Wednesday, October 22, 2014

He Rescued Us

I belong to the generation that spanned the entire pontificate of the man we now know as St. John Paul II. Even now, I speak about "Pope Benedict" and "Pope Francis," but when I say the Pope I mean John Paul II.

In fact, for our generation he was always more than "just a Pope." Through him, Jesus grabbed hold of our minds and hearts. We went from being confused and weak to being convinced and ardent. John Paul II evangelized and catechized us. He showed us the face of Jesus.

It was a face we desperately needed to see.

Growing up in the 1970s was very difficult, and few of us came through unscathed. We were the children of the 60s, of all the upheaval and reevaluation that opened up in those times as the last rotting support beams of what had once been the edifice of the "modern world" gave way in dramatic fashion.

And when those last walls fell we found ourselves surrounded by fascinating and terrifying instruments for exercising power over the material world -- power to communicate and learn, to build and heal in remarkable ways, power to move from one place to another, power to manipulate our own bodies, power to shape our imaginations and those of others and to foster great illusions, power to expand our horizons and also to widen vastly the scope of self-indulgence and self-deception, power that opened up whole new categories of subtle psychological and emotional manipulation and violence, power for greater empathy and solidarity with others and also to destroy ourselves, one another, and our environment. All of this power was within the reach of our emerging personalities and freedom... a freedom that shivered in the winds of this strange new world, seemingly boundless but with no sense of direction, no idea which way to move or where to go.

So we experimented. We played with these powers like toys. We found good things and had beautiful experiences. We also did violence to ourselves and to one another; even as we worried about unspeakable weapons of mass destruction, we committed innumerable micro-atrocities that so many of us are still not ready to face.

Catholic Christians in the developed world in the 70s faced the same disorientation as the wider culture. The Church of Blessed Paul VI was heroic, but she was enduring a kind of martyrdom. She was a seed plunging deep into the earth, destined to bear tremendous fruit, but at that time far below the horizon of those of us who were thrown into the wild, primal seas of the new culture of power. We were desperate for a way to survive.

The amazing new world of possibilities and urges and speed and images was like a great flood. We couldn't direct it. We hardly knew what to do as it engulfed us. We had become lightheaded and out of focus, choking beneath the waves, dizzy from the lack of oxygen.

I can't express what St. John Paul II did not only for me but for our entire generation.

People have to understand: we were drowning, DROWNING, and he rescued us.

He showed us that we were human beings, and that following Jesus was the way to find our true selves. He held up to our gaze the image of Christ, the greatness of Christ. He convinced us that Christ could give meaning to our lives, that Christ was stronger than all the forces raging around us and within us.

With Christ, we could find the way to live in the midst of the flood, and even to walk on the water.

The Lord used St. John Paul II to rescue us. That is why my generation loves him so much, and why we will never forget him.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Gaze of Love That Makes All Things Possible

I call this "21st Century Still Life."
Anyway, these are my riches, haha!
Jesus looked upon the rich young man, and loved him (see Mark 10:21). Then Jesus told him to sell all his riches, and follow Him.

If only the rich young man had not “turned away, sad, because he had many possessions.” If only he had cried out to Jesus: “Lord, how am I going to do that? I really like all of my nice stuff! How?!” That would have been the beginning of everything for him.

Jesus could have worked miracles out of that “how?”

Even a frustrated, confused, angry “how?”—as long as it is a real question and not a put-off or a self justification—carries within it a glimmer of awareness that Jesus is worth giving up whatever He is asking of me, or bearing whatever burden He has laid upon me.

I want to stay with you, Jesus. How? Help! I do not want to turn away from the face that “looks upon me and loves me.”

Of course, we do not know what happened in the end to the rich young man. Maybe he forgot about Jesus and joined the Pharisee party—after all, they claimed to love the commandments that he kept, and he only had to sell ten percent of his stuff and could still impress everybody by dumping sacks of money into the temple treasury.

Or, maybe one day he remembered the face of Jesus, and that look of love, and went out again in search of Him. How could he forget it? Jesus's “look of love” corresponded to the reason for which he was made. It corresponds to God’s gaze within the depths of the hearts of each one of us, which stirs us to enter into the dialogue of prayer, and which is the quiet light and gentle flame of the vocation to eternal glory given to each of us.

The rich man had turned away from Jesus, but Jesus had not turned away from him. “With God all things are possible,” Jesus told His disciples.

Maybe the rich man remembered the face of Jesus. And maybe he found Jesus again, later—during those wondrous days in Jerusalem after Pentecost. Maybe He experienced Jesus's loving gaze again, in the faces of His disciples.

Monday, October 20, 2014

All I Can Do is Offer

O God, I give thanks to You. How amazing is the design of Your wisdom for the human race. You have willed to manifest and glorify the Mystery of who You are by pouring Yourself out and becoming one of us. You dwell among us and give Yourself up entirely for each and all of us.

You reveal that the Absolute Being is Absolute Love, and You offer that Love to each of us. In your wisdom you shape the hearts of each of us, fashioning us to be Your companions, making us capable of giving and receiving love and then placing Yourself in the midst of us so that we might love You and be loved by You and be transformed into Your likeness.

O Jesus help me.
All I can do is offer everything to You.
You have created me for Yourself.
My heart desires You,
and yet how often do I even think of what I do?
I am resolved to do the best I can.
I am resolved to seek Your will and to do Your will,
because Your will is Love,
and it will always be what will enlarge my soul,
and make me truly free,
because I am made for Love.
So I offer myself to You;
I abandon myself completely to You,
and to Your plan for my life.
I know there is weakness and resistance in me
that I do not know how to overcome.
I know there are ways I must grow that I do not understand.
I know that my life is a mystery hidden in Your wisdom and goodness.

O Jesus, I offer everything to You.
Convert me.
Change me.
Open my heart to the love You give me in this moment.
Carry my soul.
Give me, in Your Infinite Mercy, the willing heart
that loves You in the way You long for me to love You.
I am hindered from the freedom for which I have been made,
the freedom to live as the image and grow as the likeness of God.
And so I abandon myself entirely to Your Mercy.
For You have loved me first,
so that--by the power of Your love--I might love You
and receive You in giving myself to You.
Jesus I trust in You.
Jesus I trust in You, completely.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blessed Paul VI: The Joy of Christ

"May the world of our time,
which is searching,
sometimes with anguish,
sometimes with hope,
be enabled to receive the Good News
not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious,
but from ministers of the Gospel
whose lives glow with fervor,
who have first received the joy of Christ,
and who are willing to risk their lives
so that the kingdom may be proclaimed
and the Church established
in the midst of the world."

      ~Blessed Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Finding Mercy in Jesus

Mercy has been a topic of much discussion recently.

Sometimes it seems like we're trying to put "mercy" in a box and dole it out according to our own measure. This is an effort that cannot succeed, and it's just as well because our measure is so meager.

The mercy of other people is at best a sign and an instrument of the ineffable, overflowing mercy of God.

I trust in His mercy, because He knows me. In His mercy He knows the undying thirst of my soul; He knows my heart's longing in a way that I don't even begin to understand. I trust in Him to lead me to my destiny.

I trust in His mercy to give me what I need (because I don't know what I need -- I don't really know my true self). I trust in His mercy also to break off from me the things that keep me from attaining the real fulfillment for which I have been made, which is nothing else but Him.

I trust His tenderness and His gentleness, which endure even when all other affirmations or consolations are absent and I feel abandoned and alone. In this solitude I can only cry out to Him and long for Him in the firm conviction that He hears me, He wants me, and that the darkness and emptiness are the vast spaces of the mystery of His inexhaustible Heart that holds me.

He knows who I am, and He carries me in my suffering and accompanies me through all its depths. He has made those depths His own. His mercy is His brokenness on the Cross which He invites me to share.

The best way we can show mercy to one another is to help bear one another's burdens, to open our hearts to the mystery of the other person's suffering. This is what we need from one another. It is the way that we can discover the presence of Jesus in every person's life, not with condescension but with a great reverence for the person.

I must welcome this person, because this person is loved by Jesus. It is the great heart of Jesus that gives value and dignity to every person and to all our relationships. Whenever I speak to a person, my words should be shaped by the desire that Jesus come more fully to us both -- to heal us in His mercy and draw us together along the paths of His mercy.

As Pope Francis says, "We cannot trust in our own strength, but only in Jesus and in His mercy." Indeed, our strength is much too small to fathom the mercy of God. Our strength is too frail to bear His weakness on the cross.

Jesus, teach me to be merciful.
Have mercy on me.
Make me an instrument of Your mercy.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Don't Miss a Great Conversion Story This Month!

All Magnificat subscribers take note: There is a "Great" Conversion Story (really) between the prayers for Friday and Saturday (see pp. 263-264). I am greatly devoted to the lives and the work of Jacques and Raissa Maritain, and the story of their conversion over a hundred years ago remains moving and compelling today.

Of course, if you are not a subscriber to this wonderful journal, click HERE to find out more about it.

For the time being, I'll give you a break and just reproduce the pages of article below. I hope you are edified by this brief introduction (or review) of these dramatic events.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More Than a Silver Lining

It's difficult to see things through the window in weather like this!

Rain, rain, rain.

My old bones don't like it much. But their complaints seem small as I look through the window and try to make out what's happening in the fog and the squall.

There are floods, and they are getting worse. And not just floods of rainwater in the Valley.

These are some hard days. The news is hard. Clouds keep gathering on so many fronts. What is happening in our poor world?

Perhaps we are going to learn in a more immediate way how much we all really do depend on one another.

The "human family" is not a cozy, tame little idea. If someone hurts, we all hurt. We can't escape this fundamental fact, no matter what happens in the crises that have gained our attention. Even if the immediate circumstances are resolved on all fronts, the human family already shares a profound bond of suffering. We all share a common affliction.

We also share a common hope.

We share a source of unity that is greater than everything that divides us -- greater than every fear.

I pray that I might remember this fact, and that it will change my mentality and transform my way of looking at the world and all of the problems and the dangers, and all the evil that has already been judged and vanquished.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Heart Does Not Die

People can ignore their hearts, or try to satisfy them in ways that don't work.

They can pretend to have achieved happiness on their own (inevitably narrow) terms, or they can try to cloud their perspective with apathy, narcissist self-indulgence, or cynical resignation.

Still, the heart does not die.

It wakes up again, sooner or later, and wells up with longing and with that insatiable thirst that dries up every illusion.

The One who sustains you every moment in your life is drawing your heart.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Remembering Words of Truth: An Unusual Rosary Story

In yesterday's post, I wrote about Mary's love, the little things of daily life, and the small beads of the rosary. If we learn from Mary's heart, and if we persevere in staying with those little beads — even in the darkest and most difficult times — we can be confident that Mary will work in our lives and in the world, helping God to overthrow the oppressors and lift up the lowly.

Mary's works often begin with silence and grow over time. And her love works itself deep into the earth, into circumstances.

It's often surprising to discover Mary's gentle hand and heart at work in unlikely places, through very humble people and their fidelity to those little beads.

I want to illustrate with the story of a prisoner in a deadly labor camp during a time when a violent ideology and a violent dictator sent millions of innocent people to their deaths.

This prisoner was an atheist. He had conceived the desperate hope that, if he survived, he would convey to the world the horror and the destruction of human dignity that took place behind the barbed wire. He wanted to remember the experience and give a testimony. But of course these prisoners  — barely living, on the verge of becoming corpses — were lucky to get bread; they certainly didn't have paper to write things down.

Perhaps he could "write things down" in his memory, and learn the words by heart. But how?

The atheist prisoner encountered something unusual in the prison camp. It sowed a seed in him. Here is what he said:
"I saw Catholics... busy making themselves rosaries for prison use. They made them by soaking bread, kneading beads from it, coloring them (black ones with burnt rubber, white ones with tooth powder, red ones with red germicide), stringing them while still moist on several strands of thread twisted together and thoroughly soaped, and letting them dry on the window ledge.
I joined them and said that I, too, wanted to say my prayers with a rosary but that in my particular religion I needed one hundred beads in a ring... [and] with true brotherly love [they] helped me to put together a rosary such as I had described, making the hundredth bead in the form of a dark red heart.
I never afterward parted with this marvelous present of theirs; I fingered and counted my beads inside my wide mittens—at work line-up, on the march to and from work, at all waiting times; I could do it standing up, and freezing cold was no hindrance.
I carried it safely through the search points, in the padding of my mittens, where it could not be felt. The warders found it on various occasions, but supposed that it was for praying and let me keep it. Until the end of my sentence (by which time I had accumulated 12,000 lines) and after that in my place of banishment, this necklace helped me to write and remember."
Thus, this atheist prisoner said "his rosary," and remembered — bead by bead — what he saw and heard and felt. He remembered the misery, but also the beauty that he discovered, the beauty of the transcendence of the human person. The most monstrous forces of power in this world could not erase this transcendence.

Catholic prisoners who had committed no crime, who had been rounded up like cattle along with many others and thrown into the jaws of death, were faithful to the rosary. They made coarse beads of dried bread for Mary, which meant  — of course — a little less bread for themselves.

Then a stranger came and asked for help, and they responded "with true brotherly love." And what was it that moved them to the effort to make that hundredth bead "in the form of a dark red heart"?

Perhaps it was because they loved him.

Surely, Mary loved him.

The atheist survived, and eventually wrote his 12,000 lines and thousands of pages more.

He also found God.

And he wrote the most monumental prison memoir of all time. Above all, he tore the mask off the face of Communism and revealed all its ugliness, but also its ultimate powerlessness. Years later he said, "One word of truth outweighs the whole world." Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke and wrote many, many words of truth. And the world of lies that was the Soviet Union shook under the weight of The Gulag Archipelago and heard the first rumblings of its own destruction.

The Lord "has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly" (Luke 1:52).

Solzhenitsyn, the former Marxist and atheist, eventually became an Eastern Orthodox Christian, which means that he learned to sing the Akathist and all the beautiful liturgical hymns honoring the Theotokos, Mary. He learned to pray the Byzantine "liturgical rosary" of litanies with its continual turning of the heart to the Mother of God.

Still, he probably never learned exactly how those Lithuanian Catholics in the Gulag used their precious bread beads. He may never have realized that the love learned on those beads led to the simple gesture of a gift with a dark red heart — a gift that helped him to survive and to hope and "to write and remember."

He did not know that Mary was his companion in those dark days of the Gulag. But it was Mary who heard the prayers of his comrades and sowed the seeds of truth in him.

This is only one of the countless little ways that Mary accomplishes her victory. She continues to work wisely and gently, working out the triumph of her mother's heart by leading her children to healing, renewal, and joy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sowing the Seeds of Mary's Victory

The Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima, as guest
in our house in January of 2012.
Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and it is a wonderful occasion for celebrating this Gospel-centered prayer of simple gestures with beads and meditation with the mind and heart. It is an invitation to enter into Mary's school of prayer; to let her teach us how she accompanied Jesus through His life, death, and resurrection, and how she "treasured all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51).

This day is marked in history by the successful defense of Christian Europe against the invading Turks in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Pope St. Pius V had asked everyone to pray the rosary for the success of this seemingly desperate enterprise that sought to prevent the ruthless invasion of Western Europe, and thereafter the rosary acquired a special relationship to Mary's maternal protection against the perpetrators of violence and oppression. She was given the title of "Our Lady of Victory."

At Fatima in 1917, the Mother of God once again proposed praying the rosary as the way to prevail over the unprecedented flood of horror and dehumanization that had already begun in Europe and the world, and that would dominate the 20th century.

She spoke too about her heart — the heart that had treasured everything and pondered and carried the whole world with Jesus on the Cross, the heart that suffered and remembered — her all-holy, immaculate heart.

This is the way to victory: the rosary and Mary's heart.

When we pray the rosary today, we may wonder what sort of "victory" we can hope for. The world is in turmoil, and Jesus and Mary are hard to find in our society, in the chaos that surrounds us and — let's be honest — swirls around inside of us, preoccupies us, makes us so often foolish, angry, afraid.

Have we been abandoned? Where is that maternal protection that we need so much? Mother Mary, have you left us alone?

No, she has not abandoned us!

She never gives up on any one of us, because she is our mother. She is with us even if we are sick with fever and cannot recognize her tenderness.

And she loves all her children. The world belongs to her, and she is hard at work for true peace. She is sowing miracles everywhere that will bear fruit in patience — miracles that begin like tiny seeds, like the beads of the rosary.

Our fidelity to those beads is crucial, however distracted we may be, however frustrated we may feel about our efforts to "meditate" (or even to stay awake), as long as we have the heart for it. We want to share in Mary's heart of love, at least a little bit, and then a little bit more, one bead at a time.

Our fidelity to those beads helps us to live the "beads of life," the smallness of love from one moment to the next. We take one bead with hope, and then the next bead... again, with hope.

That is how Love triumphs in the world.

Monday, October 6, 2014

How to Keep from Losing Heart and Giving Up

When I woke up this morning, I felt ready for the day – ready to accomplish all sorts of things. After one fix-it project, however, I was pooped and hurting. Back to bed.

I'm still having a tough time of it. And I wonder if I am losing heart.

It's in moments like these that Jesus asks me, “Do you believe in Me? Do you trust in Me? Do you love Me?”

I know that here my own particular wacky circumstances intersect with the drama of every person’s life. We all have this place where we suffer, where we face our own inadequacy, where we discover the smallness of our hearts and the pettiness of all our deeds.

And it is here that Jesus asks each one of us, in the most penetrating and poignant way, to believe in Him, to trust Him.

I do believe that He loves me, whatever darkness may surround me.

Why do I fail to entrust everything to this Great Lover? Why am I afraid? What more could He possibly do to deserve my trust?
Jesus, I entrust to You what seems so often to me to be such a complicated business, namely the abandonment of myself to You, the giving of everything over to You, the surrender of everything to You...even my weakness.
Jesus, I entrust "my-entrusting-of-myself-to-You" TO YOU!
That's an awkward way of putting it. But I'm sure He knows what I mean.

I will not give up. Even if I am broken, God is still God, and still Glorious – even more clearly so, for He shares in my brokenness. Here, more than anywhere, it is clear that He is worthy of all my love. He has proven Himself. Thus, in every circumstance – even in the face of the prospect that I have nothing to give, that I am worthless, that all my aspirations in life may end in failure – the only reasonable possibility for me is to love God.

So even if I am nothing, I still want to love Him. I beg that I might be able to love Him.

From nothing, God creates, God brings forth life. Jesus I trust in You. Convert me. Conquer me. Recreate me in Your merciful love. Give me a new heart.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Human Vitality of St. Francis

The feast day of the incomparable Saint Francis of Assisi brought beautiful Autumn weather with it this year.

We have a cheap statue of St. Francis on the front porch, and I took some pictures and then fooled about with my Paint program to see what I could make of it.

Not much, as you see.

When it comes to the real St. Francis, there is a lot more material to work with. I wrote about his conversion story last month, but I won't give away my telling of that story yet: you'll have to wait for the column to appear next year in Magnificat (May 2015, I think).

Instead, I'll look backwards to the words I wrote 24 years ago, on October 4, 1990. The point that Young Janaro made here remains valid, I think. Francis was never a wicked man; on the contrary it was the human vitality of the young troubadour and would-be-knight that shows forth all the more the power of grace to transfigure human nature.

The extraordinary sanctity of Francis only intensifies all of the good and generous qualities of his human personality.

Friday, October 3, 2014

When We Ask, "Why?" He Answers With His Mercy

The Pope said something in a recent homily that struck a chord with me. He was emphasizing that prayer is real, that it comes "from the heart," and that the heart is often weighted with heavy burdens. The human heart that is made for the Infinite struggles especially in circumstances that seem closed off, when human understanding sees no way forward or no way out.

"I have often listened to people who are experiencing difficult and painful situations, who have lost a great deal or feel lonely and abandoned and they come to complain and ask these questions: Why? Why? They are in upheaval against God. And I say, 'Continue to pray just like this, because this also is a prayer.' ...It is prayer in times of darkness, in those moments of life that seem hopeless, where we cannot see the horizon" (Pope Francis, homily of September 30, 2014).

There is no human person in the world who cannot pray, somehow. So often that desperate question— that apparently angry or frustrated interrogation that asks, "Why?"—is really a kind of plea, a begging of the heart for help. The human heart is searching for the mercy of God.

No human predicament is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. His mercy is working in us during the most terrible sufferings, and His mercy will help each one of us to bear those sufferings and offer them out of love for Jesus, and with Him for the salvation of the world.

We can't imagine what this profoundly personal mercy "feels like," or how it is transforming the depths of our lives. We may experience relief and consolation insofar as the good Lord knows we need it on this mysterious road toward our perfection in Him. But the anguish we bear and the incomprehension we sometimes express are full of His presence and He is changing us even through this (especially through this), if we let Him.

Of course, we can resist Him. We can try to run away and hide. We can seek out false comforts, but all of these wither eventually into husks—pig fodder—and once again our hearts are raising the awful question. Once again we are provoked by our need for the Infinite and we wrestle with the question, "Why? Why?" Resentment and yearning clash within us, but there is also grace at work.

This is a question that lives on the edge of human freedom, fraught with the temptation to give up entirely on God, but also drawn by a hope—however incoherent it may be—that wants to ask God for mercy.

No human predicament, no degree of moral and spiritual disgrace, is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.

Perhaps you may object, even vigorously, that you don’t want God’s mercy.

There are some people who really don’t want God’s mercy. Generally, they don’t even think of it, because they don't think they need anything. For these people above all we must pray.

But then there are people who say to themselves, “I don’t want God’s mercy!”

If you are roused to considering God's mercy in such a way, it is because His call is provoking you in the depths of your heart. When you recognize the possibility of God's mercy, it is because you have already begun—somewhere within yourself—to desire it.

Are you angry with the Lord? Bitter? Are you shaking your fist at God? Look at that little fist, that fist made up of human fingers. God loves that little fist of yours. I think my child's little fist is a beautiful and amazing thing, even when she is having a temper tantrum. And God your Father—He made your fist. He knows every line of every finger.

He wants so much to uncurl those stubborn little fingers and hold your hand. 

“But I don’t know how to ask God for mercy!” Ask Him to enable you to ask Him for mercy. From wherever you are, right now, ask Him to show you His mercy and give you a heart that wants His mercy. Everything good comes from Him.

So even if you look at yourself and say, “I am totally evil,” you can turn to Him and ask for a little drop of goodness and He will give it to you. “Ask and you shall receive”—what a simple promise!

So you are a sinner? Ask.

You are lonely and suffering? Ask.

You are debilitated by pain and physical humiliation? Ask.

You are a “good Christian”? Ask, and ask all the more, because there is the ever present danger that you may have forgotten how much you need to ask, every single day.

You are a saint? Then you don’t need me to tell you to ask because you have been asking for a long, long time. And you will continue to ask, from depths that I can’t even begin to fathom. While you are at it, ask Him to have mercy on me.

Thus He showers upon us His mercy, not to the demand of our measure and expectations, but because we are made for Him and we need Him. He gives His mercy beyond all measure, long in anticipation of our awareness, and then in response to our recognition that we really do need Him.

Sometimes He seems to delay, but this is only because He wants us to keep asking; He wants us to experience our total need for Him so that we can grow greater in the love He gives us.

Ask, keep asking, and never give up. You shall receive… it is a promise from God.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

St. Therese: Drawn By Love

Her sister was reading to her about the happiness of heaven, and Therese said, "That is not what attracts me.... [Rather] it's Love! To love, to be loved, and to return to the earth to make love loved..." (St. Therese of Lisieux, Last Conversations).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our Lives are Funny, Really...

Cool, irrelevant graphic. Something's gotta go here!
Dear Blogging Friends (and Blog Readers, too):

There are so many blogs out there, so many shapes and styles, varieties of length and frequency, covering so many diverse topics. People voice opinions, share recipes, talk about their families, post pictures and graphics, develop philosophical meditations, or just ramble.

Many bloggers are struggling to write stories — their own personal stories — even as those stories continue to unfold.

Some of us have an urgency to reflect upon our own lives, to put our experiences into words. And we also want to share our experiences; we have the sense that something is happening in our lives that might be interesting to others, or perhaps helpful, or even inspiring.

Some of us are hoping that the miracle of the Love that cares for us and carries us will shine through even when people realize that we are incoherent, that we hardly know who we are, that no matter how expert we may be with words we can't hide the fact that we are really children.

The beauty of blogging can be seen in the different ways that we try to tell our stories (and to read the stories of other people). I want to encourage my blogging friends (and myself) to keep telling those stories.

And we needn't be afraid to be candid and to let the messiness show. In an honest recollection we can express how things happen, and the sloppy and awkward drama of every day. We can show our strength and frailty, our determination and all the limitations, frustrations, and obstacles that confront us. We can express reality in the midst of this collage of problems and our response to them, whether it be courageous, patient, bad-tempered, angry, calm, persistent, foolish, or (most likely) some combination of these.

And we will discover, often spontaneously, some things that are quite funny.

Those moments of humor — miraculous humor that comes through like shafts of light, humor that we don’t need to make up because it’s just there in the circumstance itself or in the effort to convey it — that humor is a beautiful thing, a strong and hopeful thing. Of course, we can go through long periods where we don’t see it, even in retrospect, but that underlying hope is still there.

It certainly helps us to communicate these things in writing, working through these experiences by putting them into words, and sharing them with people who are on the other side reading — knowing that among those who read there are people who pray and who care about what we're going through.

I’m sure, also, that our writing touches people and brings strength, encouragement, and healing in ways that none of us know. We must keep writing from the heart and letting our humanity show, because that’s where God’s grace is working.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jeter Finishes; Nationals, We Hope, Have Just Begun!

I haven't blogged about sports recently, but on this final day of the 2014 baseball regular season, there are several things worth saying.

First of all, some well deserved "RE2PECT" for Derek Jeter, who played the final game of his outstanding Major League career today. His hit in the third inning brought his final hit total to 3465. Only five players have more hits in Major League history. He finished his 20th season with a lifetime batting average of .310, and he played all of those 20 seasons with one team, becoming a legend in his own right on the legendary New York Yankees.

During an era when sports players have not always put their best faces before the public, Derek Jeter has been a consistent class act, a sportsman, a vigorous competitor, and a gentleman. He has represented baseball well, endeared himself to two generations of Yankee fans, and earned the respect of rival teams and fans, including the zealous enthusiasts of the Yankees' perennial archnemesis the Boston Red Sox.

After he left today's final game against the Red Sox at Boston's Fenway Park, the Red Sox fans gave him a long loud standing ovation. I don't think any New York Yankee has ever been treated to such a display of affection in Boston in the 150 year history of baseball in these two cities.

It was class all around.

Of course, Derek Jeter was not the only story in baseball today. Our own beloved Washington Nationals finished the season as National League East Champs with the best record in the league. In the coming month, Daddy and Mommy and John Paul (and all other Nats fans) will experience either the thrill of World Series victory or the agony of defeat at some point in the playoffs, but at least we are back in the running.

And Nationals' pitcher Jordan Zimmermann closed out the season with a magnificent pitching performance, throwing a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.

We are ready for some "Curly W's" in the weeks ahead! GO NATS!

Friday, September 26, 2014

There Are No "Coincidences"

God is present in this moment. Whatever the circumstances may be, He is using them as elements of a Person to person dialogue with each one of us.

God became man out of love in order to seek us out; He has personalized the whole vast, apparently random and chance-filled universe. He takes all the multitudes of forces that come together and make up the situation of reality at any given moment, and fashions them -- from all eternity -- into a love song that He wants to sing to each of us personally.

There are no "coincidences" in real life. In the ultimate truth of things, which has to do with their place in God's plan, no event is insignificant; no situation we find ourselves in can be called meaningless, because God in Christ has chosen to dwell in this world, and to shape everything into the possibility to discover Him through love, through joy, through suffering freely embraced, through sharing His mercy.

God has come to us, to dwell in this moment, to consecrate the human concreteness of this moment so that it becomes a gesture of His love. He comes to dwell with us; He takes on a human heart so as to accompany each of us and to gather us to Himself.

He comes to us and draws close to us in the humanity He has assumed in Christ, and asks us to recognize His presence and His transforming mercy even in the most difficult moments of life. This recognition takes shape within us as a genuine response of confidence and love.

Even in its apparent weakness, adherence to the mercy of Christ is the radical form of every truly constructive engagement of life. Through Christ we enter the real world, and we accomplish work that bears enduring fruit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Within Shouting Distance

Josefina hams it up instead of doing her math.
It's remarkable that at the age of 51, the human being I probably spend the most time with every day is a seven year old girl.

Josefina is usually within shouting distance of wherever I am during the day. When she goes to the Center, I work in the office there. When she stays home, I stay home.

Much of the time, she does her things and I do my things. On home days, Mommy is often in and out of the house, but I am the fort holder. I'm always "around." I see what the dolls are wearing, or the latest artwork, or I hear about her most recent imaginative perceptions.

Some days, I need to lie down a lot. She will come and settle in nearby with her coloring stuff, and draw her pictures and talk to me.

I am grateful to have her.

"Helllllllooooo. How may I help you?"

Monday, September 22, 2014

Saying "Yes" is the Work of Every Day

Everything is grace. Everything is God's gift, expressing His personal love for each of us and His presence within the relationships between us. He is Love. He can only love.

In the Cross He reveals that He is Love and He gives Himself as love.

He shows us that He is totally united to us in our difficulties. Totally united with us. So we don't have to be afraid of anything.

It's hard not to be afraid; but of course, He is with us even in our fear. He has given Himself and gives Himself as present in our lives now through Jesus and His Church.

In the end, we will be amazed when we realize what He has done for each of us. The marvelous truth will be clear: God is the Great Lover, He pours Himself out for each person, as only God can--all the hidden ways will one day be manifest. He gives because He is the Giver, He is Gift.

Of course, a gift needs to be received, and love is only received in a fully personal way by the return of love. We have to say "yes" to God, through our life.

Saying yes to God is the work of every day and every moment. We adhere to Him, day by day, with gratitude and readiness to receive the transforming power of His love. This is the humble, seemingly insignificant but implacable power to take the steps of responsive love from moment to moment.

It is the firm hope that endures in the midst of every tribulation, the hope by which we take the next step as God's light makes it clear to us, saying yes and praying with trust that He will make it possible.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn Sky

Clouds and the reflection of the sun on an early Autumn evening.

Friday, September 19, 2014

If You Have Daughters, Keep Your Hair Short

Teresa gave me antennae (notice my hair, not Jojo being silly)
Well, that settles it. I definitely need a haircut.

When you live in a house full of girls, it's best to keep your hair short. If there's any hair available at all, girls start fiddling around with it.

So Teresa was standing behind my chair and she started to twirl the salt-and-pepper locks on the sides of my head. With the help of a couple of ribbons, I suddenly had horns. Or maybe antennae.

What is it about girls and hair?

I'm a good sport. "Go ahead and take a picture," I said. So Teresa grabbed the phone, and Jojo, of course, said she wanted to be in the picture too.

Today was the Janaro Family Feast Day. Legend has it that the Great Ancestor of our very own Janaro Clan was none other than the original St. Januarius himself (a.k.a. San Gennaro), the fourth century bishop and martyr (and I should know the legend of this ancestry better than anyone, because I made it up). So we celebrated by having spaghetti (which is what we have for dinner every Friday night). After having my hair twiddled, I felt like I needed more spaghetti but we pretty well cleaned out the pot.

Wow, food just disappears around here. Oh well, HAPPY FEAST DAY!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love Never Fails: An Examination of Conscience

Today's first reading was the familiar text from 1 Corinthians 13. Here is that great litany of agape that stirs our hearts, that resonates within and beyond the heights and depths of our desire to live and find fulfillment. They are direct and uncompromising words: nothing can take the place of this love, which is our greatest gift and is the energy that shapes and gives direction to everything else.

"Love" is a word we use in so many ways. When we say it, we usually mean some kind of selfishness. We think love means giving in to our impulses and urges, acting from our fears, our desperation, our grasping, our illusions. But this is not really love. It is not what our hearts seek, and that is why it always ends in bitterness.

We know that the love that fulfills our vocation as human persons is the gift that God gives us, that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts so that we might share in His infinite life. God is Love. God gives Himself in love to us. God calls us to love.

This text helps us understand something of what the love of God is like, and how it transforms our lives. I wonder what would happen if we read these words at the end of each day and compared them to our priorities, motivations, and actions during the day. We would find ourselves examining our consciences with seriousness and depth. We would grow in love, in the awareness that the mystery of God's love sustains us and draws us to Himself. Even in the midst of tribulation, we would find joy and peace.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous.
Love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never fails.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"News," Rumors, Opinions: Where is the Truth?

It's good to get a glimpse of how a first century backwater Roman province did "the news" -- they had information and expert opinion (Scribes and Pharisees) and social media too (the village gossip... recall, for example. the famous hashtag that went viral in Nazareth: #Isn'tThisTheCarpenter? [Mark 6:3]).

Clearly, the problem of failing to put current events in perspective is an old one. Human beings like facile judgments that can be passed around rapidly. We have always liked labels. We can see how the news spread regarding the provocative religious phenomenon that was happening in first century Galilee and Judea:
"John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine,
and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by all her children" (Luke 7:33-35).
Wow, that sounds like today's news. But I want to be a child of wisdom. What can I do? What can we do to be children of wisdom in the midst of a storm of folly that increases by the day?

We need to pay attention to reality. We need to sustain that attention, refusing to allow the manipulation of words and images to reduce us to superficial partisans of one or another set of fashionable ideas. Nevertheless, we must navigate through the storm, testing what gets strewn about in the sea, and making use of anything that can really float. Apathy is not an option. We will drown.

This is a real challenge, because it requires us to be both engaged and patient, active and receptive. It requires us to love the truth more than ourselves, more than that self-centered urge to possess reality by reducing it to our own measure. So often we take up this (apparent) satisfaction and the secret smug feeling of superiority it gives us. It's easy to forget about the truth because we think we can make ourselves happy by being right, by being on the winning side. We stop paying attention to reality. Indeed, we grasp our positions and our slogans like hammers and try to beat reality into the shape we have decided it should have.

No wonder there is so much violence.

In the end, truth "wins." And "wisdom is vindicated by all her children." We hope to share in the promise of that victory. It is this hope that ought to steer us through the winds of the daily news and every variety of opinion, with prudence and patience and charity, with a firmness that keeps our feet on the ground and enables us to take one solid step at a time on our journey.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rescue My Soul

"Have mercy on me, Lord, I have no strength;
Lord, heal me, my body is racked;
my soul is racked with pain.
But You, O Lord, how long?
Return, Lord, rescue my soul.
Save me in Your merciful love" (Psalm 6:2-4).

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Charles Peguy: A Poet for France and for the World

I have not forgotten the importance and the gravity of the Centennial that commenced this past summer. In these early days of September the initial German offensive into France was stopped outside of Paris in the "Battle of the Marne." But within this battle, we must recall the 100th anniversary of what seemed at that time only one of a multitude of tragic but otherwise unremarkable battlefield deaths.

It was a brave death, leading an offensive charge, taken out by a single bullet to the brain. He was a brave man, a soldier who loved his country and defended his homeland, a Frenchman, a man of peasant stock, a recently mobilized reserve Lieutenant who owned a book shop and printing press. He was a craftsman who chose and cut his book pages and set his type with great care. But not many people appreciated it.

He was only 41 years old, but the world and life and death and eternity and the deep sky and the stones of cathedrals filled his head and his heart, and he had written passionately in essays and poetry that very few people read or cared about in his lifetime.

No one knew that from his pen the French language sang in ways it had never sung before. No one knew that while he wrote, perched atop stacks of old page proofs, an entire movement of literature was being born. Indeed, it was more; it was a new Esprit.

It would inspire a great revival in French literature, poetry, philosophy, and even theology. It was a flame that would spread out into many lights in the darkness of the coming generations -- rays of hope in the terrible, desperate darkness.

But when the great poet Charles Peguy fell in the Battle of the Marne on September 5, 1914, he was as little known as the times and the turmoil that were destined to fall upon Europe; as little known as the grandeur and the heroism of so many people who would come after him -- who would read his work from out of the ashes of the Great War, and find therein the humble courage of the human person held in the hands of God.


Charles Peguy

From the poem Freedom [n.b. God is the speaker]:

...I myself am free, says God, and I have created man in my own image and likeness.

Such is the mystery, such the secret, such the price

Of all freedom.

That freedom of that creature is the most beautiful reflection in this world

Of the Creator's freedom. That is why we are so attached to it,

And set a proper price on it.

A salvation that was not free, that was not, that did not come from a free man could in no wise be attractive to us. What would it amount to?

What would it mean?

What interest would such a salvation have to offer?

A beatitude of slaves, a salvation of slaves, a slavish beatitude, how do you expect me to interested in that kind of thing? Does one care to be loved by slaves?

If it were only a matter of proving my might, my might has no need of those slaves, my might is well enough known, it is sufficiently known that I am the Almighty.

My might is manifest enough in all matter and in all events.

My might is manifest enough in the sands of the sea and in the stars of heaven.

It is not questioned, it is known, it is manifest enough in inanimate creation.

It is manifest enough in the government,

In the very event that is man.

But in my creation which is endued with life, says God, I wanted something more.

Infinitely better. Infinitely more. For I wanted that freedom.

I created that very freedom. There are several degrees to my throne.

When you once have known what it is to be loved freely, submission no longer has any taste.

All the prostrations in the world

Are not worth the beautiful upright attitude of a free man as he kneels. All the submission, all the dejection in the world

Are not equal in value to the soaring up point,

The beautiful straight soaring up of one single invocation

From a love that is free.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Living and Learning to Love

Young Janaro, complete with hair!
Faithful readers of this blog (heh heh, is anybody there?) remember that it was about this time last year that I discovered the ancient hand written "blog" of the Young John Janaro (1990-1992). The year has come round again, and I am looking at what I wrote 24 years ago today.

These words are a little bit ironic, having lived almost a quarter century after their writing. I cannot say that I have any special intuition on this point today. I still work with a sense of purpose on certain projects that need time to mature. Sometimes I sketch out ideas in this blog that I hope to develop further. Others remain in the stage of creative procrastination. In any case, my life and the scope of my accomplishments are in the hands of God -- a fact that I can affirm much more concretely after 24 years. Here is what I wrote on September 6, 1990:

It is true: a single act of perfect love for God is enough. Living one moment in the heart of Jesus is enough. I pray and hope that God is drawing me into His love, and I've experienced a lot in the past quarter century of the "much labor" and the "many sorrows" in life. Learning to love God is, indeed, a work of a lifetime, but its length (like its depth) is hidden in His wisdom. That is where I place my trust.

I still hope to live a "long life," but insofar as this is a reasonable hope today, it has to do primarily with the desire to be there for Eileen and the kids for as long as they need me. In 1990 I had no idea that these particular human beings would be so decisive for my future. My life has been very different than anything I could have imagined. At the same time, some of my goals have been fulfilled, and the investment of considerable time has borne fruit (in ways that I planned, and also in surprising ways).

The family is one of the surprising ways of fruition in my life. Eileen and I both got into the marriage and parental business a little late (as is often the case with people in the academic world). It is a business that requires planning, learning from mistakes, and looking forward even while being open to the continual surprise of real human relationships.

As for the (more or less healthy) remaining years, my first goal now is to be with Eileen and raise these kids, and then the two of us can go back to Italy and just... look at beautiful art together for a long long time. Actually, we'd be happy if the kids (and grandkids?) came with us. But that's just my dream. Only God knows the real plan. In any case, in order to see everyone down to Josefina through adolescence, young adulthood, marriage and grandchildren (if they are called in that direction) and into middle age, I will have to live into my nineties! Given that I have days now when I feel like I'm 90 years old, this prospect is a little overwhelming. Whatever lies ahead, I can only take it one day (indeed one moment) at a time. This present moment is where love is possible.

I have no idea of what the future may bring. There will be joy and there will be suffering. I pray that, holding fast to Jesus, there will be the love that I am called to give, moment by moment. That is what matters. That is what will bear fruit.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Terrible Hunger For Love

There is a terrible hunger for love.
We all experience that in our lives:
the pain, the loneliness.
We must have the courage to recognize it.

The poor you may have right in your own family.
Find them.
Love them.

~Mother Teresa

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Shall Always Be a Teacher

Professor in his duds, 2003. Only a goatee back then.
Well, it's September already.

The older kids -- John Paul, Agnese, and Lucia -- are pretty much back to their normal school routine. At Chelsea Academy this means plenty of study, plenty of sports and other activities in the fresh air, plenty of formation in their faith, plenty of fun, and plenty of homework too. They also manage to eat and sleep, somehow. (Haha!)

John Paul is a Senior now. As parents have been saying since the beginning of the universe, "Where did our little baby go?" But there's not much time to think about that: too many things to do this year. The college application and discernment process is well underway already.


The beginning of September makes me think of the many years when I had a normal academic routine, as a student and then as a teaching professor. There are advantages, certainly, to the "quieter" style of life that I now must live, not the least of which is the freedom to make my own schedule. But I miss being caught up in that great swell of activity and anticipation and "new beginnings" that are always in the air with the new academic year.

Sure, I'll continue to be "special resource associate and scholar in residence" at the John XXIII Montessori Center (which starts up in a couple of weeks). That means at least that I will be getting up early in the morning with everyone else and going to the Center's office. It will be a good change of atmosphere, but it's not the same. It's not my classroom. It's been over six years but I haven't stopped missing it.

Still, I remain a teacher, and not only "at heart." I have found new forums in which to teach, and new subjects too. And I remain a student. In these last several years I have studied and observed and learned so much, from books, from other media, from observation, from endurance, from the whole scope of this unusual life.

I am convinced that the best teachers are also perpetual students; they communicate to their own students the enthusiasm about what they are learning. The best way to guide the search for truth (in any area) is to be on it one's self. The teacher is the one who is at the head of the hike, looking for the hilltop through the laborious path, and when he comes to the top and sees the view, he shouts back to the others: "Come this way, it's here, look at this wonderful view!" The teacher is the one who wants to know all about what he is seeing, who studies the map so he can understand as much as possible -- not only for his own personal appreciation but also so that he can point it out to the others: "There is the river that flows into that lake where the old fort is, and beyond the horizon there is...."

The teacher is also the one who sees the next hill, and says, "now we have to climb this one!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mary Wants to Take You By the Hand

My daughters don't often read this blog, unless it's a funny family story or something about the cat. But I hope they will read this entry because it is addressed especially to them. Dear Agnese and Lucia (and Teresa and Josefina, when you're old enough to understand), I am putting into words here a small piece of what I hope you are learning from our home and from the way we live, from the witness of others in our community, from the life of the Church, and from the Holy Spirit who speaks in the depths of your hearts.

It's just a few small words, but as I watch you grow into young women I have an urgent desire for you to know more intimately the beautiful tenderness of The Woman who will lead you to discover your dignity and your tremendous value as women human persons: the courage, tenacity, and solicitude of your femininity, and the greatness of your vocation.

I write this as a blog post because I would also like to say this to every young woman, and to every woman of every age who longs to know why God made her. Your identity is very precious to the heart of the Mother of our Lord.

Dear Daughters,

Jesus wants you to have a very special woman with you on your journey to eternal life, a woman to be your companion, your most attentive and most faithful friend. Isn't that GREAT??? It is His mother, Mary. She will help you to grow to become a great woman, to become the particular feminine human person that God wills you to be in His wisdom and love.

Mary is a gift of God's love. The outpouring of His goodness gives her as a Mother to each of us. She is mother of the new life we receive in her Son Jesus, our life as children of God. This life involves her particular tenderness and closeness to each one of us. She is your mother and your intimate friend.

Talk to Mary. Tell her your fears, your troubles, your questions, your hopes about life. Just talk to her, pour your heart out to her. Don't be surprised if she responds, in her own way. Mary will accept you as you are, and help you step by step.

A friendship with Mary will give you two great things that you seek: She will help clear all the difficulties on your path to eternal life with Jesus. Mary is very practical; she understands your challenges, your struggles, your sensibility, your frustrations in all their details. Mary will help you; she will shape your way to Jesus. She will bring Jesus to your heart. That's what she does. She started doing it when she said "yes" to the angel, which allowed Jesus to come into the world through her womb. She gave Jesus to the world. She will give you Jesus, and deepen your relationship with Him. Talk to her in your heart as a person you know you can trust completely. The Church guarantees that this is true; the Church has promised down through the centuries: Mary will bring you to Jesus.

That's the first thing. The second thing is also very important to you. Mary will teach you what it means to be a woman. Mary knows better than anyone that we live in a time when women are becoming conscious of their full dignity as human persons. Mary understands the aspirations of women's hearts today, especially young women. She will teach you to become the mature, dynamic, self-possessed and self-giving, fostering and nurturing, constructive and creative woman that you long to be. She will teach you.

Mary wants to take you by the hand and mentor you, help form you into the woman God is calling you to be: free, conscious of your human dignity, responsive to God and willing to give the unique gift that is your self, with confidence and love.

Trust Mary, confide in her, and let her know you and hold you in her heart.