Thursday, March 26, 2015

Expectation in the Air: Spring is Coming

Sometimes a picture just jumps right in front of you and says, "Take me!" Thus I was beckoned from beyond the black painted wooden fence.

As the edges of winter give way to spring, I find myself saying goodbye to the restraint and reserve of bare foliage revealing more distant views. At the same time, I can't wait to greet the world's bright blooming colors that are on the verge of awakening.

We've had clouds and cold mists, such as in the first picture, and also crisp sunny days too, like the day this downy woodpecker paid a visit to our front yard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dear Mary, Mother Mary

O Mother Mary,
perfect vessel of Jesus,
help us.

When everything still seems too impossible,
you are there, Mary.

I entrust everything into your hands,
and I ask you
who carried Jesus in your womb,
to bring Him to me
and me to Him,
to bring together
in your maternal heart
what the distance of my weakness
keeps apart.

Mary, you brought Jesus into the world.
Bring Him, ever more deeply, into my life.

Dear Mary, mother Mary.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oscar Romero, Martyr

"It is worthwhile to labor,
because all those longings
for justice, peace, and well-being
that we experience on earth
become realized for us
if we enlighten them with Christian hope.
We know that no one can go on forever,
but those who have put into their work
a sense of very great faith,
of love of God,
of hope among human beings,
find it all results in the splendors of a crown
that is the sure reward of those who labor thus,
cultivating truth, justice,
love, and goodness on earth.
Such labor does not remain here below
but, purified by God’s Spirit,
is harvested for our reward."

    ~Oscar Romero, Martyr, March 24, 1980

Monday, March 23, 2015

Building Houses With Stone Facades

I wrote about this topic not long ago, but I decided to expand on it a little more. At first I was just going to repost it, but that never really happens. I always end up working on older posts and developing them further. So hang in there even if some of this sounds "familiar":

We have heard that the Church is made up of "saints and sinners."

It would be useful to introduce a third category: hypocrites.

The difference between the latter two is that the sinners appear just as they are, whereas the hypocrites -- while not usually trying to pass themselves off as saints (this would hardly look humble) -- spend a great deal of energy trying to convince others and themselves that they are not in the "sinner" category.

The hypocrite scrubs the outside of the cup forcefully and energetically. The world is not going to think it sees a saint, but the hope is that it will see a "good person," an admirable person, perhaps even a person who is "making progress in spiritual growth" and who therefore deserves some credit. Indeed, most hypocrites like to see themselves this way.

I know all this stuff, because I'm a huge hypocrite.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ....but I admit it, so at least I'm not like those other hypocrites who don't even care about their hypocrisy. I'm humble about my hypocrisy, so at least I'm better than them!
"Thank you, God, for not making ME like the rest of those hypocrites. I openly admit my hypocrisy. I try to be better. I'm not judgmental, not like all those other judgmental and obnoxious people; I'm not like those people over there who run the 'Smash ALL The Bad Guys NOW' website and the 'Prudence and Compassion are for Wimps' blog, oh no, NOT ME. And I'm not like all those messed up immoral people in the secular Western culture, either. I'm good, basically. l follow the Church. I pray. I'm balanced and charitable. I'm...
Wait, what's happening here? Who do I sound like? Here I am, "in the back of the church" because I want to LOOK like the repentant tax collector, and meanwhile I'm saying, "Thank God I know I'm a sinner, not like that Pharisee up there in the front. And that I'm here at least, not like all those nasty people who don't come in at all!"
That's not what the real tax collector did....~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It seems that I'm the biggest hypocrite of all, because I want to fool everyone!

I can thank God for one thing: I'm also a terrible actor! Not many people are actually fooled by me (other than myself: I'm a master at fooling myself).

People who know me can easily see the wildly incoherent mess that I am as a human being, but also the good that is mixed into it (often in qualities and actions that are not the focus of my attention, that I don't particularly nurture in my efforts to construct my outward appearance).

They see it better than I do, because I'm desperately intent on fooling myself and I always at least partially believe the self-image that I try (or feel compelled) to construct.

Thank God, there are some people who love me anyway; they love the whole "package," and put up with my blindness as they try, gently, to lead me in the right direction. For me, there's no question that my wife ranks number one on the list of these people.

It's a patient and slow and long-suffering process for these people, to chip away at this hypocrisy that pains them because they can see how much it obscures the real beauty of the one they love. It's a great work of mercy.

Of course, I know I'm not the world's only hypocrite. Of the "saints, sinners, and hypocrites," the third category is probably the largest by far.

Hypocrisy can be a complex thing. There is the kind of hypocrisy that just plain fakes exterior goodness because it provides a disguise; a deceptive exterior allows greater freedom to rip people off and do all kinds of bad things without incurring suspicion.

But then there is a kind of hypocrisy that grows out of a genuine but desperate desire: people really want to be true heroes and saints. They see that it's good, it's beautiful, it's "what the world needs from them," but a subtle discouragement has worked its way into some deep places in their souls. They realize that they can't make themselves be really, truly holy. And yet, they know that's the way they're "supposed" to be, and the way they really wish they could be.

Most of us who consider ourselves "good Christians" probably know this feeling. We try to be "good," and we wish we could be "holy," but even with all the books and retreats and spiritual practices we just can't seem to make it happen.

So we try to do it on the cheap. We try to construct ourselves into the people we think we should at least "look like." So many of us are building houses of rotting wood with stone facades. There is real goodness in us, real aspirations, real gifts, but we try to use them to decorate the outside.

And we are afraid to look any deeper than this exterior, this facade, because we want to believe in our strength; we don't want to see the naked, cold, hungry, lonely person inside that house. We are afraid of that person -- that unsolved riddle that is at the deepest core of ourselves -- because we don't know what to do with that person, and we can't imagine that anyone else would want to love that person.

I know I'm being hypocritical in this way all the time, but I suspect that my experience is not uncommon. 

Really, who among us is not, in some way, in some respect, cheating (just a little bit?) in the project of building themselves? We're fibbing or we're faking or at the very least we're hiding the messy stuff.

We're hypocrites.

Woe unto us?

What can we do? After all, our Christian vocation and mission is all about witnessing not just with words, but with our lives. So if our lives are a mess, shouldn't we at least have a strategy to try to make them look good, y'know so as to "attract people..."?

What else is there? We can't just give up completely.

I think there is another place to start. None of us want to go there, because it means "going to the margins," to the furthest existential periphery, to the greatest real poverty we know. If we don't go there, then no matter how many things we do to help other people (even poor people), nothing will really change for us. 

We must seek out that one person whom we really wish more than anything would just go away, that cold, hungry, sorrowful person inside ourselves, that poor person. The person we are trying to make disappear behind walls of hypocrisy is our own self.

That person is starving for life, gasping for breath. Let us not suffocate that person entirely. Let that person breathe. Let that person show the wounds and admit the helplessness and feel some of the aching of the endless hunger and thirst.

But also, let the light of faith touch that person. Take the risk that Jesus has really gone all the way down... down even to there. Let that person cry out to God.

Because Jesus is there. He has already passed through all of our stones. He knows us behind all our hypocrisy and all our facades. He brings His love, especially, behind the walls.

Let that place inside us where there are no illusions be a place that begs for mercy. There is that place where we recognize that we are a total need for Him, and from that place let us cry out and give the whole mess and the hypocrisy and everything else to Him.

He will build us up.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why So Many Words?

I'm rarely at a loss for words.

I have a talent for generating words, and using them to express things in vivid and coherent ways. These words, however, emerge from a heart that is drawn up or pulled down by conflicting motivations.

I have asked myself, "How often, when I speak or write, am I truly seeking to edify reality, to affirm what is good? How often, rather, are my words angry, distracting, or selfish?"

So many wasted words! And yet I have a desire to speak the truth. I have the desire and the prayer that my words might be works of mercy and instruments of peace. Still, I am always running into obstacles, encountering the grasping and vanity and folly within myself.

I think perhaps we speak foolishly because we are insecure. We seek attention with our words, even at the expense of others. Why? Because we are afraid that we are not loved. Or, rather, we have forgotten that we are loved. We are not nourished by a vital connection with the One who loves us.

We need prayer. And not just more words of prayer. We need silence.

We need to let Him love us.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bread For Saint Benedict

The Transitus of Saint Benedict, from a medieval monastic manuscript.
Today is the old Roman calendar feast of Saint Benedict, as it is one of the days that ancient liturgical usage assigns to his death. Other references indicate the day as July 11, the current feast day in the Roman calendar. A decision was made in the 1970 revision to give precedence to the July date so that the universal feast of Saint Benedict would no longer fall during Lent.

The Benedictine and Cistercian orders, however, observe several feasts of Abba Benedict with the rank of Solemnity. These include July 11, but today is still marked for the particular commemoration of Benedict's passing from this life to eternal glory, known as the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

The end of Benedict's earthly life is a good moment to look at how it all began. We can observe the unfolding of his "conversion" -- in his case, the story of the vocation that took him from the Roman nobility into the desert, and then shaped him to receive the unique charism he gave to the Church.

A perspective on that formative experience is presented in this month's installment of Great Conversion Stories in MAGNIFICAT, between yesterday's and today's prayer sections. I'll shall place it here below as well.

I'm especially fond of this article, not only because of our own family's devotion to Saint Benedict, but also because of the way the story told here highlights a relationship in Benedict's life that so easily escapes notice, yet was so fundamental to the initiation and growth of his vocation.

Holy Father Saint Benedict, pray for all of us,
for the whole Church
and for all who follow your charism
or are inspired by its example,
that as we pray and work,
we might love Christ over all things,
and never despair of the mercy of God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not Alone

Right now, you exist because God loves you.

Think about this.

God loves you.

You are loved. You are not alone.

Never give up. Call on God.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Paddy's Day Photo Fun

It was a subdued but happy St. Paddy's Day for the O'Janaros.

Here's a bit of photo fun:

A shamrock being hugged by a mouse? Whose St. Patrick's Day pin might this be?

Yup. That pin says "Josefina" all over it!

Proof that I did my part by wearing green (short sleeves no less)

Actually, we did NOT have Pesto for dinner. I just wanted to experiment with graphics.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saint Patrick, Evangelizer and Convert

Tomorrow is a very special day for all my friends of Irish heritage, and for everybody else too. Saint Patrick's Day has come again.

Of course my Irish heritage "friends" include my wife (who is 50% Irish) and my kids (you do the math). So I guess I'm connected. :-)

First of all, however, Saint Patrick stands for all of us as a great evangelizer. He is also someone who underwent a significant conversion experience of his own.

My article about Saint Patrick's conversion in my Great Conversion Stories series ran in last month's issue of Magnificat (to which you can subscribe by clicking HERE).

I sometimes make articles from this series available on my blog, and I thought it would be appropriate to reproduce Saint Patrick's conversion story on the blog at this time, in honor of his feast.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Solitude of Our Tears

"The Lord Jesus... took upon Himself
the burden of all our mortal anguish.
His face is reflected in that of every person
who is humiliated and offended,
sick and suffering,
alone, abandoned, and despised.
Pouring out His blood,
He has rescued us from the slavery of death,
He has broken the solitude of our tears,
He has entered into our every grief
and our every anxiety."

~Benedict XVI

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

God Does Not Explain Himself, But He Promises to Stay With Us

"I will lead the blind on a way they do not know;
by paths they do not know I will guide them.
I will turn darkness into light before them,
and make crooked ways straight.

These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:16).

I love this verse. It's probably one of the sources of the well known saying, "God writes straight with crooked lines." As a person who makes so many crooked lines, I am much consoled and encouraged by God's promises and by His presence.

O Lord, I have so little vision of the mystery of my own life that we might as well call me blind. I am blind. I do not see or feel or understand the deepest works of healing that You are carrying out within my person.
You are leading me, especially and most profoundly, in those 'ways I do not know," the 'places of darkness' and all the crookedness of the wounds of my sins. You are leading me through so many secret sufferings, through the pain of my truest prayer that so often cries out for You, trembling with hunger. 
There is always this hunger, this longing for You, Lord, that seems overwhelming. Temptations pretend that there are other ways to fill this hunger, and they come from all directions. Ultimately, they pretend to offer something of You that I can grasp and make my own. But what they offer is not You (as I have learned by bitter experience). I want You. 
Where are You, O Lord? 
Baptism has made me Your adopted son, and has enabled me to live with You in the midst of Your People, my brothers and sisters in Jesus the eternal Son, "gathered" (ekklesia) throughout history and today in Your Church. The Church and the sacraments have brought me forgiveness and reconciliation, healing, growth and strength in so many ways. 
But the crushing human weight of the effects of original sin and the scars of my own broken life remain in me in ways I don't understand. I am still so blind. 
Yet You do not forsake me. You are leading me through the anguish and loneliness that come from being a broken human being who lives in broken relationships, who remains a sinner even with all he has been given, who suffers disappointment and fears death. 
Father, I am Your child in eternal life, but I am like a newborn baby even after these many years: small, helpless, crying out, and not yet able to see.... 
I am blind... perhaps in part because of Your mercy. You shield my eyes from the things You know I could not bear to see. Or You let me have a very small glimpse: just enough to know that the pain is there so that I can abandon myself to Your loving hands, and just enough to see that Jesus is here with me. 
Father, I believe that Jesus is here in the suffering, in the places that seem senseless, in the wounds that never fully heal.

God makes a way here, a way that I do not know. He does not explain these hidden ways to me, but simply asks me to trust in Him, to persevere on the path and share in the darkness and suffering that remain in me but no longer belong to me.

He has made them His sufferings. They no longer belong to me, and no longer define me, because He has taken them through love.

Therefore, I must not try to hold onto them, as if the incomprehensible depths of suffering somehow might give me a claim against God, a pretext to turn away from Him, to doubt His promise that He "will never forsake" me. I must not hold them up in God's face and say, "I accept that You exist, but I don't accept Your world" (as Ivan Karamazov says in Dostoevsky's greatest book).

My very bones cry out, "Why?" And yet as our dear late Lorenzo Albacete put it, "God doesn't give you an answer. He just shows up."

The "answer" cannot be a solution or a formula or anything that I can grasp with my mind. My mind cannot turn this darkness into light.

The "answer" is a fact that I must adhere to with my mind, with trust. This adherence is called faith. Even in the deepest darkness, I must have faith that He is here, that He has not forsaken me, that He is leading me on paths unknown.

God's answer is not a "solution" in the sense we think we want. It's not the ultimate "self-improvement" manual. Nor is it a social or political or psychological or intellectual solution.

God's answer is Love. His Love. God's answer to my anguish and loneliness is the gift of Himself.

Infinite Love doesn't "answer the question" of my pain; it is a response that is beyond all the terms I use to try to ask the question, and all the loneliness and anguish that drive the question. Still, it corresponds to all my human questions; it even intensifies those questions while inviting me to live them within this Love. Love transforms my longing, my emptiness, my wounds.

Love turns darkness into light.


P.S. -- God gives Himself in Jesus. He is Gift. He who is Love and Freedom can only be freely received. My human reason and freedom are respected by the God who created me in His image, as a person. Infinite Love gives Himself totally as a free gift. He wants to raise me up in this gift, giving me the capacity to receive Him and share His life.

This raises a new "question" for my reason, a profoundly practical question that I cannot escape. Should I accept this Infinite Gift? 

I can choose to say, "No."

A gift by nature is offered freely. True love by nature is the opposite of coercion; when we love someone we seek a free response of love. Clearly this must be super-eminently true for the Infinite Gift who is Love Himself.

He wants me to say, "Yes!" He will even empower me to say a "Yes" that shares forever in His life. But He will not force me to accept Him.

Therefore, I can reject Him. There is a great mystery here, because His creative love sustains me in my very being, which means that "I" can never "totally" reject Him because then I would cease to exist. I cannot exist, I cannot be "me," without depending totally on His Love that gives me my very being, and remains always the Source of "me."

Still, He makes me free. I do not have to accept His gift of Himself, His Love and His "way of love" that He has crafted to bring me to my fulfillment. I can resist Infinite Love. I can remain blind forever, because I do not want to let go of my limitations, my nothingness, my way of measuring reality which ultimately comes down to my misery and dissatisfaction. And I can spin endless rationalizations for why refuse to let go.

I can refuse to let go of my sufferings.

But why would I resist the Infinite Gift (who gives me my being) freely offering Himself to me forever? Such a resistance is not only the ultimate misuse of freedom. It is also the ultimate failure of reason. It is the victory of fear.

I cry out in the darkness, "Where am I? Who am I? Why all this pain?" and the answer is "I am with you. I will lead you. No matter how hard, I am with you!"

I am not given "explanations" about the mysterious depths of my own life. I am given Someone who is worthy of my trust. I need to let Him pick me up and carry me. He will never forsake me.

And He will open my eyes, when the time is right.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Francis: Don't "Watch Humanity from a Glass Castle"

Here are two extended memes following recent statements by Pope Francis. The first is from a recent commemoration of the 100th anniversary of an Argentinian university, where Francis speaks specifically about the role of theology, and the motivations which should govern it. The second is from a recent general audience, when the Pope once again expressed in strong terms the neglect of the elderly that plagues wealthy societies.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Happy Birthday Eileen Janaro!

My dear wife, we grow older, but indeed we are full of years, somehow, even with all the care and toil and pain. We move forward together, and hope grows stronger. We do not know what lies ahead, and we do not doubt that new sorrows will come along with new and deeper joys, but we are learning about how God's persistence and the patience of His goodness turn even our weaknesses into the strong soil of fresh and surprising growth.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Janaro. I love you with all my heart!


We all had fun celebrating Eileen's birthday on March 5, which felt even more like a little holiday in the midst of Lent thanks to the strongest snowstorm of the season. It gave us at least eight inches of snow and kept us, once again, all together and snug in the house with something to celebrate. Snow fell throughout the day.

Here's the house and surroundings getting pelted with snow.
Pine hangs with snowy fruit. The road is around here... somewhere!

Among many things, there was plenty of home cooking. The highlight of the day was the birthday cake that Agnese baked. It was a pound cake with honey liquor and a pineapple sauce. Oh gosh, it was so delicious!

Teresa brings in the glowing cake.

That is a slice with pineapple sauce, and it tasted even better than it looks.

Thank you, Lord, for all Your blessings. Grant that Eileen and I will have many more happy years. And bless all her many labors that make our home everything that it is.

Thank you Jesus, for everything.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hidden Hopes Awaken

Jesus, let my heart feel the flame
of the fire of your ardor
for the whole world,
for everyone.

You love every single human person,
without exception,
especially those
who are the most lonely,
the most troubled and confused,
the most burdened with affliction.

You love those vast multitudes who do not know you,
but whose hearts have been made for you.
And you lead them in many secret ways
to the moment that lets them find you.

And you love especially
those who have known you,
but have fled far from you.

You search for them,
you call out to them,
and with all your Divine ingenuity
you find unseen chambers deep within their hearts
that may yet echo with your whispering.

You rouse their most buried, dormant, hidden hopes,
forgotten hopes or hopes unknown
that may yet awaken to their own hunger.

And I know this hunger.
It burns great holes in me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saint Katharine Drexel: Going to the Margins

March 3 is the feast day of Saint Katharine Drexel. She is, in fact, the only born citizen of the United States to be elevated to the honors of the altar in the Catholic Church. (Elizabeth Seton was born before American independence and Francesca Cabrini was born in Italy and became a naturalized American citizen.)

Heiress of a vast family fortune, Katharine Drexel did more than give alms to the poor. She dedicated her personal energies and all her wealth to building institutions that would change the shape of the society in which she lived.

Born in Philadelphia two years before the outbreak of the Civil War, Katharine Drexel’s life spanned nearly a century; she lived to see the United States move from the brink of disintegration to become the most wealthy and powerful nation in the world. During this period, however, her work was to found a congregation of women religious -- the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament -- specially dedicated to missionary activity among the poorest of America’s poor: the newly freed blacks and the increasingly oppressed indigenous peoples.

Mother Drexel for many years traveled widely through the deep South and the Southwest, dedicating her administrative talents as well as her financial resources to furthering the work of her order. She was especially concerned with the founding of schools for Native Americans and African Americans (in 1917 she founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the first African American Catholic college).

In the final twenty years of her long life, however, a heart condition forced the end of her journeying. Yet her labor during this time of suffering and what appeared to the rest of the world to be “retirement” was the greatest of all her works: Saint Katharine Drexel dedicated her remaining years to daily adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist, surrendering to Him all of her missionary zeal and love for the poor.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Josefina Talks About "Older People"

Josefina: "So it's mostly older people who live in this house."

Me: (Surprised by this unprovoked declaration) "Huh? What do you mean?"

Her: "Oh you know, John Paul, Agnese, Lucia...."

Me: "Haha, okay, I see what you mean. Older people, yes indeed, this house is full of really old people.... But what about Teresa?"

Her: "Well, sometimes she's older."

Me: "And of course your mommy and daddy don't even enter into consideration for this category. Mommy and Daddy are like beyond the horizon of any kind of oldness that you can possibly conceive!"

Her: Looks at me like 'I-don't-understand-what-you're-talking-about-but-I-know-you're-being-silly.'

     ...I thought about this for a moment and then I continued...

Me: "But wait, what about Daddy? Daddy is a grownup but he acts like a kid sometimes, right?"

Her: "Yes. You're the only grownup I've ever seen who acts like a kid!"

Me: "Well, I'm sure other little girls think their daddies act like kids sometimes, too."

I hope they do!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Remembering Benedict

I can't think of a better way to end the month of February than by reproducing here the full text of the tribute I wrote two years ago on this day. It was then that Benedict XVI took leave of us in order to enter a greater solitude.

We knew that the times to come would be dramatic, but we really had no idea. God had new surprises in store for us. Anyway, here's the article.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beyond All You Can Imagine

Here is my first real attempt to design a... well, exactly a "meme" but one of these verbal/visual presentations that are so adapted to Internet platforms.

The capacity to attempt such a design carries its own difficulties. The software has so many options that it's easy to spend hours trying to decide colors and sizes of letters and what blends best against the background. Of course, I'm far from satisfied with the final product.

Still, it's worth struggling and experimenting with a multimedia presentation, because here is a (very small) possibility to create spaces where beauty, truth, and goodness can come together.

What is the best approach, the best way to avoid "greeting card sentimentality" on the one hand and obtuse clashes between words and images on the other? What I have attempted here it simply to put together pieces from my real life, my own pictures and my own words: things that I feel the need to see and hear again and again.

In a way, this is something I need for myself. I need to print it and stick it up next to my bed. And perhaps the Lord will use such projects to open other people's hearts. That is my hope.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mercy Has the Last Word: Remembering Luigi Giussani

The tomb of Msgr. Luigi Giussani in Milan is visited each day by hundreds of people who
bring petitions and thanksgivings for favors received, which are recorded by the cause for
his beatification. The tombstone reads, "Oh our Lady, you are the security of our hope."

I have been thinking in these days of writing more of the story of the impact that Msgr. Luigi Giussani had (and continues to have) on my life. What he gave me has remained a focus for my life, a vocational commitment, and also the source of a suffering that I have been willing to endure, and -- at times -- even embrace.

But tonight, recalling the tenth anniversary of his funeral, I desire only to represent the compelling words I posted last year, along with the picture of his simple tomb. In an era of so much celebrity worship and personality cult (even in the Church), Don Giussani was something remarkable: he was the real deal.

He still is. I'm not the only one who thinks so.

The municipality of Milan has had to move Giussani's tomb to a more accessible place in the city cemetery to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims.

And I remember the man, the teacher, speaking with such passion in the years when he was still full of physical vitality, surrounded by a pile of dog-eared books on the desk and a bottle of mineral water.

He taught us the truth. He said things like these words:

"This is the ultimate embrace of the Mystery, against which man–even the most distant, the most perverse or the most obscured, the most in the dark–cannot oppose anything, can make no objection. He can abandon it, but in so doing he abandons himself and his own good. The Mystery as mercy remains the last word even on all the awful possibilities of history.
"For this reason existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ."
Luigi Giussani

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Asking For God's "Help"

You're probably wondering what Josefina's gripping hand has to do with God's help, or the scribes and Pharisees or anything else that the post below might address.

First, let me clarify that this is a reflection posted a week ago in Magnificat.

This is not the "Great Conversion Story" for the month (which I'll reproduce on the blog next month, since it's "St. Patrick") but rather a daily reflection, which I also have in the magazine from time to time.

Many people seemed to appreciate it when it came up last week, so I thought I would reproduce it here. If you read all the way through, the graphic might reveal its meaning. (Even though Jojo is older than the child indicated, she is not above throwing a tantrum... and she is certainly looked upon with love.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Encounter, A Love Story, An Event

I am remembering once again with gratitude the Servant of God Luigi Giussani on the tenth anniversary of his death. It's hard to believe that it's been ten years already.

Fr. Giussani passed away on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, 2005.

Thus begins the commemoration within the next few months of a momentous series of events that took place a decade ago.

A little more than a month after Fr. Giussani's death, on April 2, 2005, his friend John Paul II joined him in the Father's house.

In fact, John Paul II had been too ill to preside at Fr. Giussani's funeral, and so he sent his most trusted collaborator, Cardinal Ratzinger, as his personal representative. On February 24, Ratzinger celebrated the funeral mass at Milan Cathedral and preached in front of thousands of people at the church and in the square, and countless others who were watching the funeral on Italian national television.

Many heard for the first time the simplicity and the depth of the preaching of the man who was about to become Pope Benedict XVI.

Here are a few of his words on that occasion.

Only Christ gives meaning to the whole of our life. Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event. [my emphasis]
This love affair with Christ, this love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism. Really seeing Christ, he knew that to encounter Christ means to follow Christ. This encounter is a road, a journey, a journey that passes also... through the “valley of darkness.”
In the Gospel, we heard of the last darkness of Christ’s suffering, of the apparent absence of God, when the world’s Sun was eclipsed. He knew that to follow is to pass through a “valley of darkness,” to take the way of the cross, and to live all the same in true joy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Own True Face

Jesus, you have healed me
and raised me up,
filling my life with such undeserved joy,
with the foretaste and the hope of a fulfillment
beyond all imagining,
that is awakened by the smallest
and most humble moments of today.

Jesus, thank you for your forgiveness,
for your mercy, finding me in the deepest darkness,
your tenderness so gentle with my wounds,
your patience, waiting for me to stop running away,
your relentlessness, seeking me
all the way down my own long deluded, distant roads.

Jesus, give me complete and total trust in you.
Jesus I believe in your Infinite Love for me.

You thirst for me!

You thirst for me,
Even when I want to be satisfied
with something less than myself!

Jesus, make me the person you have created me to be.
Give me my own true face,
the face that I do not know,
but that you always see,
that you have always loved:

The face of my forever-joy.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Something Has Happened

We are going to die.

Let's just take our human hearts and confront them with this stark fact.

Each of us has a heart, with all its aspirations and desires, hopes and persistence, all its wanting and not yet being satisfied. Where does death fit into the picture?

If any of us were given a choice between death and total fulfillment of the heart -- that elusive thing called happiness -- we know what we would choose.

We want permanent happiness.

But everyone who has ever lived has ended up dead, and so will each one of us. Still, my heart -- that stubborn thing -- insists on wanting and seeking permanent happiness. The whole world lures us with the promise of happiness. But it is as if we are trapped and cannot get there.

Either our hearts and the whole universe are a lie, or happiness does exist, but we cannot achieve it, we cannot find it. As Kafka said, "the destination exists but there is no road."

Is this the dilemma? "Unto dust you shall return" -- is this the final word on human existence?

Is it?

"No," says the human heart. In the midst of conflicting circumstances and no perceivable hope, the heart still expects happiness. And so we keep on going.


There is a whispering in the depths of every human heart. Something has happened. No living human being has entirely lost the memory of the echo of that secret: Something has happened. Already the heart is hiddenly drawn forth.

Something has happened.

The mystery of grace opens the heart to this hope. And the eyes that look upon reality and history discover the fact that confirms it: A man has risen from the dead. He has himself died and destroyed death for all of us, and in rising has glorified the dust. This fact is called Christianity.

It is not Christianity unless it is a fact. A myth about a dying and rising redeemer to comfort our sentiments or symbolize some vague afterlife is not Christianity. Nor is Christianity the story of an ethical teacher who died for his beliefs and left us a lasting inspiration.

Christianity is a fact: Happiness became a man.

"That-Mystery-For-Which-Our-Hearts-Have-Been-Made" has become a man -- a man who lived and died and rose from the dead.

And this man gathered other men around him and began of movement of life in history that continues to this day -- an identifiable movement of life that can be seen and heard and touched: the "Church," ekklesia, the "gathering," the community of people who adhere to him through space and time unto this very day.

We have entered upon a season of remembering, but also a season of hope. We are moving toward death. We are returning to dust. But something has happened to the dust. The dust has been transfigured by Glory.

The truth, the reality, the fact about the dust is that it has been changed: even as dust, even as weakness and disappointment, even as frustration, even as death, it has been changed. It has become the road to happiness because Happiness Himself has taken it as His own.

My dust. He has taken my dust as His very own.

And I seek to walk in silence, to focus, to withdraw from distraction, to sacrifice ordinary comforts in order to listen more carefully to that heart where the whispering continues: Something has happened. Something has happened. Something has happened.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Remaining in His Hands

Yesterday we began the season of Lent 2015. We seek conversion, to turn away from our sins, to practice self-denial and charity, to pay attention to God.

We need this school in which we learn obedience to God. To listen, to open up, to follow God and to give Him space, to recognize our emptiness and offer it to Him so that He can fill us.

Obedience to God really is the easy yoke (even though it often doesn't seem that way). The reality of "God's will" is the love of our Father, and His gentle hands guiding us toward Him and protecting us from harm.

What do we achieve by escaping from His hands? Where are we going to go?

The Lord is merciful. He doesn't want us to run forever and get nowhere. He wants us to remain on the narrow path that He is crafting for us with His loving hands.

It is a narrow path, because it is the particular love that He has for each one of us, that corresponds to the unique personality that each of us possesses.

Each one of us is a person. Unrepeatable. Unique. Loved.

We are so precious and so profound: we do not know how dear and how deep we are, because we do not really know ourselves.

God knows us. His will is His wisdom and love for each one of us. He knows what is good for us, what will bring us joy.

Let us remain in His hands.