Monday, October 31, 2011

All I Can Do Is Offer Everything To You

O God, what is the design of Your wisdom for the human race? You have willed to manifest and glorify the Mystery of who You are by pouring Yourself out and becoming one of us. You dwell among us and give Yourself up entirely for each and all of us.

You reveal that the Absolute Being is Absolute Love, and You offer that Love to each of us. In your wisdom you shape the hearts of each of us, fashioning us to be Your companions, making us capable of giving and receiving love and then placing Yourself in the midst of us so that we might love You and be loved by You and be transformed into Your likeness.

O Jesus help me.
All I can do is offer everything to You.
You have created me for Yourself.
My heart desires You,
and yet how often do I even think of what I do?
I am resolved to do the best I can.
I am resolved to seek Your will and to do Your will,
because Your will is Love,
and it will always be what will enlarge my soul,
and make me truly free,
because I am made for Love.
So I offer myself to You;
I abandon myself completely to You,
and to Your plan for my life.
I know there is weakness and resistance in me
that I do not know how to overcome.
I know there are ways I must grow that I do not understand.
I know that my life is a mystery hidden in Your wisdom and goodness.

O Jesus, I offer everything to You.
Convert me.
Change me.
Open my heart to the love You give me in this moment.
Carry my soul.
Give me, in Your Infinite Mercy, the willing heart
that loves You in the way You long for me to love You.
I am hindered from the freedom for which I have been made,
the freedom to live as the image and grow as the likeness of God.
And so I abandon myself entirely to Your Mercy.
For You have loved me first,
so that--by the power of Your love--I might love You
and receive You in giving myself to You.
Jesus I trust in You.
Jesus I trust in You, completely.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not For Myself Alone

What a tremendous thing is the Eucharistic liturgy. The whole of creation is brought to the worship of God in the offering of Jesus Himself, through the ministry of His priests. We are truly blessed to bring ourselves and our lives to offer in union with the Heart of Jesus on Sunday–that special day dedicated to Divine worship. Yet there are so many places, and so many hearts, in which Sunday means nothing. And there are places too where Christians long to participate in the Eucharist, but are prevented by persecution.

I must have a special attention and gratitude for what is being given to me in the Mass. I have to be aware that it is not a personal "religious thing" just for me. It is a gift, and the gift is Love, which cannot be "kept" for myself alone but must be given and given. I am not at Mass for myself alone. I am there for the salvation of the world, to be an instrument of Christ's love for the world and for every one of the billions of human persons who will not be at Mass, who do not know Him or do not understand Him, or who must suffer because of their circumstances.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Your Love Does Not Leave Us Alone

Dear Jesus,
Your Love does not leave us alone.
You became man to be with us,
and so in the torrent of Love that gives without limit,
we find You in our brothers and sisters.
We are not given this life alone;
we walk this road together, with others,
whom You give us,
that we might be together.
You make us a People
in the midst of all the peoples of the world.
A People who belong to each other
and who belong to all peoples,
especially those who are abused
and forgotten
and disdained by this passing age.
You give us to one another,
and through one another You sustain us.
You send us forth together
to remind each other that You are with us on the road,
to be the reflection of Your Presence to one another,
and the support of one another on this road
of suffering and love.
You are with us in our love for one another,
that passes through time and space,
that crosses distances,
that is given through gestures and elements and signs,
that gathers together to express love
and worship
and wonder
in the mystery of Your Presence.
So we are sustained
and Your Love begins to build something new
in the midst of this world,
even making use of our weakness.
We discover in this place,
in this history,
in this People gathered as a great family,
in which the greatest must serve the rest,
in this common love,
in this friendship human and Divine,
We discover You
and Your companionship
in this life
called the Church.
This communion of those who love You
in friendship with one another,
in community,
together in the midst of the world,
across the centuries,
across the continents,
from every language,
from nations and peoples,
destined for all nations,
all peoples
every person
Your love.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Beginning of a Long Journey

Today is the five year anniversary of Josefina’s first surgery. None of us realized that we were embarking on the beginning of a long odyssey for our family that has lasted to this day. It started with her seven month stay in the hospital and then continued with my subsequent flare-up of chronic Lyme disease and aggravated psychiatric problems which I have often discussed openly in this blog.

I had been in remission in 2006, and had felt better than I had in years. Most of the year had been a remarkable time of recovery, energy, and vigorous re-engagement in the work I loved best: classroom teaching. During the whole time that Josefina was in the hospital, I was in crisis mode, and with the help of Eileen's mother, we were able to keep everything running at home and at school. I thought I still felt good, but, really, my engine started to "overheat." The stress was enormous.

Thus, when Josefina finally came home and everything settled, I stopped functioning on adrenaline and had the physical and psychological meltdown that I describe in the first pages of my book, that ended up putting me in the hospital. I remember the sense of irony I felt when Eileen came in with the baby, and I realized that Josefina was visiting me in the hospital. After all those months of seeing her in a hospital crib on tubes and monitors, here I was, suddenly, in a hospital bed on tubes and monitors with a healthy Josefina in her Mommy’s arms looking down at me! It was like some strange dream.

By Josefina's first birthday I was back on medical leave, and on my way to "retirement." I still don't understand all of what happened, or exactly where I am now. Physically I feel much better, but I'm on a very reduced regimen. Medication, therapy, vitamins, diet. Somehow a book got written in the midst of all these recent years. For the past year, I've lived one day at a time, and most of the days have been pretty good.

I don’t take anything for granted, but I am grateful for so much that I have received. Life is precious and amazing. I pray that God make me the husband, father, teacher, mentor, and friend that He wills me to be. Oh yes, and as my parents get older and begin to be needy, I have suddenly remembered again that I am somebody's son (and somebody's brother too).

It keeps me going.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Josefina Turns Five!

This is the story of a little girl, born on October 26, 2006. She was seven weeks premature, weighed under five pounds and needed surgery to reconstruct her intestines. The first days were full of tension:

But she made it through, and for a while, it looked as though she would be home in a few weeks....

But then the weeks turned into months, seven months in fact.

Daddy used to sing to her

And Mommy visited her every single day

Until the day when she was finally ready to  come home:

We were grateful to have our whole family together at last.

Josefina is still teaching me how to live. She is still teaching me about the joy of living.

Happy Birthday to our littlest one, Josefina Janaro,
October 26

Age: 5

Monday, October 24, 2011

You Have Wounded Us With Your Love

Dear Jesus, I sometimes feel a whole world that cries out for You
but does not know Your name.
So much goodness in souls,
so many hearts that run up against limits
and barriers,
and why are they so restrained?
Why do they not see you?

It is not because You do not love them
with all Your infinite compassion.
You know and hold the hearts of each of them.
And You know the things that prevent them
or hold them back from recognizing You,
and You know what is their fault,
and what they cannot help;
You know what is beyond the reach
of their present human circumstances.
You know the obstacles that not even heroic goodness can overcome.
You know all, and You look upon all with infinite compassion,
with patience;
yet also with the ardent urgency of a Lover
who longs to lavish Himself completely on the one
(each and every one)
that He loves,
and to be loved in return,
so that love might become unity
and communion between God and man.
Each man.
Each woman.

You have this embracing Love
and yet only a few seem to recognize You,
and even fewer to love You
or find any space at all for You in their hearts.
We do not understand how Your love works.
We only know that it works for each and all
with tenderness and passion,
with mercy and forgiveness,
with all the attention of a particular love;
We know that for You,
every human person
without exception
without exception
no one is excluded
every human person
is a Love Affair for You.
That is what the Cross means....

Thank you Lord for showing to us the love of Your heart
and moving us to desire that all the world know You.
For this desire is only a faint echo in us
of the mysterious call You utter in the heart of every person.
Why have You revealed Your love to us?
Not so that we might feel superior to others.
But so that we might be the servants, the messengers,
the images in the world of that Love;
so that every person who encounters us
might meet in that moment some small flash
of the radiance of Your Infinite Love.
So that each person You send us
might have a taste of the mystery,
of the truth,
that he or she is loved by You.

Such is the love You have entrusted to us
and we feel utterly beyond this task;
we feel overwhelmed by the vocation
to bring Your love to those we meet,
to the world.
But praise be to you, Jesus,
for we do not carry this love by ourselves.
Because it is the Cross,
it is carried by You in us,
and we are given the grace to share with You
the wonderful burden of this Love.

We are called,
and this is Your work.
You have wounded us with Your Love.
We have heard You whisper, "my Beloved,"
and we can no longer look at any human being
without hearing that same voice
and feeling that same beautiful pain in our own hearts.
You have given us this road of suffering.
By Your grace, and Your inexhaustible Mercy–
for we shall often fail You–
draw us along the road of this Love,
unite us to You,
carry us for we ourselves are frail,
we are weak and need healing,
we need to be borne completely in Your Loving arms
in the steps of this life You have prepared for us.
Convince us, O Lord,
that You will never fail us.
Your grace and Your Mercy are always sufficient for us.
Take away our fear.
Give us complete trust in You,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Remembering John Paul II

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that the blessed John Paul the Second
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns.

This is the official English translation of the collect for today's memorial for Blessed John Paul II. Although the day is currently publicly observed only in Rome and Poland, the U.S. bishops will likely petition to add it to the Latin rite calendar in America.

Meanwhile, everyone is free to pray this prayer personally (every day if you like!). Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!

Note that the prayer mentions specifically two of his greatest encyclicals, "Rich in Mercy" (Dives in Misericordia) and "Redeemer of Mankind" (Redemptor Hominis), and thereby also highlights two great features of his person: his recognition of the greatness of the Divine mercy and his mystical perception of the relationship of Christ to the life of every human being.

I recently read an observation by a Church leader that one of the most impressive things that has emerged during the canonization process is the depth of John Paul’s interior life, in particular his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This was the source of his greatness, his holiness, and his humanity. It was because of his profound union with Christ that John Paul II was able to connect in such an intimate and direct manner with so many human beings, to touch the lives of so many individual persons, groups, crowds, nations and peoples, Catholics and non-Catholics, religious people and non-religious people.

The real truth about each of us is that we are made for Jesus Christ. It really is true. And Blessed John Paul II was a man who knew Jesus Christ. This is the reason why he was, and why he remains, so powerful in our lives.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Great Adventure

I have this whole mysterious rich life. Where does it come from? From the fact that Christ grabbed me and took me into a great adventure.

We are on a great adventure, not in some other world, but right here inside of this life. This is the adventure, even with all the sorrow, and it is He who makes it that way. He takes up our lives, and sends us forth not to forget Him but to continue seeking and finding Him everywhere. Nobody is born taking Christ seriously; those of us who really live for Him and hunger for Him do so because He has touched us and changed us, He has burst into our lives. We all have our "conversion stories"--indeed they are ongoing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Do I Know Jesus Christ?

I have begun to ask myself the question, "What kind of a relationship do I have with Jesus?"

I believe in Him of course, and in everything that the Church teaches. I worship Him as God the Word, who lives eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ONE God forever and ever. I obey His commands (or at least I try), I pray, I receive the sacraments, and I write about Jesus all the time, with the conviction that the Word made flesh is the Lord of all creation, the center of the cosmos and of history.

But there is more to it than that.

I "know" Jesus Christ, personally. I have "met" Him. It is a mysterious encounter and a mysterious relationship. But it is real, or else none of my relationships are real and my entire life is a joke. It is tremendously and transformingly real. Jesus Christ, Himself, has changed and continues to change my life.

I am not saying that I "know" Him nearly as well as I should, nor that I always know what He wants from me or from others. But He is right in the center of my life, not only as the Almighty God, but also--what a wonder--as my companion, my brother, indeed my friend. It is from that place especially that He asks me to believe in Him in an intimate way, to trust Him.

Jesus I trust in You.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Trust in You Now

Jesus died on the Cross. Each of us will die. What do we know about the mystery of our own death? Where will my heart be in that hour? Let me entrust it NOW to the Divine Mercy, ask that Jesus insert me into His Most Compassion- ate Heart and that Mary surround me with the maternal love of her heart.

The Lord Jesus and His merciful Mother have claimed that final hour as their own on the Cross, and at the foot of the Cross. I do not want to deny them that hour, and so I offer them what I have now, this hour, this "now"...Jesus I trust in You, through Mary.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The House of the Father

Eternal Father,
Infinite Mercy,
Ineffable, Glorious, Exalted,
Giver of all life,
Lord of the universe,
Creator of our hearts,
we praise You,
we worship You,
we bow before You,
we give You thanks--You who are the Giver
of all good things.
You sent Your Only Son,
Jesus Christ,
Your Eternal Word,
through whom all things were created.
You sent Him into the world,
because You loved the world,
because You wanted to save the world.

From all eternity You saw us,
in our smallness
and our weakness
and our failure,
and You wanted to be with us.
You sent Your Son
to look upon us with a human face
and reveal the radiance of Your Glory.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You emptied Yourself and took the form of a slave,
so that through You
we might be raised up to the life of God.
You wanted us,
even after we had strayed far from You
and before we ever thought to seek You.
You wanted us
when we were far away,
lost in ourselves,
lost without the thought of being found,
asleep in our nothingness.

You called us out of darkness,
You woke us from our sleep,
You healed us from our sickness,
and taking us in the firmness of Your grasp,
You set us upon our feet
and bid us walk with You
to the Source of our lives,
to the home of our souls,
to the House of the Father.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Cannot Leave Them Alone

Today is the anniversary of my friend’s death. Yes, I’m a bit depressed. I’m fighting it, but part of me wants to be depressed...for his sake and in solidarity with so many who are like him.

I have tasted that darkness, but I have been blessed with an enormous amount of help. I have been sustained, by good medicine, and by the great woman I married, by my family, by the tremendous power of prayer, by this unique Christian community in which I live as well as the pedagogy of Fr. Giussani and Fr. Carron and others who help form me to live as a human person, in a real way, in all these relationships.

I’m struggling today, remembering my friend. I'm trying to say to myself, "Take your mind off it. Take your mind off that feeling of lostness, that terrible emptiness that must have been there." But then another part of me keeps coming back to it because I don't want to leave him alone there. I’ve been in that place. I can’t just turn my back on him, and on the others who are lost.

But Jesus was with them in that lonely place. Jesus on the Cross went to every person, walked every person's road, "bridged the distance" to every person--especially those distances that people have created for themselves, willfully, by sin. My friend's distance was not willful; it was a suffering, an illness. There are deeper distances and greater lonelinesses that Jesus united Himself with, traveling the mysterious inner world of every human being, personally, in that "Mystical Night" that was The Cross.

None of us can say to God, "You don't understand what I'm going through!" He has been "with us" through all of it. The "three hours" of the Cross intersect with every human life. This shakes up our ideas about space and time (and theologians can try to understand the "how" of all this), but when we realize that God is Infinite Love, we should ask ourselves, "Wouldn't Infinite Love want to do this?"

Infinite Love loves. And He who is Infinite Love became man so that Love would be concrete, so that it would be inside the human life of each of us, so that it would reach us really and insert God's companionship with the human person inside of human history and human realities and human relationships and even human things and gestures and the material realities of the human world.

So why isn't everyone in heaven? Infinite Love doesn't force itself to be accepted. Infinite Love and Mercy and Forgiveness in the Person of Christ seeks the acceptance of the very freedom it created, the freedom that each of us possesses. We have the freedom to say "no". Or we have the freedom to let ourselves be loved and let that love empower us to receive it fully by loving in return.

This is our terrible and wonderful freedom. United with God and empowered by His grace, we share in the power of His love. We too become lovers, great lovers, in His likeness. But we have to let Him love us.

That's why prayer is so important. It opens our freedom to God. From the moment we begin to pray, truly, our freedom at least begins to loosen it's grip on that "NO" to God, and God is already entering in and beginning to change us.

So what is it in me that desires (even a little) to "be with" other persons in their suffering rather than to be "satisfied" in myself. Is that love?

Or is it just my own depression? Or--wow!--is it, somehow, both? God works through everything. God works through our weakness. He works especially through our weakness and our suffering, and the love with which we embrace it.

Is this love? Is it an embrace?

O Lord, shape me in this moment. Make me who You will me to be. I can’t figure myself out. I offer all this to You.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yay! Eileen is Finally Done!!!

The sun is shining brightly today.

It is a beautiful autumn day, and I have enjoyed some time outside. Right now the sun is gleaming on my eyes, through the window.

Eileen finished her papers and mailed them off. It’s finally over. For over three years, this cross has been borne by our whole family. Husband and wife are so important to each other. Father and mother are so important to their children. Children can be marvels of resourcefulness and resilience of they know they are loved. When a family embraces a difficulty together for the love of God–each member contributing according to his or her own level of understanding–a real growth can come out of it.

What would otherwise be an absence (one that might draw families apart) becomes instead a sacrifice in which compensations are made and, to some degree, hardships are borne. It is a great blessing, to be aware–together–of the reason for the sacrifice, and to make it the focus of family prayer. I think all our children have a sense of the value of their mother’s work, and they have been formed in part by the sacrifices they have made so that she can accomplish that work. And of course in our case they experience the fruits of that work, because she teaches them in their school.

I love my wife. She is a brilliant lady.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Middle of October

I was saying in the previous post that I feel that I have nothing to give. Well, God seems to make use of me anyway.

It is an miserable condition, to “feel” this way, but it is not a judgment. I know that God says in my heart, “I made you, I redeemed you, I have blessed you, go and give what you have received.” The real danger of depression is that a Malicious Voice enters into the midst of the neurological disequilibrium and tries to lead the person to discouragement. I feel that I am nothing and have nothing to give. The evil voice says, “Give up. Fall into bitterness.” But I still say, “Lord, if I am nothing, then I give you my nothingness. Create me anew.” And so even depression can become an occasion for freedom to embrace this mystery, that my value consists in belonging to You. To say, “I need You” in the darkness is a prayer, and only God knows how much healing such prayer brings to a wounded, desperate world. Let us never underestimate the power of God made perfect in the weakness of our suffering.

Depression does not necessarily overwhelm our freedom, and as long as our freedom is alive there is the possibility for love, even for great love. But we must also remember, especially in looking at others who suffer, that it is a crushing burden, a force that imposes itself, and that can, in certain cases, be so overpowering that it brings about events that may be outside a person’s responsibility. God knows that human freedom can be suspended by the distortion of this disease, so that one acts as if in a dream. Here I am thinking in particular of a terrible tragedy that happened six years ago, in the middle of October, to a lifelong friend–a tragedy that tore my soul in a way that still has not healed.

This event is undoubtedly one of the reasons why I find October so difficult. People die from depression. I prefer to put it this way, because–although I am not considered to be in danger (and I am under the regular professional care of competent and attentive people)–I know this monster, and I believe that it can be a killer. Of course only God knows the limits of freedom, but we know enough today about these diseases to realize that our hearts must commend the afflicted to the mercy of God. The Church confirms this, when she gives them a full Christian burial and continues to pray for them (and honor them) as members of the faithful departed.

Personally, I believe that my friend is at peace. He is in my prayers. And I think, somehow, that he mysteriously accompanies me and my family and even intercedes for us. I think he helps me.

Of course, he would want to help. He always did. My friend, who died from depression, was a Catholic priest. Or I should say, is a Catholic priest, for "thou art a priest forever...." He was a good priest. A very good priest. Only God knows the merits of his struggle, which was a mighty one. In the end, though, depression for him was as deadly as cancer.

I am not trying to scare people. It is not so virulent in me. I am not going to die from this. That is not the danger for me. My temptation is to become discouraged. Encourage me. Some people already have (thanks!), and it is a great help in keeping me focused. I’m not asking for flattery, but if what I do is useful to you, let me know. Kick me in the butt and tell me to do more, if you think I can, or if you need it or know someone else who needs it. We must share our needs. This is the heart of solidarity, and solidarity is one of the great constructive forces of love.

Meanwhile, my doctor and I have made a slight medication adjustment, and I am supplementing Vitamin D and B Complex. The sun is in the sky and there is sunshine in the faces of my wife and children. I struggle with the memory of these terrible days, and find also a mysterious healing at work, hidden in the mercy of God and in the intercession of many good souls. There is deep conviction that grows in me and says within me, “Keep telling people that this is something real. Keep telling them to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Keep telling them that this is a disease; that it is not something to be ashamed of, that it is not their fault, but also that they cannot overcome it by themselves and they need to have the humility to get help. Keep encouraging young people to take up the mental health professions, which are so much in need of an integral Christian vision of the human person.

And please pray for the soul of my friend, and the souls of all the faithful departed who have lost their lives to mental illness. Through the mercy of God, may they rest in peace, and pray for us.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Will Not Give Up

Jesus offered Himself for us. His heart was opened for each one of us on the Cross, in his hour of Mercy. He longs for each of us in this hour, and His desire to be with us is here, when He dies on the Cross for our sins. He does not stop loving us because of our sins, but His love is there for us and offered to us while we are still sinners, so that we can be changed by it and saved by it. On the Cross Jesus wants to win our love, by giving Himself totally for us.

Dark and wet and gloomy all day. It is October 13. Where is my miracle of the sun? Why do I feel no sun shining on me? Mary, O Mother Mary. I have had a glimpse of the sun. It is a miracle. I am trying to remember its light in the shadow and the thunder. O Mary, O Mary my Mother. Totus tuus.

Depression is clouding over me. If you’ve read my book, you understand. Well, you understand to some extent. I have doctors. I have medicine. I have therapy. I am down, and it’s something I deal with as part of life. It may be the weather change, my persistent cold, a need to adjust my diet, to get more exercise, to get out of myself and to give love and help to others. I have a chronic infection (Lyme disease) that can flare up anywhere, including the brain. These are all factors of my life about which I have been very open.

All factors to grapple with, factors that make up the environment for the action of my freedom. For me it is in this place, in these moments, that He asks me, “Do you believe in Me? Do you trust in Me? Do you love Me?” This is where my own particular circumstances intersect with every person’s life. We all have this place where we suffer, where we face our own inadequacy, where we discover the smallness of our hearts and the pettiness of all our deeds. And it is here that Jesus asks each one of us, in the most penetrating and poignant way, to believe in Him, to trust Him.

I do believe that He loves me, whatever darkness may surround me.

Why do I fail to entrust everything to this Great Lover? Why am I afraid? What more could He possibly do to deserve my trust?

Jesus, I entrust to You what seems so often to me to be such a complicated business, namely the abandonment of myself to You, the giving of everything over to You, the surrender of everything to You...even my weakness.

I will not give up. Even if I am broken, God is still God, and still Glorious–even more clearly so, for He shares in my brokenness. Here, more than anywhere, it is clear that He is worthy of all my love. He has proven Himself. Thus, in every circumstance–even in the face of the prospect that I have nothing to give, that I am worthless, that all my aspirations in life may end in failure–the only reasonable possibility for me is to love God.

Even if I am nothing, then, still I want to love Him. I beg that I might be able to love Him.

From nothing, God creates, God brings forth life. Jesus I trust in You. Convert me. Conquer me. Give me a new heart.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living in Love

It's so easy to try to live in the past or to live in the future. The past belongs to God. The future belongs to God. Then there is the present. The present belongs to God, and He pours it out as a gift that constitutes "me," that creates in me freedom and invites that freedom to respond in love. And so, once again, I belong to God, in giving myself, in this present moment.

Here is life: the present moment.

But what are "my past" and "my future"? I find them always in memory and hope. And so I entrust everything of the past to You, O God, and everything of the present, and everything of the future. Grant that I might be able to remember and offer this prayer. Now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Social Media in the Stone Age, Part II

Letters. I shall always be grateful that there were still letters a generation ago. Among the stacks of letters we have stored away are two very important bundles: the letters that Eileen and I exchanged over the course of five years between when we first met and when we realized that we loved each other.

We met in January of 1990, when Eileen moved to Washington, D.C. after college. We became good friends. By the summer of 1990, she had left again, bound ultimately for graduate school at the University of Dallas. She visited again that Thanksgiving. Then, five summers later, we saw one another again, she moved back to Virginia, and we got engaged. In between there were many stories in both our lives, of travel, study, projects, work, even failed romances with other people.

And through it all, there were the letters.

I was a good correspondent with many people, and often wrote long, interesting letters (I wonder where they all are today). I still spend a good portion of each day writing "letters," although they are now in the form of emails or "messages" in Facebook inboxes. I would like to think that I give my correspondence the same (if not more) attention as I did a generation ago, but I cannot be sure, because I have no copies of anything I wrote back then (whereas I have copies of everything I have written the past several years--which is useful for a writer, because ideas are always germinating in the midst of correspondence).

Indeed, correspondence has always been a form of "thinking out loud" for me; my mind actually ponders things via the written word, especially if there is someone on the other end who I know will be considering things with me. Among my correspondents there have always been certain people who have been philosophical and/or poetic "muses" for me. Because of our common interests and my particular desire to communicate with them, they have always been able to get me to think and to express myself.

The internet has multiplied and introduced a certain chaos factor into this possibility for inspiration. It is easy for too much energy to flow into paths of bantering and chattiness. Still that is not my business online. Though it is true that a "comment" can often grow into something much more extensive, my preferred manner of communication remains sustained pieces of text. Those of you, my current "muses," whose inboxes are cluttered with my messages know who you are. In a way, thanks to this blog, all of you who are reading this are my "muses" today.

But what was the point of this digression?

Of course. It is only fitting that my richest inspiration, through the course of five adventurous years of life, ended up being the woman I married. There is something about both of us that makes a friendship of letters very appropriate.

It was a relationship that grew through letters. We wrote very frequently about a vast range of topics. And it was a true correspondence, with much giving and receiving on both sides. Eileen indeed seemed to have the unique capacity to surprise me by entering into my own mind (or perhaps I should say drawing me out) not because she thought the same way I did, but precisely because she thought differently. The difference, however, was rarely a disagreement. Rather it truly was--to use the worn-out word--"complementary."

And that element of surprise remains, even after 15 years of marriage and five children. Some time ago, we took out the old letters and read some of them to each other. It was surprising how much richer they seemed, how much more of the other person was perceptible in them, and the degree to which so much of our conversation was really about each other. It is surprising too how the unity of our marriage weaves through the common and complementary vocation we live toward each other, our children, and those we engage in the work of education and communication.

The letters reveal the possibility of a whole life to be shared.

I am glad that, today, both bundles are in the same place.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Makes Friendships Real?

I had some nice visits this weekend with some long-time friends (notice I didn’t say “old” friends). Some were people I had not seen or heard from for many years. Others were people I had not seen for a long time, but whom I have been in touch with in varying degrees through one or more kinds of media. Still others were people I have seen (and keep in touch with) frequently over the past thirty (or more) years.

It is a blessing to be with friends. It is good also to stay in touch (and I am glad in this regard for some of the conveniences developed by technology). I marvel with gratitude, however, at the fact that my life has been so endowed with such real, substantial, and long-lasting friendships. I realize after nearly half a century of life that this is not a common experience in our culture.

But what makes these friendships real? What makes any friendship real? I have found that there are two kinds of enduring friendships, and although both presuppose time spent together, both are based ultimately on something that transcends (even as it enters into) time and space. That “something” is truth.

The first kind of enduring friendship is one that is based on a common search for the truth. These friends may not share the same faith, and may have other disagreements over matters of importance. But they have traveled the road of life together in some way, and have ardently engaged together in seeking the purpose and significance of things. In these friendships there is a real recognition of “truth,” even if the term is not used, because what unites these friends is their awareness of a common desire for something real, for something that lasts and gives meaning to the events of time and the story of life. It can be a something that is hinted at and reflected through very ordinary experiences that people share, or even in the intuition that corresponds to the harmony they discover with each other through shared interests or sympathy of temperament and perspective. But for friendship to endure, it is not enough to have “things in common,” or to simply “get along;” there is the enduring theme of a great destination, toward which friends journey–perhaps in the dark, perhaps without knowing the way, perhaps in continual argument over what exactly the destination is, or perhaps simply with the quiet, implicit recognition that it is there and that it draws them onward.

The second kind of enduring friendship is in many ways like the first, but it has another aspect. It is a common journey toward the fulfillment of the truth that has already been encountered. Such friends are often brought together by some wonderful event, something that defines the rest of their lives and that they will never be able to deny without denying themselves. And one often finds that these friends will be the most odd and unusual sort of companions. One is struck by a great variety of temperaments and preferences, backgrounds, inclinations, and tastes. What binds them together as friends, however, and keeps them together through the years and even through divergent circumstances is a common experience.

And it is not just any experience. It is an encounter with nothing less than the Mystery that gives meaning to all of life, the Mystery that has entered their world and placed them together on a common road. At a certain point in time the Truth brought them together, they recognized the Truth, they tasted it, they said to one another, “Here is the reason why we live,” they met the Truth and were regenerated by it.

Sometimes we forget where we come from. But when we meet our brothers and sisters again, we remember whose children we are, and the home that we are all seeking together.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Social Media in the Stone Age, Part I

Social media seek to keep people "connected." We forget, of course, that social media have been around for a very, very long time. Before the magic of computers and the internet gave us the power of sharing "instant" words and images, we simply did the same thing in a slower and in many ways more considered and artful manner. Software and communications systems are ultimately extensions of our own human powers, and for all their external dazzle they are but imitations of the internal vitality, expressiveness, and imagination that make up our humanity.

Before Google+ and Facebook and Twitter, before texting and mobile devices and instant photo sharing, before even that ancient instrument of communication used by our forefathers that still lingers in vestigial form in our homes and in our pockets--the "telephone"--there was the original marvel of all the social media, used by everyone from Hammurabi to Cyrus the Great to St. Paul to my younger self (and there are precious stacks of them still boxed away in my attic): the tremendous, glorious letter.

Other than those times when you were expecting the delivery of something you ordered online, when was the last time that you actually looked forward with anticipation and hope for the delivery of the mail?

Once upon a time, the mailman was a magical creature, a sort of daily Santa Claus who might be bearing...anything. They say you get a little endorphin rush whenever someone "likes" your status on Facebook. But nothing electronic compares to the raptures of hope that used to fill you from head to toe every time you saw the mailman, starting about six days or so after you had sent your last letter. You tried to see if there was a letter in that pile he delivered: the ragged envelope, the familiar scrawl, the tangibility of a letter.

Obviously, I am not against the electronic media. They are tools. Too many people, however, assume that because something is a "tool," we need not give any thought to how it shapes and affects and (possibly) hinders the purposes for which we use it. Usually the more powerful a tool is, the more dangerous it is as well. And some tools have a dynamic of their own which serves us wonderfully if we give it constant attention and direction, but runs wild and ruins us if we ignore it. Nothing illustrates this better than man's mythical first "tool": fire. Today's communications media are a kind of fire. That is a subject for another blog.

I am reminiscing about the good old days of "the letter." I realize that in today's world there are people who are adults in the eyes of the law who have never had the experience of getting letters on a regular basis. Yet, I am not convinced that the handwritten letter is dead. One of the best things about getting letters was the "sign" of the other person that was expressed in their unique and unrepeatable (and often endearingly unreadable) handwriting.

Handwriting may make a surprising revival. I don't know what form it will take, but it seems too human to fall into extinction.

There is so much more to say about letters. I shall have to write a Part II.

To be continued....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ugh! We've Got That "Fall Thing"

Ooooooooooooooooh! Ouf! Awwwwwwwwwwow!
Achooooo! Aaaahhhhchoooooo!
*cough* *cough* harummmmph hhhgmmmmm!


It's that time of year again.

The weather has changed. First came cold and rain, followed by warmer and drier with sunshine--but different from summer. We've started using the heat again. Days are shorter. The leaves are still green, but you can feel that they are beginning to think of changing color.

School has shifted into standard gear. Everyone has had a chance to use and cough on all the materials in the classrooms at least once. And of course Josefina has hugged and kissed each of her classmates dozens of times.

So we've got "that Fall Thing."

It is an acute affliction of varying degrees. That means, in our house, that Lucia gets it worse than anyone else. Poor dear spent two days home from school, moaning, propped on pillows. She's still moving slowly. Agnese was home for a day with a temperature and difficulty speaking. Josefina has had congestion in her chest, and has been using her albuterol nebulizer. Teresa seems alright, and John Paul and Mommy appear to be too busy to get sick. Though all of us have let out an occasional cough, hack, or harrumph.

Then there's me. Drag, drag, drag. Headache. Sleepy, sleepy, sleepy. Cough and grouchy throat. Blah. It's nothing more than a mild cold. Hardly even worth noticing. But there is the overriding atmosphere of "Blah" that is especially oppressive for a personality like mine, inclined to melancholy and further burdened with neurological and emotional imbalances.

So everything is slow right now. The blog is slow. It's a whole day late.

I'm running into a bit of a mood dip. I can't let it get to me. I have to stick to my routine, keep all my pots simmering, stay with the Lord in prayer, and soldier on even if it's a little more slowly over the next few days.

I don't like the shorter days, or the fact that winter is approaching. On the other hand, I'm into the final quarter of what has been an unusually fruitful year, and there is hope for the future. So if I have been slowed down for the moment, perhaps I should take this elongated sense of time and fill it with gratitude for many blessings.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Channel of Your Peace

Let me love. Even though I ask to be loved.
Let me understand. Even though I ask to be understood.
Let me console. Even though I ask to be consoled.
Something inside me prays, "Let me give myself away." But then I don't want to let go.

I ask to be a channel of His Peace.
I ask to be an instrument of His Mercy.

But all I find inside of myself is poverty.
And I don't mean the Holy Poverty of St. Francis.

It is the emptiness of someone who loves his own life too much. Who loves himself too much. Who loves his own satisfaction too much. Who loves his own comfort too much. Who loves his own reputation too much. Who loves his own illusions too much. Who loves his own laziness too much. Who loves his own opinion too much. Who loves his own will too much.

I love my own will too much.
I would rather do things my own way.
I would rather rationalize.
I want God's will and my will.
I want to serve two Masters and love them both.

I am a divided man.
I am not St. Francis.

So what is it within me that prays, nonetheless, to be His instrument, His love, His mercy in the lives of others, and especially in the lives of those who have been entrusted to me? In spite of all my foolishness, I call myself a teacher and a mentor and a father, and yet I do not think that I am a complete hypocrite. Why is this? Is it all, then, a delusion?

No! I know something that I must share.

I have been loved, and understood, and consoled.

And the beauty of this fact has wounded my heart. So I throw myself into a confused and troubled and complicated effort to communicate this fact, that I have been loved, that we all have been loved. And somewhere I am convinced that this Love is worthy of all my trust even as I struggle in so many ways to offer myself.

So here it is, Lord, the whole mess that is me.
It is far from a perfect offering.
But You can do the impossible, so make of me what You will.
Give me the will to change.
Change what needs changing in me.
Make me a channel of Your Peace.

Let others hear these words,
these words that express my struggle with You and Your changing of me,
Let them hear these words and see my wounded soul
and wonder at Your Mercy.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Experientially we feel free when we satisfy a desire. Freedom becomes experience in our existence as the realization of a need, or an aspiration, as fulfillment.... Experience indicates that freedom presents itself to us as a total satisfaction, complete fulfillment of the self, as perfection. Or we can say that freedom is the capacity for the end, totality, for happiness.
--Luigi Giussani

Sunday, October 2, 2011


With the saints, it's often better to shut up and let them speak for themselves:

I need a heart burning with tenderness,
Who will be my support forever,
Who loves everything in me, even my weakness
And who never leaves me day or night.
I could find no creature
Who could always love me and never die.
I must have a God who takes on my nature
And becomes my brother and is able to suffer!

from the poem "To the Sacred Heart of Jesus"
by St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face,
Virgin and Doctor of the Church (1873-1897)