Monday, August 31, 2015

"Self-Sufficiency" isn't Enough

We are often tempted to think that becoming a mature human person means achieving independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency. We view relationships as merely useful interactions with other autonomous persons that help us or please us or are otherwise subordinated to our ultimate purpose of self-possession and self-affirmation.

When we have this attitude, nothing seems more alienating than sacrifice. Indeed, the claim of Jesus that our vocation consists in the sacrifice of self-giving love for God and our neighbor appears incomprehensible, if not insulting or threatening to our human dignity. The idea of losing-myself-in-order-to-find-myself appears to be a self-negating paradox.

And yet this "losing of myself" in self-abandonment to God is not something that demeans my freedom or results in the loss of my dignity as a person. On the contrary, it is the realization of freedom and of the person. For God Himself is Infinite Self-Giving Love. The Trinity reveals that total self giving is at the very root of what it means to be a person.

Jesus says, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11). And we will fulfill the true meaning of ourselves as persons, we will achieve the destiny and fulfillment for which we have been created, by abandoning ourselves to Him and trusting in Him: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). We don't "lose ourselves" into nothingness. We lose ourselves by belonging to God and to other persons in Him.

We have been created to become gifts, to realize our freedom as love, to live in relationship as persons, and to "find ourselves" forever in relationship to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Saint Augustine: Hunger and Thirst for More

Late have I loved You,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved You!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for You.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things
which You created.
You were with me, but I was not with You.
Created things kept me from You;
yet if they had not been in You
they would not have been at all.
You called, You shouted,
and You broke through my deafness.
You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness.
You breathed Your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for You.
I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

~Confessions, Book X

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Kid... in College?

John Paul's college: Deja vu all over again?
John Paul started college this past weekend.

Yes, my son. A freshman in college.

This has always been a difficult time of year for me, for a number of reasons. I have to negotiate every alteration of seasons and/or routines. Change is always hard in my condition.

I have gotten better at handling these kinds of changes since my health has been pretty stable for several years now. But they can still be hard.

This time of year has also been particularly difficult since my illness because-- as the school year begins-- I am reminded once again of my unnaturally young retirement from teaching. I have always felt strange having nothing "special" to prepare for at the beginning of September. Each year, however, I find that I am letting go a little bit more. It's not such a big deal that I'm no longer a player in the drama of higher education. I've seen enough to know that I could not have survived that way.

In fact, I'm "letting go" just in time.

Just in time to take up the new task of being a parent of a college student. A Christendom College student. It's a new approach for me to an institution that I have seen from almost every other perspective.

John Paul is living on campus at least this semester, which will give him a chance to immerse himself in the atmosphere of things. He will probably have to live at home after that. In any case, our house is only a few miles from the school. It was convenient when I was teaching and it should still be convenient for him too.

The college has grown in many positive ways in recent years. I'm confident that John Paul is going to have a great time. I can't predict what it will mean for me, but it's the beginning of a new chapter in a long story. It is also the beginning of the third generation of the Janaros at Christendom.

It's a wonder that we got mixed up in this whole crazy story in the first place. It's certainly not the story that I would have written for my own life.

Instead, it's a wonderful story. I thank God that we have been blessed to be part of it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Measure of Loneliness

There is always some measure of loneliness in life.

None of us should think that our spouses, children, family, or friends can fill the deep spaces where we are incomprehensibly alone. There are often times when we are brought to the awareness of that space of need that cries out inside us.

But what feels like the depths of solitude is in fact the place where we are radically held. At the heart of life, of every moment of life, there is companionship with the Merciful God. If it feels terribly empty, that is because it is the place where He, and He alone, dwells. And He is the Mystery.

We cannot contain Him, even here. He "contains" us, and is beyond us, but He is also with us. In His nearness we are born out of nothing, and our loneliness - no matter what occasions the experience of it - is always the echo of those sighing depths that yearn for His ineffable, fundamental, irreplaceable presence.

There is Someone with us in our lives, every moment. There is Someone “on the other side” of our longing, our cries, our prayers-- Someone listening, full of tender love, wanting to bestow mercy on us every moment with an attention, a gentleness, a care beyond anything we can imagine.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Light in August

The days are growing shorter, and the arc of the sun in its setting is moving back "up" the Valley (remember, "up" is south in the Shenandoah Valley). And the sun goes down around eight o'clock in the evening, which still makes for long evenings even though -- compared with their high point in June -- the days "feel" like they're getting shorter.

On this August evening, the sun was setting in a perfect spot, crowning a hilltop cresting in the distance beyond clusters of trees.

I shall never grow tired of things such as this:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mary Queen and Mother

Mary, the Mother of God, shapes the Christian identity of the believer and the vocation of every human person. For every human person without exception has been created to know and love Jesus Christ, and in Christ to share forever in God’s very own life of Ineffable Love.

Mary, indeed, is at the center of what it means to be a Christian, which means that she is also the center of the whole human race. In accordance with the mystery of God’s magnificent, gratuitous plan of love, she brought forth into the world and continues to bring into our lives the One who concretely constitutes the true meaning of our humanity.

By cooperating with her whole being, her whole affections, her whole heart and her whole will, Mary brought into the world the only One who can give meaning to the universe. For from the beginning, the universe has been destined to be transformed by God's gift of Himself. God created the universe and everywhere permeated it with a mysterious impetus corresponding to the design of His Love. 

And in the beginning, the human being was created to be a tupos, a sign, of the-One-who-was-to-come, the One who will bring all things into unity and fulfillment in Himself.

Here and now, Mary brings to me the only One who knows the profound mystery of who I am; the One who knows, from within its very source, the gesture of Divine Love that created me, and that calls me to eternal life, to a participation in His Glory.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Saint Bernard's Love

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux died on August 20, 1153. That's 862 years ago if my arithmetic is correct. Yet he left a mark on Christian history that remains fresh and vital even today, his feast day on the Roman calendar.

Bernard de Fontaines-les-Dijon was a young nobleman who left all his wealth to join a radical new monastic movement. The movement was trying to recover the ancient Benedictine tradition of living in prayer and solitude, in poverty and by the work of their own hands.

These radical monks dwelt in the wild marshland of a place called Citeaux (from the word for cistern), near the border between medieval France and Burgundy. They were ragged and unknown when Bernard first came to them, but they were dedicated to living by the original rule of Saint Benedict. They had gone to work clearing and draining the swamp, and building a humble dwelling place to worship and pray and labor. In and through Bernard, these small seeds planted by the founding monks bore a remarkable fruit.

Though he was not the founder of the great religious order that came to be known as the Cistercians, Bernard's presence, his dedication, his wisdom, and above all his radiant holiness were fundamental to the order's explosive growth in the 12th century. He became counselor to popes and kings, peacemaker, preacher, teacher, and guide along the paths of Christian life.

His sermons, letters, and commentaries remain classics. No one since Saint Augustine had spoken so profoundly and so eloquently about the love of God, and the grace by which He enables us to love Him.

And thus he continues to speak to us today:

If one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.
For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him.
I know that my God is not merely the bounteous bestower of my life, the generous provider for all my needs, the pitiful consoler of all my sorrows, the wise guide of my course: He is far more than all that. He saves me with an abundant deliverance. He is my eternal preserver, the portion of my inheritance, my glory.
Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He has given me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. 
He is all that I need, all that I long for.

My God and my help,
I will love You for Your great goodness;
not so much as I might, surely,
but as much as I can.
I cannot love You as You deserve to be loved,
for I cannot love You more
than my own feebleness permits.
I will love You more when You deem me worthy
to receive greater capacity for loving,
yet never so perfectly as You deserve of me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Show Us Your Beautiful Face

Breathe forth your Spirit into me,
Lord Jesus,
from your body broken into the gift of the Father's love.

Have mercy on me and on the whole world.
Let me feel in my heart the Father's love for the world,
and be united in my own human frailty and suffering
with the struggle and the seeking
of the whole multitude of human hearts
crafted in your Image.

Jesus, 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 who do not know you,
but whose hearts have been made for you.

I feel the burdens and sorrows
of my brothers and sisters
in my own loneliness and troubles,
in my own confusion and restlessness,
in my affliction of not loving you enough.

Jesus, deepen my love for you today.
Draw my heart,
and every human heart,
closer to you.
O Great Lover, win our hearts,
conquer our fears,
show us your beautiful Face.

Monday, August 17, 2015

We Can Make a Difference in the World!

We're all so worried about the world, about its evils and injustices. These are evil times, we say. People are full of selfishness and violence, and our political leaders are driven by destructive agendas.

It would not be realistic to deny any of these points. And indeed, we are all called to do what we can to build up the good, and to struggle against the evils that afflict our society, our communities, our families, and our own lives. There are many things we can do.

Here is something all of us can do: Pray the Rosary! Every day.
Some more specific gestures involving the Rosary are proposed at various times and places: e.g. right now many in the United States are praying a 54 day "Rosary Novena" (which began on the Solemnity of the Assumption, August 15, and will end on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7). We are praying for marriage and family, peace, the recognition of the sanctity of human life, and respect for religious freedom. (Click HERE for more information about this gesture.)
This is genuine, dynamic social action. The Rosary is a powerful prayer, because Mary is our Merciful Mother and she cares about our whole lives as human beings, including our living together in society. When we present the needs of our world to her heart, and through her to Jesus's Sacred Heart, we are performing an important work of mercy.

Praying for people, praying for the needs of the world, is a vital, crucial "spiritual work of mercy," and "spiritual" does not mean unreal. Its effort and its fruits are often hidden, but by faith we know that if we pray from the heart our prayer is every bit as real and concrete as the bread we give to the hungry. In all its forms, mercy is a way of looking at reality, at others, with compassion. The world desperately needs the touch of mercy through the works of mercy.

So let's pray the Rosary!

I'm not suggesting that "piety" is a substitute for grappling with specific human problems, or a pretext for hiding from them. We must engage the circumstances of our lives. But as Christians we should know that if we don't pray, we'll be neglecting the most important dimension of our circumstances...and our lives.

Whatever our "intentions" may be, when we pray the Rosary we are first of all praying for ourselves; we are always lifting up to Jesus through Mary our own profound need for mercy and healing, and our heart's cry for the Mystery who is Eternal Love.

Pray the Rosary! Pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is something Our Lady of Fatima asked us to do. She often asks for simple things: "Build me a church...." "Make this medal...." "Say this prayer...."

"Yes," we reply, "but the Rosary is not simple. It's hard!"

Not really. It's not so hard. What's hard is to be confronted, day after day, with the smallness of our love. We always make a bad job of the Rosary, because we don't love God very much.

So let us ask the Lord, through His loving Mother, to give us the grace to love Him more, and the grace to say the Rosary better. That won't make us perfect tomorrow. But the daily Rosary will teach us to be humble and to be faithful in one small thing. And thus we take little steps, with trust.

Let us entrust it to Mary's heart. Let us entrust everything to her, and through her, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I think one reason Mary asked for the Rosary and devotion to her Immaculate Heart at Fatima is because she wanted to draw our faith into sharper focus.

It simply won't do to turn "being Catholic" into an ideology or an abstract program, even if we have every doctrine memorized backwards and forwards. The faith must be recognized as reality, and adhered to with affection--because what we believe in is the Love of a Person. Jesus.

Mary makes things concrete. The Rosary is a way of joining with Mary in the "pondering of her heart." If we pray it, we will grow. It is an extraordinary, healing, miracle-working prayer.

Jesus calls us through Mary's heart, through this prayer. As we try to dwell on the mysteries of His life, we may find ourselves quite distracted. Still, we are searching for Him with our small hearts. We want to look at Him.

And we can depend on this: He is looking at us. He is with us in Mary's heart. He is our brother. He draws us closer to Him, and He changes us.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The "Dormition": Mary is Born into Eternal Life

Today's beautiful Feast Day is known in the Eastern churches as the "Dormition" of the Theotokos (the "falling asleep" of the Mother of God). The point of this complimentary emphasis is not to decide the theological question of whether or not Mary actually died (i.e. in the same way we do). "Falling asleep," after all, is a metaphor for death in the New Testament and among the early Christians (see e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:6). Rather, it is to focus on the unique nature of Mary's passing from this life into eternal glory, body and soul, in the fullness of resurrected life.

The icon of the Dormition often presents images of Mary's earthly life coming to an end, surrounded by the apostles. Above her is the image of the glorified Christ carrying Mary, who is represented as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes (which are not unlike burial cloths). Just as Mary gave birth to the Incarnate Jesus in this world, so the Glorified Jesus brings about Mary's "birth" into eternal glory in a manner that is likewise fully incarnate, involving the glorification of her whole concrete humanity even "now," by anticipation, in this present age. The Theotokos is borne by her Son into the completion of Divine transfiguring life.

Thus the Kingdom has come in its fullness; the New Creation has begun, and the New Adam and the New Eve already dwell bodily in this "Paradise restored," where every aspect of death has been conquered. 

I am always struck by how much Mary is invoked in the Eastern Byzantine liturgy (which is such a contrast to the Roman liturgy, which rarely makes explicit reference to Mary, although she holds a crucial place in Western devotional practice). The presence of Mary in Byzantine prayer traditions is pervasive, above all in the Eucharistic liturgy and in the offices.

Though Eastern tradition as such did not develop Marian devotions such as the Rosary, it is striking to see how the all the elements of the Western "Hail Mary" are contained in a beautiful way in many of her liturgical prayers, as for example the prayers for the Feast of the Dormition:
"Hail, O Woman full of grace, the Lord is with you, the Lord who, because of you, bestows great mercy upon the world" (from Vespers). "Blessed are you among women and blessed is your womb that contained Christ, in whose hands you committed your soul. O pure Virgin, intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls!" (at the Apostichon).
The Byzantine tradition emphasizes Mary as the "Panagia," the All-Holy One, free indeed from sin and corruption and also radiant with the fullness of grace by virtue of her singular accompaniment of her Son as the Theotokos.

The face of Mary fills the heart with hope:
"O you who gave birth to the Doer of Good, to the Cause of all Delights, let the wealth of his generosity abound within all souls, for since you have borne the almighty Christ, you have power to act according to your will, O you who are blessed of God!" (see Paraklesis).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Let Christ Speak to Man

The mission of Saint John Paul II is encapsulated in these brief words. "Let Christ speak to man." If we know Jesus Christ, then we know that He is what the world needs. He is what every human person needs.

He gives meaning to human life. He alone is our hope for eternity, and for building a civilization of love in this world.

With humility and trust, we must let Christ speak to man today, to our world, to human hearts... beginning with our own.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Without Love, We Can Do Nothing

"We want to build something beautiful and what emerges from our hands is a grand and spectacular monstrosity. Such is the world in which God is obscured...."

This world is our world. As Christians, we must not try to escape the significance of this fact. We have been given a gift, the gift of faith. If we know God, it is not because we are wiser or stronger than everyone else, as if by our own power we have found a technique to clear the obscurity away. It is not our own greatness that has brought us to know God. And God is not a secret that we possess that allows us to exalt ourselves over others.

We "know God" (i.e. we have a relationship with the Mystery who is the origin and fulfillment of all things) only because He has come to meet us. In the places and times of this world, we have encountered God in Jesus Christ who reached out to us through the communion of His Church.

We can only offer something to others if it is the fruit of what we have received, of the work of Jesus that awakens our hearts, heals us, changes us, makes us live as a new creation, and live together as a new people who share His love. This is the love that God wills to communicate to the whole world, to every human person. 

Without God's love, "religion" becomes just another spectacular monstrosity, and we are profoundly tempted to misuse the gift of faith to build our own misshapen constructions that only cast more dark obscure shadows upon our world. If we make the greatest arguments, and put forth the most coherent political programs and social theories, but do not have love, we accomplish nothing. We can say, "Lord, Lord," and construct megachurches, universities, and social programs; we can defend human rights and exhaust ourselves day and night fighting against evil, but without love we achieve nothing.

The world will remain in darkness. And, having hidden the lamps of His light, we will make it darker still. We will be all the more blind because we think we see.

But what is this "love"? It is God's gift that grows in us and is given through us in the measure that we surrender ourselves to Jesus in self-abandonment, offering, trust, obedience, and in the living faith that does the works of mercy, that lets others encounter the compassion of God.

Monday, August 10, 2015

On the Feast of Saint Lawrence


A blood-red ember-glow
to a fullness within my breast
as though Mars had been captured in glass,
removed from the dome of moonlit sky,
and set free below to frolic among dry sticks
at the woodland's edge.

Mars, of war.

And I am flame that rises like a fountain
from a candlewick consumed
and a raging river of fragrant wax,
and my effulgence fires the eyes of those who watch
and of those who keep their distance.

In a moment I am gone,
yielding to triumphant dawn
like the pink streaks of morning's first light,
and in the wake of my radiance
to color the hand of man.

~August 10, 1990


This is a poem I wrote twenty five years ago in honor of Saint Lawrence, the great third century deacon and martyr of the church of Rome. It is reproduced here from my personal papers.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Long Summer at Gallipoli

Western forces invade Muslim country. They expect easy victory, but are surprised to find tenacious resistance, difficult terrain, and high casualties. The invasion goes nowhere.

So what do they do? They try it again.

And again.

And again.

Thus we arrive at the month of August in the year 1915. The night of August 6th saw the start of the last of four concentrated battle campaigns seeking to break the Turkish lines beyond the beaches and the cliffs of the Dardanelles and open the route to the mythical Constantinople.

We generally associate Gallipoli with April 25, 1915. Our friends "down under" observe it as ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). The Aussies and Kiwis were heroes that day, and afterward, for their immense bravery and sacrifice in desperately trying to carry out an invasion that was not their idea (and therefore not their fault).

The idea[s] came from the British, and the Gallipoli campaign has attained legendary status as one of history's great military bungles. The failure of the initial spring invasion resulted in a long stalemate and three more attempts to advance. This final August offensive also failed, and forces finally withdrew with nothing but an accumulation of misery and casualties and graves left behind.

ANZAC charging Turkish lines, Gallipoli campaign
Eight months of futility in the Dardanelles became a watershed for British leadership in the early part of the war, bringing down Secretary of War Lord Kitchener and General Ian Hamilton, who both basically exited the world stage at this point.

First Lord of the Admiralty (i.e. Navy Secretary) Winston Churchill also got sacked, but he would return to lead other battles in another war.

Many say that Gallipoli was the foundation of the national identities of Australia, New Zealand, and modern Turkey (although the arrangement of the Middle East that emerged after World War I remains unstable even now). As a military campaign, however, it was a frustrating waste of human lives that pointed toward greater frustrations still to come in the bloody year of 1916.

Hardcore JJ blog fans recall, perhaps, that we counted down the days to the beginning of the World War I centenary last summer. Honestly, however, I had to stop. It was just too depressing.

Nevertheless, I do not wish to neglect these dreadful years. We must remember and mourn the great violence of this war, which shows so vividly the ugliness that human beings can perpetrate against one anotherthe ugliness that creeps into our own hearts when love grows cold.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Transfiguration and the Grace of New Life

Transfiguration, Russian Icon, 14th century
"On the mountain You were transfigured,
O Christ our God,
and your Disciples saw
as much of your glory
as they could hold,
so that when they should see
You crucified,
they would know
that You suffered willingly,
and would proclaim to the world
that You are truly
the Splendor of the Father"
(Kontakion for the day, Byzantine Liturgy).


A glimpse of glory. The voice of the Father: "This is my Beloved Son." How could Jesus have made Himself more "real" for these men? They saw all the miracles. They spent each day with Him, experiencing His tender gaze, marveling at His beauty.

The man who is God: they were with Him. They saw Him. How could they ever falter in their faith? Why, after everything, did they still give in to fear?

Peter. After everything, after the promise of the Keys, after the calming of the storm, after the light of Mount Tabor, after the ardor of a heart that said in the peak of human sincerity, "I would lay down my life for You," how could he deny Him? Yet Jesus drew Peter's heart back to Himself. "Lord, You know that I love You."

Our life is so fragile and our experience so fragmented that we cannot energize ourselves to persevere in fidelity to the Mystery of God's presence and His love for us, even when He dwells with us and breaks bread with us every day and proves Himself trustworthy again and again and again.

And so He offers us the gift of His Spirit and the strength of His grace, the gift that empowers us to receive and to grow in newness of life in Him. We may fail, we may turn from Him, we may forget Him a thousand times a day, but still His grace and mercy call us continually to conversion and renewal. He gives us the capacity and the energy that we cannot generate from out of our own selves.

When we fall or forget His glory, He empowers us to rise up and remember Him again, turn to Him again, and be surprised by Him again. And if we live in hopeif we adhere to Him, cry out to Him, and beg Him for His mercyHe will sustain us on the way and enable us to walk with Him all the way through the end. All the way through death.

In the whole course of our life, He is prompting us, "Turn to Me, listen to Me, let Me draw you to myself, let Me give you what you need to take each step." Without Him we can do nothing. With Him we will have eternal glory.

And He made us to be with Him, He wants us to be with Him.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

We Affirm Human Dignity and Yet We Are So Cruel... Why?

Two living human persons
Recently the news and (especially) the Internet have presented for us some unbearable (but, sadly, not surprising) instances of human beings attacking other human beings.

There are many features of the events we've seen that are especially awful (but, once again, not surprising): the defenseless victims, the callous and ruthless dismissal of their humanity for money, and the pretense that the whole gruesome assault is being carried out in the service of human dignity and human freedom.

What we see here is also a problem that is peculiar to our time. Since the beginning of history there have been violence, murder, cruelty, and human trafficking. The distinctive mark of our emerging epoch, however, is the way we try to cloak all this nasty business under the mantle of "service," of "doing good," of human rights. 

We want to affirm human dignity. We have this sense that it is crucially important to recognize and uphold the value of every human person. This is a tremendously good intention, which has washed up on the shores of the 21st century like a plank from a shipwreck. It is a strong plank. Much can be done with it. But it is not made to float by itself, in the midst of stormy seas.

The dignity of human persons is founded uponindeed consists intheir being created in the image of God, and their eternal destiny in God.

It is the image of God that gives the human person a real inviolable status. Being "someone" means being in relation to the One who is the transcendent origin, sustenance, and fulfillment of all things. It means being a person who can know and love, who can freely give his or herself and who is called to belong freely to God. Ultimately, God alone is worthy of the human person.

Without this foundation, the term "human dignity" becomes subject to all kinds of subtle manipulation. Indeed, even terms like "good" become oblique when they have no roots beyond our own intentions and determination.

And this is the problem. Contemporary Western culture has inherited and in some ways deepened a profound and mysterious crisis about God. In the midst of the titanic explosion of human power over the natural world, God seems to disappear.

Our rationalistic ancestors pushed God to the margins of the universe, and eventually declared His "death." They bequeathed to us not only what they thought to be His "powers," but also the gigantic and perplexing responsibility of His goodness. Now we look at the 21st century and our power is dazzling indeed. We have found it difficult, however, to declare that our works are good.

When God created the world, He saw that it was good (see Genesis 1). We, however, with all our amazing power and its fruits, live in our world without the awareness of God's existence. Not surprisingly, we are racked with anxiety regarding what is good in all our achievements (and there is a great deal of goodwonderful, magnificent goodin the achievements of our time). In fact we are haunted by the ambivalence of what we've done, and we search desperately for some kind of perspective that will allow us to distinguish and foster the good while correcting our failures.

In recent times we have also given great attention to the human person. We have learned so many good things about human life and human aspirations. We have discovered real ways to help people to live with greater dignity, and we want to affirm and build up human persons and communities. But with the eclipse of God and its corresponding dark cosmic solitude, we face this strange paradox: even as we become more knowledgeable about the workings of the world, and more sensitive to various aspects of the dignity and value of the person, we have no way of bringing it all together, and no sure criteria for how to apply our knowledge and our power in complicated and difficult situations.

The result is that—without even realizing it—we gradually but inexorably submit to the "logic" of power itself, which "builds" by dominating and ultimately destroying anything that resists it.

Of course, this is terrifying. No one wants to acknowledge that we are lost, that for all of our good intentions we do not know what is good. Thus, we adopt the intellectual apparatus of power: ideology. We simply affirm the goodness of what we do. We use a veneer of weak argumentation, obfuscation, and deception (especially self-deception).

When all else fails, we assert and define that our way is good even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. This means that we also refuse to listen to those who would remind us of our blindness. In any case, it has become especially important for us to feel good about what we do. In the social realm, we want to feel that we are empowering human persons and serving human dignity.

We would like to think we are building a kinder and gentler world. But violence pours in upon us from every side. Even as we become more attentive and more skilled in the art of saving lives in some places, we completely disregard the value of human life in others. We are divided against ourselves: wanting peace but waging war, wanting community but building walls of isolation, seeking healing yet constantly hurting one another. We want to build something beautiful and what emerges from our hands is a grand and spectacular monstrosity.

Such is the world in which God is obscured, and even the most sincere and ardent assertions and feelings about human dignity lose their bearings and cannot engage real life, real human situations, sufferings, and frailty.

I look at myself. I know that God exists, that He is the Source of my very being, and the foundation of my dignity as a person. I know that I am made in His image: He who transcends the whole universe and by this very incomprehensible transcendence is nearer to me than I am to myself. Still, I see how much I fail to remember Him, to live my own life with gratitude, and to love the human persons He has entrusted to me.

It is not enough to acknowledge God. We must open our hearts and let ourselves be loved by Him, so that by the power of His love we are enabled to love Him in return. And still the path is narrow, the path that leads to God and passes through the relationships He gives me with the real human persons who are in my life. Yet I know that here is His gift; here is where I find His face.

With all of this, my life is still full of violence, full of the daily failure to recognize the dignity of the human personthe image of Godin my wife and children, family and friends, and in all the people He places in my path (especially the ones I don't like, or who are inconvenient to me or against memy "enemies").

My life is full of the forgetfulness of God.

My own attitude is still largely shaped by the common mentality of our times that views the world without God, and conditions people to live as if God did not exist. I must first of all recognize this fact about myself. I have no grounds to boast in front of my third millennial brothers and sisters. We are all sinners. I am all the worse, because I have done so little with the understanding that has been given to me.

I am a sinner. I must beg forgiveness for my own sins and resolve to take up once again the arduous struggle for healing and renewal. I do so, however, with confidence, because He offers Himself to me in His mercy. My hope and my strength is in Him.

With penitential hearts, we can (and we must) face the reality of our time: people are trying to build up the world without God—they are desensitized to the need for God by the illusion of spectacular human displays of material power. Whatever may be their good intentions, they conceive a world in which power is the ultimate reality.

How can anyone expect such a world to respect human life?

Still there is something in the confused hearts of people; there is this desire for a better world, and a better, truer life for themselves. The eclipse of God in our time has only rendered more desperate the ineradicable longing of the human heart, however much people try to bury it. People carry this desire in them along with all their violence that weighs them down; it endures, perhaps as a cry for help, a cry that recognizes the need for something else.

We must also take this cry into our own hearts and turn it toward the love of God. We must beg for His mercy and do the works of mercy through which He shows Himself even in the greatest darkness. He defeats violence by answering it with an unconquerable love, and such love resonates even in the places where all the most desperate and most neglected human longings try to hide.

His mercy is our hope, and living the love that reveals and communicates His mercy is our task.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Expectation of August

We have arrived at the beginning of August 2015. These are the "dog days" of summer.

In the United States of America, however, August -- notwithstanding its blazing heat, humidity, and haze, and its buzzing cicadas high in the trees -- has become back-to-school-month. Almost all schools start up in August, and kids have to start thinking about cramming in their summer assignments and getting their gear together.

For us, this particular August heralds a great transition in the family. By the middle of the month, we'll be packing John Paul off to college.

Granted, he's going to Christendom College, which is only a few miles down the road from his high school alma mater. He won't be far away, and he will be entering into one of the great formative experiences of his life.

We also know that he will have good companions, and that Jesus will remain at the center of his college experience. I have no illusions about the human fragility and limitations of this college. I also know its value. I devoted years of my life (and quite a bit of my health) to help build it up into what it is today.

What is most important, however, is that at its foundation the college has a charism. Jesus touches hearts and changes them in that place, and the grace of the Holy Spirit nurtures and brings growth to seeds already planted.

It's a bumpy road, with zigs and zags and holes and dust. Of course. It's made by human beings. But it's a road. It's a pilgrimage route and it's going in the right direction. It leads to the juncture of further roads, to the journey of adulthood.

Sometimes people lose their way on routes that lead nowhere (again, human beings). Still they have been given some sense of what the journey of life is seeking, and they have friends who can help them remember.

And Jesus is there.

Christendom College library (see website

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The "Colorful" End of July

July began as a colorful month for everybody.

Fireworks filled the air all over the United States as we celebrated the Fourth of July.

We had plenty of good fireworks shows right in the neighborhood. That's one of the benefits of living in a small town.

The month continued to be colorful in surprising ways, such as the blossoming of the Asian Hibiscus in our front yard:

But the end of July was especially "colorful" to the heart. The feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola yesterday brought back memories of Rome, as it always does. I posted about it on social media.

The day was topped off by the rising of the second full moon of the month of July, which is known as the "blue moon." On occasion the moon does look blue (due to atmospheric conditions) but last night it was blue only in our imaginations.

Still it was quite a sight for the end of a colorful month:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Golden Words of Peter of Ravenna

"As resplendent as the excellence,
power, and magnificence of the Creator were
when one contemplated His works,
all the same the love of God was concealed,
and the charity of God kept hidden.
To give to his subjects,
to bestow things on servants
is what usually characterizes a donor;
to suffer for one's subjects, to die for one's servants,
this is a sign of immense charity
and evidence of a love that is unique....

Anyone can grant favors, anyone can bestow gifts,
any prosperous benefactor can love
those who are deferential to him;
but will he be comparable to Him
who took the adversities of His own people onto Himself;
who puts Himself forward
to block dangers threatening His own;
who hands Himself over to punishments for His own,
who confronts death face-to-face
in order to remove them from destruction
and preserve them for life?
Love is proved by adversities,
the weight of affection is determined
by the dangers endured,
perfect charity is confirmed by death....

That dominion is true
which commands by love, not by fear;
which subjects both bodies and hearts to itself
by means of affection;
which by loving furnishes servants for itself
who are not unwilling, but willing.
[Jesus died because] He wanted it to be known
how much God loved humanity,
since He wanted to be loved rather than feared."

~Saint Peter Chrysologus (fifth century)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Broken Openness

Relationships and community are so fundamental to being human -- to living fully as a person. Indeed, community and its organic expressions are fundamental to society.

We need community. We need persons and families connected to one another by the common experience of life, the common struggle for life's needs and celebration of its joys. In community, human persons journey together toward their destiny, helping one another. Without community, we cannot hope to find adequate solutions to any of the practical social troubles we face.

But how do we even begin to "build up" networks of trustworthy interpersonal relationships? Community, by its very nature, cannot be imposed by an ideological scheme. Rather, we build community from the ground up, person-to-person, and we can begin now concretely by living in solidarity with those who have been entrusted to us.

Perhaps some of us have been blessed with the very real "riches" of understanding, and we find that amidst much confusion we are among the few who are able to see the truth about certain significant problems. This gives us no grounds for pride, but only for gratitude to God for this gift, and for whatever goodness we find in ourselves.

Let us be determined to share God's gifts, and to receive the gifts of others in turn. We must never forget that the person we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a unique someone, called and blessed and loved by God with an awesome and mysterious love.

Therefore, we must try to help one another as best we can and with the resources we have. We must love one another in the recognition that we are all sinners, we are all broken, and then listen to one another, help one another to recognize reality, and especially be ready to "suffer-with" one another. Since we are all selfish and make mistakes, we must above all forgive one another and bear with one another just as God forgives us and approaches us with such tenderness and patience.

Relying on His mercy, we must take up each day with our "broken openness," our poor expression of friendship and our desire to understand with compassion the persons He has given to us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Teresa Gives Me a Haircut

Teresa was messing with my hair and got it all sticking up in the back (see The Haircut, top left). I was grumbling about how I really needed a haircut.

But the girls thought it looked funny so I let them take a picture of me as the bald-topped, hairy-headed wild man. Then Teresa offered to cut it, and I couldn't refuse. After all, if she can groom horses she can buzz off a clump of old and tired gray strands from my head.

And so she did. I played shocked, but actually I was glad to have it all off.

Thank you, Teresa. You're such an awesome kid!

She doesn't like to be told this, but as you can see she's very pretty.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Value and the Abuse of Human Trust

We cannot live as human persons or build human community together if we cannot trust one another. Trust is a normal component of human communication, and it is founded on the basic expectation we have that others are telling the truth. The expectation of truth and the human orientation to trusting place great responsibility on anyone who takes up a position of authority in a community.

One way or another, we must keep the trust that is given to us (especially if we are in a position of authority).  When this trust breaks down, we are forced to live in suspicion of one another and we become increasingly isolated. This is why deception is destructive in human relationships: when it is exposed, trust is compromised, but when it succeeds, trust is abused and becomes the inroad to manipulation of others. When authorities abuse trust, they can cause great damage to persons and communities.

Human beings make daily decisions in many things through a complex and informal reasoning process. And yet we do this spontaneously and with a measure of confidence in our understanding. This is founded not only on common sense realism, but also on the interpersonal context within which we perceive and judge things.

We approach reality as persons-in-relationship with others, and among the crucial relationships in life are the connections we have with authorities. Our method of understanding will not be solid, however, if it merely conforms to an external source through coercion. Rather, the reasonable and personal response to a genuine authority is trust.

Thus we can see that trust is essential to everyday life.

We live by trust all the time, in the most mundane circumstances. For example, I would not embark on a unknown difficult hike (back in the days when I was able to hike) without someone who knew the path. Or at least I would take a map (made by someone else).

Am I being unreasonable in so doing? Certainly not, because often the reasonable thing to do is to trust someone else's authority. People tend to rely on what they perceive to be authority much more than they realize. It's natural to trust, and we do a lot of it every day. This can be simply recognizing that someone has the knowledge we need in a particular circumstance and is willing to convey it (a very basic kind of "authority"). But it also spans over a whole range of relationships and activities right up to the cohesiveness of a political and social community.

It is reasonable to trust others whose authority is a service to us. But it is also reasonable (indeed essential) that we have at least a common sense judgment that an authority is trust-worthy (or if we can't have that judgment, we have a right to know what level of risk we're taking in "lending" credibility to an unverifiable source).

Here is where human pride and ambition can play clever games and use tricks to buy our trust through fixating our fascination, making false promises, and using psychological or emotional manipulation. The result is a pathological, dehumanizing false trust that takes advantage of and distorts this essential feature of human living.

Sometimes the abusers of trust simply want to cheat us. People are thus misled, innocently, to a shakedown. We trust the wrong people, and then we discover that the investment was a fake and our money is all gone. In such cases we experience how deception is a form of violence: it makes a bald, frontal attack on our trust, in order to profit from it.

But the more psychologically complex abuse of trust holds out promises, draws us along, and tangles our own hopes within its web of lies. Soon we begin ourselves to connive in the deception, as we dismiss "warning signs" -- issues that require examination and verification -- because we have become attached to false hopes. When this happens, we are in danger of losing much more than our money.

Trust is a powerful energy within the person, which is why the systematic manipulation and abuse of trust can cause a counterfeit of community. It can lead to an efficient conformity between oppressors and the oppressed based on external fear, or (something worse) the internal subversion of the expectations and desires of people.

Thus it is that the abuse of trust leads to the cult, the fanatical revolutionary or reactionary party, the dictatorship, the all-encompassing conformity, the blind devotion to false duty, the persecution of non-conformists (whether they willfully resist or simply belong to the wrong ideological category), the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the gulag, the "re-education" program.

We saw this kind of abuse of trust on a vast scale in the past century and we continue to see it today, in new and diverse ways. We must especially pay attention to the "softer" forms of the abuse of trust, in which social forces connive to bring about the manipulation and standardization of opinion. Anyone who tries to expose "soft" conformity is threatened not with the death camp, but with social marginalization.

Such soft conformity, however, is not and cannot bring forth a genuine human community. It delivers only superficial sentiments of common affirmation, beneath which yawn great chasms of mistrust, suspicion, isolation, and loneliness.

Without real trust between people there can be no community. And there can be no constructive human society without institutions and authorities that are worthy of people's trust.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saint James the Apostle: A Model For Today?

"King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Acts 12:2). 

Today is the Feast of Saint James the Apostle, the first of the Twelve to be martyred. The iconic imagery of the martyrdom of Saint James (who was beheaded around 44 a.d.) is from a window in Lancaster (Catholic) Cathedral in England.

As I pondered this image, I thought, "Hey... this looks familiar. Haven't I seen images like this recently in the news?" Indeed, I have.

Two thousand years later, Christians are still getting their heads cut off for adhering to Jesus Christ. Look, Saint James even happens to have an orange robe in the stained glass window above, not unlike the orange jump suits of these Eygptian Christians from a few months ago. All James's killer needs is a mask, and he could pass for an ISIS executioner.

The blood of Saint James was the seed of the Church, and so too will be the blood of the martyrs of the 21st century.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Narrow Road of Growing in Love

I'll be the first to admit that I'm lazy. We're all lazy. Let's face it.

But let's also dwell on this fact: if we remain lazy, we will never grow in love.

When we see the smallness of our love, the way that our lives are dominated by mediocrity, we are tempted to just reduce our expectations, or to put off the business of growing in love.

We pretend that we're "okay," that our lazy, mediocre lives are "good enough." But they're not.

We don't want to admit to ourselves that we are made for love, that all the turmoil inside of us is the anguished cry of our being, the cry for love. Even underneath our laziness is a kind of desperation to hold onto what we have, because we don't know if there is anything out there "beyond ourselves" and we don't want to take the risk.

But really, are you satisfied with what you have now. Really?

Still, we don't even know how to begin living the depth of love that stirs within us. We are afraid. How awful it is to face our fragility, our vulnerability, our weakness, our failures, and the deep wounds of our own selves.

And we can become frozen in our shriveled hearts if we give in to discouragement. "I have tried to love before, but all I've done is screw things up. I don't know how to love and I don't want to try. It's too dangerous!"

This is a moment where my freedom is challenged in a critical way. I have a choice. I can give in to discouragement. Or I can begin from my poverty, and beg for help.

When we do cry out for help, it may feel like a waste of time, because help doesn't seem to be coming. There are no signs and wonders, no great miracles. We are still broken and confused. We are begging for help, but it seems that nothing happens, nothing changes.

That is not true.

Look! We are already doing something.

In that begging is already the recognition that we need to love and to be loved. In that begging is already the recognition that there is someone worth loving. If I were really alone, it would never even occur to me to ask. Someone is already here, helping me now.

So I beg for help, I beg for the One who is already helping me, loving me: the One who is with me. And I begin to love. Of course, I'm still confused. I forget. But there are moments when I remember, and I know when this happens that I am not the source of that memory. The One who loves me touches my life. I give Him thanks, and I beg for these moments to increase.

This asking, this prayer, allows Him to open our hearts and draw us, more and more. It allows Him to shine light on our lives so that we might see their meaning, more and more, in relation to Him.

This is the narrow road of growing in love.