Friday, October 2, 2015

God's Helpers: Thanks!

I want to give a shout out to my own Superhero, my celestial homeboy, my Guardian Angel and his frequently employed Backup Crew. 

Thank you for accepting the difficult assignment of trying to keep me out of trouble. Thanks for lifting me up so often, for inspiring me, for prompting me to remember love, and for pointing again and again to the Face of Love.

Thank you!

Detail of Ethiopian icon of the Risen Jesus with angels.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The "Sheer Suffering" of Therese

October begins with Saint Therese, who died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897. She was only 24 years old. In her final days, several of her sisters recorded her words.

She once said, "Take heart, Jesus hears even the last echo of our pain."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Risk of Being Vulnerable

So I have presented in two parts the text of Young JJ's "State of the World Address" from September 1990. I have reflected a bit on how Old JJ might talk about the "State of Now" September 2015. It seems a bit overwhelming at this point in my life to issue manifestos like this.

The theme of power, however, is one that I return to often enough in my own reflections. "Power and responsibility" is perhaps one of the defining challenges of the emerging epoch. There is much to say about it, but let me see if I can make a start:

"How can we shape the use of our vast technological power so that it serves the good of the human person, families, communities, society, the environment entrusted to us? I see this question everywhere. Of course we need Jesus, but He will not give us cheap answers. He deepens the question in us, because in Him human persons and all of creation become more dear to us, and we become more "vulnerable" to their suffering. He calls us to live in that vulnerability -- to take the risks of loving those entrusted to us in our lives, those whose needs and anguish cry out to us. He even calls us to seek them out, accompany them, suffer with them, while placing all our hope in Him."
. . . . 

Wait. Stop. Hold it!

That sounds good in words. But honestly, I don't understand what I'm talking about. Or perhaps there is a very small, very fragile place inside me that has begun to understand a little bit. A really, really tiny little bit.

But who am I kidding? I don't really "live love." I live an aesthetic appreciation of the idea of love. Okay, maybe there is a little love in me, but it's nearly always mixed together with self-admiration and fakery. Ah yes, "the ambivalence" of human beings. "Man is an insoluble dilemma to himself," says Young JJ.

Twenty five years later, Old JJ says, "I am ambivalent. I am an insoluble dilemma to myself!"

Am I willing to become more vulnerable, more tender toward others, more honest (really), more willing to "take the risks of loving...?" Risks? Seriously, me take risks? RUN! HIDE!

Dear friends, I am terrified of taking risks. I am afraid to love.

Yes, friends, I am afraid of you.

And so I'm always hiding from you: hiding behind my intelligence, hiding behind humor, hiding behind my illnesses, hiding behind a thousand fibs, hiding behind sentimentality, hiding behind my reputation, hiding behind my writing, hiding and protecting places in myself even as I try to have real empathy and share my life with you.

I'm so sorry. I wish so much to be more, to be courageous, to be honest. I wish with an aching desire but I remain in this bottle of fear. I'm so sorry, friends. I'm struggling and trying, I think, but sometimes it comes out so awkwardly. Forgive me.

Eileen, kids, Mom, Dad, Walter... I'm afraid.... I'm sorry. Forgive me. I'm a poor human being. Poor in love.

So what, then, is this "very small, very fragile place," this "really, really tiny little bit" of understanding and desire in me?

Theologian JJ would like to intervene here and say, "That is God's work in you; the work of His grace. That is the hope that is beginning to transform you, the place from which you pray, the light of His love that leads you and in which you see the faces of others."

But Old JJ replies, "Why, then, is it so small?" Why, O God, is it so small?

And no one has any more words. There are already far too many words.

What I have is silence. And solitude. Sometimes it feels like loneliness, but underneath all of that there is the solitude. And there is the wanting that burns and burns and burns, and bursts through beyond all that I know.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The World of 25 Years Ago, Part II

Before the month comes to a close I should finish posting the "Statement" that young John Janaro wrote in September of 1990 as he began a journal that would cover the next two years of his life and times. (See HERE for the first part.)

I began by speaking of how we human beings, even as we developed our power for accomplishing great good, always seemed to find ourselves using that power for greater evils. The tension at the heart of the profound ambiguity of human existence was growing greater.

Twenty five years later, that tension has pushed even further. It has grown exponentially, and in many ways that we could not have imagined in 1990.

If I were writing such a broad survey of the times today, however, I would do it differently. I would write more from the perspective of my own suffering and also my own gratitude. I would place my own weakness and my need for healing more in the center. I would write perhaps in a less sophisticated way.

In any case, this is what I wrote a quarter of a century ago. It is a recognizable theme that I still ponder: the problem of human beings living without God. But I believe now (more than I did before) that God still draws us on His mysterious paths by the often-hidden workings of His grace -- even in our ignorance and incoherence and failure and in the apparent insignificance of our lives.

Even if we try to live without God, He still dwells with us. He has made His dwelling among us and He is not going away.

God wants to empower us to build up the good in this world, but first and above all, He wants us. He made us not only for this world, but also to share His eternal life.

And He is Love.

He knows our weakness and our selfishness, and that we play with our own spectacular (and often dangerous) toys without even thinking about the reason why we exist. He sees our poverty and loneliness in the midst of all our riches, and it cannot be any other way because He has placed His signature on each or our hearts. Our hearts will always be greater than our power, and so "it's never enoughand yet we don't know where to go.

God knows we are a mess. But He hasn't given up on us, and He wants to meet us with His compassion.

I still see the problems of human existence but my perspective has grown, and what are "my words" below have become more my life and my suffering. In strength and in weakness, I am more aware that what matters is fidelity to the Mystery of God and His opening-up of my life to my brothers and sisters, in love.

For the record, then, let us listen to the Young Janaro of September 1990. Maybe he was smarter than I am today. He was learning and thinking about many things, and then -- as now -- he was so much in need of mercy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Brain Disorders and Brain Health

In my book Never Give Up I talk about a range of illnesses which are beginning to be classified as neurobiological disorders--these are "mental illnesses" that are rooted (in at least some respect) in chemical imbalances in the brain or the failure of the brain to carry out properly its delicate and complex operations.

We know that neurological disorders can cause people to have chronic "tics" or muscle spasms. Well, it appears that on a more subtle and "invisible" level the same kind of disturbances in brain functioning can cause "mental spasms"--quirks, repetitions, or distortions in the imaging, impressive, and expressive activity of the brain that accompanies our thinking.

Thinking is fundamentally spiritual, but in the human being who is a mysterious union of soul and body it is something that is done in conjunction with (and is therefore affected by) physiological processes. We all know that drinking alcoholic beverages affects the brain and thereby inclines us to perceive things differently and even to "think" differently. Surely it is possible that all kinds of circumstances that we do not yet understand may affect (and afflict) the brain in more subtle ways. These circumstances may even be rooted in genetic factors, which seems to be the case in more obvious, visible disorders.

Certainly all this has become something of a fad in some sectors of the psychiatric field. These kind of problems are overdiagnosed. They are also overmedicated, or many of the medicines made for them are clumsy and ineffective. Having said that, it must be admitted that the great achievement of modern clinical psychiatric medicine has been the discovery of the neurological aspect of many mental illnesses.

Moreover, advanced brain imaging technology is confirming the clinical evidence. We are just beginning to learn the need for careful and attentive medical care for the most important and mysterious organ in our body, the brain.

We have learned that the brain can't be ignored. Psychological therapy has many values, but it won't help a person's liver or kidneys to heal. The brain is also an organic reality. It too requires physiological attention and assistance when necessary.

"Talk treatment" cannot cure a person with Tourette's Syndrome. Now we also know that it won't cure the underlying condition of a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The same thing can be said for many (though not all) types of depression, anxiety disorders, and that increasingly expanding category of complex conditions called "bi-polar" disorder.

Psychotherapy has its place in facilitating healing in the realm of human experience. It is not irrelevant by any means to neurobiological disorders. It can help build habits of "brain hygiene," help construct and maintain a healthy environment for brain functioning, and address the life damage that comes as a consequence of these complex brain disorders. Certain types of therapy may even help stimulate healing processes within the brain itself. But what we know for certain is that in these situations the brain, as a physiological entity, also needs medical help.

At the same time, we are learning that the brain can't simply be nuked with medications that are designed to counteract artificially its chemical or functional imbalances. "Brain medicine" is a delicate art of integrative health care, and here it is especially clear that it is impossible to be effective without treating the patient as a whole, i.e. as a human person.

It is also worth mentioning here the advances being made in the treatment of brain injuries, e.g. "concussions." If anything good has come out of the recent wars (though, tragically, not good for those who have had to endure them), it is the advancement in the understanding of brain injuries, how they can occur, what permanent damage they may cause, and how they may be related to conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Having suffered and recovered from a major concussion in a car accident in 2005, my personal hunch is that "minor" brain injuries--perhaps even on the internal level--probably happen much more frequently than any of us realize.

The brain is, truly, a remarkable, resilient and durable instrument, for all its complexity and delicacy. I believe there are vast possibilities for healing the brain and supporting the overall health of the brain. We are only beginning to discover them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mercy Beyond Our Sight

Georges Rouault, Crown of Thorns
Mental illness is so complicated and so difficult for people to perceive even within themselves, because it afflicts the organic components that are involved with the great human capacities of knowledge, judgment, and freedom. These afflictions touch upon the way we regard ourselves and present ourselves to others.

For this reason, they can be especially destructive. I know this only too well. I know how much my own life has been drawn back from the edge, how often my survival has been a "close call."

I also know -- and still weep for -- people I have loved who didn't survive, whose lives were shattered beyond our sight and beyond this world. Their loss leaves a wound in me, and in others, that will last as long as our journey through this present age.

These wounds will remain open, but their affliction is ultimately made of love, and of a raw hope that the mercy of God really is beyond anything we can imagine or conceive.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

This Strange Loneliness: How am I Called to Respond?

The world can look dim and dark and fading. Why?
We live in a world of unimaginable suffering of body, mind, and soul. So much suffering and desperation.

We are all united, all called to a common destiny, all objects of His ineffable but utterly faithful love and mercy. God is faithful, even though so many know only a darkness. So many are broken and shattered and alone, lost, confused, unaware of their own dignity as persons created by God and for God.

So many are weakened and wounded by sicknesses of all kinds.

Affliction spreads by the crushing weight of material poverty. It also spreads by the relentless, unforgiving, monstrous lust for power that drives our "rich" society, that pressures people to "succeed" by manipulating instruments of power and casts aside those who can't hang on.

Cast aside.

If you live in this culture and have a genetic predisposition for depression or some other mental illness, it's probably going to be triggered.

Because ours is a society of trauma and interior wounds that fester and weaken and cripple human beings.

I know these people are suffering. I hear their cries inside of my own suffering. I hear their desperation and their sense of being lost and worthless. Of being alone.

I know that I'm not alone. How blessed I am!

Sometimes I am wounded by loneliness nevertheless. It's part of the disease. It's pain. But that is not all, because I am still a person.

Do I not still have freedom in front of this pain? How am I called to respond? I know that in this strange loneliness I am linked, somehow, to the loneliness of all these other human beings, my brothers and sisters.

I hear their overwhelming cries. So much loneliness!

I can't bear that any person should be alone in this way.

But I'm afraid of my brothers and sisters in anguish. I am a weak human being. Weak because of affliction, yes, but also weak in freedom, weak in love. I'm a selfish man. Selfish! But this pain, our pain, keeps cutting my heart.

I don't know what to do. I offer, I pray, I believe and trust and hope for them and for myself.

They suffer in darkness.

I don't know how to reach them in this darkness, to help us all to find healing for our wounds.

More than thirty years of studying theology. It has given me many things. I don't regret it. It has enabled me to help people, and to teach and write about certain things. It has humbled me, because after all of it I know so little....

I do not know how I, myself, here and now, can reach out to the brokenhearted and accompany them in their search for healing. Their experiences will teach me more about myself, and I am afraid of what I might learn.

How are we all to discover that we are loved by God? Not in a sentimental way, not as a comforting phrase, not as just theology or a pastoral program... but really.

How are we to know that we are really loved by God? Now! In a way that is greater than our pains and that carries a promise....

Dear God, we need this. I need this. Jesus.

Break down the walls of fear.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Mister Francis Goes to Washington

Pope Francis addresses a joint session of the United States Congress. It was a historic moment, and he rose to the occasion with his challenging address. In the corridors of power, he spoke to the heart.

"Pope and Emperor," twenty first century style. The Pope came to remind the Emperor of his responsibilities as a leader of human beings. Did the Emperor listen? Let us never underestimate the grace of God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Java Tonic"

Today was the first day of Autumn 2015.

We have been greeted by foggy mornings, and I have had the brains to go with them. But my go-to medicine for brain freeze can take care of that.

Well, most of it.... Enough for me to design and generate a silly graphic. There's nothing like the revitalizing wonders of "Java Tonic"!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pilgrimage of Love

Pope Francis is in the United States of America from September 22-27.

Welcome to the USA, Holy Father! Thank you for coming to our country. Our love and our prayers are with you!

Pope Francis gives remarks in English on the White House lawn:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Always a Gift

The older I get, the more I'm learning not only to survive and to cope, but actually to find some incomprehensible, entirely peculiar physical and psychological "balance" where I can really live within the limits of my health condition and its consequences.

I'm blessed by so much. There is so much to see, so much that is positive and good and worth living for right now.

Hindrances do give us the chance to focus with greater attention on what is in front of us. I'm starting to see that.

Not that I'm looking for any further hindrances, obstacles, or chances to suffer. I'm not ready for anything like martyrdom, or the concentration camp, or even broken air conditioning!

But I'm beginning (always, every day, beginning... again) to trust in God that there is a way to "handle" and live constructively what I'm called to face here and now.

Reality is always a gift.

It takes time to see that, however, so I need to be patient and pray and trust (even when I'm physically and mentally freaking out). Then the way begins to open up, enough to take the next step.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Look Inside the New John XXIII Montessori Center

Not one for many words these days, but here's a look at some of the interior spaces in the new John XXIII Montessori Children's Center location.

Programs got off to a good start on Tuesday, September 15th.

A wall in the Elementary environment. Still very spacious for children and materials.

Elementary environment work area with sink and floor tiles, for experiments.

Library area

Elementary Atrium

Sunlight streams through the windows into the Primary environment

Office at front entrance

Students came back ready to work!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mental Illness: The Intimate Reality of Human Affliction

The Almost-Invisible Man?
I mentioned "depression" in a recent post. I'm glad that I did, because it's always good to talk about depression... especially when I'm depressed. It's not really so bad right now. I've been much, much worse before.

There may actually be some fairly new readers of this blog who don't know that I'm disabled. I'm not happy about this, and I prefer to say that I'm "retired" (even better, emeritus, as I have been designated though I'm only 52 years old). I try to be as "able" as possible. If anything, I push myself too hard to do certain things (while, of course, rationalizing my laziness about not doing other things -- because disabled people don't stop being human beings and therefore sinners).

But the basic point remains. A long-misdiagnosed and untreated infection is now in remission but has left permanent physical damage (which is there in spite of the fact that I may "look great" when you see me now). I talk about this in a bit more detail in my book, which has been around now for five years (that time went by fast). The book is still selling because the great subjects of struggling with human illness and human suffering never go out of date. (The most noticeable difference is in my personal stories, above all the fact that the kids are older now. If you read this blog, of course, you know that.)

The greatest challenge, however, has been my lifelong struggle with mental illness. It was more difficult to write about this in my book, but in the end I decided that I really had to bring this out in the open. I knew too much about how hard this is to deal with, how much it remains an ongoing battle, and how poorly understood it is.

Depression. What kind of a name is that for a serious disease? Sometimes I wish it had been discovered by two German scientists with unpronounceable names. Then it might have been called something like Kruezenheimer-Schlotmichenmachers Disease. People would say, "Oh wow. That sounds serious." Instead "depression" sounds like you need air in your tires. People say, "Oh, get outside. Cheer up! Smile." Which is fine, but it's not even the beginning of treatment for the very real disease of "depression."

Ok... best gameface today! ? Maybe...
In fact, you can be outside climbing mountains, and acting cheerfully, and smiling all the time, and still be suffering from major depression. Yes you can.

I have a saying: Mental illness happens to "normal" people. There are people who look "fine on the outside" who have problems you can't begin to imagine. We try to classify this constellation of afflictions: I have Depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Because of the episodic and varying nature of symptoms, I'm on what could be called the "bi-polar spectrum."

I know that there is a lot of baloney that passes for psychology and psychiatric medicine. There is also a lot of truth. I have tried in the past (see my book) and I continue to try to articulate and communicate in a comprehensible way something of my own experience of suffering from the real things. But I don't think I can ever really communicate how horrible it is, how relentlessly awful.

I'm very hopeful, however, that the worst of all that horror is behind me. That's why I try to articulate it: I need to speak for the sake of the multitudes of people -- people you know and love -- who are in the middle of it right now. They can't speak, and though I can't really speak for them, I do want to invite others to share in the compassion that I have for them, that I have learned from my own pain.

This is something I am able to do.

Click HERE for my book
It has been a long ride for me. I have been blessed with good doctors and therapists. I know how difficult it can be to find the right medication (or combination of medications) that help stabilize the most essential features of functional living, without intolerable "side-effects." It's hard, but it's important because we must attend to the distinctively physical, neurobiological aspect of these illnesses.

Different treatments and regimens work for different people. Maximizing brain health is a necessary part of treating mental illness, but it is not sufficient. There is no "magic pill" that takes it all away, although we ought not to underestimate the remarkable improvement that medication can provide for many people, that can aid the coping and healing process.

Really, mental illness is teaching us something about the intimate reality of the affliction of the human person. Because it is "close" to the distinctively personal sphere of human life, mental illness is making us more aware of the need to treat the whole person.

The subject of any kind of sickness, pain, or suffering in human life is always a person. Through my own life I am learning how important it is to remember this, both for myself and for others.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Glory of the Cross

On this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, my prayer is that every human person (beginning with my own self, who is always so desperately in need) might be touched, awakened, and changed by the light of the Glory of the Cross -- the revelation and the enduring gift of Divine Mercy that springs from the very mystery of the God who is Love.

Gilded mosaic, Marko Rupnik, Redemptoris Mater chapel (personal chapel of Saint John Paul II)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Blessed Be the Name of Mary....

Holy Mother Mary,
your name is an ocean.
You are windy and cool
and everywhere flowing.
We are moving through your water
in the starless night,
and you surround us and remain with us
in silence,
and we do not know how we are carried.
We are in a darkness deep in you,
sand grains in your great sea,
where your water caresses us,
we find
the lines
of our eyes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Depression Is Not Always "Sadness"

Anybody who knows me well enough would not be surprised to learn that I'm struggling with a bit of depression in these recent weeks. It's enough to note that September has come again with its daylight and weather changes and its new routines (which are especially challenging this year). Various circumstances are piling up, making me defensive, withdrawn, and a bit more reclusive.

And there's more self-doubt. Always self-doubt, now growing in new directions as I get older and see so much of my life behind me.

What a waste it all seems to have been.

For so many years I prepared and prepared for... what? I don't really know what. I have all this knowledge and professional skill, as well as lots of experience and the capacity to express myself. It just doesn't seem worth all that much. All the time burned away by vanity. I never expected to be overtaken so soon in life by weakness of health and the passage of time.

How did I get broken? I wanted to work with young people, students, to listen to them and mentor them, to be a teacher. Now my son is at the college that I helped to build -- the place I loved so hard that it really almost killed me -- and I feel more disconnected and confused than ever. It's like, "Why am I not there?"

I'm not saying I want to be there now. I don't know (although I have so much to offer, but then again, maybe I'm not able to give in that way any longer).

So where am I? Here mostly at home, with my wife and children, and helping on the edges of my wife's work and some other projects. I am writing often, but even a part time regular commitment to my column in Magnificat stretches me. Everything is intense; everything requires a personal preparation and an entire engagement, followed by exhaustion and a slow recovery.

People my age are doing all sorts of things! I can only do a few things, and I barely have a grip on them. And then I have these "waves" of moderate depression that I have to ride out. Not exactly a confidence booster for when I do take something on.

Depression is not always about "sadness." Sometimes it feels like you're just fading into invisibility, like you're losing your substance, your energies, your spark, your connection. You might be able to drive yourself by willpower, but then you end up frustrated with so many obstacles and you get angry. You lash out at petty things, or you make yourself rigid or stoic or resigned.

So what does one do? One suffers. It helps ward off discouragement to remember that suffering has meaning, and to draw close to the sources that nurture that memory.

Our suffering is, I believe, more important in the shaping of our destiny than any of our accomplishments or any of the success of our plans.

Still, while we live we must work. I don't think I can really push myself anymore, but I do hope to be drawn by Love, and to be patient with its small steps and its silence.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The World of 25 Years Ago, as Seen By a Young Man

JJ, somewhere around 1990ish.
I have lots of printed photographs of the "old days" but it's not easy to dig one up from real (i.e. "non-virtual") storage. This fuzzy "picture-of-a-picture" will have to serve for now as a representation of the 27 year old John Janaro.

Young Janaro's journal is now a quarter century old. In September of the year 1990, while still in graduate school, I began what no doubt would have been a blog if such things were possible back then.

In fact, I never dreamed there would be anything like the media access we have today. I never thought I would have the chance to experience the instant gratification of vanity that blogging affords. Still, my journals were similar to my blog in that they were a kind of "workshop" for putting thoughts and words together.

Below is the introductory "Statement" to those pages, written probably on September 5, 1990. I don't know if I had plans to experiment with a genre or whether I was hoping—being a bright young man and all that, who expected to play a big role in the future—that posterity would benefit from my observations.

In retrospect, it's clear that my life hasn't been nearly so "interesting" (thank God for that!). But what strikes me 25 years later about these ruminations is that the basic contentthe same overarching themesremain relevant to the circumstances of the world today.

We humans are more dizzy than ever with the experience and the access to unprecedented power over the material world and even over many facets of our own humanity. We have more power, and are even more confused about how to use it well.

This is a long "statement," so here is Part I.

This would be very distressing if Young Janaro had nothing more to say, but he did. The "statement" is far from over, so look for it to be continued....

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mother Teresa's Action Plan

Mother Teresa has a plan for dealing with the problems in our world. Maybe we should try it.

"The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family."

"Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the lovingit is not in the result of loving.... Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done."

"I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness."

"I can do things you cannot; you can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things."

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

"Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts."

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Long Darkness of Sorrow Upon the World

It's hard to say "goodbye" to Summer.

But the days are getting shorter and the calendar says "September."

John Paul's new life in college is rolling along. I miss him.

The older girls are back to Chelsea Academy. Agnese is a junior this year and Lucia a sophomore. The "little kids" still have another week. They are helping Eileen to set things up for the opening of John XXIII's new campus. It's a beautiful place.

Eileen works with such dedication, and I know that what I can do is support her and try to be strong for her even when there seems to be no strength in me for anything.

Am I really powerless, or just lazy? Where is the line? Jesus, I don't know and so I will just leave it with You.

Labor Day weekend is here. By 8PM we are well into the dusk of the evening.

Life is strangely hard.

I have days of inconsolable sadness. I know it's pathological, but that doesn't mean there is no deeper connection. A solidarity with the world's sorrow runs through me.

The great world is in turmoil, and the more immediate world of those entrusted to me also suffers. I have an overly sensitive disposition, physically and mentally. Everything stings me or weighs on me with a strange amplification.

And I seem almost to want this sensitivity. I can't separate it from the peculiar intensity of my own nature. Most of it comes from a penchant for sentimentality and melodrama. But also somewhere there is an impetus of real sorrow for others, sorrow that opens up to the suffering of others near and far, that doesn't want anyone to be alone.

It scares me, this "impetus," and I try as hard as I can to run away from it into distraction, but I can't seem to escape it entirely.

But why so much? Why is this long darkness of sorrow upon the world?

Questions reach the point of exhaustion, and in the silence what remains is endurance and a heart that begs and waits and hopes....

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Light at the Road's End

Trees shimmer and puddles dry in the
sun that follows an evening shower.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

John XXIII Montessori Children's Center at White Oaks Farm

This is a good moment to update with a few pictures the status of the new and permanent location of the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center at White Oaks Farm.

Things were busy during the month of August and work continues and will continue until the Center opens in two weeks. The new property includes two barns and several acres of land. We're looking forward to new activities in practical life skills, gardening, farm work, and other outdoor activities.

Here are a few pictures of how things are shaping up:

View of the front entrance of the main building

From early August: main building from the back (top) and the two barns with fields and woodland area (bottom)

Front corner of main building: lots of space for environments. Below, a view of the front lawn.

The careful work of setting up the environments has gone well and continues. This Montessori child looks happy!

Kids from the new Adolescent Program working on new windows in one of the barns. They'll do lots of good work here.

Under the shade of this pine tree, the shrine for well-weathered Mother Mary takes shape.

And the Good Shepherd watches over us all.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"Self-Sufficiency" isn't Enough

We are often tempted to think that becoming a mature human person means achieving independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency. We view relationships as merely useful interactions with other autonomous persons that help us or please us or are otherwise subordinated to our ultimate purpose of self-possession and self-affirmation.

When we have this attitude, nothing seems more alienating than sacrifice. Indeed, the claim of Jesus that our vocation consists in the sacrifice of self-giving love for God and our neighbor appears incomprehensible, if not insulting or threatening to our human dignity. The idea of losing-myself-in-order-to-find-myself appears to be a self-negating paradox.

And yet this "losing of myself" in self-abandonment to God is not something that demeans my freedom or results in the loss of my dignity as a person. On the contrary, it is the realization of freedom and of the person. For God Himself is Infinite Self-Giving Love. The Trinity reveals that total self giving is at the very root of what it means to be a person.

Jesus says, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11). And we will fulfill the true meaning of ourselves as persons, we will achieve the destiny and fulfillment for which we have been created, by abandoning ourselves to Him and trusting in Him: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). We don't "lose ourselves" into nothingness. We lose ourselves by belonging to God and to other persons in Him.

We have been created to become gifts, to realize our freedom as love, to live in relationship as persons, and to "find ourselves" forever in relationship to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Saint Augustine: Hunger and Thirst for More

Late have I loved You,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved You!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for You.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things
which You created.
You were with me, but I was not with You.
Created things kept me from You;
yet if they had not been in You
they would not have been at all.
You called, You shouted,
and You broke through my deafness.
You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness.
You breathed Your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for You.
I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

~Confessions, Book X

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Kid... in College?

John Paul's college: Deja vu all over again?
John Paul started college this past weekend.

Yes, my son. A freshman in college.

This has always been a difficult time of year for me, for a number of reasons. I have to negotiate every alteration of seasons and/or routines. Change is always hard in my condition.

I have gotten better at handling these kinds of changes since my health has been pretty stable for several years now. But they can still be hard.

This time of year has also been particularly difficult since my illness because-- as the school year begins-- I am reminded once again of my unnaturally young retirement from teaching. I have always felt strange having nothing "special" to prepare for at the beginning of September. Each year, however, I find that I am letting go a little bit more. It's not such a big deal that I'm no longer a player in the drama of higher education. I've seen enough to know that I could not have survived that way.

In fact, I'm "letting go" just in time.

Just in time to take up the new task of being a parent of a college student. A Christendom College student. It's a new approach for me to an institution that I have seen from almost every other perspective.

John Paul is living on campus at least this semester, which will give him a chance to immerse himself in the atmosphere of things. He will probably have to live at home after that. In any case, our house is only a few miles from the school. It was convenient when I was teaching and it should still be convenient for him too.

The college has grown in many positive ways in recent years. I'm confident that John Paul is going to have a great time. I can't predict what it will mean for me, but it's the beginning of a new chapter in a long story. It is also the beginning of the third generation of the Janaros at Christendom.

It's a wonder that we got mixed up in this whole crazy story in the first place. It's certainly not the story that I would have written for my own life.

Instead, it's a wonderful story. I thank God that we have been blessed to be part of it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Measure of Loneliness

There is always some measure of loneliness in life.

None of us should think that our spouses, children, family, or friends can fill the deep spaces where we are incomprehensibly alone. There are often times when we are brought to the awareness of that space of need that cries out inside us.

But what feels like the depths of solitude is in fact the place where we are radically held. At the heart of life, of every moment of life, there is companionship with the Merciful God. If it feels terribly empty, that is because it is the place where He, and He alone, dwells. And He is the Mystery.

We cannot contain Him, even here. He "contains" us, and is beyond us, but He is also with us. In His nearness we are born out of nothing, and our loneliness - no matter what occasions the experience of it - is always the echo of those sighing depths that yearn for His ineffable, fundamental, irreplaceable presence.

There is Someone with us in our lives, every moment. There is Someone “on the other side” of our longing, our cries, our prayers-- Someone listening, full of tender love, wanting to bestow mercy on us every moment with an attention, a gentleness, a care beyond anything we can imagine.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Light in August

The days are growing shorter, and the arc of the sun in its setting is moving back "up" the Valley (remember, "up" is south in the Shenandoah Valley). And the sun goes down around eight o'clock in the evening, which still makes for long evenings even though -- compared with their high point in June -- the days "feel" like they're getting shorter.

On this August evening, the sun was setting in a perfect spot, crowning a hilltop cresting in the distance beyond clusters of trees.

I shall never grow tired of things such as this:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mary Queen and Mother

Mary, the Mother of God, shapes the Christian identity of the believer and the vocation of every human person. For every human person without exception has been created to know and love Jesus Christ, and in Christ to share forever in God’s very own life of Ineffable Love.

Mary, indeed, is at the center of what it means to be a Christian, which means that she is also the center of the whole human race. In accordance with the mystery of God’s magnificent, gratuitous plan of love, she brought forth into the world and continues to bring into our lives the One who concretely constitutes the true meaning of our humanity.

By cooperating with her whole being, her whole affections, her whole heart and her whole will, Mary brought into the world the only One who can give meaning to the universe. For from the beginning, the universe has been destined to be transformed by God's gift of Himself. God created the universe and everywhere permeated it with a mysterious impetus corresponding to the design of His Love. 

And in the beginning, the human being was created to be a tupos, a sign, of the-One-who-was-to-come, the One who will bring all things into unity and fulfillment in Himself.

Here and now, Mary brings to me the only One who knows the profound mystery of who I am; the One who knows, from within its very source, the gesture of Divine Love that created me, and that calls me to eternal life, to a participation in His Glory.