Thursday, September 24, 2020

"O Lord, You Have Been Our Refuge"

From the readings of the day:

"Vanity of vanities!
All is vanity!
What profit has man from all the labor
which he toils at under the sun?

"All speech is labored;
there is nothing one can say.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing
nor is the ear satisfied with hearing"
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, 8).

"In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge"
(Psalm 90:1).

[Image above: Tattoo, "All is Vanity" from right forearm of Christina Grimmie.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

We Are Grateful to Padre Pio

My blog seems more and more to be pictures and commentary on the Roman liturgical calendar.

One thing I love is how the cycle of seasons, feasts, and memorials of the saints fill the entire year with "beautiful days" - like flashes of transfigured light breaking through into our time, marking our days as we journey toward the unending fullness of that glory.

Every month, every week has special moments to anticipate. There are the seasons and particular observances and celebrations of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the maternal companionship of Mary.

Then there are all the days honoring the lives of (and nurturing real ongoing "ecclesial relationships" with) men and women of every time and place, language and culture, who have gone before us and are recognized as "co-workers" with Christ by the Church's liturgical prayer.

The saints are all glorified members of Christ's body, His servants, His instruments, our companions and helpers. They are gifts to us, entirely formed by God's grace and love, witnesses to the glory of Jesus our Savior. At the same time each one of them is unique, with his or her own personality and humanity that reverberates in the Church's memory in many different ways.

The more recent saints may be remembered from the time of their earthly journey by some people who are still living. I myself have met and spoken personally with two saints, John Paul II and Mother Teresa, both of whom had a profound personal impact on my life. This is true for many of my generation. In our time, "giants walked the earth." Every age has them, of course, but there were a few in the late 20th century whose greatness was impossible for anyone to ignore even while they lived in this world. Through then, the Spirit kindled fires in many hearts.

Padre Pio was a little before my time, but people from the previous generation remember him while he was still in this life. I have known some families where the parents knew him personally (one even worked as a doctor in his hospital). Of course they have special stories about him, beautiful and very personal stories...

But like all saints, Padre Pio has become immensely greater since he went home to be with the Lord on September 23, 1968. Still, he was widely known and sought out (especially by Italians) during his years at the Franciscan Friary of San Giovanni Rotondo - this priest who bore the wounds of Christ, the "stigmata" (as well as many other deeper hidden pains and trials), who tirelessly heard confessions and through his special gifts reconciled so many and brought spiritual healing, and who also had a special dedication to serving and accompanying people afflicted with physical illnesses. Among the many aspects of Padre Pio's legacy is the beautiful hospital he built near the friary, which he called "the House for the Relief of Suffering."

He is dear to me in a particular way for his tremendous compassion for the sick. That compassion and companionship is a personal gift that he still offers today. He brings consolation to the afflicted when they call upon him.

My own story has a little place here. I didn't have any special devotion to Padre Pio. But I "feel like" he sought me out and offered his help (saints do this more than we realize, I'm convinced). Around the time of our Teresa's birth (in 2002) and shortly before the beginning of some very difficult times for me, it seems like he made me aware of his humble presence, as if to say, "I'm here for you, I'm helping you." Even though this may have been just a subjective experience or my own human psychological impression (and there's no way to prove it was anything more), still I find that I want to describe this as having something of the nature of an encounter. It was personal.

Since then I think he has “touched my shoulder” a few times and in some way said to me, “John, I know what you suffer. I had these sufferings too in my life” (I don’t know if he actually had specific illnesses related to mine, but it’s possible - Padre Pio was much afflicted in so many ways during his life).

I know that I have been consoled and encouraged and helped by him, and I invoke his intercession every day. I am reminded that God understands me, because people often don’t understand, and I don’t understand myself. Even regarding the complexity of my health, no one really knows what's going on. I don't know, and sometimes I feel confused and overwhelmed. Why am I such a mess, such a human wreck? Why do I have such a clunky brain?

But I have been so greatly blessed by the Lord, so much more than anything I have had to endure. And like so many people, I am grateful to Saint "Padre Pio" for more than I know, and I will continue to rely on his friendship in the communion of saints.

Near the end of his many years of fidelity and suffering, he is reported to have said, "tell everyone that, after death, I will be more alive than ever. And to all those who come to ask, it will cost me nothing to give to them."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Equinox is Here Again

Image from dictionary[dot]com, click LINK

Happy Autumn Equinox to all my peeps in the Northern Hemisphere.

¡Y feliz Eqinoccio de Primavera a mis amigos Sureรฑos en lugares como Argentina!๐Ÿ˜‰

And Happy Spring-on-ya to the Aussies. G'day mates!

September 22, 2020 was a beautiful day and evening here in the Valley! The sky looks like this before 7:30 PM now (and the only reason it's this late is because of that wonderful "Daylight-Savings-Time" which will give us at least some evening light until November...).

Late sunrises don't bother me, because I'm a writer and a scholar. For me, all year round, there is nothing worth calling "morning light" until after I've had COFFEE!

You see what I mean?

Anyway, the evening of the Equinox also treated us to a waxing moon over the still-very-much-green trees.

As always, we shall watch the Northern Hemisphere's delightful Autumn develop in these pages over the next two months. Or at least I shall watch it, because it still surprises me, year after year.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Matthew and the Gaze of Jesus

Pope Francis often links the beginning of his own vocation to the priesthood to his experience of the merciful gaze of Jesus, who looked upon him and called him in late adolescence through the eyes of a kind parish priest who was his confessor and guide.

Some years ago, the Pope took the occasion of today's feast of Saint Matthew the-tax-collector-turned-apostle to preach about this loving, penetrating way that the Lord regards each one of us.

"Jesus’ gaze always lifts us up. It is a look that always lifts us up, and never leaves us in our place, never lets us down, never humiliates. It invites you to get up; [it is] a look that brings you to grow, to move forward, that encourages you, because it loves you. The gaze makes you feel that He loves you.

"And sinners, tax collectors and sinners, they felt that Jesus had looked on them, and that gaze of Jesus upon them (I believe) was like a breath on embers, and they felt that there was fire in the belly, again, and that Jesus had ​​lifted them up, gave them back their dignity. The gaze of Jesus always makes us worthy, gives us dignity. It is a generous look.

"'But behold, what a teacher: dining with the dregs of the city!'

"But beneath that dirt there were the embers of desire for God, the embers of God's image that wanted someone who could help them be kindled anew. This is what the gaze of Jesus does.

"All of us find ourselves before that gaze, that marvelous gaze, and we go forward in life, in the certainty that He looks upon us. He too, however, awaits us, in order to look on us definitively, and that final gaze of Jesus upon our lives will be forever, it will be eternal.

"I ask all the saints upon whom Jesus has looked, to prepare us to let ourselves be looked upon in life, and that they prepare us also for that final – and first! – gaze of Jesus!"

~Pope Francis

Sunday, September 20, 2020

They Keep Blooming...

If these roses insist on blooming seven months out of the year, I'm going to keep taking pictures of them!๐ŸŒน

Saturday, September 19, 2020

"Saint Janaro's Day?" I Say "YES"!

Happy "Janaro Family Feast Day"! Buona Festa di San Gennaro!
Today is the Feast Day of the Great Ancestor of the Janaro Clan, the original Saint Januarius, fourth century bishop and martyr in what is today south-central Italy.

That's our paese, at least for the Janaro part of the family. My great-grandfather came over from there to New York in the late 19th century.

He arrived a bit prior to the stampede of Italian immigrants who poured into the USA, Argentina, and Uruguay around the the turn of the 20th century. His name was Pasquale Janaro, and an Italian friend once told me that such a name could only come from within a stretch of 50 kilometers around the greater Neapolitan area. So I'm sure Saint Januarius must, somehow, be related to us, what with the "Benevento" and "Naples" regional traditions and all (umm, I'm gonna resist the temptation to say something cheesy like "his BLOOD moves through our veins," no, no jokes like that๐Ÿ˜‰).  
But there must be some connection, because "Janaro" (including the "J") is a variant in old Neapolitan dialect of "Januarius." Both of which are derived from the mythical Roman god "Janus," the "guardian of the gateways" and all places where people come in and go out (note that "January" is the first month, the end of one year and the beginning of another).

Thus I hypothesize... I don't have tons of authority to back up these fancy claims. But this is a family story. It's meant to widen the eyes of children (and at this point, as God wills) grandchildren, and help convey to them a sense of kinship with their distant cousins in that beautiful and crazy city on the glittering blue Mediterranean sea. And of course to have a patron saint for the whole family.

So scholars, do me a favor: don't screw this up for me, please?

In any case, according to Legend (and I should know, because I made up the legend) today's ancient bishop and martyr is the patron saint of the Janaros.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Time and Memory: Encountering a New Humanity (Part 2)

I want to remember again those days, weeks, and months from thirty years ago.

Many of the things I remember from the year 1990 impress upon me a sense of nostalgia. They seem recent and familiar, but then distant and antiquated. There is a spectrum of memories of places, environments, music, work, books, theories, news, political problems, weather - sights, sounds, smells, feelings of expectation, enthusiasm, accomplishment, dread, embarassment, boredom.

I feel like I can practically inhabit my skin from back then, and yet ... where did it all go? It's so "strange," this business of being human. What is time and memory? What is this "me" through which so much passes and apparently vanishes and yet also somehow "remains"? And time keeps going on and on, and the person reaches out for things, gains them, loses them, begins again, has sorrows and joys, and always yearns for more, and then ... dies?

Maybe we appeal to belief in the immortality of the soul and "the afterlife" - okay, but what is all the hum and scrum and bother of this life all about? Does it really matter? The sage and the cynic say, "no," but for different reasons. We look to religion to tell us the things that do matter in this life, and we feel like we can come away with a (hopefully manageable) "list of things that matter." But then it seems we are left with "the-other-99%-of-life" to fiddle around with, scramble through, or endure aimlessly ... But then why do we find so much in life fascinating? Why do there seem to be so many "important things" in this (utterly?) perishable world? And why are even the little peculiarities so endearing?

The would-be "religious person" might be tempted to try to check off the boxes on the list of obligations and prohibitions, and then - with regard to the rest of life in this world - stay disengaged, cold, "safe," mediocre (this is a caricature of a genuine religious attitude, of course, but it's easy to slip into it).

Why am I alive in this world? The particularities of time and memory, aspirations and disappointments, people and relationships, eating and drinking, living and dying - what is the point of all of it? How is it connected to my ultimate destiny? Why does the past still move me as if it is not yet fulfilled (or disturb me as ruptured and in need of healing)? If we are made for happiness, why must we pass through so much suffering?

There are responses to these questions that, after more than half a century of living, I can articulate in various ways (from the Catechism, from theology, from philosophy) and those articulations do matter very much. But words alone are not enough, because these questions remain on an existential and personal level. That is to say, they come from "the guts" of my life and they indicate the mystery of who I am and what reality is, the mystery that is intimate yet elusive, and that moves me to continue in the hope that things do "fit together" in the end, that "all of it" has meaning.

And, one more question: "What does all of this have to do with 1990 in particular?" Well, something happened to me in that year. It wasn't that I "found answers" that removed the drama from, or neutralized, these questions. Rather, I found help in "living these questions" within my faith, within my relationship with Jesus Christ. I found a place where, even now, I can continue to face these questions with greater intensity...

Central to my life is this "relationship with Jesus Christ," because it isn't a thought subject to my control that gives meaning to everything in my life. It isn't an ideology that gives meaning to my life.

It is a Person. Life is about a relationship with a Person I encounter in my own history. The Mystery who is the Source of all reality and the Source of me - who is "within" me and "beyond" me in a manner I cannot comprehend - has come to meet me and be present in my life, to reveal Himself as my destiny and my life as a journey toward His fullness, a journey in which He accompanies me.

The Mystery became flesh, so that He could look upon me with a human face and love me and engage my life with human gestures. This is Jesus Christ living and acting through His people, the Church - Jesus drawn close to my humanity, "dwelling" with me (and there is room for every aspect of Catholic ecclesiology here).

He entered the history of my life in an original and unrepeatable way on March 10, 1963 - the day of my baptism. It is an encounter that has deepened in many significant ways over the years. In 1990, I was renewed in this meeting with Him through a group of friends who were then at Catholic University of America. They have helped me, and continue to help me to journey with Jesus in the Church and to hope for the fulfillment and transformation of the whole of my life. With them I learned to seek the face of Jesus and to ask to discover anew His companionship through all of the persons He has entrusted to me, in all of the places and circumstances of my life each day.

To ask for the grace to recognize Him, remember Him, trust in Him... more and more: this is the way of living and praying and following Him that I began to learn in a very particular way in 1990. Though I have learned very little, forgotten too much and too often, and have not been very coherent with what it proposes, it remains my way even now.

Thus, over the past thirty years I have belonged to the "ecclesial movement" founded by Monsignor Luigi Giussani that is called (in English) Communion and Liberation. If you have heard of it, you might be wondering, "Oh, is that still around?"

Well, I'm happy to say that CL is still very much around.

It has been a long time since the days when the once-"new" predominantly lay movements and groups were getting lots of attention and even enthusiasm from the Catholic press. A lot has happened since those days. We have indeed learned that not all that was "glittering" in the Church at that time was in fact "gold."

But there was much that was (and remains) good and genuine and constructive to the witness of the Church. The Holy Spirit poured out abundant gifts on God's people during the past century - gifts that were profoundly suited to the unprecedented times of the emerging global epoch and the evangelical renewal proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.

Some of these "charisms" have generated new religious congregations or other specifically structured forms of supporting Christian life and witness into the new millennium. Others have brought about certains "styles" or accents of Spirit-filled living within a variety of diverse contexts. These latter tended (in varying degrees) to involve more flexible organization, different levels of commitment, and a very wide scope for the drama of our human freedom and responsibility which are personally attracted, engaged, and offered possibilities by the mysterious workings of God's grace.

CL is definitely in this latter category of charisms. This does not imply that it is not challenging and awesome and "demanding" - we are, as I said, talking about a way of living our relationship with Jesus.

It is a great way, that provokes every aspect of life, but it does so with immense respect for freedom and the dignity of the person along with an abundant witness to the forgiveness and mercy of Christ.

Thus even with all my negligence and incoherence, I find that it is possible for me to stay. It is even possible to be changed, slowly, beyond the stiffness of all my anxieties and the clenched teeth of all my stubbornness.

[ be continued.]

Monday, September 14, 2020

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Jesus Changes Our Experience of Life

When we encounter Jesus and begin to follow him in the Church, our way of perceiving, judging, and valuing reality starts to change.

We may not "notice it" so much (at first) or reflect on it beyond the particular "practices" that we take up as the most obvious dimension of our response to him. Our feelings about ourselves and our lives do not necessarily become warm, fuzzy, and comfortable, or exhilarated and self-consciously zealous. Or perhaps, we have an initial emotional enthusiasm that doesn't continue in the same way after a while. We certainly do not find our actions instantly rendered coherent with everything Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount.

Nevertheless, the Spirit is at work in us, inviting us to move forward on the path toward God's kingdom, and also healing us and deepening our adherence to Christ in mysterious but very real ways. 

Msgr Luigi Giussani always emphasized the impact of this change on our humanity. The journey of faith makes you a new creature, who has "the dignity, the certainty of your destiny and the capacity to operate in a new and more human way." This new humanity means "A different experience of the sentiment of yourself, a different perception of things, a different emotion of the presence of others, a different impetus and density in relationships, a different gusto in the troubled dynamic of work, an outcome that was inconceivable, unimaginable before."

Friday, September 11, 2020

Remembering 9/11: Overcoming "Hatred of the Human"

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were rightly described by the late Lorenzo Albacete as springing from and expressing "hatred of the human." The dawn of the 21st century was marked by this new and awful turn in the "cycle of violence" that continues to wreak havoc all through the earth. 

Violence begets violence. It feeds into the mayhem of destruction, the drive of a ferocious resentment that would - were it possible - unmake being itself.

Violence is ultimately the enactment of hatred for the human person, for humanity, for reality-as-gift, for the mystery that always transcends the grasp of individual ego, collective pride, and the arrogance of the logic of power.

Let us never forget September 11, 2001. And let us rededicate ourselves, again and again, to opposing the violence in the world and in our own selves by a renewed sense of wonder, gratitude, and desire for the good. 

Let us make space in our hearts, our families, and our communities for the recognition of the dignity of every human person, for the awareness that we have been entrusted to one another as brothers and sisters, for the giving and receiving of authentic love. This will nourish the impetus for mutual understanding, forgiveness, justice, equity, solidarity, and the appreciation of all the diverse gifts and riches of our common humanity.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Christina Grimmie: The Brightest Stars Burn With Love

Christina Grimmie was a bright beautiful star who gave her whole heart in all that she accomplished in her brief life, to her very last moment. Today I honor her memory (after four years, three months) and next week her family and musical collaborators will be bringing out a new song from the still-substantial archive of her unreleased material.

Here is my usual "10th-of-the-month" bit of digital graphic art. I have taken some phrases from the upcoming song "Cry Wolf," seemingly out of context since the song (like so many pop songs) is about a broken human relationship.

In fact, when Christina wrote songs on these themes, she often accented the experience of suffering that comes from dishonesty and superficiality. This highlights how important truth and candor are to human relationships, and how we are disappointed and hurt when these characteristics proper to the reality of existence are lacking in interactions between people.

Artistic expressions of such painful human stories, however, can touch the poignancy of their distress and open possibilities for the recognition of a deeper meaning emerging from them. Songs about betrayal, lies, and heartbreak affect us because they take bad experiences and help us to find new and creative connections with truth and beauty, with the justice we desire and the joy we refuse to give up on.

This reflects the whole of reality.

Evil and violence do not have the "last word" in defining the value of life. Love has the "last word." Love will always have the last word. Day by day, I (slowly) grow in confidence of this - in the face of whatever may come - and Christina's witness is real help to me.

Her star continues to burn brighter as time passes. She remains a light, through her signature gesture of welcoming (this work of mercy so necessary in our world today), the inner "hospitality" that she directed toward those who needed companionship, the respect she had for their dignity, her powerful and authoritative sense of the worth of the person, and the gratitude for existence that always moved her beyond her own fears.

Christina Grimmie is lighting up the way for us and filling us with hope and courage to give our hearts, generously and without hesitation to those who need our love.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Happy Birthday to Our Beautiful Mother Mary!❤

Happy Birthday to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord and mother of all of us who are His little brothers and sisters!

The Byzantine tradition is rich with iconography of Mary’s nativity (often in this form of presentation, with Mary and an attendant on the lower right and her mother Saint Anne on the couch and Nazareth in the background).

Nine months ago we celebrated Mary's immaculate conception — we believe that she was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her existence in view of the saving merits of her Son. She is therefore "redeemed" and "saved" wholly and entirely from the beginning of her life. Her birth, therefore, is a unique and joyful epiphany of grace in salvation history.

Though not presented explicitly in Sacred Scripture, the significance of Mary's birth is handed down from the early Fathers of the Church and ancient sources, and it is entirely consistent with her unparalleled mission as it is recounted in the brief but vivid details of the Gospels.

Mary is the first light heralding the dawn of our salvation through her Son. She is the morning star, full of light, the “Panagia,” the All-Holy one prepared in advance by the grace of her Son to be a pure dwelling place for God the Word who would take our flesh in her womb. Mary is the All-Holy, Immaculate Mother, whose heart is united to her Son, and therefore is “large enough” for each and every one of us. She is our mother who knows our hearts and our sorrows. She draws us together with Jesus our Savior and with one another.

Don’t be afraid to entrust everything to her, because through her you encounter Jesus, the Word truly made flesh, our God and our brother!

“Blessed are you, holy Virgin Mary, deserving of all praise; from you rose the sun of justice, Christ our God" (Gospel Antiphon).

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Person of Jesus Gives Me the Truth of Myself

Saint Paul famously declared: "I no longer live; Christ lives in me" which means that "I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). 

Do we Christians view our lives in this way? 

There are times (fewer than I would like to admit) when I really do remember that I belong to Jesus, that the source of my identity and the energy that draws me to seek and build the good is His love and mercy.

Living faith is trust, and that requires me to realize that the source of my life is something more than a man who lived and died two thousand years ago. Jesus is the Risen One, glorified at the Father's right hand. He lives. He loves me and gives Himself to me now. There are moments when I remember this truth, this real fact that defines me and that defines reality right now.

But too often, it slips away from the present. Somehow, the truth of "Jesus loving me in this moment" subtly turns into "the Christian worldview" or "the Christian system of thought." These latter things, of course, have their place as aspects of living with Jesus, knowing and loving Jesus, following Him in the Church, and witnessing to Him in the world.

The problem comes when they become a substitute for the awareness of belonging to Jesus, of being in a relationship with the Person of Jesus who is present in my life, who is working by the power of His Spirit to make me an adopted son of the Father. When "Christian thought" loses its vital connection with the Person of Jesus, it atrophies. It becomes my system, my project, my way of defining myself.

It's so easy to become a member of the "Christian party," to fight for "Christian ideas," or even to discourse on things like love, mercy, and presence (such as I am doing right now) and forget all about the Person of Jesus Christ! I can so easily live as if He doesn't exist, which means, of course, that I live in the presumption that everything depends on me. 

Which, means, ultimately, that I am alone...

I am not saying that it is necessary to constantly conjure a picture of Jesus in my mind, or be obsessed with explicitly thinking about Him at every moment. No. This relationship is a living reality, an intimacy, which entails an attachment of the heart, an impetus for love.

He loves me and gives Himself for me: this is what constitutes the real value of my "self." How much do I live this and depend on it? Very little. I live in forgetfulness and distraction. 

But He never forgets.

The only way to grow in this awareness is to pray. "Jesus deepen my awareness of Your presence in my life. Deepen my trust in You."

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Mother Teresa: "The Hunger For Love..."

Mother Teresa understood the need for love, the longing that cries out from the boundless depths of every human heart. That's what made her so unique.

Friday, September 4, 2020

"Nurture in Us What is Good"

I wanted to take note once again of another very rich "Collect Prayer" from the Church's liturgy (it's too easy to miss the content of these prayers from Sundays and the days that follow during the week). 

This is from the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Rite, a week which ends on Saturday, September 5. Here again we find several basic facets of our relationship with God expressed and interconnected in a concise plea for His grace.

We could benefit from praying and meditating on these words personally any time of year, and it might be useful to have a book that "collects" the Collect Prayers, especially the series from the six month-or-so period after Pentecost. This is the longest continuous stretch of Ordinary Time in the liturgical year, lasting until Advent begins the new annual cycle. 

The first half of the Church year is strongly marked by preparations and celebrations of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: Advent and Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter with its season culminating in the great feast of Pentecost.

However, we should not grow inattentive or distracted after the Easter Season ends. The fire of the Holy Spirit continues to illuminate the weeks and months that follow, so that this "Ordinary Time" (which does not mean "down time" or "insignificant time") represents the continuation of Pentecost. In these weeks, especially, we implore the Lord to strengthen and bring to fulfillment His grace that He has given us through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

Consider our prayer over this past week:

This is a prayer full of the awareness of our dependence on God and our confidence in His tenderness and goodness, in His fatherly care for us whom He has made His children.

God is the "giver," the Source of all goodness, and He calls us to know Him and love Him in Christ, to call Him by name - "Abba, Father" - with the love and grateful reverence of children. This is how we begin, even now, to share in God's own life that He has opened up to us through Jesus in the Spirit, the inexhaustible life of the Trinity, of the God who is Love.

Note again that not only does God give us this vocation. He also gives us the power, the expansion of freedom, which carries our response to His calling and our cooperation with it as we journey in faith, hope, and love to our fulfillment. He gives us His life, His goodness, in which we are destined to share.

In this prayer, we ask for Him to work the great mystery of His wisdom within us. We ask Him to "put into our hearts" the love of His name, and to "deepen" our awareness of His awesome and wonderful reality, His infinite goodness. Then we ask Him to "nurture" the goodness that is this new life in Christ, to watch over, care for, and "keep safe" this life that has been poured forth into our hearts through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

We ask the God who is Love, with what is truly "filial" (childlike) confidence and affection, to continue to foster - through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit - the growth of that new life in the Risen Jesus Christ which is the "beginning" of our eternal destiny. We ask Him to strengthen this "belonging-to-Him" which is our good, to draw us and care for us along the mysterious journey of our growing-in-Him, and to "keep safe" this life He has nurtured, until it reaches its fulfillment.

God is so good! He wants so much to love us and give Himself to us. Even if we feel dead as a stone, He wants to transform us into His sons and daughters, and heirs to the Kingdom where His love will be all, in all (see 1 Corinthians 15:28).

And when we begin to ask Him to give us what we can't give ourselves, it is because His love is already at work in us.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

"Full Moon in September"

This piece is titled "Full Moon in September" (Digital Art by JJ - September 3, 2020).

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Pandemic: Faith and the Fragility of Being Human

At the beginning of September 2020, the world continues to pass through various kinds of unusual and uncertain situations in the ongoing effort to control the spread of coronavirus, treat those who suffer from it, and learn more about it.

Some places have loosened restrictions (e.g. careful attempts are being carried out in Virginia and other U.S. States to reintroduce at least some measure of in-the-classroom education). Other places (such as parts of Latin America) are seeing a return of restrictions due to a flare-up of new cases.

Meanwhile industries and patterns of employment have changed, people have lost jobs, businesses, livelihoods, and it's difficult to imagine how the longer term impact on human society will unfold. And people continue to lose loved ones, compromise their own health, or at least live with an ongoing anxiety about health problems and the continually shifting practices judged necessary to stay safe.

People are afraid. They are battered (physically and/or psychologically) into exhaustion and traumatized by this ongoing vivid experience of their own profound vulnerability.

This overextended fear keeps people in a state of tension, always aware of the threat of great personal losses if the objects of these fears were suddenly to come upon them. Indeed, at this point, every scenario for the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to entail one form or another of loss, diminishment, and suffering for at least some people. We may become sharp and belligerent, or obsessive beyond all practicality, in our efforts to protect ourselves from being among "those people." Underlying these aggressions, howerver, is fear and anxiety fueled by the recognition that we don't have the power to guarantee, absolutely, our safety. The fear of loss, and the experience of loss, are traumatic to our human frailty.

No doubt this trauma is intense for those who see their horizon of attainable happiness as limited to the empirical world that they can measure - to a world that holds no promise for transcendence. Indeed, it is terrifying to be helpless and alone and losing something (or someone) into the void of a meaningless universe that is not held in the hands of Infinite Love. So many people are afraid that life has no meaning, that love doesn't win in the end, that everything is swallowed up by nothingness.

But we who believe in and worship God are hardly strangers to this fear and sense of helplessness (and if we are honest, the fact that faith doesn't simply take away our fears and the experience of our human frailty can be unsetting in itself). But this really isn't so surprising, because faith does not replace or eliminate our humanity. Ultimately we walk by faith in the One who is true, good, beautiful, but also the Infinite Mystery. Faith does not "resolve" the mystery of God or of reality; rather, it brings the mystery closer to us, yet in doing so it also gives us a path and a reason to hope even in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Mystery has entered the history of our lives. Jesus didn't say He had come to explain the often difficult ways and obscure challenges of our lives. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He said, "follow me" not to form an exclusive club, but (among other things) to draw us more intensely into the experience of being human, all the way to the Cross.

So even in faith we feel this great fragility of being human, this "helplessness" - but we learn that it is rooted in our need to live in dependence on something greater (on the One who lovingly holds our destiny and accompanies us and every human being). Even in the anguish of our lives and the feeling of fear and loss, He is opening a path for us and a "space" inside us so He can lead us and shape for us a good and beautiful fulfillment that we cannot yet "understand."

We live in the world with a HOPE for a transcendent fulfillment in which everything is transformed but "nothing is lost." Often we can't see what this means for our concrete aspirations, circumstances, and relationships and why there is frustration and loss (or "sacrifice").

But Jesus sees; He has endured it all and He is risen. He lives (indeed He IS) the fullness of being human and He stays with us.

In this crisis, and in every human crisis, the power to rise above fear and desperation, the power to find courage, comes from the fact that He has raised up our humanity and (whether we are explicitly aware of it or not) He is with us and He is drawing us to Himself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Life and Death are in God's Hands

Life and Death are in God's Hands

Lord, you alone know this mystery,
this disjointed and jarring death,
this ending of life
that is happening for some of us now,
for others soon,
for others later.

Death is entirely mundane, 
scarcely noticed in the world,
but supremely significant and utterly personal
for each one of us.
Lord, this event that will finally establish who I am, forever...
its coming seems like a rolling of the dice!
I know nothing of the day nor the hour.
Perhaps I shall die tonight, tomorrow, 
or next week, next month, next year, 
or in five years, or ten, 
or fifteen, twenty, thirty...

I pray for my life and safety and health, 
I try to take good care of myself, 
I avoid dangers that I know,
and yet I hold no power that guarantees 
a single moment
beyond the present that you, O Lord, 
are giving me now.
You alone hold the span of whatever life remains for me,
but my confidence is in you,
for I know that you are good.

Father, you love me, you know me, 
you want what is good for me.
You ask me to find my peace by trusting in you
for whatever comes, for whatever remains.

Indeed, these may be my final words, my epitaph,
my last labors, the utterance that precedes
the unexpected sudden stillness of my breath.

Or perhaps years of new, vast, and arduous work 
are still ahead of me.
Maybe a road of venerable old age stretches before me,
with an abundance of joys,
with unimagined new cares and responsibilities,
with - finally - achievements I have dreamed of all my life.

Years may yet remain for memory and discovery;
years with harsh miseries too:
a terminal illness to break my nerves,
or a slow decline, 
new unremarkable infirmities,
quiet suffering, 

One way or another, however, 
I will have to face the end.
I will die.

Dear God, my poor faith tells me 
that I am in your loving hands,
that your mercy shapes (especially) this last moment for me,
that your Holy Spirit is here 
to guide my remaining steps
with infinite wisdom and utterly personal love,
to lead me into your embrace, 
where I will find the only enduring joy.

Still, death is strange. 
I don't know what it is like,
when it will happen,
what trials it will require me to endure,
what temptations might rise up 
in that unparalleled last second
(Lord, grant me perseverance to the end!)
or what period of purgation,
what intensity of ultimate refining fire I must pass through
to reach you, my Father,
when you come rushing forth lovingly to meet me.

My only recourse is you,
who are so full to overflowing with love for me.
I trust in you.

Whether that final day be near or far,
I host fast to you, my God, in firm hope,
I entrust everything to your goodness and mercy.
I pray for the grace of a good death, 
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is the resurrection and the life,
your Word made flesh who has made his dwelling with us,
who in dying wins the victory over sin and death,
who has risen from the dead
that we might live forever in the glory of a New Creation.

Monday, August 31, 2020

"He's Doing a Lot of THINKING...?" (Video Included)

So we have come to the end of August in the year of 2020. The human race has not yet become extinct. That's good news!!

And the Janaros had our main event of the year. Everything went off as well as we could have hoped. It was a fine wedding ... with a few distinctively "corona" peculiarities, of course. Perhaps I should use that masked man with the boutonniere as my "Self Portrait 2020."

Actually, people have been grumbling a lot about how awful the year has been, but I don't think any of the problems we are dealing with today will be gone by 2021. It could be frustrating for those who are counting on things eventually getting "normal" (whether it's through a restoration of "the old normal" or an adjustment to the all-to-frequently proclaimed "new normal"). This year is actually just bringing into greater focus the chronic abnormality most of us have living in for our entire lives.

Many of us are still affected somewhat by the lingering "atmosphere" of utopian scientism, the presumptuous prejudice that was the motivating (though illusory) aspiration driving "the modern world." It formed in humans (at least in the "first world") the expectation that science and technology could solve, or would very soon be able to solve, all our problems. This was, in fact, an abnormal way of living. Clearly, we are coming to see that the reality of things is "more complicated." We are now living through a traumatic period of transition, in which utopian scientism is simultaneously reaching the peak of its material achievement and being unmasked as a profoundly inadequate set of tools for fixing and perfecting humanity.

New powers and new techniques open up constructive possibilities, but they can also give rise to new problems. As long as freedom exists — wounded freedom, vulnerable to distraction, negligence, and malice — we will have an ongoing flow of human crises and problems that cannot be ended simply by the application of technology, the "forward march" of science, or any kind of social engineering.

Still, we are right to continue to try to make our external circumstances "better," and in this we have good hope of some real success. Sometimes, however, this kind of progress or reform is "messy," with inevitable mistakes, disagreements, and conflicts that arise not only from our failures in relation to one another, but especially from the dramatic character of life itself. This is the real "normal" in human existence: living with the awareness that we are engaged in a drama, with ongoing and sometimes unexpected challenges, and that in order to grow and thrive as human persons we must face these challenges together.

One source of the increasing interpersonal violence we direct toward one another in so many facets of life may be linked to the dizzying speed and power we have become accustomed to exercising over places and things. All this power has exacerbated our (utopian and self-deceiving) tendency to demand that every problem, every obstacle, be resolved quickly and completely or else ignored or denied. But other people come along and make things "messy." These other people who come from different perspectives, with different methods for approaching a problem, people who think and act out of their own experience of life and their own suffering, become intolerable obstacles to us as we seek to implement our (efficient, thorough) solutions and programs.

Thus our ideas become ideologies and "the other people" become enemies. We then feel free to heap contempt upon them.

Of course, it is sometimes the case that "the other people" are wrong. They still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, to be approached with a genuine compassion (that does not condescend, but truly sees the other as a person). Without allowing ourselves to be tricked or used, we should work together with them as much as we can.

We don't owe respect to discredited movements, ideologies, theories, or prejudices. We don't owe respect to Nazism, Marxism-Leninism, Racism, Obscurantism, Oppression, the Chinese Communist Party, the Ku Klux Klan, etcetera. We are not saying that we have to work with people who identify with these groups or their views. [In some cases, such as the CCP, we may be forced to deal with them because of the extensiveness of their power, but even then we must not compromise our moral principles, we should do whatever we can to help the victims of their violence, and in all cases we had better keep both eyes wide open].

But human persons are always worthy of love and respect. And in crises of worldwide proportions, we need to work together as much as possible. We need to cultivate the art of realistic collaboration, with patience in the face of complex circumstances and compassion for one another in our differences.

In the crises of our time, the way forward is messy. But it is possible to go forward if we do it together, as neighbors, as brothers and sisters.

Too often, however, we continue to fight against one another, smear one another with dirt, condemn one another, "cancel" one another, exclude one another from the status of being human persons with dignity and intrinsic value, and try to humiliate one another. This is not only just plain wrong. It is a "luxury" we can no longer afford.

The consequences of factionalism and strife in the global village will be catastrophic at levels far beyond what we have experienced thus far.


Here is a video, where I don't develop these points. I listen to the river and talk about the fading sun and the shadows of the leaves, and then I talk about the need for cooperation and community. And I say that I don't have "solutions" to offer. I'm "doing a lot of thinking" — not to be evasive but to be thorough.

I'm a plodder. In a world full of InstaOpinions, someone has to plod. Even where I have strong and well-founded opinions that I venture to present, I still continue to plod — thinking things through in different ways, as events unfold, revising or following up on my presentation where necessary. This is what I have to offer: perhaps it will yield, in the end, a few insights, a few words worth saying.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Lucia Turns Twenty!

August 28th was Birthday number 20 for our dear daughter Lucia Janaro.๐ŸŒน๐Ÿฐ Happy Birthday Lucia! We love you!❤ (Sorry... you gotta let silly Dads do things like this, but not too often.๐Ÿ˜‰)

This means we have "only" TWO teenagers left in the family. Which, of course, means we've still got plenty of basic "parenting" ahead of us. 

Of course, we'll always be "Mom" and "Dad" to each and all our "kids" (even after, God willing, we acquire another set of names in the small voices of a new generation).

Indeed, as I have learned myself through the years in so many different ways (beautiful, dramatic, and even painful ways), you never stop being somebody's kid.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Saint Augustine's "Hundredfold"

Saint Augustine.

There's no end to what we could say about his life, his holiness, his wisdom, his importance as a theologian, philosopher, teacher, and writer.

Here is one particular thing (among many others) that amazes me about him: Saint Augustine is a special example - a witness for the whole world and the entire history of human culture - of what Jesus calls "the hundredfold" (Mark 10:31).

Jesus says that if we follow Him, we will receive eternal life... but also, we will receive a hundredfold in this life (along with "persecutions"). He also says "seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added as well" (see Matthew 6:33).

What does Jesus mean?

He does not mean the we should follow Him in order to get stuff in this life. That would be to reduce Jesus to our own measure. Jesus wants to transform us according to God's wisdom. He wants to give us a new mind and a new heart. He promises eternal life, which is the mystery toward which everything in this life points, and which is therefore the real meaning of everything in this life.

If we follow Jesus, if we trust in Jesus, we will attain the fullness of salvation - we will live forever in communion with God, in that transcendent joy that God has promised to those who love Him and remain faithful to Him. This is what corresponds to the longing of the human heart, and is the fulfillment that everyone seeks (whether they realize it or not). To amplify this point, Jesus also assures us that if we follow Him, our lives even in this world will be enriched in value and significance beyond anything we could aspire to according to our own measure.

Luigi Giussani often said something that resonates deeply with me, and corresponds to my own experience. He said that if you really follow Christ, you will also discover that you love your wife a hundred times more than you ever could have imagined; that you love your children a hundred times more, your work a hundred times more, your friends a hundred times more. You will discover the real greatness of this life, and you will even be able to embrace suffering.

There is a particular way in which Saint Augustine's life indicates this pattern. Here was a man who set out to be a great rhetorician, a master of articulation and persuasion, an all-around "artist with words." He pursued this ambition with relentless passion, but without understanding its true value. And then he found Christ, and he gave up all thought of being a rhetorician. He gave up the desire to be known for his speeches and writings and works in this world. He longed for Christ, followed Christ, and kept his heart fixed on Christ.

And from out of his singular passion for Christ - without even thinking about it, or caring, or noticing it - he wrote an amazing book. Desiring only to praise Christ, he wrote a book (his Confessions) that was not only the greatest book of its epoch, but one of the greatest ever written in human history. He gave the world inimitable and unforgettable Latin prose, soaring and poetic diction, and timeless, soul-penetrating insight into the heart of the human being.

Aurelius Augustinus the rhetorician and scholar, had he followed his own ambition, might have become a teacher with some following, or even perhaps a minor provincial statesman of his period. Students of late antiquity might have known his name. But Saint Augustine, by following Christ, became also a hundred times more in the history of this world. He wrote books that speak to every time and in every language, and he gave us words that ring out through the ages - words that rival any that have ever been uttered in human speech.

There is something of the hundredfold here, even if he himself didn't perceive it or concern himself with it - even if it has been more for our benefit than for his.
"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace" (Confessions X:27).

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Christian Vocation is an Ongoing Conversion

Christian life is a path of conversion from an egocentric posture to an ever deepening habit of authentic charity - an attitude of mind and heart that truly loves other persons for who they are, and for how Jesus makes Himself present to us through their own personal uniqueness. Our Christian vocation takes concrete shape in the Lord's call to love, addressed to us in daily life, in our families, in work and social environments, and on the internet too. And Jesus shapes our lives in such a way as to draw us along the path of loving Him and loving others. Our sufferings, too, are encompassed within this particular plan of healing and transforming love that Jesus has for each one of us as a unique person, whom He embraces in His infinite wisdom.

In answering the call of the vocation to charity, we must have great trust in Jesus, for without Him we can do nothing. But He is with us, working in our lives and teaching us through His Spirit how to grow in genuine self-giving love. We must not become discouraged by our persistent imperfections and selfishness, but continue to work toward cooperating with God's grace and growing in love.

Saint John Paul II speaks of the Christian life as an ongoing conversion, a work-in-progress through which God's love is integrated into every aspect of our lives, bringing personal and social healing and transformation:
"What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. Therefore an educational growth process is necessary, in order that individual believers, families and peoples, even civilization itself, by beginning from what they have already received of the mystery of Christ, may patiently be led forward, arriving at a richer understanding and a fuller integration of this mystery in their lives" (Familiaris Consortio, 9).

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thirty Years Ago: Encountering a New Humanity (Part 1)

In the midst of this year, with all its confusion, I have had much occasion to remember what happened to me 30 years ago, and how important those days remain for me. I have been struck by this in spite of many distractions (or, rather, it has proven resilient and vital again and again in response to what would otherwise be nothing but frustrating distractions).

Thus I have recognized and relied on the ongoing relevance of an essential and formative encounter that began for me in those days, and that continues to grow even with my stubborn and complicated character, my strange and peculiar life, and all the resistance of my pride.

It was in the year 1990 that I "first became involved with" a group of Catholic Christians on the campus of CUA (where I was studying theology as a lay student at the Dominican House of Studies). At the time, I saw this involvement primarily as a rather clever choice that I was making to associate with like-minded young people.

Yes, young people. I was 27 years old in 1990. 

In spite of the campus meeting place, not many who belonged to this group were students. It was mostly Catholic young urban professionals, men and women in their 20s, well-educated, intellectually inclined, and (with a few exceptions) single.

"Joining this group" was an intelligent choice, one of the few I have really made in my largely hesitant, mediocre life. But it was so was much more than "my choice." It was a gift given to me, a crucial event that happened to me. It was a whole beautiful and mysterious path that opened up for my life — a path that was to shape profoundly the ensuing 30 years (though I have often wandered off to the side or moved very slowly during that time).

Every week, the group met for Mass, then gathered in a classroom for what seemed like a disorganized and free-wheeling discussion about how we were experiencing and living our faith. Afterwards we would go out for pizza. On weekends and at other times we would also hang out, not just for fun, but also to explore the awareness we were trying to cultivate that we were a community in Christ. The discussions at the weekly meetings were loosely based (often very loosely) on a reading for the week from an intriguing and difficult text, a book by an Italian priest that had only very recently been translated into English.

The priest was Monsignor Luigi Giussani. The book was The Religious Sense.

But I have forgotten another very important reality. In the midst of the large weekly meeting there were always a few Italians. They were students or professionals working in the Washington D.C. area who also participated in Giussani's movement in Italy. They didn't try to take over the group, or put on a show of being "experts in Giussani-ism" (๐Ÿ˜œ). They had not come with a "plan" to "start the movement in the USA." But they were active and engaged with the rest of us, and they had a kind of groundedness and freedom which shaped them as very distinct, self-possessed, confident personalities who were also some of the most open people I have ever known.

We were pretty clueless as to what this "movement" was all about or what the heck we were doing. But the Italians didn't really try to "explain it" to us, and they certainly didn't try to impose anything on us. Rather, they befriended us with what I later realized was tremendous confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ and His presence among us. And they shared their own experiences with us of "Comunione e Liberazione,the immense Catholic movement in Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) through which they had discovered that Christ was real, that He was the meaning of all of life.

Being with them and with one another (and studying this seemingly incomprehensible book), we encountered Jesus Christ in a particularly vital way, a way that corresponded to the depths of our own humanity, and a way that called us to be incorporated more profoundly into His Body, His Church, with a greater attention to reality, a deeper charity, and a passion to be witnesses in the world to Him. An ecclesial movement called Communion and Liberation thus began to be (and continues to be) a small but tenacious and fruitful gathering of people who live their Catholic faith with the "accent" of this particular charism, fully and faithfully inserted within the whole Church and in the society of the USA.

Two people I met in those early years of belonging to CL stand out immediately for me. One of them was Msgr Giussani himself. I have written already about his particular counsel and encouragement for me in my professional vocation as a teacher. I didn't meet him until 1991. But the other person is someone I met on the first day, when I went into that classroom for my first experience of the "School of Community." It was more than an "occasion" — the fact is that everything that happened to engender, build up, and sustain my companionship with this person over the years remains rooted in that friendship with Christ that we both began to experience in those days, 30 years ago.

That person is sitting here with me in the same room as I write these words. Her name was different 30 years ago; it has long been changed to what it is today: "Eileen Janaro."๐Ÿ˜‰

[to be continued...]

Monday, August 24, 2020

Crescent Moon at Dusk

This is a sliver of the moon in the evening sky from last week. The "crescent moon" is lovely, and this composition (in the early evening, near the horizon) definitely got my attention.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Desire of Our Hearts For "True Gladness"

We ask the Lord our God, our Father, to fill our hearts with His love, to change us, to give us a new life that is beyond anything we could ever have imagined if He hadn't made us for it and called us to it. We ask Him to fix our hearts on that place where true gladness is found.

I want to point out some of the really profound "Collect" prayers that we have on the Roman rite liturgical calendar around this time of year. Last week's and the current week's prayers (i.e. the twentieth and twenty first weeks of Ordinary Time) are great examples.

Here is the prayer from last week:

Here we acknowledge the transcendence of God, and also the transcendence of our own destiny. Our God is "above all things" and has destined for our fulfillment "good things which no eye can see," the joys of communion with Him. We have a supernatural destiny which is beyond ourselves while also made accessible and intimate to our humanity by God's loving initiative, His grace in Jesus Christ.

Grace engenders a relationship of love: God loves us in such a way that we are empowered to love Him and "attain" His "promises." He reveals and gives this new life to us through Jesus, who is the meaning of our existence and all of creation. Here "we pray" to God our Father, we ask Him to "fill our hearts" with His love so that we are moved and changed and transformed that love. His love "warms" our hearts, engages them, forges within them a new way of experiencing and responding to reality and to Himself. Grace enables us to love Him "in all things" as well as "above all things," so that in this world in which we live we already begin to find Him and be drawn by Him.

Jesus who has taken our humanity wants to transform the depths of our hearts so that through His love our "human desire" will surpass itself. We are called to 'lose ourselves' not in some nihilistic way, but with the confidence that in communion with the Trinity we will enter into a mysterious 'beyond' in which nevertheless we will also 'find ourselves' and the goodness of all things in a super-eminent way.

God's grace has already called us and prepared this destiny for us, which we can only attain through a loving and hopeful faith in Jesus. In the Church's prayer we ask for the grace that enables us to grow in this living faith, to move forward in the journey to our fulfillment.

The prayer for the current week is similarly rich in the way it touches upon the essentials of freedom, grace, and destiny:

There is a beautiful reference here to the communion of the Church, in the sense of the unity we share in moving forward together toward a "single purpose," a unity which God has already given us through baptism into the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Here too, we are asking to grow on the path toward fulfilling His purpose. We ask God to give us a greater measure of love for His will and desire for His promise, so that faith and hope may also be strengthened and focused on "that place where true gladness is found."

Again and again we see that the "hinge" of the Collect each week is found in words such as "grant us, we pray" or some similar form of asking God - in His love and mercy for us - to give to us that which is the foundation and the vitality of our gift of ourselves to Him, in love.

This corresponds to His grace working in us, His Holy Spirit transforming us through Jesus Christ our Lord.