Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Good Things Come Slowly

The good things come slowly.

I am featuring again tonight a picture from the grounds of my favorite monastery, Holy Cross Abbey (Cistercians) in Berryville, Virginia. Monks know that good comes from silence, perseverance, the repetition of the same simple gestures, dedication to prayer day by day, month by month, year by year. They know the labor of sowing seeds that others may reap.

I am impatient about good things. I want them fast. I want my acorns to spring into fully formed oak trees. I want my prayers answered, NOW! I forget that one of God's favorite ways of answering a prayer is, "Ask Me again tomorrow."

Occasionally the good is a dramatic and sudden manifestation. God knows we need that sometimes or our weak, distracted nature would lose sight of the good altogether. But even when God works miracles, His deep message to us is, "Trust Me."

The good things grow slowly, with patience and care, if necessary with healing and correction.

So let us not lose patience. Sometimes it seems as if fire rains down on the earth. We feel overwhelmed. But let us tend this little piece of ground, this life that has been given us. Let us sow our seed and tend our shoots with fidelity and dedication to the task in front of us. God will give the growth.

The good things come slowly. But they are the things that endure.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Steps on the Path

I came across some statistical information today that gave me reason for hope. It seems that about 60% of Americans believe in a personal God, with whom it is possible to have some kind of relationship. Another survey reported that 58% of Americans pray every day.

Surveys, of course, leave many questions unanswered. What kind of God? What kind of prayer? How many of the remaining 42% are crying out to God without realizing it?

Still, I am encouraged by the 60%. We live immersed in a noisy popular culture in which emphasis on the presence of God and the need for prayer is ZERO. Evidently, God still makes His presence known and provokes the human heart with the awareness of the need for Him. Even if this awareness is superficial or fleeting in many cases, it still gives me hope.

I expect that anyone who happens upon this blogsite and gives it any attention probably believes in God, or at least wonders about the mystery of God. Of course, most of my readers are already in "the choir"--I am not naive. But I also have friends who are not Catholic or not Christian--friends who don't agree or don't know what to make of the things I say here, but who read nevertheless because they care about me. And perhaps because they find things that they can appreciate in these writings, or things that strike them as worthy of looking at. They know who they are, and they know that I love them. I ask them to stay with me as I reflect on this adventure of being human in a world that I know is not easy to understand.

Moreover, this is the internet. Anyone may come across what I write here. I do not sing for the choir; I sing about who I am, what has been given to me, and what I have discovered about the truth. Everything I say is a testimony--offered with respect for freedom, openness, and awareness of the particularities and burdens of each person's journey in search of the truth. I invite people to walk with me. Let us look at life together and try to help each other.

If you are among those who wonder, even once in a while, what the mystery of reality is all about, then there is something in you that yearns to go deeper. Ask from out of that wonder; ask the questions that it suggests, and ask them with a confidence that that they would not be in your heart if the answers did not exist.

If you believe in a personal God, pray to Him as Someone who is present. You do not give yourself existence. He is making you to "be" right now. He is present, giving you to yourself. Call to mind that Presence.

And why does He make you? For love. Why else? Isn't this what our hearts tell us? That we are loved, and are made to love? So take small steps in love; find a little time to affirm something or someone not for your own advantage, but because of the goodness that makes you forget yourself. Such love leads to God.

This is not some "generic religion" that I am proposing here. Everyone who reads this blog knows that my faith is very specific. These are merely steps on the path of truth. They are steps that Christians sometimes forget to make. I know very well that plenty of Catholics and Christians are messed up and confused.

But it's always possible to take a step forward on the road that leads to the answers you seek, and the joy for which you hope.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Benedict and Kirill: The Future of Europe

We have often heard the voice of Pope Benedict XVI on the importance of a transcendent, Divine foundation for the objective guarantee and constructive force of human rights and human dignity.

In presenting this message to 21st century Europe, however, Benedict has a vitally important collaborator a couple of thousand miles east of Rome. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, has expressed similar observations from his own distinctly Russian perspective.

Today I finally received my copy of Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony--Human Rights and Personal Dignity, a collection of addresses published by the Moscow Patriarchate in cooperation with the British publishing house of Darton, Longman, and Todd. This book is not yet available in the U.S., which meant paying a little more for postage and ordering it from amazon.uk. But it was worth it.

Kirill's approach is open, clear, direct, and refreshing. He testifies to the perpetual validity of the Christian view of the human being, drawing on the Church Fathers and on Russia's unique experience in the 20th century. It lends particular weight to his words on the dictatorship of relativism:

For the believer who is aware of the problem of the self-determination of the will [in light of the Fall and the human person's need for redemption], the claim that moral anthropo- centrism is a universal principle that should regulate social and personal activity gives cause for doubt. Conscience is an important criterion that helps distinguish between good and evil. It is not by chance that folk wisdom calls the conscience the voice of God, for the moral law placed by God into human nature is known in the voice of conscience. But the voice of conscience can be stifled by sin. Therefore, when making moral choices one must also be guided by external criteria, above all by the commandments given by God....

Unfortunately, today the absolutisation of the State characteristic of modernity is being replaced by the absolutisation of the sovereignty of the individual and his rights without moral responsibility. This absolutisation can destroy the foundations of modern civilisation and lead to its downfall.... Humankind cannot live outside a moral context. No laws can help us keep society viable or put an end to corruption, the misuse of power, the break-up of the family, the abandoning of children, the reduction of the birthrate, the destruction of nature, militant nationalism, xenophobia or the mockery of religious sentiments....

No one contests that a society in which the individual is disdained, in which the State and the collective possess all rights over the person, is unstable and inhumane. But societies in which human rights become an instrument for the emancipation of the instincts, in which the notions of good and evil are confused and driven out by the idea of moral autonomy and pluralism, become equally inhumane. Such societies lose their mechanisms of moral influence on the personality. In civilised society--let us call it so--the balance between these polarities must be maintained. It should base itself on the understanding that each person by nature possesses unchanging value, and at the same time that everyone is called on to grow in dignity and bear civic responsibility before the law and moral responsibility for his actions.

Freedom and Responsibility, pp. 63-65 (my emphasis)

Friday, May 27, 2011

No Boundaries

O this restless life. Searching, searching, searching. That's life. Seeking, asking, begging in front of every circumstance, "Please give me happiness."

Yet I do not want to make it sound like life is always a conscious, neurotic, aching urge that exhausts people with nervous tension. It would be stupid to deny that many people seem quite happy, and would describe themselves as satisfied. Some of them are living in denial. But others are genuinely, reasonably content. Aren't they?

Well...yes and no.

We can attain goals in life, and draw a measure of satisfaction from them. But life doesn't stop. When I achieve what I want, I find new possibilities opening up. The question emerges, "what shall I do next?" It can be a joyful experience, this journey. In fact, it is meant to be. But it keeps moving. It's an adventure, and as long as you are still breathing, you know in your heart that it's not over.

Look at the way you act.

Why do you do things? Because you want something. There is a sense of anticipation, a sense that reality has something to offer. So you choose, you act, and you possess things, enter into relationships, live life. And that sense of anticipation is verified. You have a taste of genuine goodness. But the sense of the possibility of fulfillment only deepens. The desire to live intensifies. To move forward.

Because you want something infinite.

The heart has no boundaries. Yet here we are, in this moment, in the midst of things that are limited. If we try to grasp things and stretch them so that they correspond to the scope of our hearts, we will distort them and ultimately tear them apart. This is violence.

But if we act with the recognition that there is something more, that the goodness of things points to something and promises something that we do not see and cannot attain by our own power, then we act with receptivity, with a need and a question that opens us up to something or Someone who corresponds to our boundless hearts. This is the seed of prayer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Christians East and West: Our Hope and Prayer

Eastern Christians will immediately recognize that this is an unconventional icon of the Theotokos. It is, in fact, an icon of the Immaculate (Panagia) Heart of Mary, with its imagery and colors taken from the reports of the appearance of the Mother of God to the children of Fatima, Portugal nearly a hundred years ago.

I post this here as an accompaniment to my expression of a sense of urgency for the unity of Christians East and West. My post on Confirmation (Chrismation) provoked some interesting commentary about what divides or appears to some to divide Christians. I believe that as long as the essential elements of the rite are preserved, the celebration of the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments can vary in the rituals that surround them, and in the time and order of their celebration. Eastern and Western Christians can disagree on which form or order of the ritual is more expressive of the meaning of the Mysteries/Sacraments, but they may and ought to respect each other's traditions. It is certainly a blow to Christian unity for Eastern Orthodox Christians to deny the validity of Western (Catholic) Sacraments of Initiation. The Roman Church has always recognized the validity and today even emphasizes the beauty and the theological significance of the Eastern Christian liturgical traditions. This is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents, together, both the Eastern and Western rituals and practices for the administration of the Holy Mysteries/Sacraments, and explains the essential unity that underlies the various differences. Many Eastern Orthodox churches and theologians, bishops, priests, and lay people concur in the recognition of this essential unity.

I am convinced  that, for ecumenism, Ground Zero is the breach between Eastern and Western Christendom. This is the great divide in Christian Europe, a crack in the earth that runs through the whole second millennium of history between the Greek and Slavic East and the Latin West. Its causes are many and varied. Its healing, I hope, will be one of the great blessings of the third millennium, from which will come forth an energy that will vivify a new evangelization of the world, and a renewal of the roots and identity of Europe and its peoples. I don't know how this unity will be achieved in historical circumstances, but I am certain that God wills it and therefore we must do everything we can in good conscience to foster it. This certainly includes the mutual acceptance and appreciation of the profound bonds that already unite us, as well as respect for the legitimate differences that do not really divide us. It means prayer to the Holy Spirit, and to the Mother of God who is so deeply loved by both East and West, and has shown her abundant blessings to all her children.

At Fatima, the Mother of God hinted that Russia was destined to play a special role in modern history: that Russia's errors would be a source of great sufferings, but its conversion an occasion for a period of peace. And indeed the twentieth century saw those errors and those sufferings. It also saw the beginning of hope, and the first stirrings of an anticipated conversion. Still, today, it is western secularism--the older, weaker, but still dangerous cousin of the atheistic communist monster--that sweeps over the world, and over the ruins of Russia and the still emerging nations of Eastern Europe. Two men have risen to critique secularism's "dictatorship of relativism" in our time, and there is much affinity between them in their personalities, ideas and aspirations: Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Benedict XVI.

Let us examine ourselves and put aside all unnecessary sources of division. Let us long for unity, and pray to Christ Our God and His Immaculate, All-Holy Mother for a fraternal embrace and a kiss of peace that will heal the wounds of a thousand years and give renewed light to the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Free As A Bird

Wouldn't you like to be free as a bird?

I wonder where that expression came from. As I write this, the kids are watching one of those BBC nature videos. The erudite voice of some distinguished British gentleman is telling everyone about the glorious life of animals, which basically consists in sleeping, seeking food, mating, and avoiding predators. And it is a wonderful thing, in its own way, the multitude of diverse ways in which animals all over the world--in all their many colors and shapes and sizes--use their remarkable instincts to seek food, to mate, and to avoid predators; in a word, to live. But it takes a bit of the romance out of my lonely black bird. There is surely much poetry in his sturdy vigil, perched atop a fence post. All the splendor and spontaneity of his instincts are focused on the task of living. For him it means spying the worm, the grub, tending the nest, avoiding the cat.

But he is not free.

He is bound to this labor. He comes forth from his shell, struggles into flight, searches for food, perpetuates his species without even knowing what he is, searches for more food, and one day dies. But the whole sky is full of birds. Flocks of birds in full flight. They give no thought to their freedom, or their burdens.

It is we who find the image of freedom in their flight.

It is we who are melancholy at the recognition of their passing lives.

The animals, in their unreflected innocence, remind us that the whole world is passing away. And perhaps too, there is an echo in animal life of the sadness at the heart of creation, a sadness that reflects something irretrievably lost.

Yet we do not get caught up in the mourning of this loss. Our gaze upon the natural world and our poetry are full of hope. We yearn for the freedom of the birds. We watch them in flight and we sense the promise of freedom. For the eager longing of creation awaits the revelation of the children of God. There is another mystery at work at the heart of creation, and it whispers in our hearts a restlessness, an expectation, a promise.

The birds will return to the earth and be joined to it. And one day, the earth will be transformed. The mystery of this is hidden from us.

But we will fly. We will be free.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The New Atheism And The Gulag

I was glad to hear about a new book, The Godless Delusion, by Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley (OSV Press). In this book the authors confront the “new atheists”–contemporary scientists and others–who have made a splash in current popular culture with their books, articles, blogs, and websites. Rather than simply defending Christian or theistic arguments against their attacks, however, Madrid and Hensley take the offensive, venturing into the territory of the atheists themselves and arguing that atheism is rationally and humanly incoherent. I look forward to reading this book. Already, its theme and some of its content have inspired a few random reflections of my own, which I shall set forth below.

One of the book’s arguments is that by denying God and any transcendent reality, atheists lose the rational basis for making binding moral assertions. The “new atheists” argue that religion is “wrong,” that affirming God is “bad” for human beings and society, that it would be “good” to give up religion and concentrate on this world. But if they refuse to go beyond the material world, then what basis do they have for asserting the need for “right” and “wrong,” for “good” and “bad”? And why should anyone care? The atheists are cheating; they are sneaking in transcendent concepts of good and evil without admitting it. This is very important point.

But I have another question: Haven’t we already tried this idea of giving up religion and transcendence and concentrating solely on this material world? Indeed, haven’t we already pushed this experiment to the limit?

Without God, the foundations of the moral order cannot be upheld. This is something fundamental that the “new atheists” have to confront. The old atheists knew the moral abyss that was a consequence of the denial of God. Ivan Karamazov knew it 150 years ago: "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Lenin knew it too; hence his ethic of expediency in the advancement of “scientific materialism,” which was the foundation for Stalin and Mao and the whole bloody 20th century.

Some think that if they deny God, they can escape from the transcendent consequences of moral actions, and avoid dealing with the reality of punishment for sin. But if atheists are trying to avoid the authority of God and the reality of sin, then I have a literary work I would like to recommend to them.

I think they should grapple with what could in a certain respect be called the modern version of Dante's "Inferno," namely, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn's epoch-defining masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago. Here is a world without God: human persons are degraded and reduced to animals–on a huge scale–because Stalin needs to carry out the massive industrialization of the Soviet Union, and therefore requires a steady supply of cheap, expendable labor. Who is to tell him he is wrong? He has the power and he determines what is necessary. To whom can the atheist appeal against him? The atheist has no rational grounds to invoke any law beyond the criteria that serve the aims of those in power. If all that exists is the material world that we see, hear, touch, and measure, then there is no basis for affirming the dignity of the human person in the face of power. In the material world, power is supreme: the strongest forces prevail, and the only morality is survival of the fittest. It’s not surprising that the communists condemned themselves in Stalin’s show trials. They knew and submitted to the logic of the moral abyss.

The “new atheists” and those tempted by them should confront seriously the witness of Solzhenitsyn and others like him, all of which has been vindicated by the cold hard facts–now publically available to everyone–of the atheist totalitarian state and its massive slave labor program. By reading about the horrors of the labor camps, people may discover that their guts know there is a God even if their minds deny it.

Solzhenitsyn’s titanic literary achievement, The Gulag Archepelago, has not lost its relevance for the 21st century. I shall speak more about the relevance of Solzhenitsyn in another blog entry. But for now I want to emphasize this aspect of his testimony: the brutalization of the human, presented in such relentless and concrete detail, can shock a person out of the sleep of moral relativism, and awaken him or her once again to the “mystery of iniquity” and the transcendent need of the human heart for “justice”–and also, for mercy. The atheist has no explanation for these needs, or for the conscience of the human person that always speaks of the transcendence of the origin and fulfillment of reality.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Confirmation, Western Style

Yesterday, my son John Paul received the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the Roman rite of the Catholic Church.

Confirmation has developed in a distinctive way in the Roman rite (which is the rite of the vast majority of Catholics in the world). In the Byzantine rite and many of the other rites of the Eastern churches, the Sacrament of "Chrismation" is given to everyone immediately after Baptism, whether they are infants or adults, and is usually administered by the priest with oil blessed by the bishop. Because Chrismation/Confirm- ation is linked to Baptism as its crowning and fullness, the practice of the Eastern churches emphasizes this link. The newly initiated Christian, baptized and anointed in the Holy Spirit, then receives the Eucharist--not only adults, but also infants. The practice of the Eastern churches reflects the unity of "Christian initiation" by always keeping together the celebration of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist.

The Roman rite, however, places emphasis on another important aspect of this special anointing, and the results of the development of Roman practice highlight other aspects of the mystery and significance of the sacrament. This particular emphasis is on the relationship between Confirmation and the ministry of the bishop. In churches in the West, the bishop specifically and personally confers Confirmation. Historically, in the case of infant Baptism, this meant that Confirmation had to be delayed until the bishop came to visit the parish church in his diocese. In ancient times, travel was difficult, and these visits were not frequent.

Thus, for Catholics of the Roman rite, it was ordinary for Baptism and Confirmation to be separated by a period of time, and the baptized infant was a young person by the time the bishop administered Confirmation. Some time after Confirmation, the person would receive the Eucharist for the first time. Thus it was for many centuries. At the beginning of the last century, however, Pope St. Pius X stressed the importance of early reception of the Eucharist, and the age for first communion was lowered significantly. The result was that it became normal for a person to be baptized as an infant, to receive the Eucharist at the age of 7, and then to be confirmed later, around the age of 13 or 14.

Today it has become common in the Roman rite for adults to receive the three sacraments all together. The pastor of a parish baptizes, administers Confirmation as representative of the bishop and then gives first Eucharist to the new adult Christian, often at the liturgy of Holy Saturday. But for "cradle Catholics" the practice remains as it has been for the last hundred years.

For Catholics of the Roman rite, this has resulted in greater reflection on Confirmation as a sacrament that initiates the "adulthood" of the Christian life. It provides the special strength that enables a Christian to live and witness to his or her faith in the world. And the administration of Confirmation by the bishop emphasizes that the Christian has a direct vocation in the Church, concretely reflected in its being given at the hands of one of the successors of the Apostles. Indeed there is something appropriate to receiving Confirmation at the very beginning of one's "mature life." It is a reminder that the grace of the Holy Spirit is the foundation of a person's life, at precisely that time in which the person begins to become aware of the possibilities and responsibility of that life. It is a good way to embark upon the journey of adolescence and to receive the strength to develop as mature Christian and human adults.

So was I thinking about all this as my son was being confirmed? Yes. My mind is never far from theology and history. I have sometimes felt that I "like" the practice of the Eastern churches better. It is a glorious thing to attend the Christian initiation of an infant in a Byzantine church, and I have many friends who are members of Byzantine Catholic churches, i.e. churches of the Byzantine rite that are in full communion with the Pope. I love the unity of the celebration of Baptism-Chrismation/Confirmation-Eucharist.

And yet, I reflected on other things as I watched my son receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at this specific time in his life, at a distinct "moment," and at the hands of a bishop who can trace his episcopal consecration back through the centuries to the original twelve special followers of Jesus. I thought it good that he should be strengthened in grace at this time, when I can see almost daily my boy beginning to be a young man. I thought it good that this time of growth for him should be marked by a distinctive experience of being called by the Church, sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and reminded of his own unique responsibility for living and witnessing to his faith.

Friday, May 20, 2011

God's Day

As soon as we awaken each morning, let us offer our first thoughts to God.

The truth is that the first person I encounter every morning when I open my eyes is God. Everything around me is God’s creation, through which he greets me.  I breathe in his air and open my eyes to his light.  The day, with all its hopes and its trials, rushes into my mind; hopes and trials out of which he will build the road that will lead me on my journey for this day.  The amazing thing is that even on the worst of days I can still remember that this is true.

Offering our life to God first thing in the morning is a way of acknowledging with gratitude that that our being, our life, and everything we have belongs to him.  I am who I am because I am His creature.  Everything that is “Me” is the effect, here and now, of his direct and personal creative and sustaining love.  This is what matters, even without professional honors, or a job, or even the ability to do much of anything.  His love is everything.  Outside of that love there is “nothing.”

I give thanks to the Lord that He has grounded my life in His Truth.  Suffering can drive me to forget, or lose focus.  But reality remains what it is, and Jesus holds onto me inside that reality and enables me to remember it.  He does this through the mystery of His Church, His people who for two thousand years have risen each morning and offered their prayers to God.  And so, when I wake up, in whatever condition, with whatever misery or whatever happy expectation, the truth is that I am not alone.  I am invited to pray in union with the whole people of God, with the angels and saints, with every creature that exists to sing His praise.

  --from my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (order:  )

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Relationship With Jesus Christ

It's easy to fall into the tendency to think of "Christianity" as merely a worldview, or a collection of ideas that explain the universe and direct us regarding what we should do. It's easy to act as if Christianity is primarily an intellectual system that has to be expounded and defended in competition with other intellectual systems. In fact, it's easy to go through the day reading about Christianity and writing about Christianity and talking about Christianity--all the while seeming to forget the reality that makes it worthwhile:

Jesus Christ.

How do I live so much of my life without an awareness of Him? Why does my heart not converse more with Him? O sure, I "pray"--but it's like I'm an official making a report to my boss from time to time. Or even if I speak with Him in sugary, "personal" terms, so much of it is still a game of dodge and duck, an effort to "love" Him but still keep Him at arms length. Which, of course, is the way I interact with the human persons who are important in my life. Please don't enter the fear zone.

But He said, "Do not be afraid."

How seldom do I just enjoy being with Him. Of course I have to attend to the many tasks of life. But He is with me, and He is inside of those little things. I feel as though I say morning prayer and then leave Him there on the wall. Why do I try to leave Him behind?

Sometimes I will turn to Him during the day, even with great intensity...when I need something! "Jesus, give me...." I suppose there is something childlike in this; I tease my own children about it, telling them that they seem to think my name is "Daddy Can I."

So what's the problem? I love Him. Of course I do. But I take Him for granted. And I am a little...afraid.

"Fear is useless. What is needed is trust."

I know. But I am still afraid. Why? I'm afraid that I can't measure up to Him. Of course I can't. I'm also afraid to let Him do what He wills with me. Lord let me see that what You want for me is for my happiness. It's the only thing that can make me happy.

I want to love You more, Jesus. I want to trust in You more. I want to live my life as a relationship with You.

"Lord, you know that I love you." Under all the junk and the forgetfulness and the fear,
I love you. Jesus I love you. Jesus I trust in You. Have mercy on me. Deepen my trust.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Thirst For The Infinite

Some recent words from Benedict XVI that express some of the basic truths that are important to me, and to everyone:

We know that we cannot respond alone to our basic need to understand. For however much we think we are self-sufficient, we experience that we do not suffice. We need to open ourselves to something else, something or someone, that can give us what is missing. We must go out of ourselves and go toward the One who is capable of satisfying the width and breadth of our desire....

Humanity bears within it a thirst for the infinite, a yearning for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which impel us toward the Absolute. We carry within us the desire for God....

The desire for God never ceases within the human heart, even though we may not recognize it as such, because man is created by God and for God. Our Father tirelessly and with love constantly draws man to himself. Only in union with God, the well-spring of life, will we find the truth and happiness for which we continually yearn (cf. CCC No. 27).

From Audience of Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Growing Up (Finally)

Growing up is a humbling experience.

I am now in my late forties. Many of the "facts" that I asserted with such zeal and conviction when I was a younger man were, I now realize, only opinions combined with passion. I still hold many of these opinions, but in a different way, recognizing that they pertain to practical matters and that they must be open to the organic development that the experience of life brings to our understanding.

At the same time, the essential Truths--the matters upon which my life is really grounded --have gained greater firmness and depth in my mind. My faith has grown stronger. The relationship of my reason to reality has grown more solid.

Truth is a matter for adherence, for witness, and for reasoned presentation and defense.

Opinions are matters for continued observation and discussion, matters in which something of the truth is perceived, but many questions remain. And in the world of practical things, questions often remain because the reality under consideration is still in the process of development. I find that the more I understand about concrete problems, the more inclined I am to form intelligent questions rather than (even provisional) answers.

Some Examples of Matters of Truth: Jesus Christ is God Incarnate; He communicates His life through the Church; the human person is created to love and to be loved; it is always wrong to directly intend to kill an innocent human being; I can only find true happiness through a living relationship with God, and with the human persons that He has given me in my life.

Some Examples of Matters of Opinion or Question (and I frankly feel the need to state all these as questions, even though I hold strong opinions on some of them): What is the significance of the rise of "traditional" Islam in its native countries and in the West? How should the West engage Islam? How ought democratic institutions to play a role in the development of emerging nations? What are the distinctive characteristics of the United States of America as a nation? What needs to be recovered? What needs to be developed?

Okay, those may seem a little large and political. How about these: When the kids bring me one of their conflicts, when should I resolve it and when should I try to lead them to resolve it themselves? How much should I allow the kids to use the computer? What the heck are we going to do about High School for John Paul? And many more.

An interesting common thread runs through all my understanding and consideration, from adherence to the most profound Truth to considering the smallest questions. I cannot effectively accomplish any of these things "alone." I cannot "be" in isolation, much less understand anything.

There is God first, source of all good, source of the grace of faith, creator and sustainer of the light of reason. There is Jesus Christ, and the Church. There is reality that presents itself to me and informs my mind. And there are those who point to reality and distinguish it from my own fantasies: those, of course, who are responsible for preserving and transmitting the teaching of the Gospel in the Church, but also many other kinds of teachers (because in this life most of us will always need teachers), as well as friends, resources, doctors, advisors I can trust for guidance. And in a very special way, my wife. My wife!

I can't think straight without other people. I am not a great, self-generated autonomous individual. I can't do it by myself. The real, concrete recognition of this is a tremendous moment in the process of growing up.

It is also humbling.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Need Other People

I need other people in my life.

I know there are those who are called to be hermits. But even they are not "alone," if they offer their solitude for the salvation of the world. But that is a special and mystical kind of life.

I need other people, in the most ordinary, human sense of the term. I am a weak and afflicted man, constantly in need of being reminded that I am loved, but more importantly, constantly in need of others to remind me of my vocation to love. I am naturally introspective and easily wrapped up in myself. It is not a place where I want to be, but I don't know how to get out by myself.

The way to get beyond myself is love. And the invitation to love, for me, usually comes from other people. I pray to God and I try to love God, but it is too easy for me to forget about God--even while praying--and get wrapped up in some imaginary "God" that is the product of my own circular thinking. How easily prayer can become a monologue and a worrying session. Of course, I know God is there; He accepts anything that we even try to give Him and lovingly turns it toward the good. Still, if life was just me by myself with my prayers, I would be a sad and lonely and atrophied person.

Throughout the day, the summons to love comes from other people. I can't do this thing called "life" by myself. I don't think I could even keep my sanity, much less attain my destiny. These other people are first and above all my wife and family, but also everyone who has been given to me in my circumstances--people who depend on me, and on whom I depend. They turn me "outwards" with all of that intensity and perceptiveness of my personality. And so I am focused on affirming and helping others instead of analyzing and devouring myself.

It is also a tremendous blessing to be able to write in a context in which I know that someone is going to read my words. Writing could easily degenerate into a self-absorbed exercise were it not for the desire to communicate, and the realization--thanks to this medium--that communication will in fact be achieved, and that the words written here will be found useful by others.

Many complex motivations, of course, arise in relationships with other people--not the least of which are vanity and self-affirmation. But when relationships and communication strive outward, for truth, goodness, and beauty, they become the path for the freedom and transcendence of the person. Whether face to face or in writing, they embody the giving and receiving of love that is the mystery of God's own life and the means by which He draws us to Himself.

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13, 1981

Thirty years ago today.

I was a Senior in a public High School of 2500 students. We were weeks away from graduation.

It was early in the afternoon, I think. What was on my mind? I don't remember. But I was walking down the hallway. I can see that hallway right now in my memory. In living color like I'm walking down it right now. I was coming up to a classroom door. Was I about to go in? I don't remember.

One of my fellow Catholic students came up to me, ashen-faced, and said, "Did you hear, the Pope has been shot."

It was like she had said something in Chinese. For a moment, my brain simply could not put the words together. Then I thought, "What?"

The Pope had been shot.

Was he dead? Was he dying? All I remember was a numbness.

And our secular, American public school came to a stop. They sent us all to our home rooms, where there were TVs. And we watched, stunned: Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Agnostics, potheads, jocks, nerds, blacks, whites, honor students, deadbeats, drama club kids, orchestra kids, Student United Nations kids, newspaper staff kids, all kinds of kids--the large collection of public school humanity united by some mysterious thing. We all felt something strangely in common in those moments. It's the only thing I can remember that ever brought us together in that way.

And everyone said to me, "I'm so sorry...." As if someone had shot my father.

And they were right. Someone had shot my father.

May 13, 1981. History held it's breath. The TV vigil continued at home. The earth prayed.

But Blessed John Paul II lived. He lived to change the world. He lived to be God's instrument to change our hearts. A loving maternal hand guided that bullet.

The Joy of Offering

...that we may attain the joys of eternal life.

Joy is the fruit of that secure relationship of love with something or someone good. But as St. Augustine pointed out so many centuries ago, every good in this world whispers, "I did not make myself. I was made by Someone Else...." It is only in that Someone Else that lasting joy can be found, the joy that encompasses and fulfills the promise contained in created things.

When I say those words above in the morning, and again at noon, during this Easter season, what am I asking of God? I am asking to "attain the joy"--the joy that endures because it is the fruit of a relationship with the One who is worthy of eternal love, the Only One who can exhaust and engage fully and finally the love that has been awakened in my heart.

I am asking God to make my day an "offering." This means affirming the reality of things according to that inner secret that constitutes their being and goodness: the fact that they belong-to-Another. And so I cannot possess things by dominating them and reducing them to my own measure. My life becomes "offering" when I use and possess and love things in a way that takes them completely seriously, because things are a hymn of rejoicing to the One who makes them be, and the only way to truly love them is to join in that hymn. The ecstasy of the beauty of things is their giving-back-of-themselves to the One who sustains them and calls them to their own fruition. I offer my day when I join in with the "giving" of things, when I allow their song of rejoicing to enter into my awareness, when my engagement of reality becomes a prayer, a "blessing of the Lord" that gives voice to the hymn of creation: Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord. Praise and exalt Him above all forever!

How does this "offering" extend to love for another person? The greatest gift, the greatest beauty in all of creation is the other person. There is much to be said about this. For now, I can only reflect that in loving other persons I am loving others who, like me, are called to the joys of eternal life. When I engage in a relationship with another person, I "offer" that relationship by recognizing that this someone is not primarily a  source of satisfaction or utility for me, but someone who has a destiny, who is "for Another." To love a person as offering is to love them for what they truly are, that is, to love them for the sake of that Other and their relationship with that Other. It is to love their destiny.

Give It All To God

“I’m a failure.”

I know, this is a pathological thing with me. It’s time for some mental exercises. In fact, it’s time for some physical exercise: a good walk around the neighborhood in the breezy late afternoon with Teresa. Time to think of my blessings, time to love my wife and my children, time to do the work that has been given to me. Study. Reflect and make judgments. Write. Or just try to get better.

It’s time for some spiritual exercises. Listen to your spiritual director: this idea of failure does not come from God. Pray, “Jesus, I trust in You completely.” “Come Holy Spirit.” Take your mind off yourself. Up, up, up, eyes off yourself, look to God, look to others. Mary, dear Mary.

The failure monster still hovers around, like a heavy atmosphere pressing against me.

I miss the past. I miss my classroom. “You will be a great teacher,” said Msgr. Giussani. So I taught. I taught my heart out. The fact is, I often felt like a failure even as a teacher. What difference was I really making? I was never one of the “rock stars” at the college. I wasn’t a name that buzzed on students’ lips. There were a few, every year, who saw something–they appreciated my effort (our poor human frailty, alas, always likes to be appreciated)–but more importantly they “caught on,” they understood what I was seeing; sometimes they saw it even better than I did. This is the thing that a teacher really loves.

Too many, however, were just bored. I tried, I tried so hard for you kids. I wanted to shake you and say, "look at this, look at how beautiful it is!" If only you knew, dear students. I wanted you all to see it.

In any case, I did my job well. But my health broke down. And I felt like a failure.

“You will be a great teacher.” How? When?

When I can, I make good use of this long and strange sabbatical. I’ve written a book. I’m writing another. I study assiduously. I try to understand the world I live in, and God’s plan for it. I seek to communicate through new channels. But I’m not going to kid you: some days are just plain washouts. “It” just doesn’t get done. And if someone tells me I need to go exercise on a day like that I’m going to tell them to shut up....

“I feel like a failure.”

Give it all to God.

I think everyone feels like a failure in some aspect of their lives. Maybe God has brought me to this condition so as to awaken compassion in me for others. God still loves me in my failure. His love is deep and fundamental: He loves me, period. No conditions. But he also manifests this love in my life, in our family life. Without the failure of my teaching career, my wife never would have gotten her training and certification and become the wonderful Montessori teacher that she is today. She is a great teacher. And our family has grown closer. Perhaps more important than anything else is the fact that we are keenly aware that we are not the ones who are in control....

I know that the words, “God loves you” are not cheap. In these days I hear with compassion about people who lose their jobs. People who are sick. People who are struggling with all sorts of problems. People who just don’t think that what they do is worthwhile.

I think I can say this without being cheap: “Give it all to God. He loves you.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Offering, Abandonment, and Trust

I thought I would say a word or two about offering this evening.

I wrote a chapter in my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (see  entitled "Offering is Not Easy." It was about the difficulty, or more precisely my difficulty, of "offering up" sufferings to God. People who know me, or my book, or this blog, know that I suffer from Chronic Lyme disease as well as various psychiatric problems that may be associated with or exacerbated by it. I read a few things today that provoked me to recognize that--although I have learned a little about offering since I wrote the book--I still have a long road before me.

What have I learned? I think I am more aware of the degree to which trust and abandonment are at the center of offering our suffering to God in union with the Cross of Christ. These things are attitudes of the heart that are not always the focus of consciousness during the actual experience of suffering. They are habits to be cultivated, with dogged persistence, by perseverance in prayer, accountability to other trusted persons, and by the sacraments. These develop consistent dispositions of abandonment and trust, which are more important than any subjective spiritual experience of consolation or security.

One realizes this especially in mental suffering. Unlike physical suffering, which can be in some way "objectified" by the mind, psychological suffering cuts right through the mind, so that the person enduring it often is not consciously aware that their pain is "really" pain--there is the deluded perception of worthlessness, distorted sources of anxiety, and the powerful appearance that what is in one's mind is under one's control. The result is that one attributes the failure to have psychological control to one's own lack of character. It is easy to conclude that one has nothing worthy to offer to God in any of this, while one is going through it.

But abandonment and trust are real things. They grow by being lived, and (mysteriously) by enduring the stripping away of obstacles to them. There is one thing I know: living a life of abandonment to God and trust in God entails walking the path God has given us: prayer, the sacraments, the perspective of others through whom He shows us His mercy. Stay with these things. In mental sufferings, there is sometimes a hidden voice that whispers, "Don't try to be close to God, you hypocrite. Distance yourself from Him. You are not worthy." When you hear that voice, you pray the name of Jesus and you call on St. Michael.

I want to mention one "practice" in particular: the morning offering. It can take various forms, but its essence is to begin the day (as much as possible, "literally," i.e. when you first wake up) with a prayer in which you acknowledge and assent in freedom to the reality that Jesus Christ is the source, the "substance," and the fulfillment of everything that you do and everything that happens to you in the day.

Some twenty years ago, I was at one of those unforgettable gatherings with the great Msgr. Luigi Giussani, and the topic of discussion was something that sounds rather deep -- the "decision for existence." I asked Fr. Giussani how I could make the "decision for existence" in my daily life, and his response was not a philosophical discourse, but something surprisingly simple. He said, "when you wake up every morning, say the Angelus."

And so I have, for the past twenty years. The Angelus itself is a kind of "morning offering" (meditate on the prayer, or--in this season--on the Regina Coeli), although I usually follow it with the morning offering prayer to the Sacred Heart and a few other prayers. I wouldn't do any of this if I did not have at least the beginnings of trust in God, and the desire to be united to Him in Christ Crucified.

And through the years, it has worked its way into my awareness during the day, in moments of trial, and even in the midst of psychological turmoil.

Prayer. Absolutely essential. No matter how you feel.

When I say "Never Give Up" I mean this: Never Give Up on God!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mothers Day

I hope everyone had a Happy Mothers Day. We certainly did. There is a happy Mommy with some of her girls (and, yes, "Uncle Walter" in the background). There is also a picture to prove that I bought flowers for my wife. We also got some for my own dear mother (my parents came over for the day), and they got some for Eileen. It was a nice circle of exchanging gifts of flowers.

Mothers Day is a very happy day for many people. It is a day to celebrate family life, rejoice in its blessings, and be grateful to those who embrace its burdens with generous hearts.

But for others it may be difficult. Some mothers and children are estranged from one another because of discord or misunderstanding. Some mothers have passed beyond this world, and are deeply missed. Some are reminded by this day of their desire to be mothers, and of the frustration of that desire by circumstances. Some are pained by the memory of children they lost, or of children never born because of the tragedy of miscarriage.

Nor can we forget mothers who have lost their spouses or children to the devastation of war, or the many disasters that we read about in the news or watch on TV or the internet with a certain dispassion. No one knows the fragility of life more intimately than a mother whose child's life has been cut off by the seemingly implacable forces of natural or human violence. Their grief appears inconsolable.

And then there are some who carry the awful burden of having chosen to end the life within them, of having chosen to deny their own motherhood. Whatever the world says, they know in their hearts that this desperate choice has left an open wound that cries out for healing and forgiveness. They too are mothers. Their bodies have nurtured human beings, persons loved by God, but some confusion or fear or selfishness drove them to end that nurturing relationship in the womb. This violence haunts their souls. Even if they have completely suppressed the memory of it, still it cannot fail to puncture their awareness in hidden moments. It cannot fail to bring moments of sadness that reveal the anguish that lies deep within.

These are the poorest and saddest mothers in the world.

They need forgiveness. And the good news is that there is forgiveness. Forgiveness has a name: Jesus. No poverty, no sadness is beyond His reach.

What alternative could there be? Begging to the Creator of all things for forgiveness, hoping that He who transcends all things might answer such a plea, and bring healing to an incurable wound? What else could a human being do, left to his or her own efforts? What else could I do?--I who presume to instruct others while my own heart is not free from the violence of denying or falsifying the realities of my daily life. After all, who am I? Another human being in need of forgiveness.

What a wonder, that Forgiveness has come into the world, that Forgiveness is present in a human way. There is a place in the world where He has promised, always, to remain. He is with us. He has risen from the dead. He has found that which was irretrievably lost; He can restore all that has been squandered by our guilt. Let us go to Him, whatever pain we may bear.

The forgiveness of God became a man, born of a woman, a mother. For all mothers, happy or sorrowful or burdened with regret, there is the tremendous sign and gift of this Mother. She knows the joys and the sorrows of every mother, and her heart is full of compassion for those who took the life of her Son. She is a vessel of forgiving love, pouring out healing on so many wounds.

Our hope becomes concrete in the recognition of that real Mother. Mary is a Mother. That means that salvation is not a dream; it is not an idea that people have invented to cope with evil and guilt and death. Salvation is a man, who entered our history because a woman said "yes" to motherhood.

This is the deep joy, and the unconquerable hope, of Mothers Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

We Are Christians

We are Christians. What does this mean?

It does not mean that we are religious fanatics or intellectual slaves. It does not mean that we hate the physical world or refuse to be engaged with the realities of space and time. It does not mean that we consider ourselves God's "exclusive, private club" on earth. It does not define the language we speak, our cuisine, or our style of dress. It is not a racial or ethnic label. What does it mean to be a Christian?

It means that Jesus Christ is the center of our lives, and that we find Jesus through that remarkable gift of sharing our lives with other persons--the gift of the community of believers guided and nourished by Jesus through Word and sacrament, the gift which is the life of the Church.

We do not think that we are perfect; nor do we think that being Christians means that all of our opinions are correct or that the thoughts and experience of others are unworthy of attention and respect. Indeed we are willing to learn from any human being who seeks the truth in love, but we also have a great desire to share the wonderful gift that has been given to us in Jesus Christ. It is not our task to condemn any person, nor do we wish to force Jesus on any person. It is simply that our lives are shaped by the presence and the beauty and the love of Someone who we know is real, and who wants to give himself to every human person.

Thus, with open hearts and with recognition of our own weakness (and our need for forgiveness), we say to everyone, "Jesus loves you! Jesus is the way to the fullness of joy for every human being whom he has loved personally! Jesus brings new life! Jesus is Lord!"

Friday, May 6, 2011

You Scared Us, You Mischief Maker!

You are a troublemaker! A big bundle of trouble, that's what you are!

Josefina pulled a little stunt, that I have decided to write about in tonight's blog.

She has been having very loose stools for the past couple of days. That's not unusual. JoJo's digestion is still very sensitive. She gets irritated by various things and these kind of problems usually resolve themselves. Hopefully, as she grows her digestive tract will catch up with the rest of her development and she'll be fine.

But a couple of hours ago, Eileen suddenly yelled to me from the bathroom, in a panicked voice, "John, her hair is falling out. I went into the bathroom and there was a miserable JoJo on the potty and Mommy with a clump of hair.

Why would JoJo be losing her hair?

Josefina is basically a normal four year old. There are little things that remain that remind us of the trauma of the first year of her life. She is small for her age (which makes her cute more than anything else). She has the scar on her abdomen, and the little scars on various parts of her body where the tubes once were (it's still hard for me to look at them). She has mild asthma. Sometimes she doesn't hold down her food, for reasons that are not always clear. Other times she has loose stools. Perhaps she is easily prone to infections. Perhaps the intestines are still working through the consequences of  the two major surgeries that pieced them together during the first five months of her life. The pediatrician is not concerned, and is satisfied that she is progressing well.

But several days of this yuckiness, and then HAIR LOSS?

All the old instincts suddenly kicked in. Gotta get her to the ER, now. "Maybe she is suffering from some mineral deficiency," Eileen thought. She is the calm one. I am the one with imagination. "Is there blood in the stool?" I wonder. They're going to admit her, of course. The hospital. The tubes. Waiting for the phone to ring. I felt myself locking into 2007 mode.

There must be a "subconscious"--or something like it. You think you have forgotten about all these experiences and then even a minor circumstance can suddenly reawaken a whole state of mind, a whole set of emotional attitudes, memories, and postures that you haven't thought about for a long time. I steeled myself. I was ready to go into crisis mode.

And then Agnese went into a corner between the chair and the book case (this is one of JoJo's little "play" corners, where she squirrels away all sorts of things that she finds around the house that might be useful--if something is missing, check JoJo's play corners). She said, "there's a bunch of hair over here!" And scissors? "Yes."

Josefina is allowed to do cut-outs with kid scissors. Someone is supposed to watch her when she does it. But she knows where the scissors are. There were at least a couple of kids in the house besides me, so we figured we had her covered. And she usually plays quietly and harmlessly at her activity area, or with her farm animals, or even--lately--looking at a book. I don't even remember taking my eye off her, but I guess I did and so did everyone else.

Josefina had given herself a significant haircut.

"Did you cut your hair?" Mommy asked. "Yes," said Josefina, a little whiney because she was still afraid of the imminent trip to the doctor. "Why did you do that?" Eileen asked, now noticing the significant cutting that she had done underneath the outer layers of her hair.

"Because I want it like Helena," whined JoJo. Helena is a classmate at the 3-6 Montessori school, with a short, bobby hairstyle.

Oh boy!

I'm expecting this kind of thing from, maybe, Agnese (although she has not yet shown many signs of being style-conscious). I wasn't expecting my four year old to want to look like someone else in class.

But at least we could let go of crisis mode.

I wonder about that upsurge of emotion in the face of a problem. Part of it, I suppose, is my own personal mental roller coaster that we are still working to flatten out. But part of it arises from my shallowness; from the smallness of my trust in God. There is this--again "subconscious"--ghostly image of a mysterious, capricious God who inflicts gratuitous suffering for the purposes of his own "mysterious will," and who doesn't really care about his creatures. I don't know where I developed this image, this fear-filled emotional "picture" of God (which is most emphatically not what I believe about Him). Why does this image still rise up and cause me anxiety? This is a matter that I must work through, on different levels, with spiritual direction and with therapy.

God loves us. God wants what's good for us.

It takes work and prayer to knead this conviction of faith into the dough of our humanity so that it penetrates everywhere, not only the will, but the whole person, all the affections and expectations and their hidden roots in that twilight world of the subconscious, or whatever that mysterious point of contact is in the human psyche where the sense appetites reach out and seek formation and participation in the spiritualizing energies of reason and love. It takes work and prayer...and I have a long way to go.

Josefina will get her haircut, short and bobby like Helena. We can't leave it the way it is.

But we are going to hide the scissors.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Being Merciful

Be merciful.

It's much more difficult than it sounds. It means much more than being "nice." It means love, yes, but mercy is a special modality of love. To be merciful, one must shape one's actions according to the needs of others. Mercy seeks to serve the needs of others. It means to approach the other person with an awareness of his or her weaknesses and frailty, and be an instrument of help. Sometimes it means building up the person. Sometimes it means trying to help a person correct a problem. Sometimes it means comforting the person. Sometimes it means suffering with the person.

But mercy never dismisses the needs of the other. Mercy does not dismiss the sins of the other. A doctor would hardly be considered merciful if, finding a treatable tumor inside his patient, he were to ignore it out of fear of upsetting the patient.

At the same time, the doctor usually doesn't pull out a scalpel and immediately begin cutting the tumor out. He considers the best method of healing the patient, taking into account all of the patient's needs. He also does well to be sure that his diagnosis is correct. So it is with mercy. Mercy does not always make the other person feel good. But the focus and shape of a work of mercy is the other person's good, not my desire to feel proficient in wielding a moral scalpel. That applies to the whole realm of the works of mercy. Mercy does not consist in the pleasure I derive from building social or spiritual systems of providing for the needs of others.

Mercy means that I subordinate my actions, my talents, my mind, and my heart to real needs of the person in front of me. It is a kind of self-emptying, in imitation of God who "emptied Himself" and took the form that would touch our needs from within our history. It is an abandonment of self to the person in his or her need.

This is not easy. But it is beautiful. Because the person in front of me--my child, my wife, my friend, the person in the store, the person who just posted on Facebook--that person, in his or her concrete need, is Jesus.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Winning and Losing

Well, here we are during the intermission of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Capitals are down 3 games to none. Barring a miracle, we are going to lose the series.

Sports are a funny thing. Whether you are a fan or a player, you have to deal with the phenomenon of winning and losing. Hopefully, you get to win sometimes. But everyone, sooner or later, has to deal with losing.

It's a strange experience. You enter into the game and become completely engaged in the its dynamics. Your mind, your will, and your senses are all engaged in the task of doing what is necessary to win, or (in that bizarre state of being a "fan"--which is short for "fanatic") in rooting for your team to win.

So what happens if you win?

You make hi fives, you celebrate, maybe you have a party. Ticker tape parade. WooHoo! You feel great for a week. But eventually, you go back to work or wherever and, well, everything is the same. Except now you're a winner, which means you have something to live up to the next time around.

And what happens when you lose?

We may be about to experience the grim phenomenon of losing. Are you old enough to remember the old show, "ABC Wide World of Sports"? Long before your basic cable package had a half dozen 24/7 sports' stations, everything was compressed into one Saturday afternoon. There was the "thrill" of victory. But there was the agony of defeat.


That deep pit in the stomach. Cloud in the brain. Frustration. You want to kick something or throw something. When I was a kid, I would throw my transistor radio across the room when my team lost (who remembers transistor radios?). It can sometimes last for a whole day. Or several days. Especially if your team gets knocked out of the playoffs and you still have to keep hearing about the STUPID SPORT.

The Capitals just lost. It's all over.

In the words of the immortal Charlie Brown, "Rats!"

What will we do now? No more Caps' season. It's over. All our hopes, since October, all dashed. No more gathering around the T.V.--me, Mommy, and John Paul--to watch the skating, the shooting, the scoring. Sure, there's baseball (which, of course, is the best game), but still, Mommy doesn't like baseball.... We're back to two again. Shucks.

So the gloom is there in the background. But it will fade gradually, or even quickly if there are other pressing concerns, as there often are in life. But losing is tough. It leaves a scar. And it's worse if you get beaten year after year.

They say that losing builds character. In that case, my son is going to be a saint. We are (broadly speaking) in the Washington D.C. metro area. The Capitals are our only winner, in any way, shape, or form. The Wizards are a joke, the Redskins are pathetic, but nothing beats the team we're stuck with in the only sport that really matters: Baseball. The Washington Nationals are amazingly awful. I have followed baseball since 1969 (that's nineteen sixty nine) and in the past few years they have fielded some of the worst teams that have ever disgraced a major league ballpark. Perhaps I exaggerate. But it's been a pretty sorry crowd.

I can't speak for this year yet. Maybe they will be better this year. It's always hard to tell in April. That's what I've said every year. But every year they find new and one almost feels like saying "creative" ways of losing. The Nationals have made bad baseball into a kind of art form. Seriously.

So we have a summer of losing to look forward to...punctuated by the occasional win. A "curly W" is always a nice surprise; one is never expecting it, so it comes like a burst of sunshine out of the clouds. O my, it seems we've bumbled our way into winning!

I hope I'm eating these words in September. I'm strange in that I rather enjoy rooting for a loser, and the Nationals provide constant opportunities to express my wit, my chiding, and to otherwise give perhaps too much free reign to my sense of humor. But I'd trade it all in for a winner. It's only a shadow of glory, but still, in the end, even when we play, we play to win.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Very Ordinary Day

We are back to our routines, after these last two great weeks.

Mommy and the kids go off to Montessori school and the house is quiet. Does that mean I can accomplish more during the day? Not really. I rather like having everyone around.

The Summer will come soon enough.

We have launched into May. Mothers' Day is coming. The following weekend is the college graduation. Then the weekend after is John Paul's Confirmation. Then two weeks or so after that is his birthday.

John Paul will be going into ninth grade in the Fall. We are still trying to decide what to do for his High School education. There are several options. He is a bright fellow, and we want him to be in an environment where he will have formation and freedom.

Now it is night. Children are sleeping. I shall stay up late, as I usually do. I have some reading, and I often do my best reading in these late hours.

There is little to say about this day. It was very ordinary. I prayed and I tried to give myself and to accept with love and patience and gratitude whatever the day offered. I also indulged my vanity, wasted time, and allowed myself to be distracted. A very ordinary day.

I still only see the surface of things. I do not see the possibilities for great love offered by the little things. And almost all of life is little things. The little things call for little virtues like humility and kindness. I am a large and complicated person. I still do not know how to approach small things.

It is, indeed, hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. "For man it is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God." And so, I live in hope.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blessed John Paul II And Us

The joy of yesterday remains in my heart today.

Yesterday was a tremendous affirmation of the mystery of the communion of saints. In the world, it seems that when a human being dies, he or she ceases to exist. It is the end. There is memory, legacy, and perhaps artifacts of the person's life. But the person ceases to be present. The possibility for a relationship with the person, it seems, ends with death.

But the Saints are alive.

It was clear, yesterday, that John Paul II is more alive today than he was when he walked the earth. What did one and a half million people come to Rome to see? What were millions more looking for as they watched on television or the internet?

Would so many millions convene in one place simply to remember a dead man?

No. They came to witness the living Church, in a solemn ceremony, acknowledge the conviction that this man lives, sharing in the glory of God, and that he remains united with us in love and in the power of prayer.

He was a man whose life was imbued with prayer, defined by prayer, and now--in glory--he is transformed into a continual prayer that implores the mercy of God upon the whole world, and upon all those who call on him and ask his intercession. We have a great-souled, powerful, and intimate friend who lives with God, in union with Jesus Christ. And he brings Christ closer to us; through him Christ reaches us in a more concrete, more particular way--especially those of us whose lives he changed forever by his teaching and witness.

When I was 23 years old, and deeply immersed in the mental suffering that I have since recognized to be a chronic illness, I picked up the writings of John Paul II. I had read him before, many times. But here I read him with a anguished, searching heart. And my heart recognized something in those words, and in the energy of the man who had written them. It was as if everything he said shined with an implicit but unmistakable truth: "God loves you. God loves every human person. God wants to draw particularly close to every human person in this time, in this age when so many have forgotten Him. God wants to glorify His mercy. Do not be afraid."

"Every person matters. Every person, absolutely every human person has been created by God and is loved by God. And that means that even you, John, are loved by God."

And I felt that I was loved, personally, by the man who wrote the words that I was reading. I "met" him in a dialogue of mind and heart, and through him, I met Jesus Christ in a new way--a way that has remained fundamental to my identity and my way of looking at life. I discovered Jesus not just as a subject for theological study but as a Person who is really there "on the other side" of my prayers, who loves me, who is active in my life and who enables me to love Him.

Ever after, as I walked with Christ on the road that John Paul II had pointed out to me, I thought of the pope as my friend. And when God's providence brought me to the one who was to be the companion on the road of my life--my wife Eileen--He saw to it that the two of us, at the beginning of our journey together, would meet John Paul II and receive his blessing.

But there was a surprise in meeting him. He came toward us, and I remember experiencing the same thing that so many others have spoken of: his personal attention, as if we were the only people in the world at that moment. And yet we also felt something else: his great suffering, his vulnerability, his own need to be loved.

It was a privileged moment. We hugged him and held him and cried out, "We love you, we love you." He needed to experience Christ's love through us, and I know that in that moment we strengthened him. He said very emphatically in English, "Thank you." And then we asked him to bless our marriage, and he traced the sign of the cross on our foreheads. A bond was established between him and us, and the family that God has fashioned out of our married life.

After he died, I felt no hesitation in speaking to him, and in entrusting myself and my family to his prayers. He has been close to us through all our difficulties and joys.

And now our relationship grows in a new way. We join with the praying Church when we call upon him. Our friendship is rediscovered in the great companionship of the communion of saints, and we now joyfully invoke the prayers and the protection of our friend Blessed John Paul II.

He still says the same thing: "Be not afraid. Jesus loves you."