Friday, April 29, 2011

Divine Mercy A-B-C

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Easter Friday.

I got this from somewhere. I don't know whether it's common expression or if someone deserves credit for it. I expect they won't mind; this is just a blog, after all.

It's a summary of the Divine Mercy as understood by the great and humble St. Faustina. It's easy to commit to memory, as easy as "ABC":

AAsk for His Mercy. God wants us to approach
Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and
asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon
the whole world.

BBe merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy
and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to
extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does
to us.

CCompletely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know
that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our
trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will

There is little that I need to add to this. Let's beg God to make us this way. Ask mercy, Be merciful, Completely trust...A, B, C. God loves us so much. We are afraid of suffering, because we don't understand that He is trying to open us up and enlarge us according to the measure of His love. We must trust. If we feel like we can't trust Him, then we must ask Him to enable us to trust Him. To ask Him for this is to begin, already, to trust. And the more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Peace and the Politics of Mercy

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
It is almost ten o'clock at night, and it is hardly the time to begin an essay on political philosophy. So I shall restrain myself.

I already know the answer to the question, "Will there ever be peace on earth?" A Christian knows that the answer is "no". Peace comes at the end of all things. It is the New Jerusalem. Evil will endure as long as the present age endures.

A historian knows this too. Jesus concisely summed up the history of the world when He said, "there will be wars and rumors of wars...." The history of the world is largely a history of war.

But can we not desire peace, work for peace, pray for peace--at least as much peace in as many places as frail human nature will bear? Certainly. "World Peace" is a dream and an abstraction. But peace among real people, in real circumstances, for a certain time (precious time), is within the reach of human efforts aided by the God of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

I have no solutions to offer for resolving any of the current conflicts that plague our world   (I have opinions and frustrations, which I often express in other contexts, but at best they add nothing and at worst they contribute my own irascibility to the swirl of violence that surrounds these wars). There are other wars too, smaller ones that we don't hear about unless we really search through the news. And there are peoples who look upon each other across borders, and even within borders, as hated enemies.

What can I do to be a peacemaker in the world?

There is another beatitude that contains the key: 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 have run away--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. Jesus I trust in You.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Souls of Little Children

It's Wednesday of Easter Week.

Every Wednesday of Easter Week is special to me. In the Divine Mercy Novena, this day is dedicated to humble souls, and to the souls of little children.

Little children.

They send all of heaven into ecstasy, the prayer tells us. They are the Heavenly Father's favorites.

I wasn't thinking of this on Easter Wednesday, 2007. I simply broke down in tears over my tiny little daughter, in the hospital, so many months, with no end in sight, facing--possibly --more surgery.

"God, please save my little girl."

I didn't realize that it was her special day in the heart of God. I didn't reflect on the love Jesus has for the little children, on the special place they have in His suffering heart as He opens His arms on the Cross.

There is no way to explain the suffering of little children. And there are so many who suffer. The world groans with the suffering of little children.

God became man and suffered with them. This is a place where no words can be said. But we know by faith that God is present in this place, with His little children. He accompanies each of them; He shed every drop of His own blood to give His love to each one of them. This is not an explanation. This is a fact.

God was carrying the little girl he loved on that day. And He carried me--lost, powerless, and pleading for His help--He saw in me the little child that I have never ceased to be in His eyes.

Meanwhile, even as I shed tears of grief and exhaustion, the doctors were changing their minds. Josefina didn't need the surgery, they decided. It was time for her to go home.

Many children never go home. Many fathers shed tears that seem to be in vain. But God has seen and borne them all, not from some distant throne, but in a human heart that shed blood and water, that emptied itself so that it might encompass everything.

Since that day, I have grown four years younger, and Josefina has grown four years older. She is still a little child. And I am growing closer to being the child that God sees in me. This is my hope.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter: God's Mercy Triumphs

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!

It is still Easter. In the Christian tradition, Easter lasts for eight days. Today is Easter Tuesday. Every day this week is a high feast day. Every day, when we wake up, we can say with a special awareness, "This is the day the Lord has made. / Let us rejoice and be glad." And the week culminates in the Second Sunday, the Octave of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. Mercy: God's love manifested as His tender and faithful response to our helplessness.

God's mercy is always there. Perhaps you do not have feelings of cheerfulness and brightness this week. Trials, suffering, and pain don't necessarily observe the liturgical year. For some people, it may be a lonely week. Christ is risen, but you are still sick. You are still depressed. You are still afraid. Your spouse is still far away. You are still separated from those you love. You are still a messed up, struggling, confused human being.

But God's mercy is still real. It surrounds you. It upholds you. The Resurrection means this above all: that God's mercy triumphs. The risen body of Jesus bears the wounds of the Cross. Even the wounds are transformed.

Your wounds are not an obstacle to God. He only wants you to give them to Him. He wants to take your wounds inside of His. Whatever your pain is, give it especially to Him this week. He has promised you joy.

Trust in Him.

Monday, April 25, 2011

These People: The Sign and the Promise of Easter

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! Alleluia!

I could write many things about Easter, and I will in the coming days. But on this Easter Monday I just want to look at the great, day to day sign of the miracle of Easter in my life: THESE PEOPLE. I ask the Lord for the grace to love every person He puts in my life in any way. But these are the people first of all, day after day, who make up the road of my life, who I must love and who I want to love so as to share in the glory of the Resurrection: the woman who is at my side, and whose unity with my life is manifested in the children that surround us and look to us for love.

I love you, dear Eileen, and I love you John Paul, Agnese, Lucia, Teresa, and Josefina. And I love all of you my dear friends and your families, who share our lives and struggles, who are our help and support, who take joy in our lives as we do in yours, the joy which is a foretaste of the Eternal Easter.

May the Risen Jesus bring all of us to the joy of sharing in His Glory together forever. And may He have mercy on the whole world, and make us instruments of His mercy to everyone we meet.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday: From Glory to Glory

Christ is in the tomb, and we are with Him today in the mystery of His silence. We go about the day, with our routines and our business, preparing for tomorrow's Easter meal with family. Some of us watch a hockey playoff game. We live our lives on Holy Saturday, the time "between" the victory of Christ's glory on the Cross and the manifestation of the fullness of that victory in the Resurrection.

The glory is already manifest on the Cross. The Beauty that saves the world is radiant here, in this event, in the revelation of Jesus the Son embracing the depths of every sin and every horror and every violence against God and man, and doing so as an expression of His love for the Father. Jesus loving the Father in His final breath, gives up His Spirit--He sends forth the Spirit from the Cross into the world and inside the secret depths of every human person who ever lives. The event of the Cross is the great Icon of the mystery of the Trinity, an event which manifests and communicates the eternal love of the Father and the Son that breathes forth and is the Spirit, the mystery of Trinitarian communion, of Love, of the reality that "God is Love."

The Cross is the definitive revelation of Divine Love, and therefore the definitive unveiling of transcendent Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; the opening up of the mystery that is inscribed on every human heart. Jesus is glorified right there, in the moment of His total self-abandoning surrender to the Father in the Spirit unto death, encompassing and even going beyond--immeasurably beyond--every sin in the regenerating energy of His obedient love. Does not Jesus say it Himself in the Gospel of St. John: "Father, the hour has come! Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you" (John 17:1). The Glory of the Cross. Jesus dies for our sins, but He dies first and above all because He loves the Father. He dies to make present in history, to reveal, and to communicate the glory of God's love. God is Love. And for this reason He loves each one of us.

Baptism has given us a share in His redeeming death. The glory has already begun in us. Faith recognizes that our life is a Holy Saturday, in which we are sown deep in the earth with Christ, in which we give ourselves in love so as to break open in that earth and go beyond ourselves and bear fruit, coming forth from the ground, breaking beyond death through love--Christ's love in us--awaiting, anticipating, beginning even to taste the fruit: the coming Resurrection, the promise of Eternal Life.

God is Love. God loves us. God has made us out of love and for love. God had come to save us, so that we might be empowered to love, to love Him, to share in His love, to give His love to one another. Thus God's love is glorified, revealed and given in its radiance, its beauty.

We live our lives on Holy Saturday, aware of the glory of the Cross through faith and love, moving forward to the glory of the Resurrection in hope. Our daily life is vivified by the hope of Glory.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cry

Today I wish simply to post a poem I wrote a few years ago on Good Friday. May this holy day bring God's mercy once again on the world, and lead us to love Him and to love one another.

The Cry (Good Friday, 2006)

“and Jesus uttered a loud cry….”

In the quiet,
to the crowd
of ears made of dirt,
drawn of dull dusty ground,
shaped by tender hands,
by the dawning world’s ancient thunder;
opened to sound
by probing touch of healing fingers
pressing paralyzed, numb flesh.
to hear the sound of Your Voice.

You cry out
a word beyond all human speech.
And the clothing that concealed
in suffocation
is sundered by the vibration
of the last echo
of Your Voice—
suddenly silenced
under the hidden sun—
as Your Breath blows through
the living air.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

He Wants My Love

A silence is spreading through the house. Jesus is in the Garden.

He is weeping. He is praying to the Father. He is carrying me and every one of us in His heart and working to open up the depths of our freedom to the miracle of conversion as He prays, "Not my will, but thine be done."

Our hearts are asleep, like the disciples, and Jesus comes searching for our love.

God wants our love. God the Son, in His humanity, in His human heart, "needs" our love. He goes out to the disciples. I am always struck by that. He goes out to them, seeking their companionship.

God, in Christ, "needs help." He who is Infinite Mercy, in this mysterious moment, "needs" mercy from us.

That need of the suffering Christ is not far from us. For in His heart, He has taken to Himself and made His own the suffering of every person. So every person in need is Christ. And who is the person in need? The person who is with you right now.

Every person is in need. They need love. They need understanding. They need companionship on the road to their destiny. In them Christ seeks us. And our hearts are sleeping.

He understands. We are weak. But that same Compassion burns with the desire to wake us: "Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation"--Watch and pray, seek the love of God, that you may not be tempted by distraction and indifference to miss the mystery of God coming to you in your life, seeking your love and pouring out His mercy, coming to you in the ordinary events and circumstances and persons that present opportunities for love, for giving yourself away, for opening yourself up to the eternal.

God longs to give mercy to us, and He longs for us to give mercy to Him in one another, so that the whole universe might be born anew in the image and the radiance of the Eternal Love that He is, and was, and ever shall be.

Dear Jesus, I sleep. Then I run away. Then I follow at a distance. Then I deny You out of fear. And You forgive me in Your mercy. Jesus, You know that, at least, I want to love You.

Let me stay with You.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Trust is in Him

Lord, I am a troubled soul.

All my life, as far back as I can remember, I have searched for Truth, and I have longed to find certainty. I have also pursued comfort and the satisfaction of my own petty desires.

I am a divided man.

All my life, I have wrestled with doubt. Not doubt about You, O Lord, but doubt about myself. I believe in Your promises, Your power, Your love for me. But do I want You, O Lord? Do I really want You more than anything else? Do I really love the Truth more than myself? I know that You deserve my confidence. I know that You are trustworthy. But I do not trust myself. How can I trust the whimsical thing that I am?

I cannot trust myself.

Where am I to go? For most of my life, and through most of my days, I have wasted my energy searching for some rock inside myself that I can stand on. I have stumbled from one precipice to another. I have found no security, no certainty, inside myself. Lord, I don't know how to approach You without playing some sort of game.

I want You, but....

I like my life. I want stuff for myself. I want security in my relationship with You, and then "space" to follow my own whims and chase after all the silly things that I think will make me happy.

So I am always trying to bargain with You. I do not try to please You. I try to please myself without displeasing You. But this is not what I want. I want to love You. I want to change but I do not know how.

"Little John, you always forget. You cannot do it yourself. You cannot find any security inside yourself. You cannot find anything inside yourself. There is no rock inside of you. I am your Rock.

"That is why I came. That is why I died on the Cross. You know that, but you are living through the painful process of it becoming concrete in your life. 

"You want Me because I AM DRAWING YOU TO ME. I have suffered the whole mystery of your life. I know you. Do not be afraid of your pettiness. I know what you need, when you need it, and how you need it. Do not worry about trusting yourself. Trust in Me.

"So you are bargaining with Me? Well, I am not bargaining with you. I have accepted you totally. I have embraced you completely in My sufferings.

"You must trust in Me. I know your heart. I know your desire. I have placed that desire in your heart. Ask. Ask that your desire might increase. You do not know how to change? I am already changing you. Ask Me to change you more.

"I am Mercy. I have come to save you. Do not be absorbed in yourself anymore. Turn to Me.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Teresa: Extra Large Pizza, With Ham

Teresa, my 8 year old daughter, is the only member of the family that has not yet been a subject for reflection. She has so much personality that it is hard to know where to start.

She was such a little baby in the beginning. I used to sing to her:Teresa, Teresa, Teresa, Terees / So full of love and joy and peace. / Teresa, Teresa, Teresa, Terees / You're my wonderful girl But the song (I don't know how) quickly changed into "Teresa, Teresa, Teresa, Teresa, / YOU'RE ONLY THE SIZE OF AN EXTRA LARGE PIZZA!..."

She was my special buddy in her first two years. These were some difficult times for me, trying to deal with Lyme disease. Teresa brightened everything up. On Sundays I would go to the early morning Mass, and then Mommy and the three children would go to the later Mass, and Teresa would stay home with me and have "Daddy time." We would sit together in my chair and watch Mini-Bach and Mini-Mozart. I would read to her.

As soon as Teresa was old enough to express herself, she started herself, all over the place. She was determined to make the whole house laugh, whatever it took. It was clear from the beginning that she would win the family prize for biggest Ham. But as she grew older, she began to display other qualities of delicacy and affection, thoughtfulness and interiority.

Teresa is funny and downright crazy, especially when we are all together. She is also bright and inquisitive, always asking questions. She is very affectionate and considerate. Daddy can always count on a hug from Teresa. She also has a sense of when I am not feeling well, and a desire to comfort me.

Teresa is the "worrier" among the kids. She is the one who wants to be sure the door is locked, and that no burglars will come. She is also meticulous, and still loves to draw pictures and give them as presents to Mommy and Daddy. She is outgoing and open hearted. She had never been shy, and is always ready to strike up a conversation with perfect strangers. Especially if they have a dog.

My daughter Teresa loves dogs. She really, really wants a dog. She is so good with other people's dogs, so friendly and natural and sympathetic. And she is responsible and attentive enough that she will soon be ready to take care of a dog on her own.

There is only one problem: Daddy is horribly allergic to dogs. I can't be around dogs for very long without getting sick. I can't even be around people who have been around dogs for very long. And so, alas, we can't get a dog. Teresa has everything but a real dog. She has mountains of stuffed dogs. She has ceramic dogs. She has battery operated toy dogs that bark and walk across the floor. She has dog calendars. She even plays "puppy" with Josefina. But no real dog.

Teresa accepts the circumstance. She doesn't pine for her own dog. Instead she shows a special interest and friendliness toward any dog that comes along on its owner's leash.

As I said, Teresa has her sensitive side. She is perhaps the most openly devout of the children. The year she was born, I had taught a course on "Modern Spirituality" that included a large section on St. Therese of Lisieux. I really "discovered" St. Therese that year, and Teresa was named primarily for her (and also for Mother Teresa, who is one of the special heavenly protectors of our family). Teresa talks about praying, and often asks things about God and our relationship with Him. I know it is something she thinks about in her little mind and ponders in her heart. I wonder what God has planned for her.

Then there's the silly side of Teresa. This is what we see so often. Teresa hamming it up. When she gets on one of her "rolls," she drags all the kids--including John Paul--into silly land. Teresa is often behind the schemes that end up with children romping around the house and whooping like drunken sailors. Daddy or Mommy eventually have to blow the whistle. Then she has her own little performances: silly words, silly songs, funny faces. She gets very goofy while playing games, starts fooling around and making jokes about everything, and ends up driving John Paul--who is a purist about games--into a frenzy. John Paul and Teresa are often bickering, but they are also often playing together. They are mad at each other at least once a day, and a case between them usually needs to be adjudicated by Judge Mommy or Judge Daddy. It's not always easy because they are both good lawyers and Teresa is a proficient whiner.

But I know that when they grow up they are going to be the best of friends.

Teresa seems still to have a special sympathy for Daddy. She is like a little grown-up in some ways, and I feel like she is already my friend; she is a good listener, and she tries to understand and share my pains and my aspirations. Sometimes I feel like I have a glimpse of what she is going to be like as an adult. I hope she will be around with me as I grow old.

Still, God has His plan, and above all I want her to have the loving environment and the space and the freedom to hear His call, whatever it may be.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oops, Forgot That Resolution

Well, it's Holy Week already. How was my Lent? Kinda shabby as usual.

I prayed more. I ate less. I gave up a couple of things I like. Then what was that other resolution? To make an effort to be kind to the members of my family. Hmm. I sort of forgot about that one. Not that I was mean to my family. Okay, I barked a few times at whining children. Mostly I was nice, though. I'm a nice guy.

But that wasn't the point of the resolution. Be Kind. It's a very concrete resolution. It means more attention, more readiness to do good to them, more cheerfulness in the little stuff. "Make an effort" doesn't necessarily require success, but it does try, sometimes.

I don't think I tried much at all. I think I pretty much forgot all about it.

Kindness is something different from just "being nice." One can build a wall between one's self and another person by being nice. Although it doesn't have to, "being nice" can degenerate into a way of pretending to be involved in another person's life. One can use "niceness" as a way of touching another person superficially so as to distract one's self and the other from the need for a deeper engagement.

Kindness implies involvement with another person. Kindness is a gift of one's self, in a gentle and simple way, which seeks to affirm the goodness of the other person and make him or her aware of that goodness. Kindness is companionship with the other person in simple words and gestures. Often, kindness is refraining from the assumed familiarity that tends to absorb the other person into the environment of "things" that need to be manipulated for one's own purposes. It means refraining from being sarcastic, curt, bossy, or dismissive.

In families, it's easy to forget courtesy. It's easy to just push one another around. It's easy to forget that one's spouse and children are something more than mobile furniture in the house. It's especially easy for the husband and father to fall into this rut.

Intent on my own (important) purposes, I blow through the house, into the kitchen where I practically run over my wife. "Excuse me," I say (nicely), but at that moment she is just an object in my way. Then there are so many impatient utterances: "I'm in the bathroom" - "Put that thing away" - "Get out of here!" I'm not the only one who speaks this way. We all do it to each other.

Then there are the countless opportunities to show attention and concern that just pass by, because I am too busy, too self-absorbed, or just don't feel like bothering. Love is diminished.

Okay, I don't want to beat this to death. After all, we are a normal family. We love each other very much, and we are often kind to one another. But, of course, we need more kindness. We need more generosity of spirit toward one another, more affirmation, more gentleness, more attention. Lent is a time to remember this need. It was a simple resolution.

But, for the most part, I forgot.

Jesus was kind to those who crucified Him. He prayed that they might be forgiven. "Love is patient, love is kind...." Simple, authentic kindness. It seems like a little virtue, but in the end it is a form of mercy.

I have a few days left. As we commemorate the gift of Christ's love for the whole world, and as we strive to love Him and to imitate Him, and to receive His mercy, I pray for the grace to remember, even once, to make an effort to be kind to the people in my life that I love most and so easily take for granted.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain!

Many of you who are reading this have probably gotten rained on today.

Obviously this photo of Lucia's ladybug umbrella was not taken today, because the sun is shining out of the window in the background. We saw no sun today. Only menacing clouds, sheets of water, overflowing gutters, even flooded streets. Not a pretty day.

Darn it. My weather-controlling machine is broken again! That does it! As soon as a boat comes by, I'm hitching a ride and returning it to Wal-Mart.

Why is it that my aspirations to be master of the universe are always foiled?

I am only partially kidding here. Of course I know that I cannot control the weather. But when the weather does not conform to my expectations I sometimes take it as a personal insult. Stupid rain! You're going to ruin the ballgame! Sometimes I try to reason with the weather and it refuses to listen: "Look, it's Saturday. The kids really need to get out today. Can't things dry up a little, please please PLEASE??"

Admit it. You have pleaded with the weather to change. You have talked to the weather like it was a big, capricious person. Or perhaps you have prayed for the weather to change. This is at least some intelligence to this ploy; you are talking to Someone who has the authority to intervene. Sometimes God does get involved with the weather. It's in the Gospel, after all. "Who is this man, that the winds and the sea obey him?" Prayer is a very rational option in the face of inescapable cataclysmic weather (when all other ordinary precautions have been taken).

Of course, people often have stories of how Divine intervention saved their wedding reception or their kid's little league game. Well, I won't challenge anyone's favorite story. The Lord, after all, can do whatever He wills, and He does care for each of us. But for those of us who got soaked at another wedding reception, it should be remembered that God's transcendent causal power creates, upholds, and radically applies to their own proper objects a universe of "proper secondary causes"--thus, He generally uses His creative and sustaining causality to allow the atmospheric systems of His created world to operate according to the forces He has given them. To put it simply, don't blame God.

There is, after all, the great universe and it's many purposes. Climate and its fluctuations are mysterious. We don't control the day to day weather. Thank God for that. What would the weather be like if it had to submit to the imperious will of every little human being, or if it were a democracy, determined each day by majority vote? (I am not getting into the human factor in global climate change here--that is a topic for another day.)

In any case, my strange personal relationship with the weather is an interesting and peculiar thing. I have the illusion that I have "control" because the information provided (24/7) by the phenomenon of the "weather forecast." So I watch the weather, usually with the perfectly reasonable intention of orienting the day according to what it's going to be like outside, but occasionally--especially in times of dire weather--with a morbid fascination in which I engage in a kind of mental wrestling match with the radar screen.

And then, it rains on me anyway.

Are we at the mercy of the elements, then? No, but we are bodily beings. We live out our freedom within the conditions of space and time, and although we do not have power over everything around us, we do have the power--within every circumstance--to recognize and freely accept the fact that reality serves the good, and not just the good "overall," but our good. The instinct that we have about our lives--i.e. that they are meaningful, and that we are loved, each, personally--is true, and must be reaffirmed in the face of what appears to be the impersonal force of a mindless, material universe. It must be reaffirmed even when we are wet, sticky, hot, hungry, tired, exhausted, sick, and--yes--even when we are dying.

There is only one thing that makes it possible for me to hope that I can live this way. The Transcendent Creator of the universe became a man and told me that He loves me, that He counts the hairs on my head, that I am worth more than the lilies of the field or the sparrows, much more.... He proved it, and continues to prove it.

Rain or shine.

Why Do I Want the Thing to "Work"?

I am very impatient with technological devices.

I like the possibilities they open up to me. Indeed, I am drawn in by the things that I can observe or accomplish with the assistance of technology, whether it is the "older" technology of television or the newer tools such as digital cameras, word processing, or the internet with its various horizons. Once I discover how something can be done to broaden my perspective or powers of communication, I am ready to run with it.

But I expect these gadgets, programs, and connections to work.

I don't care how they work. I have zero interest in the technology itself. Well, okay, maybe a little curiosity in the beginning. But not much. I am interested in the persons, places, and things that are on the other side of these devices, and the access which they give me to them. I am decidedly not a geek.

For this reason, I feel betrayed when--having been lured into dependence on a technological medium for communication or other form of interaction with the world and with people--the stupid gadget breaks, or the program refuses to function, or the system decides that such-and-such is "unavailable" until further notice (and don't bother to ask us why).

It is as if someone took my ears away and sent me a message saying: We are sorry, but due to an auditory outage your ears will not be accessible for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Please do not contact us to attempt to find out when your ears will be returned, as this information is unavailable. Furthermore, do not attempt to use this sensory function as long as your ears are missing. Such activity may result in the loss of other sense functions. In the interim period, access to your brain will remain open.

Thankfully, there is a new kind of "doctor" in the world today: the "tech support" person. These are people who are phlegmatic enough to be actually interested in how these extensions of our senses and capacities for communication actually work. They like to tinker and fool around with the hardware and the software and the cyberspace and get things to run and even to run better, stronger, and faster. They are scientific, artistic, creative, and wise. I have great respect for them. I revere them...if they know what they're doing, that is. Like every other field of medicine, tech support has its share of quacks.

Of course, here is where asceticism is essential for not only the preservation of one's character, but also the balance of one's nerves. I have been using computers for almost 30 years, and I still don't seem to understand that when something is not working, banging on it does not help. It is in these small moments that I realize how little progress I have really made in the art of living like a human being. Acceptance of limitations. Handling obstacles and surprising circumstances. Patience. After I have had my tantrum, these challenges rise before me and I have to adapt. I have to sacrifice. I have to recognize the frailty of my own power. This is good for me. It puts things in perspective. The value of my action as a person is not in the quantitative accumulation of experiences and interaction, but in the use I make of whatever is given to me in this moment for the affirmation of what is true and good.

Sometimes it is good for things to shut down, so that I can remember why I care about the persons, places, and things "on the other side."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Evangelization and the Culture of Life

In the society we live in today, there would probably be broad agreement on the need to build a culture that is worthy of the dignity of the human person, a “Culture of Life.” But this agreement tends to break down and even turn to opposition to the degree that it moves from a vague and abstract aspiration to concrete proposals. We often strive to mask this collapse behind idealistic schemes, but what is really at stake is whether or not we can endure the full truth of what it means to be a human being.

That truth, inescapably, involves transcendence: the “going beyond one’s self” that is entailed in a relationship with reality, with other persons, with work, with the passage of time and the frailty of things, and in the affirming of ultimate meaning in the face of death. Transcendence involves self-giving–indeed self-abandonment. It is achieved in the ecstacy of giving one’s self away, for which the appropriate language is that of sacrifice.

Yet our human nature suffers from a frailty in its origin, a grasping, a selfishness. We all know the experience of it. Christian revelation identifies it with the mystery of original sin. We are fallen. It is because of this that sacrifice involves suffering, and it is in front of suffering that the aspiration for the dignity of the human person runs up against objections, distortions, and even denial. It runs into fear. Fear fragments the human aspiration into divergent and even contradictory tendencies. Appeals to logical argument or a law of human nature drawn from reflection upon its principles and purposes find in this fear a stubborn opponent.

What is to be done? 

I think that only through Christ can we really embrace the human dignity that not only endures, but that reaches its fulfillment through suffering. For this reason, the suffering we must bear in order to respect the dignity of human persons and human life–individually and socially–will not, in fact, be undertaken in response to an appeal to natural law alone, but only in response to the grace of Christ. Evangelization and the Culture of Life go together.

Am I saying, then, that Christians should all abandon politics, and other forms of cultural and social intercourse, and restrict themselves to proclaiming the Gospel? No. This is not what is indicated here.

For men and women can reason to some truths about the human person and human dignity by natural law, and can thereby see in some measure the value of suffering. And our fallen human nature does not make us totally evil, so every person can do some good things–in principle at least–even "without His grace." Moreover, in discussion with people, one must appeal to what one knows people already acknowledge to be true in order to build understanding and to exhort. I do not think, however, that we human beings can succeed–individually or as a people–in affirming in a consistent manner (much less a heroic manner) the dignity of the human person, or persist in that affirmation in the face of great difficulties, without Christ being at work concretely in our lives. This does not mean that no one has ever suffered heroically except professing Christians; one may be responding to the grace of Christ without being explicitly aware of it.

What we must recognize is that building a Culture of Life is a heroic task, and I do not think there can be a substantial measure of success in this task except in response to the grace of Christ. There is certainly room here for the proposals of "natural law"–which are after all rooted in the truth of our humanity. But I expect that those who accept these proposals and adhere to them will do so in the measure in which the grace of Christ is already (perhaps only secretly) at work within them. Evangelization seeks to proclaim what this secret is. I say that the building of the Culture of Life and the work of evangelization go together, not that they are "the same thing." One does not have to be a professing Christian to affirm the dignity and transcendence of the human person, but in the measure in which one lives out this affirmation, one must--I am convinced--be in some way "moving toward" Christ (and therefore being drawn by Him) because He, really, concretely, is the God-given Source and Fulfillment of that dignity and that transcendence.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pure Gift

We just finished watching the first game of the NHL playoffs, which the Capitals won in overtime, 2-1. It was pretty exhausting. I don't know if I have much to say tonight.

Perhaps I should just allow Msgr. Luigi Giussani to say something about what I am so often seeking, and trying to express, in my thoughts and actions and words:

The purest and most objective value of Christian life is the awareness of the absolute gratuitousness of God's interventions in history, because there is no greater, sweeter, and more exalting truth. The encounters, which He created to make men and women--us!--part of His Kingdom, are a pure gift that our nature would not have been able even to imagine or foresee. They are a pure gift above and beyond any capacity of our life. They are "Grace."

In His Mystical Body, Jesus Christ takes up again this entire Kingdom of "Grace," of the supernatural goodness of God's power. Just as Jesus of Nazareth's existence among the Jews and the possibility of encountering Him were grace for them two thousand years ago, so are the Church's existence in the world and the encounter with her in society grace for us today.

--from  Notes on the Christian Method, chapter 1  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Parents Call Upon the Lord

Loving Heart of Jesus,
Fountain of Divine Mercy:
four our sake You became a little child;
You, the Lord, the All-Powerful One
breathed softly,
frail and small,
in the arms of Your Mother.
You, who hold all things in the world,
and for whom everything was made:
You entrusted Yourself
to the daily care
of Mary and Joseph.
You brought joy to a human home,
filled Mary’s heart with wonder,
and were the light of the eyes of Joseph.
You knew the concern,
the trials and the toil,
the journeys,
the sorrows
of Mary and Joseph
as they worked to keep You safe,
searched for You in Your absence,
fed You and clothed You,
and rejoiced as You grew
in wisdom, strength, and grace.

Lord Jesus,
You have entrusted to our care
these children
and given to us the burden
and the blessing
of making a home for them.
You who found boundless welcome
in the Immaculate Heart of Your Mother,
enlarge our hearts
that we might welcome our children
with love,
though we are not worthy
to have placed in our charge
these young ones:
your brothers and sisters,
whose only true Father is God;
who have been called—each one—
by an ineffable name,
and chosen by You
to praise Your Glory,
bathed in Your Redeeming Love.

We are only Your servants,
and our task overwhelms us.
How can we
till this garden?
Miracles of Your Love
shoot up and grow in our midst.
They turn toward us,
seeking the light of the sun.
And we feel so dull,
like shadows in the dusk;
or the thick,
blinding fog
of their early morning.
Awesome and terrible
and too beautiful
this task:
we hold precious pearls in our hands,
bought at the price of Your undying Love.

Thus we kneel before You
and entrust ourselves, our children,
our home,
to Your Merciful Heart.

Give us wisdom
to know what is good;
how to protect,
and toil
for each of our children, for our family,
for our home.
Give us the energy of a love
that is delicate and strong,
full of the security of affection,
the light of discipline,
and the space of freedom
that leaves room for them to grow.
They are Yours
and we are Yours.
Grant that we might be a family,
dwelling in the Love of Your Heart,
giving ourselves to You in one another,
finding Your Joy in one another—
O Lord, keep always
that treasure of Joy
alive in heart and memory,
even amidst the gathering of clouds….
Strengthen our family
that we might be witnesses to Your Love,
that we might bear witness to Your Glory
and share Your Joy with our neighbors,
with the lonely ones,
with those who hunger
for bread,
or love.
Make our home a refuge of comfort
to all who cross our threshold,
bearing their secret sufferings.
Give us strength
to labor day by day by day;
never discouraged,
seeking and finding in Your Mercy
water for the thirst of hearts
that love and struggle
and trust in You.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lucia Janaro

Tonight I am going to write about my 10 year old daughter and third child, Lucia. She is our "millennium baby," our Jubilee baby--born on August 28, year 2000. Do you remember the year 2000? The "Great Jubilee"? Do you remember "looking forward to the Great Jubilee" back when John Paul II was talking about it in 1980, when it was twenty years in the future? (just think, in twenty years it will be 2031). All the talk about the "Third Millennium." Ka-Pow, eleven years have gone by. It seems like a lifetime. It seems like yesterday. But I have already written about my fascination with the time warp factor in our experience, especially as we get older. Tonight I am writing about my daughter, who embodies those years in her own life. She spans the history of the third millennium for me.

When Lucia was born, the first thing I noticed about her was that she had long and exquisite fingers. She was a quiet and intense little child, who learned to talk a bit later than the others. When she first came along, we already had a three year old, and an under-2 year old, so we entered the ranks of the room-filling, eyebrow-raising, "boy-you've-got-your-hands-full" young families. She had a nice two-year stretch of being "the baby" before Teresa was born. As she grew, it appeared that she would be quiet, a little moody, artistic, perhaps introspective.

Indeed, most people who meet Lucia think she is shy. She is reserved around those she does not know. She certainly has her quiet side. But when Lucia is in the right mood she is the funniest person in the house. She is our actress: dressing up and playing various roles and imitating different accents (a little taped mustache and she becomes "Inspector Poirot;" a cap and a stick transform her into a British gentleman; other props make her the dancer, the musician, or just a plain old ham).

She does enjoy her time alone. She is the first to fall asleep in the evening, and the first to wake up in the morning, and like her older sister she is nearly always in the middle of some book. For several years, she was a "little girl," but I have begun to notice a maturity developing in her, especially in the last year--since she turned ten and Josefina turned four.

Lucia is Josefina's "second mommy." She really enjoys taking care of her little sister, playing with her, reading to her, and helping her with things. Of all of us (except Mommy), Lucia is probably the most attuned to Josefina's needs, is able to deal with her various moods, and (this is very important) can comfort her when Mommy is not around. All the kids are good with Josefina, but Lucia and Josefina have a special way of getting along, and Lucia takes initiatives with her that definitely manifest a budding maternal instinct.

Lucia is intuitive and emotional; she probably has more varying moods than the other kids. But there is an underlying stability, empathy, and affection that characterize her disposition. I think she is going to be a person with a capacity to love very deeply.

My little Lucia, Loochie-Goochie, Lulu, Loopy, Luchacha, becoming a young lady.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ethical Choice? Lofty Idea?

A brief reflection inspired by Benedict XVI to end the week:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction (Benedict XVI, God is Love 1:2).
..."not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea"...But many people think that is exactly what Christianity is!

What did Jesus had in mind when He taught us to pray, "Our Father...?" The whole prayer of the Our Father is about the relationship at the heart of Christianity, a relationship of dependence and intimacy with the Infinite One who has drawn close to us.

As for ethics, even a very specific and rigorous system of ethical imperatives is not Christianity. For Christians, "the law" is always inside of a relationship with God our Father, who gives us--through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--the grace that really empowers us to make decisions that are right, and to go beyond the letter of the law (not away from, but "beyond") in living a relationship of love.

And it is God who initiates this relationship of love: "Thy kingdom come" "Give us this day" "Forgive us" "Deliver us".

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fathers and Sons

A couple of days ago, my father turned 76 years old. This weekend, we will go to my parents to celebrate his birthday with a family gathering.

My father. I have a father. What a wonderful thing.

I am a 48 year old man. I have five children of my own, and it feels like they will always be "my children." I can't avoid being more or less constantly aware of my children; there is always someone needing this or that. They are all so dependent on Eileen and me, especially the little ones, but also John Paul and Agnese--who could probably run the house by themselves, but who couldn't stand up emotionally for much time without the touchstones that they still call "Daddy" and "Mommy." At some point, soon, I know my name is going to change to "Dad." But the dependence and the relationship, while it evolves and changes, will remain obvious for some time (certainly it will be obvious to me). If I ever imagine my children as adults, I always imagine them as still "being around" all the time. I can't help having this sense, even though I know that some of them may be thousands of miles away. I will still be their father, caring about them every day.

Yet, it is almost surprising for me to recall that I am also someone's son.

I walk around through the day feeling as though I sprung straight out of the earth. But I have a mother and a father who care about me with the same kind of love that Eileen and I have for our own children. Their love has accompanied me since the first moment of my existence, because their love was the mysterious cooperation with God in that first moment when He called me into being. And my parents have never failed me. They have always been there for me. What a blessing!

I am supposed to be a mature adult, and yet in one way at least I am still very childish. I still take my parents for granted.

I have a "good relationship" with my, I have a great relationship with my parents. They live about 70 miles away. 13, 12, even 10 years ago, we used to go regularly to stay with them on many weekends. We had small children and they, well, they were a dozen years younger. They acquired new names: "Papa" and "Gramma." Now we are a bigger family, and they are older. They visit us frequently, but my mother can only manage day trips, so their visits are brief. It is also hard for all of us to fit into their small apartment (although we still do a few extended visits, with kids sprawled around in sleeping bags), and it is harder for them to have us. Still, my parents love their grandchildren like crazy. I have never done anything in my life that has made my parents so deliriously happy as when I finally had children of my own.

The grandchildren.

I think of my Dad as "Papa"--the grandfather of my children. I still take it for granted that he is my Dad and that I am his son. (The same thing goes for my Mom/Gramma, but I have been reflecting in particular on my Dad because we are celebrating his birthday; I take it for granted too that Dad and Mom always go together, and it is hard for me to imagine that a time may come when this is no longer true.)

I am beginning to see a new dimension in our relationship. As they get older, they are going to need me more. I am going to learn that there are other aspects to the responsibility of being a son (and in spite of the feeling that I have of taking them for granted, I have always been aware, deep down, of this responsibility--I have always wanted them to be happy). I have received so much from my parents, and giving to them has always seemed "easy." I don't know what lies ahead but I know I want to continue to give.

I have had my share of trials, but I have been blessed by family life. My heart goes out to people who are estranged from their parents. There are many kinds of suffering in life, and all of us have our trials. I pray for the healing of families.

Our society does not encourage us to be aware of our need for one another, by which I mean in particular that deeply rooted connection we have with the persons who have been given to us: husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister--these fundamental relationships, this mysterious little community called the family. There is a tendency to fragmentation and distraction, to the false sense that we don't belong to anyone, that we can somehow be human without being in relationship. These relationships shape the persons that we are, even when they take the form of sufferings that must be borne, or--as I am learning from my friends and will probably one day experience myself--absences that must be endured and embraced in the hope of eternal life.

Family shapes who we are. It even affects our names. My kids think that my first name "really" begins with a "D" and the name "John" is some sort of abstract, silly thing that grown-ups call me.

In a way, I still think that about my Dad.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sorrow and Trust

Spring is here. The days are becoming longer and warmer. The buds are on even the most stubborn trees.

I awoke this morning to the sounds of civil wars in Ivory Coast and Libya on the radio news.

I prayed.

As I began my work, I checked the Facebook news feed. Someone had just posted that an earthquake had hit Japan again. O how awful! I turned on the TV news.

It was not so bad: "only" a 7.4, and the approaching Tsunami was supposed to be small. I kept the TV on while I went through the morning routine. No one else was at home: Eileen and the kids were at Montessori school.

I wasn't feeling well. I put the laptop aside, leaned back in my chair, and closed my eyes.

Later in the afternoon, I went to an already scheduled doctor's appointment, returned home, and read stories to Josefina. She is getting so big that she almost doesn't fit in the chair with me anymore. Afterwards we played cards: her version of "War" in which she looks through her cards and gives me all her kings, because "I don't like kings." But she wanted to keep her queens. She likes queens.

I was feeling better. I took the laptop and did some more work. Then I checked the Facebook news feed. A friend's father had just died. Oh no. What could I do? I prayed. I felt sorrow. What a mysterious thing it is to be human. I am drawn to share the sorrows of others--strangers halfway around the world or good friends close to home. I want to share their sorrows, in the different ways that I can.

Some other friends were having different problems. Asking for prayers. One of the things I find myself doing most consistently on Facebook is praying for people.

John Paul and Agnese weren't feeling well. They had gone to school but were now dragging themselves around. We had dinner. Eileen was tired, but still on her feet. We had some good conversation earlier in the day. Thank God for her.

We said the rosary. John Paul put on the baseball game, and I watched it with glassy eyes. The government is in danger of shutting down; the active military will not be paid; people will be laid off. I felt angry. Another human mystery: the revolt of the heart against injustice. What a day!

The sun set peacefully.

Now it is night. Eileen and I have prayed together and she has gone to bed. And I am here, wondering aloud about the world: the great big world made up of so many people, so much life and hope and struggle and sorrow; our world of friends, wounded by a loss that brings great sorrow to a few and touches us all; the little world that is now silent within the walls of my house, this precious family and my frailty, my need to find my balance, to stick with the program, to do what I need to do to get well.

Jesus, if I don't trust in You, what do I have? Where else can I go? What can any of us do, if not abandon ourselves into the arms of a loving and merciful God? Jesus, I am so glad that You have a face, that You are in the world, that You are in my world. These are my words at the end of this day: "Jesus, I trust in You."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are You Ready For The Magazines...Again?

Well, Good Friday and Easter are approaching and we all know what that means. It means magazines at the checkout counter, all the big named ones, with Renaissance paintings of the Crucifixion or of the face of the Risen Jesus and banner headlines such as: The Cross--What Really Happened? or The Resurrection--Myth or Truth?--Scholars Debate, etcetera, etcetera, you know what I'm talking about.

Ugh, here we go again.

If we're lucky, we'll find some kind of coherent statement from the "believers'" side: usually its a Protestant; sometimes its a "Catholic theologian" who--OUCH--doesn't seem to get it quite right. We are generally left wishing that the believers had more of a say.

But this is the day for the skeptics to air out all the same old "arguments" so that journalists can conclude that the issue is still "up in the air" but leaning toward the skeptics' side. And what does the skeptical position consist in?

Inevitably, it's a rehash of the reduction of the figure of Jesus by the "historical-critical method" in its worst form--in which the Gospels are tossed out as historical sources insofar as they say anything supernatural about Jesus. Then, with what is left, these "new" religious scholars and historians (whose theories are actually 300 years old and showing it) reconstruct the figure of Jesus according to their own imagination. The figure of Jesus becomes a preacher of love and justice who challenged the political authorities and was executed. That is all we can really say about Jesus. All the rest is "Christian theology" (as I read in a recent article), which is one of many polite ways of saying, "stuff that the early Christians made up." This is more than just an insult to the wonder and the miracle of early Christianity. It is bad history. It ignores the real sources and the only reasonable conclusions that can be drawn from them.

Over the past 300 years, actual scholars have learned a great deal about the New Testament and how close much of it is in time to the actual events of Jesus's life. As a historical person, the documentary testimony for Jesus, and its textual accuracy, are better than that of any figure of ancient times (and quite a few more modern ones).  And there is no historical reason to throw out this testimony. The reason it is disregarded is that the pseudo-scholars have a preconceived rejection of the possibility of what the texts say. Their preconception is that Divine Revelation cannot happen, that miracles cannot happen, that the supernatural is unreasonable, and therefore anything in the texts we have that talks of such things must be human invention.

Says who?

Why does this have to be so? One would think that World Wars, concentration camps, and totalitarian regimes might have cured us of the assumptions and ambitions of a limited human rationalism. Do we really still believe that empirical science, or any other kind of purely human reasoning, can encompass and resolve every question? There is a strong hangover of this attitude, certainly, but I think we are entering an age in which people are becoming more ambivalent about the absoluteness of human reason. This in itself is a reasonable attitude. It is reasonable to be open to the possibility of mystery. What do we see if we approach the testimony to Jesus without prejudices about what might be possible? What will the historian find if he or she approaches these texts with an openness to reality?

Such a historian can't escape the fact that we have four extraordinary first century accounts of the life of a man who preached many things but above all preached...Himself. He performed miracles, preached profound wisdom, and claimed to be equal to God. He said, essentially, "the true meaning and fulfillment of your life is ME." "Follow ME." "He who loses his life FOR MY SAKE will find it."

According to the allegedly sophisticated pseudo-historians, we are supposed to assume that these sayings--indeed the whole Person who practically reaches out of the Gospel pages and grabs you--are essentially something made up by the first Christians. But we are not really, seriously allowed to ask the question,  "where did they get these ideas? How did the figure of Jesus get transformed from a Palestinian preacher to the Savior of the world so quickly?" His followers not only understand Him that way, they portray Him that way. There is no way that the man in the Gospels could have been contrived by the milieu of first century Judaism, not even with the help of Hellenism. It is far more realistic, from a historical point of view, to assume that there must have been an extraordinary man who said these things, made this claim about Himself, and backed it up in a compelling manner.

The fact that the Gospels are founded on eyewitness testimony has plenty of historical verification. But all this is ignored by our skeptics. The "Jesus-philosopher" that is created in the imaginations of these "scholars" is not backed by any historical witness. There is no one in the first century who claims to follow Jesus the preacher of love and justice. On the contrary, the earliest evidence of disagreement among Christians (evident already in John's gospel) goes precisely in the opposite direction. The first century Christians had to defend the claim that Jesus was a real man, rather than a mere apparition of the Divinity. What the reductionists ignore is that, from the very beginning of Christianity the central focus has always been on who Jesus is.

The fact is that an explosion occurred in history. A man came into the world and claimed to be the fulfillment of everything, the purpose of everyone's existence, the ultimate lawgiver, the One to whom we must abandon our entire lives. He claimed to be God and He acted like God and He demanded the submission due to God alone. But he was not a fanatic, a cult leader, or a deceiver. Everyone acknowledges this. So how can He speak this way? If He really spoke and acted the way the Gospels portray Him, then Jesus was not a "good preacher" or a "good man." He was either a very bad man, or He is GOD.

Not even our contemporary pseudo-historians and religious scholars want to say that Jesus was a bad man. The miracles narratives are not simply magic tricks; they display a man of extraordinary compassion and goodness. Even for those who reject the possibility of miracles, the radiance of His goodness, in the texts that witness to Him, and in the lives of those who have truly followed Him, is too great to ignore. So they try to keep the "good Jesus" but rule out the testimony of the witnesses. Then they ignore or, at best, give a superficial and unsubstantiated answer to the huge question: Where did the disciples come up with the words and deeds and the man that they do present to us, if not from that man Himself?

What remains? They must make up an imaginary figure from whatever pickings are left: a few Gospel details that they can bear, some first century Jewish practices, and a highly speculative interpretation of provincial governance in the Roman empire. They take these lean pieces and construct the supposedly "historical Jesus" out of them; along the way they have to make up the motivations of the people, of the disciples, of Pilate. This is more than the denial of the supernatural and the possibility of revelation. This is fudging with history, pure and simple.

If we don't want to fudge, we have to face the man and His claim. This is what we are all afraid of, to one degree or another: "Abandon your life to ME." The fundamental form of that abandonment--faith--means embarking on an adventure, a new life in which we are not the ones who are in control. It means that God has entered history. It means that grace and revelation are not only possible, but have really happened in history and are really offered to us as the shape of our lives, and our ultimate destiny.

The true response to the person of Jesus is faith, hope, and love. The real historical testimony to Jesus of Nazareth, and the continuing witness of the Church through which He remains present, show us that our response is not to a myth perpetuated by the imagination but to a real man who is God.

Let us pray for the skeptics and all their readers who are left scratching their heads. Let us pray that Jesus might conquer their fear. And let us pray for our own weak faith to grow stronger, for our own fears to be conquered by Love.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bad Brain Day

Can I write a blog entry during halftime of the college basketball championship game? Perhaps, but its not going to be much. It is already late. Like many people, I don't know why this game is being played so late at night, although they are in Houston, so I guess they are an hour earlier. Maybe they scheduled it so that they could hit all time zones between dinner and bedtime?

I have had a difficult day. I have a cold, or something, I think. Or are the body aches coming back? Well, there is no sense in worrying about it. Things come and things go, and I've adapted to the lack of rhythm of it all. Who knows? Maybe its this sudden warm weather. If I pace myself, things should be alright.

Mentally, however, I'm on edge. I can feel my brain being sucked into the hole. What causes this? It is like some kind of switch gets flipped in my nervous system. Whatever it may be, I am fighting it. My medication is helping me to fight it. A good priest is helping me. My therapist is helping me. You need mental exercises to strengthen the brain that is afflicted by neurological disorders. You need to nourish, to strengthen, to restore balance. Drugs are not magic. Mental health, like all health, requires work. This is the kind of work that a good therapist does with you, and teaches you to do. It is like having a personal trainer for your brain.

I need the help of a therapist and I am not ashamed of it. No one should be ashamed if they need this kind of help. If you feel you need this kind of help, don't be afraid and don't be ashamed. Get help.

I am learning to manage this. There is a lot of "two steps forward, one step back," but it is progress. Please pray for me.

Go Bulldogs!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wheat and Weeds

Tonight I am going to post, as my own blog entry, a comment I made on someone else's blog. This is someone who writes for the NCRegister blog; in other words, people actually read her blog posts (I know, I have some followers--and I thank you very much--but I have never gotten 45 comments). The topic of her post was posed as a question: is the world getting worse? Her answer is thought-provoking, and the comments are wide-ranging and sometimes feisty. This is what one would expect for such a broad question that can be approached from many different angles.

I don't really want to raise the question in its totality, but merely record a particular recollection that it provoked in me. This is not an answer to the question, nor is it a complete argument; indeed it's not even a fully developed thought. For those who want to debate the question (or for anyone else who is interested), I would recommend you visit the NCRegister blog: These are some thoughts and impressions that I have on the strangeness of the simultaneous presence of good and evil in the world, the strange interweaving of good and evil that constitutes the society in which we live and which, in varying ways, affects each one of us. Here it is:

I wonder, is the world getting worse and better, at the same time? In Jesus's parable, the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest. As our power over the natural world and our awareness of our dignity as persons grows, so grows the range of our capacity for good or for evil. I am speaking of course of its social manifestation on a wide scale; not about the goodness or evil of this or that individual human being. An example from my own experience might help illustrate what I mean.

We had a premature baby who spent seven months in the neonatal intensive care unit of a large urban hospital. Our baby's life was saved and preserved by the application of human knowledge and resources and the dedication of highly trained and deeply concerned people, who were doing the same thing for hundreds of babies who had greater issues and whose lives were even more precarious than ours. The cost was immense, but beyond insurance there was a special government provision for child health care that paid every penny (to read more about our little Josefina, now four years old, see my previous post:

I saw at work here a marvelous human goodness that was undeniable and a human capacity unimaginable in any previous era of history. But in another part of that very same large urban hospital, abortions were performed, every single day. The same government that pays millions of dollars to insure that rich and poor babies alike can receive this amazing level of care also approves and permits babies of the same age and condition to be killed. Great good and great evil, growing side by side.

Ultimately only God can measure the depths of the human condition, and the merit or the guilt of human hearts. This indeed He has already done, once for all time, on the Cross. But looking at "the world" in the only way we can, I think we shall see what we have always seen in human history: ambivalence. And the dramatic increase of human power in our times means an increase in the capacity to do wonderfully good things and in the capacity to perpetrate atrocities. The wheat and the weeds grow together.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Deja Vu," Wonder, and Destiny

Well, we had a good time at the hockey game!

I think it was the first time in a long time that Mommy, Daddy, and John Paul went somewhere, just the three of us. I had a strange, familiar feeling which at first I could not identify. Then I realized what it was.

For about a year or so, Eileen and I and John Paul were the whole family. Thirteen years ago, we rambled about, the three of us. We were the Janaro family (then, after awhile, there was Agnese in Mommy’s tummy). Last night, it “felt” natural to be “just the three of us” again, in a way that I don’t think would be the same if we were with one of the girls. Not that it wouldn’t be fun to go out special with just one of the girls, but it wouldn’t have that “deja vu” feeling that I experienced last night.

John Paul is still the same person that he was when he was a year old. That little boy, pushed about in a stroller, nursing, learning to walk, and blabbering his first words–that little boy who even then showed a remarkable intelligence and presence: it’s the same boy. He is almost as tall as his mother now. But going on an adventure together brought back memories of when we used to do it all the time (except he didn’t need a car seat).

We used to take him everywhere. That’s the way it is with your first baby. Pop him into the car seat, grab the diaper bag, and off you go. Restaurants, parties, even long road trips. No problem. Actually, my wife would probably say it wasn’t quite that easy. But relatively speaking.... Anyway we were a little team. So it was again last night.

Identity and change are mysterious things. Relationships change, families grow, a new child comes into the family and changes the dynamics of everything. In some imperceptible way, every new person changes the dynamics of the whole world. Walking through the city on our way to the Verizon center, looking at the faces of all the people, it is a challenge to believe that every person matters. And yet each person who moves in that crowd is convinced that at least he or she matters, somehow, for something. But it is a fragile conviction, often shaken by circumstances.

I know that we matter, that we are in the world for a reason, as individual persons and as a family. Sometimes insignificance seems to press in on us from all sides, but we remain strangely resilient. “Strange,” as in filled with wonder. Small experiences, small moments fill me with a wonder that is utterly disproportionate to the measure of space and time that hems in our small lives.

The moments of life seem gone forever, passing from the present into the irrevocable past. But they are not lost; they are seeds sown deep in the earth, mysteriously growing, destined to burst forth into something new, and yet something we will recognize as the fruit of life.

Let us plant, and water, and wait for the growing.