Friday, September 30, 2011

An Evening at the End of September

We had an unusual evening, one that is difficult to describe.

It could have been simple. It could have been watching the baseball playoffs and going to bed. That's what I expected of this final Friday evening in September. But the rains came in New York, so hard that even that great monument to Sports Excess--Yankee Stadium--had no remedy against them. So, instead, I talked with my son.

How much has happened in this past month. He is certainly growing in many ways as a high school student. It had been an extraordinary day. It was a school field trip, with students and teachers hiking Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park and then having a spirited afternoon and evening of intramural competitions. He was actually tired! But also full of the life of the day.

John Paul and I talk quite a bit. So there's nothing new about that. But there's already something new about him. A part of me has always been afraid of the kids growing up. But he has so much more to say! Doors are opening wide inside his soul. I like that!

After we talked and waited for the game to be called, we came out to the living room for prayers. And then Teresa came and sat on me, and we started talking about St. Therese, and her coming feast day. We got going, and Eileen and I shared old memories with the kids until they fell asleep on sofas, chairs, and Teresa in my lap. Josefina, of course, was asleep from the beginning; talk of this kind is very difficult when she is awake and scampering about. But she too will grow, and join the family circle, begin to ask questions, and find her soul. I am happy for that.

There are these moments in family life where something inside you says, "Yes, this is it. This is a hint, a little hint, of what it's all about."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Please Take My Hand

Dear Mary, I want to talk with you, and I'm doing it right here on my blog. I've sat here, as you know, debating whether this would be a real conversation or just an exercise on my part of spiritual exhibitionism, and I've come to the conclusion that--yes--it is exhibitionism, it's me showing off as usual and trying to get attention and trying to get people to think I'm being really frank and up-front and honest by showing my deepest thoughts. It's showboating and vanity, and I'm still going to do it because there is some part of me that believes that you want me to do this anyway.

So what are we going to talk about? Well, I want to say how grateful I am. I want to say thank you for a special gift that God has given me, a path that I must travel. I find myself in a marvelous place. What a gift! Thank you. Thank God. This is what I want to say first. It's so beautiful here! I love it!

Yes, I love this place too much, in a way that is out of proportion, in a way that is too attached, too preoccupied, and therefore also too much marked by insecurity and fear of loss. That is basically the way I love everything in my life. I don't suppose it does much good to brood on my imperfections in love, because to be here is a gift, and there is no giving it back. The gift is a place, but it is also a path. I look about and I find that I am on the path. And I can't go anywhere but forward.

I've got to just blunder along and follow it and trip and fall and get up and fall again. Fall into a hole and climb out and keep going. I don't really know where I am, or how long it is before I arrive. All I know is that the destination is so wonderful that it's the real reason why I love the path so much. I'd like to just sit down and dream about the destination and enjoy the place where I am, which is really so lovely. But if I don't walk I shall soon begin to fear that it's all a thing of my imagination. Not real. Just me being a fool again! Just me dreaming about a beauty that doesn't exist! I am very insecure, but the surprising thing is that I am actually grateful for my insecurity--for this "psychological weakness" of mine (is that really what it is?)--because without it I might never leave this lovely spot. I might even forget that this is a path, and that what I really want is at the end.

So I must walk. No sense being afraid. Mary, please take my hand. That's the only way. You lead. If you have my hand, I know I can go anywhere. Good. Because there are mountains on this path. I must climb them. There are oceans. I must cross them. There are walls. But you know the way through them. You know where the hidden doors are.

Here is my hand, Mary. Here is my hand. Take it. I know you won't let go.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We Are Always on the Side of Man

As Christians, we share moral beliefs not because of some partisan agenda, but because we share a real adherence of mind and heart to Christ living in the Church. I trust the Church because Christ speaks through her, and I trust Christ because He is God, and He is the meaning of my life. So I find that what the Church teaches really corresponds to my humanity; it is the truth about what it means to be a human being.

We are "counter-cultural" insofar as our culture has become a culture of death, a culture that--at it's root--hates the human, hates the destiny of the human person, hates the transcendence of the human person. We are counter-cultural because we are Christian, and being Christian means (to paraphrase Blessed John Paul II) that we are always on the side of man. Ultimately, what we are "for" is what is deepest and most true in every human person.

Every human person is loved by Christ, and has been created for God in Christ. We have to believe this, even if it does not appear to be true or "relevant" in the world. We have to believe and witness to this love in front of every person, and that can mean speaking out strongly against actions that prevent persons from knowing their true destiny, or that attack human dignity and the value of every human life. But we speak out not to be contentious, but to affirm what is essential: God’s love for the person, and the design of His love that human persons live in union with Him and with one another.

We are always on the side of man.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ask Him to Come: The Value of Spiritual Communion

The Eucharist is the center of our lives. Here the Presence of Jesus in our life today reaches a dimension that we call “substantial”–the Whole Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, present for us under the appearance of bread and wine. Here is the sacrament which is the foundation for that total involvement of Jesus in every aspect of our lives, for that constant invitation to discover Him and love Him in every moment on that personal path that He lays down for each of us.

How can I find Christ present in the world? How can I find Christ in the faces of Eileen, John Paul, Agnese, Lucia, Teresa, Josefina, in the faces of my friends, in the faces of those who I would rather not look upon, even in the faces of those who might seek to harm me? I must find Him first and adhere to Him above all in that wonderful gift in which He gives Himself to me directly and personally–the Blessed Sacrament, the “Holy Mysteries” of His Body and Blood which is He Himself in the enduring love by which He has given and poured Himself out for me.

The great mystery of the Holy Eucharist! Jesus Himself!

The great day in which we encounter our Eucharistic Lord is Sunday, and for this reason the “Sunday obligation” is not some arbitrary burden but merely an indication of the essential nature of this regular and sustained renewal of our relationship with Jesus, which gives a foundational form to our Christian life. Participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice on Sunday is the fundamental gesture by which a baptized person expresses concretely that he or she belongs to Christ: that this belonging is a real event that determines the way he or she lives in space and time. Sunday is the day that is defined by the Eucharist, and as such it is a day to be cherished, a day for rejoicing, a day given over to the foretaste of eternal life.

We know also that Jesus offers Himself to us every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and Catholic Christians who are able are invited to participate at Mass and receive him daily. And many churches are blessed to offer the opportunity to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament frequently or even “perpetually”–any time of day or night.

But I wish to speak here of something that may appear to be a “lesser” way of approaching the Eucharist, but which can also enrich the relationship between the Eucharist and our daily life. It is the practice known as “spiritual communion.” Although spiritual communion takes place at a distance, it is truly Eucharistic because it’s object is that unique, substantial Presence of Jesus in the sacrament.

This gesture of the soul is not only for those who are far from a church. Everyone can benefit from acts of "spiritual communion" made consciously during the day. Turn to Christ present in the Eucharist in your heart, especially the Eucharistic Lord being offered in the Mass. Focus on Him and ask Him to come and nourish you, strengthen you, and give you joy.

St. Thomas states beautifully that one of the effects of the receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist is joy: "being spiritually gladdened, and as it were inebriated with the sweetness of the Divine" (ST III, 79, 1). He also speaks clearly of the desire to receive the Eucharist as a "spiritual which one receives the effect of this sacrament" though not as fully as in sacramental reception (ST III, 80, 1).

Making a "spiritual communion" is more than a brain exercise or some disembodied spiritualism, because it is a desire aimed precisely at the sacrament itself in all its substantial and corporeal reality. We should all try to consciously unite ourselves to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and make a spiritual communion every day; indeed we should do so often throughout the day.

The Eucharist is always the source and summit of the Christian life, but I do not think people need be entirely robbed of Eucharistic joy if they are in circumstances where going to Mass is not part of their daily life (as is the case for many who have responsibilities at home, work, or hindrances of distance, or various other important commitments, or other reasons). Even those who attend daily Mass should make union with the Eucharist by desire a frequent part of their day.

Acts of conscious "spiritual communion" will deepen our desire and disposition for the sacramental reception of the Eucharist, by the joy they do give and also by the hunger that they increase as they seek the fullness of the Reality that gives strength and sweetness, the Reality of the One who gives joy because He is Joy.

Let us also keep in mind and heart the billions of people throughout the world who Jesus longs to feed, who hunger--unknowingly--for this Mystery which has been revealed and made available to us, and in which we can partake "spiritually" in this very moment. Let us do so often, with these many souls in mind, offering for them what has been given to us. "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world." Let us remember that Divine Mercy is Eucharistic, and that our prayer for His Mercy is a spiritual participation in the Mass and a spiritual communion; it is a Eucharistic love, which gives us missionary hearts that reach out to the whole world and every human being in it, especially those most in need of His Mercy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Patience and Reality: A Prayer

Jesus, I seek the Infinite. My heart is made for the Infinite, and every limited good is a sign of that Mystery, which is You. A sign which gives hope! Such hope, such splendor, such wonders in this world. Sometimes my soul seems drawn out of me toward the beauty that surrounds me.

But it does not last! It passes on. It fades. Or I find that it has flaws, when I draw close to it. It attracts and then disappoints. And if I try to grasp it and find You inside it, I tear it apart. I ruin it. And I am left with the taste of bitterness.

The world is a sign. It points beyond itself. As St. Augustine once told us, everything says, "I am not He. He made me!"

And so there is sorrow, because I have not yet come into possession of the One for whom I was made, the Infinite One who alone can give rest to my heart, You, O Lord!

And yet there is hope, because every good thing sings Your praises, and promises You to my heart. Give me patience in this suffering which is life, this suffering of being called to You and not yet having You.

Give me patience.

Save me from sin, which is the diminishing of myself by trying to reduce the fulfillment of my heart to anything less than You. Unite me in the suffering of patience to Your suffering on the Cross, and transform my sorrow into love for You in all things and above all things. May I, in this way, rediscover all of the wonder and beauty of the world as a promise fulfilled in Your glory. Jesus I trust in You.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

His Secret Work

If you read this blog, you know that this is a joyful and also painful time for me and my family. This is normal for human life. In pictures everyone smiles. And for us this is not false, because the life we have been given is good. But it is not easy, and we have struggles. I have spoken of my struggles, and they continue to persist. At the same time, these are days of surprising joys, and of circumstances that speak clearly of the real, concrete presence of Christ in my life. It is an exhilarating, but also arduous and confusing time for my soul.

I know that what I’m going through now really is for my good, and that God is doing His secret work and building me as a person. I don’t see what He is doing inside me. I see only pain and weakness, and how easily I break, how terribly fragile I am no matter how strong my words may sound. I see how full of vanity I am, how much I long for approval, how superficial my affections are, how everything in me falls short of what I have seen, what I believe, what is drawing my heart.

But I look outside myself and I find that life has more meaning, God is more at the center of things, others are more beautiful and precious and it is more evident that they are made for God. That means something is growing in my life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Grain of Wheat

O Jesus,
the grain of wheat fallen
into our little earth...

into our little sorrow, joy, work, hope;
into our little frustrations, bitterness, vanity, suffering;
into this curving, confining space—
buried with us, Your chosen dwelling place!

Into our breathless earth,
down deep into fallow souls,
shriveled soil, grown barren
from the dense, heavy weight
of so much unoffered love.

Jesus, You—only You!
O Lord Jesus Come!
Burst the ground of my heart
with a harvest of abundant fruit.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A College and a Community in the Shenandoah Valley

Tonight I want to write a few words about the institution to which I devoted most of some twenty years of my active teaching career, and why it remains so important to me even now.

Christendom College was founded by Warren Carroll, four other faculty members, a handful of supporters, and 27 students who were convinced during the upheavals in academia in the early 1970s that there was a need for a college offering a liberal arts education that acknowledged Christ at the center of history. It was an unlikely enterprise in almost every respect, but one thing after another fell into place through the years to enable the college to grow into the solid institution it has become today, with a beautiful campus in the Shenandoah Valley and over 600 undergraduate and graduate students.

The college was founded to be an academic institution, with a curriculum that would shed the light of the Incarnation on the whole human quest for truth that is embodied in the great humanities tradition. But in bringing together people who believe that Christ is really the most important thing in history and the One who gives purpose to life, the college would also bring together people who shared a profound spiritual and human bond with each other.

No one really thought that this college was destined to be the beginning of a great "family" of people from all manner of circumstances and backgrounds, who were to discover a pervasive human solidarity with one another by virtue of their common experience of Christ living in His Church.

And because this experience is real, it can embrace the whole of each person's humanity. Unlike a cult or a sect or a gang, it does not create artificial bonds by inflating one aspect of human needs while suppressing or obscuring others, nor does it depend on a system of emotional manipulation. In spite of all the flaws of human interaction that are present among us, time and perspective reveal that the community generated by Christendom College is one that has room for the whole scope of the human person.

Above all it is a place where mercy for one's faults is experienced. Christendom is not entirely coherent in any of this, but the deep sense of belonging according to the truth of one's self as a person is discovered here. If anything, this extraordinary bond results in more passionate disagreements among us about many particulars, precisely because everyone has such an ardor for the splendid gift that is shared and that must be fostered.

Such is the case that many who have had contact with the college, or with institutions that have grown up around it, have come to settle in the Front Royal, Virginia area. Thus a growing population of young Catholic families find themselves spontaneously contributing to a network of enterprises expressing faith, humanity, and an enriching community life.

The grace of Christ is here, and although we still need to be led by the Lord to give it greater space within us, it has already begun to engender an environment that offers hope for our present time and for the future.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I'm here in the house with my beauties!

Agnese would punch me if she knew I was calling her a "beauty." Yes, Agnese punches me sometimes, or pulls my socks off if my feet are up in the chair. It's all teasing, and then I tell her (teasingly, in a excessively deep and slightly britishified voice) "You are not being respectful to your faaaather" and she laughs and goes away and hides my socks.

I kid with them a lot, but they know my "real serious voice," and they are very respectful if I take on a truly serious demeanor. But as much as possible, our home is a cheerful, happy, and humorous place.

Agnese is not very talkative. She is simple in her manners, her requests, and her goodnight hugs. It is difficult for me to compliment her on anything, and if I tell her that she is beautiful, she is ready to have a wrestling match.

But Agnese is beautiful. When she loves something, she really loves it. She loves the outdoors, and drawing, and horses and reading (like crazy) and "doing fun things" (which we never do enough of). I tease her and say, "I'm so sorry that you've had such a boring childhood," and she'll immediately respond, "No I haven't!" But then maybe she'll say, "I wish we had a bigger yard"--and I know that that is really true.

Agnese will be 13 in December. I have no idea what a 13 year old girl is like on the inside. Especially this one. She is a free spirit. I love that! And I love her spunkiness, and that she doesn't fall for an "easy line," but I sometimes feel like I don't know how to show love for her. I love her so much and I hope that she knows. I think she really loves me a lot.

Perhaps I feel as if we sometimes don't communicate because Agnese has a certain reserve, quietness, even shyness about her, while I am naturally ebullient, affectionate, verbal and expressive. That is my personality. If I suddenly pretended reserve toward her, or if I stopped teasing her, I think she might feel that something was wrong. Still, I need to approach her with more of an "internal intensity" of openness, that allows her to say what she wants (because sometimes she will begin talking about something, or asking questions with great interest). Then I must listen to her, let her aspire, and gently indicate where the boundaries are. I'd like to think that this is the general atmosphere that we cultivate in our home.

That is one aspect of being her father. Another, however, is to make sure she has secure ground as she grows more and more toward society and toward maturity as a young woman. She will be told by many that she is beautiful, and she needs a standard by which to measure those statements; she needs to know from experience what it means to be perceived as a beautiful person–to have the precious person that she is looked upon with eyes of true love. Those eyes have been given to me, since the beginning of her life, so that I can help her to grow into a person who is aware of those who truly love her, so that she will be able to distinguish a loving gaze from one that is possessive, manipulative, corrupting or violent.

That means that, regardless of her protests, she needs to hear from me that she is beautiful and she needs me to have confidence in her.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The High School Student

This is the guy in the house who looks like he actually has a real job these days. John Paul is a High School student.

He leaves early in the morning in a collared shirt. He's gone most of the day. He comes home in the afternoon and proceeds immediately to his room to continue working. He's finished around five o'clock.

Then he spends a few hours acting like a kid before he goes to bed, rather promptly and of his own free will, at ten. Ten o'clock! Heck, I'm just warming up at ten, in my bunker with my books and laptop and all the exotic devices and connections that establish links between the interior of my mind and every corner of the world. I may go many places before I go to bed at three in the morning, turn on the BBC, listen to the morning news from Europe and then finally drift off to sleep. Before then, perhaps I'll visit Europe, or the Middle East, or California. That's about twelve time zones. Or, I'll put the technology aside and pick up a book and travel back in time, in my mind, 400 years to central Europe, Russia, Poland, or the Ottoman Empire as I seek to discover the lines that drew the map of the "modern" world--a world that is now shifting dramatically in the rapid demographic and cultural encounter between East and West. While that study develops, I work on my upcoming book, or use the social media to make myself available to new friends and old in many different places.

I have a strange, exotic life--in many ways more creative and communicative than ever--but there are days when I do everything in sweatpants.

The kid dresses spiffy every day, and keeps regular hours.

But John Paul is thriving on the routine. He is experiencing some of the disciplined freedom that is opening up the world of his adolescence to larger experiences, to taking on responsibilities on his own initiative, to a measure of independence. He is being educated and formed in an institution we can trust. Once again, God has blessed our family.

John Paul is following all the rigors of a High School curriculum at a private academy. Foundations of self-discipline and the habits of ordered liberty are being instilled in him at the age when he is ready to receive them. Certainly, much of his adolescent growing crisis remains ahead of him, but he has a solid context in the places of home and school in which it can unfold. Meanwhile, the foundations of a lifetime are being laid.

These are necessary foundations, even if the winds of life later blow him into circumstances that require him to work in a more unconventional way. A well formed perspective and good habits will enable him to lay hold of whatever opportunities present themselves in life.

I love to watch my son grow. He seems to become more and more...himself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Everything is His Gift

We trust God because we know He loves us.

Everything is His gift, and expresses His personal love for each of us and for the relationships between us. He is Love. He can only love. In the Cross He reveals that He is Love and He gives Himself as love, and He shows us that He is totally united to us in our difficulties. Totally united with us. So we don't have to be afraid of anything. It's hard not to be afraid, but of course, He is with us even in our fear. He has given Himself and gives Himself as present in our lives now through Jesus and His Church.

In the end, we will be amazed when we realize what He has done for each of us. The marvelous truth will be clear: God is the Great Lover, He pours Himself out for each person, as only God can--all the hidden ways will one day be manifest. He gives because He is the Giver, He is Gift.

Of course, a gift needs to be received, and love is only received in a fully personal way by the return of love. We have to say "yes" to God, through our life.

Saying yes to God, saying yes to the next step as God's light makes it clear to us, saying yes and praying with trust that He will make it possible.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Let It Be a Work of Mercy

How can I "understand" another human being?

I don't even understand myself. The textures and layers of my own humanity are a mystery to me. Can I even sort through all the complicated inclinations and emotions and levels of "intent" that motivate me to write these words?

I am an intricate tangled knot and what is needed is a simple, straight stretch of cord.

And I aspire to teach others, to help people understand reality and themselves? I have words. I have many words, too many. Words are my trade, my tools, and my material. It is, surely, a work that someone must do.

It is not everything, though the wordsmith can be tempted to think he has the world in his grasp. It is very little in front of the mystery of another person, or the mystery of one's self. But it can be a help.

Let it be a work of mercy, Lord. For I am in the hand of Your Mercy in a way beyond my knowledge. Forgive me for my weakness and my smallness and my vanity. And let my poor work be in the hand of Your Mercy that carries others, and let all my desire to help be given over to You and opened and shaped according to Your design and Your wisdom.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Exaltation of the Cross, Triumph Over Sin and Death

Today, the Church has celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, or "triumph" of the Cross, as it is sometimes known in the West. It has a historical reference to the events that led to the finding of the place where Jesus died on the Cross by St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.

The real meaning of the Feast, however, is Jesus and His love--which in all the suffering and agony and dying of the Cross is a Triumph because it is where God's Love proves itself greater than all sin and death.

In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus always speaks about His "Hour"--referring to His approaching death--as the same "Hour" in which He is "glorified" by the Father. " 'And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all things to myself' He said this to show by what death He was to die" (John 13:33).

In His death His glory is revealed, because in death He gives us His Love, and that is what (or who) God is. GOD IS LOVE.

I pray that every person might be touched, awakened, and changed by the light of the Glory of the Cross--the revelation and the enduring gift of Divine Mercy that springs from the very mystery of the God who is Love.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Montessori Mayhem and Mrs. Janaro

It's that time of year again.

The beginning of a new school year at the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center. That means more than the usual chaos at the Janaro household. Mrs. Janaro is the teacher of the elementary program at the center, and three of the Janaro children are among her students. And, of course, a fourth Janaro child is in the primary program, for ages 3-6.

This means that, in the past few days, routines have been changing and a heroic work of preparation has been carried out.

First, perhaps I should say something about the nature of a Montessori educational program, or the "Montessori method"--this very particular way of creating and fostering the conditions and providing the guidance for a child's encounter with reality and Truth.

I am hardly the most competent person to explain this. My wife should really be writing this part. Let me try, however, to give some broad idea based on my own observations which are "from the outside," so to speak.

Developed by the Italian educator Maria Montessori in the early part of the twentieth century, the Montessori method involves designing the classroom as an environment with many different activities organized into different areas. The teacher gives lessons to individuals or groups of students on different "work" and then the kids do the work and even make progress in it at their own pace. The emphasis is on the child's particular way of learning, and his being engaged and interested by different activities in a way that gives him a real sense of freedom while at the same time having a lot of structure built into the environment and the guidance of the teacher (who moves from child to child or group to group in the classroom).

There is a lot of "hands on" stuff for math and science, geography, history, writing, and plenty of reading in conjunction with experimental stuff. Always the kids are experimenting and getting into things with their eyes, ears, hands and then drawing out the concepts. And it's very quiet and very organized in the classroom of 30+ kids.

Montessori kids tend to develop into creative, self-motivated learners who are open to reality. I see it in my own kids. Josefina has a really constructive way of playing. The other kids are always educating themselves, and interested in knowing and seeing and touching things, and taking on responsibilities. And they have all the elementary level subject matter so that when they finish the program at age 12-13, they are ready to go into High School (which is what John Paul is doing now--so far so good).

Since the stability of the environment is so important, a very important part of a teacher's work takes place before the first class begins. The environment must be organized, attractive and in good condition. There must be a plan to help accustom new students to the method. The established and "authoritative" nature of the classroom environment must be set firmly and adequately manifest, so that it will draw the interest of the student from the very first day.

This means that immediate preparation for that first day can be heck!

Poor Eileen. She was up until 5:00 in the morning, grabbed less than two hours of sleep, and then was off with the kids in tow for the first day. Since John XXIII is such a small enterprise, my wife does everything she can personally to make sure that the classroom and the students have what they need. This year she sewed new and larger pouches for 30+ kids, assembled their binders, made laminated name cards for each one, night after night while the lights stayed on even later than they usually do at the Janaro home.

After all this sleep deprivation, she also must act on the first morning as the Mommy of several students who, during the summer, have forgotten the routine of school life. The exhausted Mommy takes the children to school with her. Many hours later she returns from the battle to lie down for an hour or so and then get up and provide mother-love to her own little ones who were among her students earlier that day. No matter what Daddy may do, there is no substitute--in the end--for a mother to bring into the environment of the home the attentiveness necessary to make it a place where truth and love have space to flourish and boundaries to lead them in the right direction.

It is a day that leaves me with a sense of awe and gratitude. I cannot express the depth of my appreciation for  my marvelous wife Eileen Janaro, for all she gives at the Montessori center, and then for coming home and continuing to give herself. She is a great woman!

Monday, September 12, 2011

We All Need To Be With Him

How do people live without God?  I am not surprised that sick people, living in misery in a world that says there is no God—that there is nothing but this life—are tempted by euthanasia or suicide.  Why go on dragging yourself around like an old dried up piece of meat in a world that has no meaning beyond physical vitality?  What amazes me is that people who do not know God, living in a world that constantly proclaims that there is no God (or, at least, no God worth bothering about), have the energy and desire to go on living.  I think the only way to account for this is the fact that there is a God who cares personally for everyone—even those who do not yet know Him or who think that they have rejected Him.

God plants the seeds of hope in every human heart.  If there were nothing but this life, then despair would be the logical human position even for the healthiest of people.  Why is it, then, that the human person has to be driven to despair, as if it were against nature?  Why do people endure so much unimaginable misery, and keep going?  They do not “feel” like there is any reason to carry on, and yet they do.  We have a sense that there is more, Something more, than what we feel—even when what we feel is terrible.  I do not think that billions of dollars are spent on health care just because people want to extend their miserable little lives a bit more before they are ground into nothingness by an implacable material universe.  People have a tenacious sense—even if they are unconscious of it—that there is a path and that they are on it, that they are going somewhere and that they have to keep going forward.

What does this mean to me, a Christian, burdened by circumstances, but also blessed with the gifts of faith, hope and charity?  I feel sick.  That is not insignificant.  It is a part of my path—a path that I walk with Jesus.  Does that make me feel better?  Sometimes.  But that is not the point.  If “walking with Jesus” were nothing more than a pious sentiment designed to make me feel better (temporarily), it would not be worth much.  The point is this: “walking with Jesus” is the truth; it is what constitutes the reality of my life.  I do not always feel the truth of this.  I believe it.  And as I walk with Him—as I live inside of this relationship with Him—He strengthens my certainty; He builds up my life.  He manifests through abundant signs that He is with me on my path.  If I stay with Him, He will sustain me.  This is what it means to live as a Christian.  It means that I belong to Christ.

And because I am a Christian, something stirs in me and moves me to want to be a light to those who are stumbling along toward that which they do not know.  I want to cry out, “Keep going!  Keep looking, asking, groping.  Cry out for help....You have a heart that whispers Truth, Goodness, Beauty.  You’re angry and frustrated because you can’t see any truth, or goodness, or beauty.  But your heart is not lying.  Listen to it.  It is a promise: you will not be cheated.  So don’t give up.”  No matter how I may feel, I know that this is true.

How can I be so sure?  How can I be sure that you will not be cheated if you really listen to your heart and cry out for help and keep seeking?  Because Jesus is real, and He loves you—He is right in front of you on the path, even if the fog prevents you from seeing Him.  He created your heart.  He put the desire for truth, goodness, beauty, justice, love, and dignity within your heart.  He is Truth, Goodness, Beauty; He is the Reality that every genuine impetus of your heart seeks.  He is seeking you, and He wants you to let yourself be found.

Jesus is not a drug that helps me dull my pain.  Nor is He just my particular “philosophy of life” or my “support community”—something that “works for me” but might not necessarily “work for you.”  He is for me, because I am a human being.  That means He is for you.  I am sure of this.

But how?  Who do I think I am anyway?  What makes me so sure that my ideas about the meaning of life are true for everyone?  That is just the point: these are not “my ideas”—this is a relationship.  He is here, in my life, in a relationship with me.  In fact, He started it—not me.  I could never give myself this certainty, not even with all the philosophy of all the ages.  What else could sustain this certainty in a blockhead like me?  I am amazed at myself, at the fact that I am so certain about this....What make me certain?  It is Jesus Himself—not just some vague ideals about “goodness” or “the importance of Christian ethics” or even “my understanding about the value of suffering.”  It is Jesus, the objective, actual, true Son of God, the living man who is with us now.  I need to be with Him.  We all need to be with Him.

From  my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After Ten Years: Hatred and Death, or The Hint of a Possibility

I was running around, gathering materials and trying not to be late for class. It was just another ordinary morning for a busy college professor. Did I have my coffee with me. Can't remember. I remember seeing the water fountain. Then I passed by my brother's office and poked my head in.

"Did you hear about this?" he asked with a look of some concern and also curiosity at the unusual news. "An airplane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers." The first picture that came into my mind was a small private plane. My brother was reading it on the internet. "The building is on fire."

Oh my, I thought. This is a real crisis.

Then, suddenly, there was that weird moment when the whole thing revealed itself to our minds. We had thought we had a grasp on the thing--some strange pilot error (or something) had resulted in an unusual and costly tragedy; terrible yes, but these things do happen from time to time in our world.

But then came the voice of my brother from his office: "What? Another plane has just crashed into the second  tower!" Suddenly, all the "normal" explanations disappeared from my mind. The whole thing began to spin beyond mental and imaginative conception. Only one thing was clear: this was a sinister and deliberate act.

As I made my way to the classroom, other people were filling in details. Commercial passenger planes. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon. How? Who was behind it? How did they do it? What did they want? WHO OR WHAT WAS THE NEXT TARGET?

By the time I arrived (quite late, but no one cared at this point--by now we weren't even sure there was going to be a school day), one of my students had some concrete information. Terrorists from some Islamic faction had hijacked the planes and flown them directly into the buildings. Oh no. Oh no. This was beyond the scope of the immediate circumstances. It was violence perpetrated in God's name. The fundamental energy of human being--the movement toward transcendence--had been twisted and deformed into a horrible and fearfully powerful spiral of destruction.

I gathered my class into the classroom and we prayed.

We decided to hold a normal school day. The reasoning was that the terrorists wanted us to be afraid, and so we should not satisfy them by changing our schedule and thus demonstrating that they had power over us. But few people had a mind for classes. The perpetrators were exercising power, and it was compelling. It almost called for our attention.

Later, Eileen brought the children to a community center where many of us gathered to watch in horror as the towers crumbled to the ground. John Paul was only 4, Agnese 2, and Lucia 1. They were too small to understand. I was grateful for that.

What we were looking at was more than a political act. It was a human event. Whatever the subjective intentions of its perpetrators, it was--objectively--an act of unambiguous violence against innocent human beings. Anyone unblinded by prejudice and with a remnant of moral sensibility recognized that what they were witnessing was something evil. The whole world watched the evil unfold. Hatred and death.

Some anecdotes were related. One was particularly striking: people were jumping out of windows to escape the inferno. A man and a woman jumped from the 82 floor, holding hands. Holding hands.

This is the image that motivated a concise reflection on the challenge that 9/11 posed to those who witnessed it. To those of us who remained. Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete expressed it in these words in a subsequent interview with the program "Nightline":

To me, that image is an inescapable provocation. This gesture, this holding of hands in the midst of that horror, it embodies what Sept. 11 was all about. The image confronts us with the need to make a judgment, a choice. Does it show the ultimate hopelessness of human attempts to survive the power of hatred and death? Or is it an affirmation of a greatness within our humanity itself that somehow shines in the midst of that darkness and contains the hint of a possibility, a power greater than death itself? Which of the two? It's a choice. It's the choice of Sept. 11.

Friday, September 9, 2011


I just had a most extraordinary experience: SKYPE!

The occasion finally arose for me to stop stalling, fork over 20 bucks for a webcam, and make an actual Skype call. Omigosh it's a REAL PERSON! I'm still in shock. I know, some of you have been doing this for years (give me your numbers and let's "skype"). But for me, this is a revelation. It's better than the Jetsons!

Webcam! Why don't people use it? The kids' California grandparents have been on us to get hooked up, but I figured it was a big techno-hassle (it was easy). My parents, ay! this is made for my parents. Facebook my father cannot understand, but this he'll take to very easily. This is the "picture-phone" we dreamed of back in the 70s!

It really is almost "like" the person is "there"--they can hear things that are being said by people off-screen, just like if they were in the room. It was very surprising and unusual and much better than I expected.

Here is yet another device of human ingenuity devised to harness the vast features of material reality and shape them so that they might serve that ineradicable human desire of persons to be with one another.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Silence, Abandonment, Presence in the World

I pray for those who never pray, who never lift up their minds and hearts to God, and especially for those who do not even recognize that there is Something greater than themselves, who have become insensitive to their own searching, dissatisfied, wounded hearts. I pray that they might be surprised, stirred, awakened.

Of course, prayer is the fruit of silence, as Mother Teresa reminds us. And we live in a culture that flees from silence, from the depths of the heart where the recognition of our nothingness and the longing for God are found. People flee because they are afraid of their nothingness, and it is beyond their imagining that there might be a Something that answers the aching cry of their nothingness, and fills it.

So our culture is absorbed with noise, with the distractions provided by the mass media, with anything that will take a person away–for a time–from the seemingly unanswerable riddle of his or her own self. But even here, there is hope. Because the Something that corresponds to and answers the painful, frustrated, and alienated human heart has chosen to reveal Himself. He has chosen to take flesh and make Himself known, to seek out every human person on the roads of the world. Like the Shepherd who looks for the lost sheep, He does not hesitate to plunge into the brambles if He thinks He might find the sheep there. The brambles are full of thorns, but this does not deter Him. He knows the pain of thorns.

He is greater than fear, and He is searching for those who are trying to run away. They try to distract themselves in the world of technology, but He is there too. Perhaps they will bump into Him on the TV, or the internet or the radio--perhaps there they will come across Him, His words, the expression of His love, in a way that strikes them for the first time.

Whether He is there or not, however, depends on us.

It is through us that He continues His search. We give voice to His words. We are His hands reaching forth, and through our eyes His loving gaze is bestowed on others. This is why those of us who know Him must abandon ourselves completely to Him, and allow the love and mercy that we have experienced to flow through us and touch those who are sent to us.

Therefore, let us meet Him every day in the silence of our hearts, and let us allow Him to surprise and awaken us with His love–because it is not a theory about life that changes us, but the embrace of His merciful love, now, in this moment in which we live. Let us live together and sustain one another in this moment, and together let us be instruments of His presence in the world–joyful servants of His mysterious work of awakening the human heart.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Every Human Being is a Person

One thing that we tend to think we've made great progress on in our culture is our respect for handicapped people, for people with disabilities, for people who are afflicted with conditions that put (sometimes severe) limitations on their capacities and activity even as they continue to live in our midst. We have developed many ways in our society to accommodate these people, and make it possible for them to be as self-sufficient in many ways. We are even beginning to develop sensitivity and empathy for those who suffer from mental disabilities. Nevertheless, something is still missing. In a sense, the most important thing is missing.

We need to grow in our hearts so as to be able to accept people with these conditions as persons and to love them in such a way that we are truly willing to put ourselves at risk. We are far from being able to do this in a really humble way.

I am not talking about my own problems here, which are mostly invisible to others, and therefore do not pose quite such a vivid challenge to them when they encounter me. People who are quite obviously hindered, however, and who struggle openly with the constraints that life has imposed upon them have a difficult time finding acceptance.

Many of us make an effort to be very kind and helpful toward these people, but we tend to withdraw from them in many subtle ways, as if we need to draw lines of protection around ourselves and put them on their own private island, separate from the rest of the "normal" human race. I think it's natural for humans to feel fear and want to distance ourselves from a person who is not "fully equipped" as a human being, perhaps because it reminds us of our own radical lack of control over life–ultimately our own mortality.

The result, however, is that these people suffer from a terrible kind of loneliness and a sense of "I don't belong."

We need not condemn ourselves for what is a half-instinctive reflex of the natural tendency of self-preservation. But we must pray for the grace to overcome it. If we are to discover a faith in Christ that is going to penetrate our personal and social relationships, we need to find and live–on a level more profound than our society has yet seen–a reverence for the poor in our midst.

This is accomplished by that asceticism which looks at every human being, whatever their condition, and sees the person, primarily and decisively. Every human being is a person. The perception of this must be continually reaffirmed in our awareness, and we must look at every other aspect of the person’s condition as part of God’s particular plan for their destiny in His image and likeness, and focus our love on the service of this destiny–the service of the person.

We are all poor, we are all "disabled" in different ways. We need to look at each other and see the person who is made for God. We must help each other to live according to God's will, with humility.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thank You Mother Teresa

September 5 is the "feast day" of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Someday I shall tell the story of the special role she played in my life, and continues to play in my life and the life of my family. Tonight, however, I shall let her speak a few words without comment. For no comment is necessary. Thank you, dear Mother Teresa, for all the love.

Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own home. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting. 

Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Internet: A Wild, Uncontrolled Place?

There is so much garbage on the internet!

Everywhere there is manipulation and degradation. Everywhere there are opportunities to indulge all manner of shameful behavior. It is a great, worldwide platform for gossip and slander and the propagation of rumors and lies. Would it not simplify life just to turn the whole thing off?

Perhaps, for some.

If it leads one down wrong paths, then one should turn it off. Better to enter into life
without a media device....

But we must not be driven away simply by a sense of disgust. I think our best hope is to build something true and good in whatever space we are given. Otherwise there will be nothing but evil. We must live in the world, and that means, for us (according to our time, talents, circumstances, and inclination), that we must live on the internet, on social media, on blogs, even when we find ourselves alongside some strange company.

We must not become discouraged over the fact that the internet is a wild, uncontrolled place. After all, the whole world is like that. But something new has happened in the world. That newness wants to manifest itself everywhere. If we are different from the rest of the world, it is only because something new has happened in our lives.  A light shines in the darkness.

Put the light on the lamp stand.

"What will change the world? A piece of the world that has already been changed"
(Luigi Giussani).

Friday, September 2, 2011

He is Always Paying Attention To Us

Jesus is really at work in our lives.

I believe this in faith. I believe in His particular love for me and for every person. Sometimes I remember it in real life, when I am surprised by the recognition of the fact that He is present in this moment; that whatever the circumstances may be, he is using them as elements of a Person to person dialogue with me. God became man in order to seek out each one of us; He has personalized the whole, vast, apparently random and chance-filled universe. He takes all the multitudes of forces that come together and make up the situation of reality at any given moment, and fashions them--from all eternity--into a love song that He wants to sing to each of us personally.

There are no "coincidences" in real life. In the ultimate truth of things, which has to do with their place in God's plan, no event is insignificant; no situation we find ourselves in can be called "meaningless," because God in Christ has chosen to dwell in this world, and to shape everything into the possibility to discover Him through love, through joy, through suffering freely embraced, through sharing His mercy.

And it is not just in a distant, far-off way that we seek God in the midst of an apparently meaningless life. God has come to us, to dwell in every circumstance so as to call us to recognize His presence, to draw us to Himself--even through the terrible stuff--and to evoke from us the response of confidence and love.

Sometimes, I recognize this.

Then there are times when it seems to hit me over the head, as if He is so tremendously intent upon getting my attention and inspiring in me a sense of wonder that He could love me so much. He works small, quiet, undocumented miracles right inside of my daily life and in the lives of others. He surprises me, again and again.

Sometimes we are dry in our relationship with God because He is preparing our souls to encounter Him more profoundly. But sometimes we are dry because we are simply not paying attention to Him.

Even then, however, He is always paying attention to us.

Tonight I am just full of gratitude and wonder. He dwells among us. He shapes everything into a path for our steps. At the heart of the experience of life there is this marvelous dialogue that uses everything for its language. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "the universe is a word between God and the soul."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Teaching and Learning

The beginning of September makes me think of the many years when I had a normal academic routine, as a student and then as a teaching professor. There are advantages, certainly, to the "quieter" style of life that I now must live, not the least of which is the freedom to make my own schedule. But I miss being caught up in that great swell of activity and anticipation and "new beginnings" that are always in the air with the new academic year. Still, I remain a teacher, and not only "at heart." I have found new forums in which to teach, and new subjects too. And I remain a student. In these last several years I have studied and observed and learned so much, from books, from other media, from observation, from endurance, from the whole scope of this unusual life.

I am convinced that the best teachers are also perpetual students; they communicate to their own students the enthusiasm about what they are learning. The best way to guide the search for truth (in any area) is to be on it one's self. The teacher is the one who is at the head of the hike, looking for the hilltop through the laborious path, and when he comes to the top and sees the view, he shouts back to the others: "come this way, it's here, look at this wonderful view!" The teacher is the one who wants to know all about what he is seeing, who studies the map so he can say, "there is the river that flows into that lake where the old fort is, and beyond the horizon there is...."

The teacher is also the one who sees the next hill, and says, "now we have to
climb this one!"