Friday, January 30, 2015

Four Years as a Blogging Hack

Yesterday was the fourth "birthday" of this venerable and highly respected blog that nobody reads. I've been "celebrating" by looking back at some of the really old posts. They reveal many interesting things, such as the following:
(1) This is my 940th post on the Never Give Up blog.
(2) Wow! This is my NINE HUNDRED AND FORTIETH blog post!!! That's a lot of blogging. At this point, I suppose I should accept the fact that I am a "blogger" in the most respectable sense of the term (which is, of course, "not very..."). Anyway, I'll need some special bells and whistles for the one thousandth post, which will probably come around Easter time this year.
(3) This blog, which I envisioned (in part) as a kind of continuation of the book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (still worth reading and still on sale right here *CLICK*), is now about four times longer than the original book!
(4) I have about a half dozen themes that I write about continually, often repeating the same thoughts and even the same words. Oh well... this is my workshop for reflection, writing, and (increasingly) digital photography and graphics. There's a lot of sawdust around.
(5) There is also some really good stuff here. I should put the good stuff together in a way that would make it accessible to more readers.
(6) I need an editor. I really need an editor. Oh boy, do I need an editor.
(7) The kids have grown ridiculously since this blog started. Oh my!
(8) My growth in the "spiritual life" in the last four years has been zero. I mean ZERO. ZILCH. NADA! NA-DA.... well, that's the way it seems. If anything good is happening, I can't take credit for it!
(9) But I know the Lord is doing His part and He has His own measure for the work He is doing in me. I ask Him to give me the grace to let Him change me and to cooperate with His mercy so that I might grow in trust and love.
Anyway, I thought it would fun and interesting to do a screenshot of the first two posts, both under the date of January 29, 2011. In those days, I was one of those guys-who-post-about-sports on social media sites (I still am, but not as much). So here was my attempt to explain myself, along with the initial post that launched the blog in response to the encouragement of some friends and old students.

Four years and one day ago:



Thursday, January 29, 2015

We All Need Forgiveness

One word that must never be forgotten: Forgiveness. We all need forgiveness.

In these late days of January, we hold up the dignity of every human being, the uniqueness and preciousness of every human life. We cry out against the violence of our "throwaway culture" where human persons are treated like things and the most intimate relationships of human love are reduced to mere convenient arrangements between autonomous egos.

We seek justice. We hope to make a difference. We want to build up the good. But realism compels us to acknowledge that the wounds are very deep. They have many origins and many levels of affliction. People are wounded and bleeding, and what is pouring out of them is the blood of the human spirit, the resources of human vitality, hope, attachment to real life, capacity to love.

Terrible wounds. How can they possibly be healed and restored? Where is forgiveness to be found?

There is a brokenness that we see manifested in the tragic violence of abortion, that destroys innocent human life, separates mothers from their own children, and robs our society of the awareness that human dignity is rooted in the gift of God's creative love. Brokenness is manifest in euthanasia, in the brutal neglect of the poor, in pervasive contentiousness and bitter conflict, in war as a way of life.

Yet this brokenness afflicts all of us in different ways. We all try to withdraw from other persons or push them away from ourselves. We try to escape from those we are called to love. We want to evade precisely those relationships that are most real, that are constructive, challenging, and promising; those relationships that are mysteriously given but that can only live from committed and responsible freedom.

We withdraw from the promise of real love because we are afraid to give ourselves. We are afraid of the risk, the loss of ourselves in giving, the loss of a "control" that we think we can keep by our own power.

We are afraid of suffering.

We are all human beings, strange and broken and unable to put ourselves back together. And a great portion of this fragility and incapacity and anguish is not our fault. We suffer already, from physiological and psychological limitations that we inherit, from the pain of our own experiences, from illnesses, from all the wounds inflicted by the failures of others.

Yet we also know that our freedom still lives within this debilitated frame. We know that our freedom has been summoned by the promise of love, by the beauty and attraction of a fulfillment that is mysteriously made possible, by a hope that we cannot extinguish.

And we know that sometimes, to some extent, we have freely chosen to hide in the shadows of ourselves. We have refused to take the next step on the path that the light indicates to us. We have chosen to draw back into darkness.

Something of the brokenness that each of us suffers right now is our own fault. In the immensely complicated fabric of every human life there are many events and circumstances, but there is also the willful misuse of freedom. There is sin.

We have all sinned.

We all need forgiveness.

We are able to recognize so many genuine excuses for our failures, and these are factors of our lives that need attention, compassion, and healing. All of this is important, but it is not enough. We need to acknowledge and perhaps feel the touch of the unbearable weight of our own responsibility, our yielding to weakness, indulgence, distraction and our taking up of the weapons of destruction of ourselves and others. We need to acknowledge that we really are sinners.

Each one of us needs to examine his or her conscience and seek forgiveness for our sins.

When we bring this ultimate vulnerability into the open and raise it up to the One who has created us and who sustains our being, then we can discover the wonder of mercy.

God's response to our sins is Jesus. God gives Himself, and the abyss of His love is infinitely "deeper" than any of our wounds. He can heal our brokenness if we turn to Him.

If we open ourselves up, concretely, to the forgiveness of God, it will become a radiance within us, a witness -- within our wounded and broken and healing humanity -- to the gift of redeeming love that He offers to everyone. We will become instruments of His mercy.

Then our witness to the world becomes a witness to the truth in love. It is able to address with realism all the desperation and all the evil in our society because it does not condemn other human persons. Rather it is a witness of hope.

When we are deeply forgiven, we can communicate to others the ardent desire of the heart of Jesus to forgive their sins and bring healing. When we witness from within the awareness of our own poverty and total dependence upon His mercy, then it is that mercy that shines through us.

The witness to God's mercy and love is already the beginning of something new in the world. It awakens hope in hearts that God wants to touch; it brings that hope to people who may have never known it.

We all need forgiveness. People in our world today desperately need forgiveness. They don't know where to look for it. They may not even know it's possible. Yet they need it. We all share this need.

Let us not be afraid to be forgiven, to let our lives show how God responds to our need with His loving embrace.

Then He can use our hearts to extend the inexhaustible reach of His mercy and the promise of His forgiveness to others. Love and healing will grow in the world.

Our Father eagerly longs to forgive every person and to clothe them in robes of healing. Turn to Him. Ask Him for the grace of true sorrow for your sins. Ask Him to work within your heart, to change what needs changing in you.

The Father has already answered that "asking" -- He has answered it beyond all measure. He has sent His Son to dwell with us. Jesus. His Holy Spirit works in us and changes us, opening up surprising new places in our hearts from which we can turn away from our sins, and turn to Jesus with trust. He will make it possible for us to change, to want His forgiveness.

It may seem impossible. That doesn't matter. All things are possible with God. Ask Him. Keep asking. Never give up asking. He will do it.

O Lord, convert my heart! Change what needs changing in me. Forgive me for my sins!

Jesus, I trust in You.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Words Like Fire

Here is St. Thomas Aquinas (Feast Day, January 28) remarking on what happened when Jesus called His first disciples. How did these brief encounters win so fully their adherence to Him?
"Christ’s voice had power not only to act on one’s hearing from without, but also on the heart from within: 'My words are like fire' (Jeremiah 23:29). For the voice of Christ was spoken not only to the exterior, but it enkindled the interior of the faithful to love Him" (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 313).

The Angelic Doctor's picture on his cheap Kindle ebooks.
Click HERE for the whole Commentary at a bargain price!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The January 2015 Blizzard We Didn't Get

A furious Winter Storm bore down on the Northeastern region of the United States on the night of January 26. Places like Boston got three feet of snow. We got this:


School was closed for two days (it doesn't take much to close the schools out here). But mostly the Blizzard of January 2015 didn't have much effect on our part of the Shenandoah Valley.

But it gave us some lovely views right around the neighborhood:


Here in the picture above are snow-sugar frosted bare tree limbs with a clear view to the Blue Ridge behind them. Below we have well groomed pine tree twins glazed with snow dust:


In the higher elevations, however, there was some more substantial snow on the ground, as we can see at the foot of the trees on this distant woody hill:

It was also a chilly day, which was perfect for a little girl who wanted to try on her new Winter coat.

She's got style, and she knows it!


Monday, January 26, 2015

He Understands Our Need

Jesus is the One who stays with us, who walks with us, who searches for us and finds us in the deepest places of our own anxiety and weakness.

He meets us wherever we are, even in our distance and loneliness, and opens up for us the ways of hope. He summons us, and He vivifies within us the capacity to respond, to move forward with Him.

If He were not with us, how could we possibly live? Even our greatest efforts would lead to frustration, breaking against the walls of our own limitations, our apparent insignificance in a vast, overbearing universe, and our insuperable flaws.

We didn't bring ourselves into being, and we don't know what to do with the inexhaustible longing of our hearts. We find ourselves broken but we can't fix ourselves. If He were not with us, we could not escape our own solitude and sadness.

But He is with us. Jesus. He has come to dwell with us. He knows us even before we realize it, and He always knows us more deeply than we know ourselves. He looks upon each of us with an ardor and a compassion that is infinitely greater than the way we see our own selves, or one another.

He is present, generating us, sustaining us, redeeming us, calling us, empowering us, attracting us, drawing us to His embrace.

We must never give in to discouragement, never give up, never let cynicism suffocate our hope or silence the plea for a worthy and meaningful existence, for happiness, fulfillment, communion -- this plea that is always crying out from the deepest places within us.

He is listening. He hears us crying out. He understands our cries, our sorrows, our need.

This is something to remember in the midst of the many necessary struggles of life, the very genuine efforts for justice and healing, respect and love, work and growth. We must remember again and again that His love for us is a real fact. And we must let His Spirit work within our hearts the liberating response of gratitude and trust.

Everything else that matters has its roots here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

To Change People's Hearts We Must Love Them

The Cardinal who dresses in his Franciscan habit and marches with his people speaks about the power of solidarity, community and joy. Boston Pilot photo by Gregory L. Tracy, from Cardinal Sean's Blog <www.cardinalseansblog.org>


----------------------------------------------------

Cardinal Sean O'Malley gave a powerful homily at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. the evening before the annual March for Life. He expressed hope that the seeds of the culture of life and the civilization of love have already begun to sprout in the midst of a society where so many are starving for solidarity and community while others are suffocating from indifference.

The next day, a half million people marched down Constitution Avenue, not only to protest against the catastrophic violence of abortion, but also to affirm the goodness of human life, every human life; the goodness and the dignity of the human person and the possibility of human community.

The faces of these marchers are overwhelmingly the faces of young people. Among them this year were John Paul and Agnese Janaro. They went with their friends, and they were not forced to go. They went because they wanted to be there.

Young people are responding to the call to love human life, to affirm and accompany the human person in need, to love both mothers and their children, to be with the poor, the sick and suffering, the disabled, the abandoned, the lonely.

There is hope in the faces of the young, and the young-at-heart who accompany them. They help sustain and strengthen my hope.


"We must direct our love and attention
to wherever life is most threatened
and show by our attitudes,
words, and actions
that life is precious,
and we must not kill.

We must work tirelessly
to change the unjust laws,
but we must work even harder
to change hearts,
to build a civilization of love.

Solidarity and community
are the antidotes
to the individualism and alienation
that lead people
on the path of abortion and euthanasia."

"To change people's hearts we must love them
and they must realize that we care about them.
They need the witness of our love and our joy.
To evangelize is to be a messenger of joy,
of good news."

~Sean O'Malley, Cardinal Archbishop of Boston

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sant'Agnese, My Old Friend: I Am So Grateful to You.

I have loved Saint Agnes since I was in graduate school. I used to pray at her altar in the crypt of the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

I really brought my searching heart there, to her, in those youthful days.

Also, I often went to Mass at St. Agnes parish in Arlington, Virginia. The parish has a shrine to her centered on the beautiful sculpture pictured on the left.

Agnes the Roman maiden became a very special friend to me. Here was this young girl whose heart was made heroic by the grace of Jesus. I was inspired by her.
"Saint Agnes raised her hands and prayed: 'Holy Father, hear me. I am coming to you whom I have loved, whom I have sought and always desired'" (antiphon for evening prayer, feast of St. Agnes).
Her total love for God still flows over the world seventeen hundred years after her death, drawing many people after on the path of consecrated life, and reaching out to countless others who have sought her help. She points us all in the direction of that unique relationship that God wills to have with each one of us.

When I lived in Rome, I found her presence to be almost palpable. She loves Rome and ordinary Romans very much, and they still love her too.

On this day 21 years ago (hard to believe it's been that long), I went to the feast day celebration at her Basilica on the Via Nomentana, and they opened the catacomb for people to freely visit the tomb. There, I felt moved to ask her to find me a wife, and I promised that if she did (and if the wife agreed) we would name our first daughter after her.

This was not in any way an attempt to "bribe" a saint, or a superstitious effort to conjure up her heavenly assistance. It was an exuberant gesture of the heart, born of the conviction that Agnes of Rome really, personally cared about me. She participated in Jesus's love for me -- the love that engenders a human reality that is destined to last forever: the communion of saints.

And St. Agnes did guide me and help me.

Two and a half years later, Eileen and I returned to Rome on our honeymoon and renewed the promise at her tomb. It was Eileen actually who advocated that we give our daughter the beautiful Italian form of the name, Agnese (pronounced On YAY zay).

Obviously, our first child was a boy, but needless to say John Paul's name was also inspired by the experience of Rome. Then, on December 21, 1998, a little girl was born, and a promise was fulfilled.

St. Agnes has been a special patroness of our family through the years. She continues to look after us, especially her "spiritual daughter," my own "little girl" who is now a young lady, my eldest daughter whom I've loved since before she was conceived. Hard to believe there was a time.

It's all so mysterious.

Agnese Janaro, age 16, from this past Christmas.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sky Painting

We had some magnificent "sky painting" on this day, with contrasts of bright blue, glowing white, and thick billowy gray tones. A subtle but luminous yellow finish gilded the edges of clouds and the tops of trees.




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Sometimes, however, yellow and orange hues filled the canvas of air with sun-splashes.





Monday, January 19, 2015

The Drama and Responsibility of Freedom


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Today we commemorate once again the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. This past year has been notable with regard to that legacy, and we have seen some particularly graphic and frightening manifestations of the pervasive violence that afflicts our society now more than ever.

I was doing some "electronic doodling" this morning (as I continue to experiment with the ever increasing possibilities of multi-media communications). I found myself working with images of the sculpted memorial of Martin Luther King in Washington, DC, and some of his words about persons, relationships, and community.

The meme I drew up and continue to tweak in various ways is far from polished. But since my blog is a "workshop" it seems appropriate to post it here in the form it has taken.

Dr. King has given to America many vivid quotations and striking images that cannot simply be consigned to the historical past. Rather, they resonate today more than ever. I wanted these words in particular to be presented afresh and in a way that does justice to their continued importance.

This past year we have seen that racism remains a corrosive force among us, and it endures -- as do so many human social problems -- because of its foundation in the failure to recognize that every human being is a person. The crisis of isolation and disintegration and the perpetuation of violence among individuals and between groups is a crisis of the human person.

Everyone speaks of "human rights" but no one seems to know what it means to be human, or why human beings have a value that demands respect, a value that deserves to be cherished, fostered, cultivated, defended, loved. 

We are very far indeed from recognizing first and above all that each and every human person possesses a unique and ineradicable dignity which has its origin in something beyond the powers of this world, beyond any mere social consensus or political expediency.

Every human person possesses the dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God.

And the God who creates and sustains each of us has revealed Himself as Infinite Love.

The dignity of being created in God's image, of being a person, is lived and fulfilled in relationship to other persons. I can only discover "myself" through the gift of myself. We exist in relation to one another, and we realize ourselves in the living affirmation of "being-in-relationship." We fulfill ourselves by caring for one another, by taking responsibility for one another, by living the relationships with the persons who have been given to us.

People today speak so much about freedom, and we think we know that "freedom" means being able to choose for ourselves without being coerced or suffocated by some extrinsic power, whether private or public. But this does not mean that freedom is pure indifference, without purpose. Freedom has a meaning that comes from within itself. It is written upon our hearts.

Freedom does not exist to affirm itself, or subject itself to forces and drives within the person that are meant to serve freedom.

Freedom is made for the giving of self. Through freedom the person exists as a gift, the "I" lives in relation to the "Thou." This common unity builds a solidarity that discovers more relationships to others and generates more love.

It constructs "community" -- communion of persons in love.

We are challenged to "let freedom ring" -- to live our freedom by choosing to affirm the dignity of every human person, choosing to give ourselves in love, choosing to live in communion with God and with one another.

Or we can choose to horde ourselves; we can choose to live according to our whims, our impulses, our perceptions, our prejudices, our fear.

And we will reap a harvest of violence, and more violence.

Martin Luther King, Jr. remains important to our history today, reminding us of what it means to be persons, to give ourselves, to live as children of God, as brothers and sisters.

He legacy remains with us, to remind us to be free, to remind us of the drama and responsibility of freedom.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Great Conversion Stories" 2015 Begins

I hope you had the chance to see the beginning of the new cycle of Great Conversion Stories for the year 2015 in MAGNIFICAT.

This year we begin again in the time of the New Testament and will present twelve stories of remarkable conversions and vocations from successive time periods and diverse circumstances.

I am reproducing below the first story as it appears in the January 2015 issue of MAGNIFICAT, while also encouraging everyone to consider subscribing to this excellent magazine for liturgical prayer, hymns, devotions, spiritual readings, and reflections. For more information click HERE.

In the article below I develop a reflection from the historical context of the events recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, when the effect of Pentecost was still inspiring the first great missionary preaching of the Gospel, bringing Jesus to peoples from many nations.

In the Ethiopian court official we find already a representative of the universal significance of Christ's love.


Friday, January 16, 2015

For Many, It Was a Lonely Holiday

Many, many people spent this past Christmas ... alone.

The atmosphere spoke of happiness and merriment, and yet many sought it in vain. Some searched for Christmas cheer in stores or at parties, in vacations or novelties, or on television, or on the internet, or at the movies. They may have distracted themselves for awhile from feelings of emptiness, but in the end they still found themselves alone.

Christmas alone.

This was certainly the experience of many homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics, and people who have been abused and abandoned. Here is a terrible loneliness.

Then there were the people far from their homes, especially those who have dedicated themselves to service: to the defense of our homeland, the safety of our communities, the staffing of our hospitals. How much we depend on these people to remain strong even in solitude, even as they yearn for those they love. Let us not forget them. Let us love them and be grateful for their continuing sacrifices.

Christmas was also lonely for people whose hearts were heavy over the loss of parents, children, relatives, or friends. And then there were people whose hearts were cut into pieces by estrangement from one another.

How many of us have known this loneliness only too well?

Have we found healing and peace? Have we forgiven one another and been reconciled?

Christmas alone, for the sick, for those who have become strangers to their own minds, and for those who are neglected in their sufferings. There are more people like this than we realize, people near to us, people who waited helplessly for our compassion.

Then there are in our midst lonely people who have lost their faith, or who have never found it. People without hope. People who don't allow themselves to be loved.

People who need our presence, our witness. People who need us to take the risk of giving of ourselves, the risk of loving.

People who need our prayers, not simply in a formalistic way, but prayers from our heart, prayers that hold them and accompany them, prayers that seek the One who has made Himself the companion of every person, the One who has hidden Himself within every loneliness and made it His loneliness.

In this new year, let us pray for all those who have not known the light of these days. Let us also pray for one another and take the risk to give ourselves in love, to walk with one another. For we all depend on one another, we all need one another.

We have been given the time and space of this new year, of this life, so that we might show mercy to one another, so that we might be merciful and receive mercy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Embracing God's Will With Joy... And Even a Few Laughs!

Donkeys have no sense of humor, especially wooden donkeys. But
human beings do. And I need a pic so I can post this to Pinterest. :)
"I want to do the will of God."

Really? Perhaps that's true, or has begun to be true, after 52 years of life.

It's about time. The hairs... they are getting even more gray, no?

Even so, "wanting to do God's will" remains an intention that I still don't manage to sustain, or even remember, through much of the day.

I know that "doing God's will" is not an abdication of my humanity, but -- on the contrary -- it is the path to the realization of my true self, created in the image of Infinite Love and unable to be free and happy with anything less. The "will of God" -- His wisdom, goodness, and love for me -- is what awakens my freedom, draws me, encourages me, whispers within my heart that fulfillment in this Love is possible.

Indeed, it is a promise.

I think, however, that in order to "do" God's will, I have to "want" more. I must ask for the grace to embrace His will -- to let Him embrace me with the grace that shows the beauty of His love while also raising me up to His measure, which is beyond all things, incomprehensible, and that opens up a path so often unfamiliar and "strange" in its ways.

Your ways are not my ways, O Lord.

At the same time, "Your ways" are the only ways in which my heart hears the echo of the promise, and finally comes to rest forever in the Love for which it cries out in every moment.

The Mystery is revealed and comes to dwell with us, not to cease being Mystery, but to accompany us, to be our companion, to dwell in the very stuff of our lives and give Himself through it.

So, what does it mean to "embrace the will of God?"

It means -- by God's grace -- to rejoice, to have gratitude, to affirm the reality of this moment... fully, with complete trust, without running away. It means to embrace my circumstances with their joys and possibilities and disappointments and frustrations and sufferings in the conviction that these circumstances have been shaped by the mystery of God's love, that He is with me in and through it all, that He is giving Himself to me and opening me up to be able to receive Him more.

I don't think I do that very often. I don't know that I ever do it. But I can't do it by my own power. He has come into the world to give me the transfiguration of humanity and the energy of love that makes this possible. He has united Himself with my life because He wants to heal me and raise me up to share in His life, to give me the gift that enables me to receive Him, the One who is Gift.

So I must take this heart of mine that cries out for Him, that longs for Him and begs for Him, that is already a total need for Him, and I must ask Him to enable me to embrace His will, to love the One who loves me and even to love the ways He loves me. This does not mean to understand His ways, or master them, or even to "feel good" about them. It is to love them; for it is love that "recognizes" and embraces and draws the whole of us beyond ourselves.

We are called to this embrace of God's will, of God's ineffable wisdom and infinite love present in our concrete lives. This embrace is the only thing that can bear up the weight of life. It is not enough to drag life with sadness and fear, for that turns everything into slavery and leads only to disgruntled conformity or desperate revolt.

In the embrace we will find the joy, the "lightness" of the burden -- our hearts and minds will glimpse it, if nothing else, though the miracle of humor. We will learn to laugh, at least a little bit, but even this is a triumph: those little bits of laughter are the buds of wonder. We may not even be aware of them, because humor is small and tender and moves through us swiftly so as to give itself away. We may not notice our own laughter, but it will be a song that will lighten the burdens of others.

The necessity and difficulty of this embrace of God's will -- God's way of loving us -- struggles against the discouragement that turns away from it and the fear and violence that attempt to avoid it or escape from it.

This constitutes the true and profound work of our lives, and it is the real existential drama that underlies the world we live in today.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sturdy, Leafy Friends

My brave wintergreens
prevail
against the frozen snow.
Framed in crystal white,
with looming, stretching shadows
gathered over them,
they rise up
verdant, vital, bright emeralds
in the play of the lowering light.


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Ivy, ivy, ivy
creeping
over crumpled last year's leaves
and roots of sleeping trees.
Deep hues of ivy.


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Green and white,
dappled sunlight!


.
I take inspiration from my sturdy, leafy friends.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Glory


















Glory

Jesus has grasped us,
and made us his own.
He has raised us up
into the glory of his torrential out-pouring of himself,
his self-emptying, his giving-away-everything.
his drawing-all-things into the immense space
of his opened heart.

And we awaken from our paralysis,
and find that we are whole and free.
We are washed by him
washed and made clean in the roaring oceans
and the mighty winds of his life-giving Spirit;
so that we too might give everything,
become ourselves gift
live forever, given within the Infinite Gift
who is Love Eternal.

He has made us to live beyond our walls,
to live in the everlasting
of Love’s gift.
and to begin
even now
on this present earth
to taste and see,
to give and share,
in this Love,
the wonder, the beauty, and the ecstasy of his healing embrace,
which lifts up the fallen,
comforts the afflicted,
satisfies the hungry,
and shines in hidden places,
small, humble places,

glory among the outcasts. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Winter Beauty


Sky clear with intense brightness shining up from the snow. Cold, cutting air. My Blue Ridge mountains on this January day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Remember: We're Still Having a Merry Christmas!

The Wise Guys have arrived!
Today is January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, in which we continue to celebrate God revealing Himself to the world in the flesh of Jesus Christ. We recall the "wise men from the East" who came from far away to pay homage and give gifts to the new king of Israel (see Matthew 2:1-12).

In the Byzantine tradition, today is the great feast of the Theophany, recalling the revelation of the Trinity as Jesus emerges from the waters of John's baptism (see e.g. Matthew 3:13-17). The Latin tradition will join in this commemoration in a few days.

And though the liturgical observance of the Epiphany is transferred to the nearest Sunday in the United States and a number of other countries, we are still observing "Epiphany week." Thus, in these days, the ordinary form of the Roman rite continues to pray:

"O God, whose Only Begotten Son has appeared in our very flesh,
grant, we pray, that we may be inwardly transformed
through him whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever."


The formal liturgical observance of Christmas celebrations continues in the Western churches until Sunday, January 11. Moreover, the "classical Christmas season" (still observed in many cultures) lasts for 40 days, ending on February 2 with the feast of the Presentation, which commemorates Mary and Jesus being brought to the temple to fulfill the law of Moses, and that moment when the poor of Israel recognize Him through the eyes of Simeon and Anna (see Luke 2:22-38).

We still have much to celebrate in these days.

So there is no rush to take down the tree and decorations. Light up your January nights and let the brightness warm your hearts.

Jesus is with us. The Mystery that makes us, for whom our whole life is one great longing, is here. He has made Himself present in time, in history, so that we can find Him, so that He can shape our history, so that He can dwell with us and draw close to us in all our efforts and our cheer, and especially our sufferings.

God makes our human reality His own. How small and strange we are, with our glittery kitch ornaments and our awkward expressions, our funny-shaped noses and faces, our complaints and our cleverness, our gadgetry and our games. He has come to be with us.

That's a fact worth celebrating for more than one day. This is a season for that profound and humble human quality that brings together beauty and humor, a dark and cold season in which nevertheless we are -- or at least we desire to be -- merry.

And so -- because I am astonished to find that I am a quirky and odd little man in a family of funny people who have been chosen to be brothers and sisters of God -- I shall even today greet you all in this fashion [there should be a video below]:

video



Saturday, January 3, 2015

Above Every Other Name

William Congdon, Mary and Jesus.


"Jesus,


though He was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.

Rather, He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,

He humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the name
that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."


                             ~Philippians 2:6-11


Friday, January 2, 2015

A Heart For Everyone

"And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).


This is what the Gospel tells us about Mary's personal response to all the great events of these days. She reflected on the things (or pondered, as some translations have it, which evokes "weighing" these things, entering their depths). And she did so in her heart.

And "these things," of course were the mystery of what we are celebrating, the Nativity: the epiphany of God who was truly born from her womb, and the encounter of God, her son, with His people.

As soon as she had given birth to Him, they came. The first to come were the poor, those who counted for nothing in the world. They were shepherds, and they were weary and burdened. The young ones had no hopes for their lives beyond the flocks, and the old ones awaited the end of their days, grizzled, toothless, with gnarled faces and tired eyes that had watched more nights than they could remember.

But then messengers came forth from the Mystery (whose Name the shepherds dared not speak), the Mystery beyond the stars, and the messengers filled the sky with light and song and proclaimed that something new had begun in the world.

And so the shepherds came with joy and expectation to see the One who had been announced to them as their Savior, the One whose coming was meant to be "a great joy for all the people," the One who was the Glory of God and the bringer of peace.

And Mary showed them her child.

She was with them when they saw the Glory of the Lord, the Glory of the Mystery who creates and sustains all things, the Glory that is not like the ideas of power and domination that human beings seek to grasp and possess. They saw the Glory of the Lord as an infant, born an outcast (from a town that had no room to take Him in), wrapped in cloth bands and lying in a feeding trough.

The Infinite Mystery, so Great beyond all greatness that His glory shines through the "smallness" of taking flesh under the heart of Mary. His glory shines through His coming into the world as the son of an insignificant mother who takes refuge in a shelter among the poorest of the poor.

His glory was in sharing the night of the shepherds, because He wanted to bring joy and peace to the grizzled, toothless, wrinkled, tired old men.

They had hearts, and they had hope. He would not leave them disappointed....

His glory was, and is, the revelation of His love, the revelation that He is Love.

And Mary kept these things and pondered them. She pondered the humility of the One who had placed Himself in her hands so that she could give Him to everyone. She pondered her mysterious motherhood of the God who had become her child, and who wanted to be the brother of every person, first of all of those who were the least, the poorest, the most forgotten.

She kept these things in her heart. She said "yes" to all the multitude whose lives her son had come to embrace. She said "yes" to being mother to the shepherds' joy, and she kept saying "yes" -- to His disciples, to the crowds who would follow Him, to those He forgave on the cross, to those who waited in the upper room for the Spirit to come, to Israel and the Gentiles, to every human being, to you, to me.

Mary kept and pondered in her heart. That means she loved.

This love was and is for everyone. Mary is our Mother.

At the center of it all -- of all our searching and finding and fulfilling of our destiny -- there is the heart of a woman who loves, a mother....

Of course. How could this not be true?



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Silence of a New Year's Eve


New Year's Eve, 2014.

I found an artifact from the past, a scribbled piece of notebook paper headed with the words:

Retreat: Holy Cross Abbey, December 1989

The last three days of December, twenty five years ago.

Let that soak in for just a moment. 1989 was twenty five years ago.

And I was about to turn twenty seven years old. I was a graduate student living in the Washington D.C. area, and this was my first visit to the Cistercian monastery in Berryville, Virginia that would become so very important and dear to me nine years later.

It was an "undirected retreat," which means that I checked into the guest house outside the enclosure, and was able (but not required) to follow the monastery's liturgical schedule in the abbey church. The guest house had its own chapel and dining area, and a monk brought food to the guests three times a day. We ate in silence while he read spiritual reflections.

One of the fathers came to hear confessions and give private counsel to those who desired it.

Otherwise, we were free to experience solitude, to pray, to read in our rooms, or to walk through the farmlands and woods on the monastery property. I did a lot of walking.

The simple Cistercian abbey church in the morning.
I also followed the monastic schedule, including the vigils at 3:30 AM.

I scribbled a few notes on the notebook paper, thoughts that passed through my head. Now, twenty five years later, the words pass before my eyes.

I want to end the year 2014 with the words of 1989, words about a Valley that was destined to be the place I would make my home, where I would raise my children, words about my search for God on the threshold of a new decade.

I was just young, and it is a marvel to remember so long ago. I was praying to know God's will for my life. A few weeks later I met Eileen for the first time, but that's another story... a whole collection of stories.

So many things have changed in twenty five years, but the Mystery of God remains, and in the presence of God I remain a child.

"Dogs bark back and forth across the valley, and I hear -- between surges of the hum and thump of blood in the tissues of my inner ear -- holy silence.

"A distant train whistle slices the night mist, and as the abbey bell shakes the roof timbers in the church the monks pass in procession before the abbot to receive his blessing, their practiced feet in an orderly dance over the creaky wooden floors.

"After the night vigil I prostrate myself on the carpet at the edge of the cloister in the abbey church, pressing my forehead and nose against the floor -- 'O Lord, see how I abase myself before You?'

"Dawn and Christ come in the morning Eucharist: 'John, see rather how I abase myself before you.' "

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

He Still Comes to Dwell With Us

Christmas is an invitation to faith, trust, and love.

In our world that is so violent and selfish, that seems so hopeless in so many ways, God still comes to dwell with us.

Christmas calls us to reaffirm our faith in the mystery of the Incarnation, in God’s definitive intervention into the story of the human race; God making Himself present in the midst of human cruelty, barbarism, blindness, idolatry, and willful ignorance of His compassion and love.

Sometimes Christmas can seem a little abstract, as the world seems to go on in the same way as ever, with all of its conflicts and pride and grasping for power.

We also don't seem to change much. Our lives are still a mess. We've spent another year going around in circles, seeking our own satisfaction, accumulating new grievances, complaining, gossiping, screwing up the relationships that matter most to us, hurting the people we love.

And now it's Christmas and we stress out over gifts and food, and then we go to church and kneel before the infant Jesus and maybe it strikes us:
"Gosh, I have to admit that God is just not very important in my life. For me, being a religious person means regarding God as the Cosmic Policeman. I try not to disobey the rules. I respect Him. But I live my own life, and, frankly, I'm more comfortable when He's not around. I pray: 'Dear God, I'll be good. Okay? Protect me. Give me the stuff I need. And give me some goodies too, some nice stuff. And then leave me alone. Let me have some fun. Please?'"
But who are we talking to? A baby.

Doesn't that surprise us? We pray to God and gaze upon the image of a baby. Not because we thought it would be a good idea to represent God as a baby, but because God really became a baby.

We didn't make this up. It happened. God came into the world. He made Himself "small" so that He could enter into our lives. 

What does this mean for us? We can only grasp this by faith. We can only live the reality of this by trust and love. Let us ask the Lord to stir up this faith, trust, and love in our hearts.

If we let God into our hearts -- the God who has become so small for our sake -- we will begin to discover what this is all about. God has come to us. God has given everything. He has poured Himself out in Love. He can do this because He is Love.

And He has come to be the One who accompanies us in our misery and leads us out and beyond all of it. The fullness of the revelation of God’s love is mercy.

This baby is God's mercy. The God who is Love wants to be close to us, to save us. His name is Jesus.

Jesus is the gift of God’s merciful Love to the world, to restore -- indeed to transform -- human beings into His image and likeness. He is the reason for the joy that calls out to our hearts at Christmas.

He wants to take care of the messes of our lives, to come to us not as a threat to our humanity, but precisely as the One who generates that humanity, who creates love, who creates freedom, who makes me to be me.

The "real me" is created and redeemed in the image and likeness of God. The "real me" is not found in distraction and evasion born of fear, or the graspings of pride. The "real me" is made for freedom, for love, for self-giving in a relationship with the God who is Freedom, Love, Gift, who gives Himself to me -- and with all my brothers and sisters among whom I find Him again, the One who comes to be with me, the One who gives, Jesus, my baby brother.

Let us believe in Him, trust Him, love Him, knowing that all has been accomplished, that in the risen and glorified Jesus and Mary the New Creation has already begun in its fullness.

Meanwhile, let us live our faith in this present age so that we might grow into the fullness of trust and perfect adherence to His mercy, and so that we might witness the gift of God’s love in a world of sin, a world of confusion and violence, a world that is afraid of God, that wants to forget God.

The world strives to live without God, and then groans with the awful anxiety of the darkness, the dread of being alone, the failures and the guilt that cannot be fixed, and the dying without knowing why.

Yet "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." and God still loves the world through this irrevocable gift.

The gift is Jesus.

He has come to dwell with us, and He offers Himself to everyone who will receive Him with faith, trust, and love.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Tremor of Bliss

Martyrdom of Thomas Becket, December 29, 1170. Detail, window in Canterbury Cathedral.

"They shall find the shepherd here; the flock shall be
          spared.
I have heard a tremor of bliss, a wink of heaven, a
          whisper.
And I would no longer be denied; all things
Proceed to a joyful consummation"

~Spoken by the character of St Thomas Becket from the play Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Janaro Christmas: Pictures and Reflections

Early Christmas morning. The Janaros went to midnight Mass, and the family picture (below) was taken at 2:00 AM!

We wish everyone a very Merry Christmas season! Here are a few pictures. You all understand, of course, that the adolescents in this house are rather particular about appearing in photographs. I've been sneaky a few times but I won't press my luck here. That means that the people you'll be seeing (for the most part) are the usual camera hams in the family.
The stockings were hung on the sofa with care. But the sofa blocked the way from the chimney to the living room. Sorry, Santa!

"No problemo" for Santa. (n.b. even Josefina knows that St. Nicholas doesn't come down the chimney, but we have fun pretending!)

In fact, it turns out that "Santa Claus" is a Washington Nationals fan!

Children and young folks and old folks too made short work of the present opening, once we finally got up!

Teresa got this... umm... twenty-first century skateboard thingy. Whatever it is, she loves it!

Here are a couple of monkeys!

Oh, John Paul is in this picture. But if he sees it, I expect he won't care that much.

And food-glorious-food we had in abundance. Pepper slices filled with goat cheese and tomatoes and scallions. Yum, yum!

The main dish was a pork roast that totally rocked! The gravy was made with apples and onions.

And it was this wonderful lady who made it all happen, again! I love you, Eileen Janaro!

 The true Gift of Christmas is the source of our hope and joy. Jesus holds us together and enables us to help one another.

In my Christmas dinner toast I said, "Jesus, thanks for coming!"

Truly, Jesus, You are everything to us. Thank You, above all, for the hope of eternal life, which enables us to see Your gift in everything, and which is teaching us to hunger and thirst for Your beauty in all the joys and sorrows of this life, confident in the hope that You work all things for the good.

Pictures on a blog might lead one to believe that "everything is awesome," that a family is chipper all the time and has no problems. But anyone who reads this blog knows that our family and our friends are on a journey, full of work and stumbling, full of failure and suffering, but also full of Someone who has come and who wants to be with us always.

There is joy, unconquerable joy, that consists in Him, in His presence which draws us to stay with Him, to adhere to Him, to believe in Him, trust in Him, love Him.

God is with us. God has come to be with us because He loves us. And to reveal that He IS Love. At the center of life, sustaining everything in being, is the One who is Love. The promise that stirs within our hearts is true: Gift, Goodness, Beauty, Truth, Love are the meaning of everything.

And this meaning has come because He wants to be with us. The meaning of everything has a name: Jesus.

Never give up.

And Merry Christmas!