Friday, May 27, 2016

Only From You

Jesus, I feel within me 
a great desire to please You
but, at the same time,
I feel totally incapable of doing this
without Your special light and help,
which I can expect only from You.
Accomplish Your will in me
 – even in spite of me. Amen.

~Saint Claude de la Colombiere

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Everything is Changed

In the difficulty and awkwardness and apparent impossibility of mundane life, there God is present.

And this is not some abstract mysticism.

This is something that is really true, in every moment, because God became a Crucified Man and penetrated the depths of every sin, every moment of misery, and even the dull tedium of every day.

Everything belongs to His merciful heart, everything is changed, and filled with the hidden possibilities of love, because everything can be offered.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sky Blue, Cardinal Red

The rainy season appears to be at an end, and Spring is rapidly turning to Summer. The mornings are bright but still cool, with clear blue skies and birds everywhere.

This Cardinal seems to be marking his turf and eyeing Reepicheep. A nest must be in the making.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Suffering and Solidarity

We are all suffering in various ways. It's true.

Some endure greater trials than others at any given time, but we can't really judge the measure of each other's sufferings. Our responsibility is to stand together and help one another in whatever ways we can, to remember that we belong to one another as children of God and brothers and sisters in God's family.

All of us are called, ultimately, to give everything: to pour ourselves out in the complete surrender by which we will truly find ourselves forever through the total and definitive gift of ourselves. God knows the paths that each person needs to travel to make that gift. Everything remains in His hands.

One of the ways God embraces us is through our compassion for one another. Some people are in situations where there is no way to provide them with any immediate comfort, but we must share one another's sufferings and be present to one another nevertheless. To those of us who try to console others, it's important to remember that we never know how we might be helping someone even if he or she doesn't seem to gain some "practical" benefit, or appears unaware of our efforts. Much more important than how a suffering person reacts to what we say or do at a particular moment is how much love and solidarity are really contained in our gestures.

Let us try to think of ways, even very small ways, that we can "stay with one another" in the painful and dark places of our lives.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Power and the Freedom of Faith, Twelfth Century Style

The Great Conversion Story for May 2016 focuses on the drama of a king named Henry and his best friend Thomas. I have reproduced it below. To see this column every month (and many other terrific aids to prayer and the Christian life) please subscribe today to the wonderful MAGNIFICAT magazine. Available in print or digital forms.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It Rained, And It Rained, And It Rained...

Pictures from these wet days of May:

Wet buttercup blooming.

It's pretty muddy out there.

One crow, against the world.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Water and the Spirit

"Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
'Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow
from within him who believes in me.'
He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive"
(John 7:37-39).

Our Easter has been fulfilled at Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit, fill us with Your gifts and dwell in our hearts!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Saint John Paul II, Confessor

The blood of John Paul II is honored as his chief relic.
Today is the anniversary of momentous events in the history of the twentieth century.

It is the 99th anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the shepherd children at Fatima. In the ensuing months these three small children were given a mysterious glimpse of the drama and the horror that awaited the Christian people and the whole world in the years to come. The Virgin Mary also reaffirmed her special closeness to the Popes, whom, she said, "would have much to suffer."

Thirty five years ago, on May 13, 1981, that suffering reached a climactic moment that touched all of us. Thirty five years ago today, Saint John Paul II shed his blood for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.

In the early history of Christianity, people who endured persecution for Christ, who were afflicted with the wounds of torture and imprisonment but not put to death, were styled "Confessors." Sometimes they returned to their communities, where their ongoing witness encouraged others in difficult times.

John Paul II's body was pierced through by the bullet of a professional assassin from Turkey, Mehmet Ali Agca. It was the perfect execution of an operation that had been planned for months by various criminal organizations headed, allegedly, by agents of the Bulgarian secret service.

It is likely that Bulgarian agents were carrying out orders from the Soviet Union.

John Paul's 1979 visit to his native Poland had shaken the foundations of the totalitarian atheistic Communist system. His witness to the faith and to the dignity of the human person lit a fire in the hearts of the Polish people, a fire that grew bright the following year in the rise of the independent trade union Solidarity.

The Soviets and their minions had "motive," certainly, to desire to be rid of this meddlesome priest. They had plenty of opportunity to access the young Pope who was so accessible to the people everywhere he went. It would not have been difficult for them to arrange the hire of a professional gunman with obscure connections and set in motion a plan to kill the Pope.

In fact, the Agca plan was a success by every standard of human evaluation. He was able to fire a perfect shot at close range.

But there remained one inexplicable fact: John Paul II didn't die.

Miraculously, the bullet did not pass through any major organs, though it did significant damage to his intestines.

The Pope underwent hours of surgery as the faithful and people of all religions and viewpoints prayed and hoped and worried desperately.

He survived. He would later insist that "one hand pulled the trigger, but another hand guided the bullet." He was convinced that the Mother of God had protected him and saved him on that day. He had shed his blood in the exercise of his office as successor of Saint Peter. But he remained with us for almost 24 more years.

They were years of eloquent witness, years that gave us courage.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Challenge of Peacemaking

Cross for the "Kiss of Peace"
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

How can I be a "peacemaker"? This is a question that I bring before the Lord in my heart, especially in these days. How does this question affect my thoughts, my writing, my relationship with my neighbor?

I know that being a peacemaker does not mean avoiding all human conflict. If we don't engage seriously and deeply the character and the root causes of conflicts between people, we cannot possibly understand what is broken, where forgiveness and healing are needed, where people need to be challenged to convert and change their lives, where restitution is due and also where generosity and sacrifice can be transforming.

There is no peacemaking without realism. A Christian realism (the only fully adequate, "integral" realism) sheds the light of the Gospel on a world of people who can be changed by Jesus, but who also continue to be "on the way," traveling the journeys of their lives from many (often mysterious) places; people who remain weak and confused about many things, and still thwarted by evil and deception. This is true of all human beings in this world. This is true of Christians. This is true of me.

When we join together to work for "peace in the world," we must not think that somehow we can bring about a utopia, a permanent end to all human conflict. This kind of "World Peace" is at best a dream or an abstraction, and at worst a sinister ideology masked by idealism, but that really seeks to impose a depersonalizing control that crushes human freedom, making "peace" by making everyone slaves or corpses.

Ultimate peace will come only at the fulfillment of all things. We await in hope the glory of the New Jerusalem from on high, a new creation. As long as the present age endures, however, there will be evil in the world, and with it the ongoing task of overcoming evil with good.

Still, here and now we desire peace, work for peace, pray for peace--at least as much peace in as many places as frail human nature will bear. Not the abstract utopia of a peace that would bring the drama of history and freedom to an end. But real peace among real people, in real circumstances, for a certain time (precious time) --this is within the reach of human efforts aided by the God of peace.

Another beatitude contains the key to our task of being peacemakers in the present time: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is the key to peace.

Peace with God, which is where it all begins. Peace within the family, in the parish, in the community, in work relationships, on the Internet...Peace in my world. Peace can radiate out from me, if I am a man of mercy, if I do the works of mercy.

What does this mean? It means a whole new way of looking at human weakness, human frailty, human failure, in myself and in those I encounter. The weakness of others, the faults of others, the capacity that others have to cause us pain by their failures and above all in their actions toward us--all of these things give birth to conflict, estrangement, and separations. They wound and break relationships. They divide us. They take root and establish the foundations of rivalry and the partisan spirit that so often afflicts our common endeavors.

Mercy changes everything. Mercy sees the weakness in others as a possibility to help, to give, to forgive, perhaps to endure through love. Mercy gives "space" to the other person for growth in love; mercy gives encouragement, extends empathy, seeks to build up--always--unity in truth and love. Sometimes, mercy must have the courage to fight, to break down resistance, to seek out those who are lost--but mercy never fights against the person; it always fights for the person, for their true good and against what hinders it.

Mercy seeks, especially in the face of human weakness and failure, for the constructive possibilities of love, of rebuilding what is human, of healing. Mercy is love's response to weakness, indifference, and even rejection. It does not take offense. It keeps on loving. It loves more.

But I cannot be merciful by my own power. I have received, and continue to receive, mercy from God. He is healing me, and it is only through Him that I can hope to be an instrument of mercy to others. It is only through Him that I will find the courage to suffer that weakness and failure in others and in myself that remains, for as long as it remains.

This is what builds peace: persons, families, communities, environments where mercy is given and received. This is the hope of peoples and nations: forgiving and moving forward, bearing one another's burdens, working together toward a common goal. Solidarity. Mercy. Even on the political level, the Christian proposal is the only reasonable and practical hope for human community: a "politics of mercy."

All mercy flows from the Cross, where Jesus responds to all our violence and all our resistance by enduring it in His own body and giving it back to us as a gift of love.

Let us begin by opening our hearts to receive this Gift.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

"Ask and You Will Receive"... But WHEN? How Long, O Lord?

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name

he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything

in my name;
ask and you will receive,

so that your joy may be complete"
(John 16:23-24).

But wait, Jesus. It doesn't seem to work quite like You seem to be saying here. I've asked for tons of things that I haven't gotten, at least not according to the specifications implied by "whatever you ask...He will give you."

I understand, of course, and I'm grateful that He hasn't given me everything I've asked for, because I've asked for things in the past that I now know were pretty dumb. In fact, the Father answered my prayers more deeply by protecting me from my own stupidity. Thank you, Father! Thank you!

Really, seriously, thank You!

Thank You for doing Your will and not mine. You know what truly corresponds to my needs and what will really fulfill me. You have saved me from disasters that I would have gotten into if You had given me my own way.

And yet, there are still things that I don't understand. Sometimes it seems like the deepest begging, the most ardent cries of my heart to Him, the most fundamental and desperate prayers are met by... Silence.

What is this awesome, agonizing, mysterious Silence?

I want to know God's will. Silence. I want to understand. Silence. I want to grow in faith and virtue and witness and good deeds. I want to build up the good in the world, be a peacemaker, bring people to salvation and the fullness of the faith in Him. Silence, Silence, Silence.

Where are you, O God? Why have you forsaken me?

And here is where I begin to really learn what it means to pray "in the name of Jesus." Invoking His name is not some conjuring trick to get God to do my will. It means uniting my prayer to the heart of Jesus and letting Him take over my hopes and desires and sufferings, letting Him find me and carry me from within the silence of my own helplessness to the Silence of His Love.

He wants to shape me through the cross to the resurrection of that Love which answers all my needs beyond the boundaries of my own asking. To ask "in His name" is to ask all the way to the depths of everything and my own self, and to receive Him for whom I have been created and who sums up all things in Himself.

The road to the fullness of joy is a road of unconquerable hope, because Jesus has promised that He is with us in the deepest darkness and the greatest silence. He is transforming our suffering through His own suffering into the joy that can never be taken from us.

Lord I believe! Help my unbelief! Jesus, help me. I don't understand. I am so broken, so much in need of healing. Father I beg you to carry me in Jesus, in His name, in His heart, in the Holy Spirit who awakens joy.

With all I have been given, why do I so often feel so terribly alone? Why, O God?

You are in the depths of the depths, in the Silence beyond all things and myself and everyone, You. And so I hurt and endure and wait... in hope, in trust, in the name of Jesus.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

We Must Remember Who We Are...Now More Than Ever!

No matter what happens in the world during this strange year of 2016, those of us who have encountered Jesus Christ living in His Church and have been given the grace of a new life in Him must remember who we are.

Let us not be distracted from this new life. Let us rather return again and again to the Source who has brought us together, opened up the meaning of our lives, and given us the courage to face the whole of reality with all its possibilities and all its problems.

And let us remember that He empowers us to look at one another in a new way, to see one another as brothers and sisters, to love one another with all our differences, peculiarities, mistakes and weaknesses. We are called to "bear with one another through love" and to "strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Together through this unity, we become free to build up the beautiful and the good, and a passion is born within us, a passion to look at each and every human being in this new way, to see them and open our hearts to them as they really are: a child of God, a brother or sister, a person worthy of love.

"Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all"
(Ephesians 4:1-6).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Can Intellectuals Be Saved?

The ruins of Athens.

Today's first reading from Acts presents that wonderful moment that could be called the founding of Christian Philosophy as Saint Paul engages the intellectuals of Athens. In four verses (Acts 17:24-28) Paul presents a summary of the heights and depths of what human reason can know about the Mystery, about "the Unknown God" that they "unknowingly worship" (see Acts 17:23).

These words must have resonated with his listeners even as they strike us today. 

The God who made the world and all that is in it,
the Lord of heaven and earth,
does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,
nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything.
Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.
He made from one the whole human race
to dwell on the entire surface of the earth,
and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
For 'In him we live and move and have our being,'
as even some of your poets have said,
'For we too are his offspring.'

Someone gives us our being, our life and our breath and everything. Someone places us together on this journey of life and makes us brothers and sisters. We are the children of this God who is beyond the whole universe while also being the source and goal of all things, the One who is "nearer to us than we are to ourselves" (as Saint Augustine says in his Confessions) and is also our fulfillment. We seek Him, "even perhaps grope for Him and find Him."

Isn't this what the human adventure is all about: Searching for the Mystery?

We can imagine that Saint Paul had the attention of the Athenians through all of this magnificent discourse. But then came something different. Saint Paul was not interested in a theory. He was making a proposal.

The Unknown God, the Mystery, the source and fulfillment of our being has entered history. He has come to give Himself to us, and He is calling us to follow Him. [God] demands that all people everywhere repent
because he has established a day on which he will 'judge the world
with justice' through a man he has appointed,
by raising him from the dead.

What words are these in Acts 17:30-31? Saint Paul is proclaiming that something has happened, something that calls us (and empowers us) to turn in a new direction, to change, convert, repent. God has "appointed" "a man" in the most profound way possible: He has Himself become "a man" and has defeated sin and death. He offers us healing, freedom from sin and death, the justice that He alone can bestow, a new life.

The Athenians realized that this was not just a conversation. It was an invitation, a moment of grace, a moment that could change the history of their own lives if they freely chose to adhere to the truth about the event that Saint Paul had proclaimed.

Time to decide. This is a provocative moment, and it can be a scary moment. We search for the Mystery, not really knowing what it might mean to find Him. And then, suddenly, He finds us. Saint Paul here represents the proposal that Jesus makes so often in the Gospels: "If you want eternal life, follow Me."

This sudden, dramatic possibility is at the same time a unique challenge to our freedom, a challenge to let go of ourselves. We are called to relinquish our imaginary self-sufficiency and enter into a concrete relationship with this mysterious Other who reveals Himself through a human face. We know from Paul's letters that he understood the living reality of Jesus in the Church; indeed, it was central to his own encounter with the Risen Christ who identified Himself with His disciples.

Paul was saying, "If you want to know the true God, come and stay with us!"

The intellectuals of the Areopagus, no doubt, were taken aback by this wild Jewish rabbi and his ragtag bunch who insisted that the way to find the truth was to follow this man who has been raised from the dead.


Intellectuals haven't changed much in two thousand years. For some of them (and us) this was just plain bad manners. Or worse, it was irrational, crazy, impossible.

Still, the intellectuals must have realized, somewhere deep down inside, that Paul had just said the most beautiful, the most compelling, the most important thing that had ever been said in all the hundreds of years of talking in that famous place.

They were struck. They had a taste of what they had been searching for all their lives. Wild, humble, passionate Paul was offering them a chance for eternal life... part of them wanted to trust him but part of them held back because of all the pretexts and difficulties that intellectuals invent to tie themselves in knots.

We're talking about Saint Paul here. The Athenians who didn't dismiss him as crazy were fascinated and drawn to this amazing proclamation and the man who made it. But they were also afraid... afraid to let go....

So they did what intellectuals always do, what we still do today. They stalled.

“We should like to hear you on this some other time."  They said. (Acts 17:32)

We like this, they said. Can we keep talking about it? Can we talk some more, ask more questions, theorize more, put off making a decision?

Paul gained a few followers for Jesus that day. There was at least one philosopher, Dionysius "the Areopagite" (who would become famous centuries later for theological treatises that he didn't write). There was a woman named Damaris. What was her story? "And others...." A few followers.

I wonder what happened to the philosophers who wanted to keep talking. There's no indication that Saint Paul ever returned there. The Apostle knew he would be wasting his time. He wanted to preach the Gospel. They wanted to dilly-dally.

They still do. We still do. We, philosophers, and even (especially!) theologians. We the intellectual elite. Beneath all our learning and skill there is a great poverty, a weakness, a failure of courage that keeps us trapped between the fascination of truth and the fear of losing ourselves.

From the anxiety of this condition of hesitation many words are born. Volumes of words. Our erudition is a cover for our secret awkward awareness that we are afraid to follow Him. We don't want to let go of our self-love, our petty ambitions, our grudges, our possessions, our self-image and status. Behind the erudition we know we are as helpless and grubby and sinful and needy as everybody else.

Our real hope, our only hope, is the same as that of the simple people who followed Saint Paul on that day: God's grace and mercy. We need the love of Jesus Christ to break through our resistance and save us. We need Him to change our hearts, to win us, to raise us from our deep death. We need the Holy Spirit to humble us and make us silent within ourselves so that we can hear His voice. We need Jesus in the Church, in her teaching, her ministry, her sacraments, and her presence to us through our brothers and sisters.

Don't be fooled by us philosophers, theologians, intellectuals. We need mercy. We need your attentiveness and your patience because we can be very stubborn and very slow. We need your love.

The heart of Jesus is full of love and mercy even for intellectuals. We can be so proud and so selfish and so terrified. But He can work miracles.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Saint Athanasius, Incarnation, and Solidarity

"Through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all humans were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of humankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all."

~Saint Athanasius, On The Incarnation 2:9 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

I'm Frustrated Because I'm Trying to Measure Myself

I often write about my struggles with discouragement and frustration.

I have an image of what I'm supposed to be, and I feel defeated because I don't live up to it. It is only human to have goals and aspirations. But I am trying to measure myself. That is the basis of my frustration.

To whom do I belong? Do I belong to myself? Am I defined by my own project, my ideas and my conception of what it means to love God, to be a good man, a good husband and father, teacher and writer, a coherent witness to Jesus, to the Gospel, a defender of the dignity of the human person? How do I stand in relation to my project? I am a failure.

But I need to remember, again and again, that I am not alone.

The fact is, I don't really know who I am. I don't know what God's will is for me. I don't know the depths of my own self-deception, or the wounds that I've caused by my sins.

I don't know what needs to be healed.

But Jesus is here. Jesus is present. What matters is to love Him, right now.

I must abandon everything to the merciful and compassionate Heart of Jesus, my Crucified and Risen Lord, who loves me.

He asks for my love all day, often in simple things that I would rather ignore. I pray that I might recognize Him and be drawn to Him.

I need salvation. I need Him.

Lord, give me this prayer, this aching awareness of my vital, desperate need for You. I thirst and You are a fountain of living waters. Remind me to open my mouth!

Come, Lord Jesus. Come into my life! Take the whole mess of my life and transform me.

I belong to You.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Our Friend Kate

Tomb of Saint Catherine in Rome
She was one of the most amazing women who ever lived, the youngest of 25 children, chosen to experience and communicate to the world the astonishing, relentless, mad love of God for every human being.

She spoke fearlessly to those in power, to the wealthy, the clergy, to anyone who would listen. She moved the hearts of popes, brought reconciliation to warring factions, served the poor and the sick, and left testimony to her experiences of the mysterious embrace of Christ the Bridegroom of her soul. His love burned through her and made her 33 years of life an unforgettable fire whose embers still glow, warming us and giving us hope even today.

She was a vital presence for me when I lived in Rome, from her repose under the main altar at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and out into the church piazza, into the streets, into the air. Catherine, from Siena, from the Tuscan hills she came to be the friend of the bishop and the people of Rome for nearly 700 years.

She held the fires of divine love in her heart and in her hands, and helped us to draw near to Him, this humble woman, this familiar friend, our friend Kate.

"You are a mystery as deep as the sea;
the more I search, the more I find,
and the more I find the more I search for you.
But I can never be satisfied;
what I receive will ever leave me desiring more.
When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger,
and I grow more famished for your light.
I desire above all to see you,
the true light,
as you really are."

~Saint Catherine of Siena

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Flower Hunting

Yesterday was a cool wet morning, but that didn't keep me from going for a walk in the neighborhood to look at the flowers that are ready to greet the beginning of May.

Here are some pictures of what I found.

Dogwood: Virginia's state tree

Rhododendron bud and bloom.

April showers cover the leaves with their drops.

These are lovely.
Look up at the trees!

Look closely pink tinged dogwood.

The Janaro house on a rainy morning near the end of April.

Best closeup flower picture, around the side of the house.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Being "Myself" Means Being in Relationships with Real People

There is a big difference between self-absorbtion and a realistic perception of the self. A closed and stunted self-preoccupation leads to narcissism and, ironically, an incapacity to see one's true "self." Realism, on the other hand, leads to the authentic discovery of one's self as a person, a some-one whose identity is formed by and can only flourish within one's relationship to reality and especially to other persons.

I can't learn this from books.
If I'm honest with my own experience, this fact is vivid and striking. If I truly look at "myself" I find that what I see are relationships, concrete relationships with real people; relationships that take me beyond myself.

I find that I am not an impenetrable atom, an isolated individual who creates his own identity. I am not simply a thing that is "there by itself." I have never been an isolated, autonomous entity, not for a single moment. I came into existence as someone's son, and the dawn of my awareness is full of the memory of being a son, a brother, a grandson, and a nephew.

I soon began to discover that I was also a "friend," and as the years have gone by I have been much enriched by these relationships on all of their many different levels.

And then I became a husband, and here I have really learned that I am nothing "by myself," that I must share myself, share my life, live in communion with others--in marriage that means first of all a covenant with one very particular person.

I have learned this not by philosophy, but by almost 20 years of hard human experience, not only by the joys of giving and sharing many blessings, but also through dark and difficult times, through recognition that the ugliness I found inside myself was a cause of real suffering to another human being, and that we had to give and receive and share "love" together even in these ugly, painful places.

At the heart of love and of all relationships is this mysterious thing called "sacrifice." You really know that you belong to someone when you just give without expecting anything back, you just give because there is this other person who is with you and who needs you in order to keep herself together and move forward.

You know you really belong to someone when you are humbled, when another suffers and makes sacrifices for you, and carries burdens with you because you are together with her in life. You know you really belong to someone when she makes space in her life for your faults, when she treats you with patience and compassion.

It can be a grubby business, like digging a long trail together through the woods, but some new sense arises in the midst of this work and struggle. You are going somewhere together, and you need each other to get there. Even more so, there is a truth that begins to emerge: you both want to get there together. You sacrifice because you really love the other person, you want her to arrive at her destiny, and it is the same destiny as your own.

And, of course, there are others on the path too.

At a certain point in my life, "I" suddenly acquired the identity of "Daddy." For five particular human persons, that is my actual name (though it slowly finds a way to shorten itself into "Dad" as they grow). There is something "authoritative" about the way they identify me by this name. It is their right. It changes me and determines my responsibilities in deep ways, but it does not hinder my identity. It enables me to grow. It is a gift.

Family. I tell all the amusing stories, because that is my nature and also because--thanks be to God--we are on the whole a cheerful, endearing, open hearted bunch (in the midst of all our chaos and squabbling and hollering and whatnot). But we have all the normal family tensions and problems.

And these kids have also heard their father's cries of pain and have seen the sufferings of his illness and its consequences. They have endured his weakness and incapacity, his sadness and withdrawal. They have no illusions about him being perfect.

But they have also seen that he loves them, that he struggles to be present to them, and they know that he prays for a strength that he does not possess by his own power. They also know that he and their mother love each other and are committed to each other for life.

These are relationships that are already taking new forms, and will change throughout our lives. I live each day and try to respond, knowing that "the future" will bring sacrifices and suffering and also some foretaste of true joy.

God, of course, makes everything possible. It is all the story of a fundamental relationship, the one that makes me exist: my relationship with God.

I dwell with God in the silent and secret places of my own heart. But in the depths of that heart I find the others that I have been called by God to love. He has brought us together to love one another and serve one another and let His mercy shine through us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Watching Jojo Grow

I usually don't notice it (because she's still so small) but Josefina is truly growing up! TimeHop lets me compare a photo from five years ago with a current picture. The newer picture is actually taken a few weeks ago.

Easter 2011 was five years ago. My littlest girl is still little, but she's getting bigger.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Leafy Leafy Leafy

The "big trees" are coming in and weaving their leafy curtains into shelters of shade under the warm sun.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jesus, Savior, Be a "Jesus" to Me

"Breathe again, poor sinner, breathe again.
Despair not, hope in Him whom you fear.
Fly to Him, from whom you did flee away...
O Jesus, Jesus, for Your name's sake,
do unto me according to Your name!...
For what signifies 'Jesus' but Savior.
Therefore, O Jesus, for Your own sake
be a Jesus to me.
You who created me,
suffer me not to perish;
You who redeemed me, condemn me not;
You who made me by Your goodness,
suffer not to let me, the work of Your hands
perish by my own wickedness.

I pray You, most gracious Savior, let not my iniquity destroy
what Your almighty goodness has wrought.
Acknowledge in Your goodness what is Your own in me;
and what is not Your own, wipe off from me.
...Receive me into the broad bosom of Your mercy."

~Saint Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 - April 21, 1109) 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

If Christ is Risen, Why Don't I Feel the Joy?

Christ is Risen!
O God, life of the faithful,
glory of the humble, blessedness of the just,
listen kindly to the prayers
of those who call on you,
that they who thirst for what you generously promise
may always have their fill of your plenty.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I was struck by the Collect of today's liturgy, so I decided to repropose it on the blog as we continue to seek the promise of the Lord's joy and plenty during this Easter season. It's worth praying again and pondering slowly.

Perhaps we don't feel that we're experiencing much "Easter joy," or the generous plenitude that God promises to His faithful. Here we are, more than three weeks into the Easter season and we feel like we're stuck back at Good Friday or that mysterious, silent day of Holy Saturday. We're still waiting for something to happen.

We have heard of His resurrection from the dead, but our lives aren't any different. Where is the Risen Jesus?

Okay, maybe on Easter Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday we did encounter Him and rejoice in Him, through the witness of the liturgy, through the sacraments, through the remembrance of the extraordinary ordinariness of the companions He has given us who help us live our daily lives.

But where did He go? Where is He now?

We're at work, at home with the kids, burdened with afflictions, confused about the present, anxious about the future. Are we back to kicking the dust around the empty tomb, feeling even more empty within ourselves? Or have we simply settled down into the "Upper Room" of daily life, trying to pass the time and (of course) bickering with one another?

I certainly don't want to underestimate the possibility that our lack of joy comes from our lack of trust in Jesus and our resistance to God's will in our lives. We miss a lot of even simple human joys because we persist stubbornly in trying to be the masters of our own lives, or in following our selfish impulses. Do we pray? Do we open our hearts to the gift of the Holy Spirit? Do we seek the guidance of others, those who can help us remember that our lives belong to Christ?

All of us can be more attentive to the many gestures that make up a living relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church. But I want to examine another factor that may make us feel ambivalent about our being joyful. We sometimes think "being joyful" means having no problems. Or we think it means that we have a kind of psychological control over our sufferings so that they don't really "bother" us.

But real suffering doesn't work that way. And we are all still suffering in so many ways, and our sufferings are greater than anyone realizes, greater and deeper than we ourselves can comprehend.

Just as suffering is mysterious, so too is real Christian joy.

For those of us who suffer from physical and/or mental illnesses or who care for loved ones in such conditions, it can be particularly difficult to hear about "the joy of the resurrection." We feel overwhelmed by life, but we also fear that our lack of "joyfulness" may be our own fault. We fear that it's just another sign of how we're not "doing this suffering business right." Others among us, on the other hand, may be perfectly "healthy" and energetic and cheerful on a psychological level, but we also have different kinds of sufferings that trouble us deeply. Or perhaps we don't even know what the "problem" is.

Do we have the joy of the resurrection?

We firmly believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, and we know that means someday we will rise with Him. And even now, we can offer our suffering in union with Him and share in His death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.

That's good. We know that. Some of us have long lists of other people to pray for (and those people benefit from our prayers, certainly). But we don't feel very joyful. We don't feel "connected" to Jesus. We might try hard to get our emotions moving, to play the part. And that's not such a bad thing, especially because we really do believe and we really do want to witness to others that Christ is risen. Still, for us the effort just seems to add to our suffering.
We may feel like saying, "Christ is risen. And I believe in Him. Why don't I 'feel the joy'... like, even a little bit? I follow the Church's teaching. I know the theology and the spirituality and I pray and read the Scriptures and receive the sacraments and offer my sufferings and I'm really trying to follow Him. He is risen! So why do I still feel dead? I don't know right now where He really lives within my life. I believe that He's in the Eucharist, that He works through the sacraments, that He's with me in my sufferings and in front of me in the life of the Church, in the Christian community, in my neighbor. I am grateful and moved and even consoled by this. And I do my best to recognize Him and love Him and serve Him in all the ways He is present. But still, when I say 'rejoice' I feel like a fake. Or like that's for other people. Where is the resurrection for me? When will my sufferings bear fruit?"
Of course, even now our sufferings do bear fruit, but usually in ways we don't understand. And we have faith in that too. Still, in this particularly dark place of unknowing, of the Holy Spirit's mysterious work, we must tend the seemingly tiny flames of faith, hope, and love. It is here that we must keep a loving faith that longs for God. It is here that we must keep hope alive. It is here that we must never give up!

And the Holy Spirit will help us. He is "the Spirit [who] helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26-27).

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. Let us therefore not be afraid of our weakness.

Remembering also that the "fruit of the Spirit" is "joy" (Galatians 5:22), we can be confident that joy is within us even if we don't feel any joyful emotions at all. In this present life, the joy of the resurrection is, so to speak, "in motion" -- it is a deep, often hidden, mysteriously growing thing. It can burst up into our awareness and even seem to carry us for awhile. But it always runs deeper than our accessible, conscious awareness. And it does not necessarily correspond to a merely human state of psychological or emotional well-being.

We usually "experience" the joy that is the maturing and ever ripening fruit of the Holy Spirit as hidden within longing, at the roots of the heart's desire, in the tenacity of a hope that endures so many disappointments and sorrows, that lives through all our afflictions of body and mind.

Sometimes other people can perceive the joy in us, even when we can't. It shines out of us in ways that we are not even aware of. (Mother Teresa is an extraordinary example of this. She was truly joyful and she gave joy to others even though she experienced terrible darkness and desolation within herself.) More often and for most of us, I think, joy is a simple, subtle, patient presence, like the ground that stays solid through all the sunshine and moonlight and shadows and clouds and raging storms above it.

When we remember that Jesus is truly risen, that He has conquered sin and death, and that He is with us, we will grow more and more in the confidence that His hold on our lives is firmer than the ground beneath our feet.

So when the weight is heavy upon us during this Easter season (or any time) let us recall the prayer of today's liturgy and the hope of God's generous promise.

When the weight is heavy, we are tempted to give up on Jesus, to settle for something less than God's promise. We might try to find "joy" by more-or-less forgetting about God in our hearts and aiming lower, by trying desperately to squeeze what we can from out of what the world proposes to us. In fact, we will all do this: it's called sin, and even the best of us will let ourselves be fooled sometimes by its illusions, in small things or even in big things, with varying degrees of blame.

But when the weight is heavy and the air is dark and our mouths are parched, there is another possibility. "O God... listen kindly to the prayers of those who call on you" -- there is prayer.

But what kind of prayer? How can we find God's love and grow more and more into the capacity to receive and return that love, a capacity entirely beyond anything we can generate by ourselves? By wanting Him, and by letting Him draw our real desire more and more to Himself.

He put this desire for infinite fulfillment within our hearts, and only He can give us the capacity to find that fulfillment. The desire, the awakening of our hearts, that painful yearning and longing that we scarcely understand--these are His gifts and He intends to bring them to fruition, if we let Him.

Who finds fulfillment? "They who thirst for what you generously promise." God wants the prayer of our thirst. He wants us to give Him our thirst.

And He will fill it with His plenty, but let us remember that His plenty is Himself, His life, He who is Eternal Love. This is the answer to our thirst, and yet we must slowly grow accustomed to the strength and the taste of this strong drink of Love.

That's ultimately what this life -- with all its aspirations and pains, its duties and rewards and failures and sufferings, its sweetness and beauty and peculiarity and strangeness -- is all about. 

And if we find a great emptiness in ourselves, perhaps it's a sign of God working to open more and more the space He wants to fill with Himself, with His Love.

In the depths of our enormous empty space, like the garments left behind in the empty tomb, there is the mysterious joy of the resurrection, even if we do not yet recognize it.

And if we thirst, let us turn our thirst toward Him. Let us remember that in the end everything is shaped by the mystery of Eternal Love.

Let us not be afraid to thirst for Him who thirsts for us.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Good Shepherd: "My Sheep Hear My Voice"

Jesus said: 
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

~John 10:27-30

The Fourth Sunday of Easter draws our attention to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which of course draws me (and many others, no doubt) to a special gratitude for the gift to the Church in our time which is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

It has been a great grace in lives of our children and to us. It extends the pedagogy of Maria Montessori into a child's experience of the Church. It involves them from a very young age in an environment that corresponds to the grace they have already received in baptism. It allows the child to engage the reality of the life of faith, and allows room for the Holy Spirit to draw out the mysterious depths of awakening hearts.

Here are a few pictures from the CGS environment (classroom) which is called the Atrium.

Scrolls with hand-written prophecies from the Old Testament

Timeline of Salvation History shows the Incarnation and Redemption as its central point.

Josefina works on drawing the timeline.

Map of the Holy Land at the time of Jesus.

Cabinet with books of Old and New Testaments with length of each book indicated by its height. Removable.

The sanctuary. All of these things are also available as child-sized models for activities to learn about the Mass.

Models of the monstrance, thurible with censer, chains, stand, etc., and incense holder.

In this work, Josefina explores the features of the Last Supper and its connection to the Mass.

Some of the materials of the Last Supper/Mass work.

Easter & Pentecost are key moments. Above: catechists and children put together a prayer service using Easter Vigil themes.