Friday, September 19, 2014

If You Have Daughters, Keep Your Hair Short

Teresa gave me antennae (notice my hair, not Jojo being silly)
Well, that settles it. I definitely need a haircut.

When you live in a house full of girls, it's best to keep your hair short. If there's any hair available at all, girls start fiddling around with it.

So Teresa was standing behind my chair and she started to twirl the salt-and-pepper locks on the sides of my head. With the help of a couple of ribbons, I suddenly had horns. Or maybe antennae.

What is it about girls and hair?

I'm a good sport. "Go ahead and take a picture," I said. So Teresa grabbed the phone, and Jojo, of course, said she wanted to be in the picture too.

Today was the Janaro Family Feast Day. Legend has it that the Great Ancestor of our very own Janaro Clan was none other than the original St. Januarius himself (a.k.a. San Gennaro), the fourth century bishop and martyr (and I should know the legend of this ancestry better than anyone, because I made it up). So we celebrated by having spaghetti (which is what we have for dinner every Friday night). After having my hair twiddled, I felt like I needed more spaghetti but we pretty well cleaned out the pot.

Wow, food just disappears around here. Oh well, HAPPY FEAST DAY!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love Never Fails: An Examination of Conscience

Today's first reading was the familiar text from 1 Corinthians 13. Here is that great litany of agape that stirs our hearts, that resonates within and beyond the heights and depths of our desire to live and find fulfillment. They are direct and uncompromising words: nothing can take the place of this love, which is our greatest gift and is the energy that shapes and gives direction to everything else.

"Love" is a word we use in so many ways. When we say it, we usually mean some kind of selfishness. We think love means giving in to our impulses and urges, acting from our fears, our desperation, our grasping, our illusions. But this is not really love. It is not what our hearts seek, and that is why it always ends in bitterness.

We know that the love that fulfills our vocation as human persons is the gift that God gives us, that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts so that we might share in His infinite life. God is Love. God gives Himself in love to us. God calls us to love.

This text helps us understand something of what the love of God is like, and how it transforms our lives. I wonder what would happen if we read these words at the end of each day and compared them to our priorities, motivations, and actions during the day. We would find ourselves examining our consciences with seriousness and depth. We would grow in love, in the awareness that the mystery of God's love sustains us and draws us to Himself. Even in the midst of tribulation, we would find joy and peace.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous.
Love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never fails.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"News," Rumors, Opinions: Where is the Truth?

It's good to get a glimpse of how a first century backwater Roman province did "the news" -- they had information and expert opinion (Scribes and Pharisees) and social media too (the village gossip... recall, for example. the famous hashtag that went viral in Nazareth: #Isn'tThisTheCarpenter? [Mark 6:3]).

Clearly, the problem of failing to put current events in perspective is an old one. Human beings like facile judgments that can be passed around rapidly. We have always liked labels. We can see how the news spread regarding the provocative religious phenomenon that was happening in first century Galilee and Judea:
"John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine,
and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by all her children" (Luke 7:33-35).
Wow, that sounds like today's news. But I want to be a child of wisdom. What can I do? What can we do to be children of wisdom in the midst of a storm of folly that increases by the day?

We need to pay attention to reality. We need to sustain that attention, refusing to allow the manipulation of words and images to reduce us to superficial partisans of one or another set of fashionable ideas. Nevertheless, we must navigate through the storm, testing what gets strewn about in the sea, and making use of anything that can really float. Apathy is not an option. We will drown.

This is a real challenge, because it requires us to be both engaged and patient, active and receptive. It requires us to love the truth more than ourselves, more than that self-centered urge to possess reality by reducing it to our own measure. So often we take up this (apparent) satisfaction and the secret smug feeling of superiority it gives us. It's easy to forget about the truth because we think we can make ourselves happy by being right, by being on the winning side. We stop paying attention to reality. Indeed, we grasp our positions and our slogans like hammers and try to beat reality into the shape we have decided it should have.

No wonder there is so much violence.

In the end, truth "wins." And "wisdom is vindicated by all her children." We hope to share in the promise of that victory. It is this hope that ought to steer us through the winds of the daily news and every variety of opinion, with prudence and patience and charity, with a firmness that keeps our feet on the ground and enables us to take one solid step at a time on our journey.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rescue My Soul

"Have mercy on me, Lord, I have no strength;
Lord, heal me, my body is racked;
my soul is racked with pain.
But You, O Lord, how long?
Return, Lord, rescue my soul.
Save me in Your merciful love" (Psalm 6:2-4).

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Charles Peguy: A Poet for France and for the World

I have not forgotten the importance and the gravity of the Centennial that commenced this past summer. In these early days of September the initial German offensive into France was stopped outside of Paris in the "Battle of the Marne." But within this battle, we must recall the 100th anniversary of what seemed at that time only one of a multitude of tragic but otherwise unremarkable battlefield deaths.

It was a brave death, leading an offensive charge, taken out by a single bullet to the brain. He was a brave man, a soldier who loved his country and defended his homeland, a Frenchman, a man of peasant stock, a recently mobilized reserve Lieutenant who owned a book shop and printing press. He was a craftsman who chose and cut his book pages and set his type with great care. But not many people appreciated it.

He was only 41 years old, but the world and life and death and eternity and the deep sky and the stones of cathedrals filled his head and his heart, and he had written passionately in essays and poetry that very few people read or cared about in his lifetime.

No one knew that from his pen the French language sang in ways it had never sung before. No one knew that while he wrote, perched atop stacks of old page proofs, an entire movement of literature was being born. Indeed, it was more; it was a new Esprit.

It would inspire a great revival in French literature, poetry, philosophy, and even theology. It was a flame that would spread out into many lights in the darkness of the coming generations -- rays of hope in the terrible, desperate darkness.

But when the great poet Charles Peguy fell in the Battle of the Marne on September 5, 1914, he was as little known as the times and the turmoil that were destined to fall upon Europe; as little known as the grandeur and the heroism of so many people who would come after him -- who would read his work from out of the ashes of the Great War, and find therein the humble courage of the human person held in the hands of God.


Charles Peguy

From the poem Freedom [n.b. God is the speaker]:

...I myself am free, says God, and I have created man in my own image and likeness.

Such is the mystery, such the secret, such the price

Of all freedom.

That freedom of that creature is the most beautiful reflection in this world

Of the Creator's freedom. That is why we are so attached to it,

And set a proper price on it.

A salvation that was not free, that was not, that did not come from a free man could in no wise be attractive to us. What would it amount to?

What would it mean?

What interest would such a salvation have to offer?

A beatitude of slaves, a salvation of slaves, a slavish beatitude, how do you expect me to interested in that kind of thing? Does one care to be loved by slaves?

If it were only a matter of proving my might, my might has no need of those slaves, my might is well enough known, it is sufficiently known that I am the Almighty.

My might is manifest enough in all matter and in all events.

My might is manifest enough in the sands of the sea and in the stars of heaven.

It is not questioned, it is known, it is manifest enough in inanimate creation.

It is manifest enough in the government,

In the very event that is man.

But in my creation which is endued with life, says God, I wanted something more.

Infinitely better. Infinitely more. For I wanted that freedom.

I created that very freedom. There are several degrees to my throne.

When you once have known what it is to be loved freely, submission no longer has any taste.

All the prostrations in the world

Are not worth the beautiful upright attitude of a free man as he kneels. All the submission, all the dejection in the world

Are not equal in value to the soaring up point,

The beautiful straight soaring up of one single invocation

From a love that is free.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Living and Learning to Love

Young Janaro, complete with hair!
Faithful readers of this blog (heh heh, is anybody there?) remember that it was about this time last year that I discovered the ancient hand written "blog" of the Young John Janaro (1990-1992). The year has come round again, and I am looking at what I wrote 24 years ago today.

These words are a little bit ironic, having lived almost a quarter century after their writing. I cannot say that I have any special intuition on this point today. I still work with a sense of purpose on certain projects that need time to mature. Sometimes I sketch out ideas in this blog that I hope to develop further. Others remain in the stage of creative procrastination. In any case, my life and the scope of my accomplishments are in the hands of God -- a fact that I can affirm much more concretely after 24 years. Here is what I wrote on September 6, 1990:

It is true: a single act of perfect love for God is enough. Living one moment in the heart of Jesus is enough. I pray and hope that God is drawing me into His love, and I've experienced a lot in the past quarter century of the "much labor" and the "many sorrows" in life. Learning to love God is, indeed, a work of a lifetime, but its length (like its depth) is hidden in His wisdom. That is where I place my trust.

I still hope to live a "long life," but insofar as this is a reasonable hope today, it has to do primarily with the desire to be there for Eileen and the kids for as long as they need me. In 1990 I had no idea that these particular human beings would be so decisive for my future. My life has been very different than anything I could have imagined. At the same time, some of my goals have been fulfilled, and the investment of considerable time has borne fruit (in ways that I planned, and also in surprising ways).

The family is one of the surprising ways of fruition in my life. Eileen and I both got into the marriage and parental business a little late (as is often the case with people in the academic world). It is a business that requires planning, learning from mistakes, and looking forward even while being open to the continual surprise of real human relationships.

As for the (more or less healthy) remaining years, my first goal now is to be with Eileen and raise these kids, and then the two of us can go back to Italy and just... look at beautiful art together for a long long time. Actually, we'd be happy if the kids (and grandkids?) came with us. But that's just my dream. Only God knows the real plan. In any case, in order to see everyone down to Josefina through adolescence, young adulthood, marriage and grandchildren (if they are called in that direction) and into middle age, I will have to live into my nineties! Given that I have days now when I feel like I'm 90 years old, this prospect is a little overwhelming. Whatever lies ahead, I can only take it one day (indeed one moment) at a time. This present moment is where love is possible.

I have no idea of what the future may bring. There will be joy and there will be suffering. I pray that, holding fast to Jesus, there will be the love that I am called to give, moment by moment. That is what matters. That is what will bear fruit.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Terrible Hunger For Love

There is a terrible hunger for love.
We all experience that in our lives:
the pain, the loneliness.
We must have the courage to recognize it.

The poor you may have right in your own family.
Find them.
Love them.

~Mother Teresa

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Shall Always Be a Teacher

Professor in his duds, 2003. Only a goatee back then.
Well, it's September already.

The older kids -- John Paul, Agnese, and Lucia -- are pretty much back to their normal school routine. At Chelsea Academy this means plenty of study, plenty of sports and other activities in the fresh air, plenty of formation in their faith, plenty of fun, and plenty of homework too. They also manage to eat and sleep, somehow. (Haha!)

John Paul is a Senior now. As parents have been saying since the beginning of the universe, "Where did our little baby go?" But there's not much time to think about that: too many things to do this year. The college application and discernment process is well underway already.


The beginning of September makes me think of the many years when I had a normal academic routine, as a student and then as a teaching professor. There are advantages, certainly, to the "quieter" style of life that I now must live, not the least of which is the freedom to make my own schedule. But I miss being caught up in that great swell of activity and anticipation and "new beginnings" that are always in the air with the new academic year.

Sure, I'll continue to be "special resource associate and scholar in residence" at the John XXIII Montessori Center (which starts up in a couple of weeks). That means at least that I will be getting up early in the morning with everyone else and going to the Center's office. It will be a good change of atmosphere, but it's not the same. It's not my classroom. It's been over six years but I haven't stopped missing it.

Still, I remain a teacher, and not only "at heart." I have found new forums in which to teach, and new subjects too. And I remain a student. In these last several years I have studied and observed and learned so much, from books, from other media, from observation, from endurance, from the whole scope of this unusual life.

I am convinced that the best teachers are also perpetual students; they communicate to their own students the enthusiasm about what they are learning. The best way to guide the search for truth (in any area) is to be on it one's self. The teacher is the one who is at the head of the hike, looking for the hilltop through the laborious path, and when he comes to the top and sees the view, he shouts back to the others: "Come this way, it's here, look at this wonderful view!" The teacher is the one who wants to know all about what he is seeing, who studies the map so he can understand as much as possible -- not only for his own personal appreciation but also so that he can point it out to the others: "There is the river that flows into that lake where the old fort is, and beyond the horizon there is...."

The teacher is also the one who sees the next hill, and says, "now we have to climb this one!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mary Wants to Take You By the Hand

My daughters don't often read this blog, unless it's a funny family story or something about the cat. But I hope they will read this entry because it is addressed especially to them. Dear Agnese and Lucia (and Teresa and Josefina, when you're old enough to understand), I am putting into words here a small piece of what I hope you are learning from our home and from the way we live, from the witness of others in our community, from the life of the Church, and from the Holy Spirit who speaks in the depths of your hearts.

It's just a few small words, but as I watch you grow into young women I have an urgent desire for you to know more intimately the beautiful tenderness of The Woman who will lead you to discover your dignity and your tremendous value as women human persons: the courage, tenacity, and solicitude of your femininity, and the greatness of your vocation.

I write this as a blog post because I would also like to say this to every young woman, and to every woman of every age who longs to know why God made her. Your identity is very precious to the heart of the Mother of our Lord.

Dear Daughters,

Jesus wants you to have a very special woman with you on your journey to eternal life, a woman to be your companion, your most attentive and most faithful friend. Isn't that GREAT??? It is His mother, Mary. She will help you to grow to become a great woman, to become the particular feminine human person that God wills you to be in His wisdom and love.

Mary is a gift of God's love. The outpouring of His goodness gives her as a Mother to each of us. She is mother of the new life we receive in her Son Jesus, our life as children of God. This life involves her particular tenderness and closeness to each one of us. She is your mother and your intimate friend.

Talk to Mary. Tell her your fears, your troubles, your questions, your hopes about life. Just talk to her, pour your heart out to her. Don't be surprised if she responds, in her own way. Mary will accept you as you are, and help you step by step.

A friendship with Mary will give you two great things that you seek: She will help clear all the difficulties on your path to eternal life with Jesus. Mary is very practical; she understands your challenges, your struggles, your sensibility, your frustrations in all their details. Mary will help you; she will shape your way to Jesus. She will bring Jesus to your heart. That's what she does. She started doing it when she said "yes" to the angel, which allowed Jesus to come into the world through her womb. She gave Jesus to the world. She will give you Jesus, and deepen your relationship with Him. Talk to her in your heart as a person you know you can trust completely. The Church guarantees that this is true; the Church has promised down through the centuries: Mary will bring you to Jesus.

That's the first thing. The second thing is also very important to you. Mary will teach you what it means to be a woman. Mary knows better than anyone that we live in a time when women are becoming conscious of their full dignity as human persons. Mary understands the aspirations of women's hearts today, especially young women. She will teach you to become the mature, dynamic, self-possessed and self-giving, fostering and nurturing, constructive and creative woman that you long to be. She will teach you.

Mary wants to take you by the hand and mentor you, help form you into the woman God is calling you to be: free, conscious of your human dignity, responsive to God and willing to give the unique gift that is your self, with confidence and love.

Trust Mary, confide in her, and let her know you and hold you in her heart.

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, John Paul and I 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.