Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mother Mary, Thank You For Everything

This is the last blog post of 2011. Since I shall take tomorrow off, I'll wish everyone a Happy New Year. Tomorrow is also the joyful celebration of the Octave of Christmas. Traditionally this day commemorates the action by which Jesus was ceremonially included among the children of Abraham. The Son of God made man sheds blood in the ritual of circumcision, which foreshadows the mystery of the blood He will shed on the Cross--His life's blood, which He gives to us. It is, once again, a manifes- tation: the sign of the covenant is sealed upon Him who is in Person the fulfillment of the covenant. The Roman rite now observes this day as a special feast in honor of Mary, under the title of Theotokos, the Mother of God. This too is a manifestation, as the celebration of the birth of the Son is inseparable from the miracle of Mary's motherhood.

To me it is a great thing that we begin the year with the celebration of Mary's motherhood. The Son manifests Himself to the world by being born of a Virgin, and the Mother manifests the Son--true God and true man--through the miracle of the Virgin Birth, which with all of its concreteness proclaims and continues the whole miracle of Mary's maternity. The Mother matters, because everything about her is a revelation and a means of communicating this astonishing fact: God really became man.

God loves us. But the point is not to comfort our sentiments, to make us "feel good." The purpose of His love is to transform us, to make us "like" Him, to give us a share in His glory. Christ does not make us complacent and self-satisfied; He is the great Provocation, the call to self-abandonment, to complete trust. We are challenged to use our freedom in order to say--with love--that our whole lives belong to this man.

How is it that we are not overwhelmed by this man? There is the temptation to wish that God had not come so close. A provident God who takes care of us but stays "in heaven"--we sometimes think this is what we really want. There is always the danger that we will reduce our perception of "Christianity" to a kind of comfortable Theism. But the Great Lover is here, and He says to us, "follow me." We are called to embark upon an adventure in which we are not in control, to travel a narrow path that we do not understand, but also to discover a great life, to discover in Him the real purpose of our own humanity.

And the grace of God is the power that shapes us to the measure of this Divine and human greatness. It is the guaranty that we will not be overwhelmed, that the love of the Infinite Mystery is an intimate reality in our lives.

Here it is that Mary appears before me. Her motherhood, Mother of God and mother of all of us, of the life of God in us, of Christ in us. Mary, a real mother. The Woman, in all of the scope and exercise of her femininity, takes her place here, at the center of my life. I could launch into a treatise of Marian theology here, but I prefer--in these last hours of the year 2011--to express quiet gratitude.

It is fitting to end this good year, with all of its drama as the unfolding of the mystery of God's plan for the world and for my life, in this simple way: thank you, Mary. Thank you for being my Mother. The true God who is Lord of all comes to me through you. The face of Jesus appears to me as the fruit of your womb, as a real man born of a woman. Thank you Mary for your love, which brings me such a gift.

Thank you, Mother Mary, for Jesus, for everything. Jesus. Mary. Jesus, I trust in You.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mercy Is At Work

I'm looking over a year of work on this blog. I think of the possibility of working the "best of" this material into some kind of book. It probably should include pictures. A book about the family? I don't know. It's one thing to write in a blog, which is a living, interactive, developing reality. And the internet seems to straddle the world between my interiority and "what's out there" (even though that may be partly an illusion). But putting my family in a book between covers seems somehow different.

I don't want to put my young and growing teenagers into a literary box that would sit on shelves and stare at them and say, "This is you!" I am only now beginning to see the awakening of their freedom, and my concern is to point them in the direction of truth, goodness, and beauty. Would they feel constrained by a book about their childhood circulating around, even as they try to grow beyond those limits? A book being read by their friends' parents (or even by their friends)?

On the other hand, the kids are all hams and (right now at least) they all want to be written about. We are blessed. There is much goodness to share from our experience, in the midst of all the ordinary and some of the unusual trials that a family can have. It's something to pray about and consider, with my family.

Perhaps there is more than one book developing here. There are prayer poems and meditations, and I expect that if I gathered them together for a book I would find myself writing more. But I don't want people to be fooled by beautiful words into thinking that I understand anything about the mystery of prayer. Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite, doing all this writing about God.

Like most "religious people," I have an inner Pharisee with whom I must struggle. It's especially hard for someone whose profession is teaching religion. It's natural to look for affirmation in the execution of one's profession, and to "feel good about one's self." But then one remembers that one is writing words about God. All of the elements that go into the average person's professional and social interaction, including all the hypocrisy, self-promotion, dissimulation, cunning and self-seeking...and it's all wrapped up in teaching and writing about God! This is a psychologically complicated fact of my life. I love the first places at banquets, and being called "rabbi"! Woe unto me!

What can I do other than throw myself upon the mercy of God? I have been given the gift of expressing myself. I know that words are straw, but there is a place for straw in life and the task of making straw has been given to me. I will make straw. There will be a new book of some kind next year.

For those of you who haven't read the current book, Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy, why not use that Amazon gift card and order a copy? It's straw, but people have found it useful and helpful. The baby Jesus laid on a bed of straw. Get some for your friends too. It's also available in Kindle. Here's the link:

Look at me. I'm selling my words about God (mixed in with hypocrisy and dissimulation and tilts that put me in the best possible light). I'm selling them for money. And don't be fooled by this humility routine (the inner Christian Pharisee loves when people recognize and admire his humility). Don't be fooled by me. I am a struggling, divided heart. I am a Scribe. It comes with the profession. "I see," I say, and therefore I am blind. Yet I am also the blind man in the process of being healed, of beginning to see His face.

I am a human being and I have met Jesus Christ. I express that humanity in words, inadequate words, sentimental, pietistic words; words that make it sound too easy, and that give me the false appearance of being "wise" as I toy with mysteries. All these words. All this straw. Use it for your bed. Throw it in your fire and be warmed. Let it dry up the damp ground under your feet. Find something in it.

From my own struggle, what I want you to see is that Mercy is at work. In all my efforts and words the great hope is that you might see His mercy. Because of Him, I have the audacity to hope that you might find it, even in me, in the midst of my many words.

Look for Him. Discover the beauty of His face. I know it's not as easy as it sounds. I know that. But still, He is here, and He is real.

Mercy is at work in the world, in me, and in you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Shall We Offer You?

O Christ,
what shall we offer You
for Your coming on earth as a man for our sake?
Every creature that has its being from You
gives thanks to You:
The angels offer hymns of praise,
the heavens give a star;
wise men present their gifts
and the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth provides a cave
and the desert a manger.
As for us,
we offer You a Mother,
a Virgin Mother.
O God who are from all eternity,
have mercy on us!
--from Christmas Vespers, Byzantine Liturgy        

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grateful For What We Have Been Given

Pondering during the Christmas season....

Many are burdened with economic worries. Certainly, we are! The way of life to which we are all are accustomed seems at times to be teeter-tottering on a precipice.

Then I put things in "historical perspective." It doesn't really make me feel better; I like the life I have; it's the only way of living I have ever known.

But just put it in historical perspective for a moment: We the People of the United States...are by far the richest human beings who have ever lived in the history of the human race!

Look at this house I live in, this house that is "much too small" for our family. Ha ha ha! Emperors in all their glory had nothing like the power that is accessible to me at the flick of a finger. I command the light, the water, and even the air temperature of my dwelling. I have two blazing chariots ("used clunkers," but they still go), that can take me all over, so that I am master of my realm.

What nobleman, what lord, what king, what rich smug capitalist from a hundred years ago can say what the average middle class American can still say today, namely, that with a computer, a credit card, and an airline ticketing website, we can travel anywhere we want on this planet within seventy two hours. Decide now? We can be there in three days.

Are we not, materially speaking, the richest and most powerful people who have ever lived?

My little house has magical gadgets that never occurred to Kubla Khan in his wildest dreams of Xanadu. Here, right now, I am sitting in front of the glittering computer square that can make the space between me and anywhere else in the world evaporate.

Louis XIV? Bah! He would have envied my bathroom.

So what is my point? Many in the world today live without what we commonly consider "necessities." 200 years ago no one lived with anything like the material comfort that we possess. We are uniquely blessed.

I don't want to deny that Americans have difficulties. Some of our difficulties are fundamental, and it cannot be denied that the vast power we possess has also created new problems that our ancestors never had to bear. Still, many of us are struggling to manage our blessings. My own "tiny" home, with its five rapidly growing children and creative sleeping arrangements, would be considered "poor" by many Americans. It is sustained economically by whatever two professional educators can scrape together. But by any comparison with the general lot of the human race down through the centuries, we live in astonishing comfort and convenience.

What does it all mean? How are we meant to live in the midst of all these blessings? How can they serve as a foundation for building ourselves up as persons and as a family, for constructive action in our community, and for sharing our gifts and the human possibilities they create with a world that has drawn much closer to us?

I know I can begin with gratitude and wonder. I thank God, and everyone who has made possible the remarkable life that I am living, and I pray that I might find within it the opportunities to build the human dimension of that life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Joyful Christmas Day 2011

Christmas day for the Janaros was truly "merry." It was peaceful and blessed, cheerful and fun, and touched with a longing, an exquisite sorrow. We took joy in each other's company, while also having a palpable sense that time is passing, that we cannot capture life's joy but only follow it as it points us to its Source and Fulfillment.

On Christmas Eve, we decorated the tree. The gold papered star that Daddy made many years ago (probably for John Paul's first Christmas) is the same star that we still use. Now John Paul is 14: still young enough to be excited about Christmas, but also old enough to have a detailed understanding of the family rituals, of "how things are supposed to be done." He has four sisters, three of whom have a number of Christmas memories already, while the youngest seems to have become really, consciously aware of the joy of Christmas for the first time. "I'm so 'cited' about Christmas," Josefina has been saying for days.

It's still a special event for Daddy to put the star on the top of the tree, symbolizing that decoration is complete. It was important enough for John Paul to take a picture of it for our digitally documented family life. The baby boy who wasn't even allowed to touch the tree "a few years ago" (so it seems) is now becoming a young man with feet as big as his father's. In a few years, he'll be coming home from college for Christmas. The gold papered star will still be here.

The next morning we went to Mass. Christmas Day simply highlights another aspect of the unfathomable mystery of this singular action, in which Christ gives Himself. Whether in the purple colors of Advent's awaiting, or the explosion of Christmas light and flowers and the Nativity scene, the inexhaustible wonder of the Eucharist shines through. The humility of the Christ child in Bethlehem reminds us of the tremendous smallness and fragility of His gift of Himself in the Eucharist, by which He draws us into the very life of God who is the Transcendent Mystery of Gift and Love.

After Mass, we went home for Christmas morning, where we took our family pictures and them commenced the exuberant fun of opening gifts. Our gifts to one another are home made, or from thrift stores, or--as is usually the case with me and Eileen to each other--things we need for the house and were already going to buy. We don't have a lot of money to buy lots of gifts, but the kids enjoy making or finding small things to give to each other and to us, and the surprise and special feeling that comes from receiving and opening presents never grows old. Then there were many packages that had arrived from California over the course of the past week, from "Nana and Grampa" (Eileen's parents). The result is that we had a lot of gifts.

I sat back and sipped my coffee and watched the children laughing at one another's surprise and enjoying one another's company as they gave and opened their presents. Eileen was across from me in her chair--this amazing woman, this builder of human places, of environments of joy and learning and growing, in our home, in the classroom, in the community. Where does the love come from, that gives this woman the internal and external energy to be so creative, and to prop up and put into place her chronically exhausted husband besides? Christmas with this family seems like an awesome gift. This was my Christmas present: to experience this joy and to recognize that this is my home, and that I am not myself except in relationship with these people. I am loved here, with all my weakness and incompetence. And here the energy to love is born within me.

I also looked at the tree and wondered if this kind of gathering of the children would ever be the same again. They are growing, in life, in relation to us, and in relation to each other. For this Christmas, we had John Paul, Agnese, Lucia, Teresa, and Josefina all still with the enthusiasm and the hearts of children. John Paul is still young enough to be a child at Christmas, and Josefina is finally old enough to be more than a semi-confused toddler. They will change and grow, and this is good. But part of me cannot help longing for "forever" in such a moment, and that is a true longing, because love has an "eternal taste." It's clear that they cannot stay children forever; indeed my life and many efforts are dedicated to their growth and maturity and especially their discovery of their vocations. Still, my longing is not a sentimental nostalgia, because this beautiful moment is a sign, a promise of fulfillment, in which nothing is lost or "left behind." But I am powerless to make this happen; I must trust, I must open my heart, I must let my heart be wounded by hope. In hope, the eternal already begins to dwell.

Later, my parents and my brother came with more presents. My side of the family was gathered, and I saw here too that I was not only a father but also a son. My parents are growing old, and yet they find new joys in their sons and their growing grandchildren. The days are over when my parents hosted Christmas at their house. They can't do it anymore. We are facing with them the challenges of this time of life, where suffering and weakness begin to predominate. And I am still their son, still their little boy, even as I approach the age of 49. Something endures, reminding me of all that I have received from them.

My amazing Eileen cooked a wonderful dinner for us all, and even baked a cake. The kids helped in various ways. I did my best at a task that is becoming my specialty: keeping Josefina out of the way and out of trouble. Christmas Day at our house worked out very well. Not every Christmas has been so happy. Five years ago we spent part of Christmas at the hospital, with Josefina wired up and sick in the NICU, with the staff telling us that they did not know when she might be able to come home. It is hard to suffer at Christmas, but the promise calls out to our hearts especially in sorrow, which afflicts us only because we know that we are made for joy. Here especially, hope must endure. Only hope can endure. We must always keep hope alive, and focus it on the One who is worthy of our trust.

On Christmas day, a Human Face manifested itself to the world for the first time, a Face that is destined to look into the eyes of every other human face. A Voice was heard in the world for the first time, the human voice of Him who created the world, who created every human person in His image, who speaks in the depths of every human heart. This is Christmas: Jesus revealing Himself to the world, presenting Himself as a gift to us "from the beginning."

And Christmas comes, year after year, with the familiar prayers of its liturgical celebration, its festivity and its decoration, its particular family traditions. All of these are signs for us. Even as we change, He is with us. He has come, and He is coming. His love for us endures, and is shaping us.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Josefina's First Theology Lesson

"Daddy, I'm afraid to go into the potty," said Josefina.

"Why, honey?"

"I don't want to be all by myself."

"But you're not all by yourself. I'm right out here, sweetie."

"I don't want to be alone in the potty."

Hmmm. Sometimes the kids 'keep her company.' But she can't always have company. I give her a hug and put my hands gently on her cheeks.

"You're not alone, Josefina. I'm right here. But you're never alone. Jesus and Mary are always with you. And your Guardian Angel. Your Guardian Angel is always right by your side, always paying attention to you and taking care of you."

"But I can't see them."

"You can't see them because they are in heaven with God. But that doesn't keep them from being very close to you."

Now here's the logic of a five year old: "Daddy, when you're in heaven, can I see you?"

I was a little spooked by that comment. God's will be done, but I think there is more work left for me to do on earth before that time comes around.

"Daddy's not in heaven yet, honey. I hope I will be one day, but I'm still on earth, and I pray that I will be here for a long time, so that I can help you to grow up."

. . . .

I want to help her grow up. I want to be here for each and all of them. I want to see them to the path of their vocations in life, and see the fruits of their vocations, and continue to support them, and console them in their sorrows. Eileen and I have so much to do together, to build up our love for each other so that it generates a home where God's call can be heard in the hearts of our children, and fostered to its maturity. And I want to grow old with Eileen, so that when age forces some measure of leisure upon us, we can sit and read poetry and literature together, and travel together to the places of our youth and see great works of beauty again. Of course, we'll never stop working. We have so many ideas for how we can work together.

Ideas and hopes and all things are in the hands of God. I offer everything to Jesus, trusting that He knows my heart and all my hopes and that He is creating the narrow but real path that we all must walk. I pray that I will be willing to surrender everything in that moment that He, in His infinite wisdom, knows is the right moment for me. When He calls, I pray that I might make that final and total entrustment. I pray that I might entrust everything to Him every day, every moment. Everything is in His heart, and belongs to His wisdom and love. In this moment that means I am in this world. And in this world, I must never give up.

There have been times, when I've been brooding in darkness, that I've thought of dying--not of killing myself, because I never forget that there is judgment after death--but just wanting it to end, so that I might go away and disappear. But then I remember the family. The family is there, like a grace, like a singular light, and I know that it is not yet time, and that I must continue to fight.

"You should pray too, that Daddy stays here on earth for a long time yet," I said. For all that my poor human mind can fathom, and that my own poor prayer can discern, I cannot help but think that there is much more work for me to do.

"Come with me to the potty," Josefina replied.

"No. I'll be right here. Remember, you are never alone. Your Guardian Angel is always right with you, and he protects you." We have always prayed to the angels with the children. When you have five children, you realize that the angels are very much involved in our lives, for the good--both great and small.

"But I can't see him," she said again.

I try a slightly different approach. "You can't see him because he's invisible," I said. "That means you can't see him, but you still know he's there."

Then I decided to throw a concept at her.

"The way you know this," I said, "is called faith."

And she looked at me with her big eyes.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Children, Do What I Say....

I exhort my children to strength of virtue and feats of courage that I do not myself possess. Just think of what the world would be like if grown ups behaved like this:

Don't be afraid.
Stop complaining.
When you say something you know is not true, that's called a lie. You should never lie.
Clean up your mess.
Be careful!
Pay attention!
Stop fighting. Now I want you to forgive each other.
Remember that God loves you so much.
You can't just ignore your sister. If she needs something, you have to take care of her.
I know it's hard, but you still have to do it.
God loves you. Pray for the strength to know and do His will.

If I could manage to do that much each day, in my own circumstances, I would be in a lot better shape than I am now. Still, I must tell my children the truth, and then ask God to make me more of an example of the words I speak. After all, they learn more by example. And of course, I must never forget that God loves me too.

It is very humbling, to be a parent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Girl Begins To Be a Woman

Thirteen years ago she came into the world. She has always been a beautiful soul. Agnese, my "little bundle of sweetness," my "little bundle of joy."

Beautiful has always been the word I want to use when I speak about Agnese. I feel a sense of reverence around her. I even feel a little shy.

So I try to tease her to cover my shyness, and she responds in a brusque manner in order to avoid (I think) her feeling of shyness with me.

Agnese is beautiful, but not delicate. She loves to be outdoors. She loves trees, and animals, and lots of space to run and walk and look at the sky. She loves to ride her bicycle. She also likes pretty things, I think, but she doesn't want to admit it. There is still so much of the energetic kid in her heart, and I don't think the core of that will ever change. She loves horses, and I know that one day she will ride them.

Agnese is simple in the way she expresses herself, and simple in her affection. I have begun to learn to appreciate the strength of that simplicity, even as I prod her with my silly humor. She needs to come out more from herself, but in her own way. She doesn't have to be forced.

An interior space is growing within this young woman. She enjoys company and friends, and yet there is a positive desire for solitude, not from fear but because she senses a life inside her that needs to be cultivated and nourished. I see this, and I think she knows that.

Still, I am loud and grandiose and expansive in the way I spread my personality all over the place. As I watch the children grow, however, I have begun to think that I am not as "insecure"--in real life--as I imagine myself to be when I am when I am in a negative frame of mind. I am, by nature, a rather large person, and the family is okay with that. They love that about me. It is insecurity that tempts me to withdraw, and shrink, and disappear.

When I am big and strong and a little clumsy, but happy, they flourish.

Agnese has a sense of humor, especially about the genuine things that happen around the house. She really does not need "jokes," because she has a glimpse of the irony of life.

Something grows inside her. I feel the desire to build and foster a home that is a place for her to grow, a firm ground that has plenty of space for her to explore and discover things, and that will give her strong steps for when she goes forth into the adventure of her own vocation in life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Mark of the Fire

I have been wounded by Him in the night,
I have contended with Him,
and He has blessed me.
Now I go through my days,
wounded and limping with His blessing upon me.

I  have been forgiven and healed
from my struggle against God;
readily forgiven,
for there was nothing ever in His strong arms
but love for me.

But to be touched by the love of God
is fire.
And nothing on earth can fill the space
that He has burned away.

I have been healed, but not entirely,
not yet.
Instead I have been sent into the world
to limp through all my days
with the mark of the fire of His mercy upon me.

For He wants the world to know His mercy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


There is a smell coming from the kitchen tonight. It's a meaty smell, with cinnamon and eggplant and onions and mysterious, wonderful spices.


John Paul has played a major role in the preparation of this meal, which--I think--we are about to eat. He has been busy about the pans with Mommy. Oh what a fine fellow he is!

The Janaros surely have Greek ancestry. Even the unusual name, my great uncle used to say, has an ancient lineage, perhaps pointing to some Byzantine heritage. And all the Sicilians in my mother's family are from Catania, the "Greek" side of the island.

Perhaps this is why I feel within my own heart a mysterious crossroad between East and West. I am synthetic and analytic, mystical and logical; I love spicy food, and a good stout. But it's more than that. It is a mystery of relationships, of ancestors who are real people and who continue to exist. They are, I hope, with God or on that final purifying journey to Him. They know me. I pray for them, and I pray to them. My ancestors.

It was from my African Catholic friends in particular that I learned the importance of appreciating the "communion of saints" concretely, in terms of my own forebearers. So much of who I am has been passed on to me through them, and my life continues to be linked to theirs. Because they are still alive, in Christ, in the communion of saints, even if their bodies were sown in the earth hundreds of years ago.

Who are they? I think their prayers have something to do with the desire in me to be a "place" where East and West meet. Why does the separation, and the lack of understanding, wound me? Why do I "feel" it personally?

Why does the smell of Moussaka from the kitchen raise all these reflections in my mind and heart.

And the children are a world. They take Ireland and Spain and the Philippines from their mother along with my Mediterranean heritage. People from many nations look upon our little family, and many depend on us for their prayers. They also help us. We must remember them and love them.

It's time for dinner. May the souls of our ancestors and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. And pray for us.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Our Kitten Alex," by the Janaro Children

I gave the kids the job of writing the blog tonight, and they have provided their own details about life with Alex. This is a collective effort of composition, and although I expect my 14 year old son exercised overall some editorial con- trol, I’m sure it represents the common contribution and individual voices of each. I really don’t know, because I’ve been resting all evening. The project was done entirely without my help (except for the pictures). So, without further ado, here are the Janaro kids….

Janaro children speaking: for those of you who have not checked Daddy’s Facebook in the last 2 months, we have a kitten.  All cat lovers and blogs about the kids lovers out there will love this blog.  It all started when our neighbor gave her old cat to her grandchildren.  Once the resident “top of the food chain” left, the mice started partying and decided to make their merriment in our house (much to the discomfort and annoyance of everyone).  After driving the vast hordes of rodents (possibly 1 or 2 mice) we decided that we must get another predator to guard against the evil rodent hordes.  We looked at various candidates for the job and asked to see their résumé.  Most of them did not qualify for the job (mainly because we were always arguing about which ones to get). 

One night, Mommy got an email from someone saying that they had a kitten that they wanted to give away.  It included a picture of the applicant (kitten) who looked like they fit the qualifications (cuteness, mouse catching capabilities, cuteness, cuteness, cuteness, and fluffiness).  We agreed that she was the perfect kitten for us.  On October 15th, we finally picked her up.  We incarcerated her in a dreadful plastic cage and she showed her displeasure by meowing all the way home.  When we got home she tried to run away, so Mommy bought some peg boards to make a little pen for her to restrain her instinct to run away from reckless 5-year-olds who want to unrelentingly squeeze and hug her.  Those didn’t keep her from jumping out, so we that night we had to completely cover the pen with cardboard.  By the time the week was over, she had become pretty used to her new surroundings.

After the first night, we still had the problem of naming her.  Her former owner had named her Gracie, but w all agreed that we did not want to name her that.  We looked on websites with popular cat names, looked in the Latin dictionary, thought of characters from literature, but eventually we decided to name her after Alex Ovechkin, the star player on the Washington Capitals, who we are fans of.  Since she is a girl, we named her Alexandra, and we call her Alex for short.

As the weeks went by, we noted her fine qualities (not being too vicious when the reckless five-year-old turns her upside down, liking to be held by the non reckless five-year-olds, not wanting to be held too long by the non reckless five-year olds, etc.).  She is also very good at catching crickets which is a promising sign that she will be able to hold off the vast hordes of mice.  Climbing trees is not one of her strong points however.  When she climbs a tree we usually have to get her down or we need to stretch out a blanket under her.  She is also the one of the most privileged animals in the world because she is the first larger than a mouse animal ever to come into our house (Daddy is allergic to cats and dogs), though she only comes into the house when it is cold outside at night, and then only in the second bathroom. 

We have had her for two months now, and at the rate she is getting pampered and fed, she will be very fat.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Idea of Mystery

     Reason is the need to understand existence, that is, the need for an adequate, total explanation of existence. This explanation cannot be found within the horizon of life's experience. No matter how much this horizon widens, this longing for an answer will remain: death makes incompleteness definitive.
     If reason is to be rescued, that is to say, if we want to be coherent with this energy that defines us, if we do not want to deny it, then its very dynamism forces us to affirm the exhaustive answer beyond the horizon of our life. The answer exists. It cries out through the entreaties that make up our being. But it cannot be defined by experience. It is there, but we do not know what it is....
     The summit of reason's conquest is the perception of an unknown unreachable presence, to which all human movement is destined, because it depends upon it. It is the idea of mystery.

Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense, ch. 11

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Evening

What went on here tonight, during the long December stretch between after dinner darkness and bedtime?

The men got haircuts. Yes, Eileen does haircuts too. And beard trims. The weak, thin, pathetic strands that remain on my head have been clipped, and you'll all be happy to know that the beard has been groomed. Good news for everyone who has seem me in the last few weeks (months?) and wondered whether I was living on locusts and wild honey. And it's one less thing for Josefina to grab and pull on my face.

John Paul really didn't need one, but he likes his hair short. Then he went to study for an exam he has tomorrow.

Josefina was in an exceptionally silly mood. Was it the sugar-glazed apple dumpling she had for dessert? She was whooping it up all over the place, but then (of course), a few minutes later, was curling up with Mommy.

When Lucia saw me she said, "Daddy what happened to you?" I said, "Lucia, why don't you say, 'Father, you look so handsome with your new haircut'?" But all she said in reply was, "we can't braid it into horns anymore!"

We settled down to banter a bit, and then prayed the Rosary and our night prayer, and everyone (except Jojo, of course) stayed awake through the whole thing. The prayer life of the Janaro family is looking up.

There was the usual psychological wrestling match with each child to make sure that teeth were brushed...and flossed.

Tonight we read from Anne of Green Gables, and Daddy did the presentation. "Don't try to do the voices; just read it normal," the kids groaned. Everyone is allowed to be a ham except me! Okay.

By the end of the chapter, two girls were asleep. Another big day of school for Mommy and kids tomorrow (the usual half-day / Montessori work period for three of the girls), which means the chaos of getting everyone out the door and then a few hours of quiet. And then afternoon buddy-time with Josefina.

Eileen and I watched some news. The last troops are coming home from Iraq. It is December 14, 2011. Then my wife and I prayed together and she too went to sleep. I am glad she is not pulling a late nigher tonight.

Now I sit and listen to the sounds of the house: digital clocks, some cricket somewhere, and what sounds like the water coming on, but is just the blower of the central heating.

We have so much. We are so grateful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Cat Outside the House

I'm supposed to write about Alex the kitten.

The kids have been bugging me for weeks. I may let them write an entry of their own if they can get it all together, because they have many experiences with Alex. To me it's just "the kitten," or--more and more as the days go by--"the cat"! Alex is growing fast.

We've had her for about a month now. Some may remember back in the summer we had an intrusion of mice in the house. For several years the neighbor's cat had been prowling the property, and we had gotten used to relying on her. But now she had moved away, and word must have gotten around on Mousebook: "The Janaros are 'available' again!"

This resulted in our determination to get an outdoor cat. After some complicated experiences that I still do not really understand, we finally became the owners of Alexandra, or "Alex" for short. I don't need to tell you that the kids are happy.

Animals and children can have a special bond, if they manage to get over their initial fear of one another. Among children's first toys there are stuffed animals, and children's books are full of smiling, chatty animals. Children love to learn about the habits and behavior of real animals too, and are almost always pleased to watch a nature video, draw a picture, or read a library book about animals.

My kids have always loved animals (although when they were small, they were wildly afraid of real life dogs). As they grew older, their desire for pets increased, but there was always the limitation of Daddy's allergies. An outdoor cat, however, appears to solve this problem, even though the kids have to change clothes if they handle the cat too much.

Alex has a small cat house that the kids built for her outside, where she spends the night. Then they let her loose in the morning. She enjoys spending her free time right on our front stoop, which I don't mind as long as she stays away from me. I think Alex and I have an understanding. I am willing to let my children spoil her and treat her like a queen, provided that she learns to catch mice and stays away from me.

Ha! You know it's more than that. I never had an experience owning a pet (except for goldfish, which hardly count), but I can see how an animal flourishes when it is the object of human affection. And I can see my kids learning about responsibility, about having other creatures that depend on them. I can also see the great life that this little cat lives in my kids' imaginations, a life that spills over into reality as they cuddle her and prod her and tease her and fight with each other over whose turn it is to clean the litter box.

When I see Alex on the stoop in the morning she makes me smile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"I Am Your Compassionate Mother"

The words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego
(as presented in the Nican Mopohua):

"Do know this, do be assured of it in your heart,
My Littlest One,
that I Myself, I am the Entirely and Ever Virgin, Saint Mary,
Mother of the True Divinity, of God Himself.
Because of Him, Life goes on, Creation goes on;
His are all things afar, His are all things near at hand,
things above in the Heavens, things here below on the Earth.

How  truly  I wish it, how greatly I desire it,
that here they should erect Me My Temple!
Here would I show forth, here would I lift up to view,
here would I make a gift
of all My Fondness for My Dear Ones,
all My Regard for My Needy Ones,
My Willingness to Aid them,
My Readiness to Protect them.

For truly I Myself, 
I am your Compassionate Mother,
yours, for you yourself,
for everybody here in the Land,
for each and all together,
for all others too, for all Folk of every kind,
who do but cherish Me,
who do but raise their voices to Me,
who do but seek Me,
who do but raise their trust to Me.

For here I shall listen to their groanings, to their saddenings;
here shall I make well and heal up
their each and every kind of disappointment,
of exhausting pangs, of bitter aching pain."

. . . .

"Do listen,
do be assured of it in your heart, My Littlest One, 
that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, 
nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart.

And do not be afraid of this Pestilence,
nor of any other pestilence, 
or any rasping hardship.

For am  I not here, I, Your Mother? 
Are you not in the Cool of My Shadow?
in the Breeziness of My Shade? 
Is it not I that am your Source of Contentment?
Are you not cradled in My Mantle?
cuddled in the Crossing of My Arms? 
Is there anything else for you to need?

Nothing else, though, should trouble you,
should disquiet you." 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mary's Little House

What did Mary ask St. Juan Diego to tell the bishop? She said she wanted him to build her a "little house" where she could give all her love and compassion to the people. She promised to offer consolation and heal the sufferings of “the people of the land” and “all others who love her, who cry out to her, who seek her.”

Mary’s request was very concrete, very much connected to a particular place: “build my house here.” It was in this house that she wanted to make Christ manifest, and to give Him to people. She wanted people to come to this house with their sufferings and their sorrows, so that she might heal them.

This is something that many people don’t realize: Our Lady of Guadalupe is not just an image. It’s a place. It’s “Mary’s house.” It’s a special place to encounter her. That is why, when the miraculous image appeared on St. Juan Diego’s cloak, the first thing they did was build a small shrine, a “little house” for her in that place. Remember, this was her primary request. She wanted to dwell with “all the people of this land” and be there as well for “all others.”

So how did Mary’s “little house” project turn out?

There are disagreements about numbers and definitions, but with 20 million pilgrims a year, Guadalupe is arguably the most highly visited religious shrine in the world today. (No, that's not a typo; that’s 20 [twenty] million people.) Some 5-7 million will come over the course of these four days, to commemorate what they realize is the greatest event in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Streets are closed off to traffic and mass transit is rerouted as one corner of Mexico City bulges. Then, the remaining 15 million are streaming through all during the year.

Who are these people?

They are not the kind of people who make news headlines. They are mostly ordinary, humble people. Some are deeply devout. Some are superstitious. Most have significant problems in their lives. Many of them are not especially good people. Undoubtedly there are those who are not even sure why they’ve come. They are rather like the human race itself, which is appropriate, because all the members of the human race are Mary’s children. They are, however, overwhelmingly from Mexico and other Hispanic countries.

Sadly, too few of them are Anglo-Americans. For many American Catholics, “Our Lady of Guadalupe” is a kind of footnote devotion, or a matter for curiosity: “O yes, Our Lady of Guadalupe…is it true what they say that you can see the reflections of people who were in the room in her eyes?” (The answer is “yes,” in the context of numerous scientific studies that analyze digital close up images of the eyes.)

But perhaps I’m not being fair. Of course, many of us in the United States love Our Lady of Guadalupe, and we recognize her power when we honor her (fittingly) as patroness of the pro-life movement, we have her image in our homes, but we don’t tend to think of her as here. We forget that she established her house right here, “in this land,” for all of us before there were any borders, before the Rio Grande had even been discovered by Europeans.

She is here for all of “America,” North and South, Anglo, French, and Hispanic. And all other peoples too, as Blessed John Paul II knew well. He came five times to see Our Lady of Guadalupe. But it was also he who entrusted to her the new evangelization of this hemisphere, which includes the ground on which my fellow Americans stand.

American Catholics go to shrines in Europe (which is great—I’ve done this too). But we forget that she is here. A couple of hours on a plane, a subway ride, and you are standing in front of her. Why don’t we go? Catholics in the United States have yet to really discover the Virgin of Guadalupe as a place.

Thanks to digital photography, her image is available to us and can travel with us (and I have no doubt of the power of this). More and more, we set up shrines to her where we are, and this is a great blessing. Let us go in greater numbers to these places as well. Undoubtedly, we are growing close to her (because Mary gets what she wants, sooner or later, and she wants us). I am convinced that we must discover her, and take her deeply into our hearts, if we are to become a truly transforming presence in our culture here in the United States.

But I think she wants more. She wants us to become pilgrims. She wants us to come visit her in her little house on Tepeyac hill, in the center of the Americas.

Many of us, of course, cannot do it. But there are also many of us who could, if we made the effort. Millions of people make far greater efforts each year. They too have her image in their own homes, and shrines for her in the communities where they live. There is nothing, however, that can quite substitute going to the house she had built for herself.

It’s worth the effort.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Singing Eagle

I think that St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin is one of the greatest saints of all time. It is his hiddenness; he is almost invisible behind that cloth he once wore--the second most amazing piece of cloth on this earth (well, maybe the third, if the Holy Face of Manoppello is really in fact the head wrapping from the tomb that goes "with" the Shroud). Many in the world still do not know of the truly wondrous, scientifically inexplicable image of the Virgin Mary that appears on a nearly 500 year old cactus fiber cloak.

For the millions who do know her, and who have visited her at her “house” in the center of Mexico City, she is a stunning and profoundly personal presence. One is almost tempted to forget about the man who wore the cloak. Indeed he seems quite content to remain in the background.

We know very little about him, apart from his famous account (see link below) and the testimony of a few others. His entire sanctity is summed up in this very simple gesture: He gives us Mary.

Actually the task was not easy, and he then dedicated himself for the rest of his life to prayer and to the service of all those who came to the "little house" of Mary. But in the end it was all simple following and trusting in Mary. He gives us Mary. Think about it for a moment. This is his cloak.

She called him "my dearest and youngest son."

Could there possibly be many saints who are closer to God than this humble man, who--even now that he's a canonized saint--gets skipped over for the regular Advent Friday liturgy (like at the Mass I went to this morning) because he's only an "optional memorial"?

Most of us can't even pronounce his indigenous name, which means "singing eagle" and which is included in the name under which he was canonized. As far as I know, its "kwatt-LATT-zican." But I could be wrong.

For many of us, his name may as well be "Oh yeah, Juan Diego, he's great." But we need to get to know him and love him more. We may know the story; perhaps we even know it well. But it must become personal. When Mary speaks to St. Juan Diego, we must hear her speaking to us.

There is one part of the story that sticks in everyone’s mind, and is invariably remembered: "Didn't he try to sneak past Our Lady?"

Yes he did! Why? Because he was worried.

He worried about his sick uncle. He thought the matter was in his own hands, that it depended on him alone, that "the Lady" would only slow him down.

But she knew what he was up to. He tried to do it on his own, but she went to him. She foiled his little trick. She found him and she said, "stop worrying! I am your Mother. I have you."

This is the great secret of the universe: we have a Mother. She is not a goddess. She is a human person who said yes to God and brought the God-man into the world; she is a human being who says yes to us and wants to bring Christ to each of us.

And she is not shy. She loves us with all the power of a woman's love: she is intelligent, practical, persistent, and downright spunky when necessary. And all of this with a woman's love, a mother's love, that brings peace. Juan Diego's story makes this clear. Really, it is clear in the New Testament, if we take the trouble to dwell on the woman that appears there, and the great heart that is manifest in her every gesture.

Juan Diego is one of the greatest of all the saints, I think, not only because of his hiddeness, but also because he was an ordinary man, like us. The story of Juan Diego is the story of how Mary loves each one of us. It is the story of how she takes care of us, and even how she outwits us when we try to run away.

There is this woman, a real woman, who knows me and is totally determined to crush the serpents that threaten me, to draw me away from my self love and free me from all my worries, and to give me Jesus Christ.

Yes, Jesus is our Redeemer, and nobody knows that better than Mary. That’s why no one can bring Him close to us like Mary. Doesn’t it make sense that, at the heart of the plan of salvation, there is a woman, a real woman, who is not just a passive vessel, but whose active, vital, feminine, maternal love really makes a difference in our lives?

I pray to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. I want to be like him. I want to show people Mary, so that she can bring them to Jesus.

Here is a link to an English translation of the Nican Mopohua, a beautiful recounting of the events, originally written in Nahuatl in 1546 by Antonio Valeriano, an indigenous scholar who took the testimony of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin himself:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Living Relationship

When others speak against me, I can be weighed down by the fear that they somehow define who I am (and this is especially true when I fear that "they" might even be partially right in what they say). But the mercy of Jesus defines who I am. I mean this in terms of a living relationship with Him, not just a flat affirmation.

The meaning of my life is to belong to Jesus. I have to live that as a relationship, it has to form my heart, so that my whole life is an interaction of love with Jesus, in which he uses even my failings and my character flaws and even the big pimple on the end of my nose (haha, I don't have one of those right now).

And a real relationship, a living relationship with Jesus, brings with it God's family, Mary, the saints, the Church, and my fellow imperfect believers whom I love because I see that they too are made for Him.

Pray. I must beg Jesus to draw me to Him. Beg Him to show me the way to walk with Him. Beg Him to make the relationship in the heart and not only "in the head" (as it so often can be with us Christians). Only by living with Him in the heart can we "love our enemies" rather than being oppressed by them or responding to their violence with violence of our own. If I pray to Him and trust in Him, He will change me. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Teresa Turns Nine

Today is a happy day for our family. Teresa Janaro, our fourth child, is nine years old today. Happy birthday Teresa! My dear, affectionate, and exceptionally friendly girl has only been in the world for nine years? That amazes me, since I can't imagine the world without her. On the other hand, so many events that preceded her birth seem like they happened just yesterday. Time is a mysterious thing.

Those who have read this chronicle know that Teresa had some health problems over the summer. I am happy to say that she is doing very, very well in recent months. She is full of the enthusiasm for life that she has had ever since she was a baby, and the charm of her personality and her warm heart attract many friends. Teresa is our "society girl," and has even begun to get phone calls from her friends, inviting her to some party or just to come over to play. Her spontaneous and sympathetic nature make her ready to be friends with anyone. I thank God that we have a positive environment and good companions to offer her as a context for spreading her little wings.

I remember when she was small enough to fit on my lap. Then she perched next to me. Now she has grown to show signs of the lovely young woman she will soon be. Happy birthday Teresa.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Attachment to Being Comes First

     Fear is not a human being's first sentiment. It is attraction. Fear emerges only as a second moment, as a reflex to a perceived danger that this attraction may be fleeting. Attachment to being, to life, awe in front of the evidence comes first: only after this is it possible for one to fear that this evidence might vanish, that the presence might not be yours, that the attraction you feel might not be fulfilled. You do not fear losing things which do not interest you. Rather, you fear losing things which have to interest you first.
     Religiosity is, first of all, the affirmation and development of the attraction.
Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (ch. 10)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Family: Jesus in My Daily Life

Readers are climbing these mountains of prayer and meditation or going into the valleys of my struggles, and they are perhaps wondering, "What's going on with the family?"

Good question. All of these deeper, more interior reflections are a horizon for a family life that goes on from day to day. They are sometimes written while small children are climbing on me.

When Blessed Charles challenged us to see and serve Jesus in everyone, it struck me deeply how much this means for me, Eileen and the kids. Here is Jesus in my daily life.

I believe this and I am even attracted to it as an abstract ideal. But when I actually look at these people and how I treat them every day, I might despair, were it not for my confidence that He has already begun to work a miracle in my life. He is giving sight to my blindness, placing in my heart the prayer to recognize His presence and to live the sacrifices of family life as a opportunity to develop the habit of being open to His presence.

I'm not going to try to kid anybody. Christ really incarnate in the flesh and blood and personalities of my family--this takes my breath away. Yet there He is.

My prayer is to begin to see Him and love Him in my wife and children, and I am resolved to practice and develop the habit of asking to see Him and expecting to find Him, so that He might engage my heart with His grace and I might love and serve Him. He is really here, inside the fun, goofy, growing, dramatic, sometimes suffering life of our family.

Everyone is fine. John Paul goes to school and we have great conversations about what he's learning. He has begin to show the capabilities and a little of the drama of a budding young man. Agnese embarks upon the age of 13 in a few weeks, and is a very different kind of person than her brother. Much is happening beneath her quiet exterior. She seems to have, or perhaps she is better able to express, a desire to communicate with me and engage me in conversation.

Lucia too is quiet but attentive, and has her bursts of creative expression. She is kind and thoughtful, and sympathetic to others. Teresa is doing well, and has been quite a social butterfly since the school year started. For now, she is much better and I am so grateful. And of course, Josefina. Learning her counting and much better with her letters. She'll be reading on her own before long! She is also clearly a Montessori educated child, who keeps herself busy with many of her own little projects. The way she explains her drawings shows me how her mind and imagination are opening up to become aware in her five-year-old way of such realities as distance and the passage of time.

And Eileen and I have a little time these days to be together, at least when the kids are finally asleep. She loves her work. But there is a lot of it. Sometimes she is tired, and when she is it is my job to make sure she can rest.

Oh, and then there's our kitten, Alexandra. But I need to write a whole blog entry on her, another time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

We Entrust Everything To You

·          Dear Mother Mary,
Ever-Virgin, Immaculate One,
You are a special sign and reminder to us
of the personal love that God has for us.

Dear Mother,
protect us and watch over us,
and may we be secure
in the folds of your mantle,
in the crossing of your arms,
in that tender and particular maternal love,
in that vigorous energy, intelligence, and attention
of your woman's heart.

Thank you, God, for having created the Woman
in Your Image and Likeness,
and having placed in her heart
that special tenacity in the fight against evil,
and on behalf of the good of the persons
You have entrusted to her.
Strengthen the great hearts of women in our society,
and bring their brothers to stand side by side with them
in the struggle and the joy of life.

And thank you God for the Blessed Virgin Mary,
special sign and instrument
of Your tenderness toward each of us.
Help us to remember to entrust ourselves to Mary.

Dear Mary, Merciful Mother
We entrust everything to you.
Make us grow strong in your maternal heart.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Little Brother of Jesus

Today we remember a shining light of holiness that reveals something very profound in the times in which we live.

He desired to "shout the Gospel with [his] life." He wanted to live among the poorest and most forgotten people, and he made his hermitage deep in the Sahara desert among the Tuareg, a Muslim nomadic people who called him "marabout" (holy man). He did not preach. He spent his days in contemplation and caring for the people. He was put to death on December 1, 1916. His blood bears witness that mystical contemplation and fraternal charity are at the heart of the New Evangelization. Today is his feast day. Blessed Charles de Foucauld, pray for us.

‎I shall let him speak for himself:

“We do good, not by what we say and do, but by what we are, by the grace which accompanies our actions, by the way that Jesus lives within us, by the way that our actions are Jesus' actions, working in and through us."

"Our entire existence and being should shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Our entire person should breathe Jesus. All our actions and our entire life should proclaim that we belong to Jesus."

"I want to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and nonbelievers, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. Already they're calling this house 'the fraternity' (khaoua in Arabic) -- about which I'm delighted -- and realizing that the poor have a brother here -- not only the poor, though: all men."

"What is there in common between heaven and me -- between its perfection and my wretchedness? There is your Heart, O Lord Jesus. It forms a link between these two so dissimilar things."

"Above all, always see Jesus in every person, and consequently treat each one not only as an equal and as a brother or sister, but also with great humility, respect and selfless generosity."

‎"Let us concern ourselves with those who lack everything,...those to whom no one gives a thought. Let us be the friends of those who have no friends, their brother. The love of God, the love of men, that is my whole life, that will be my whole life, I hope. When we can suffer and love, we can do much, the most that one can do in this world."

The Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles de Foucauld:

I abandon myself into your hands.
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence,
                                                   For you are my Father.