Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Hollow of the Hands of God

Our hearts long for happiness, and are drawn by the goodness and beauty of reality.  Is the promise of happiness that reality holds out to us a lie?  Have we been betrayed by existence?  No.  This is the great temptation: to despair by the cynical conclusion that there is no fulfillment to the longing and the hope of the human heart; to be convinced that the universe is a trick, and that the heart must be suffocated—or, at least, distracted until it is finally swallowed up by death and ceases to torment us.

Christians, with their faith and hope for a fuller life “to come,” may be tempted to go through the motions of resignation, fulfill their “religious duties,” and nourish a secret bitterness that they have been cheated out of any possibility of finding meaning in the longing of the human heart.  They can only pass time and reconcile themselves to mediocrity and misery in a world where God is absent, and look vaguely toward a “future” life.  While such an attitude is better than despair, if this is as far as we go in enduring suffering, our relationship with God will remain narrow and constrained.

Of course, God is so good and merciful; He works with whatever feeble adherence we offer Him.  He knows how hard it is to suffer.  But He has created us to love.  Our hearts are made for God.  We can only grow in this life by recognizing Him and loving Him more.  Do I feel like I cannot love Him more?  Do I want Him to draw away, at least a little, and give me back some of my space?  Of course I feel that way, but I must pray and beg Him to teach me to love Him more, because His presence and His love are what is real in my life.

When we endure suffering, we are called to do so not with a merely stoic resignation, but with abandonment to His loving presence that is really with us and in us.  And so we endure in the conviction that God offers us His love—the only fulfillment of the human heart—here and now, in the midst of our sufferings and the plodding of our daily lives.

We are called to put our hearts on the line, to allow ourselves to be wounded by the hope that even in this darkness it is possible to love and to be loved, because He is with us and He loves us now.  And we know that love—in the end—is always worth the risk.  The abyss is the hollow of the hands of God.

--From my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (link: http://t.co/ddwYeqX)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Morning Thoughts

Jesus, open my soul to You this day.
I offer to Your most compassionate heart
my thoughts, words, and actions;
my joys, sorrows, and sufferings.
Preserve me from sin.
Do not let me turn away from You.
Keep me in the center of Your heart.

Thank you Jesus for the gift of this day.
Give me complete trust in You.
Jesus, You are my Lord!
Jesus, I believe in Your Infinite Love for me.

Jesus, I trust in the blood and water
that poured forth from Your heart as a fount of mercy for me.
Let me answer Your cry of solitude
that longs for my love.
Let my tears touch Your face
and moisten the lips of Your unquenchable thirst for me.
Breathe forth Your Spirit into me
from Your body broken into the gift of the Father's love.

Have mercy on me and on the whole world.
Let me feel in my heart the Father's love for the world,
and bear in my own human frailty and suffering
the struggle and the seeking of that multitude of hearts
crafted in Your Image.

Jesus, You love every single human person,
without exception,
especially those who are the most lonely,
the most troubled and confused,
the most burdened with affliction.
You love those who do not know You,
but whose hearts have been made for You.

I feel the burdens and sorrows
of my brothers and sisters
in my own loneliness and troubles,
in my own confusion and restlessness,
in my affliction of not loving You enough.

Jesus, deepen my love for You today.
Draw my heart, and every heart, closer to You.
O Great Lover, win our hearts,
conquer our fears,

show us Your beautiful Face.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

First Anniversary

On the first anniversary of the Never Give Up Weblog, after 287 posts, I shall simply return to the quotation with which I began one year ago:
"No gesture exists that does not involve the whole world. That's why we get up every morning: to help Christ save the world, with the strength we have, with the light we possess, asking Christ to give us more light and more strength" (Luigi Giussani).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Consecration of Home and Family

This was a special day for our family, at the end of a special week. I expect that the fruits of this day will grow in God's time, from the many seeds that have been planted by our Blessed Mother in our home and in our hearts during the time she has been with us.

Over the past week, we hosted one of the "Pilgrim Virgin" statues in our home--a replica of the original statue that stands in the apparitions chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. It is the image of Mary as she appeared to the three children in the countryside of Portugal in 1917. I went to Fatima almost 25 years ago, and was very deeply moved by the presence of Mary and the presence of the Church in that place.

The message of Fatima is one of prayer and reparation for sinners, of the importance of the Rosary, and of God's desire that we show special love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fatima itself has become a great center for pilgrimage, but since it is meant for the whole world, the custom has also developed of carrying the "Pilgrim Virgin" statues to places all over the world, so that something of the presence and love of Mary's maternal heart can reach people everywhere.

She goes to specific places, even to people's homes, bringing Jesus with her. That is Mary's way. It has been her way since her trip from Nazareth to Judea, to stay at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

This day is especially worthy of memory. At the conclusion of Mary's time with us, we had a little ceremony of family consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The image of Mary's heart was placed below the Sacred Heart that was already prominently displayed above the fireplace. It was a great blessing for our family. The Immaculate Heart (which had previously been in our bedroom) is now on the mantle piece, about a foot away from a small case containing a rendering of the Russian icon of Our Lady of Kazan.

There remains of course the large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the dining room. O, and there is a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the other side of the living room. And the image of the Divine Mercy. And the olive wood crucifix we got in Assisi. And a statue of St. Joseph. And in between there are all these pictures and icons and statues, images cut out of magazines, pamphlets, little "holy cards"....

People who come into our home may wonder, "why pictures and statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints everywhere?" We have not only a few, specially and prominently placed. We have them everywhere, on shelves and tables and hanging all over the walls. All over the place. In every room in the house.

We don't worship them. We are not idolaters, not at all. God has become man so that He Himself might be head of the human family. He gathers this great family around Him in the Church, and inserts our family into this vast but also intimate communion. These are the people who love us the most. We actually like to be surrounded by reminders of them. Some have particular value, some have been "blessed by the Church" (which is a personal thing, really; Jesus shares something of His life with us in this way). Most of them have some history or significance. None of them are without meaning. Gosh, they even make us "feel good"!

Do you have too many pictures of your children or your friends in your photo albums, or on your Facebook page?

Okay, maybe our house has a bit of "Catholic clutter." It corresponds to the overall colorful and rather cluttered style of our home. I am glad we have so many images, because we have so many places, and so much stuff in general. So much human stuff: it could easily seem chaotic and overwhelming (indeed, sometimes it does). But we are at least recalled to the presence and love of God in all of our nooks and crannies.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dear Kids, We Will Always Love You

We are living the daily business of a family of growing children. Everyone is growing, in different ways. We have seen our friends’ children make it to adulthood, embark upon their vocations, and sometimes move far away. I interact with my kids in so many ways that it’s easy to take them for granted. Yet they are on their way to becoming adults. They have been created for a destiny that is greater than anything we can give them. What, ultimately, can parents say to their children? I want my children to know and experience the truth of these words, from the hearts of their parents:

What we pray for, what we keep praying for, is that you follow the love of Jesus. Don't be afraid of the difficulties or the questions. Pray and hope and bring yourself to Him just as you are, because His merciful heart is reaching out to you.
Wherever His love takes you, we will find joy in entrusting you to Him. Of course, we hope you'll be around and we will have much time together. Perhaps you will have a spouse and children of your own, and our family will grow in new ways. That would bring us many joys, and new responsibilities that we will gladly undertake. But we pray and pray that, in everything, you will belong to Him: the One who created you, who makes you to be you, Jesus, who gives Himself for you. No one else deserves that deep core of your heart. Ultimately, no one else is worthy of you except Him.
And we, your parents, have been given to you by God to lead you on the path of growing up, and then to continue to be companions with you on this journey. We are all still growing up in this world. And we have been placed together by God, as a family, to help each other. Whatever you need, ask. We can help one another, inside His great Heart of love. If anything troubles you, if you have any burden, you can share it. No matter what it is. We are not going to run away. We pray that, by the grace of the Heart of Jesus, we will always be here for you.
Even if you get lost, even if you get tangled up in problems and doubts, we will remain here for you. If you make mistakes, we pray that God's mercy in truth and love will always shine through us. If we must, we will seek you out, not to harass you but to help you if you ask, and to bear with you whatever sorrows and afflictions weigh upon you.
Most importantly, we are determined to place our trust in God's infinite love, and to remain committed to you no matter what happens in your life, so that you always know that you are loved.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Live Not By Lies

In front of life, I seek the positive, I try to pay attention and listen, to help build up what is good, and to share the sufferings of others.

I do not condemn anyone.

But there is some Evil Thing--"THE LIE"--working deeply in this culture, and we must stand and fight it, entrusting ourselves entirely to Jesus, and with love in our hearts.

It must be a love for every human person, which means an unrelenting rejection of this evil which afflicts the human person. In our society, there is open distortion and manipulation in the media, in politics, and in the laws themselves that emanate from powers within the government.

The prophetic words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn apply to our culture today: "Live not by lies!" Relying on the grace of Christ, let us each--according to our own vocations--fight "THE LIE". We can only do this with Jesus, and Mary.

Jesus I trust in You!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We Are Taking a Stand

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a decree that will force non-profit organizations, including those with an explicitly Catholic identity, to participate directly in health care programs that go against the constant teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church. This means that many Catholics are facing the prospect of incurring civil punishment for practicing their religion.

I have dedicated my life to building Catholic educational institutions.

The executive branch of this country has overstepped the boundaries of its authority and issued a direct challenge, not only to Catholic educational institutions, but to the whole Catholic contribution to American society.

Some will say, perhaps, that this is just a detail. But details are what make up life. We show who we are by how we engage the concrete details of life. Catholic Christians across this country are willing to put their institutions, their initiatives, their works, their aspirations, and their hearts on the line. We are taking a stand, together.

We will not be "flexible" and we will not "adapt" to a government-imposed judgment about what is good for the human person, a judgment that violates our religious convictions.

We are schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations of all kinds. We make up the largest private human services network in this nation.

We have the support of our bishops; indeed the bishops have taken the initiative in this, and have charged us with responsibility for it, united by their ecclesial communion with Pope Benedict XVI.

We will fight for our religious freedom. We will fight for the freedom of the Church.

Of course, we will fight with the weapons of non-violence. An unjust law is no law at all. Thus we will refuse to obey this "law". We do not know how the coercive power of the government will respond to our refusal. How far will they go in this challenge?

What will happen to Christendom College? What will happen to my son's academy? To the Montessori Center? Certain powers in our government are threatening to impose penalties on these and other institutions that could result in their ruin. This is a challenge to the freedom of every private institution that seeks to build up our culture. Even if these powers back down (and I think they will, at least this time), they have shown openly their controlling and destructive and ugly agenda. We will have to guard our freedom henceforth with more arduous vigilance.

They have aimed their threats directly at me and my family, and all we have worked for in a lifetime of serving the community. I feel as though this bureaucratic edict trespasses on the sanctuary of my soul. It also trespasses on that realm of the spirit, which shapes the vital forces that hold communities together: the forces and the energies of the heart.

I pray that, by the grace of God, we will stand firm, come what may.

Jesus have mercy on us all!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Day Of Penance

What can I say to reflect on the events of this day, and on the meaning of the profound and pervasive violence that afflicts our culture?


No one wants to think about it. Yet it's an epidemic. Violence against a defenseless child in the womb of his or her mother. Violence against a woman, who is so often left alone and desperate in a time when she is most in need of help. A kind of secret violence against this most intimate and fundamental relationship between human beings that cries out for love, support, and protection. Why is this happening in the world? We know it's not just America. Contemporary Western culture spreads this epidemic wherever it goes. Nevertheless, earnest and sincere people, who affirm the importance of human dignity, who deplore wars and conflicts between nations, seem to go blind when it comes to this fact.

There are many particular ways to approach this silent catastrophe, to work to extend legal protection to the life of every human being, and to support mothers and sustain the necessary and precious bond between mothers and their children in the womb. I agree with the way these things are addressed by many dedicated, compassionate, and articulate people. What can I add to everything that they have said? I am struck by a fundamental problem. It is the problem that strikes me again and again.

To put it very simply: What is the foundation of the dignity of the human person? The foundation is very important. It's what keeps something from blowing away when the wind gets rough. We live in a world in which there is a strong intuition, inclination, and sentiment in favor of this dignity. But that awareness and that sentiment can be uprooted in frightening ways, in the face even of compelling scientific evidence, when there is no foundation.

The dignity of the human person is founded upon--indeed consists in--his or her being created in the image of God, and his or her eternal destiny in God. The human person is the image of God. Whatever condition he or she may be in, the human person is always a someone, and therefore can never be reduced to the status of a mere thing.

The image of God. Dwell on this for a moment. The only appropriate response to the image of God is love.

God has become obscure for contemporary Western culture. And with the loss of the sense of God comes this strange paradox: even as we become more sensitive to various aspects of the dignity and value of the person, we have no way of bringing them together, and no criteria for how to apply them in complicated and difficult situations.

We would like to think we are building a kinder and gentler world. But violence pours in upon us from every side. Even as we become more attentive and more skilled in the art of saving lives in some places, we completely disregard the value of human life in others. We are divided against ourselves: wanting peace but waging war, wanting community but building walls of isolation, seeking healing yet constantly hurting one another. We want to build something beautiful and what emerges from our hands is a grand and spectacular monstrosity.

Such is the world in which God is obscured, and even the most sincere and ardent assertions and feelings about human dignity lose their bearings and cannot engage real life, real human situations, sufferings, and frailty.

I look at myself, and I see how hard it is for me to love my own children. It is not enough to acknowledge God. We must open our hearts and let ourselves be loved by Him, and love Him in return. And still the path is narrow, the path that leads to God and passes through the relationships He gives me with the real human persons who are in my life. Yet I know that here is His gift; here is where I find His face.

With all of this, my life is still full of violence, full of the daily failure to recognize the dignity of the human person in the faces of my own children, full of the forgetfulness of God.

On a day of penance, I must first of all beg forgiveness for my own sins, and resolve to take up once again the arduous struggle for healing and renewal. I do so, however, with confidence, because He offers Himself to me in His mercy. My hope and my strength is in Him.

But people try to build the world while pretending that God does not exist. How can anyone expect such a world to respect human life?

Still there is in the confused hearts of people this desire for a better world, and a better, truer life for themselves. People carry this desire in them along with all their violence that weighs them down; it endures, perhaps as a cry for help, a cry that recognizes the need for something else. In the spirit of a "day of penance," we must also take this cry into our own hearts and turn it toward the love of God: "Have mercy on us and on the whole world!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Remembering Agnese's Feast Day

I have loved St. Agnes since I was in graduate school and I used to pray at her altar in the National Shrine, and often go to Mass at St. Agnes parish. When I lived in Rome, I found her presence to be almost palpable. She loves Rome and ordinary Romans very much.

On this day 18 years ago (hard to believe it's been that long), I went to the feast day celebration at her Basilica, and they opened the catacomb for people to freely visit the tomb. There I asked her to find me a wife, and I promised that if she did (and if the wife agreed) we would name our first daughter after her.

Two and a half years later, Eileen and I returned to Rome on our honeymoon and renewed the promise at her tomb. It was Eileen who actually who wanted the Italian name (pronounced On YAY zay). And St. Agnes continues to look after us, especially her "spiritual daughter" whom I've loved since before she was conceived. Hard to believe there was a time.

It's all so mysterious.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Beauty of Married Love

Eileen and I watched an Iranian film a few nights ago called Leila, about the man whose wife couldn’t have children, which resulted in the end in him taking another wife. This is a custom in Islamic societies, and is permitted by Islamic law, which allows a man to have up to four wives.

It was really painful to watch. The husband and wife were committed to an exclusive love for each other (as are so many Muslim married couples in Iran and elsewhere). He was emphatically determined not to take another wife when they discovered Leila’s infertility. But his family pressured the wife to make her feel like she had to convince him to do it. The one who pushed hardest and was the most manipulative was the man's mother! (Because he was an only son--with four sisters!--and she wanted him to have, not just a baby, but a son, of course. Ay!)

The movie was extremely well done, beautifully and tenderly filmed (like so many of these wonderful Iranian films from the 1990s). It showed family life as full of affection and convivial spirit. But there was an oppression that weighed upon and seemed to sow corruption inside the family relationships, even inside spousal love. The husband and wife really loved each other and they were torn apart by this experience. Neither of them wanted him to take another wife, but the cultural expectations, the manipulative kindness and soft sentiments of the family, and the resulting confusion of their own understanding worked like discrete but implacable forces on them. There was a subtle but pervasive violence which the film artfully unmasked by the very honesty with which it was portrayed.

It was the suffocation of true human love. It was painful to watch. Eileen and I were both very troubled by it.

God's plan for the love between man and woman is so beautiful. It's a difficult beauty, like the beauty of climbing a great mountain, and sometimes you have to grab the rocks and just keep going. But there is beauty, and it's worth the sacrifices. Watching this film made me grateful for Eileen, and for our marriage which has grown and persevered through some significant trials.

What has made it possible for us to grow closer to each other, and has generated everything that is good in our home? Both of us would answer without hesitation: the grace of Christ, the grace of the sacrament of marriage! Where would we be without it? We are frail, fragile, sinful persons. We are weak. Western culture is a sea of forces waging war against so many kinds of human love, especially spousal love. Where would we be? As it is, there is beauty, and it amazes us as we recognize it, growing deeper.

All of us who are in the married state of life, consecrated to Christ by this great sacrament: let us pray for one another, support one another in fidelity, be grateful for the beauty of this gift. Let us help one another and live in solidarity as we build our families into a community which is a witness to the world. Let us help one another to treasure this beauty, and let us always beg for mercy, for without Him we can do nothing, and the best of our intentions will come to nothing.

Let us pray that people in this world will see the beauty of spousal love taken up into the mystery of Jesus, radiating His suffering and His glory.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Solidarity With The Person

When people speak, it is of course important to listen to what they have to say, and to try to understand it. But it is also important to be present and attentive to the person who speaks. It is important to appreciate and share, insofar as it is possible in one's own heart, the kind of experience that forms the vital context of what is said, and often even shapes the content or at least the mode in which it is expressed.

People speak not only to convey information, but also to communicate something of themselves, which means that genuine listening requires openness to the person. It is particularly critical to accept the person in their vulnerability and constraints, and to create an atmosphere of receptivity and welcoming attention for them. Sometimes they are trying to express their pain.

The beginning of any discussion should be solidarity with the person; willingness to travel the path with the person and readiness to suffer with the person.

Of course, that makes discussion seem like a frightening task to take up. Perhaps we must begin by acknowledging and recognizing our own limitations and fears, and being humble in front of the other person. I know I'm not good at this myself, but I'm praying that God will open my heart.

I really am bad at being humble, at listening to the other person, at solidarity. I am not voicing a pious sentiment here. I see this as a real obstacle in my relationships with others. But I also see the need for it, for myself and I think for all people. May God accomplish it within us in His time.

Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Every human person has dignity, and is destined for eternal life. Grant us, O Lord, the grace to love and affirm and defend the dignity of every person, to love the destiny of every person, to relieve the suffering of others, and to bear that suffering with them in solidarity.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Poverty of Who I Am

I have begun to realize how much I talk and how little I listen. I put myself out and push myself into relationships with other people, but I am not receptive. I'm always in a kind of desperation, like I'm trying to invade the other person's interiority with all of my large, clumsy, awkward personality and then do everything I can to impress, to amaze, to draw out some reaction, to somehow get the other person to love me, because in the end I just need to be loved, so badly.

I want to be loved. And I am so afraid of being alone. This is the poverty of who I am.

Other people don't usually regard me as pushy or obnoxious. If anything it's the opposite: I don't "promote" myself enough. This may be true in the professional sphere. And with people I am "nice," accommodating, non-controversial, and always leaning on my sense of humor. I also use my intelligence to illuminate things, to encourage and inspire. But in all of this there is a "push" of myself, which comes out of the abyss of the poverty of who I am. In everything I say and do there is always this cry that says, "Please love me, accept me, approve of me, affirm me."

But why is this a problem? I am surrounded by loving, accepting, affirming people. Why, then, am I restless? Why do I feel "unloved"?

Pathology plays a part in this, undoubtedly. I describe it in my book; it is something I call "the cloud" (see Never Give Up, pp. 18-28 [http://t.co/ddwYeqX]). But "the cloud" has been brightened considerably, even since I wrote the book. My restlessness goes deeper than any pathology. It goes right to the root of who I am. I am a person. I need to be loved. And I need to love.

Where does this all end?

Of course I know the answer from the Catechism. I do not want to underestimate the fundamental importance of this basic knowledge: that I have been created by God, that God loves me, that union with God is the purpose of my existence. Yes. Millions and millions of people walk the earth and do not know this truth about themselves. That stirs something else within me, something that remains in many ways confused, but that is gradually taking hold of me and changing me.

But it takes time. I ask forgiveness from my wife, my children, my family, and my friends--indeed from all the people God has placed in my life. There is something here that echoes the desire that Alyosha discovers in The Brothers Karamazov: the desire "to beg forgiveness from everyone, for everything." And I am willing to forgive, yes, to struggle on the path of forgiveness. Forgiving but begging too, because I know that I have not loved enough.

Jesus, I bring to You my broken heart,
broken by the desire to be loved
and the confusion over how to love well and truly.
O Lord, forgive me.
I have not loved You as I should,
and I am self-seeking and divided in all my relationships.
How can I love people truly,
with the "detachment" that recognizes that they belong to You alone,
and also with the passionate attention
that recognizes in each of them
the beauty of Your image and the glory of Your redeeming power?
Jesus, open my heart to receive Your healing mercy.
Change my heart,
and make me silent,
patient, and tender,
full of awe and wonder and gratitude
before Your gift of Yourself to me
and to every person I meet.
I am so in need of healing.
I am so in need of conversion.
Have mercy on me,
and make me the person You will me to be.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

From The Heart

I think that all the statements I make in my writing should be prefaced or placed in a context which says something like, "Lord, make me the kind of person who can really say this (or ask for this), from the heart."

I do believe what I say, and yet my faith is so small. I write a lot, perhaps, as a way of asking that the understanding I express in my words might grow and become more of a reality in my heart. Words are easy. But I know from the way I live, and the way I look at people, and the way I make judgments that I scarcely understand the things I say, or the mysteries to which I turn in prayer.

It is not that I lack conviction about the truth. But I am unfaithful and divided in heart, and I try too hard to hold onto things. I do not know how to love well.

Jesus, give me, in my heart, complete trust in You. Give me the capacity and the awareness that will enable me to ask You for this kind of trust.

Have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

Friday, January 13, 2012

We Can Become Lovers

The world needs Jesus. People need the love and mercy of Jesus. People need the freedom to embrace suffering in a way that does not crush them; they need to know and experience the companionship of Jesus in their suffering. People need the freedom to forgive and to let themselves be forgiven, so that wounds can heal instead of being passed through the generations until they become great scars that hinder the life of whole societies and cultures.

The love of Jesus is everything. Through His love and mercy, I can become a real lover--nothing less than a vessel of God's love. I can make God's love and mercy present in the world. If I look at myself by myself I could never hope to do this. But Jesus loves me, and promises to make me that kind of a person, to heal me and convert me and transform me into a lover. He will make me a lover of God and of human beings in the image and likeness of God, especially those entrusted to me. In asking Him to change me I have already begun to love--a new energy, a new kind of life has been awakened in me. Jesus, make me the person You created me to be.

I place my hope in Him, because I need Him, because what I am writing here comes from real life, from looking at myself, and from Eileen and I acting and thinking and struggling together; it comes from the kids who are growing and need us to care for them and respond to them in new ways. And it comes from the “gathering” of people that my writing has generated, some of whom draw strength from my work, even if it be only a small thing.

Jesus, make me the person You created me to be.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Strength to Love

It is always a challenge to make room in my heart for the other person. When I love persons--especially those persons who have been given to me as companions in the journey of life--I let them "inside" my heart, and this means embracing their difficulties and sufferings, and making myself "vulnerable" to their faults and limitations. Such is the nature of intimate human love, which is found in different ways in spousal love, familial love, and the love of friendship.

It means that what happens in the life of the other person matters to me. Communion of life is part of the joy of love, and I often speak here about the joys and richness of the life I share with my wife and children. Of course I put forth our best side, hopefully in a realistic way. And I speak of some of the peculiar circumstances that we must suffer. But we are also very ordinary, and have all the problems of ordinary life and human relationships. These kinds of challenges are not very "topical," but they make up the stuff of most of human life.

Am I being considerate, helpful, supportive to Eileen? Am I being a true companion to my wife? Am I living my vocation as husband and father of the family? These are questions for an examination of conscience, and every day I fail in these things, I fall short, I lack love. I am either overly concerned and push myself, trying to dominate the situation, or else I am afraid and I withdraw, because I don't want to be hurt, or simply because I am too lazy. Lord, have mercy on me.

And if she fails me, do I make space in my heart to forgive her? Can I embrace the suffering that it causes me, with a merciful heart, and surround her with merciful love? Do I know that my own failures and my own suffering are surrounded and embraced and carried by a merciful Heart? Jesus I trust in You.

Eileen is preparing something in the kitchen, I am writing, the children are playing, maybe John Paul is doing his homework. What are we hoping for, and what weighs upon us? We are mysteries even to ourselves. Tomorrow is in the hands of God. This moment is His gift to me. O Lord, give me the strength to love.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Raise Me Up Again and Again

Here I am, Lord.
So inadequate.
I try to give
and yet I am wrapped up in the desire to please myself.

Still, every good thing speaks of You.
I need You.
I need Your Mercy.
Open my heart to trust in Your Divine Mercy.

In front of my life,
my real life,
I discover that I cannot "do it" all by myself.
I need to pray,
I need You to sustain me,
I need You to raise me up again and again.

Have mercy on me.
Make me an instrument of Your Mercy.
Give me complete trust in You.
Jesus I trust in You.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Attentive and Faithful Presence

The true educator does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants the child, or the disciple, to learn to know the truth and establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty to the end, he does not withdraw his attentive and faithful presence; but his objective is that the learner hears the voice of the truth speak to his heart and follows it on a personal journey (Benedict XVI, Homily for January 8, 2012).
As usual, Pope Benedict provides a succinct but profound meditation in these words, and here he addresses the reality of teaching and learning. This is something I have been living all my life, in various aspects: as a "child" myself (a seeker of truth), a student, a professor, a friend, a writer; as someone who tries to share his own experience and understanding, and who seeks in turn to be receptive to what others can show him; someone who tries to offer his life and talents to doing works of mercy, and who is desperately in need of mercy.

The more we come to know the truth--not an ideological scheme or agenda, but the truth about reality--the more we realize that all truth speaks of the Mystery that is the source and meaning of everything, a Mystery that is Personal in the deepest sense, and who calls us to a living relationship with Himself. In presenting us with all the wonderful facets of reality, truth whispers to the heart that it is worthy of adherence and affirmation; it discloses all the goodness and beauty of reality, and thereby points to the One who is Good and Beautiful. Thus we affirm the truth with conviction and joy, and thus we continue to seek it.

The true educator points to the truth, not to his or her self. The truth, ultimately, is the Infinite Mystery who creates and calls the heart of every person. There have, of course, been people throughout history who have proposed themselves as "the answer" for others. They are the manipulators, the violent, the abusive characters of history and of life--in their "purest" form, they are the cult leaders and totalitarian dictators of history. They betray the relationship of persons which ought to exist between teachers and students, leaders and followers. They turn people into slaves, and they destroy families, communities, cultures, and societies.

But there was one man who was different. Once in history, a man came and said, "I am the Truth." Once in history a man said, "come to me, follow me" and that man was not abusive and manipulative. He transformed those who followed Him. They became, not less human, but a hundred times more profoundly human, and more than that, they themselves became reflections of the Mystery; they became--in a unique way--witnesses to the presence of the Mystery dwelling among us in this man. And their followers have carried the light of the hope of the human race down through the centuries, keeping it alive even in the midst of all their human frailty, and bearing witness to all the peoples of the world.

Jesus Christ is totally unique in history. He and He alone stands before the human person--with integrity, with spectacular greatness and goodness and beauty--and says, "who do you say that I am?"

The answer to this question is a continual source of amazement to me. The Mystery that sustains all of reality became a man. Thus everyone's "personal journey" to a "relationship with the truth" finds its true path and its fulfillment in Him. Billions of human beings don't really know Him. Still, if they are searching for the truth, they are searching for Him. In fact, it is He who is calling their hearts. He has come for each and all. He loves them. There is much that is mysterious about this, but for Christians it should inspire a great desire to make Him known to all the world. For as Blessed John Paul II said, "every human person has the right to know the truth that Jesus Christ came for him."

The Infinite Mystery reveals Himself by becoming man in order to give Himself to us. He comes as loving mercy, to be our path and our sustenance and our fulfillment. He comes for the "personal journey" of each one of us, and He draws close to that personal dignity and the special quality, attractions, capabilities and aspirations that distinguish each of our hearts. We have been created to give ourselves in love. He knows who we are destined to be by means of that gift, and He empowers us to achieve it. He gives to all things their attractiveness and beauty and meaning, and then He draws all things to Himself.

The fact that all things find their fulfillment in Him does not mean that things are reduced to "religious stuff" (inasmuch as we conceive of "religion" as a collection of merely human rules and invented schemes and theories). It means that He really is the Mystery: "all things were created through Him, all things were created for Him." His "particularity" in history and in our lives is not meant to suffocate us. Rather it shows that in Him we really will find the fullness of life; indeed we will find "eternal life." His particularity in the life and worship and ministry of the Church brings the Mystery of God close to us and communicates it to us, so that we might live forever as God's children, and so that we might see the vividness of God's mercy and goodness in every aspect of this earthly life, in its joys and hopes and sufferings.

What, then, can someone like me--a "professional teacher"--possibly offer to my students, my friends, my children? What can I, who claim to be an educator, possibly do for them? Can I be an instrument through which they might "hear the voice of the truth," with all of my inadequacy and all my weaknesses? I shall fail again and again. My own personality will get in the way. There are always too many words, too much desire for my own success, too much of the sneaky way in which I try to insert myself into the Christian witness. It is the pharisaical temptation to want for myself some of the awesome attention of the human religious sense, an attention that is meant to be directed to God alone. I want people to know God's love, and yet, like every human being, my inclinations for appreciation, recognition, and success are out of control. Insofar as these inclinations are not ruled by charity and mercy, the "voice of truth" is weakened and can even be obscured. Hypocrisy is almost unavoidable in those who claim to teach about the ways of God, because we fall short of Him in so much.

Still, I must try, and entrust all my efforts to Him. For this is an essential part of my own personal journey.

In many ways, my own children bring things down to earth. The vocation of fatherhood awakens a tenderness for them, and a perception of the uniqueness of each of them, an awe in front of them. The educative task of a father is clearly more than a discourse; it requires a witness. The children need my living witness to the truth. They need the "attentive and faithful presence" of their father. I must "do my duty to the end," which is to love them not possessively, but for the sake of their destiny.

I must be an attentive and faithful presence for them as each of them discovers the path of his or her vocation. I pray that I might rejoice in seeing the particular quality of love in His gaze upon each of them within the circumstances of their lives.

Fatherhood brings me to my knees. I realize that I cannot care for what has been entrusted to me except by depending completely on Him. It makes me remember once again the truth of my own journey, and the Mercy that enables me to make that journey as it unfolds before me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Walking Around The Neighborhood

So far we've had a mild November, a mild December, and a fairly mild January. I'm glad. It's given us a chance to have some nice walks around the neighborhood. We've walked the streets of our neighborhood for eleven years. I've walked alone. I've walked with Eileen. And then there has always been "Daddy and the kids." Spontaneous walks don't often involve the whole family; usually it's one parent and some kids. I hope that will change, now that Josefina is finally getting big enough.

New Year's Resolution: Walks for the whole family. We should plan them.

The other day, I was out with the four oldest (Josefina and Mommy didn't come). I've been walking with this crew for years, since the days when nine year old Teresa was in a stroller. They were all so little. I had to shepherd them to the side of the road all the time (we don't have sidewalks out here). Now they're a competent and capable crew. But they are still young. They keep me young at heart.

This is our neighborhood in the Shenandoah Valley, where we walk out our front door and gaze at some of the oldest mountains in the world. It's too easy to take it for granted. This is such a wonderful place. We are within a ten minute drive of so many things, yet this is a quiet spot. If we had more money, we'd probably move somewhere else, but I don't think we'd be more happy than we are right here.

This is our estate, in the bright cold sun of a January afternoon. In the summer, the trees are so full that it's hard to see the house. The bareness of winter has it's own beauty, revealing hidden vistas and giving us a more ample horizon. It lets us see the sun setting closer to the base of the trees that surround us all through the neighborhood, and it reveals more of the colors and shades of the sky. When the weather is mild, winter can be charming in Virginia.

Yes, we live in the famous Valley. It seems as though half the streets around here are named after the heroes of the Army of Northern Virginia. Stonewall Jackson marched not far from here, and the echoes of that epic and traumatic and terrible war--which some people call "the first modern war" --still shake these trees.

In our time it is a peaceful place, and yet no one can say how long that will last. What will this year bring? What events loom in the future? No one can say. But we do have this afternoon, and the kids and I can enjoy it. I love being involved in their lives. I have had to slow down many things, and sometimes I have felt frustrated by that fact, but I do have time for the children. This is something that I will never regret. And I can see that it has done them good.

One week ago, I turned 49 years old. I do not think of us as "old parents," but rather as having a "young family." Some of my friends are already grandparents, which is nice because it shows us that it is possible to survive the upcoming stages in our own family history. In mind and aspiration, I feel ten or more years younger than I am. Josefina's teenage years are going to take me well into my sixties, God willing, so it's just as well that I stay youthful in spirit.

But I always tend to get ahead of myself. These days are blessed. I am grateful for them. I can do something today that is good, that builds up my children, my friends, perhaps even you who are reading this.

This is something that we must also remember when we are in pain, or when we are alone. How hard it is to remember, when we are afflicted. The goodness of reality is something we know when we watch the glowing sky through the trees on a winter afternoon. The moments of pain are also mysteriously good. Could it be possible that, in the end, emptiness wins? Never.

Here I am, relaxing in front of someone else's estate (hahaha!):

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Open Our Hearts To Your Presence

Dear Lord, open our hearts to your Presence
in this new year,
that we might recognize You
and love You in everything.
Grant that we might be reconciled to one another.
Console and bring healing to those who are suffering,
protect human life and the dignity of the human person,
bring peace
and spare us from the scourge of further war.
Place in our hearts 
and committed love for You.
Give us trust in the wisdom and goodness
of Your will for our lives,
and enable us to love one another.

Friday, January 6, 2012

He Comes For Sinners

Mercy is an incredible thing.

During this time we remember Jesus coming among us. He comes for the poor, and for the Gentiles, and for Israel--for the whole world. He comes to seek out and save what is lost. He comes for sinners.

Jesus loves the worst sinners, the people who we would consider disgusting. He loves them, He goes out in search of them, He gives Himself completely for them.

He wants sinners. He wants the most awful people, the creepy people, the people we don't want to touch or even go near. He wants to take away their sins, to change their hearts by His grace, to heal them, to forgive them, and to enable them to love Him. He wants them to be with Him forever. His heart burns with love for them: the gross, ugly, really bad people.

This should be a cause for great hope. For who among us looks in the mirror and sees a face with no cause for shame? The hope of the world is our hope. Jesus wants to awaken in us and draw forth from our hearts a true sorrow for our sins, and then He wants to fill our hearts with His love and transform us and make us beautiful.

On the Cross, in the Church, in the sacraments, and in these beautiful days of the Christmas season that we celebrate, He shows how He has given Himself to us, and how He longs for us.

He wants us to pray, to open our hearts to Him in trust. We must pray. "Lord, make me the person You will me to be. Shape me, change me, lead me. I believe in Your love for me. I trust in You."

The people who are literally disgusting, who have done horrible things, the most horrible things we can imagine--He loves them. He wants them with such a longing; He wants to draw them and convert them and heal them and transform them. He wants us to pray for them.

And He wants us. He loves us. He has come for us, and He gives Himself for us. "Jesus make me into the person You have created me to be. I trust in You."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A New Perspective of Life

Reflecting on our life experience, we are continually astonished by how ultimately short and ephemeral life is. So we often find ourselves asking: what meaning can we give to our days? What meaning, in particular, can we give to the days of toil and grief? This is a question that permeates history, indeed it runs through the heart of every generation and every individual. But there is an answer: it is written on the face of a Child who was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and is today the Living One, risen for ever from the dead. From within the fabric of humanity, rent asunder by so much injustice, wickedness and violence, there bursts forth in an unforeseen way the joyful and liberating novelty of Christ our Saviour, who leads us to contemplate the goodness and tenderness of God through the mystery of his Incarnation and Birth. The everlasting God has entered our history and he remains present in a unique way in the person of Jesus, his incarnate Son, our Saviour, who came down to earth to renew humanity radically and to free us from sin and death, to raise us to the dignity of God's children. Christmas not only recalls the historical fulfilment of this truth that concerns us directly, but in a mysterious and real way, gives it to us afresh....
"When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4:4-5). These words penetrate the heart of the history of us all and illumine it, or rather, they save it, because since the Day of the Lord's Nativity, the fullness of time has reached us. So there is no more room for anxiety in the face of time that passes, never to return; now there is room for unlimited trust in God, by whom we know we are loved, for whom we live and to whom our life is directed as we await his definitive return. Since the Saviour came down from heaven, man has ceased to be the slave of time that passes to no avail, marked by toil, sadness and pain. Man is son of a God who has entered time so as to redeem it from meaninglessness and negativity, a God who has redeemed all humanity, giving it everlasting love as a new perspective of life.
Benedict XVI, from the Homily at First Vespers of the Octave of Christmas

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy 2012, and Keep Celebrating Christmas!

I'm a little late starting the New Year. We've been having a bit of a vacation, so I'm a little out of touch. But the year has begun well. And yes, our Christmas tree still shines brightly during Epiphany week. Although John Paul is back to school, Eileen and the girls have this whole week off. It's great having Eileen around. We get to sleep in, watch funny videos late at night, and even talk about intelligent subjects. We have been blessed to have this time.

The commercial world has left Christmas far behind, but we are still very much in the midst of it. Christmas is about more than just the birth of Christ. Christmas is about the manifestation of God to the world in the humanity, in the flesh of Christ. It is about the appearance of this man in the world, before the eyes of others, the "epiphany" of the mystery of God and His love in Jesus the Son of Mary, in history, to real human beings who begin to recognize Him.

It is the celebration of the way that God has chosen to communicate with human beings, by coming into our midst, by taking the very flesh of the humanity of our own lives and making it "His," not as a beautiful idea, but in real life. He took on a real body, blood, and soul--He became a man--so that He could meet us and enter inside of our lives and embrace us completely. Thus Jesus appears in history and continues to dwell among us in the Eucharist and in the life of the Church.

So we celebrate His "epiphany"; God's manifestation of Himself in and through the real human nature that He makes His own. A man walked the earth who said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." We celebrate the moments in which He was "seen" for the first time, and the significance of these events for all of us. So He is seen by Mary and Joseph--His glorious face--for the first time at His birth, and then He shows Himself to the poorest and humblest of the earth, the shepherds of Bethlehem. We must never forget that God chose to come first to the poor, to those who carry out the menial tasks, to those who count for nothing in the world.

The rich had to go looking for Him, but He gave a sign that could be recognized by those who were poor in spirit, and the Magi follow the star and bring their wealth to give to Him. Thus He first shows Himself to the Gentiles, revealing that He has come to a particular place and time in order to be the Lord of all places and times, of Jews and Gentiles, of the near and the far.

At the same time, the great event that we celebrate in the Christmas season is a moment in His adult life, the beginning of His public ministry, the moment in which He shows Himself to the chosen people after receiving the baptism of John. This is an iconic moment when the Trinity is revealed, when the Father speaks and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove. God reveals His own inner life through the humanity of the Person of the Son, who with the Father and the Spirit are eternally One God, consubstantial, One God in Three Persons. It takes time for these terms to be articulated, but the reality shines out in this moment: God is One but not solitary; His inner life is an eternal communion of self-giving love. "This is My Beloved Son...."

Ancient tradition calls this event the Theophany, the manifestation of God. It is also the beginning of the revelation of God's design, which corresponds to the deepest truth of who we are as human persons. "Listen to Him," because He has come so as to be, in Himself, the way, the truth, and the life. Through Him, God shows us that He wants to raise us up to a participation in His divine life, to become His children "by adoption." Thus shines before us also the mystery of our own dignity and destiny according to God's loving plan. We come from nothingness. We are destined for eternal life with God, and we will achieve this destiny by being united with this man who is the God the Son, Jesus Christ. He has come to save us and transform us in Himself.

We do not continue to celebrate Christmas because of some excessive emotional attachment or childishness. We continue to celebrate because it helps us to remember the glory of God, and the fact that He has shown Himself to us in order remain with us, to be the light of life, to be our way to Him.

Look at the lights of Christmas and remember the glory of God, the beauty of His face, the manifestation of His amazing love for us.