Monday, July 15, 2019

Saint Bonaventure: "Follow the Poverty-Stricken Christ"

Every year, in the middle of July, when his feast day rolls around, I think, "Gosh, I haven't read Saint Bonaventure since... like... last year." So I look something up. I have some books - including a couple of those volumes in English that the Franciscans published years ago - on one of the few shelves in the house that actually stays organized.

The Seraphic Doctor, the great medieval Franciscan and contemporary of St Thomas Aquinas, can be appreciated in many theoretical ways, but we are missing something fundamental if we never get burned while reading him.

Bonaventure is a fire. He is like a burning bush. You wonder if you can look upon the flame in him and continue to live.

Maybe this is why I only read him once a year.

Here are words written seven and a half centuries ago that cut through the differences of history and context and speak directly to us today.

Below are some excerpts from chapter III of De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores, a short work written for the edification of the Poor Clares. I felt the heat from the fire of these words today. In their light I see what a hypocrite I am, what a mediocre half-hearted lukewarm Christian I really am. At the same time, they also awaken in me the desire to be changed. Bonaventure is emphasizing that defining accent of the Franciscan spirit: poverty. But he didn't use this sort of terminology; he simply preached about the poverty of Jesus.

Granted, his words are directed to cloistered nuns, but that doesn't mean that they have no relevance for people living in the world. Bonaventure is convinced that the example of Jesus should inspire not only consecrated persons, but all Christians to a love of poverty.

We argue and scheme and wring our hands about our society today, our social problems, and the "need for change." How often do we consider the possibility of cultivating in our own lives the simplicity, trust, and poverty of spirit that pervade the Gospel and the witness of the saints?

It is a possibility, because God makes it possible for us. We fall short because we fail to respond to His love for us. He wants to kindle a fire in us but we remain cold. And sad.

Bonaventure exhorts us to ponder the humanity of Jesus in meditative prayer. The more we remember this man who reveals and communicates the love of God, the more He will draw us to Himself, change us, set us aflame.

Excerpts below from chapter III of Bonaventure's small treatise for the Poor Clares - De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores - are given in bold type. My occasional comments are in regular (non-bold) type. Read his words carefully. Ponder what strikes you. Go to the Gospels themselves and meet the poor Christ, hear His calling, speak to Him from your heart, and let God have space to work within you.

"Christ was born poor, lived poor, and died poor. Realise and bear in mind that Christ gave you this wonderful example of poverty in order to induce you to become a friend of poverty. Our Lord Jesus Christ was so poor at birth that He had neither shelter, nor clothing, nor food. In lieu of a house He had to be content with a stable. A few wretched rags did duty for clothes. For food He had milk from the Virgin's breast. It was meditation on this poverty of Christ that roused the heart of St Paul and caused him to exclaim: 'You know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might be rich' (2 Corinthians 8:9).

"St Bernard, speaking of this same poverty, says: 'An eternal and copious abundance of riches existed in Heaven. Poverty, however, was not to be found there. It abounded and was superabundant on earth. Alas! Man did not know its worth. The Son of God, though, loved poverty, and desired it, and came down from Heaven and took it as His own possession in order to make it precious in our eyes' (Sermons I, 5).

[Bonaventure often cites Church Fathers from the first millennium such as Augustine and Gregory the Great, but he also draws deeply from the incomparable witness of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a relatively contemporary figure (12th century) who had a great influence on the evangelical renewal of the times, and who also has a lot to say to us. We will look at him next month; his feast is August 20.]

"All His life long, Jesus Christ Our Lord was an example of poverty... He was so poor that oftentimes He did not know which way to turn for a lodging. Frequently, He and His Apostles were compelled to wander out of the city and sleep where they could. It is with reference to such a happening that St Mark the Evangelist writes: 'Having viewed all things round about, when now the eventide was come, He went out to Bethany with the twelve' (Mark 11:7)... In similar strain St Matthew writes: "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head' (Matthew 8:20).

"Added to the poverty of His birth and life was the poverty of the death of the King of Angels... Look at His poverty as He dies. His executioners stripped and robbed Him of everything He possessed. He was robbed of His clothes, I repeat it, when the executioners 'divided His garments between them, and for His vesture cast lots' (cf Matthew 27:35, Psalm 22:19).

"He was robbed of body and soul, when as He succumbed to His most bitter sufferings His soul was separated from His body in the pangs of death. His persecutors deprived and robbed Him of His divine glory when they refused 'to glorify Him as God,' (cf Romans 1:21) and instead treated Him as a common criminal. 'They have stripped me of my glory,' complains holy Job in a moment of prophecy (cf Job 19:9).

"Drawing a lesson from the compelling example of Christ's poverty, St Bernard writes: 'Think of the poor man Christ! There is no house for Him at His birth, so they lay Him in a manger, between an ox and an ass. Look at Him wrapped in wretched swaddling clothes! Think of Him a fugitive on the rough road to Egypt! Think of Him riding on an ass! Think of His poverty as He hangs on the cross' (Sermons III, 1)."

Then the text invites us to consider our own anxiety over status and possessions, and how far removed this is from the poverty of Christ. We worry about temporal things. We are preoccupied with the concerns of this life. Our lives are so much taken up with grasping for worldly success and security, and fear of failure and deprivation. Why?

"Did you never read, did you never hear what Christ the Lord said of poverty to His Apostles? It occurs in the Gospel of St Matthew. 'Be not solicitous, therefore, saying, what shall we eat, or, what shall we drink. Your Father knows that you have need of all these things' (Mt 6:31-32)... [You are encouraged to be free of anxiety and to trust in God:] 'Cast, therefore, all your care upon Him, for He has care of you' (1 Peter 5:7).

"Since the fatherly care and solicitude of God for us is so intense, should not our anxious longing for temporal things cause us to marvel? Should it not astound us that we are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things? Why, when God occupies Himself with our welfare, do we trouble ourselves so about things of wealth and things of little concern?

"I can find no other explanation than that we have become avaricious. Avarice, avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation, has taken hold of us. We may assign no other reason than that we have turned away our affections from God, our Salvation. The fire of Divine Love has become extinguished in us. We have cooled. Love for God has frozen within us. If we were really fervent and had really stripped ourselves of earthly things we should follow the poverty-stricken Christ. Men when they become excessively hot are accustomed to strip themselves of their clothes. The proof of our want of love and of our great coldness is the attraction which worldly goods possess for us."

Obviously, those of us who live in the world might be perplexed about how to "manage" the "attraction to worldly goods" that seems inseparable from living a robust and serious human life, and fulfilling our responsibilities not only to ourselves but also to temporal history - to our families, our communities, our societies. Indeed, being a Christian in the world is complicated and "divided" and calls for the seemingly paradoxical posture of being in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world. 

I can't resolve that paradox. Part of the special grace of the calling of Bonaventure's Poor Clare nuns (and all those in consecrated life) is the radical simplicity of its form of life. Yet he feels the need to preach to them about worldliness and the dangers of "avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation."

Clearly, we are all called to cultivate self-discipline and the virtues. There is no place for mediocrity, for trying to "play it safe." We lay people are called to engage the realities of the world. Asceticism is necessary. Virtue is necessary.

But Bonaventure wants to remind all of us of the essential focus of every vocation: the love of God. We are made for God, and the things of this world are good and beautiful because they reflect God's glory. When we forget God, we lose the basic dynamic that guides the journey of life with all its achievements and sufferings. We fall into desperation and "are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things." 

We all struggle with this forgetfulness. The good news is that the Word who is God has become flesh so that He might dwell among us.

Jesus came to be with us, to accompany us through life and to die for us so that He could stay with us even in death. He frees us from sin and brings healing through His life and above all His sacrificial death on the Cross. His resurrection is our hope. In Jesus we "find" God in our lives, and "remember" Him again and again.

Saint Bonaventure therefore exhorts us all to follow Jesus Christ, to follow in a spirit of poverty and humility the poor and humble Christ.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Christina Grimmie: A Companionship that Never Ends

Remembering Christina Grimmie this month, with words from her most recent posthumously released song, "Hold Your Head Up." It's an upbeat song with a special kind of positive message, one that strikes me as founded on the hope for a companionship that never ends.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 11: Saint Benedict's Universal Feast Day

Happy Feast of Saint Benedict to all Benedictines, oblates, and the whole Benedictine spiritual family throughout the world!

Today commemorates the translation of St. Benedict's tomb and relics to the Abbey of Fleury in France in the year 660 (to protect them from Lombard invasions of Italy). The Abbey of Fleury was an important pilgrimage site for over a thousand years. Its monastic community was dispersed by the French Revolution but the monastery remained in existence throughout the 19th c. period of French anticlericalism. The community of monks was restored in the 20th century. The current Roman calendar marks this day as Benedict's feast to insure that it can be celebrated by the whole Church. The date of his death (March 21) always falls during Lent; nevertheless it remains a Solemnity on the Benedictine calendar and is a III class feast on the 1962 calendar followed by the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. Don't be confused. Just have a blessed and happy day!

We are well instructed by these words preached 11 years ago on this day by then-Pope Benedict XVI. On this feast, we pray for an abundance of grace to vivify his current "monastic" life of contemplation and hidden service of love: 

"St. Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, feast of St. Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Sun Sky"

Here is "Sun Sky," - abstract piece in digital medium. By JJ.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Long Live the Queens! (U.S. Women Rule the World Cup)

They did it!

Dang, this team is a great team.

When it comes to the world stage, the United States Women's National Team is, arguably, the "team of the decade," not only in the beautiful game of soccer, not only out of all U.S.A. teams, but just THE Team of the Decade. Period.

It's just my opinion. It's a little bit of what fans do, in sports, when they humorously put on a just-for-fun show of "smack talk." (So take it easy, Italian friends; this is all in the spirit of nice American fun. Capito?๐Ÿ˜‰)

And, yes, I'm biased. Of course!

Note also that I said "the world stage" - which means international play, so don't be talkin' 'bout your New England Patriots here. (๐Ÿ˜‰)

I'm also referring to exclusively team sports, not sports that have "team" and "individual" events (e.g. track, swimming, gymnastics - where we have seen some awesome individual and team performances).

Have I made sufficient qualifications? Probably not. Or perhaps too much? It's the occupational hazard of the philosopher: we can't say anything without a mountain of qualifications.

So I'll say it simply: FC United States Women's National Team is the Team of the Decade. They are the great team of international competition in the 2010-2019 era.

What makes a team "great"? Well, winning is certainly a big part of it. Skill is a big part of it. But, let me speak personally - as a fan, who was a hapless player of every team sport in my youth but who nevertheless kept trying, who had better luck with golf and distance running but didn't stick with those sports, whose best sport through the years has been fishing, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s (the significance of this should be obvious ... #SteelCurtain #Franco #MeanJoeGreene #FourSuperBowls #LetsGoBucs #Clemente #Stargell #WeAreFamily), who is now a happy fan of the sporting efforts and accomplishments of my children from basketball to volleyball to karate and - I'm happy to say - girls' soccer.

What makes a team "great"? Intangibles (all the little clutch plays that no one even notices). Dedication. Hard work. Cohesion.

And also, personalities (some inspiring, others peculiar or "colorful" - a great team is not the same thing as a choir of angels and saints). Their personalities are "on the table," but they know how to pull together. Between games and seasons, there can be friction even to the point of drama, as long as they are able to rise above it on the playing field (or "the pitch," as it's known in soccer).

Then there's a kind of indescribable magic that sparkles when they play together and that catches fire sometimes, unpredictably, often enough in the big moments of games, so that you're always on the edge of your seats. You know that anything can happen. Over the course of a decade, you find that you have collected a whole bunch of memories of epic, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments when beautiful, wonderful things happened.

A great team is exciting. They win big, but even when they lose, they pour their hearts out so that you can't help loving them even more. You also know that they'll be back.

Team of the Decade. Players come and go over the course of ten years, though there are usually a few who remain to carry the banner of continuity. Individual players have their various problems, opinions, situations, attitudes, whatever. But this is strictly about the game. It's about how they run and and pass and kick, how they play together, how they make things happen on the pitch.

The Janaro family enjoys watching sports, and we have had a lot of fun being fans. Not everybody likes every sport, but we do appreciate "the big stages," especially the Olympics and the World Cup.

In recent years, the women's soccer team has been consistently amazing and inspiring, from the dazzling comebacks and heartbreaking loss in the final of World Cup 2011 to Olympic gold in 2012 and then to back-to-back World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019. This year's team was a juggernaut. They were on the level of the 1927 New York Yankees, and they made sure their opponents knew it. I didn't think they were being cocky. They were confident and they enjoyed playing the game. They took their opponents seriously, so that even if they didn't play their best game, they found what it took to win.

Of course, the Washington Capitals' championship run in 2018 was our all-time sports high point as a family (even though not everyone likes hockey). Mom, John Paul, and Teresa even went to the victory celebration on the Mall. But over the course of the decade, the Caps (and the Nationals in baseball) have given us plenty of disappointments too.

The Women's soccer team has rocked the whole decade. We want to shout out a huge "thank you!" to all the champions past and present, to Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Christine Rampone, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo (hush! - she was an incredible, insanely good goalkeeper!), Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Kelley O'Hara, and to so many others (this is just a select list) including 24 year old Rose Lavelle who danced with the ball and then pounded it home with a brilliant left footer in the 69th minute of this year's final match.


We can look forward to seeing her, along with many other talented young players, in the future.

Congratulations to our United States Women's National Team. We don't have royalty in the U.S. government, but we (we the people!๐Ÿ˜‰) are certainly free to bestow noble titles on those who have reminded us of the nobility and beauty of our humanity, of the richness of life even when we play.

With this in mind, only one thing remains to be said. This team rules; they have earned the honor of being called "Queens of Soccer."

Long live the Queens!


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Friday, July 5, 2019

United to Jesus

In difficult times, 
even more than in times of peace, 
the priority for believers 
is to be united 
to Jesus, our hope.

~Pope Francis

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Birthday USA

Happy Independence Day 2019 ๐ŸŽ‰๐Ÿ“ฏ๐Ÿป (#DigitalArt with original photo from Yosemite National Park by me, taken seven years ago - the last time I was there). #IndependenceDay #July4th #Grateful


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Facebook Causes Us to "Lose Face"!

Today, July 3, 2019, will be forever remembered as The Day Facebook Failed. I'm just kidding... the younger generation would say it "failed" sometime around the year 2013! They all use Instagram. But here's the thing: Instagram also failed today.

Millions of people spent hours deprived of the endless roll of digital images and videos. Oh the humanity...!

It looked like THIS:


Shocking! Just shocking! Where are my pictures? Where are any of the pictures?

We were still able to post words, however, on Facebook. Instagram was toast, but I don't think that was much of a problem for my kids or anyone else from the Smart(Phone)-Generation. They can survive, as long as they still have texting... rotfl ppl srsly.๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿ“ฑ

Twitter was fine. Now that it has become a platform for international diplomacy, that's just as well... I think... (?)

They (whoever "they" are) fixed the glitch not long ago, but during the downtime I posted on Facebook about my perplexity (along with about a billion other people).

What happened to all the "faces" on the "facebook"? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Okay, this could be funny, ... if it doesn't last too long. ๐Ÿ˜

After a couple of hours, it was getting serious:

This is a real crisis ... I mean, I might actually have to DO SOME WORK today! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ๐Ÿ˜‰  #FacebookFail #InstagramFail

But all is well in the end. The world's favorite distraction and perpetual cocktail party (byob) is rolling once again. Everybody calm down and just LOL.๐Ÿ˜„

Needless to say:"Hashtag-Just-Trying-To-Be-Humorous-About-The-Whole-Thing" #ImJoking #ItWasTheRussians #ImStillJoking

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Trust God in the Midst of Every Storm

In the Gospel reading for July 2, we hear the story of the storm that arose on the sea while Jesus was sleeping below the deck of the boat. His disciples "came and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!' He said to them, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?' Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, 'What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?'" (Matthew 8:25-27).

One of the key themes of this text is that the Lord is trustworthy. If we could penetrate the fullness of the mystery of our lives, we would see that everything really is "grace," that God is indeed good, all the time.

Everything in our lives unfolds according to our Father's loving plan for each one of us. If God allows something bad to happen to us, He permits it because He wants to bring a greater good out of it; He wants to lead us through these struggles to a deeper and more mature life.

In affirming this, we don't want to trivialize the tremendous pain and apparently inexplicable sufferings that we face in different times and ways in our lives. Rather, we need to recognize that the purpose of our lives is hidden in the mystery of God's goodness.

And He is good. He loves us. When He permits us to suffer, He also gives us the strength to endure and grow through it. God doesn't always give us things that feel good, but He always gives us what we really need. That includes the grace that enables us to ask Him for help, to recognize that we need Him and are totally dependent on Him.

We don't ultimately know ourselves, or the mystery of the whole person God wills each of us to become. And when bad things happen, God doesn't usually show us (at least, not at the time) the purpose of these events in our journey to our destiny. We have to trust Him.

Trust is a decision; it is a position of the heart in the midst of the storm. It does not depend on how we feel, and it may not make us feel any better. It usually doesn't make the bad circumstance disappear. But trust makes our hearts grow. We must trust God and never give up, even if we feel like we can only do it through gritted teeth.

Years later, we can sometimes catch a reflection from the light of this mysterious growth. As we get older and look back on life, we can say, "I'm so grateful for that whole experience. I wouldn't be the person I am today if all of that had not happened."

Such memories encourage us to continue to trust. But even when we feel that our whole life has been nothing but a series of storms, we must hold onto Him. He will not leave us. He has come to stay with us.

He stays with us. Even when life is a deluge, even when we're soaked so much we can't remember what it's like to be dry and on solid ground, even when we're submerged beneath the churning waves, when we don't know up from down, right from left, when everything is underwater - even then, He is still holding on to us!

Trust in Jesus, and never give up.

Lord Jesus, give me the grace to trust in You. Make this trust the foundation and the shape of my heart, the position of my heart in the midst of every storm.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Pete and Paul Go Way Waaay Back (Buona Festa!)

Saints Peter and Paul (on stone, detail from early fourth century Christian tomb). 


I thought this was pretty cool. Happy Summer Holidays!

Friday, June 28, 2019

"All You Who Labor and are Burdened..."

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-30).

This way of approaching Jesus - drawn by the unimaginable depth of the love of His human heart - gives me great hope and consolation. His Sacred Heart is my refuge.

For I am one of those who labor and are burdened. Illness is part of it, of course. But it's deeper; it goes down to the core of my personality. I am a large and broken person, with "the grandeur and the misery" of being human tied together in huge knots all through my soul.

There is still so much pride in me. So much ego. Much of my burden is there. But that's not all of it. There is also something that I can no longer escape at my age: it's a real undeniable pain, like a wound, like a constraint of nature: the pain of the failure to fulfill the great potential of my own life. The fact that this failure was mostly unavoidable, due to illness and uncontrollable circumstances, does not mean that it's painless. I don't let it define me. I don't dwell on it too much. But I can't pretend it's "nothing" either.

Perhaps I now embody, in some measure, the "type" of personality that I remember hearing described in my youth with reference to someone else much older, someone with vision and achievements marred by catastrophe and frustrated by the narrow space of action that confined him thereafter: "He is a marvelous wreck of a man." 

I came to know that particular man well in his last years. The description was fitting, up to a point. But his limitations humbled him and opened his heart radically to his need for God's salvation - for God's mercy. This was something new and transforming, and there was "lightening" of the burden in it; he found a measure of rest and a wisdom that he tried to communicate to others.

But the burden did not go away. Sometimes it overwhelmed him. Nevertheless, he knew he wasn't carrying it alone.

And now I find myself an "elder" with achievements and catastrophe in my past, and limitations going forward in my remaining years (none of these are as great - or as terrible - as those of my old friend from my youth, who went home to God a long time ago).

Still I remain a very "large" person, with a vast span of interests and concerns, full of aspirations and frustrations, generous but proud, broken in so many ways.

I talk too much (verbally and in writing). I always have, of course, but it's becoming more obvious as the rhetorical polish wears thin, and I'm compelled to admit it even to myself. I suppose this is for the better: it's so easy to become a crashing of cymbals, a colossal wind-bag, a bore without even realizing it.

Yet people like me are terrified of being useless, of being ignored. Here again there is pride, egotism, and vanity, but also new forms of insecurity brought by the passage of time.

Knowledge puffs up. Others admire knowledge when it's in alliance with political or social power, or when it can otherwise serve some practical purpose. But when the "large" person is sidelined and/or begins to grow old - when it becomes clear to everyone that he or she is no longer a "player" in the game - admiration fades, and is replaced by a kind of deferential tolerance (at best) or contempt or (what is most feared) invisibility.

I don't want to live this way. I want to change.

I must learn to become "small," but not by "reducing myself," not by cutting myself off from everything, not by ceasing to read and write and study, or by giving up the search for God's sometimes obscure but always faithful, mysteriously working and ultimately defining presence in the midst of this world.

I am not called to go off to the desert to become a hermit. For starters, Eileen and the kids wouldn't approve of that. Others may take such paths, but not me. For me, it would just be hiding or running away from the road that I must continue to travel even when it appears to twist and turn and change direction.

My family and my teaching vocation remain as fundamental responsibilities entrusted to me by God. I must continue to be faithful to them. I must continue to pursue wisdom and understanding, and to make the effort (however difficult and seemingly fruitless) to communicate, to be an educator, to "point out" to others what I see. It remains necessary for me to be attentive to mundane reality and to sustain the broad scope of my sensibility toward people and things. I cannot give up caring about life.

All of those efforts must remain and grow. What must "decrease" are the illusions of self-centeredness, the cravings for status and recognition, the "grasping" for success and self-satisfaction. I hardly have a choice. At this time of life, I am compelled more and more to give way to obviously irreversible losses and the approach (even if not yet imminent - though "who really knows?") of my own mortality.

The mysterious part of our human "burden" is this inescapable poverty that makes us all small in the end - the poverty of suffering and death. It will either humble us or crush us.

I'm more aware of how overgrown, misshapen, and fragmented I really am. A rich person (whose riches, after all, turn out to be junk) cannot pass through a needle's eye. That point of entry lies before me, and I cannot ignore the fact that my path gets very narrow in proportion to its proximity.

Will I learn to be "meek and humble of heart"? I am frightened. The scope and weight of the burden are heavy indeed. But Jesus says, "Come."

Is it such a difficult invitation? He promises "rest" in His own measure, and it is possible to find rest in Him. His burden is "light" - a seeming paradox, appropriate when we realize that He is speaking of His human heart. In His human heart, He suffers all the brokenness that we have wrought upon the reality that He has created through His divine power and wisdom and love.

My own monstrous, scarred, broken self becomes small when it is encompassed in His great, humble, Broken Heart.

Monday, June 24, 2019

"Twas a Night Before Christmas"...Six Months Before, in Fact!

"You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation 
by the forgiveness of their sins" (Luke 1:76-77).  .

Merry "Pre-Christmas"! - today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist. Notice that six months ago was Christmas Eve (can you believe it!!??) and six months from today will be... Christmas Eve!

If you're Christmas shopping now, you're either really early... or really, really late! 

But seriously, this very ancient liturgical feast common to Western and Eastern traditions precedes Christmas each year by six months, just as John was the Forerunner of the Savior, the great prophet whose singular mission was to point to the Word-made-flesh and prepare the way for His coming and His ministry.

The Greek icon above covers the events of this feast and the Biblical texts we read for it (notice Zechariah with the writing tablet). For those whose patron saint is John the Baptist, today is your "Name Day" (and mine too!๐Ÿ˜Š). In some cultures, the "Name Day" is celebrated with the same (or even more) emphasis than one's natural birthday. 

So I should have a PARTY! Right?๐ŸŽ‰๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽ๐ŸŽ‚

More importantly, I should (we all should) prepare for the coming of the Lord, not only in six months time, but every day.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Happy Holidays... in June!!



This week is a WEEK OF HOLIDAYS on the liturgical calendar, especially in the Latin (Western) observance. 

There is a convergence of fixed celebrations and feasts that vary depending on the date of Easter (which was late this year). Hence we have a rather exceptional week of Summer holidays in which to rejoice and give thanks to the Lord for His glory and His love (never forget to be joyful), and also to honor His servants:

June 23: Corpus Christi Sunday.
June 24: Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist
June 28: Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
June 29: Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
June 30: Sunday!

Yes, June 30 is "only" a "regular" Sunday, but let's not take it for granted.

Every Sunday is a holiday, a "little Easter," a day for worship, for joy, for rest from our toils, for special attention to being with those we love, for sharing love with others. 

We need Sunday. When Sunday is forgotten, the world grows sad and cruel. But we have been created for joy.

Happy Holidays!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Midsummer Janaro Anniversary

⭐It's our Anniversary!⭐

June 22 marks twenty three years with this wonderful and amazing lady, Eileen Janaro.❤ Here we are on our wedding day in 1996:


And here are the same two people at the same brick pillar in front of the same church, exactly TWENTY THREE YEARS LATER:


Ah, it really is beginning to feel like "a long time ago" since that wedding. A generation has passed, a generation has grown up ... but love and gratitude are ever new.❤๐Ÿ˜Š

Friday, June 21, 2019

Solstice... But Which One? It Depends on Where You Live...

Happy Summer 2019!!

Bring on the fun, right?  .

๐ŸŒด๐ŸŒŠ๐ŸŽฃ⛳๐Ÿ„⛵๐ŸŽพ⚾๐Ÿ˜‰

But wait... if you're one of my Southern Hemisphere peeps (most of whom are Argentines or Australians), I can't say this to you.

In your case, it's... umm... "Happy Winter 2019!" or "¡Feliz Invierno 2019!"

Bring on the ... uh ... fun? ๐Ÿ˜ฏ☁☔⚠⛄๐Ÿ˜‰

What a crazy digitally interconnected topsy turvy twenty-first century world we live in!๐ŸŒ

Everybody stay cool!๐Ÿ˜Ž ...or warm๐Ÿ”ฅ ...or whatever!๐Ÿ˜‰

Thursday, June 20, 2019

World Cup 2019: Go Girls Go!!

Things are really starting to get into gear now with the 2019 World Cup in women's soccer. We are moving into the Round of 16, with its single elimination games.


Thus far, the "team to beat" has more than demonstrated that it is indeed the team to beat. The United States Women's National Team rocked their way through the group stage, scoring 18 goals in 3 games and giving up... zippo.

This is an awesome team. Nobody wins "the beautiful game" without getting a few breaks—after all, it is a bouncy ball getting kicked around a field.⚽

If they get the breaks, though, USWNT will win it all. Dang, these girls can play this game!๐Ÿ”ฅ

GO TEAM USA!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Bright June Evenings

It's the high point of the season.

The sun is going down a few minutes before 9:00 PM, and it makes pretty much the full arc from East to West with 15+ hours of sunlight in a day. Sunset has moved steadily North on the horizon since Winter, all the way up to the spaces between houses on the next block.

Plenty of light at 8:40 and beyond in the evening.


Then the transition from sunset to twilight lingers on well past the 21st hour mark. 

I love all this light!๐Ÿ™Œ


Monday, June 17, 2019

John Wu and the Journey "Beyond East and West"

Among those bridges-between-East-and-West that I have been seeking in recent years, Professor John C. H. Wu is one who has the tremendous span of a profound education and a contemplative sense of his own identity as a Chinese Catholic.


My article on his "conversion story" in this month's issue of Magnificat barely scratches the surface of the scholar and the man, from whom I think we have much to learn in the 21st century.

There are no short cuts to understanding China. I do not think that I will get very far in my remaining years, but I hope that I might at least be able to convince others in the West to learn more about the deep roots and long history of a civilization that is becoming a global protagonist (even if, for now, it wears the distorted and superficial garb of a Communist-Capitalist-Corporate State).

We must encounter China. It is imperative. John Wu can be a great help to us.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day Without My Father

Well, it's Father's Day. I have missed Dad a lot today.

"Missing" turns out to be a rather precise term. He is not in any "place" in this world that I can go to, or call, or even find on a map. He's not puttering around the condo in Arlington, or in his wheelchair at Greenfield. He's not "around" in any kind of empirical way.

"Where" is he?

I know he lives. He walked with Jesus in the Church, faithfully, in this world; and thus we have entrusted him to God in the hope of eternal life. He lives in God's love, whether in the fullness of beatitude or in that final mysterious passage of preparation and purification which most of us will need - the "bridge" between death and glory known as purgatory.

In any case, the relationship continues, and there are "signs" of its ongoing significance. They pertain especially to the concreteness of the Church, the bond that unites us in Christ's body, the Eucharistic liturgy, the prayers for his eternal rest and also the confidence we place in his prayers on our behalf and the fruits of his labors from all his years of earthly life.

There is real, meaningful consolation here. But it stretches us beyond the horizon of this world. It's not a trick that somehow "brings him back" to us. On the contrary, it only makes it clearer that the journey of this life means so much more that what we think we can control within the narrowness of our own interpretations.

Then there are all the memories, so many more than I realized I had. There is much to reminisce about, but memories also pop up surprisingly, evoking unexpected emotions that I don't understand.

It's like the memories have acquired a new dimension, demanding to be seen in a new way. The memories seem "restless," sometimes, as though there are aspects of them that I have not yet noticed, or resolved, or appreciated.

I do believe that my father loved me more than I ever knew. How little I appreciated that love. Here, even more than in the "missing" of him, I find a kind of sorrow. It's a sorrow that draws me to seek forgiveness from him, and from God whose gift he was, irreplaceably, in my life.

I guess this is part of grief, this sorting of memories, with a more vivid and poignant awareness of the need for forgiveness.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Christina Grimmie: Her Mission Has Just Begun

Christina Grimmie in the Philippines (credit to owner) 
Once again, the time has come to celebrate with gratitude the life of a beautiful human being, the 22-year-old popular singer, musician, and songwriter Christina Grimmie. It is painful to remember that we lost her three years ago, yet in a mysterious but real way she remains as a light that continues to shine in a dark world, a light that only grows brighter with the passage of time.

Christina Grimmie was killed on June 10, 2016 in the very place where she gave herself the most and received in turn so much encouragement, namely, in the midst of her supporters, those who appreciated her music, followed her and interacted with her on internet platforms, and knew that she cared about each of them and wanted to meet them or see them again. She was surrounded by these "frands"—people who were inspired by her as an artist and a person, and who were drawn together from many diverse backgrounds into an experience of community.

"Team Grimmie" united people all over the world into something much more than just a "fanbase." For them, it was a human connection with an artist who shared her music and her personality, her vulnerability, her hopes and her needs with them. She also told them again and again that she loved each of them, and she meant it. For Christina, it really was a matter of love. She saw each person, not simply as a fan or part of a crowd celebrating and bolstering her ego, but as someone entrusted to her by God. At the same time, she found the embrace and sustenance of God's love in the people she encountered.

Christina therefore saw it as her mission to be a role model, to encourage, to inspire, to be (for however brief a moment, in whatever small way) the presence of God's beauty and love for every person who was touched by her work. This is why the greeting sessions after her concerts were so important to her. She brought to them a heart full of gratitude for "frands" who had supported her for years and an open heart for newcomers, a readiness to share her passion for music and whatever she could give with whoever came to meet her.

It was in this manner that she approached the last moment of her life, on the night of June 10. She greeted and spoke with and gave hugs to the people who came up to her. Some she had met before, but for others it was the first time, so when a stranger approached her, there was nothing unusual about it. She opened her heart and opened her arms to welcome him, to create a space of encouragement and love for him. Only God knows what manner of darkness drove that man to draw a semi-automatic pistol and shoot her.

He killed her. But he could not stop her from loving him. He could not erase the gesture of love that was offered, in that moment, without reservation.

She knew the love that is more powerful than even the greatest violence in this world.

Christina Grimmie, with all her talent and energy and hard work, had "something else" that transformed what she did, how she made music, how she engaged people. And, while always respectful of people with different viewpoints and never pushy, she made no secret of the source of her joy and her motivation, the "something else" at the foundation of her life, the reason why she sang, why she breathed, why she had hope: Jesus Christ.

Christina was a very normal girl with lots of different interests. She wasn't "perfect." She made mistakes and struggled with frustrations and endured much suffering. But everything was grounded in and brought back again and again to her simple and boundless trust in Jesus Christ. This was the foundation of her radical witness as a Christian -- her "mission" to live for the sake of His glory.

Ultimately it was not her own strength but His grace that shaped the scope of this mission. She gave herself to Jesus and He fashioned her into an "instrument" of His wisdom and love that was specially suited to the present time. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus put His love into her heart and through her He touched the lives of people. Trusting in Him, Christina lived as a young person in the places where other young people today spend their time. It was not any kind of "strategy for witness," or any kind of strategy at all. She was simply herself, living her own personal vitality and interests in union with Him and thereby allowing that love to extend to places where it is not often known, letting it shine through her own face, making it visible and audible and -- in places like concert venues -- even "tangible." It was the love of Jesus, because as she herself said, her belonging to Jesus was not just part of her life; it was her whole life.  .

What is really remarkable is the simple, unselfconscious, incarnate character of Christina's service to God. She wasn't a preacher or an evangelist. She didn't sing worship music or even Christian-themed music (except on a few occasions). She sang regular songs about relationships and heartbreak and fun. She kept her morals in her music and in the way she presented herself, without being a prude or heavy-handed. She didn't condemn people, but sought out and encouraged what was genuinely good in others. She was fun and not afraid to be a little wacky, full of joy, down-to-earth, dedicated, and humble. She had an enormous heart. And, wow, she could really sing!

She gave all of this to Jesus, and lived everything for His glory. This is why He was able to work through her to reach out to people who weren't interested in hearing sermons. He worked in hidden ways to draw people closer to Him, to begin to open their hearts through her joy.

Even now His love is at work, through the enduring light of her special witness, in hearts that have never thought or cared about God before. Even now, when people encounter Christina's legacy for the first time, they may be "caught off guard" and find themselves gently but persistently drawn toward something beyond all they have ever known: the embrace of Christ. Through the beauty of Christina's art, and the many readily accessible expressions of her free-spirited sense of fun, her unassuming goodness, and all her magnificent passion to pour herself out and constantly give of herself, people can still be moved by the tenderness and goodness of the God who has loved them first.

Death is far from the end of Christina's mission. She has been taken up into Christ's love, and now there is an exponentially greater power to her witness, and fruits beyond anything we can imagine.

There is no way to reduce the agonizing grief of her family and those closest to her, and the sorrow of everyone in the Team Grimmie community remains real and painful. Yet we know that somehow even all this is working a deep work, drawing hearts together, cultivating love in the spaces of the brokenness.

Christina's mission continues. The seed has been sown, and the Lord will continue to give the growth to this love, to the gift of a whole life lived "with love." He will bring forth whatever He wills in His infinite Love.

There will be new stories of hearts touched, of lives changed. Perhaps there will even be miracles.

It wouldn't surprise me.๐Ÿ’š

Monday, June 10, 2019

Three Years

Christina Grimmie died three years ago today. She continues to inspire us in so many ways! (For example, she inspires me to keep trying to make digital graphics and digital art, as best as I can, with the resources I have.๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’š)


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost: The Spirit Bears Witness


"Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:14-17).

"We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will" (Romans 8:23-27).

"What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? ... What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we are being slain all the day / we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-32, 35-39).

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Groan in My Groanings

Jesus, save me. 

Come Holy Spirit! 

Jesus, save me.

Jesus, save me.

Jesus.

This is my prayer on the eve of Pentecost.

Come Holy Spirit! Groan in my groanings. Abba, Father ... this is so hard. I am lacerated. I am beyond any healing that this world can provide. These are wounds too deep for words. I cannot speak. I don't know what to say. More and more, words fail me.

Jesus.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Remembering Tiananmen Square and the "Tank Man"

THIRTY YEARS AGO today, following the ruthless crackdown of the protest movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and in other cities throughout China, we awoke to videoclips and various still photos that conveyed an iconic moment: one man standing against a column of tanks, then moving to remain in front of the lead tank as it tried to maneuver around him. 

Images and media told the whole world the story of a moment when one human person - with nothing but his own dignity and freedom - stood up to a whole century of monstrous institutionalized violence.

(No one knows who he was or what happened to him after he was taken away. There were many other unknown persons who were heroic during in those days, who also "disappeared." In China this image is still censored, as are all matters related to the Tiananmen Square movement and its bloody, brutal suppression on June 4, 1989. China's strange dictatorship remains in power today, a nominally "Communist" party-controlled State that presides over a booming materialist consumer economy. If nothing else, it is a fascist, nationalist, bureaucratic, invasive and controlling regime in which the higher freedom and dignity of human persons and communities are still frequently violated and threatened, or otherwise obscured and rendered precarious.) 

Though this man did not prevail against the tanks in Beijing, his courage spoke to the world, and especially to the hearts of millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe.

Thirty years ago, in June 1989, we had no idea how much the world was about to change.

Today, in 2019, with all of our new problems and the new forces that try to smash our humanity in perhaps more subtle ways, let's REMEMBER "THE TANK MAN." Let's honor his legacy with the courage of our own humanity.

Monday, June 3, 2019

"Martyrs' Day" in the New "Digital" Africa

The Shrine of the Uganda martyrs
Once again Catholics in Uganda have commemorated their "ancestors in faith" - the early converts who were martyred in the 1880s by Kabaka (King) Mwanga.

This has been a special day for me for years, thanks in part to Ugandan friends who witnessed to the beautiful and personal vitality of the martyrs' legacy for their own Catholic Christian identity.

June 3 is the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow pages in 1886. They are grouped with others of the same period, so that 22 in all are honored in today's Catholic Church feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the beatification proceedings in the 1920s. They are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years.

Every year, immense crowds of pilgrims arrive at the Shrine of Namugongo near Kampala, many traveling on foot from distant places throughout the region.

I have seen pictures from this event in recent years on internet sites. This year, however, I discovered something "new" - or at least "new to me" - that brought the pilgrimage closer than ever: a broadcast by a Uganda news television station of the liturgy and other observances of the day was live streamed on the station's new internationally accessible 24 hour "live" YouTube channel.

Though I didn't actually see it live, the recording of the stream was still available this evening.

NewsTV: turning on Africa for the world
During this past decade, sub-Saharan Africa has grown remarkably in its access to mobile digital technology, thanks in part to the much noted intensive Chinese investment on the continent. What this may herald for the future is hard to predict, except that it will change Africa in many ways as the communications revolution continues and as the growth of China's global influence continues.

These are two important trends to watch in the coming decades of the 21st century, I think.

One positive and immediate outcome, however, is the possibility to watch a young church celebrate its faith. I don't expect I'll ever get to travel as a pilgrim to Namugongo. But now (at least "virtually") Namugongo can come to me.

We are all one in Christ's Body, with our many diverse cultures resonating lIke a great symphony. I know this. But it is always surprising - and wonderful - to find that living unity expressed through multimedia technology. It is a cause for joy.






The icon of the 22 Uganda martyrs from their 1964 canonization 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Birthday For the Recent Graduate

Today is John Paul Janaro's Birthday. ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‰ He is now 22 years old. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ❗⏳↗ 

I thought it would be fun to compare John Paul (and his parents!) at age 4 with the most current pictures.


I think we can still say that he has changed more than us.๐Ÿ˜‰ Happy Birthday John Paul! God bless you!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Heroine of God and France: Jehanne La Pucelle

Today is the 588th anniversary of the execution of one of the most famous military commanders in human history. It marks the end of a dramatic (true and well-documented) story of inspiration, miraculous victories, restoration of a legitimate national leader, treachery, betrayal, power politics, and an unforgettable trial.

This military figure claimed to be inspired by God.

If the story of this person doesn't strike you as extraordinary, even unique, perhaps we should also note that she was a nineteen-year-old peasant girl.

She was no religious terrorist, though her enemies condemned her as such and worse. Rather, she was a defender of the poor and the oppressed, rallying her country's people against a brutal occupation that weighed heavy upon them.

She called herself Jehanne La Pucelle, "Joan the Maid," but is more generally known today (according to her father's surname) as Jeanne D'Arc, "Joan of Arc."

Saint Joan of Arc.

Of course, there was plenty of blame to go around on all sides for the long string of conflicts (a hundred years worth of conflicts) between England and France and their allies during the 14th and 15th centuries. Joan was not canonized until the 20th century, and in so doing the Catholic Church didn't intend to proclaim as doctrine that "God was on the side of the French." 

Indeed, the Church doesn't even define the nature or experiential modality of the "heavenly voices" that Joan credited for her inspiration (other than ruling out any demonic origin, contrary to the trumped up charges of the Pro-English ecclesiastical court that condemned her in 1431).

Joan is a saint because of her courage, her purity, her love for Jesus and the Church, her adherence to the will of God, her trust in God, her love for God. This wonderful witness - in the face of human expectations, human conventions, human threats, and ultimately a fiery death - was inserted into a moment in history in which English soldiers, mercenaries, and bandits were dominating and riding roughshod over northern France with impunity. 

The English occupied French territory, plundered French homes, lived off of French land, and impoverished French villages and peasants. That's how things had stood at least for a decade or more when Joan appeared on the scene in 1429. The rightful French king Charles VII was in internal exile in the south. Orleans was under siege.

Self-defense remains a human right. Defending the oppressed can be a work of charity and mercy. Sometimes it is a demand of justice. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

It was to the Lord, first and above all, that Joan gave her heart and dedicated her life.

I note below a few quotations from the trial records or other written sources. In the end, Joan captures our imaginations not just as a French patriot or a "maker of history" but precisely for her luminous simplicity and transcendence, her holiness, her singular love for God.
"I place trust in God, my creator, in all things; I love Him with all my heart" (during campaign, 1429-1430).
"Everything I have said or done is in the hands of God. I commit myself to Him! I certify to you that I would do or say nothing against the Christian faith" (during trial, 1431).
"I beg all of you standing here to forgive me the harm that I may have done you. Please pray for me" (immediately prior to her execution, May 30, 1431).
"Hold the crucifix up before my eyes so I may see it until I die" (bound to the stake, before the fire was lit, May 30, 1431).
"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!..." (final cries during burning, May 30, 1431).
When it was finally over, an English solder reportedly said, "God forgive us. We have burned a saint!" 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Maybe My Brain Just Needs a Rest

I am going to write something. I don't yet know what it will be, but here goes...

That's just it. I don't know what to say. There is so much to say, so many thoughts in my head, so many reflections, so many questions.

But I feel stretched thin, and torn in some places. I have no inspiration, no patience, no energy.

Am I depressed? Maybe. Is my brain failing me? Sometimes it feels that way.

Dear Jesus, what do you want me to do with all my talents, education, ability to communicate, passion for life (which I still have, very much), intensity, search for understanding, desire to be loved and to love? You have entrusted me with a mission in this life and I still feel its urgency. So why am I stuck in bed most of the day? Or in the house, in the yard, or exhausted after trying to do anything more? Yes, I'm sick. But that never seems like an adequate explanation for why I am so incompetent, so irritable, so vexed, so unsettled with everything, so disorganized...

Lord, I don't know why I have failed you so much.

Why am I surprised that weakness is weak? I am a sinner. That's why Jesus is here. God, save me. Have mercy on me! Lord, I need you.

I think this is something of a prayer.

But I'm so tired. I guess it's been an exhausting time - the past three months - for me. It all would have been hard enough on a normal healthy person.

Maybe I need to give myself a break. Maybe my brain just needs a rest.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Opening the Door of Mercy


"My life, my attitude, the way I live must be a concrete sign of the fact that God is close to us. Small gestures of love, of tenderness, of care, which suggest that the Lord is with us, is close to us. This is how we open the door of mercy.

"If we think in a human way, the sinner would be an enemy of Jesus, an enemy of God, but He approached them with kindness, He loved them and changed their hearts.

"We are all sinners: everyone! We all have some guilt before God. But we must not be without confidence: He approaches us to give us comfort, mercy and forgiveness.

"We can and must respond to His love with our commitment... we bring God's mercy through a commitment of life, which is the witness of our faith in Christ.

"We must always take the caress of God - because God has caressed us with his mercy - and bring it to others, to those who need it, to those who have a pain in their heart or are sad: draw closer with God's caress, which is the same that He has given to us."

~Pope Francis

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Do We Have Tornadoes in Virginia?

We had a little bit of "excitement" ("panic"?๐Ÿ˜‰) earlier this evening in our part of the Shenandoah Valley.


An "Imminent EXTREME ALERT!" roared onto my messages. (It certainly got my attention. Nice to know that the system works.) "Tornado Warning! Take shelter immediately" and such.

We saw a big thunderstorm brewing outside. But the warning only lasted 15 minutes. We didn't even get much rain at our house.

I wonder if any of my local friends got hit by a tornado? Probably not. I hope everyone is getting safely through the unusual recent weather we've had lately.