whatever I can.

There is a fundamental difference, of course, between the effort to live within my constraints by doing what I can, and the illusion that I can "cure myself" if I just try hard enough. It doesn't work that way. To change the analogy, if I have a broken leg, I have to put it in a cast and let it heal. Meanwhile, if I want to get around, I have to use crutches. The crutches don't heal my leg, but they let me function, somewhat, while nature and the arts of medicine take their course. People with mental illnesses (and also people with chronic illnesses of all kinds) use crutches and props and bandages and whatever they can rig up so that they can live and interact with other people and do valuable work... as much as possible.

The crutch has something of a bad rap in our culture. We are encouraged not to "rely on crutches" but to stand on our own two feet. That makes good sense... unless your feet are broken. Then it's stupid. You can't "stand on your feet." You need help. There is no shame in using crutches when you need them to get around. When the brain and the mind are broken, a person needs a lot of creativity and energy to find ways to keep standing up. Crutches and braces need to be reinvented and adapted to changing circumstances.

If you're around me often enough, you're going to see me pooped. You're going to see the whole mess. Please don't think it's your fault. Or that I wish you would go away. No. Stay. Work with me.

Meanwhile, I don't have it in me to write a coherent blog about all this, nor to address the issues surrounding last week's tragedy. I've finally managed to put on my "mental brace," take up my well-worn crutches and limp over to the blogosphere in order to share pieces of my own experience.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

St. Maximilian Kolbe: Love Lives Through Sacrifice

Love lives through sacrifice
and is nourished by giving....
Genuine love rises above creatures
and soars up to God.
In Him, by Him, and through Him it loves all men,
both good and wicked,
friends and enemies.
To all it stretches out a hand filled with love;
it prays for all,
suffers for all,
wishes what is best for all,
desires happiness for all,
because that is what God wants.

~ St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Auschwitz, August 14, 1941

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When I am Drowning, Lord, Save Me!

Today's gospel always strikes me. It's such a parable of our relationship with God. How frail we are, and how easy it is to forget, to falter, to lose confidence in God.

"O you of little faith," Jesus says, "why did you doubt?"

The compassion of God wants us to understand that there is never any real reason to give up on Him. There is never any circumstance in which He does not accompany us and draw us to hope in Him and abandon ourselves to Him.

Still, how easily we are overwhelmed by difficulties, and they are not only the great pains but also the ordinary frustrations we face every day. Even though we have seen His miracles of love, we must learn confidence again and again as we walk on the waters of life.

I can say many things about the meaning of suffering and about the fact that God knows all things and directs everything to the good, and yet, when it comes to my own trials I seem to lose sight of it all and start to flounder. My sufferings seem to be nothing else but humiliation; I feel like I am being crushed, or suffocated. And what is it after all—petty things! The voice of discouragement begins to creep in.

There is always the danger of discouragement. But God’s mercy is stronger, and I cry out to Him.

I am learning to trust Him because I have seen that He does not leave me alone. It is like that moment in Peter’s life when, after beginning to walk on the water, he panics and starts to sink. Jesus reaches out and grabs him.

When I am drowning, this is the one thing and the essential thing: let Him grab me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Edith Stein: Light in the Darkness of the World

Today the Roman calendar observes the memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Edith Stein (1891-1942). Hers is a great story, from her Jewish roots, through atheism, to the search for truth in philosophy, to conversion to Christ in the Catholic Church, to teaching and advocating the dignity and vocation of women, to the cloister of Carmel where she continued to write philosophical and spiritual works, and finally to Auschwitz where she gave her life.

Edith Stein is a special saint and helper for the world we live in today. Her death in the Holocaust links her forever to her own Jewish people, whose endurance through all of history remains a mysterious sign of the irrevocable faithfulness of the gifts and the call of God (see Romans 11:29). She is also a martyr of charity, a witness to God's love for the human person, and to the fact that no state or society or human idea has the right to build itself on the dead bodies of other innocent human beings.

And especially, she is one of the children of Carmel, who wear the mantle of Elijah and listen for the still, small voice of the Lord, who know the hunger for God and the fire that comes from heaven. She knows what it means to search, and to find. She also knows the darkness -- the terrible affliction in this past century of a world that cannot find God and cannot find satisfaction or hope in anything else, a world that protests against its own nothingness by an endless spiral of violence.

She knows the darkness, and she knows that God is present there, not to be grasped by our human powers, but to reveal Himself as the companion of our weakness who leads us on hidden pathways through faith, hope, and love.

She knows human life in its frailty, summoned by the Mystery of God infinitely beyond itself, but also carried by Him day by day in the conquest of fear and the promise of hope. Her prayer speaks to everyone who travels the path of life:
"O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace" (Edith Stein [St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross]).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

California Dreamin'

Some of my friends have noticed, perhaps, that Josefina is getting even more attention lately than she usually does. It's not only because of the milestone loss of her front baby tooth.

Jojo is spending some "special time" with Mommy and Daddy for the next few weeks. Sure, we still see the other kids and talk to them plenty:

Agnese will kill me for posting this!
Chatting with John Paul... of course!
After all, this is 2014. We can use Skype whenever we want, not to mention the old fashioned telephone (with the not-so-old-fashioned unlimited long distance). But the other four kids are three thousand miles away right now. They have gone to California to visit their grandparents and cousins.

They're having lots of adventures, swimming, hiking, exploring, and having lots of fun. We decided that the teenagers (and the "almost-teenager" Teresa) would be able to make the trip themselves this year. So off they've gone, and the house is much quieter and (heh) less cluttered without them. And the grocery bill is down to nothing!

I won't deny that I wish we were there too. We've been going to California since 1995 (when we were engaged) and I've spent enough time there that I feel very much "at home." But I'm not up to making any trips this summer. Eileen has a lot of work to prepare for the upcoming school year. And the "foursome" are mature enough to do the trip and stay with their relatives without... how shall I phrase it?... "requiring to much maintenance."


Eileen and I are not having a Second Honeymoon Staycation! Oh nonono. We have one little person still around. She keeps us busy, but it's also cozy.

Everything seems to work out much easier for everyone if Jojo stays here with us. She wouldn't want to spend so much time separated from her Mommy. And... umm... also her... oh-heck-who-am-I-kidding... her Mommy!

But I do come in handy, when Mommy can't be around. And of course I make sure to keep her in line. Yesserie, I'm the boss around here and I make sure that... ummm... well, I take the pictures, anyway.

I think this picture shows clearly WHO IS IN CHARGE around here! :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


"A bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him'" (Matthew 17:5).

May "his grace transforms us into his image, so that living in the spirit of the beatitudes we are light and consolation to our brothers" (Pope Francis, August 6, 2014).

TRANSFIGURATION icon by nuns of St. Damiana Monastery, Egypt.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Lamps Go Out in Great Britain

Today was a remarkable day of remembrance all across the United Kingdom. After evening vigils, lights were turned off in public places and all were encouraged to observe the hour before 11:00 PM GMT by turning off all lights and leaving only a single lamp or candle burning.

100 year ago today, on August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war against Germany. The previous day, foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey gave his famous speech to the House of Commons revealing England's attitude toward the war on the Continent. His memorable and symbolically prophetic words were the motive of today's observance, when he said, "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

There had been hope that England might maintain neutrality, as statesmen in London and Berlin worked right until the end attempting to reach a settlement regarding the status of Belgium. The British government insisted on upholding the 1839 treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality, while the Germans insisted that they had no interest in Belgian territory, but that their own (preemptive) defense (strategy) required their troops to pass through Belgium to head off the French before the Russians mobilized. German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg expressed his amazement to the British ambassador that his country was ready to go to war "over a scrap of paper."

The two modern empires had been struggling to find some mode of peaceful coexistence in the first years of the twentieth century even as they sought strategic advantages and economic dominance in European and world trade and manufacturing. Belgian neutrality became England's war cry, though Grey had made it clear in his speech that British interests could not endure a German victory on the Continent. Meanwhile the war party in Berlin, having already used duplicity to egg on the Austrians and light the fires in the East, would now have their way by driving an unconscionably ruthless and destructive path through Belgium.

On the morning of August 5, 1914, England awoke and found herself at war. The players on the field were now complete, and the monstrous game was on.

"Please God it may soon be over," King George V wrote in his diary. Many of the English, convinced that the war would be over by Christmas, rushed to the recruitment offices to volunteer lest they miss their chance for battlefield glory. How terribly wrong they were in their expectations of brevity and of glory.

Indeed, the awful, impossible game was on.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The War of the World

August 1, 1914. 7:30 PM. Germany declares war on Russia.

Both armies are mobilizing, bringing weapons to the field that are exponentially more powerful and more ruthless than anything before in human history.

It was clear that this was a momentous step, unleashing a catastrophic war in Europe. They knew it would be terrible when it began, but they did not know the dimensions of the horror that was being unleashed.

Armies of volunteers and conscripts poured into the field (and soon, the trenches) over the next four years, and massacred one another by the millions for reasons none of them really understood.

Terrible battles lay ahead, in which hundreds of thousands on both sides would be slaughtered, with no purpose being achieved, no ground taken, no advance, no retreat, nothing. The soldier who fell was anonymous, and his dead body would be replaced by another and another and another....

This conflict would bring the dehumanization of war to a new level, and would sow poisonous seeds of discouragement in the hearts of people in Europe and the West. The Great War raised the dramatic question of that last century: "Does the life of the individual human person have value for its own sake? Or is it merely part of a mass of humanity that is manipulated by those in power?"

This is still the urgent question for us today.

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.