Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Out Like A Lion

We near the end of a most eventful month: Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan, upheaval and civil war in North Africa, and the ill-defined intervention of the United States and other western powers in the crossfire. The news of the world, which encompasses the dramas of so many individuals, families, and communities, enters our homes every day, where we live out our own dramas and events, celebrate our own success, endure our own tragedies.

Our family flourishes in the face of difficulties. We will make it through another month with food on the table and a roof over our heads. Eileen works too hard, but thank God she loves what she does and she is with the children. I am writing, studying, and promoting my book--pretty much free of pain, but still struggling to find energy, still fragile, still living just outside of (and sometimes within) those shadows that are cast about me. My days this month have been mostly positive. I am learning that I cannot allow myself to disappear because my gifts are needed. And beyond that my poor "self"--in whatever condition it may be--is loved and called and must somehow be given in an offering of love, to my wife and children and family and friends who want me simply because I am me (love is such a mystery); to strangers and even enemies, because in God's plan they need to know me; and to God Himself first, who asks only for all of whatever I am.

I am learning. I am also on a new medication that is helping me fight the brain disorder that afflicts me and so many other people. I am not ashamed to acknowledge the need for this help. I have written a book about it. No one should be ashamed of the need for this help.

The kids are troopers, growing in body and mind, full of exuberance, fighting with each other, playing together. They are growing: Josefina seems to become brighter and more intelligently interactive every day. And the change is especially noticeable in John Paul (just two months shy of 14), who is becoming the technological master of the household electronic and media systems, growing more proficient every day in the use of the computer, digital photography, and now the digital video camera, which I finally dusted off and presented to him, saying, "have at it, kid." At the same time there is a quiet maturation of spirit as he prepares for Confirmation.

[Permit me a moment of melodrama: In four years and two months, my son will be 18 years old. That is not so far away. The nation he lives in will most likely be at war. If the precedent set this past month holds, that means (at least in principle) that he could be drafted, mobilized and sent anywhere in the world by the power and the decision of the one man or woman who occupies the office on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I could say a lot about this; for now I will limit myself to saying that that man or woman better know what the xxxx he or she is doing.]

Joy and struggle, sorrow and tragedy, abundance and need, achievement and disaster, war and peace: we live and endure it all as human beings who are vulnerable and weak and tenacious. What we must believe is that in the end, at the depths of all things, God is working a mystery of goodness that will one day be made manifest to all. We are confident of this because the source and fulfillment of that goodness has already come; He is already here; the victory has already been accomplished.

I won't have a blog entry tomorrow because we are going to a hockey game. See you all next month.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Opening Day and Hockey Game: Lets Go Who???

I am confused this year.

Thursday, March 31 is a very special day in America. Opening Day. There are many sports, and many seasons that "begin," but there is only one "Opening Day." There is only one first pitch. There are sports...and then there is Baseball. After a month of Spring Training (note the capital letters everywhere, indicating the mythic quality of these things), it is finally here. It is finally going to count.

On Friday morning, I will buy a newspaper (forget the stupid internet--I want ink on my hands!), and gaze lovingly at the Standings, hoping that the Nats are 1-0, for real. Even if we are 0-1 (which is more likely), I will not be totally unhappy. Its still one of those beautiful Baseball things: a Statistic. And it will be the beginning of that wonderful season of dreams: April and May, when a hot streak can put a terrible team like the Washington Nationals in first place for a few days. One can dream foolish dreams.

Okay, by now you are wondering why I have a picture of John Paul playing hockey up there? Did I load the wrong picture by mistake. No. The picture indicates the reason why I am so existentially confused on this year's Opening Day. While first pitches are being thrown all over America, Mommy, Daddy, and John Paul will be at a hockey game. A hockey game?

Well, it all began a long time ago, when the grandparents gave John Paul a Christmas present: money for tickets to see the Washington Capitals, our local area NHL hockey team. I bought the tickets for the March 31 game before I realized that it was Opening Day. Unlike the Nationals, the Washington CAPITALS are a really good team, with an excellent chance to go deep into the playoffs and perhaps even win the Stanley Cup (the hockey equivalent of the World Series).

After Baseball, John Paul and I probably like hockey best of all sports. He enjoys playing in roller blades (obviously, see above), and we both enjoy watching the Capitals win (usually) several times a week on T.V. (as anyone who has made the tragic mistake of friending me on Facebook knows, because they must suffer through my ongoing status updates throughout the game). For all this, we have never been to Verizon Center to experience the Caps live. So for us, Thursday is Hockey Day. Rock the Red! Go Caps!

Can I do this? Sure, why not.

Hockey has a claim to greatness as a sport in its own right. It is, in fact, that national sport of our dear neighbor (or, rather, neighbour) to the north, Canada. In the last Winter Olympics, I (almost) wanted to root for Team Canada because I knew that the very souls of my Canadian friends were invested in winning the gold, whereas it just doesn't mean the same thing to us. O Canada. I understand. I am a Baseball fan, after all. And although I have never loved hockey (and never could) the way a Canadian does, I do love it--it is a sport that combines astonishing gracefulness with grueling physicality, skilled use of the stick, precision of the shot, and at the same time chaos and dumb luck. Its terribly good fun.

But there is something else that makes hockey a particularly special experience for my son and me. Mommy likes hockey. Yes, it is true. Gentle, kind, generous Eileen--she who would rather capture the crickets in the house and set them free than squash them with rap of a shoe heel like me--gentle Eileen is a hockey fan. A loud and boisterous hockey fan. The girls are still surprised when Mommy jumps up and down in her chair and shouts out when the Caps score a goal. But a goal in hockey is magic. It is beautiful. It deserves the excitement it generates.

And we are so happy that Mommy shares this with us. As for the girls, they get to spend the evening with Uncle Walter. They will have plenty of fun. And so will he.

Meanwhile, sports have always been a precious thing that John Paul and I have shared together. It has a whole new dimension now, with Mommy joining the club. It is hard to tell at this point what interests the girls will develop.

For this year's Opening Day, I have confusion--throw the puck, shoot the ball--but it is the confusion of an abundance of good things. They are not the exalted things, the great things, the earnest things. Part of the charm and beauty of sports is that they do not really "matter"--they belong to that indispensable species of human activity called play. Without play, life is not fully human.

So here comes Thursday. Play ball! or is it "face off, center ice!"--whatever, we will have a good time: John Paul, Mommy, and me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Libya and Life

There is a shooting war in Libya, and the United States is somehow involved in the whole thing.

This is about all I know. I know that Qaddafi is not a "good guy," but I know absolutely nothing about the people who oppose him, and what complicated set of motives drives them. The President tells us that the "Libyan people" (who, I have heard, are a collection of mutually hostile tribes) want "freedom." Description lags terribly behind reality in the 21st century, I fear. What does "freedom" mean? We have not answered that question yet, in the last two hundred or so years that Western Civilization has been playing around with it. We have seen it manipulated by forces hostile to human dignity, so that the last two centuries of "freedom" have been the bloodiest in the history of the human race.

Now new forces are rising in the world, or, rather, old forces in new forms. What is it that they want?

In January and February, the secular West enjoyed the thrill of watching peaceful people take to the streets and demand freedom. They brought down a thirty year dictatorship in Egypt. And the genuine desire for freedom was palpable in those first days. But freedom is more than a dizzying experience of possibility; it is the capacity to adhere to something--to a proposal for life. Does the secular West have a proposal for life? As far as I can tell, it consists largely in material prosperity, ubiquitous entertainment, sexual licence, and the accumulation of information as a kind of distraction for the human mind.

This proposal does not engender the kind of vigorous personalities that can persevere in the long task of building a new national identity. So its not surprising that when preliminary elections were held in Egypt a couple of weeks ago, 70% of the people voted according to another kind of proposal--the one promoted with the strong backing of the Muslim Brotherhood--to set an election schedule that would favor the interests of Islamic organizations.

What is Islam? I am trying to find out, and that will be the subject of future blogs, no doubt. But I can say this much: it is a serious proposal. It engages the deep dynamics of man. It is not frivolity.

The drama in Libya moves in this same realm. And we have entered into the shooting, to protect innocent lives and (more importantly?) "our own interests," in a way that effectively supports one group against another in a war whose real motivations we know nothing about. I am sure of this much: Libya is part of the rise of Islam in the 21st century, and Islam is setting itself up as a serious rival to the secular Western proposal.

Do we have something better to offer? Of course we do. The West has lost contact with its foundation. But we must do more than remember it, allude to it, or try to piece back together elements of its ethical and cultural tradition. We have to discover it anew, at its source.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How Can This Be?

Stop.

Look at the simple, humble face of the Virgin Mary and just let it sink in for a moment: what she did yesterday.

This awesome decision, the fruit of a quiet, uncomplicated, pure heart.

Mary, I don't have a heart like this. I am complex, anxious, distracted. I am trying to write a blog entry about you and watch a hockey game at the same time.

Okay, the hockey game is over.

Why are we such busy people, Mary? So little of what we do is necessary. Wait, its time to say the family rosary. That means its time for me to say fifty Hail Marys and think about everything under the sun while I keep trying to remember that I am supposed to be dwelling on the Mysteries of my salvation, of the only thing that matters in life. Everyone is waiting on me, so I'll be back. Help me, Mary, to know what I should write this night.

As I expected, I spent much of the rosary drifting off onto thoughts about what I should write on this blog. I don't remember if I came up with anything. Silence. You must have lived a great deal in silence, with God. You pondered things in your heart. In silence the heart can speak the desires inscribed on it by God. I must say, though, Mary, that I have always loved your mind. Saying to the angel, "How can this be...?" Not from hesitation, but because you wanted to embrace the will of God in a fuller way, with an awareness of its correspondence to your life. You knew that God wanted you to give yourself to Him in virginity. You were committed to this gift. Now came this revelation that you were to be a mother. "How can this be...?" The correspondence between the two realities is a miracle, a new event in the history of the world, for "nothing is impossible with God." You wanted there and then, with all of your love and all of your reason, to open yourself to the divine possibility of the humanly impossible.

I ask this question to you, Holy Mother: "How can this be for me?" How will this divided heart of mine be transfigured into the likeness of God?

"Be silent, Juanito. Elizabeth is with child, flowers bloom on the barren hilltop, and a seed is planted and sprouting within you. And I am coming to help."

Friday, March 25, 2011

We All Need Mercy

Don’t be embarrassed.  Without His mercy none of us would even exist.  Bringing forth the manifestation of His glory from nothing is the way He shows that His love is infinite. And He loves to love.  He loves and loves, shows forth His love, rejoices in His love, and loves endlessly. He became man so that His love could reach us in our nothingness.

So find the place in yourself where you know that you are nothing and begin to pray from out of that place.



He Loved Them To The End . . . .


Beloved Jesus, I adore You.
Here is Your Love
to the end….
to the silence,
to the smallness,
to the inside of every moment.
This is Your Glory:
Love inexhaustible
   poured out in earthen vessels;
Love Creator of the burning stars;
Love Creator of the angels—
   those great, gigantic, magnificent, comprehending spirits.
Love Creator of man….
   master of the earth and its things,
   yet a tiny speck under the sky;
   image of God,
   dust and ashes.
   great and miserable,
   hungry man, hungry with a thousand hungers….

Beloved Jesus, I adore You.
Here is Your Love;
Here is Your Glory:
Love inexhaustible
   poured out in earthen vessels;
Love beyond all measure
   become a morsel of food and drink
   in our tiny mouths.
Given and given, poured out and broken.

Glory to You, Love Eternal!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Are All Getting So Old!

I still have this natural habit of assuming that if a person is an adult, they are older than me. Especially if they are accomplished in any way. Or if they are somebody like my doctor. Or if they have adult children. But it isn't true. There are all these grown-ups out there who are younger than me. How did that happen?


I originally posted the first paragraph as my Facebook status, and then I thought, "this is a good topic for a blog." How did all the adults suddenly become younger than me? Aside from my health issues, I don't really feel like I have changed in the last twenty years. On the other hand, if I reflect on it, there are plenty of things that have changed.


I was a lot smarter twenty years ago than I am today. I was definitely more sophisticated when I was 28. But its different now. I've grown both older and younger at the same time.


Getting married was obviously the biggest change. I lived, studied, traveled, earned my advanced degrees, and even began teaching. I had a pretty good grip on the world.


Then I got married.


I say this with no regret or nostalgia for the "freedom" of my youth. On the contrary, getting married was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was 33 years old when I got married, but I never thought much about the fact that many of my contemporaries had already been married ten years. My wife was 29. So we were a little older than some, but it seemed like nothing.


Then came the kids.


As the kids grew older, I began to feel "younger" and "older" at the same time. When I was in my twenties, I strutted about discoursing on theoretical topics, smoking my pipe, and feeling every bit as learned and erudite as a man in his fifties. Now, as I approach the age of 50, I am herding children about like a man in his twenties. I feel younger at heart. (I wish I felt younger in body.) And after 20 years of both practical life and further study and consideration, I have come to realize that I know a great deal less about reality than I used to imagine.


God, man, and the universe are less complicated and more mysterious than I realized in the old age of my youth. I am more inclined to wonder than to discourse. I am ready to listen, to ask questions, to ponder, and then to judge what is true, in the measure in which I can. When I cannot be certain, I must venture a hypothesis and try to verify it without the fear of being thought ignorant. I am much less interested in being considered learned and erudite and much more interested in what is the truth. Plato thought that a man could not really be a philosopher before the age of 50. I have finally come to realize, at the age of 48, that he is right. With regard to wisdom, I have not yet been born.


And I am young in front of the mystery of life and the mystery of God's plan for me, which unfolds one day at a time, and has many twists and turns that I cannot anticipate, but must be prepared to engage, accept, or even suffer. I think my prayer is beginning to become more simple, something closer to "thy will be done."


I also feel young because I have a young family. Many of my peers have adult children and some are even grandparents, whereas my oldest is not yet 14 and my youngest is just four. So I can still trade barf stories with parents who are twenty years younger than me, whereas I haven't had REAL teenagers yet. I sometimes worry that I am too old for them. I pray that God will give me the health and the years to see them through the trials of their adolescence, and to see the discovery and the fruits of their vocations in life. I do not want to abandon them in their youth.


But this is something that can only be entrusted to God. I know this much: my children, right now, this day, need me as their father. All of me, including all my hopes for the future, which are encompassed in a greater abandonment and trust.


And all you kids out there who have grown up to become my doctors and my priests and the parents of my kids' friends--I am glad to have you as companions on our common journey.


In eternity we shall all be young.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Free Spirit

This is my oldest daughter, Agnese. If she saw her picture on the blog, she might punch me. Or she might just shrug, and say "I don't care." This picture does not do justice to a very beautiful girl, and the only reason I am using it is because it is almost impossible to get a picture of Agnese facing the camera. She is fleet footed and scampers away like a deer from the camera lens.

Agnese is a free spirit. She is so much a free spirit that she doesn't like it when I call her a free spirit. She doesn't want to be defined. She is very social and has plenty of friends, and yet she also enjoys being alone. She reads a great deal, and also spend a lot of time outside. She keeps her own thoughts; indeed she has a contemp-lative disposition. Unlike John Paul and Josefina, she does not fill up the room with her personality, but is very unobtrusive. Yet she has her boisterous moods as well.

She is both tough and vulnerable. It was only recently that I discovered that she did not like my teasing her about certain things. I am always teasing; I am always searching for the humor and irony of life, yet I know how easily this can degenerate into levity--the vain indulgence of one's wit at the expense of the sensibilities of another person. That virtue which is rightly called a sense of humor, which I have striven to cultivate all my life, is a delicate thing that requires both spontaneity and self-discipline, and always tenderness and affection. I think I see the exquisite humor of my girl, but it may not be something that she wishes to have revealed.

Agnese is a mystery to me. She is a 12 year old girl--still very much a girl, and yet on the threshold of becoming a young woman. She is, I think, shy. I also think she loves her father very much, but she is not sure how to express it. I hope she knows how much I love her. She is so precious to me, but I am clumsy in showing my love; perhaps that is why I resort to teasing her more than I should. Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed  in front of her, fumbling like a schoolboy.

I want to be a good father to her, but my daughters are my first up-close experience in my life with girls. I had no sisters growing up. I was terribly bashful with girls in school, until the point when they had begun to develop the sense of being young women. Then it was different. I won't claim to understand women, but I have always been comfortable with them, because I was raised by a loving, talented, strong and expressive woman, my mother. And then I married another loving, talented, strong woman with a different kind of expressiveness, and with an affection and good sense that keep me grounded. But the world of girls is one that I am only discovering now, along with my four daughters.

Even here, Agnese is not like the other three. She does not flirt. She is a spunky girl, ready to play at a boxing match, run a race, or stare at me with a face that says, "Stop being so corny, Daddy." She seldom cries unless she is very upset or hurt. I think she has deep and tender emotions but she does not like to be self-conscious about them, and does not often show them. I know that she prays, but she does it when no one is watching. There is much about her that is silent, in a good, healthy way. I do not want to trespass upon that silence. I want to love her with reverence for the secret that God is whispering within her soul.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Climbing Mountains

Some of you may chuckle that these gentle, rolling hills are called "mountains." But they are the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenan-doah Valley in northern Virginia--the place that I have called "home" for a good portion of my adult life. Along with the Urals in Russia, they are among the oldest mountains in the world (which is why they are so gentle and so low: the tectonic crisis that thrust them into the sky had already been settling for millions of years when young mountains like the Rockies were formed).


I love these mountains. I used to hike their trails, early in the morning, for hours to watch the dawn from some perch of rock in the midst of the trees. I loved to hack my way down in the valley for a good fishing spot on the Shenandoah river. When John Paul was a year old, I strapped him on my back and brought him along a stretch of the Appalachian trail, talking to him and dreaming of the day when I would climb mountains with my young man.


That day has not yet come.


I have seen some majestic mountains in my life. I have hiked in Yosemite, soaked by the spray of Vernal Falls. I have rambled through the Alps in the shadow of Mont Blanc. I have wandered on trails ten thousand feet up in the Rockies. I have had a close look at the twin volcanoes of Popocat√©petl and Iztacc√≠huatl in Mexico. I have loved the mountains, but I was not a serious climber. I was a bushwhacker, an explorer, willing to go wherever a large sturdy hiking stick could take me. When I was alone I loved vistas and the trail, but only aimed for the peak when someone else was leading. But of all the mountains I have strolled about and even stretched and grasped and climbed all the way up, the wise old wrinkles of the Blue Ridge are my favorite. They are still here, practically outside my door. The hiking stick is in a corner in the living room. I see it every day.


If you have read my book, you have some idea of why I don't hike anymore.


I cannot say that I am physically prevented from undertaking some form of the outdoor activities I once loved and still love. I am capable of exercise and ordinarily take walks in the neighborhood. But mind and body have conspired to create for me this strange prison, this lack of energy. The desire of my soul is to take up my children and lead them through the hills. But for so long, there have been walls around me. Physical and mental walls. As I said in the book, I want to go outside. I am grateful that I am able to go out the front door and breathe the fresh air. But I want to go outside the walls. I am working, with my doctors and with my wife, to try to discover what these walls are made of, and what must be done to tear them down.


In the meantime, I search for whatever adventures are within or (how exciting) a little beyond my reach, and the kids and I set off to explore the inner landscapes of understanding, of developing a perspective on the world, of history, of music, of humor, of faith and love, and of living patiently with a Daddy who can't do everything he wishes he could.


I want to ask you to pray for my freedom. Pray for me the way you would pray for a hungry person, a poor person, a prisoner. Pray for my freedom. I already have the only freedom that matters, the freedom that makes it possible to face even my weakness. I have faith, although even my faith is a small and fragile thing. Above all, pray that my faith will grow stronger. But pray, too, for my freedom.


I want to climb mountains again.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Love: Experience, Judgment, Awareness, Gift


I am an intense person. It is midnight and I am still intent on punching out an entry for the day. This is especially important because I am taking the next two days off: tomorrow is St. Joseph's Day and that is a holiday for me and my family. So what can I say tonight? What am I trying to do when I blog? I am trying to give of myself, because as a human being I am impelled by the urgent desire to offer what I am and have--as a human being I want to love. I am also trying to open myself up and show myself and ask to be loved, because I am a human being and I need to be loved. I want to love and to be loved. I want love. And I don't want it to be fake. This means I want truth. And I don't want it to be boring. This means I want beauty.

This is why I am writing tonight. This is why I write every night. This is why I do every thing.

I say this not as a theory, but as a judgment. I know that this is true. I know that the motor of my life is love. It is a judgment drawn from experience. My humanity is alive inside me because I have been loved. The experience of being loved awakens the human heart. The difference between living a human life and living a life of desperation is the awareness of being loved. And this awareness is grounded on, and continually nourished by, the experience of being loved.

It began in childhood. I have had problems, and sicknesses, and mental distress since childhood. But these are the consequence of illness. Beneath them all was the radical security that came from being loved by my parents. As I came to maturity, I met people who loved me--sometimes in very simple ways--and I grew. I finally met a woman who loved me with a love that embraced me in a way I didn't deserve, to which I wasn't entitled, and which I could not earn. It was a gift. Beyond attraction and common interest and sympathy of personality there was that radically undeserved love, a love that could not be grasped, but only received according to the form of a gift, within the space created by a gift in return. And so we were married.

It was the great sign that radical, undeserved, gratuitous love was the foundation and sustenance of my life.

I need this sign to continually manifest itself, if I am to remain convinced in the reality of my heart that I have been created to love and to be loved. Every day I need to place myself in the position of receptivity to the love of my wife, and my children. I must acknowledge my need, my poverty, and that my capacity to give is founded on the fact that I am a gift. I am hungry and my wife makes pasta, because she loves me. The kids want me to read them a story, or help them with their work, not just because of their own needs because they want me. They love me. Why am I wanted? Why are there these people in my life who say to me, "it is good that you are you, that you exist"?

They are witnesses that I am created by love, that I am given to myself in love, that I am worthy. And this engenders in me the desire to give myself, because goodness wants to be shared, to be given away. It is not afraid of being lost. And so I am writing, in the confidence that these words are a gift, even if only a fragile one. I want to tell you that it is good that you exist. I know that. And I want you to experience it, and be sustained by it.

Let us love one another....

Friday, March 18, 2011

Faith and Fun


These pictures are not from the St. Patrick's Day party we went to tonight. But they capture the same spirit of innocent fun that I thought I might mention in this brief post. Tonight reminded me of the experience that first made me recognize that Christ is real, and that continually reminds me that He is not just an idea but the Person who is really at the heart of my life.

I did not begin to take Christ seriously in my life because I had a mystical vision, or some kind of paranormal experience. I discovered, in a new way, that Christ was real when I met a group of friends who really followed Him, and who also lived life with exuberance, vitality, interest, freedom, and joy. People who were able to be themselves without constraint, who were glad to be alive, who were ready to give and sacrifice themselves and also to have fun, whenever having fun was the appropriate way to respond to the reality at hand. And it is often appropriate, because real human life is full of so much that is ironic, so much that is beyond our control, unexpected, petty, burdensome, so much that is a little bit ridiculous.

In front of real human life, some are cynical, while others are distracted, detached, or sad. The miracle in front of real human life is cheerfulness, an innocent spirit of fun that is not dislodged by life because it knows the place of everything. It is a playful wisdom. It is joy.

This is what converted me to Christ. Not scrupulous religious intensity. Not intellectual brilliance. Not the desire for a safe place to hide. What converted me was meeting a group of people who believed that it might be possible for life to be fun after all--and that the laughter of children was not a deception destined to end in disappointment. Not because life is easy, but because there is Something that makes every minute of it worth living, even embracing with joy.

This is what converted me to Christ: the miracle of human beings who were glad to be alive, who were full of hope, who were not afraid.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shameless Promotional Campaign

http://www.amazon.com/Never-Give-Up-Life-Mercy/dp/086716929X/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t

I have to do more to promote this book.

Word is getting around. Its gotten a lot of reviews. Really good reviews. Its online. Its in bookstores all over the country. I have received beautiful communications from people whose lives have been affected by it. I also found, some time ago, that even though the book had been out for several months, some of my best friends were unaware of its existence. Perfect strangers had bought and read intimate details about my life, while people I see and/or talk to every day still hadn't gotten it.

For reasons that are explained in the book, its not so easy for me to go on a lecture and book signing tour. But I could send around a few promo copies, like to my diocesan newspaper for starters. And then I have this 24/7 window on the world, my laptop. I'm not an expert at using it, and I don't have the patience or disposition for savvy marketing in any medium. But I can do something. As G. K. Chesterton famously said, "anything worth doing is worth doing badly." So I just plunged in and started swimming.

I liked to hang out on Facebook, so I started there. Facebook is a good medium for people with disabilities. Even on days when you can't get out, you can still "sort of" get out--at least out of your own head. I can tell that its also great for stay-at-home Moms, who can start to feel brain-damaged when all the interaction they have all day is with those lovely, huggable, wonderful, cute, food-flinging, screaming, whining, mess-making pre-rational midgets entrusted to their care. Its nice for people working in the office (in fact I am beginning to wonder if anyone is working at the office these days; they all seem to be on Facebook). Its great for scholars and writers, because procrastination is just a click away. No, actually, if you have as many intelligent friends as I do, you receive links that enrich your research (i.e. take you off on interesting tangents that you can justify wasting your time on by calling them "research"). Seriously, I have had some good "discussions" on Facebook that have stimulated my thinking, and have helped me on more than one occasion to break out of writer's block.

I decided I would promote my book on Facebook. It was a good idea. Now the book is pretty much known among my friends, acquaintances, and in the circles in which I have had contact over the years. And other promotional opportunities have arisen. I was on a radio program last month. A feature article about me is scheduled to appear in the next couple of weeks in my local diocesan paper. An article in a national Catholic magazine is in the works. We are even arranging for me to do a couple of book signings, and I am feeling pretty well so I may be able to do a few more. And, interestingly, the book itself has given birth in the past two months to a kind of rambling sequel: this blog. Well, its a different medium and a different range of subjects but it maintains my desire to engage others with the story of my life and God's mercy, and to say--in one way or another--Never. Give. Up. So it has been very fruitful thus far.

Still, I am restless. This little book about my struggles with physical and mental illness has touched deeply so many people who have read it--not only Catholics, but non-Catholics as well. It has struck people who are suffering and people who are not (particularly) suffering, because it is a book about being a human being. And I think of the vast multitude of people who might benefit from reading it. It really has nothing to do with any desire of mine to be famous (I don't have the energy to be famous). But it does have to do with something that has been entrusted to me; something for which I feel responsible. Its not only that there are a lot of people out there suffering internally, and this book might one day help someone to decide not to kill themselves (although that may happen; perhaps it already has). It is because there is something here about suffering--extraordinary and ordinary suffering--that people need to hear.

So I want to start a Shameless Promotional Campaign. And I need your help. Click the link at the top of the page and order the book. Read the book. Tell your friends about it. Post this link wherever posting is done. Email it to people you know. If you know Web Magic, use Web Magic to increase its visibility in cyberspace (keeping in mind that the budget for this campaign is $0.00). Help me network. I am even willing to consider speaking and promotional events, insofar as I can manage them. I want to open myself up even more to the opportunities to get this book into people's hands. As much as I can. Its worth a try. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Of course, its worth more to do it well.

Besides, we need the money.

So join me in the Never Give Up Shameless Promotional Campaign.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Power and the New Epoch

I would like to present some initial thoughts of a more theoretical nature that are relevant to yesterday's existential reflection on my own experience as a member of the "global village". These reflections pertain to what I believe is becoming the defining characteristic of our age, an almost unnoticed but pervasive influence on the way we as human beings relate to the world in which we live.

We live in the most violent time in the history of the human race.  This is not surprising, because we have entered into a new epoch in history, a epoch that is defined by power.  Not only nations, but partisans and groups of all kinds have access to a level of power unmatched by any other historical period–including the power to introduce chaos into communities and even civil societies.  Most striking (but perhaps least recognized) is the awesome power that has been placed in the hands of individual human beings like you and me.  Here we must recognize not so much our access to physical weapons (which, as recent history has shown, need not be technologically sophisticated to produce widespread destruction).  The human person today (even if he is one of “the poor”) has access to technological devices that extend his sensory perception, his awareness of the world around him, his capacity to communicate and to acquire information, his ability to shape his environment and even to “control” physical and emotional features of the human body.  All of this is power.

In and of itself, the massive extension of human power that characterizes the new epoch is neither good nor evil.  However, it is dangerous: it extends the range of our possibilities for action, which means that its use requires awareness and decision.  This intensifies the drama of human existence: human beings must subordinate power to the service of human dignity and the intrinsic purposes of human existence (a subordination that requires self-mastery, asceticism, a profound sense of justice, and above all an awareness molded by compassion and mercy at the service of truth, unity, and solidarity).  The alternative is human beings using power to extend the scope of ungoverned appetites, dysfunctional emotional drives and impulses, and–most dangerous of all–for the indulgence of that pride by which human persons and communities become monstrosities of control and violence, degrading their fellow human beings, enforcing their own particular (and limited) ideas and dreams, and creating vast realms of physical and psychological slavery.  In other words, the power that humanity possesses today carries with it both the possibility of accomplishing great good, and the possibility of perpetrating violence with an intensity, variety, and scope that even now we can scarcely imagine.

What we must recognize clearly is that the danger of human power is much more subtle and evasive than any particular effort to control any particular kind of power.  It is much deeper than the “problems” that enter our minds when we think of the abuse of power today; i.e. “nuclear weapons” or “terrorism” or “dictatorship” or “genocide.”  What is of more profound significance, however, is the “ethos of power” that is becoming the defining characteristic of the times in which we live.

An ethos of power is a "moral atmosphere" in which our sheer capacity to manipulate reality is the dominant reference point for human action. There are, of course, other factors, such as the desire to accomplish something that "seems" good, the desire to expand the quality of human life or to provide greater access to products and conveniences that appear to make life less burdensome, the desire to know one another, the desire to travel and experience new places, etc., etc. These are all sincere and often legitimate motives, and to fail to acknowledge them would be to create a caricature of the ethos of power. The same thing, of course, must be said for the many unseemly motives that underlie the use of power, whether they be to blow things up in order to instill fear in people, or to persecute with ruthless efficiency individuals and populations, or to drive away in one's car rather than to face the responsibilities of home and family life. What defines the "ethos of power" is its ultimate focus; i.e. the crucial and decisive "factor" that enters into play when human intentions and motivations encounter obstacles. Here we must acknowledge that the question of distinguishing "what we can do" from "what we ought to do" has become opaque at best, and increasingly distorted if not entirely forgotten. It is certainly true that many noble sentiments and even (relative) convictions continue to govern human activity; it is also increasingly true, however, that when these "convictions" interfere with our will to impose our ideas upon reality, we turn--almost unthinkingly--to imposition by means of power. Power relativises all other values. This is the "ethos of power." It is frightening to think of where it may lead.

To be continued.

(c) 2011 by John Janaro. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsunami, T.V., and Reality

I am going through today as if it were a normal day. Studying and considering problems of theology and history. Checking and writing correspondence. Social networking. Sharing, as I often do, some of my work with my son (we had a conversation about the five pillars of Islam). Laughing at Josefina's antics.

The forsythia has finally bloomed. I am dry and comfortable in a house that Americans would consider too small for seven people, but in reality has plenty of room. Even as I write this, I am watching a baseball game on television. Books, writing, laughing, flowers, baseball.

Japan.

A couple of days ago, the planet cracked. A massive flood destroyed the homes of millions of people. They are close (I don't know how close) to a nuclear catastrophe. Is there still more to come? No one knows.

So we keep checking the news. And we pray, of course, for the people suffering in Japan. What I am trying to understand is why I feel a strange distance from, and lack of sensitivity regarding, these cataclysmic events. Is it because Japan is a developed country, and their own infrastructure is actively engaged in dealing with the problems at hand? Unlike Haiti, Japan doesn't seem like one big bleeding wound. Refugees are housed. Rations are distributed. Japanese scientists tell us in fluent English that power plants will be brought under control and that this is not another Chernobyl in the making.

This is an epic disaster. It is still taking place right now. Yet the Japanese are enduring with their characteristic stoic dignity. Perhaps I am calm because they seem so calm. But that makes no sense. I know that underneath the surface is the pain of lives washed away, loved ones lost, the destruction of dreams--millions of hopes dashed, millions of lives permanently thrown off course. My heart goes out to them in solidarity with their anguish. And yet they seem "faceless" to me.

I think I know part of the reason for my feelings. A lack of images. I have seen, again and again, the video of that massive wave pouring over farmlands and carrying away houses, a video filmed from the air. I have seen the smoke pouring out of the nuclear plants. But most of the media images are from a distance. The disaster does not yet have a "face." The media have not yet "captured" it and packaged it for my imagination. Perhaps because it is too big and too mysterious for them to express with their images.

And I am Marshall McLuhan's 21st Century Media Man. I live in the "global village", where the roads are the organs of mass media. In terms of what captures my attention and kindles spontaneously my feelings of empathy, I belong to a vast "tribe" of people who connect to my life electronically through television and streaming video, and also (in a way that would have surprised McLuhan) through the ubiquitous and discursive written word that abounds everywhere thanks to forms of electronic mass media that the celebrated futurist did not foresee in the early 1960s.

After the earthquake in Haiti, there were crying babies and bloodied bodies and wailing mothers right in my face. Everybody felt it (unfortunately, those people are still suffering, but we have forgotten about them). This is different. We are all numb, or else we are standing still, waiting for the next thing to happen. Maybe I am holding my breath until those reactor cores cool down. In any case, the emotion is very peculiar.

Shoot, the Red Sox are leading the Yankees 2-1. See what's in my face?

I am not pleased with this aspect of myself. I am a dislocated man. The people who must engage my concern are first of all the people who have been given to me: family, friends, community. Those who are suffering, however, deserve whatever I can give in resources, in sacrifices offered, in prayer. But Media Man seems too much tossed on waves of images and impressions, on what appears in the moment, and on the fluctuation between horror, spectacle, morbid curiosity, and forgetfulness of whatever is out of sight or discourse.

The whole world has entered our sensory life and our awareness through the images and ideas that technology enables us to share. This is not bad in itself. But it must not control us. Instead it calls for new forms of self-mastery, memory, imagination, and empathy. It calls us to enlarge ourselves as human beings.

Let us pray for the people of Japan in their suffering. Let us pray that they be spared further disaster. Let us pray for all the forgotten suffering peoples of the world, especially those we meet every day in the flesh.

With God's grace, let us give our love--in the circumstances He chooses, using all the means He affords us. Let us grow larger through love.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Simple Prayer


Holy Cross Monastery, Berryville, Virginia

Act of Love

O my God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
I love you above all things,
with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind,
and my whole strength.
I love you Eternal Father.
In the name of Jesus, my Savior,
I love you.
Send forth your Spirit into my heart,
guiding me in the ways of love.

I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you,
my God,
and all things for your sake and for your glory.
I love you and desire to recognize you and love you more
—as your Mercy and Wisdom enable me—
in each and every human person
created in your image and likeness

I forgive those who have injured me,
I forgive them from the heart
and I pray that you will bless abundantly
and give your grace to all those who have harmed me,
who wished to harm me,
or who have hurt me by failing to understand me.

And I ask pardon for all those I have injured
in thought, word, deed, or omission.
Bless a hundred fold with healing and grace
anyone whom I have harmed in any way,
and have mercy on us all.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Forgiveness and Mercy



As parents, we know we're not perfect with our children. We yell at them, lose patience with them, or ignore them when they need us. We try, but we fall short again and again. Are we scarring our children for life? And what about our just plain incapacities as human beings? How does this affect the children entrusted to us? I am particularly sensitive to this because of my own struggles with chronic illness, and of the awareness that my children have of my suffering. How is it affecting them?

I believe that the most important thing is to pray and to seek to build a loving home in which God is present. If Jesus is a reality in our household (and I mean real, not just lots of pictures, although pictures help), then our kids will learn that our lack of perfection is not the ultimate measure of things. Of course the effort of kindness and attention is important, and difficult. Its part of that mutual forgiveness and mercy that is fundamental to any human community. Mercy gives help to those in need, and where do we get to practice that every day if not with our children?  We try our best (that's part of what's necessary for Jesus to be real in the household), but we are going to fail. I have found that a beautiful thing is happening, though. My children are learning to forgive me. The only way that people can live together is in forgiveness and mercy, and that is only possible when we are reminded every day that Jesus is with us. He shows His mercy in our willingness to forgive. I pray and seek to be a person of forgiveness and mercy. But I am frankly awed by the mercy my children have for me.

It is something that goes beyond anything that we've taught them (perhaps they have learned it from the mercy their mother shows me). Maybe its our situation, with me being sick and thus visibly vulnerable. Its not that they are not demanding or sassy. Usually they are. But I think of John Paul especially: he sometimes shows a striking capacity to understand and accept that I have certain limits that I cannot help. I cannot play ball with him, and I hate that. But its okay. He understands and I don't think that he's going to grow up with a complex about having a weak father. Somehow it is making him stronger. And it is continuing as he grows into adolescence. I believe it is because there really is Someone Else in the home, and He is in charge, and He is the one thing we all know will never fail us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jesus Does Not Shrug

Personally, I avoid attaching myself to any current political classification: one might say that I am a slow-minded scholar who is still pondering many questions of history and politics. I vote, and my vote is practical, based on issues that are concrete and essential, but my political philosophy is still in formation. I am a Catholic Christian, and what I desire for the world is a new form of an old ideal: a social order founded upon the human person in his whole and integral dignity, who is free above all to pursue in society that which transcends the world: his eternal destiny. This is neither individualism nor socialism, but it involves the recognition that human beings who are made for God are also made for one another, for a communion of life and love that embodies itself in institutions: the family first of all, then the local community, the diverse associations that bring together people pursuing various constructive interests, and the civic community on various levels, all served by a government ordered to the integral common good of a truly human social life. Ideally, the whole is imbued by the spirit of the Gospel and the recognition of Christ's mercy and charity as the ultimate measure of society--an ideal not imposed by coercion, but disseminated by love. If this sounds like the politics of Mother Teresa, then so be it. It is what the late, great L. Brent Bozell Sr. called The Politics of Mercy.

In the United States, it is not surprising that I find myself in many ways a fellow traveler with people who call themselves "conservatives." Certainly I share their judgment on certain basic social and moral issues, and I appreciate their concerns with what seems today to be the attempted intrusion of large government machinery, bureaucracy, and regulation into the lives of persons, families, and communities. But there is an individualistic streak that sometimes (perhaps inadvertently) makes its way into the conservative mind-set, and I feel the need to warn my conservative friends of dangerous ideologies that prey upon this tendency. In the face of the invasion of the sphere of human freedom, there is the temptation to exalt human freedom to the point that the individual becomes an idol. Of this, my friends, beware.

The preceding introductory reflections lead me to the main practical point of this entry. Lately I've been hearing more buzz that I care to about a name that ought to be buried deep in the archives of second rate literature and philosophy. Unfortunately, Ayn Rand is on a posthumous comeback tour. Her books are being reprinted and sales are booming. Some conservatives--not just the talking heads, but serious, intelligent, reflective conservatives--are hailing her as a prophet. It will all peak this summer, when a glossy Hollywood film is set to be released based on her notable and strange 1000 page novel Atlas Shrugged.

I will admit that I have read very little of Atlas Shrugged. It has never managed to capture my interest, and if I am going to go for a 1000 page novel I am more likely to give my attention to that treasure of human wisdom and humor, Don Quixote (which is not to imply that I am quixotic, in spite of what one might think of my stated political ideals; I know that Don Quixote is a fool--perhaps a holy fool, but a fool nonetheless--and that the real hero of the novel is Sancho, but let us leave that for another blog). I do not have the inclination to slog through Atlas Shrugged or any other of her novels. I am, however, more than a little acquainted with the philosophical theories that inspire them and that drove the woman who wrote them.

Ayn Rand was a rabid atheist whose radical individualist philosophy of "rational egoism" rejects God, any kind of Christian conception that would allow for love of God and love of neighbor, not to mention many fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching. She is the polar opposite of a socialist, and we must not allow our frustration with liberals to draw us into the vortex of the imagination of a woman who wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness. I see too many conservatives tempted to take this road. It is founded on pride. It is as ugly, inhuman, and wrong as the system it opposes.

And one must not be lured in by her claims to be a disciple of Aristotle and her defense of objective reality independent of the mind and knowable by reason. In her philosophy, man has an Aristotelian mind but a Nietzschean heart. Rational self-interest is the highest value. There is no place for love or interpersonal communion in her philosophy; it is almost a kind of anti-Christianity, which she herself recognized in her hatred of Christianity, which she called "the kindergarten of communism."

Atlas Shrugged the movie may be entertaining, I don't know. The idea of intelligent, creative, productive people who are being leeched on by the rest of society deciding to blow off that society and work for themselves might give honest, hard-working people a bit of a thrill, but underlying the whole thing is pride and that kind of hatred of human weakness that pride engenders. I am particularly concerned that Rand will appeal to conservatives because of her apparent objective and rational epistemology. But it’s a trojan horse for the Ubermench (Superman). It attacks the very heart of Christianity. Rand's superman is such precisely because he does not live for another. Perhaps her horror of socialism in the Soviet Union and its perversion of Christian ideals drove her to the opposite extreme; perhaps it was fear that caused her to imprison individual egos in themselves. But it would be fatal for conservatism to follow her into that prison.

In Rand's philosophy, there is no place for the family--a natural community engendered by self-giving love. There is no place for community. There is no place for the energy of giving that builds community, association, or civil society. And there is no place for the sacrifice that does not look to one's own self-interest, but precisely abandons one's self to an Ultimate Other--not with the motive, but with the confidence and in the freedom of knowing that one will find one's self again, forever, in that Other.

Rational self-interest is a trap. Because it is not reasonable for the human person to limit himself to self-interest. It is suffocating. He who seeks to save his life will lose it. Man is made for love.

And then there is the spirit of the Gospel. Here we learn that man is not only to love his friends. He must not despise that weakness that is, after all, in himself as much as in others. He is to reach down and care for those who are weak. He is to practice mercy. Where in the philosophy of Ayn Rand is one to find mercy?

The real interest of man--which means the real interest of politics--is mercy. Let us together seek to make practical the politics of mercy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dust Into Glory

It is much like any other day, really. Every day of our lives we move toward death, and if we are really honest with ourselves we recognize that our actions fall short of our aspirations. From a certain point of view, we could consider each day a failure. We want happiness, we do things in order to be happy, and yet happiness eludes us. Even when we attain success and satisfaction, we are haunted by the fragility of it. Success leads to further expectations, sensitivity to the perception of others, pressure to succeed again, and an inevitable struggle with critique, the failure to measure up to one's own standard, and disappointment. Satisfaction dissolves into time's inescapable question: "What now?" And over all there is the anxiety that "it won't last...."

We want permanent happiness. But everyone who has ever lived has ended up dead, and so will each one of us. But my heart--that stubborn thing--insists on wanting and seeking permanent happiness. The whole world lures us with the promise of happiness. But it is as if we are trapped and cannot get there. Either our hearts and the whole universe are a lie, or happiness does exist, but we cannot achieve it, we cannot find it. As Kafka said, "the destination exists but there is no road." Is this the dilemma? "Unto dust you shall return"--is this the final word on human existence?

Is it?

No, says the human heart. In the midst of conflicting circumstances and no perceivable hope, the heart still expects happiness. And so we keep on going.

Why?

There is a whispering in the depths of every human heart. Something has happened. No living human being has entirely lost the memory of the echo of that secret: Something has happened. Already the heart is hiddenly drawn forth.

Something has happened. The mystery of grace opens the heart to this hope. And the eyes that look upon reality and history discover the fact that confirms it: A man has risen from the dead. He has himself died and destroyed death for all of us, and in rising has glorified the dust. This fact is called Christianity. It is not Christianity unless it is a fact. A myth about a dying and rising redeemer to comfort our sentiments or symbolize some vague afterlife is not Christianity. Nor is Christianity the story of an ethical teacher who died for his beliefs and left us a lasting inspiration. Christianity is a fact: Happiness became a man. "That-Mystery-For-Which-Our-Hearts-Have-Been-Made" HAS BECOME A MAN. A man who lived and died and rose from the dead; a man who gathered other men around him and began of movement of life in history that continues to this day--an identifiable movement of life that can be seen and heard and touched: the "Church," ekklesia, the "gathering," the community of people who adhere to him through space and time unto this very day. Perhaps someone called to serve this community traced the sign of black ashes on your forehead today.

On this day, we begin a season of memory. We are moving toward death. We are returning to dust. But something has happened to the dust. The dust has been transfigured by Glory. The truth, the reality, the fact about the dust is that it has been changed: even as dust, even as weakness and disappointment, even as frustration, even as death, it has been changed. It has become the road to happiness because Happiness Himself has taken it as His own.

My dust. He has taken my dust as His very own.

And I seek to walk in silence, to focus, to withdraw from distraction, to sacrifice ordinary comforts in order to listen more carefully to that heart where the whispering continues: Something has happened. Something has happened. Something has happened.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Poetry of Paul Hewson and My Little Girl

Today I am going to be brief. I was listening to some music this morning that brought back some deep memories. The famous Irish poet and musical performer Paul Hewson--better known to the world as "Bono"--has something in common with me. We both have four daughters. The song he wrote for one of his daughters somehow touched me in the days four years ago when Josefina was in the hospital, and I used to sing it to her. Some of you may be familiar with "Original of the Species." At one point he sings:


I'll give you everything that you want 
except the thing that you want....


What this meant to me was that I was willing to give her everything to help prepare her heart for the One Thing that I could not give her, which was (and remains) something beyond even her health: it is the Mystery that her heart is made for, God. He is the "thing," the Reality, the Glory, the Beauty that everyone wants.

Josefina, four and a half years ago, shortly after her first surgery



You are the firstborn of your kind....

Every human being is created to want God and to belong to God in a unique way. And you had been entrusted to me, your poor little helpless father. But you got better, Josefina. I thank the Lord you got better. But you still belong to Him.
Josefina today


You feel like no one before.
You steal right under my door.
I kneel, cause I want you some more
I want the lot of what you got
and I want nothing that you're not.


To each of my girls, and John Paul too, you are always new, you always surprise me, I pray that you grow to be who God wants you to be and nothing else.


Love, Daddy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Search For Meaning; The Impetus For Giving

I am a religious person.

I think that is rather obvious to people who read this blog. The fact is, I am more than a religious person: I am a Christian. This distinction is something I shall take up another time. For now I want to concentrate on the "given" aspect of being religious; the thing that makes me religious simply because I am a human being.

Everyone has a religious dimension to their being, and it is the most profound dimension of their being. It is that level of life where, in a primal sense, questions emerge--inescapable questions that have to do with the value and purpose of life. I don't mean speculative questions about the meaning of life in a general sense (such as we consider in philosophy); I mean those deeply personal questions about the meaning of my life as a person, an "I," in myself, my relationships to others, to reality, and the the source and goal of my being.

Although I can ignore the articulation or conscious awareness of these questions, there is no escaping them in the actual living out of my life. When I wake up in the morning, what gets me out of bed is the fact that I want things. I always want something, because I always have a sense of my need for more, my incompleteness, my sense of a "something greater" that stands before me. The recognized fact that there is something "else" that I want (and I go from activity to activity because the awareness of needing more is always before me) is a constant reminder of a "greater-than-me" with which I am engaged precisely in the measure that I am living with real human interest and vitality. In that continual desire to "become more," to relate to what is greater than me and beyond me, we find some of the elemental, intuitive components of worship.

In fact, everyone seeks. Everyone recognizes that there is something outside of themselves that gives their lives meaning, something that has value. Even persons who says "life has no meaning," betray themselves in the very saying, for they clearly have "already" in their minds a standard of meaning, which they must have drawn from somewhere, and to which they find that life doesn't measure up. And human beings don't just want to "consume" meaning to enlarge themselves. They want to participate in meaning; they recognize instinctively that the attainment of value in life entails giving. The awareness and the impetus to give are fundamental factors of human understanding that arise, once again, spontaneously from the interplay of the person with reality.

And so every human person seeks to attain that-which-is-ever-greater than him/herself, and seeks to give him/herself over to the ever-greater. Some misconstrue the nature of the object of their seeking, but--really--there is no one who does not seek. No one lives entirely locked within themselves.

When the human quest is genuine, it articulates itself conceptually in terms applicable to all reality--Truth, Goodness, Beauty--and even beyond all reality--the Infinite, the Transcendent, the Divine.

In any case, there is only a theoretical atheism. There is no real atheism. The real human being does not choose between God and atheism. The real human being chooses between God and idols.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Woman I Love

I'd like you to meet the most important person in my life, even though she would kill me if she knew I were posting her picture on my blog. This is Eileen Janaro, and perhaps I am biased but I think her beauty, and her devoted personality, and her love and attention to so many people are evident in her face.

Tomorrow, March 5, is my wife's birthday.

How did I come to marry this woman? What mystery has brought us together into the common life we have lived for almost 15 years? Well, there are five human beings whom God willed from all eternity to live in this world and forever with Him; five human beings who exist only because God brought us together. You have heard plenty about these five rascals/dear ones already in this blog, but the woman pictured here is the reason why they are such special kids. She is their mother. She is an extraordinarily giving person, and she loves these children like I've never seen love before in all my life. I am in awe of her love. And I tremble at the vocation that has been given to the two of us: to foster the faith and love and humanity of these five persons. Indeed, God brought Eileen and I together for their sakes.

But He brought us together first to love each other. Before there were any children, there was this gift of the bond between us, a bond that God wills to endure throughout our lives, in whatever circumstances. She is a stable and solid woman, emotionally well grounded, gifted with a deep heart that resonates with great hopes while remaining solidly practical, yet also imbued with a poetic sensibility and empathy. I am a man with vast and far ranging intellectual energy, a sense of mission, deep insecurity and emotional fragility, a spectacular lack of practical common sense, unique talents for expressing myself verbally and in writing, and a range of chronic health problems.

We are well matched. There is no doubt about that. That is a special gift that God has given us. I can't take any credit for it. When I was young, I thought I was in love with all kinds of girls who I thought were "the right ones" but the "match" was largely in my imagination. I would like to thank all of those women for having the good sense or the instinct or whatever to reject me and for their persistence in putting me off. Hahaha. (But seriously, ladies, if something tells you that someone is not the right man for you, don't play with his affections; be honest and be cruel--set that man free because he won't do it himself; men are stubborn in love--you've got to break their hearts and be confident that they will get over it and thus be in a position to follow God's plan.) The fact is, I thought I was "unlucky in love." Then Eileen came along.

We met and got to know each other at a time when both of us were immersed in the pursuit of graduate studies, she in English literature and me in Theology. This was 1990. We became "good friends." I remember how she and the other girls in her house had a couple of us guys over for dinner and Eileen baked this loaf of some kind of exotic bread. It was delicious. Men are so STUPID. If I had had the sense I have now, I would have proposed to her after the first bite. But of course God had other plans in any case. Our paths pulled us in different directions: I moved to Rome to continue my studies and she went to the University of Dallas. We knew we would always be friends.

I returned from Rome in 1994, with a little more sense thanks to the friendship and formation in the task of being human imparted to me by some tremendous and truly great people (the greatest of whom, Msgr. Luigi Giussani, I have already honored in these pages). I also returned with a readiness in my heart to do God's will. Finally. There were many young women around, but Eileen was still in Texas. She was teaching in a school where, I assumed from her letters, she was committed to stay. It turned out that she was anxious to find a new situation.

During Easter week of 1995 I prayed the novena to the Divine Mercy for God to send me the woman He wanted me to marry and to send her soon. About a week later, Eileen called me. She said she was thinking of moving back up to Virginia, that things hadn't been going so great in Texas, etc. By now I was no longer so stupid. I helped her get a job teaching in a school in the same town as the college where I was, at that time, a first year professor. The steps from renewed friendship to courtship to love were quick, natural, and simple. We were just such a good match. And we were friends already.

On June 22, 1996 we were married. Then came the children, my health breakdown, my early retirement, the emergence of the Montessori Center and her pursuit of yet another degree in teacher certification and education. No one could have supported and sustained me in this illness except Eileen, and I know that she has suffered with me as well as because of me. I myself have loved and admired her mind, her desire to educate our children and other children, and have given what I have to support and uphold her in her difficult pursuit of the Montessori training (I don't know how she did it) and now in her teaching.

And together we love our children. I am writing, and my recent book is opening up new horizons. At 48, I feel old to have an open field in front of me--a career already behind me and only God know what in front of me. She has great trust in God. After all, isn't it always this way, in reality? We do the best we can, we walk day by day, we plan according to our capacities, yet we do not know what is coming, we trust in God. And I am with my best friend, who will be 44 years old tomorrow. In another 44 years, if we are still around, I will still love her and she will still be my best friend.

Happy Birthday Eileen Janaro, my dear wife.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Paul Badde and the Face of God




Today I want to write about a remarkable German journalist, Paul Badde, and recommend to you what I consider to be a couple of really good books. Badde is an editor and correspondent for a major German daily newspaper, Die Welt. He has covered many important events and seen many things, and he carries the difficulties and struggles and concerns of today's world around in his heart. He is also a man of faith--a faith which grows significantly through two careful investigations of images of Mary and Jesus. He does not have a natural "pietistic" disposition, nor is he inclined to be taken in by every mysterious phenomenon that comes along. But his remarkable journeys are led by two things. One thing that draws him on are the facts, the scientific studies and the history, which he researches thoroughly. The other thing is beauty--Badde makes the very basic point that these images of Mary and Jesus ought to be objects of fascination to the world even if they are just human productions. Why is the world not interested in these artistic wonders? But in fact, they are something more.

First, there is Badde's unique and terrific book Maria of Guadalupe: Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts. I should say that it was Badde who first inspired me to think of Guadalupe as a kind of "icon in reverse," i.e. a window where Mary, from heaven, looks at us. I went back to my prior blog entry about my own new book project and decided to insert an * with an acknowledgment and a link to this book.

I love the way he just takes you with him on his adventures through different places and lets you discover things along with him. I love the way he weaves all the current problems and past history of times and places into his growing awareness of the presence of Jesus and Mary everywhere. I think his emphasis on the importance of beauty and "images" for our time is very insightful. I have said much about Our Lady of Guadalupe in this blog and will continue to do so, as well as in my own forthcoming book. Badde's book on Guadalupe is deeply moving, and definitely worth reading.

The second and more recent book that I want to draw people's attention to is Badde’s splendid investigation/memoir called The Face of God: The Rediscovery of the True Face of Jesus. This book just came out recently in English by Ignatius Press, and a colleague was kind enough to send it to me as a Christmas present. I recently finished reading it and IT KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF!

While stationed in Rome as correspondent for Die Welt, Badde learns of an obscure shrine nestled in the Apennines in a little town called Manoppello. There they claim to have a miraculous image of the face of Christ. There are a small group of scholars and others, however, who think it is something much more, and Badde becomes a combination of detective and fascinated pilgrim as he investigates whether this image may be the true "Veronica's Veil" as depicted in the Middle Ages. He follows the trail even further, and proposes (with some interesting evidence) that this is in fact the "other cloth" that was in the tomb along with the shroud, "the handkerchief which had been about his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded in a place by itself" (John 20:7). It is a compelling presentation of a tremendous hypothesis.

I came away from the book thinking that there were still some dots that needed to be connected in order to make his case. But I also felt that, at least for me, it was enough to know that there was this marvelous, inexplicable image of the face of Our Lord--wherever it came from--that I pray I will someday have a chance to see with my own eyes. I won't get into all the scientific details of the investigation that show it is definitely an icon "not made by hands"--I don't want to spoil the story. This book, folks, is a must read.

Whatever one thinks of the case he makes for the image, the book draws loving attention to the beauty of the Face of Jesus, how important it is--especially in our time--to contemplate the Face of Jesus, to let him look at us and change us by His loving countenance. Again it is the "image" that cuts through the murk of so much confusing and misleading discourse about Christianity and begins to heal the heart, and open us up to the simplicity of the Gospel.

That is why you should read this book. It will remind you of your need for the Face of Jesus. Here is the link. Buy it:


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Adolescence, Family, and Community

I'll bet you didn't know that Alex Ovechkin lives at our house. Well, in any case, his oversized jersey is here, along with a young man who has enough heart to fill it.

With fear and trembling, we are being launched into a new dimension of parenthood. John Paul is approaching 14 years old, and he has grown interiorly and exteriorly in some remarkable ways this past year. I know that there is a lot more of this to come. Agnese is 12 and straddling the boundaries of girlhood. Yes, we are just at the threshold of a great adventure. I have been assured by my friends who have adult children that we will all survive.

Maria Montessori said that adolescence is "the infancy of adulthood." I'm beginning to see the emergence of independent personality, use of freedom, decision making, and frustration. We are beginning to have new kinds of conversations, in which these once little kiddies are manifesting the signs of strange adult qualities like ego and anxiety. A child has fears, but also a kind of blissful lack of self awareness. The onset of adolescence brings with it that sudden awakening of reflection; the child realizes that he or she is a person. They begin to compare themselves with other emerging persons and become aware of their relative strengths and weaknesses. It is the dawn of anxiety.

But it is also the dawn of the capacity for relationship. Girl/boy dynamics have not yet begun for our top two (as far as I know), but that time will soon be upon us. Nevertheless, the reality of friendship has begun to emerge as a real interpersonal engagement. Children are mostly playmates; they focus more on what they are doing together rather than on how they interact with each other. But as they become young people they begin to have friends, and with that comes sensitivity about themselves and others, expectations, disappointments, and even arguments--not over toys but over perceived personal slights, or faithfulness to the friendship.

We are blessed to be in a community of good and generous families, united in that mysterious bond that is the Church. I can't imagine raising my family outside of the context of a community where there is not only "support," but also solidarity in helping to bear each others' burdens, in praying for each other, in example and encouragement, and above all in that mysterious but real unity that comes from being the "body of Christ" (as St. Paul so often stresses).

What I am talking about here is entirely different from the "it takes a village to raise a child" concept. It is not a matter of invading the family structure or the abdication of personal responsibilities for one's children to larger social organs of manipulation. It is rather a matter of taking up those responsibilities within one's own family, but also in the context of a sharing of life with others who bear these responsibilities--a sharing of interpersonal relationship, of concrete needs, of resources as necessary, of counsel, and above all of love. Family friendship, parents and children.

I have already seen that this kind of community is the context for the journey of adolescence, because I have watched the children of my friends grow up. And it gives me hope that my children can take these steps, with friends of their own, with the discovery of freedom, with a foundation for openness to the needs of the world.