Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Broken Openness

Relationships and community are so fundamental to being human -- to living fully as a person. Indeed, community and its organic expressions are fundamental to society.

We need community. We need persons and families connected to one another by the common experience of life, the common struggle for life's needs and celebration of its joys. In community, human persons journey together toward their destiny, helping one another. Without community, we cannot hope to find adequate solutions to any of the practical social troubles we face.

But how do we even begin to "build up" networks of trustworthy interpersonal relationships? Community, by its very nature, cannot be imposed by an ideological scheme. Rather, we build community from the ground up, person-to-person, and we can begin now concretely by living in solidarity with those who have been entrusted to us.

Perhaps some of us have been blessed with the very real "riches" of understanding, and we find that amidst much confusion we are among the few who are able to see the truth about certain significant problems. This gives us no grounds for pride, but only for gratitude to God for this gift, and for whatever goodness we find in ourselves.

Let us be determined to share God's gifts, and to receive the gifts of others in turn. We must never forget that the person we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a unique someone, called and blessed and loved by God with an awesome and mysterious love.

Therefore, we must try to help one another as best we can and with the resources we have. We must love one another in the recognition that we are all sinners, we are all broken, and then listen to one another, help one another to recognize reality, and especially be ready to "suffer-with" one another. Since we are all selfish and make mistakes, we must above all forgive one another and bear with one another just as God forgives us and approaches us with such tenderness and patience.

Relying on His mercy, we must take up each day with our "broken openness," our poor expression of friendship and our desire to understand with compassion the persons He has given to us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Teresa Gives Me a Haircut

Teresa was messing with my hair and got it all sticking up in the back (see The Haircut, top left). I was grumbling about how I really needed a haircut.

But the girls thought it looked funny so I let them take a picture of me as the bald-topped, hairy-headed wild man. Then Teresa offered to cut it, and I couldn't refuse. After all, if she can groom horses she can buzz off a clump of old and tired gray strands from my head.

And so she did. I played shocked, but actually I was glad to have it all off.


Thank you, Teresa. You're such an awesome kid!

She doesn't like to be told this, but as you can see she's very pretty.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Value and the Abuse of Human Trust

We cannot live as human persons or build human community together if we cannot trust one another. Trust is a normal component of human communication, and it is founded on the basic expectation we have that others are telling the truth. The expectation of truth and the human orientation to trusting place great responsibility on anyone who takes up a position of authority in a community.

One way or another, we must keep the trust that is given to us (especially if we are in a position of authority).  When this trust breaks down, we are forced to live in suspicion of one another and we become increasingly isolated. This is why deception is destructive in human relationships: when it is exposed, trust is compromised, but when it succeeds, trust is abused and becomes the inroad to manipulation of others. When authorities abuse trust, they can cause great damage to persons and communities.

Human beings make daily decisions in many things through a complex and informal reasoning process. And yet we do this spontaneously and with a measure of confidence in our understanding. This is founded not only on common sense realism, but also on the interpersonal context within which we perceive and judge things.

We approach reality as persons-in-relationship with others, and among the crucial relationships in life are the connections we have with authorities. Our method of understanding will not be solid, however, if it merely conforms to an external source through coercion. Rather, the reasonable and personal response to a genuine authority is trust.

Thus we can see that trust is essential to everyday life.

We live by trust all the time, in the most mundane circumstances. For example, I would not embark on a unknown difficult hike (back in the days when I was able to hike) without someone who knew the path. Or at least I would take a map (made by someone else).

Am I being unreasonable in so doing? Certainly not, because often the reasonable thing to do is to trust someone else's authority. People tend to rely on what they perceive to be authority much more than they realize. It's natural to trust, and we do a lot of it every day. This can be simply recognizing that someone has the knowledge we need in a particular circumstance and is willing to convey it (a very basic kind of "authority"). But it also spans over a whole range of relationships and activities right up to the cohesiveness of a political and social community.

It is reasonable to trust others whose authority is a service to us. But it is also reasonable (indeed essential) that we have at least a common sense judgment that an authority is trust-worthy (or if we can't have that judgment, we have a right to know what level of risk we're taking in "lending" credibility to an unverifiable source).

Here is where human pride and ambition can play clever games and use tricks to buy our trust through fixating our fascination, making false promises, and using psychological or emotional manipulation. The result is a pathological, dehumanizing false trust that takes advantage of and distorts this essential feature of human living.

Sometimes the abusers of trust simply want to cheat us. People are thus misled, innocently, to a shakedown. We trust the wrong people, and then we discover that the investment was a fake and our money is all gone. In such cases we experience how deception is a form of violence: it makes a bald, frontal attack on our trust, in order to profit from it.

But the more psychologically complex abuse of trust holds out promises, draws us along, and tangles our own hopes within its web of lies. Soon we begin ourselves to connive in the deception, as we dismiss "warning signs" -- issues that require examination and verification -- because we have become attached to false hopes. When this happens, we are in danger of losing much more than our money.

Trust is a powerful energy within the person, which is why the systematic manipulation and abuse of trust can cause a counterfeit of community. It can lead to an efficient conformity between oppressors and the oppressed based on external fear, or (something worse) the internal subversion of the expectations and desires of people.

Thus it is that the abuse of trust leads to the cult, the fanatical revolutionary or reactionary party, the dictatorship, the all-encompassing conformity, the blind devotion to false duty, the persecution of non-conformists (whether they willfully resist or simply belong to the wrong ideological category), the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the gulag, the "re-education" program.

We saw this kind of abuse of trust on a vast scale in the past century and we continue to see it today, in new and diverse ways. We must especially pay attention to the "softer" forms of the abuse of trust, in which social forces connive to bring about the manipulation and standardization of opinion. Anyone who tries to expose "soft" conformity is threatened not with the death camp, but with social marginalization.

Such soft conformity, however, is not and cannot bring forth a genuine human community. It delivers only superficial sentiments of common affirmation, beneath which yawn great chasms of mistrust, suspicion, isolation, and loneliness.

Without real trust between people there can be no community. And there can be no constructive human society without institutions and authorities that are worthy of people's trust.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saint James the Apostle: A Model For Today?

"King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Acts 12:2). 


Today is the Feast of Saint James the Apostle, the first of the Twelve to be martyred. The iconic imagery of the martyrdom of Saint James (who was beheaded around 44 a.d.) is from a window in Lancaster (Catholic) Cathedral in England.

As I pondered this image, I thought, "Hey... this looks familiar. Haven't I seen images like this recently in the news?" Indeed, I have.


Two thousand years later, Christians are still getting their heads cut off for adhering to Jesus Christ. Look, Saint James even happens to have an orange robe in the stained glass window above, not unlike the orange jump suits of these Eygptian Christians from a few months ago. All James's killer needs is a mask, and he could pass for an ISIS executioner.

The blood of Saint James was the seed of the Church, and so too will be the blood of the martyrs of the 21st century.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Narrow Road of Growing in Love

I'll be the first to admit that I'm lazy. We're all lazy. Let's face it.

But let's also dwell on this fact: if we remain lazy, we will never grow in love.

When we see the smallness of our love, the way that our lives are dominated by mediocrity, we are tempted to just reduce our expectations, or to put off the business of growing in love.

We pretend that we're "okay," that our lazy, mediocre lives are "good enough." But they're not.

We don't want to admit to ourselves that we are made for love, that all the turmoil inside of us is the anguished cry of our being, the cry for love. Even underneath our laziness is a kind of desperation to hold onto what we have, because we don't know if there is anything out there "beyond ourselves" and we don't want to take the risk.

But really, are you satisfied with what you have now. Really?

Still, we don't even know how to begin living the depth of love that stirs within us. We are afraid. How awful it is to face our fragility, our vulnerability, our weakness, our failures, and the deep wounds of our own selves.

And we can become frozen in our shriveled hearts if we give in to discouragement. "I have tried to love before, but all I've done is screw things up. I don't know how to love and I don't want to try. It's too dangerous!"

This is a moment where my freedom is challenged in a critical way. I have a choice. I can give in to discouragement. Or I can begin from my poverty, and beg for help.

When we do cry out for help, it may feel like a waste of time, because help doesn't seem to be coming. There are no signs and wonders, no great miracles. We are still broken and confused. We are begging for help, but it seems that nothing happens, nothing changes.

That is not true.

Look! We are already doing something.

In that begging is already the recognition that we need to love and to be loved. In that begging is already the recognition that there is someone worth loving. If I were really alone, it would never even occur to me to ask. Someone is already here, helping me now.

So I beg for help, I beg for the One who is already helping me, loving me: the One who is with me. And I begin to love. Of course, I'm still confused. I forget. But there are moments when I remember, and I know when this happens that I am not the source of that memory. The One who loves me touches my life. I give Him thanks, and I beg for these moments to increase.

This asking, this prayer, allows Him to open our hearts and draw us, more and more. It allows Him to shine light on our lives so that we might see their meaning, more and more, in relation to Him.

This is the narrow road of growing in love.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Woman Who Saw Jesus: Mary Magdalene

Saint Mary Magdalene, with flask of myrrh and egg
symbolizing the resurrection.

Antiphon for Morning Prayer on her Feast Day

Resurrection and Mary Magdalene

Saint Mary of Magdala's feast day is today. She is called ἰσαπόστολος in the Byzantine tradition ("Equal-to-the-Apostles") for her original witness to Jesus's resurrection.

Jesus said to her, "go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'" (John 20:17-18).

Monday, July 20, 2015

This Great and Deep Longing

Longing, yearning, aching for that ultimate "something"--this is the root of my identity and my actions. It is the way my heart is made.

Most of the day I smother this great and deep longing of the heart, or at least I try. It is so vast, so much beyond my control, so provocative to the dreams of comfort that I fool myself with. But it is what makes for every authentic engagement of life that I manage in a day.

It makes it possible to perceive things as they really are and to recognize that my relationship with reality consists in a recognition of its beauty and a joy tinged with sadness--things are and yet they are not enough.

Being Christian does not take away this yearning. Rather, it intensifies it. It does not remove the sweet pain of my need for the Infinite. On the contrary, Christianity is the revelation that the Infinite One has embraced my life.

Being Christian makes it possible to live life according to its true meaning, without escape or desperation.

Usually I don't live this possibility. I flee every day, into my own schemes and vain imaginings and grasping and blindness. But I have moments when I remember that this is what life is really all about.

They are moments of prayer. They generate hope.

In hope, I truly begin to live.

Friday, July 17, 2015

War of Words

Words are whirling like a storm, like bullets flying, like glass shattered in the wind.

We use more words today than ever before in history, and we have more media platforms to say them, text them, post them.

For all that, so many of our words boil down to people saying things to people about other people.

We classify our discourse as expressing opinion, conveying information, or engaging in journalism, scholarship, analysis, etc., etc., etc. Yet what so much of it really is, in the end, is one form or another of self-affirmation, gossip, unnecessary curiosity, detraction, calumny, or cynicism.

We use words to assert ourselves, or to make war on one another. And our words express what is inside our hearts. We have hearts full of violence.

This has much to do with lack of real communication that displays itself so fiercely in Internet comboxes and social media networks, as well as in human interactions in so many other areas. Here online, it can become a concentrated barrage. Multimedia words and images, comments sharp as daggers, unfounded accusations and personal attacks.

It becomes difficult to remember the topic or controversy, to keep it focused and grounded, much less to embark with others on a journey to find the truth or deepen our understanding of it. I know very well that some of these matters are urgent and that it is necessary to fight for the good. Too often, however, a perceived "expedience" trumps respect for human persons.

We have let the sun go down on our anger. When anger takes over, the first casualty is beauty. If we speak the truth without its splendor (which has nothing to do with fancy words), we fail to communicate, we fail to help others to see reality. We can put the shape of our own desperate anger even on the truth. It's not surprising that others don't listen, or that they strike back. Our words attack them like a knife in the stomach.

The word "hate" is tossed about. All kinds of accusations abound from all sides. Are we really fighting for the good. Are we fighting for love?

Or are we trying to "win" our own victory? Are we lashing out in perceived self-defense, frustration, or to cover up our own problems?

Often it's a tangled combination of all these motives all mixed up together.

I have asked myself, "How often, when I speak or write, are my words aimed at distraction, or at defensiveness, or at drawing attention to myself? And what am I looking for when I listen to or read the words of others?" How many wasted words! Foolish words. It becomes draining and discouraging, this war of words.

I think perhaps we use words foolishly because we are insecure. We are insecure.

Why?

Because we are afraid that we are not loved. Or, rather, we have forgotten that we are loved. We are not nourished by a vital connection with the One who loves us. We need prayer.

And not just more words of prayer. We need silence.

We need to let Him love us.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Our Lady of Mount Carmel


"Mother of Christ, let there be revealed, once more, in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the Redemption: the power of merciful Love! May it put a stop to evil! May it transform consciences! May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope!" (Saint John Paul II).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer "Stay-cation" at the Pool

The closest thing to a "vacation" for the Janaros this summer is this local pool/camping area that we were able to join (no, we're not going camping). There are two pools, and on many afternoons they look like this (above) when we arrive!

The problem is that, on many days this summer, the sky has looked like this!!!

The sky started out looking bright here, but eventually the clouds rolled in. Still, it gave us several hours of good pool weather.

  Josefina had fun making faces. Then she smiled.

I had a good time at the pool too. Here are Jojo and I drying off, looking like monks or desert nomads with our "towel-heads."

We were done and on our way home by the time the rain came. There you see it falling in what looks like fog on the hills.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Saint Bonaventure's Journey


A person should turn his full attention [to Christ],
to this throne of mercy,
and should gaze at Him hanging on the cross,
full of faith, hope and charity,
devoted, full of wonder and joy,
marked by gratitude,
and open to praise and jubilation.

He will experience,
as much as is possible for one who is still living,
what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ:
"Today you will be with me in paradise."

This is a sacred mystical experience.
It cannot be comprehended by anyone
unless he surrenders himself to it;
nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it;
nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit,
whom Christ sent into the world,
should come and inflame his innermost soul.
Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom
is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur,
seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine;
in the longing of the will, not in the understanding;
in the sighs of prayer, not in research;
seek the bridegroom not the teacher;
God and not man;
darkness not daylight;
and look not to the light but rather
to the raging fire that carries the soul to God
with intense fervor and glowing love.
The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem,
fired by Christ in the ardor of His loving passion.
Only he understood this who said:
"My soul chose hanging and my bones death."
Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God,
for it is certainly true that:
"No man can look upon me and live."

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness....
Let us pass over with the crucified Christ
from this world to the Father
so that, when the Father has shown himself to us,
we can say with Philip: "It is enough."
We may hear with Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you."
And we can rejoice with David, saying:
"My flesh and my heart fail me,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my heritage for ever."

~Saint Bonaventure (1217-1274)
from The Journey of the Mind to God, ch. 7

Monday, July 13, 2015

Henry and His Times

Here we are in the early years of a new millennium. History has been quite crazy. People freaked out in '99 and thought the world was going to end.

But it didn't.

Efforts were being made to unify Europe. Islamic militants were on the advance. The Germans were playing a crucial role. Kiev was in the news. So were the Greeks.

I'm looking at the beginning of the second millennium. Yes, as in "a thousand years ago." The eleventh century was a period of complex politics, envy, greed, ambition, scandalous morals, sinners everywhere, and a few saints.

One of those saints was a man known to history as Emperor Henry II. The "Holy Roman Emperor" Henry II the Saint. Today is his feast day.

Henry is dear to me. He loved the poor. He fostered evangelization. He sponsored the "missionary diocese" of Bamberg on what was then the fringe of the Christian world, in order to bring the Gospel to the northeastern Slavic tribes.

And at Bamberg he supported the foundation of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Michael, to which he attached himself as a lay collaborator, living the Benedictine spirit in the midst of the secular world as an "Oblate."

He is the patron saint of Benedictine Oblates. He is also the patron of disabled people, and this is another reason why I love him. He was afflicted with various chronic illnesses, and had a significant limp.

He did his best to use his authority to foster the peace and good of the Church. Nevertheless, religion and politics were deeply interwoven, and Henry couldn't help setting precedents and building up the structures of what would soon become the "investiture crisis" and then blossom into the ongoing medieval struggle between Church authority and civil power.

The best of political solutions can only be temporary, and will eventually be the occasion of new problems. Humans can't be "fixed" by politics. That's why Jesus came.

**************************************************************************

Saint Michael's Abbey, Bamberg, Germany
Nevertheless, it's interesting and educational to examine the ways that people have tried to wrestle with the problem of being human.

So let's explore this path a bit.

Allow me to give space to my imagination here, and attempt to describe the situation of Saint Henry's time. Note well, this is an attempt to describe the situation. I am not advocating any kind of RESTORATION of these circumstances or these kind of political aspirations. What I want to do is to understand how people saw things at the dawn of the second millennium --  to try to see "the past" as decisions-yet-to-be-made, experiments not yet tried.

Let us attempt to step into a historical environment without the benefit of a thousand years hindsight. What did the world look like in 1015? What we call "the Middle Ages" didn't conceive of itself as being in the middle of anything. It was an age that looked back and looked forward to a political ideal, a world of peace, a world of unity-in-diversity, of culture, education, and leisure, a world that was known as the Imperium.

Today we think of "Empire" as a word that signifies tyranny and oppression. We associate it with cruel dictators and totalitarian control. Our "Western" ancestors, however, did not regard it as such. Rather, they saw it as a check on arbitrary violence, as an institution that prevented the dominance of raw power and individual whims over the common good, and as the foundation for order and the flourishing of civilized life.

They struggled to realize and renovate what was for them the greatest achievement of politics, the Imperium Romanum: the best kind of government they had ever known, and what they saw as their best hope of fostering justice, equity, fairness, impartiality, constructive activity, and defense against lawlessness and banditry. For these earlier Europeans, the Roman Empire was not looked upon as a distant memory of the past.

In fact, it was not considered a "past memory" at all.

Rather, it was an ongoing project, though admittedly one which had had some significant setbacks. It was the great hope of the second millennials that the Roman order was not only being renewed and solidified. It was being purified and elevated by Christianity.

It was destined, they hoped, to be a real reflection of Christ's kingdom in this world: the Christian people living in peace and united in bringing His benevolent reign to the ends of the earth. It was Christendom.
(In retrospect, we might say, "Christendom 1.0" -- but before we dismiss entirely this piece of primitive, clunky, bug-ridden political and historic software we would do well to attend to the ferocious viruses that have crashed our present global operating system. But I digress....)
All of this sounds quite idealistic, and it was never really more than that. Jesus never promised success in this present world. Second millennials, nevertheless, can't be entirely blamed for being a bit "heady" in those early years.

After all, in the year 1000, there was a Christian Roman Empire.

Actually, that's not quite true, and herein lies the biggest of all the many big problems: there were, in fact, two "Christian Roman Empires" with two "Roman Emperors" in two distinctive (but overlapping) territories.

What we call "the Byzantine Empire" knew itself simply as the Roman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople, the "New Rome" for over 600 years, ruled by Christian emperors, full of Christian churches and monasteries and also plenty of worldly splendor and wealth and corruption. To the west were the vigorous tribes and peoples who, when they became Christians, also identified themselves as "Romans."

At first they had placed themselves in at least a nominal relationship to the Emperor in Constantinople, but increasingly they took their political as well as religious identity from the "Old Rome," the guardian of the ancient imperial mystique but also the church founded on the head of the Apostles, Saint Peter.

The tenth century had been a messy period all over Europe, but the Germanic kings had once again emerged to claim their role as protectors of the Pope and emperors of the Old Rome.

To say this was a tense situation would be an understatement. But there was hope. The churches of Rome and Constantinople were still united at the end of the first millennium. It was a rocky relationship, but it's hard to imagine that anyone foresaw the chasm that was about to crack open.

Indeed, from a political point of view, there were good reasons for hope. The Germans and "the Greeks" both saw "the problem" and they were seeking a solution: marriage.

The beginning of the second millennium saw a rising star: the marvelous Otto III, devout, educated, full of idealism, son of the German Emperor and his wife, a member of the Byzantine royal family. The daughter of the current Byzantine Emperor sailed for Italy in the year 1001. She was espoused to Otto. The wedding of the two Imperial houses would have created a unified succession.

Political unity between Constantinople and Rome, East and West.

And then Otto suddenly took ill and died at the age of 21. The future Empress Zoe returned to Constantinople.

Saint Henry was already married by then, and his successors pursued other courses. By the middle of the century, the Great Schism had begun. No one could have dreamed that another thousand years would pass without healing.

Human plans are fragile things.

"For present glory is fleeting and meaningless, while it is possessed, unless in it we can glimpse something of heaven’s eternity" (attributed to Saint Henry II).

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Benedict's Option

Today is the Feast of St. Benedict.

St. Benedict was a man who went off into the desert in search of God. He sought to dedicate himself to God alone.

He had no project.

He did not plan to establish a monastery.

He did not plan to found a religious order.

He did not plan to lay the foundations for the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages.

He did not plan the preservation of classical learning and culture.

He did not plan to feed the poor, care for the sick, found schools, or become a counselor to the great and powerful.

He sought only to give himself to God. He found God in the desert. He found Him in silence and prayer.

He also found Him in obedience, which for Benedict meant responding to the little things that God gave him. It meant loving God in those first followers who sought him out. It meant helping them to live together as brothers. It meant writing his directives down, as a rule "for beginners."

Silence, prayer, obedience, humility, love. These are still the things that really matter. These are the things that build up the heart of the Church. But we must acknowledge all of God's gifts: it is also this radical self-forgetfulness of love for Christ that builds up the world. St. Benedict was not aware of this, but God used him nonetheless, and for centuries in the West he has been known as the "Father of Europe." By seeking God after his example and according to his rule, Benedict's followers would also change the history of the world.

Benedictine monasteries rose out of the ruins of the Latin Roman Empire, preserved and fostered much that was good from antiquity, and inspired and helped shape the institutions of the new peoples who built Western Europe's Christian culture.

Our world today may be on the threshold of a new dark age. Are there, even now in our midst, the "St. Benedicts" whose prayer and sacrifice are sowing the seeds of a new Christendom in the future? Or is this not in some way the calling of each of us? We must go into the desert of daily life, in this world which cannot but be a world of sorrows because we are not yet in the embrace of the God for whom we have been made.

We must go into the desert of our hearts that are so distracted, and we must cry out for His mercy and healing. We must live in the midst of a world that has tried to make God absent, that has obscured the signs of His presence, and we must seek Him and stand with Him as He unites Himself to humans in their loneliness.

This is what makes the world a better place: knowing that we are made for Something greater than this world, and letting that "Something" touch us in the midst of this world and shape our way of looking at everything.

Friday, July 10, 2015

True "Greatness" is Found in Giving Ourselves

"God is not one who wills only greatness. God is love, who gives himself first in the Trinity, and then in creation. And to imitate God means going out of oneself; it means giving oneself in love" (Benedict XVI).

Pope Benedict speaks of "greatness" in the way that we conceive of it, our human conceptions. In our pride, we try to imitate God (or take His place) by making ourselves "great."

And so we grasp for power, whereas God wants to make us like Him by enabling us to give ourselves in love, to share in His love.

Here is a larger quotation from Benedict XVI's homily (I'll date it if I can find the date):


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Holy Family: What About the Relatives?

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Holy Family (1670)
Last Sunday, the Gospel reading spoke of Jesus's first visit to Nazareth after he had begun his public ministry. Everyone had heard the reports of his mighty deeds, and yet, when he stood up in his hometown synagogue, the locals seemed to find it all a bit too much to take.

They couldn't understand why their Jesus, whom they'd known as far back as they could remember and had seen day after day, was all of a sudden a big shot. "'Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house'" (Mark 6:3-4).

Eventually, some of these people followed him. They saw by faith that his ministry was rooted in the extraordinary way that he had lived normal life all those years in their midst. They saw this reflected also in his mother Mary, and in Joseph (whom they remembered). Those who overcame the temptation to "take offense" -- who refused to be closed up in their jealousies, their narrowness, or in the cynicism that thinks it has nothing new to learn -- would have wanted to follow him beyond Nazareth, to share in his work of building a greater house.

This passage is significant in so many ways, but I just want to reflect upon the context it reveals. All those years of the "hidden life" at Nazareth were probably a lot more crowded, busy, and noisy than we generally imagine.

It is beautiful to meditate on how the Holy Family encouraged and sustained one another in a profound and vital holiness that also passed through years of uneventful time and ordinary, daily responsibilities. It is also worthwhile, however, to consider what "normal life" actually meant in Nazareth in Palestine, two thousand years ago.

We tend to imagine the Holy Family living in a home pretty much like ours (just like Murillo, above, puts them into an unostentatious but comfortable and spacious 17th century environment). And we often envision them as alone, even perhaps a bit isolated (or at least appearing as such).

But I wonder... perhaps the greatest daily challenge for the Holy Family may have been the not-so-holy extended family and neighbors that they probably ate, drank, worked with, and even slept under the same roof with during all this time. Was not the home in Nazareth and its immediate environment a living space -- awkwardly divided -- and occupied by, basically, everybody? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph... and who else?

Typical Palestinian first century dwellings looked like this.
Everybody all together! (...as this reconstruction illustrates)
Mary's parents, while they were still alive, were close at hand. (It's not like Joachim and Anna would have retired and moved to Florida.) Then there were aunts and uncles and all those cousins who get translated as "adelphi" ("brothers") in the Greek New Testament. Mary and Joseph lived with Jesus and his "kin" -- the whole big, affectionate, bickering, sometimes nosy extended family such as can still be found today in the cultures of the Levant.

The "neighbors" (how did they arrange living space, I wonder?) were probably relatives too. We could try to imagine what work and cooking and all that was like, but what strikes me most is that the Holy Family was surrounded by people whom they were called to love every day.

This is an image that challenges me: Mary and Joseph were contemplatives in the midst of the world. The "hidden life" of Nazareth was in their hearts, as they lived cheek-to-jaw with "the brothers of Jesus" and all the rest of the family and the people who "knew them," living with a mystery that they could not communicate except through love.

We, too, are called to live with Jesus in the midst of so many of our human brothers and sisters who need to come to know Him, to be touched by Him through gestures of love that embrace the familiarity of each day with patience, kindness, simplicity, ardor, and courage.

May the Lord enable us, like the Holy Family, to live as companions of those around us, offering compassion, not fleeing from the ordinary circumstances of life but cherishing them, and building with them a house big enough for all the world.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Champions at Last!

We won. We won the World Cup!

Our whole family was glued to the television in these days. It's difficult to find a sporting event that we all like, but the World Cup fits the bill. We love our World Cup soccer!

And this year, for the first time, our team won it all. 

I don't feel the need to add a qualifying term to this statement, as though the fact that I'm talking about the United States Women's National Team somehow diminishes the achievement. Women's soccer stands on its own merits, and people who really appreciate sports don't need to be convinced of this fact.

These are outstanding athletes who are building great teams, exciting and dynamic teams that deserve more attention and enthusiasm for their efforts.

And they're beginning to get it.

Great Ladies: USWNT 2015
Ironically, the one country that undervalues soccer in general has been awakened by the drama, the style, and the brilliance of its own women's team. The country where many people say that watching a soccer match is like watching paint dry is paying attention to this team because they really are the best in the world.

It helps that so many young people in America (boys and girls) are playing "the beautiful game" these days. It's inspiring to them to see these young women who work hard to hone their craft, to play together as a team, to take risks and come through in the big games, and to be gracious on the pitch, always -- in the losses of previous years as well as in this year's victory.

I look at the veterans of this team. They were the new, or relatively new faces of 2007, people like Carli Lloyd, Heather O'Reilly, Hope Solo. Our family remembers 2011 with its heart-stopping victories and its disappointment in the final against Japan. The gold medal at the 2012 Olympics only went part of the way to fixing that.

Carli Lloyd kisses the trophy after scoring three goals in the final
This year even Josefina was aware of what was going on. Teresa has been playing soccer and the other girls play team sports. And indeed, anyone who plays or appreciates a team sport was treated to a display of how-to-do-it-together.

When the women lifted the trophy, Josefina asked, "Is that the cup?"

"You bet it is, kiddo."

"But it's not a cup. It's a ball."

Well, there is a design that suggests a cup around the ball and actually it's nicer than the men's trophy but I can't explain this to an eight year old while everyone else is jumping around and celebrating.

Congratulations Team USA!!!


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Find Freedom's Fulfillment in the Truth


From the Homily of Pope John Paul II in the United States of America (Baltimore, Maryland) Oct 8, 1995

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
openness to the Lord,
a willingness to let the Lord transform our lives,
should produce
a renewed spiritual and missionary vitality
among American Catholics.

Jesus Christ is the answer
to the question posed by every human life,
and the love of Christ compels us
to share that great good news with everyone.
We believe that the death and resurrection of Christ
reveal the true meaning of human existence;
therefore nothing that is genuinely human
fails to find an echo in our hearts.
Christ died for all,
so we must be at the service of all....

Christian witness takes different forms
at different moments in the life of a nation.
Sometimes, witnessing to Christ
will mean drawing out of a culture
the full meaning of its noblest intentions,
a fullness that is revealed in Christ.
At other times, witnessing to Christ
means challenging that culture,
especially when the truth about the human person
is under assault.

America has always wanted to be a land of the free.
Today, the challenge facing America
is to find freedom's fulfillment in the truth:
the truth that is intrinsic to human life
created in God's image and likeness,
the truth that is written on the human heart,
the truth that can be known by reason
and can therefore form the basis of a profound
and universal dialogue among people
about the direction they must give to their lives
and their activities.

Catholics of America!
Always be guided by the truth,
by the truth about God who created and redeemed us,
and by the truth about the human person,
made in the image and likeness of God
and destined for a glorious fulfillment
in the Kingdom to come.
Always be convincing witnesses to the truth.
"Stir into a flame the gift of God"
that has been bestowed upon you in baptism.
Light your nation, light the world,
with the power of that flame!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Holy Spirit, Come into My Life

Christianity is not external to the real concerns of my life. It illuminates them and opens me up to their true meaning.

But this only happens if I live the relationship with God that He continually desires to deepen throughout my life.

And how can I live and grow in a relationship with Eternal Love except by asking for Him to change me, asking for Him to empower me to love Him more, asking Him to enable me to see the Church as the instrument of His love, and her teachings as the road of love that really corresponds to my life?

I want Him to "come" into my life, deepen my relationship with Him, and make me more aware of His presence. This is why I must ask, continually, for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be renewed within me.

This is why my whole heart has to be a living, loving, begging prayer for God's grace.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Home But Not Bored

We had a Monopoly marathon going on all day long.

This is what happens on wet summer days. Agnese is the only one not playing here, but she's in the room in a chair near me, reading.

It's great to see all of them together. This is precious time. God grant that they always stay connected, somehow, even if their paths take them far away. 

And that they always love one another.

Do I even need to tell you who the big winner was?


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Invasion of the Blue Jays

I think people are probably in the mood for some bird-watching. We were practically invaded by blue jays in the past few days. It was a bit noisy but I got some awesome pictures.

Like this!


...and this!


And this!


And this!

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And don't think that these big blue jays were just hanging around posing for pictures. They were aggressive. It was soon clear that their behavior had a distinctive purpose.

They were keenly aware of the presence of a predator. And they exemplified the old saying that "the best defense is a good offense." They took turns chasing, squawking, and standing guard.

But what "predator" could they possibly fear outside the front of our house?

Actually, this one... poor, lazy old Reep!
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The next morning it became clear why these birds were determined to turn Reepicheep into a nervous wreck. We found a couple of little jays flitting about and scuttling along the fence, stretching their growing feathers.



The strategy worked, as this picture of a terrified Reepy makes clear. She just wanted to be left alone, poor cat.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Love," "Freedom," "Dignity": What Do They Mean?

As June draws to a close, I am drawn to reflect upon the profound and crucially important continuity between the teaching of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si' and that of his recent predecessors in the Petrine ministry.

It is striking to reflect upon the prophetic witness of the successors of Saint Peter to an authentic view of the human person, a view that is so important for shedding light on many problems of our time. This testimony by the popes and the bishops of the world in union with them, drawn from the providential insights of the Second Vatican Council, continues to be a beacon of light for those who are searching for what it means to be a human being in the midst of the expansion and development, the wild upheaval, the chaotic shifting and tumult of this period in human history.

So often we articulate deeply diverse proposals for human life in this world using the same words, such as "dignity" and "freedom" and "love," or "growth," "progress," "community," "relationship," "maturity."

How is it that we use the same words to express radically different approaches to human life and human activity? Perhaps we use the same words with different meanings. Or maybe sometimes we use the words, but without their necessary context, which results in their losing coherence and even being manipulated.

How do we know the meaning of these words that we use to speak about the human person? This question points out the great significance of the prophetic witness of the popes and the Church in our time.

The popes who have shepherded the Church during the gradual emergence of the post-modern world -- this yet-unknown New Epoch of global interdependence, unprecedented human power, and the need for a new and deeper responsibility -- have stressed the same crucial points about the dignity of human persons, their dependence upon God, and their place in the world created by God.

At the end of this post are some passages taken from a homily of Pope Saint John Paul II over a quarter of a century ago (1989). John Paul has the same concerns as Francis, as these and many other passages from his teaching make clear.

In particular he points to a foundational and defining issue that Francis also identifies, and that I wish to unfold briefly here in this post. It is the attempt to articulate human freedom and responsibility without reference to the deepest truth about the human being, namely that the human person is radically given to his or herself. The human person is created by God.

If we forget God, if we live as if God did not exist, we let go of the fundamental basis for everything we say about ourselves. We may use the same terms -- human dignity, the human person, freedom, relationship, love, happiness -- but these words only have meaning in the context of an understanding that we are created persons.

Remembering that we are created persons means affirming the radical relationship with God that originates and sustains the gift of existence that expresses God's love for each of us, the love that gives me to myself.

And it affirms the call from God, the human vocation that leads us to the fullness of our true identity as unique human persons by bringing us to the fulfillment of love and freedom with Him.

Insofar as we forget that we are created persons and "live as if God did not exist," however, our words about ourselves drift away from their genuine significance. The same vocabulary -- human dignity, the human person, freedom, relationship, love, happiness -- becomes unmoored from basic human experience, and the true elements of our perception of reality begin to fragment.

When we forget that we are created persons, we shake the foundation of our being. We attempt to withdraw ourselves from the central relationship that defines us. Thus, a variety of confused perceptions, prejudices, emotional reactions and fears can easily become mixed into our understanding of ourselves and therefore into what we mean by the words that refer to the human person and core human values. 

The same words can thereby take on different meanings. They can become pretexts for desperate efforts of self-affirmation, or defensive words that we use to protect our ever-widening isolation from others whom we mistrust, or whom we wish to avoid because of divisions, resentment, emotional pain, or just ordinary selfishness.

Thus, it is not difficult to find ourselves in solitude and plunged into an incomprehensible and radically unstable experience of life.

We may endure this agonizing loneliness and confusion for a time. Usually, however, we seek out or stumble upon others who we think can support us in defining our identity. But we cannot understand ourselves if we seal off our own existence from the absolute, secure Source that establishes and sustains us.

Too often we have forgotten that Source, or pushed Him to the margins of our awareness. We have reduced Him to an abstraction or perhaps domesticated Him into a background figure who provides comfort, whose agency is limited and defined by our own measure. Or, we have never known anything about Him, and have never responded to the provocations in life that could have awakened our interest in seeking Him. We can thus become closed off, confused, anesthetized, or asleep in front of reality.

Insofar as we fail to live some kind of vital openness to this all-good, loving, creative, radically affirming Source of our human dignity -- the Source of the real identity and preciousness of each one of us -- we live without roots. We become disconnected from the original dynamic impetus that constitutes our freedom and makes our lives human: the search and the desire for the Mystery that sustains everything.

When peoples and cultures cut themselves off from this search, they lose the sense of who they are. They attempt to "search for their own selves" but they don't know where to look, and they often conclude that their only hope is to create their own "value," using various inadequate or even arbitrary criteria.

How often we live this way today, trying to invent ourselves and invest ourselves with value. But this is an anxious, distressing, and ultimately futile project. Life "works" only to the extent that we recognize and live with a vital awareness of the gift that originates and sustains reality and ourselves -- the gift that bestows meaning, and that awakens and draws forth our fascination with everything, our wonder at the beauty of things, the universe, and our own tremendous being as created persons.

Nevertheless, we forget, and we are tempted to try to manipulate the world and ourselves. We try to create the meaning and purpose of our lives -- our identity -- relying solely on our own ingenuity, impulses, and whims. We may succeed in putting on a spectacle, but we cannot generate satisfaction or any enduring confidence with these self-definitions. We will always be haunted by the anxious sense of precariousness, fragility, and ultimately the failure of our inadequate projections. We may be able to suppress this from our consciousness and skim through our days on the surface of shallow satisfactions, but it always remains beneath our awareness like an awful, gaping hole: "This is not real. This is not who I am. This is not... enough!"

Thus, when we live the project of self-invention and self-validation, we also live (paradoxically) with a desperate hunger for affirmation from others. Seldom do we try to stand alone in the madness of an openly anarchic affirmation of ourselves by ourselves. We feel the need for affirmation from others. We want to hear that we are good, that we have value, that we deserve to be loved. This need for affirmation is profoundly human, but it becomes distorted when we subject it to our project. We start to measure the authenticity of affirmation from others -- the genuineness of the love others offer to us -- by whether or not it endorses the artifice of our limited, self-conceived identity and the ideas implicated by it.

This distortion of the need for affirmation leads us to search for places and groups outside ourselves that correspond to and support our ideas. Or, in times of confusion, we look for places where the affirmation of others resonates with our fractured self-image, but also seems to restore roots to our existence. Eventually we are willing to allow the affirming group to impose its own definition on us. We come to depend on this group-identity for a sense of coherence in life and for our understanding of the meaning of being human.

There are no lack of places, groups, and human social constructions that we can adhere to in this dysfunctional way: political structures, ideologies, nations, tribes, cults, corporations, social status, wealth, entitlement, resentment, and lifestyles that appear to satisfy but in reality thwart the actual humanity that has been given to us. We take up whatever seems to feed this need for affirmation, and we set ourselves against anything or anyone that appears to threaten it.

When this happens, there is no more room for discussion of what our words about "human person" and "dignity" and "love" actually mean. Instead we form into factions, seek security in our power, and inevitably make war against our rivals. Even the beautiful word "peace" becomes a mask for violence when we try to live as if God did not exist.

It is entirely different if we remember God, the Living God who creates us, holds us, loves us with an unshakable firmness, crafts each one of us down to the depths of our own freedom.

When we remember that the Good God is the Source of who we are, then we turn to Him, we seek Him, we open up to the mystery of our own destiny, we beg Him to show us His face, and we trust in Him.

Then we begin to discover the reality of our own identity, our dignity, and our greatness. We begin to become truly free.

Here are selections of the homily of Saint John Paul II given on June 4, 1989:

God is all-holy, he is the Creator who gives us life and who makes all that exists in the universe. We are creatures and his children, in need of healing because of our sins.
[Yet] it is easy to lose sight of the Creator, from whose loving hands all things come. It is easy to live as if God did not exist. Indeed, there is a powerful attraction to such an attitude, for it might seem that acknowledging God as the origin and end of all things lessens human independence and places unacceptable limits on human action. But when we forget God we soon lose sight of the deeper meaning of our existence, we no longer know who we are.
Is it not fundamental for our psychological and social well-being to hear God’s voice in the wonderful harmony of the universe? Is it not in fact liberating to recognize that the stability, truth, goodness and order which the human mind increasingly discovers in the cosmos are a reflection of the unity, truth, goodness and beauty of the Creator himself?
A radical challenge facing the human family ... [today] is to use the earth’s resources wisely and responsibly, which means with respect for the limits to which these resources are necessarily subject. To do this is to respect the will of the Creator.
And in human affairs the challenge is to build a world of justice, peace and love, where the life and equal dignity of every human being, without discrimination, is defended and sustained. To do this is to recognize the face of God in every human face, and especially in the tears and sufferings of those who long to be loved or justly treated.
Every act of goodness is an important contribution to the changes we all wish to see.... All our good actions constitute a victory for justice, peace and human dignity. But our selfishness and lack of moral courage lead to the persistence and even strengthening of injustice in the world.
The entire Good News of our salvation [is a] witness to the wonderful Gift of God himself, expressed in the Word of life. God bestows on humanity an absolutely free gift – a share in his own divine nature. He endows his creatures with eternal life in Christ.
Man is graced by God... far beyond anything that [we by ourselves] could humanly achieve or even desire, for the gift is truly supernatural. The wonder of this gift is that it makes it possible for us to achieve the object of our deepest longings: to live forever in intimate union with God who is the source of all good.