Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Remembering Apollo 12

The journey of Apollo 12 took place 50 years ago this week. 

As he came down the ladder of the lunar module on November 20, 1969, Pete Conrad—considerably shorter than his pioneering predecessor Neil Armstrongquipped, "it might have been a 'small step' for Neil, but it's a large step for me!"

I actually have clearer memories of the whole mission, being by that time a smart first grader. In less than two months, we would begin a brave new decade, ushering in the year 1970! It was clear that we were entering the Space Age. Apollo 12 had a few difficulties but they were handled smoothly, and we started to feel like “going to the moon” was going to become pretty routine.

Next April, however, will mark 50 years since we first heard the words, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Do You Say "Matilda" in German?

This day takes us back to the Benedictine calendar and the medieval abbey of Helfta in central Germany (depicted in the miniature on the left). 

Gertrude the Great's "elder sister" in consecrated life—who was among her teachers as well as a guide and friendis commemorated among Benedictines as one of the particular saints venerated in the order (I may be wrong, but this seems similar to the status of "blessed" in the Roman church). Mechtilde ("Matilda") was also known for her mystical closeness to the Heart of Jesus.

"O good Jesus, I love You, and whatever is not in me, I beg of You to offer to the Father in its stead the love of Your own Heart.... I offer You, therefore, this love, in order to supply thereby for all that is wanting in me" (Saint Mechtilde von Hackeborn, c. 1290; feast day November 19).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Life is a School Where We Learn to Trust in God

I have spent too much of my life trying to "bargain with God" instead of simply abandoning myself to His never-failing love. But life is a school where God teaches us how to trust in Him and draw enduring vitality from living in relationship with Him.

Some of us need a lot of "schooling."

But we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the interior Teacher in the ways of love, and often He leads us along hidden paths by His gentle guidance, correction, and instruction, "writing straight" with our crooked lines, "outwitting" in His Wisdom all our narrow efforts to keep God at a distance.

Our loving Father has made us for greater things. He knows how to "raise us" to be children and heirs to His kingdom, and Jesus knows how to win our hearts and draw us onward in the Spirit.

Jesus knows, from the Cross, all the deep places that need healing and rejuvenation in our lives.

Then, of course, there is that precious gift that Jesus gives us (from the Cross), His Mother Mary.

Totus Tuus! With Mary, I can say those words like a child who sometimes just runs to his Mom, not knowing what's going on, who is anxious, confused, who keeps making mistakes.

She especially teaches us that abandonment meets a tender embrace, a nurturing and strengthening goodness.

And kids run to their Moms a lot, every day.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Gertrude, the Benedictine Tradition, and Me

Today two women are honored on the Roman calendar. My observation over the years has been that in English speaking countries, Queen Margaret of Scotland - 11th Century Anglo-Saxon refugee, reformer of Christian life in her adopted country, and apostle to the poor - is usually the chosen option for the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours of the day. This is understandable and entirely appropriate.

But when I was 18 years old (in the Spring of 1981) I happened upon a book on my parents' bookshelf, started perusing it, and was drawn into a compelling and astonishing reading experience that turned my life upside down. The book was The Seven Storey Mountain. In those days, Thomas Merton's famous conversion-vocation-witness-/-literary-masterpiece still also had a certain level of cultural proximity and relevance (especially for an intellectual, curious, perplexed, adolescent "bad Catholic" such as I was at the time).

It blew me away.

In fact, it had been doing that to its readers - especially young Catholic men - for two generations. More than a few ran off to monasteries themselves after reading it (some persevered, many others left during the turbulent days of the 1960s). Merton's own unusual monastic life and legacy - with all the complexities surrounding it (these may be topics for other blog posts) - if anything extended the interest in his 1948 classic well into my post-Vatican-II generation. No doubt it will continue to be read and to touch hearts, but in my youth it had some lingering flavor of something "modern" and "contemporary," of recently living persons and events of a historical period that was not entirely "the past." I don't know how to express this precisely, but I think it is one element of the special impact this book had on my life.

The later Thomas Merton was (and still is) often misunderstood. Unconventional, brilliant, flawed as he was, he remained faithful to the Church and to his vocation to the end, in sometimes difficult but genuine obedience to his superiors and with remarkable charity and affection for his brothers at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. It was this real devoted love and sense of belonging that he expressed in a letter to his own community two days before his accidental death in 1968 at an international monastic conference in Thailand, ten thousand miles away - a journey he made with the approval of his abbot.

In any case, I knew little or nothing of this in 1981, when I encountered the early Merton through his honest testimony, his vivid and compelling story, his masterful prose and singular poetic sensibility, and above all the graces of God that accompanied my first reading of The Seven Storey Mountain so many years ago.

Thomas Merton
And though I didn't run off to enter a Trappist monastery, it was the beginning for me of an ongoing and appreciative relationship with the Benedictine spiritual tradition. We have Cistercians in the Shenandoah Valley (at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville) and they have been a great help to me at various points in my life. Among other things, I have learned to love their saints.

As I noted at the beginning, two medieval women are commemorated on the Roman calendar today. One or the other (but not both) may be chosen for the proper prayers of the liturgy. But for Benedictines the world over, worthy Saint Margaret's memorial is tomorrow. Today is always observed as the proper Feast Day of that other amazing woman, known to history as Saint Gertrude the Great. She was a 13th Century German Benedictine nun, a scholar and counselor to many, and a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

Thomas Merton studied and wrote about medieval Benedictine and Cistercian monastic life, and helped inspire a renewal of interest in its saints. He was no stranger to Gertrude, nor was she to him, as is clear enough in his conversion story. Today happens to be the 81st anniversary of his baptism, first communion, and reception into the Catholic Church, which occurred at Corpus Christi parish - home of the Catholic chaplaincy for Columbia University in New York City - on November 16, 1938.

In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton indicates that on the day itself, he was joyfully aware that it was Saint Gertrude's feast. No doubt, she was also very much aware of him.

Gertrude isn't called "the Great" for nothing. She was something of a phenomenon in her own time, and has remained a special heavenly friend down to the present day. The Benedictines and Cistercians have always known this. "Gertrude had the power to stay the clouds of heaven as also to open its portals, for her tongue had become the key of heaven," proclaims the antiphon from today's Benedictine office for Morning Prayer. These words correspond to a powerful witness that still speaks to us after 800 years. We have only a few of the many texts she wrote during her lifetime, but they testify to her transcendent, personal relationship with Jesus, which she attributed to His boundless love overcoming her own weakness and incoherence.

In her Spiritual Exercises - which were called "a rare jewel of mystical spiritual literature" by that most German and most "Benedictine" of Popes, our own recent and much beloved Pope Benedict XVI - Gertrude continually calls our hearts back to the memory of the love of Jesus for us:

"Ah! Wake up, o soul! How long will you sleep? Hear the word that I announce to you. Above the heavens there is a king who is held by desire for you. He loves you with his whole heart, and he loves beyond measure. He himself loves you so sweetly and he himself cherishes you so faithfully that, for your sake, he humbly gave up his kingdom. Seeking you, he endured being seized as a thief.... For you, he cheerfully surrendered his flower-like body to death" (Saint Gertrude the Great, Spiritual Exercises).

Gertrude experienced the deep tenderness, but also the power and mysterious relentlessness of Infinite Love who draws close to us: "O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth" (from Gertrude’s The Herald of Divine Love).

Gertrude knew intimately the One of whom she spoke. She recorded (or confided to her sisters in the medieval abbey of Helfta) many special visions of Jesus, which formed in her an intense awareness of God's compassion. These testimonies remain a source of great encouragement for us, a witness to just how much, how beyond measure, is God's love for us and His wanting to be with us.

On one occasion, she reported these words from Jesus: "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end” (ibid).

We must trust in Jesus. Whatever may be the trials or the darkness of this life, He is with us. He wants, with all the ardor of His Heart, to be with us, to love us, to save us, heal us, and transform us. Saint Gertrude, pray for us to remember His presence and His love, and to call upon Him with confidence.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mother Cabrini on Prayer

"Prayer is powerful!

"It fills the earth with mercy, it makes the Divine clemency pass from generation to generation.

"Right along the course of the centuries wonderful works have been achieved through prayer."

~Saint Francesca Cabrini

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

God's Love is Here For Us

O Lord, you are not a distant God who lays impossible burdens on us and then condemns us when we fail.

You are the God who loved us before we ever thought of you, whose love is the very Source of all our life in you and obedience to you. You are the God who took our sins upon yourself and died for us. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy us sinners.


He offered Himself for us. His heart was opened for each one of us on the Cross, and His heart remains open, calling out to us. 

He longs for each of us, and His desire to be with us pours out like a flood through all of history, to every time and place, from that moment when He dies on the Cross for our sins. 

He does not withhold His love from us because of our sins. His love is here for us and offered to us who are sinners, so that we can be changed by it and saved by it. 

On the Cross Jesus wants to win our love, by giving Himself totally for us.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie Still Looks Upon Us With Love

This day marks three years and five months. Has it really been so long? Yet the stature of her short life grows steadily (albeit mysteriously and quietly), and her witness more convincing.

Christina Grimmie was someone who looked right at you through the screen. She wanted so much to see you, personally, and somehow - through that ardent desire in union with Jesus Christ - her gaze would find you, and me, and anyone who needed to be seen, encouraged, affirmed, valued.

Today, living in the heart of Jesus, she looks upon us still. She sees us more deeply than ever... with love.💚

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Thirty Years Ago: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Above: the Berlin Wall, as it looked in the 1970s and 80s. / Below: the Berlin Wall on the night of November 9, 1989.

Before that day thirty years ago, anyone trying to climb the wall to escape Communist East Germany would have been shot. But after months of demonstrations in Soviet bloc countries, and unprecedented changes in Eastern European governments, this "front line in the Cold War" in Berlin finally gave way and it all turned into a massive spontaneous celebration. (By the way, those lights in people's hands are not cell phones. They're cigarette lighters. That's how it was done in the old days.) 

In the West we watched these scenes on TV news and we were astonished, wonderstruck. It was like a miracle.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The "Spiritual Company of the Church"

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, 
and let perpetual light shine upon them. 
May the souls of the faithful departed 
through the mercy of God rest in peace.

From the Pope's Instagram:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Three Generations of the "Virginia Janaro Men"

Here is a "Throwback Thursday" collage featuring some fathers and sons (and uncle and nephew, older brother and younger brother, and grandfather—i.e. "Papa"—and grandson). 

Top left: me with Dad, 1978 (I'm 15, he's 43). Bottom left: me with Dad, 2015ish. Top right: me, Dad ("Papa"), and "Uncle Walter" with John Paul, 1998 (John Paul, obviously, is the little kid). Bottom right: John Paul, me, Dad, and Walter, 2014 or 2015 (last picture of the "three generations of Virginia Janaro men"). #TBT #AllSouls #November #EternalRestGrantUntoHim #RememberingDad

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Bright Short Afternoons

On a bright, short November afternoon, red and yellow and even some stubborn green all glitter in the waning sunlight.

Pretty? Yes. Gorgeous!! The problem is that the sun is setting and it's 5pm in the afternoon, which is rather early for my preference. But, well, it's November... #NoComplaints

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Faithful Departed


Thinking about and praying for Dad especially today, and all those who died during this difficult year.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Requiescant in pace. 

"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Today we remember those who have walked before us, in the hope of meeting them, of reaching the place where we will find the love that created us and awaits us: the love of the Father” (Pope Francis).

Friday, November 1, 2019

All Saints Day: "We Shall Be Like Him"


“Beloved, we are God's children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Thursday, October 31, 2019

WE WIN!! ⚾ 2019 World Series Champions ⚾

What a bunch of hootin-n-hollerin we let out in this house in the early hours of the morning of the last day of October in this unforgettable year of 2019.

The Washington Nationals did it! They won it all!!

I won't pretend that we "never gave up" on the 2019 Nationals. We weren't "believers" in May, when the Nats were 19-31. We'd been through this before. And there they were, back in May, after a mediocre 2018, with new injuries, with all the problems in the bullpen. We thought, "Nope, nope, nope. Ain't gonna happen."

But as the Summer wore on, hopes awoke ... maybe we could salvage a halfway decent season. At some point we realized that this was a pretty good team. A persistent team. A spirited team, a fun team, a clutch team, a comeback team.

Winning 8 straight games to finish with 93 wins and a "wild card" spot in the playoffs made us proud. With "Baby Shark" and all that pizazz, the Nats were a memorable and admirable ball club. They kept things loose and had a great attitude, but they also played hard and they played to win. They were an exciting team. Way to go, Nats!

It had turned out to be an excellent season. Of course, in the playoffs they were just wild cards, but really we figured that whatever winning they did in the playoffs would be "icing on the cake." We wouldn't have blamed them for losing to the Dodgers or the Braves or the Yankees or the Astros...

Anything can happen in baseball, after all. And, boy, did it happen! Indeed, this team made things happen.

The Nationals were down to the Brewers, down to the Dodgers, and down to the Astros, and they came back every time. All those comebacks were more than luck, more than coincidence.

These guys proved that they're winners.

So many players deserve credit: Strasburg, Scherzer, Sánchez, Corbin, Rendon, Soto, Zimmerman, Turner, Eaton, Suzuki, Robles and many more. One player stands out for me: an old school ball player, a veteran, who had a great season, and then hit the division-series-winning grand slam against the Dodgers, and another homer that scored the winning run in game seven of the World Series in Houston: Howie Kendrick.

The 2019 Washington Nationals are World Series Champions. It's the first World Series win for a Washington baseball team since 1924. It's the first championship for our own Nats, who came here in 2005.

John Paul was 8 years old when we started rooting for the Nationals. He grew up with the Nats. We went to games, and we watched game after game after game, year after year after year on television. There were some hilariously awful teams, quite a few mediocre teams, and then some division winning teams that couldn't get past the first series in the playoffs.

John Paul finally got a local champion in hockey when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Given the years of frustrating playoff drama and failure with the Caps, that was profoundly satisfying.

But we really needed one for baseball.

Eileen and I were happy to be with our son and his fiancée Emily and other friends at our own Game Seven TV watching party, and to see the Nats win it all. WooHoo!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dear Dad, These Memories Are Very Close to Me

Dear Dad: 

The last time I cared so much about a Game Seven of the World Series was 40 years ago. This is basically what we looked like in those days (from a picture of us at a game at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium around that time period). Back in 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates were down three games to one, and they came back to win it all (including the last two games on the road). 

We went to Game Four in 1979, and even though we were in the outfield seats, and even though the Pirates got crushed that night, it's a memory I cherish. Tonight, that memory and so many other sports memories seem very "close to me." 

It's funny, this past March - during your final illness - your grandson and I were telling you about the Nats' prospects for the coming season. We didn't think they had a very good team. 

No matter what happens tonight, one thing is clear: We were WRONG about the Nats. 

Dad, I miss you, and that you're not here in bodily life to share this with us. I know, of course, that the bond continues to grow in other, mysterious ways. Still, I'm thinking of you, and praying that the Lord will embrace you forever, and that in the end we will all "finish the race" and "keep the faith," that we will all be "winners" together. 

Rest in Peace, Dad.❤➕

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Remembering and Celebrating Blessed Chiara Badano

Today we honor the short but heroic life of this wonderful 18-year-old girl: Happy feast of Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano! She is indeed a "light" who encourages all of us to love Jesus and trust in Him no matter what. Her intercession for us in the presence of the Lord is - I am convinced - very powerful.

Chiara is especially important for young people, and for the evangelization of youth in the midst of the dominant trends of secularist culture with its idolization of power and external success.

As a young person growing up in the 1980s, she shared in the normal endeavors and aspirations of her time. She played sports, enjoyed hiking and swimming, loved music, and had a beautiful singing voice. She had friends and was known to be a good listener, a confidant for peers in their difficulties. 

She had her own struggles, problems with school, and heartbreak, like any teenager. She was an exceptionally lovely young woman, bright, unassuming, accessible, modest without preoccupation, ardent, persistent, open-hearted.

She sought Jesus, to love Him and serve Him. She hoped to become a medical doctor, to tend the needs of the desperate poor of sub-Saharan Africa at that time. Instead, at age 17 she became a patient herself, struck down with osteosarcoma. 

In her final two years she fought for her life, endured immense suffering, and offered herself ever more profoundly in union with Jesus on the cross in His cry of abandonment. She died three weeks short of her 19th birthday, on October 7, 1990. Even with all her pain, she radiated a transcendent joy that amazed everyone around her.

I don't understand her, and I can't imagine such courage. But I love her for it.

And now - living forever in the glory of Infinite Love - she has opened her listening heart to my troubles and sorrows. She has encouraged me and helped me to be a better father, a better educator, and a more open person to the needs of others. She also has led me to seek the light of Christ shining in places where I would not have thought to find it.

She is a sign of the Lord's great compassion for me, and for the whole world.

"What a free and immense gift life is and how important it is to live every instant in the fullness of God. I feel so little and the road ahead is so arduous that I often feel overwhelmed with pain! But that’s the Spouse coming to meet me. Yes, I repeat it: 'If you want it Jesus, so do I'" (Blessed Chiara Badano, dying of bone cancer, 1990).

Monday, October 28, 2019

When We Were Young (1995)

It was twenty four years ago today that these two young people got "officially" engaged: October 28, 1995 (this pic is from December 1995). Eileen and I have been together for nearly half our lives.⭐❤ #SoGrateful

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Standing Before God's Eyes..."

"To pray is to stand before God's eyes without any illusions, excuses, or justifications" (Pope Francis).

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Josefina Turns Thirteen!

The Janaro family has another teenager!

Well, "technically" speaking...

Thirteen years ago, on that wacky-and-totally-unforeseen-day-that-we-never-dreamed-we-would-end-up-celebrating-every-year, October 26 in the year 2006, Josefina made her surprising (but necessary) early debut on the ex utero "platform" of life.

She had major health issues that required emergency surgery (and ultimately another emergency surgery months later) and ended up spending nearly seven months in the NICU. I have written about this story many times on this blog and even in my 2010 book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy.

She is fine today. But she has always been a little bit on the small side for her age. Maybe she's just a small person, physically speaking. As I always say, she is the opposite of small when it comes to personality. 

And that has been true since the beginning, when she was all big eyes and chubby cheeks, charming the NICU nurses (most of the time).

When I began this blog, she was only four years old. John Paul (our oldest) was thirteen. Now he's into his twenties and engaged. Agnese and Lucia are in university. Teresa just got her driver's licence. And now Jojo enters the teen years, in the strict sense, at least (according to the numbers). But she's hardly your average teenager.

She's still very much a kid. People could be forgiven for guessing that she's ten or eleven ("forgiven" in general, though maybe not forgiven by her😉). She's more on that level physically and in some other aspects too. But Jojo has been growing steadily since toddlerhood, and there's nothing to be concerned about.

There are some ways in which I think she's mature for her age. She can have serious and intent discussions, has a large perspective, shows a great capacity for empathy, and she's got big aspirations. It frustrates her a bit that she's small for her age, but she's going forward at her own pace. We are blessed to live in an environment (and be part of a school like John XXIII Montessori) were there is both guidance and freedom, where there's lots of friendships between kids of different ages (and plenty of interaction between generations).

There is still the dynamic with one's own peers, and that always has ups and downs. Every kid weathers the challenges of growing up in a different way.

Josefina has lots of adventures ahead of her. Meanwhile, I will continue to try to be the best Dad I can be for her (and for the others, because this task - these relationships - always matter, through the whole of life).

I love this family that has been given to me. The keep me young at heart. Again and again they humble me and show me that the meaning of my life is beyond myself. I need to pray. I need to follow Jesus, and trust in Him. But that's a wonderful thing to be reminded of. We are made for relationship with God. This is the glory of life.

Happy Birthday Josefina!!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Beer and Baseball

A beer and the World Series.⚾ (When you're my age, this is partying... woot!)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Road of Life Moves Onward

I have another vlog near the end of the month of October. It's lovely to be outside in the beautiful weather we've been having these days. Here is the latest episode of "My Front Porch," which reflects - among other things - on the possibility that I might soon be making this series from a different front porch. Check it out below:

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

John Paul II and Us

If you've followed this blog or my other Internet media sites for any length of time, then you've seen this picture of the newly married John and Eileen Janaro with Saint John Paul II in Rome on July 3, 1996.

This encounter will always be precious to us. We'll never forget how he invested himself in those few brief moments with his amazing capacity to give of himself, his magnificent humanity, and also his own unguarded vulnerability as a real person. He was carrying the burdens of his 18 years in the office of Peter, his advancing age, and the early stages of Parkinson's that was slowly shaping the last heroic sacrifice of the physically debilitated final years of his singular papacy. 

On that afternoon, we spoke with him and asked him to bless our marriage, and he traced the cross on our foreheads. Then we hugged him and he felt like an old grandfather, and we kept saying, "We love you, we love you!" He said, "Thank you."

I think that, for a moment, we actually gave him some small consolation. 

I know it was a huge, pivotal moment in my life, in Eileen's life, in our marriage, in relation to all that has happened since then, to the future yet to come, everything. God alone knows...

Saint John Paul II, pray for us, for our family, for all families, for all those who suffer.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

John Paul II: "Christ Bathes Life in New Light"

“The words of Jesus explaining his identity and his mission are so important: ‘I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Our personal encounter with Christ bathes life in new light, sets us on the right path, and sends us out to be his witnesses. This new way of looking at the world and at people, which comes to us from him, leads us more deeply into the mystery of faith, which is not just a collection of theoretical assertions to be accepted and approved by the mind, but an experience to be had, a truth to be lived, the salt and light of all reality.... Let the Gospel be the measure and guide of life's decisions and plans! Then you will be missionaries in all that you do and say, and wherever you work and live you will be signs of God’s love, credible witnesses to the loving presence of Jesus Christ” (Pope Saint John Paul II).

Saturday, October 19, 2019

New Challenges For Our Family

Our little personal world is changing again.

Last week my dear 80 year old mother fell in the condo in Arlington and broke her ankle (thank God, she had no other major injuries, but any broken bone is especially difficult for someone at her time of life). Prior to the accident, Mom had continued to live in Arlington on her own. She wanted to stay there as long as she had enough mobility to get around the apartment, and she got frequent help from us for more difficult tasks. Her mind has been (and remains) strong and active.

Now, after orthopedic surgery, she will spend some time in a rehabilitation center. After that, Mom will move out to be near us in the Shenandoah Valley. We are looking forward to having her with us. The goal is (eventually) to get a house with a small apartment attached, so that Mom can still have her own space and her own pace of life, but be near enough to get as much help as she needs.

Ultimately, this event might lead to some good things. I'll be very happy to have Mom around. Right now, she has to go through the process of healing and rehab with whatever challenges they bring. After that the challenges are mostly logistical: we eventually have to sell the condo, sell our own house (where we have lived for 18 years) and move her and us into a new place.

Right now it all looks rather daunting to me, because my health has been unpredictable and, of course, it has been such a year of changes (sorrowful ones, and joyful ones too). But there is a constructive path before us, it's steps are well known, and many of our friends have taken it.

God will give us the grace to persevere on this path, one step at a time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Dabblings in Digital Art

Here are some recent digital art projects I have been working on:

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Finally, Newman is a SAINT

"God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. 

"There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. 

"Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him."

~Saint John Henry Newman

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Does the World of "Social Media" Make Us More Lonely?

Ah, social media! Everybody wants to beat up on social media.

This is not without reason. First of all, in 2019 we need to recognize the tag "social media" as a shorthand term for the entire "new media" explosion of this decade, the whole scope and variety of mobile audiovisual access that seems to allow every individual the possibility of turning their life into a reality TV show.

In our daily lives we are immersed, far more than we realize, in a communications media environment that did not exist fifteen years ago. This is a fact worthy of reflection.

Anxious questions often arise. Is the phenomenon of social media destroying our psychological health? Is it taking us away from "real" human interaction and cheapening communication? Is it turning us into reactive, antagonistic, illogical, irresponsible, and damaged people?

It must be, surely... right? "Social media is the scourge of our society" — I read or hear statements like this all the time... on social media!

The Internet has certainly displayed, facilitated, and exacerbated our dysfunctional patterns of engaging with one another. People too easily post or comment or tweet without adequate thought or sensitivity. These kinds of media are open to abuse because of their speed, dislocation, and variability. They are also used to raise the levels of expectations, complexity, and stress in our society.

To put it in more concise terms, we've got a real mess on our hands.

I do think it’s interesting that almost everyone seems to agree that “social media is the problem” — which to me is an almost certain indication that it is not THE problem.

The realm of social media is crazy like everything else in our society, but it’s also a forum where people desperately try to “connect” from out of their isolated spaces. Of course, it’s generally too facile and superficial and involves too little personal risk to really build connections (though it’s not impossible, and I have seen remarkable uses of it).

The Internet today is the gathering place, the hangout spot, the public square of "the global village" (and McLuhan's paradoxical term continues to express the inherent tensions of an environment that aspires to such a vast intimacy). It's a bit uncanny, this global village square, where our attention and agency can operate in multiple exchanges involving multiple locations, all of which are physically very distant from the place in which we are bodily located at any particular time. Indeed, the “virtual commons” — in itself — requires no actual investment in any particular "feet-on-the-ground" common life, no commitments to “elbow to elbow” relationships.

People come from everywhere to social media in search of human connection, “present themselves” (by constructing their image) and seek applause or affirmation or just to know that they are not alone. This can be very helpful, as far as it goes. There was a marketing slogan about an "old media" platform that connected people over great distances (and still does) in a more private way, the telephone. Regarding the phone call, the slogan said: "It's the next best thing to being there."

Something analogous could be said about new media. Interpersonal and even communal exchanges are possible in ways we scarcely could imagine when I was young. But it still remains "the next best thing" to a whole experience of being with others. As a substitute, it inevitably proves to be frustrating and disappointing. It's not surprising, therefore, that here we are today, feeling more isolated, more alone, more "depressed," more shallow, and more bellicose than ever. Social media gets blamed, but the problem is much deeper, I think. The problem is perhaps that we have no real “commons.” We have few places where we are wholly invested in being together — places of unmediated “belonging-with-others,” where relationships can grow on a human scale.

It’s a problem, in part, of the great human crisis of this “new epoch” (what Guardini calls the “epoch of power”). I'm in the process of developing a more general survey of this emerging epoch in human history. Here let me note that this terminology must not be taken to indicate unambiguous progress for humanity, much less any kind of evolutionary trans-humanism. Human nature as such doesn't change by going through a historical process. Nevertheless, because of the richness of the inherent stature of human beings as both spiritually transcendent and concretely embodied persons in the world, human potential tends to unfold the full range and depth of its capacities through the experience of discovery during the course of history.

Thus the knowledge and agency of human beings grow through time. This growth is not linear, but it tends overall to accumulate. What we discover about the world and our own humanity, however, can never replace the basic challenge of living, which is a task for freedom. The perennial responsibility to choose the good will always entail the risk of resistance against the good. In the "field" of human history, the wheat and the weeds both grow together.

To return to the immediate subject at hand: an important feature of our shifting into the aforementioned new epoch is the ongoing technological revolution. He we note specifically how technology has affected our way of "inhabiting" space and time, and this has jolted the bases for human relationships in ways that we still haven't adequately considered. Our technological power has vastly expanded our "mobility" (among other things), allowing for many new opportunities but also dislodging what had always been the grounding of the human communal experience: that physical-location-determined network of human relationships that were “given” by the inescapable fact of being “stuck” in a place (village, neighborhood, town, etc).

People rarely consider how much their humanity is extended (and stretched, stressed, dislocated) by the entire infrastructure of technological power we live in, which is so pervasive we don’t even notice it. We live in an environment that puts powerful tools in our hands to “manage” life and relationships. This opens fascinating possibilities but also gives rise to the tendency to try to “escape from ‘the given’” whenever it conflicts with our comfort or desires, or imposes obligations (especially interpersonal ones).

It can be enriching to get away from the local village and its limited perspectives, and choose a place (or places) to live where we can grow as persons. But there is the corresponding danger that we will use our mobility to distance ourselves from the responsibilities that come with stability and commitment, and search for places to hide and stagnate. We can end up isolating ourselves in our chosen places, with whatever technological distractions we choose to provide for ourselves. Not surprisingly, rootlessness, superficial social relations, and relentless distraction prevent many people from making progress in personal maturity.

This is the “problem” that I think we need to consider. I’m not saying, “everybody should go back to the village” — this is not a realistic possibility even if it were desirable. There is much good in having possibilities to move about: thus we can travel, expand our horizons, appreciate different cultures, engage in collaboration on a global scale, and also go off (again, even far away) to specially protected nature parks when we want to “get away from it all.”

There is significant value in the unprecedented availability of all these options for human experience. Nevertheless humans are made for connection and commitment in real relationships. And since we are no longer “thrown together” in the village with literal neighbors, we are challenged to live more intentionally, more consciously aware of this constitutive human need. Multiplication of casual encounters governed by one’s own whims (powered by all this enormous technological enhancement) does not meet this need. People who "play around with" the need for human connection by using social media while trying to evade the work involved in committed relationships will eventually experience distaste, frustration, and greater alienation.

One key is to recognize and commit to the relationships that are (still) “given to us” (God is good, and He provides for human beings in every era, especially when they allow their essential needs to become prayer — to open themselves to relationship with Him). There are persons who are given to us, who are meant to be basic companions for all of our lives. Family is, or should be, the obvious example.

But here again we meet the problem of the absence of connection. Our power over material reality — combined with the pressure of extended expectations, impatience, and the desire to dominate and radically control reality — have led to the technological and sociopolitical manipulation of the family’s natural constitution and fruitfulness. While often celebrated as a new achievement for "freedom," this has already proven to be an enormous human catastrophe, painfully evident wherever the ice of "demographic winter" has taken hold. Sooner or later we will have to face it: turning sexual relations into a game (with the help of many varieties of technological power) has dissipated the energies that build and sustain family bonds.

What value is there to progress and development if they cannot be passed on to future generations? The history of persons, communities, peoples, nations, and humanity itself depends on the vitality of family life as a gift from God "written" profoundly into our human nature. In our legitimate concern for the earth's environment, we must not forget the imminent dangers that we face because of the wanton pillaging and destruction of this immensely delicate “human ecosystem,” the organically generated human structures that constitute and sustain the most fundamental human relationships.

The family remains an ineradicable source and sign of the human vocation to love and to be loved. But also I think we are entrusted to one another in various ways, by the interpersonal gifts that arise from encounters within the circumstances of life. These may even generate organic forms of community, but it is always important to discern and commit oneself to friendships that can constitute a “vocational companionship” — friends who really help and accompany us in the journey of life.

Social media platforms may be able to play a role in facilitating and fostering interpersonal relationships, and in reaching out to others. In themselves, they are another form of technological power which must be integrated into a more profound sense of being human persons called to a communion of love.