Monday, December 2, 2019


It's Advent 2019. Emmanuel. God comes to be with us.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent: Finding Jesus in My Life

Advent anticipates and prepares for the celebration of the "epiphany of God" in history through a man named Jesus, born in Bethlehem of Judea 2000 years ago. Advent also is a reminder to prepare for the final coming of Jesus Christ in glory at the end of history, as its fulfillment.

Finally, Advent is a special time to focus on making our hearts ready for that crucial and often neglected (or undervalued) "coming of Jesus" that happens for each one of us...right now, in this moment - indeed, in every moment of our lives.

Jesus is always coming, because Jesus is the center of my life.

That is not a "pious statement." It is, simply, a fact. It is the truth. It is the truth about my life and about the life of every human being.

When I say this, I'm not just trying to "look at my life from a Christian point of view." It is not a remark expressing the boundaries of my "cultural outlook" or my "Traditional Catholic Ideas" or my "theology." It is not a reference to a "symbol" for a system of moral values.

"Jesus is the center of my life." This is a statement of faith. And faith is an affirmation of reality. It is a way of adhering to the truth. Ultimately, the truth is a Person, and He has come into the world to invite us to a more profound relationship with Him. Jesus is here, and I believe in Him.

My faith is not an exercise in trying to "apply my theories about Jesus" to my peculiar circumstances in life, or to measure my life by the paradigm of an abstract Jesus or a mythological Jesus. My life is living with Jesus, really. That is the truth about my actual life, whatever my theories or imaginings may be.

This does not mean I live like a saint. For me, actually living with Jesus means ignoring Him much of the time, or else trying to hide from Him, bargain with him, manipulate Him, use Him to my own advantage, and also trying to love Him, and succeeding in really loving Him a little (too little, and certainly never enough). If this relationship depended on my innate affective coherence, it would be utterly pathetic.

The good news is that it doesn't depend on my power or my measure. Jesus takes the initiative. He comes, and He changes me and shapes my life. I am continually rediscovering again and again that He is really here, now, that He loves me, and that He is the One who is in charge... of everything.

A living faith means "bumping into" Him again and again, finding Him in reality, finding Him shedding light on things, and bringing joy and strength. If this faith has any vitality at all, it comes from Him. He manifests Himself and draws us to Him by His grace which works mysteriously within our freedom, empowering us to recognize Him and follow Him.

This faith means finding Him also in desperation and misery and pain, finding Him with us in our suffering.

I know that it means sometimes feeling like I can't find Him, but still knowing that He is with me in the darkness.

He is with us. He has come to make His dwelling with us, to share with us His inexhaustible life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the life of the One God who is Infinite Love.

He wants to be with us, to stay with us, to love us. The Advent season reminds us of His coming, and gives us the opportunity to grow in our capacity to welcome Him.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Everlasting Way

The Lord knows all our thoughts and our ways, our journeys and our rest. He guides us by his hand.

"Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way"
(Psalm 139:24).

Friday, November 29, 2019

His Words and His Mercy Endure Forever

None of us knows when we will die. 

We receive every moment of every day as a gift from God for the fulfillment of our own vocations. Each of us is a unique person, a mystery whose life is held by the wisdom and goodness and mercy of God. 

The moment of death--that final moment in the history of our becoming "who we are"--is also God's gift, designed to correspond to the fulfillment of the unique calling that each of us has received. It is the passage to the whole encounter with the Destiny that defines every moment of our lives.

In Jesus that Destiny embraces our death from within, becomes a presence within its solitude, and transforms it into a moment of hope and self-abandoning love. What might otherwise seem like the loss of "myself" becomes, in union with Jesus, a moment to give myself over wholly to the Father in complete trust.

The inevitable horizon of death encourages us to live every moment in trusting self-abandonment, in union with the One who said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

A meditation such as this can certainly be a great source of spiritual encouragement. But I won't deny that, most of the time, I feel overwhelmed and afraid in front of death and all its mysteries. What can I do?

Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I'm afraid.

Jesus, I can only abandon my fear to you. And I'm not sure I even know what it means to "abandon" anything to you, or whether I'm "doing it right."

I have to give that to you too, Lord. I abandon the "abandoning" to you.

Take over, Jesus. Carry me. Mother Mary, hold on to me.

Jesus, your words will never pass away. And your word is the promise of the Father's love and mercy. Jesus, I trust in you!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving: Full of Gratitude and Hope

It may be windy and chilly, but it's still Thanksgiving! Storms may come, but when I listen in silence to my heart, I can hear the pulsing tenacity of this immense gift of life, moving forward on its journey full of gratitude and hope. 

I am grateful for all the "signs" - great and small - along this road, those that remind me of my destiny and especially those who accompany me, who sustain me, who have been entrusted to me. May we all be together at the end, with all our gratitude shining bright and all our hope joyfully fulfilled.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Chinese Metaphor for the Seasons of Life


luò yè guī gēn

“When a leaf falls, it returns to its roots.”

This is a traditional Chinese proverb, which I read recently in reference to the desire of an elderly person to return to the village of his birth, to die and be buried with his ancestors.

Chinese wisdom sayings are both earthy and thought-provoking. For over three thousand years, the Chinese people were perhaps the most "rooted" people in the history of human civilization. They were an ancient people living the seasons of their lives from generation to generation on the ancient land.

In some ways it was a simple, humble, deeply communal life. Perhaps it was also somehow "stuck," tired, overripe, shriveled, diseased, incurable, suffocating...

The explosive upheaval of China over the course of the last century and a half lends itself more to metaphors of apocalypse than to those drawn from "the good earth." So much has changed, and changed, and changed again for this great people who are one-fifth of the human race.

How much have the roots been torn up, and what has become of China's long, grand, courteous, and peculiar heritage with all its patiently cultivated humanism and all its cultural wealth (and all its stubborn old flaws)? How much has remained among the people of the habits and manners, the venerable customs and entrenched corruptions, the wisdom and folly of such a deep past? What unimaginable, monstrous crimes might still be inflicted on China in the future? What rich resources of humanity - both ancient and new - may yet be transformed and fulfilled?

As I walk upon the ground and watch the leaves fall here, from trees native to Chinese soil that have found their way to the other side of the world, I ponder these questions. The future of this world is inexorably bound up with the future of China.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Benedict XVI on Evangelization as Response to God's Call

"Whenever you feel inadequate, incapable and weak in proclaiming and witnessing to the faith, do not be afraid. Evangelization is not our initiative, and it does not depend on our talents. It is a faithful and obedient response to God’s call and so it is not based on our power but on God’s."

~Benedict XVI

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King Gives Us the Fullness of Life

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. It is important to remember what we mean when we say that Jesus Christ is King.

It does not mean that He is a tyrant. In fact, it means the opposite of any such notions.

In Jesus Christ, God dwells among us not to repress our humanity but to empower us to the fullness of life. As Christians, we ourselves are anointed in the Holy Spirit and attain a "royal" dignity. We are not slaves, but "members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19), adopted children of the Father and "heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17) to eternal life, which means for us a created participation in God's own life destined to be fulfilled in the everlasting embrace of beatitude. There is no human status or power or freedom that can even begin to compare to this. Moreover we are each one of us called to a share in bringing about the Kingdom of God; we are called to participate in the realization of God's wisdom, His plan, His design, which in fact constitute the meaning and the fulfillment of all things.

This vocation encompasses and validates the whole scope of our humanity. 

In this life of time and space on this earth, God's Kingdom is present in mystery, which means it is the very depth and center of reality as God constitutes it in the course of history. Through faith, hope, and love, we become—in Christ and the victory of His redeeming gift of Himself—protagonists in building up God's Kingdom, in the joy of the Holy Spirit and in the recognition of God's love that conquers all things, even suffering, death, and sin.

The transfiguring glory of eternal life begins within our lives right now. As Father Julian Carron says, Jesus has come "to reawaken our selves so that we can confront any challenge. Christ was not made incarnate to save us from the work of our reason, our freedom, our involvement, but to make it possible; because this is what makes us human, what allows us to live a life of passionate adventure even in the midst of all its difficulties."

We acknowledge the kingship of Christ by living in Him with the whole of our humanity, by trusting in Him in whatever circumstances of life we face. We suffer in so many ways, but this is never meant to defeat us, but rather to open us up to the ever-new possibilities of God's inexhaustible love.

This is why we say, "Never give up!" 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Saint Cecilia and the "Victory of Christ"

Happy Saint Cecilia's Day!

This is a special day to me for many reasons.

Stories have been told down through the centuries of heroic young people who have offered their lives in the service of the Lord. They come from many different places, nations, and cultures. Though their time in this world was brief, their sacrifices have borne abundant fruit beyond what anyone could have imagined, and we remember them throughout the year with joy. The Church assures us that in their short lives the victory of Christ has been definitively realized.

The stories of the young saints are for the edification of all of us.

One of the oldest of these stories concerns a heroic young woman who loved Jesus, witnessed to him and inspired those around her, endured many trials with trust in him, and finally gave her life for him. Cecilia was a second century Roman martyr who was known for praising the Lord in song.

She remains today—in the presence of God—profoundly united to us in the communion of saints, and in a particular way as the friend and helper of all musicians and singers. "The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life" (Isaiah 38:10).

Today is "Music Day" in many parts of the world. Cecilia, an apparently "ordinary" girl with a beautiful singing voice who was killed because of her love for Jesus Christ, is still honored and loved after 1800 years. To be clear, she is not worshiped as if she were a goddess. That is not in any way the understanding of Catholic Christians (like me) or others who observe the ancient Christian traditions regarding martyrs and saints.

Cecilia is known as a "patroness of musicians" not because she is viewed in a pagan mythological sense, as if she had some primal, demiurgic control over the essence of music itself. God alone is the Creator of all things, and Jesus Christ his Son is Lord and Redeemer. Superstitious attitudes may spread among some Christians, but these are aberrations. The "patronage" of the saints merely recognizes them as living persons in God, who remain in solidarity with us on our journey to eternal life, and who have a particular solicitude for activities and circumstances that they themselves embraced in some fashion during their own earthly journey.

Saint Cecilia was a young person devoted to the Lord who expressed her love for him with music. Why should she not even now continue to have a special concern for all those who wish to sing and make music? She who is a free daughter of the Father, who reigns now in Christ, remains in a vital relationship with us. She is still a human person and she still loves music as an aspect of the concrete vocation that shaped the particularity of her love for God. For millennia, musicians have turned to her with confidence that she is someone who understands them.

Thus you can find countless images of Cecilia in different cultural contexts. Often she is depicted with a musical instrument. Sometimes (such as in the picture above) she is playing a keyboard of some type.

What a beautiful person is Saint Cecilia! How much she means to me because I am a musician, and because I endeavor to discern the search for God, the longing for God, the need for God, as well as the love of God expressed in music. And though I am no longer young in years, I have been entrusted with the care and mentoring of many young people—and beyond this the echo of the song of youth still resonates in my heart.

Today when I think of youth and music and a love for Jesus and his brothers and sisters (who are all of us), a love that shines even greater than the darkness of death, I find many signs for hope. I have neither the knowledge nor the competence nor the authority to call anybody "a saint," and nothing I say here should be construed as anything more than my own human opinion regarding people who inspire me, or certain facets of people's lives that I find inspiring. It is in this sense that I find today many "signs for hope."

One of them is here. Right here:

Christina Grimmie singing and playing the piano on YouTube in 2012.

I come here on Saint Cecilia's Day, because Christina Grimmie still amazes me.

And it's not just her music that amazes me.

I make no claims to "know" anything beyond what can be known by an ordinary Christian (and, indeed, a rather poor example of a Christian in my case). I am just one very foolish old man. My observations and opinions and words don't count for anything.

So look for yourselves. What do you see? Here was a kind, good, generous young woman, with an astonishing musical talent. She never hid her love for Jesus but she wasn't pushy about it, and she liked many things that "regular kids" in the 21st century like. She wanted very much to be successful in popular music. She made mistakes. She was a sinner in need of forgiveness. Finally, she was the victim of an act of violencethe violence that, especially today, seems to want to set fire to the world and watch it burn.

It is such a sad, tragic, awful story. There is no denying the terrible pain of it, especially for her family and those who knew her personally.

Something remains to be said, however. People still say it, three and a half years later. Even people who don't know Jesus, who don't think about God, who aren't into any kind of "religious talk"even they say it: Christina Grimmie loved greatly. She had a great love that opened its arms to embrace the whole of life and every person entrusted to her, all the way to the end...

This is not the story of Saint Cecilia. There are no wonders or miracles here, and no evil empire with ruthless judges who openly and obviously persecute Christians. There are no ultimate courageous declarations of fidelity to Christ in front of the wickedness that opposes him.

Rather, what appears here looks like a senseless murder by a deranged fanatic.

Who knows what Christina might have been struggling with at that time, what sufferings she might have been going through, what worries or preoccupations were on her mind that evening, or how tired she was after a gig in a small theater on a hot night in muggy central Floridathe night of June 10, 2016.

She was well known, but not a big "star" (even though the music industry widely recognized her enormous talent). That night, she didn't go to a $500-dollar-per-ticket VIP lounge surrounded by a platoon of hefty security dudes. It was "meet-and-greet everybody" after the show, give 'em hugs, listen to them, sign stuff, be especially encouraging to anyone who seemed shy or troubled.

It was just "loving people," because that's how she lived.

More than once she told people, "Jesus loves you so much! As do I." It was like she just "naturally" affirmed and offered her own love right alongside (or "inside") the love of Jesus Christ himself! But she didn't say this too often. Most of the time, she just lived it. She was living it that night, when she opened her arms to hug people who had lined up to meet her, one by one, to welcome each of them with love.

These were simple gestures. And yet her young life was full of them. Certainly she sinned and fell short more than any of us will ever know. I don't want to artificially romanticize the challenges and difficulties she faced, or try to polish over the bumps and the flaws in her story that, really, I know very little about. But I do know that Jesus said that "much is forgiven where there is much love" (see Luke 7:47). And weren't her days full of persistent, humble, apparently "ordinary" expressions of a great love?

She knew the Source of love, and was held by him. She sings: "When I'm ready to fall / You're the one / Always holding me up / With love." For me, she continues to be a sign of hope.

Thank you, Christina Victoria Grimmie.💚 Your name "Christina Victoria"like the greatness of your lovepoints to the "Victory of Christ." And that victory is my hope.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Remembering Apollo 12

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Do You Say "Matilda" in German?

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Life is a School Where We Learn to Trust in God

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

Some of us need a lot of "schooling."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Gertrude, the Benedictine Tradition, and Me

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

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

It blew me away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mother Cabrini on Prayer

"Prayer is powerful!

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

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

~Saint Francesca Cabrini

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

God's Love is Here For Us

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie Still Looks Upon Us With Love

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

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Thirty Years Ago: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

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

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

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

Friday, November 8, 2019

The "Spiritual Company of the Church"

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

From the Pope's Instagram:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Three Generations of the "Virginia Janaro Men"

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

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Bright Short Afternoons

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

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

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Faithful Departed


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

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

Requiescant in pace. 

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

All Saints Day: "We Shall Be Like Him"


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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

WE WIN!! ⚾ 2019 World Series Champions ⚾

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These guys proved that they're winners.

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

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

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

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

But we really needed one for baseball.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dear Dad, These Memories Are Very Close to Me

Dear Dad: 

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in Peace, Dad.❤➕

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Remembering and Celebrating Blessed Chiara Badano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

When We Were Young (1995)

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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Standing Before God's Eyes..."

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Josefina Turns Thirteen!

The Janaro family has another teenager!

Well, "technically" speaking...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Josefina!!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Beer and Baseball

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

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Road of Life Moves Onward

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

John Paul II and Us

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

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

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

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

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

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