Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson: The Violence Within

Fires light up the night sky outside of an American city.

I have no special insights into the particulars of the Grand Jury decision in Missouri. There is an underlying sadness, however, that afflicts our society and it stems from something greater than any particular event.

The event itself obviously was weighted with tragedy, and nothing can be done to restore a young man to life. As for the complicated juridical proceedings, I don't know enough to have any opinion that can be useful to anyone.

I do know that on that August afternoon last summer, something went terribly wrong.

It is so easy to turn from this event to broader categories of problems that trouble many people: racial tensions and prejudice, faulty law enforcement practices, recklessness, pretexts for looting and stirring up riots, drug abuse, the dangers of the streets, the militarization of the police.

These are real problems that cast great shadows over the lives of people. The explosion of violence is not just in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. There is a violence of the emotions and of the mind that swirls inside all of us. Some of us express outrage, others seek to take advantage of things for profit or political advantage, and others try to escape through apathy or simply take sensationalistic interest in the latest news as an anecdote to chronic boredom.

I don't know who exactly is guilty of what in Ferguson, or in these many and various other acts of open or hidden violence. But none of us is innocent.

We are all implicated and taken up into this dysfunctional social spiral. The external violence of brutality, crime, and war are a reflection of the internal violence and disorientation that we carry around inside ourselves and that so often poisons our relationships with others.

None of the "isms" on our political or social spectrum can resolve this fundamental problem.

Our hope is that the real reason for living -- for being focused in our energies as human beings -- can take hold of our lives and then remind us of the value of each moment we live. Only if we encounter a reason for hope that is greater than our fears will we emerge from the dark and become creative, constructive, and able to help one another.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wings of the Wind

"Above the rains You build Your dwelling.
You make the clouds Your chariot,
You walk on the wings of the wind"
(Psalm 104:3).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Let Yourself Be Found

Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Crown of Thorns
Keep going! Keep looking, asking, groping. Cry out for help.
The world is full of spiritual con-artists who try to sell people elusive dreams to trick their hearts. Don’t listen to them!

So maybe you’re not young anymore, you’re not satisfied, you’re not good looking, you haven’t gotten what you want, you’re disappointed, you're hurt. But you still have a heart that whispers Truth, Goodness, Beauty. You’re angry and frustrated because you can’t see any truth, or goodness, or beauty. But your heart is not lying.

Listen to it. It is a promise: you will not be cheated. So don’t give up.

The fundamental motivations of the heart cannot be false. They have been given to you, along with your very self and all the world you inhabit. Your heart cannot lie, because it belongs to Someone—the One who made it and who gives it life in this very moment. And that Someone has become human; He has become your brother so that He might draw close to you and embrace you.

Jesus is real, and He loves you—He is right in front of you on the path, even if the fog prevents you from seeing Him. He created your heart. He put the desire for truth, goodness, beauty, justice, love, and dignity within your heart. He is Truth, Goodness, Beauty.

He is the Reality that every genuine impetus of your heart seeks. He is seeking you, and He wants you to let yourself be found.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nothing is Ever Enough

This human life: full of joy and adventure and promise; full of so many reasons to be grateful.

But nothing is ever enough.

All the promises and all of the beauty eventually fall short; they pass with time even as we endure, unfulfilled. They open our hearts, but if we try to hold on, we are left with only the wounds of dissatisfaction.

Sometimes life itself just seems to betray us, and our hopes are frustrated by external afflictions. Or we might have years of vigor to pursue a satisfying life, but eventually our spirits grow weary of the continual disappointment.

We might become tired, cynical, or bitter as we get older. Or we might shrink our hearts and cover our secret despair with the mask of resignation. Eventually, we realize that all we have to look forward to is death.

If it all seems unbearable, that's because it is unbearable.

The only hope we have is to call upon the Lord. We must really call upon Him, with faith. Too often when we approach prayer, what we're really looking for is an escape from our suffering. But harsh realities cannot be dismissed by "religious talk." Theology is not enough. Superficial pious sentiments are not enough.

The brokenness and frustration remain. The wounds remain and grow worse. It is here -- where we really hurt, where we really experience our infirmity, our need -- that we must turn to the Lord and call upon Him.

There is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to bring these burdens, this life, this cry of the heart. But the miracle of grace always awaits us.

Jesus on the Cross.

Jesus is the God who has already come to be with us, and who waits for us in our sufferings.

Only Jesus can carry this kind of pain, this pain that challenges my identity, that reaches all the way to me as a person. This is human suffering, and only He knows it all the way through. He is the True Man, who has united Himself to every human being. He is also the True God, the only begotten Son of the Father, who alone knows the depths of every person because He is the Source who whispers each person into being, and the Way, the Truth, the Life who calls each one to their destiny.

Our only hope is to abandon everything to Him. "Jesus, I give myself to You. Take care of everything." Again and again, whatever, and wherever, without hesitation, without fear... "Jesus I abandon everything to You."

He has made our sufferings His own on the Cross, joining them to His victory, which is the revelation, the giving, the pouring out of God's love.

This Love is the secret of all the beauty and goodness and all the promises and aspirations that awaken our hearts, only to increase our thirst. But Love has come into the world to be with us, so that we will never give up, so that we will persevere, holding on to Him, recognizing that everything belongs to Him.

This is the hope that changes and transforms life, that saves us. Where else can any of us go? We have to go to Him, and give ourselves to Him.

We have to trust in Him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Frosty the Windows!

It's time to give in and admit that Winter weather has begun. It's FREEZING! We didn't get snow, but that didn't stop the car windows from getting nice and frosty in the morning:

On a morning like this, I'm glad there's a strong young man around here to do the work, haha:

He's tough out there in just a jacket. Some people really had to bundle up, even to keep their eyes warm. Although I'd like to know what happened to her mittens:

"Can we see your eyes, please?"

"Thank you. Thank you very much!"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Walker Percy: The Scientist and the Self

If you've been following Magnificat this month, I hope that between Friday and Saturday you noticed the latest installment of Great Conversion Stories (beginning on page 190) about the twentieth century American Southern writer Walker Percy. (If you don't already subscribe to Magnificat, let me invite you to get to know more about it by clicking right HERE!)

I really do feel that Percy would have been graciously annoyed at having been included in this series. He would have protested that there was nothing particularly "great" about his conversion. Once an interviewer -- trying to pin Percy down on the standard political-journalistic spectrum of conservative-moderate-liberal -- asked him, "What kind of Catholic are you?" Percy replied, "Bad."

In any case, the details of his journey are such that the story pretty much tells itself, and I have done my best to let it do so. Percy's conversion was the foundation for his perspective in both fiction and nonfiction, and his writing has not lost any of its relevance.

For those who don't subscribe (yet, haha), or who otherwise find it convenient, I provide below a readable reproduction of the essay.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Family Photo Fiddling

With the help of some photo editing software I was able to do something a little different for my Facebook cover picture.

It's remarkable to think that three years ago I was using the "five monkeys" picture. There is no way they would all fit in our bed like that today:

I also got the most recent pic of Mommy and Daddy for the profile photo. We still look pretty much the same as ever.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why Does Jesus Matter So Much?

Hand carved, olive wood, Bethlehem
Why do I care so much about Jesus?

Some people might be glad that I have a "belief" in my life that makes me "feel good" (though as I've said again and again, Jesus is not about feeling good or comfortable in handling problems, oh no...).

Jesus is not a drug that helps me dull my pain. Nor is He just my particular “philosophy of life” or my “support community”—something that “works for me” but might not necessarily “work for you.” He is for me, because I am a human being. That means He is for you. I am sure of this.

But how? Who do I think I am anyway? What makes me so sure that my ideas about the meaning of life are true for everyone? That is just the point: these are not “my ideas”—this is a relationship. He is here, in my life, in a relationship with me. In fact, He started it—not me.

I could never give myself this certainty, not even with all the philosophy of all the ages. What else could sustain this certainty in a blockhead like me? I am amazed at myself, at the fact that I am so certain about this. I haven’t seen any miracles. I haven’t had any visions. And it is definitely not because I have a “deep spirituality”—I am a spiritual wimp.

What make me certain? It is Jesus Himself—not just some vague ideals about “goodness” or “the importance of Christian ethics” or even “my understanding about the value of suffering.” It is Jesus, the objective, actual, true Son of God, the living man who is with us now.

He is here. It is because He is really here that the world is redeemed. Because He is here, I am able to find the good in things, the positive value of all reality, the fact that every circumstance in my life is radically for me. Because He is here, because He is Love, and because He has won the victory, everything belongs to Him.

He does not take away or "solve" all my problems. Rather, He empowers me to engage them and embrace them, even when all I can do is suffer them. Every event that happens in my life is His gift to me to shape my fulfillment in relationship to the Ultimate Meaning of my life, the realization of my true self, the desire of my heart to find life and love without end.

I cannot comprehend this mystery of Love which is the reason why I exist and the destiny to which I have been called. I cannot understand Him, but I don't have to, because He has come to be with me. I cannot understand Him, but I can stay with Him, always.

He is here. Jesus. That is why there is hope for me, and for you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Saint Leo the Great

Pope Saint Leo the Great (c. 400-461), feast day November 10

"In our nature, therefore,
the Lord trembled with our fear,
that He might fully clothe
our weakness and our frailty
with the completeness of His own strength."

~St. Leo the Great

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Stand With Jesus. I Stand With the Pope.

I stand with Jesus. I stand with the Pope.

It is difficult to make this post. The only thing I can say is that my conscience will not let me rest until I do so.

I am not proposing another addition to an ongoing argument. I am not making any kind of argument here. Rather, what follows is a witness, and an examination of my own conscience. What I am trying to express here is a certainty so deeply rooted in me that it is fundamental. I pray to the Lord to strengthen me, so that I will never betray this conviction.

I stand with Jesus. I stand with the Pope.

This means that I cannot stand by while the person and motivations of our Holy Father Pope Francis are attacked, but especially when I see my brothers and sisters in Christ withdrawing their filial love from the Pope.

I am not referring simply to disagreements or questions. These are human, and can be constructive if they remain rooted in love. What pains me is to see people distancing themselves, to see them putting their relationship with the Pope "in brackets," so to speak.

This is a failure of love.

It is a subtle malaise that saps the life out of Christ's members. It is sterile. It paralyses the spread of goodness in the world. It makes hearts grow cold.

I see this happening again. Again. I've seen it many times. My life spans six papacies, and there is nothing new about this profoundly uncatholic spirit.

I accuse no one in particular, and I do not know what unutterable sufferings might afflict the lives of persons who spew vitriol in comboxes or on Facebook. Human beings are so complicated and so full of pain. I have no window into the conscience of anyone else. Indeed, I know well that the failure of love begins with me.

I have failed in love. I have looked at recent events and have been tempted to forget Christ. I have allowed fear to enter my soul. Nothing fruitful comes of any of this. Thus, first of all, I beg God to change my heart, to convert me, and to sustain me in love for Him and for His Church.

I stand with Jesus. I stand with the Pope.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ in His Catholic Church, and this discipleship is the fruit of the grace of God's ineffable love which brings forth a new, redeemed humanity. It is personal and communal, deeply interior and also sacramental, a communion of persons with various gifts. These gifts include the special vocation to the service of authority through which the presence of Jesus is rendered concrete as a reference point for all of us.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ in His Church. This means that I follow the Pope--the bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter--and the bishops in union with him. The Pope has a unique place in the Church; he is a human being and a Christian just like the rest of us, but within this redeemed communion of persons who journey together in hope he has been given special responsibility for each and all of his brothers and sisters.

This means that Jesus has entrusted me, here and now, to Pope Francis. His authority--his fatherhood--is a gift to my life, one of the essential ways that Jesus gives Himself to me and all His people. I trust in Jesus. I know He furthers His purposes for His Church (and therefore also for my life) through the man who right now we call "the Pope," Papa, "Father."

Pope Francis is my father.

Yes, of course, I mean "spiritual father," which is to say "father in the Spirit" -- not in an absolute way, obviously (we have only one Father in heaven), but still in a concrete way and an indispensable way. I want to look to him, without illusions about his human capabilities and limitations, but with overwhelming confidence in the grace that Jesus gives him through the Holy Spirit to accomplish the service of love that has been entrusted to him.

This confidence corresponds to the witness of the New Testament, the history of the Church, and my own experience in life.

For the love of Jesus Christ, I want always to treat Pope Francis with the devotion and respect of a son. I see myself with regard to him in a relationship analogous to the one I have with my own father and mother who helped bring me into this world, who carried out their vocation to raise me, and who even now watch over me with wisdom and concern. I am grateful to them, and I am grateful to God for the gift of them. Not all people have good relationships with their human parents, but as human beings they at least desire such a relationship, or feel the great pain of its absence.

Regarding the Pope, I will not list here all the "caveats" that people like to bring up (and that are entirely valid in the right context) about the limits of infallibility, the use and levels of teaching authority, the degrees of assent, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Nor do I need to reaffirm my unshakable conviction regarding the indissolubility of Christian marriage between one man and one woman. I have learned so much about the greatness of this sacrament from many years of following Jesus under the paternal solicitude, guidance, and teaching of St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI.

Right now, Francis is my spiritual father on the journey of faith, as he is for all who call themselves Catholic, and who call him "Pope," Papa.

In the family of the Church, we are fully human persons, called to real relationships of love for one another. We can discuss, argue, and make our concerns known openly, and especially to Papa Francis. If I am not mistaken, that is what he has encouraged everyone to do. He has great confidence in the working of the Holy Spirit. And his confidence encourages me to remember that the grace of the Spirit through the presence of Jesus is the indestructible source of the Church's life.

Why, then, is there so much fear among us? We are listening to gossip, rumors, and "inside stories" that imply that the Pope is manipulating the bishops and the Church for his own ends. What is the point of this? Jesus and the Holy Spirit are at work in the Church. Where is our faith?

People have been hurt by members of the Church, especially by priests and bishops. Yes, these are evils that must be atoned, for which perpetrators and facilitators must be held responsible and brought to justice. There is also much need for healing. These are terrible wounds, personal to each of those who have suffered them, and we must beg Jesus to bring healing and mercy to those who need it. Indeed, we must beg Jesus to bring healing and mercy to all of us in the measure in which we need it.

There are so many people who desperately need the healing and mercy of Jesus for their sins, and for the transformation of the personal wounds they have suffered and all their infirmities. We all need healing and mercy to be enabled to embrace Jesus in response to His loving embrace which draws us to Him throughout the journey of life.

I need the healing and mercy of Jesus. I need it, desperately.

Jesus, I trust in You. Continue to pour out Your Spirit on Your servant, Pope Francis, and inspire all our hearts with the grace to stand with him, confident in Your truth and love, Your fidelity, Your goodness, Your mercy.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Burden of Love

"Seek me, Lord; I need You.
Seek me, find me,
lift me up, carry me.
You are expert at finding what You search for;
and when You have found the stray
You stoop down,
lift him up,
and place him on Your own shoulders.
To You he is a burden of love,
not an object of revulsion.
It is no irksome task to You
to bring justification to the human race."

~St. Ambrose

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall Has Fallen

Well, that was fast.

A couple of windy days and cool nights, and... barrroooom! Lots of empty branches. And, suddenly, it's time to get the rakes out:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Eucharist and Living in Communion

It's easy to forget that less than two years ago, Benedict XVI was still pope. I mention this not out of any desire to indulge in nostalgia. I am quite confident in the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church through the ministry of Pope Francis, and I am learning and being challenged to grow in new ways by his spiritual fatherhood.

It remains true, nevertheless, that Benedict's teaching is still important. Indeed, we have scarcely begun to appreciate its depths.

As Francis has often noted, however, we live in a "throwaway culture," a culture of 24 hour news that pours over information about today's current story only to forget everything about it tomorrow, a culture of tweets and texts and combox verbiage that amplify whatever clamors most for attention and appears most sensational.

The wisdom of Pope Benedict has been forgotten by the information systems that we depend upon and participate in. But it is not thereby diminished in itself.

It is every bit as much food for the poor today.

When I feel weighted with sorrow, I still turn to Benedict XVI. Not surprisingly, a day like today (election day in the United States) leads me to reflect upon being a Catholic Christian in the political and social realms of the early 21st century. As the affluent world expands and casts monstrous shadows everywhere, it is easy to feel alienated, marginalized, and isolated.

I wonder where in the world I belong.

Even some of my brothers and sisters in Christ seem caught up in fevered speculations and preoccupations with current events viewed without adequate perspective. It's easy for me to get caught up in this myself, but not for too long. My mental fragility forces me to recognize that I cannot figure these things out in my own head. I'm overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed in the shadows. And tempted to a kind of morbid loneliness. Am I some kind of a freak in this world?

I am not the only one who suffers from this kind of stress. I know that many find themselves poor in the midst of strange wealth, hungry in front of a glut of indigestible food.

Today, Benedict XVI helped me to focus. These words from a homily in March of 2006 reminded me of where I belong -- where everything belongs -- and where to find the food that satisfies:

"In the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us,
he unites us with himself,
with his Father,
with the Holy Spirit
and with one another.
This network of unity that embraces the world
is an anticipation
of the future world in our time.
Precisely in this way,
since it is an anticipation of the future world,
communion is also a gift with very real consequences.
It lifts us from our loneliness,
from being closed in on ourselves,
and makes us sharers in the love
that unites us to God and to one another.
It is easy to understand how great this gift is
if we only think of the fragmentation and conflicts
that afflict relations
between individuals, groups and entire peoples.
And if the gift of unity in the Holy Spirit does not exist,
the fragmentation of humanity is inevitable.
'Communion' is truly the Good News,
the remedy given to us by the Lord
to fight the loneliness that threatens everyone today,
the precious gift that makes us feel welcomed
and beloved by God,
in the unity of his People gathered in the name of the Trinity;
it is the light that makes the Church shine forth
like a beacon raised among the peoples."

~Benedict XVI

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Open to the Holy Spirit's Grace

Lucia Janaro and parents, on her Confirmation day.
This is the first time that I can remember a Confirmation taking place on All Saints Day.

But that's what happened in the parish this year. And so Lucia Janaro received the sacrament today along with more than 60 other young people. This sacrament of royal anointing, this outpouring of the abundance of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, means so much more than we can understand.

It certainly is not intended to be a "graduation ceremony," or a Catholic checking-off-the-box that brings faith education (and faith interest) to an end. Too often that is what happens.

We are blessed, however, to be in an environment where the education continues and deepens. There is some awareness among us that the journey of faith is just beginning for an adolescent who is discovering his or her own identity for the first time.

Still, we must be careful not to think things happen automatically just because we presume that we are such "good Catholics" or that we-are-so-much-better-than-everybody-else. We must remember that it is Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus who gives grace through the sacraments and in the depths of our hearts, and in the hearts of our children.

Every life is an adventure of grace, a calling from God who draws the person along the secret ways of love. Let us pray for the grace to make room for the working of His love.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Not Very Scary. Just Sweet!

We still have two tricky treaters, but they're not going to scare anybody. Teresa is dressed respectfully in a manner inspired by various traditions of Native American women (and she had a lot of fun putting it all together). And Josefina is a French chef, with a pot to collect treats.

On this All Hallow's Eve, our girls are -- one could say -- presenting themselves as two regular people, like millions and millions who have walked the earth, longed for glory, and found the fulfillment of their hope. But I'm not going to get all theological here and spoil the fun.

May all the holy Native Americans and all the holy cooks watch over them.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

October Runs Its Course

As October runs its course, Autumn colors are in the fullness of their flair. Autumn sunsets light up the sky in the early evening, as the days grow brisk and shorter.

Mornings also have their glories along the Blue Ridge, in the Shenandoah Valley, with angles of sun on the mountains and woods of bright leaves:

Full daylight brings out all the variety right here in our neighborhood in town:

It's a glorious celebration of exuberant color:

And bright fire warms the air in the countryside after nightfall:

As the days and weeks near the end of another year, we look forward to our preparations for a beginning that is ever new:

"The Word was made flesh...." Annunciation (from Atrium tracing card)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Remembering Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, Mentor and Friend

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete's funeral was celebrated yesterday in New York.

Sadly, I'm in no condition to travel. But thanks to a memorial page on Facebook, I've been able to participate in something like a "virtual wake" with testimonies and pictures and videos from all over the country.

I have read so many moving stories over the past four days. People have recalled the first time they met Lorenzo Albacete and the impact he had upon their lives. They have all remarked upon his love for life, his freedom, his joy, and of course his unparalleled sense of humor. For many, he was instrumental in their encounter with Christ through the charism of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, wherein he had found his spiritual home.

For me it was wonderful over the past twenty years to see his own profound personal charism enlarged and made so abundantly fruitful by being inserted within the charism of CL. It freed him to be a hundred times more himself (if that's possible to imagine) by lifting the profound melancholy burden of what had been his somewhat lonely sensibility and brilliance... or rather, transforming it more and more into an intense compassion.

As I look back over the years, I can't identify the "moment" when I first met this remarkable, unforgettable man. It's all blended into my original encounter thirty five years ago with the whole crazy, big hearted, tireless, exuberant, uncompromisingly Catholic crowd that founded Christendom College.

Lorenzo must have dropped in at some point in those days, or at least he was talked about and loved like an uncle in the family. At that time (the late seventies and early eighties) "the family" was a circle that moved through Washington, DC and the newly established Arlington diocese all the way out to this very Front Royal where I find myself today.
Albacete with Cardinal O'Malley: old friends

This past January, the annual New York Encounter featured a beautiful little "thing" (I don't exactly know what to call it. Lorenzo called it "the two bums"). Basically, it was an excuse for two old friends to shoot the breeze and share memories with the rest of us (I wasn't there, but I watched the video): Lorenzo Albacete and Sean O'Malley, friends for forty-five years.

It was a friendship that formed around the Hispanic Catholic Center in Washington, DC, and it had a place within the larger circle of offbeat Catholics in the city.

"Offbeat" is an understatement.

Lorenzo had cut his own teeth writing and editing for what he recently referred to as "the controversial but irresistible magazine called Triumph." This is a good characterization of a magazine, and a bunch of Catholic writers and social critics, who were outside of every box in that era (and this era too).

It's easy to dismiss Triumph as a little nutty, because, well... they were a little nutty.

Sometimes they were a LOT nutty!

But the Triumph bunch took the conviction that Jesus really is "King" (radically, as in Jesus is the concrete reason for everything), followed it through to even the most outrageous conclusions for politics and society, and tried to put it into practice (with their Summer Institutes in Spain, for example). There was an intuition at the center of it all, a mysterious grace, but it was so easy to forget it and be diverted from it by the upheaval of the times. Christ became rarefied in ideas, some brilliant and prescient, others distracted, confused, or preposterous. It was also too easy to turn Christ's lordship over all things into a moralistic program to be implemented by human efforts. (Nevertheless, years later, after he had joined CL, he said to me with a twinkle in his eye, but not enough to be entirely joking, "Ah, Triumph! Everything they predicted has come true!")

Needless to say, the magazine offended everyone on the American political spectrum, and rather relished doing it (too much, I think). But the wild, irresistible zeal of the Triumph circle was poured out in various ways, and matured into priestly vocations, educational institutions (like Christendom College), and dedication to works of mercy (especially among the Hispanic population).

It cannot be denied that Lorenzo and other young people in the late 1960's got a taste from them of a proposal for a life centered on the Incarnation and a passion for Christ living in the Church.

Cardinal O'Malley, who presided at his funeral yesterday, is one of a group of Lorenzo's oldest friends. There are others from that group, some of whom still have a hand in the workings of Christendom College, who remember him and have many hilarious stories from those early years. They are praying for him now.

I reflect on these old friendships of his not only to do justice to those who will always hold him dear, but also because I know these people. I know these friendships and how they came out of a context that was deeply formative of Albacete's faith, character, and vocation. One of the environments that emerged from this context still forms my daily life, even as I also approach 25 years as a member of Communion and Liberation.

Almost heaven, Virginia, Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah river....
I belong to the movement of the Servant of God Luigi Giussani. I also live in Front Royal, Virginia, as an emeritus professor of Christendom College, an institution that I helped to build (not only metaphorically but even physically, with hammers and nails). Now I'm helping my wife build another educational institution down the road.

The "Catholic tribe" of the Shenandoah Valley and the CL movement seem like two distinct "realms" that don't intersect, not only because they don't understand each other, but also because no one has the time to shuttle between the two. Each is a phenomenon with its own peculiar history, and nothing would be more artificial than for me to try to force one to "fit" the other, or to try to extricate myself from one for the sake of the other. I don't have to do either, because they are already united. They are really, truly united in Christ, in the Church. They are also united in me. I don't know what this means, other than it being a great reminder of my need to beg Christ for grace and mercy every day. And that is not a pious cop out. That is what I do... what Eileen and I both do together.

I am irenic by temperament and now disabled by circumstances, but I do not think that a lack of boldness or strength is the reason why I haven't caused a provocative ruckus all around. I am convinced that attempts of this kind would be violent. Rather, it is something I am called to suffer. And although I often fail and forget about it all, I am grateful for this call -- because it is a suffering for unity within the Church, among the members of Christ's body.

So why do I bring this up here? Because this is one of the reasons why Lorenzo was so dear to me: he understood the tension that I live. He understood it from within, and he challenged me to live all of its factors, to resist the temptation to reduce or escape from anything. He did this, ironically, by taking me seriously in my life, my work, and its challenges. He gave no grand discourses about this "problem." Rather, he accompanied me, simply, when we had discussions, or on the phone, in making decisions about my lectures, publications, and even taking trips (back when I was able to do that kind of thing).

He also helped guide me through another environment that we both knew well: the realm of academic theology.

Lorenzo and I really became friends during his years at the John Paul II Institute. I was already a graduate student at the Dominican House of Studies, at a time when lay theology students were unusual. The Institute invaded the public space of the Dominican House and set up a coffee lounge. I began to hang around with the other lay students who came. I even cross registered for some courses, thanks to which I had the amazing experience of having Lorenzo as a teacher. His combination of genius, awe inspiring expressiveness, and epic humor have not been exaggerated.

He spoke about the Trinity with such beauty and depth. There were times when I left the classroom thinking my head was going to explode, or rather my entire finite being! 

He would bring his presentation to a very powerful and sublime moment, and then -- with a twinkle in his eye -- break off, deepen the tone of his resonant voice, and utter a thunderous joke that, like all his humor, expressed the truth while also getting us to laugh... at ourselves. He would cry out:

                           Veil your faces before the Mystery!

It was a joke. But we were discussing the Mystery, as He revealed Himself. So it was funny and also, I would have to say, beautiful.

One time we decided to bring tissues or head coverings to the classes until a moment like that came. And when it finally did, we all pulled them out and covered our faces. And Lorenzo laughed. His laugh was funny in itself, and infectious. He loved a joke that turned around on him; indeed, he was ready to turn the humor on himself if no one else offered to do it.

He saw humor as a form of play, the innocent play that needs no justification beyond itself because it is a fundamental aspect of being. In an infinite, transcendent, supereminent way, God plays. He is play.

But I can't reproduce the atmosphere of the classroom here. I can only say that Lorenzo could bring me to a point where I was worshiping the Lord and laughing to the point of tears, simultaneously.

It was like a foretaste of eternal life.

I remember watching the friendship unfold between Lorenzo and "Don Angelo" Scola. He would go on about how "I am scheming for Scola to become Pope so that I can be made a Cardinal and get a cushy job in the Vatican!" Don Angelo was still just a priest at the time.

When Angelo Scola was first made a bishop, Lorenzo was even more mirthful. But I don't think any of us had any idea of how "hair-raisingly close" the papacy would come to poor Don Angelo. Indeed, at age 71 it cannot be said that Cardinal Scola has yet succeeded in escaping the possibility. Cardinal Bergoglio, after all, had already picked out his room in the nursing home in Buenos Aires where he planned on spending a quiet retirement.

In Washington, Lorenzo taught a course that Scola had designed, called Theological Foundations of Interpersonal Communion. This was fun. He would arrive, disheveled, sometimes twenty or more minutes late, with a fistful of scribbled papers. Of course we waited for him, because no one wanted to miss the show.

When he finally arrived, he would stare at his papers on the desk and scratch his head and say, "I know absolutely NOTHING about this course; I've shamelessly plagiarized it all from Angelo Scola!" He claimed that he needed to have long conversations on the phone with Scola the night before class in order to have the slightest clue over the topic to be covered. Of course, he would then put down his notes and embark upon his usual brilliant, riveting, and hilarious exposition.

During all this time, he found himself moving from being a "friend of CL" to being a member of CL without knowing exactly when it happened. Angelo Scola had led him to Giussani, who asked him to "help" the movement in America. I remember one year we had a "Hospitality Room" for CL at the hotel where the Bishops' Conference was having its annual meeting. Lorenzo would go down during the evening reception, and come back a few minutes later arm in arm with a bishop or a cardinal (or two) and of course they were laughing as they entered the room. We met a lot of bishops that weekend. He had am amazing conviction that something was really happening in the still young and fragile Washington CL community.

Then there was the time I introduced my fiancee to him at a dinner gathering. The very first thing he said to Eileen was, "Oh, you must develop a devotion to St. Rita of Cascia. She is the patroness of women with very difficult husbands!" He delivered this in a completely deadpan voice, but I laughed, of course. Only long after, when Eileen had grown to love him too, did she tell me that when he said that she did not get it... at all.... She thought, "who is this strange, insulting man?" I do believe, however, that it became clear to her before the end of dinner.

At the very beginning of this enormous post, I mentioned what had sometimes struck me as the "lonely sensibility and brilliance" that weighed on Lorenzo for a long time, but that grew into a great compassion in his later years. I know that he was a man who suffered much, even though he claimed that the only suffering he ever had to endure was finding a parking space.

We knew how much he loved his family, how he looked after his mother in the illness of her final years, and how he cared for his disabled brother with such love and attention. Though he never told me, I would not be surprised to find that he himself had some measure of interior familiarity with that "dark night" which is not primarily mystical but rather the fruit of a large complex brain and a perceptive spirit, joined together in the human person who can't avoid experiencing the high grandeur and the deep misery of life.

He never told me anything about this, but whatever may be the case, I always felt that he looked upon me in my frailty with immense tenderness.

I could keep going here, but I think Lorenzo wants me to wrap up this gig and get this out before everyone gets tired of his "virtual wake" (after all, there's no food or drink at this thing).
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the soul of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
It's hard just to realize that he is no longer on this earth. No matter how great our faith, we still can't help missing the person. I'm a little surprised by my own grief, but Lorenzo refuses to allow me to "cheat" or evade that experience. I must embrace the whole reality: the sorrow, the hope, the confidence, the prayers, the memories, and the humor that pervades everything like the first light of the dawning resurrection -- which is the hope of us all.

Here are a few of his words about grieving and suffering:

Grief is the crying of the heart, and the human heart will resist being soothed by ideas and abstractions.... I am consoled by the Book of Job, which derides those who tried to explain Job's suffering to him. God does not seek to console him; He just shows up, and this is enough. It was not explanations Job wanted, but solidarity, compassion, love.
I do not want an explanation for why this God allows these tragedies to happen. An explanation would reduce the pain and suffering to an inability to understand, a failure of intelligence so to speak. I can only accept a God who “co-suffers” with me. Such is the God of the Christian faith.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Eight Year Old Half-Pint

It's hard to believe it was eight years ago that Josefina Janaro was surprisingly born (she wasn't expected until December). She was a tiny preemie who needed surgery (and then more surgery and seven months in the NICU). How grateful to God we are that she made it! Contrast these pictures: Josefina, eight years ago in the NICU (a few weeks old), and then today. She's still tiny, but she's doing great. You've come a long way kiddo! (And so have we all.)

You're old enough to help prepare your own birthday dinner:

And to adapt the recipe of the famous Jacques Pepin for your birthday dessert: Chocolate mousse cakes with apricot jam and whipped cream. [And something that Josefina calls "corn-yak." I think she means cognac.]

As for presents? It looks like Christmas around here!

Josefina has fun with her Uncle Walter... and her presents!