Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day: God is Present

Here we have had that odd phenomenon, the "extra day" in Leap Year. It was a particularly slow day, perhaps because I am anxious for March and the hope of Spring to begin, or perhaps because I've caught Josefina's cold, and I had to drag and cough and snuffle my way through the afternoon. Or perhaps it was because the (very) small sacrifices of Lent are making me grouchy, or perhaps because nations keep hurling threats and people are afflicted by wars that go on an on, or perhaps because it rained all day. Or perhaps I'm bothered by the idea that the new Google privacy policy is going to allow them to upload on GoogleEarth pictures of the missing tiles in my bathroom. Or maybe I'm just tired.

In the mid-afternoon, for the Hour of Mercy, I paused for a moment to meditate on the Cross, and why it matters. I posted some of the thoughts that came to me, in those moments, and decided they were worth repeating here. I found them very sustaining, and I expect that I will need to remember them. Others may find them useful too:
In the difficulty and awkwardness and apparent impossibility of mundane life, there God is present. And this is not some abstract mysticism. This is something that is really true, in every moment, because God became a Crucified Man and penetrated the depths of every sin, every moment of misery, and even the dull tedium of every day. Everything belongs to His merciful heart, everything is changed, and filled with the hidden possibilities of love, because everything can be offered.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jesus, Win My Heart

Why is love hard? I talk about it all the time and I make it sound easy because I wish it were easy.

And, really, it is easy. But it's hard. That makes sense, huh?

Inside of the growth of love, it feels hard. But after we have grown, we look back and say, "that was not hard. That was easy. That was beautiful." Often in our relationship with God, it’s a real struggle, a real suffering, because He is healing us and transforming us, breaking us open and emptying the spaces that only His love can fill. It seems like we are utterly beyond ourselves, and barely hanging on to God. Still, our hold on Him is secure: this is what faith and hope enable us to do. Faith and hope (and charity) are "theological" virtues, which means that they empower us to be in a relationship with the Infinite God who loves us. He has a firm hold on us; He puts His life in us, and enables us to adhere to Him.

And it is not "so hard" to be loved by Him, because He knows our weakness, and He is so patient and so merciful and so tender, and He is so delicate with us.

That is why we must listen for His whisper.

He wants to draw our hearts with His love, and He does. He draws us and He wins our hearts, if we let Him. Let us pray, "Jesus, win my heart!"

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Topography of My Face

Sometimes Josefina climbs on me and studies my face really, really close. She spends a minute scrutinizing all over my face, from the ears to the cheeks to the nose to mouth and the chin and the beard. She carries out her observations with a very serious little expression, and with clinical keenness. When she is finished, she will either make some declaration or ask a question.

So she might say after much pondering, "What's that?"--pointing, of course, to the pimple that happens to be on my face at the time. "It's a pimple; I've got a pimple," I grunt (why can't she say something like, "Daddy, you're so handsome!"?). And then comes the great question of the five year old, the question that indicates that the genius of philosophy has been born somewhere deep in her soul: "WHY?" Why? Why indeed? Dear Lord, I am approaching fifty years old. Most of the hair that I do have has changed its color to autumn silver. I long ago abandoned my dream of becoming a great baseball star. So, what's with the pimple? Why???

"People get pimples sometimes, honey; your body just makes these pimples." A look of alarm comes over her face, "Do I have any pimples?!" "No it happens when you get bigger." "Why?" "Hey, how about if I read you a book!"

One time she was studying me, and then suddenly she scrinched her face. She'd made a discovery.

Josefina: "You have hair in your nose!!"

Me: "Yes, grown-ups have hair in their nose. Grown-ups get hair in different places."


Me: "Not really. Nothing you can really see."

Her: "But you have hair in your nose!!!"

Me: "I'm a grown-up."

Her: "I don't want to be a grown-up. I'm not going to be a grown-up."

Saturday, February 25, 2012


My desire is to have a passionate attention to reality, but to be free of that reductive, manipulative attachment that tries to imprison things within themselves. I want to follow the true dynamic of reality, which is to point beyond itself precisely from within the depths of its own truth, goodness, and beauty. I do not want to be trapped within the limits of my own perspectives and my own projects. I want to live as I have been made to live, to open my soul to the ecstasy of being. But I must abandon myself....

Jesus, how do I let go? How can I really let You take control? When things are dear, its hard to let go, its hard to have faith that this reality won't be lost, but rather that it will be fulfilled in You. Its hard because I can't see how--I don't see the connection. Its seems dark, this place between losing and finding. Help me Jesus.

That is where He is, precisely in that place. His suffering bridges that darkness. I don't understand how. And dwelling on the fact of His presence can bring courage, sometimes, but I must admit that usually even faith in Jesus Crucified feels like groping in the darkness when it is immersed in the struggles of life.

Still, He is here. He is with me.

And there is His tenderness. Mary. The Woman, the Mother, who shapes everything with gentleness. She brings that tenderness into every place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Life With Josefina

Imagine seeing this face, all day, every day.

Okay, now those of you who have just melted, please mop yourselves up and think for a moment. She is a free spirited five year old girl....

...who can be very stubborn,

...who cries whenever she doesn't get her way,

...who wants to eat, and then doesn't want to eat, after you've made the sandwich,

...who has made whining into an art form,

...who treats the furniture like a jungle gym (really, literally),

...who, when you tell her NO, just repeats the question again as if you haven't said anything,

...who is perfectly capable of using the potty, but who still sometimes just...forgets,

...who cannot explain in a rational conversation why she is upset with her sister,

...whose favorite answers are I don't know and Beeecaaauuse, waahaahaahaahaa!

Okay, that's enough; this is starting to sound like a Bill Cosby routine. Also, there are plenty of you who are saying, "Hey, that's my kid you're talking about!" Haha.

Truly, it's a special thing for me, to see her so much of the time during the day. When the other kids were this age, I was at the college all day, and my mind was full of the aspirations and successes, the struggles and the politics of teaching and administration at a thriving institution of higher education. Not that there was any problem with that. But now, things are different.

Josefina's Daddy is home much more of the time. I also look after her a lot more directly than I did any of the others. Now, I even go to her school with her, and I bring her home. And when I sit at home and work, she hops on the side of my big brown chair and makes herself comfy.

One day, she set up her own "computer," right next to mine, with a "Magic Math" keyboard, a book for a screen, and one of her little black shoes for a mouse. That kept her off my keyboard...for a little while.

Sometimes I'll put her on my lap, and we'll watch a few cartoons or go to the facebook page of one of her friends (i.e. their parents' page) to look at their pictures. I've taught her a few things about how to use the keyboard. She knows how to make a smiley face: :-)

Then there are times when I want her attention and she plays girley games. Sometimes she just decides she's going to ignore me (I can hardly blame her--I'm always teasing). And of course she plays "hard to get." They all do. If you young men out there think that marriage means you'll never again experience heartbreak and rejection, ha ha...all I have to say is, "Don't have four daughters!" I'm kidding of course. They keep your heart young.

She jumps up on her little perch on my chair and says, "Hi Daddy." I know that something is coming. "Daddy, will you read me a book?" Time to read some books to Josefina. :-)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Real Humility

I don't want people to know. I want to hide from it myself. I don't want to look at those places in me where sin really troubles me. I would rather accuse my self of imaginary (or at least, "respectable") sins so that people will say "look how humble he is" and I can secretly feel good about myself. And I can hide from the real stuff, and tell myself, "I've got a handle on the 'sin' problem. I'm on top of it. I'm doing alright."

But I really am a sinner, in so many petty, narrow, creepy ways that I don’t want to admit. I'll never get "a handle" on sin. I have to let Jesus take it. I have to let this "Other Person" into my life and let Him love me. That's real humility.

There is a temptation to be afraid of this Other Person. But He is God. He is the one who makes me; He is the Source of me. He does not "invade me from the outside." He changes me from within.

At the same time, He is the "Other"...but the Other who makes me for Himself, the Other whom I truly seek.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Msgr. Luigi Giussani's Cause is Introduced

I am because I am made. Like my voice, which is the echo of a vibration, if I cease the vibration, it no longer exists. Like spring water rising up--it is, in its entirety, derived from its source. And like a flower which depends completely upon the support of its roots. So I do not consciously say "I am," in a sense that captures my entire stature as a human being if I do not  mean "I am made." The ultimate equilibrium of life depends upon this. The human being's natural truth, as we have seen, is his nature as creation--he exists because he is continually possessed. And, when he recognizes this, then he breathes fully, feels at peace, glad....
To be conscious of oneself right to the core is to perceive, at the depths of the self, an Other. This is prayer: to be conscious of oneself to the very center, to the point of meeting an Other. Thus prayer is the only human gesture which totally realizes the human being's stature.
 -- Msgr. Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense (from chapter 10)

On February 22, 2005, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, one of the great men of the Church of our time died after a long period of illness. A month and a half later, he would be followed into eternity by the Pope whom he had served with such exemplary devotion. Meanwhile, the Cardinal from Rome who came to celebrate his funeral--who had been his close friend and supporter for many years--was himself destined to sit next on the Chair of St. Peter. It is beautiful to read once again the homily he preached on that day. Here we recognize the voice that we have come to know and love as Pope Benedict XVI:

It is not surprising to find the figure of Luigi Giussani surrounded by Popes, especially the Popes of our time. Father Giussani was a man of the Church, a true homo ecclesiasticus, who also knew how to generate a witness to the Gospel that resonates profoundly with so many diverse people in the secularized culture that dominates today's world.

His words are not always easy to understand. But the effort yields fruit. For many, it has been life transforming. Why? His charism touches something essential in the human spirit; he witnesses to something that endures within the heart of the human person, even beneath the stubborn encrustation of materialistic and positivist prejudice that so often suffocates the search for truth. Through the charism of Fr. Giussani, Christ continues to find ways to break through, changing persons and engendering new life in surprising places.

It was with great joy that I learned the news that on February 22, 2012 the cause for his beatification and canonization will make its first step, when the President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation presents the formal request to the Archdiocese of Milan. And the man who presides there as Cardinal Archbishop, Angelo Scola, is someone whose own faith and vocation has been shaped by Fr. Giussani and the movement of CL.

I post the link here, in Italian. I pray that the Church may find worthy of recognition this amazing man, whom I believe will be remembered as one of the great protagonists of the beginning of the New Evangelization.

Also worth linking is Rocco Palmo's appreciation of Giussani at the end of the remarkable year of 2005. He rightly observes that the funeral oration of then-Cardinal Ratzinger was a rare and striking pastoral appearance of an often-misunderstood churchman, whose beautiful homily was heard by many thousands at the funeral and the broadcast of Italian state television. It was, truly, his public debut as a pastor, and the themes of his tribute have since become the themes of his pontificate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

There's Fire in These Pages

I have been very open on this blog about the fact that I spent several years living more or less as an invalid after my retirement from teaching. During that time, I achieved two things: (1) The "great leap" from my bed to the living room, from the prison of my solitude and pain to the daily life of my family--which of course took me beyond the living room and out again into the great wide world--and (2) The writing and publishing of a book about the whole experience, a book that people tell me is beautiful, deeply moving, and encouraging.

ADVERTISEMENT TIME: Looking for some Lenten reading? Here's an acclaimed book:

Yes, that's a lousy photograph of an actual copy of the book. That tells you what a sad sack I am at promoting my own stuff. If you read the reviews on the amazon link, you will see that they are quite enthusiastic (you can buy it here too: 

My publisher, Servant Books and Franciscan Media, has done its part in promoting my book, getting it into bookstores and media outlets, and creating opportunities for radio interviews (there is another one coming up during Holy Week; stay “tuned”). They tell me that sales are “good.” It's been out for more than a year now, and it's still a steady seller. That’s all fine.

But really, I want people to read it. And I want lots of people to read it. Not for the satisfaction of my ego. Really, that’s not what it’s about at all. Rather, the reason is that I have seen how this book has affected people. I see a grace working through this book, a healing grace, a grace that is not just for sick and specially afflicted people, but for everyone.

Is there anybody out there who has read this book and who knows how to do the marketing, promotional, “get-it-in-the-hands-of-people-and-get-them-to-read-it” kind of thing? I am still doing what I can, but I’m maxed out, with life in general. Perhaps, as my health continues to improve, I can do more. But not yet.

That means I’m not looking for ideas for what I should do to promote the book. I am looking (and praying) that someone might be around who could take the ball and run with it a bit. If you are out there, and you feel that God might be calling you to help with this, please contact me (

There’s fire in these pages. It's a fire that didn't come from me. I'm as surprised by it as anyone. Okay, I'll grant that I'm a pretty good writer, when I work at it and allow my stuff to be pounded by a ruthless editor. But here, writing is at the service of something else. I don't think I'll ever write a book like this again. There's something remarkable here. Fire.

May God grant that the fire spread, and bring its light to many places.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lucia On A Saturday Morning

It is early in the morning.
Almost time to wake up Lucia.

She lies on the pillow
with her soft gentle eyes
closed in sleep,
and her cheeky face
reflecting light from the window,
and her fingers,
still long and lovely
like they were on the day she was born,
clutching a stuffed panda.

She is 11 years old, and she is a girl:
sweet and innocent,
moody and full of complaints,
sometimes stubborn,
generous with her affection,
the "little mother" to her youngest sister,
loves to read,
loves the quiet places,
shy before strangers,
reserved at home
and then suddenly blossoming
with humor and laughter,
wit and performance:
she is the dramatic actress,
she is the comedian,
or she is just
the most excited child in the house.

So now I look at her sleeping,
I look at her and I love her
as her father.
I see the baby who I watched come forth from the womb.
I see like a flash all the fears and excitement
and joys and laughter and weepiness of a child,
who stands on the threshold of becoming a young woman.

I love this girl.
Will anyone else ever look at her
with the tenderness that is in my heart?
She will be a woman
and many will look at her.
Some will covet her.
Some will envy her.
I wish that I could give them
a few drops of the tenderness of my fatherly eyes.
I wish that they all might look upon her
and hold within their hearts the innocence
and beauty
that I cherish,
and foster,
and--weak as I am--would defend like a champion.

There is one, I pray, who will see in her
things that I have not imagined,
and that I can never know.
For she has within herself a gift that only he can receive.
I know this gift; I stand outside its walls,
I am responsible for what is within
but it does not belong to me.
I do not begrudge him this precious inward place,
that is the heart and soul of my daughter
because I know that I must give her away.

Indeed there is One who already sees her fully,
and I pray that He will take her for Himself,
or else call some other one
to be the image and the vessel
of His enduring love.

My dear Lucia, it is time to wake up.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Secularization, Transcendence, and Love

Sometimes we throw around terms like "secularism" and "the secularized West." It is important to be precise about what this means. Terms like these are not intended to cast "the secular world" in a negative light. Rather they are intended to express an ideological and practical attitude that limits the human person to the life of this finite world. Pope Benedict XVI explains it very concisely:
"Secularization, which presents itself in cultures by imposing a world and humanity without reference to Transcendence, is invading every aspect of daily life and developing a mentality in which God is effectively absent, wholly or partially, from human life and awareness."
Secularism imprisons the human person within the confines of "the world." Sometimes it restricts itself to the world as human beings immediately perceive it (e.g. materialism). But it can allow for the affirmation of "deeper realities," and for the development of human beings and the universe under the influence of "mysterious" natural powers (e.g. the many kinds of spiritualisms that flourish today, as well as a reductionist view of religion).

Secularism is a proposal of life "without reference to Transcendence." The essence of secularism is its effort to smother the deepest reality in the life of every human person, that thirst for the Infinite that shapes every human heart. The "transcendence" that Pope Benedict speaks of here is not just any kind of "going beyond" the surface of things. It is the Beyond-all-things, that Mystery which energizes the human person and is the ultimate goal of every human aspiration. Secularism seeks to suffocate this "restlessness" of the human heart.

It does not forbid a person to be "religious" (provided that "religion" is reduced to a human system, or a set of rules that rest on human contrivance, whether ancient or new). It does not have a problem with "spirituality" as long as the "spirit" remains in the finite prison of its own idealism, or of the occult. Secularism is even compatible with talk about God. But it wants to eliminate the search for God, the hunger for God, and of course, love for God.

Above all, however, secularism cannot abide the amazing fact that the Transcendent God --the Mystery that every human heart yearns for--has entered history and dwells among us in the very midst of our world. In the end, this is why secularism is doomed to fail: because God wills to make Himself known, because He loves us. He loves every human person, even the most determined secularists who appear to have forgotten all about Him.

The witness to Jesus Christ as God's loving gift of Himself is difficult in our secularized culture. But let us never forget that His grace is at work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Personal Secrets Revealed

A fellow blogger has proposed this common theme as something that all of us can share with one another and our readers. I'm not sure how to approach such a topic, since between this blog and my book you probably know everything about me (and our whole family) that is worth knowing. Chances are that these "secrets" won't be very interesting; otherwise I would have written about them already. Still, I'll give it a shot, and we'll see what I come up with.

Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me:

(1) I flunked Latin 101 as a college freshman. That's right. I got a big fat "F"! It was a funny report card that first semester, thirty years ago: four As and one F. What happened? The explanation is very simple. I didn't study. The other four classes were ones I could cruise through with a combination of cramming and native intelligence, but not Latin (n.b. I retook the class the following year and got a "B"). Which leads us to...

(2) I mostly partied my way through the first two and a half years of college. I didn't really get serious until the second semester of my junior year, at the age of 21. I became preoccupied, both theoretically and existentially, with the problem of the relationship between God's omnipotence and human freedom. It was something of a crisis of faith, but it also gave rise to serious questions about the meaning of human life, of my life, and it was the beginning of my interest in theology.

(3) I play the guitar and the cello. I don't talk about this much here, because I don't do it much these days. I have no good explanation for this lapse; I got away from it when I was sick and I just haven't picked up on it again...yet. When I was a kid I was in a band, and I was (still am) pretty good. I studied cello for five years, and played a lot in high school.

(4) I used to have a lot of hair...on my head! And I wore it long and bushy, with a headband, when I was in high school. When my mother would complain, I would say that Jesus and the apostles had long hair too.

(5) We used to live in a house that was over two hundred years old. Some of my friends know that. Our first house was one of the oldest houses in Warren County (Virginia), a late 18th century two story farmhouse (i.e. very small) that leaked...everywhere. The floor slanted, and there was a root cellar. At various times in its history it had been a family house, a school, and a chicken coop. When we had our third chick, however, we realized we needed something bigger.

(6) I have a hard time writing lists like this. Okay, that one's lame, but it gets one number out of the way.

(7) I wrote a novel when I was 25 years old. It was a lot of fun to watch the story and the characters develop as I went along. Unfortunately, it was a lousy novel. I'm glad they didn't have e-publishing in those days or I might have inflicted it on the world. Instead, the "manuscript" is lost.

(8) I couldn't even grow a mustache until I was in my late thirties. The Lord taketh away and the Lord giveth.

(9) I didn't get my driver's licence until I was 23 years old. I took driver's ed. and had lessons when I was 16, but just never got around to taking the test. I grew up in an urban environment where one could walk or take a bus everywhere. It's not like that here. John Paul will be driving as soon as possible, and he'll probably be a better driver than me.

(10) I don't like nuts in my ice cream!!!! No way. I love nuts. I love ice cream. But don't put them together. Please. Nuts are chewy. Ice cream is smooth. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Whew, that's finally done. Any strangers who are reading this: I advise you to read other entries in this blog because they really are pretty good. There's theology, spirituality, poetic meditations, and (by far the most popular) stories from everyday family life with the kooky Janaro bunch.

Here is the link to my friend's blog, Rambling Follower:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The True Greatness of God

I think that many times people are put off by the idea of God, or feel threatened by Him, because they think of God’s greatness and power as if God were a “thing” in the universe, alongside of all the other things in the universe, who is different only because He is the biggest and the strongest thing. If God were merely the biggest and most forceful part of the universe, and if He were demanding our worship and total adherence on this basis, it would really be oppressive.

A prominent atheist once objected that Christians conceive of the universe as a kind of "Divine North Korea." I have no hesitation in saying that if the Christian understanding of God were really what I just described, he would be quite right. But this is not the point at all. God is not the Great Cosmic Bully; He is the Source of the whole universe and everything in it. He is beyond all things as their origin, sustenance, and purpose.

Nor is God just a kind of Power or internal Cosmic Force that some posit as necessary (and others not) for “starting” the Big Bang billions of years ago. He is, right this moment, the Reason why anything exists at all, and why each thing exists in its individuality. This means that He is not a "part" of the universe at all (not even its "greatest" part). He is not "in" the created universe in the way we are so easily tempted to imagine.  He is transcendent Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; He is the Being, who is “beyond” everything in the universe, who is the Source of everything, who is “infinitely greater” and yet at the same time mysteriously intimate to every reality in the universe as its Creator and Sustainer.

I must dwell on the total dependence of all things on Him, in every moment, for everything that they are, and especially for the fact that they "are". I must also remember that He who creates all things also remains infinitely greater, infinitely more beautiful than His creatures. Without His creative act, there are no "things" at all. Only because of the power by which He creates and sustains beings, in their origins and now, in this moment, does the universe remain outside of nothingness and live with the spectacular dignity of being a sign of His Infinite Greatness.

It is in this way that I can have a real sense of His majesty; it is in this sense that I can affirm that, indeed, "God is great." Not only is He worthy of my worship, but He alone is worthy, because every thing and every person–no matter how great and powerful–comes forth from His hand and is a reflection of His Infinite glory.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Desire To Give Myself

Dear friends and readers, what is it that motivates me to write? It is not all vanity and grandstanding, or hunger for admiration and sympathy. It is also love. By the grace of God, there is–as the controlling motivation–the desire to give myself.

Perhaps I overanalyze things. What is important is to take up the right action and let the right intention shape my will, and then just do it, entrusting all the messiness of my imperfections to the mercy of God, with confidence that His grace is at work, healing my soul in deep and mysterious ways.

And so I give to you, for whatever it is worth, this poor mixed up self of mine, in the hope that in all the mess that is me you will find some evidence of His love for you. I pray that I can serve you as I pray that I might serve all those whom God has entrusted to me: by helping you to become the persons God created you to be. I know my role in your life is a very small one, of course. But for you to be, truly, "you" - that is my hope, and it brings me joy to know that God wills to use me in this way.

May He have mercy on us all, and teach us to love one another and bear with one another.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A New Kind Of "Space"

I have been told by some that I have an "internet ministry." I understand that the term "ministry" here is being used in the broad sense of a charismatic service that helps build up the Christian community, and that reaches out to others too. I suppose my friends have a point. It is interesting that I did not intend to "set up" anything of the sort when I became more active online over a year ago.

I began using electronic media more intensely because I felt the need to promote my recently released book, Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy ( People were reading the book, and I was hearing about the great blessing that it was in their lives. I became convinced that I had a responsibility to make the book more widely known; it was touching a chord in so many different types of people--people with deeply debilitating chronic illnesses, people with mental illness, people who care for others, and also many people who have no particular affliction of this kind, but who are simply living real life, and who therefore are experiencing suffering.

My options for promoting the book, however, were (and remain) somewhat limited, for reasons that the book itself makes pretty clear. A grinding, "hit-the-road" author's tour was not possible--indeed not much of anything "grinding" was possible. But I could go online and post a few links, and at least get my friends to buy it. I did not plan to build large networks on several media platforms, and I certainly did not plan to write a blog that--over a year's time--is substantially larger than the book itself.

Indeed, something has grown and continues to grow, according to a plan that is not my own. "Never Give Up" has become something of an enterprise; it seeks to build a place where people can help one another to learn and to embrace love, suffering, healing, mercy, and solidarity. Its working within this new kind of "space" which is the internet world, and many of its ways are mysterious to me. I am praying and seeking to follow God's will, building with an energy that surprises me, but also fostering something that is taking shape, and trying to be faithful to it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Absolute is Our Father

"The Absolute, the Mystery, is Father.... This truth that Christ has revealed does not diminish the Absolute. Rather, it deepens our knowledge of the mystery: Our Father who art at the depths, who art in heaven, Our Father who art in my profound roots, Thou who art now making me in this instant, who generate my path and guide me to my destiny! You can no longer retract after hearing these words of God. You can no longer go back. But, at the same time, the mystery remains, remains more profound: God is father, but he is father like no other is father. The revealed term carries the mystery further within you, closer to your flesh and bones, and you really feel it in a familiar way, as a son or daughter. There is no one who respects the sense of truth and is as devoted to his father as when the father is an intimate companion."
Luigi Giussani, The Religious Sense, chapter 15

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Relationships: At The Heart of Love is Sacrifice

I write because I am trying to understand what it means to be a human being, and in seeking that understanding I am looking at the experience of a very particular human being: myself. As anyone who reads this knows, as soon as I look at "myself" I find that what I see are relationships, concrete relationships with real other persons; relationships that take me beyond myself.

I find that I am not an impenetrable atom, an isolated individual who creates his own identity. I am not simply a thing that is "there by itself." I have never been an isolated, autonomous entity, not for a single moment. I came into existence as someone's son, and the dawn of my awareness is full of the memory of being a son, a brother, a grandson, and a nephew. I soon began to discover that I was also a "friend," and as the years have gone by I have discovered the value of this relationship on all of its many different levels.

And then I became a husband, and here I have really learned that I am nothing by myself, that I must share myself, share my life, live in communion with a someone else. I have learned this not by philosophy, but by hard human experience, not only by the joys of giving and sharing many blessings, but also through dark and difficult times, through recognition that the ugliness I found inside myself was a cause of real suffering to another human being, and that we had to give and receive and share "love" together even in these ugly, painful places. At the heart of love and of all relationships is this mysterious thing called "sacrifice." You really know that you belong to someone when you just give without expecting anything back, you just give because there is this other person who is with you and who needs you in order to keep herself together and move forward.

You know you really belong to someone when you are humbled, when another suffers and makes sacrifices for you, and carries burdens with you because you are together with her in life. You know you really belong to someone when she makes space in her life for your faults, when she treats you with patience and compassion. It can be a grubby business, like digging a trail through the woods, but some new sense arises in the midst of this struggle. You are going somewhere together, and you need each other to get there. Even more so, there is a truth that begins to emerge: you both want to get there together. You sacrifice because you really love the other person, you want her to arrive at her destiny, and it is the same destiny as your own.

And, of course, there are others on the path too.

At a certain point in my life, "I" suddenly acquired the identity of "Daddy." I tell all the amusing stories, because that is my nature and also because--by the blessing of God--we are a cheerful, endearing, open hearted bunch. But these children have heard their father's cries of pain and have seen his incapacity and his withdrawl. They have also seen that he loves them, that he struggles to be present to them, and they know that he prays for a strength that he does not possess by his own power. They also know that he and their Mommy love each other.

These are relationships that are already taking new forms, and will change throughout life. I live each day and try to respond, knowing that "the future" will bring sacrifices and suffering and also some foretaste of true joy.

God, of course, makes everything possible. It is all the story of a fundamental relationship, the one that makes me exist: my relationship with God. I dwell with God in the silent and secret places of my own heart. But in the depths of that heart I find the others that I have been called by God to love. He has brought us together to love one another and serve one another and let His mercy shine through us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

There Is A Story

Beautiful, mild winter days.

The arc of the sun is higher in the sky each day. Flower buds here and there have sprouted in the grass, but the great trees are still bare and black against the sky striped with clouds.

The days go by quickly. The world moves along, and it seems as if everything is going to go on just like it is now. But soon it will be Lent, and then Spring, and then Easter and then Summer.

I can look back to last year's blog entry, or a diary entry from twenty years ago, and wonder where the time has gone. The events seems to be right there, and the written word clothes the memory and gives vivid witness to its continuing presence in the soul.

Some things seem the same always. A generation ago, I saw this same sky on a winter's afternoon. I breathed this same air and felt the same warmth of the sun. And yet, the people who I care most about in the world, the people with whom I share every day, were unknown to me. Twenty five years ago, I had not yet met Eileen. I could not even imagine her, and the life we share together. So much that makes up who I am simply did not exist. The children did not exist. The sky looked just as it does now, but I was alone.

And in another generation, the sky will again glow as it does now. What kind of turmoil will the world have endured between now and then? Where will we all be?

I will have continued, and perhaps completed, my part in this story. There is nothing vivid about the future, except what I have learned up to this moment, which convinces me that everything is already present in hope. I know that there is a story, and that I am not meant to be alone.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Taken Apart and Rebuilt

I have been in substantial remission for over a year, and I have begun to push a little on the frontiers of the delicate balance of activity and rest. For example, I have begun to work part of the day in the office where my children go to school (and where Eileen teaches). I am free to read, write, research, and build up my networks online, but I am also available as an "extra grown-up" who answers the phone and is available to lend a hand in whatever needs to be done. As time goes on, I expect that they will find more things for me to do, and I look forward to that.

It's a far cry from teaching college and graduate students and being chairman of the Theology department. But a new life is emerging in the years after my early retirement from active teaching. Anyone who has read my book ( that I'm making a lot of progress here. You know that the mountain that stood between my bed and the brown chair in my "living room office" was very difficult to climb, and involved a lot of stumbling. Coming to the school would seem like a bigger move, but it has been easier. Perhaps I am getting stronger.

I still find that writing uses up a great deal of energy. It is a natural medium for me, and yet I find it very draining. Still, I press on. I have an ardor to express myself, and to communicate the things that I experience and learn. The energy to shape words (whether writing or speaking) is like a force of nature in me. And like everything in my nature, it is ambivalent. It is the energy of seeking the truth, and of the desire to encourage others in the search for truth. But it is also the energy of a clown who craves laughter, an acrobat who hungers for applause; it comes, in part, from the vacuum inside me that is desperately insecure, that wants approval again and again, that wants to take the feeling of being appreciated, consume it, and demand more.

It is human to want to be appreciated. But for me this desire is swollen and throbbing and itching in a way that can never be scratched. Why is it that way? Original sin, genetic predisposition, the inherent psychological imbalance of an intelligent and creative person, and 49 years of personal experience--struggling, failing, suffering, being hurt, and above all lack of trust in God. There is this world of mistrust inside me, fortified with many weapons and many defenses, raging for no real reason.

I need to be taken apart and rebuilt. Sometimes it feels like this is what is happening to me. It is a project that takes time.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit. I try to work "with Him," but above all I have to surrender my self to His work. He knows what needs to be accomplished.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Frost On The Windows

Thoughts on marriage.

It was a bit of a cold morning, and Eileen and I were both going out. The car had a thin layer of frost on windows.

We each grabbed a window scraper and worked different sides of the car. We arrived together at the back window, and began to scrape together, her on one half and me on the other.

She began in the corner and vigorous scraped little bits of frost in a straight line. I scraped a wide circle on my half and then began to rapidly crisscross inside it, opening random chunks of window to the light. Then I went back and started scraping through the frost in between. As I watched Eileen plowing away methodically on her corner, I began to reflect aloud.

Me: "The way we scrape the window reveals our different personalities, don't you think?"

Her: "Yeah, I'm patient and you're impatient!"

Me: "No! I was thinking more of the fact that you tend to go carefully from the details to build up the whole, while I tend to try to grasp the whole first and then work out all of the details."

I am also the type of person who turns window-scraping into a personality test, while my wife sees window scraping as...well...window scraping.

As we were both finishing up (she a little faster than me), she said: "Actually, it shows that my arms are short and yours are long!"

Me: "Oh yeah, that's true too!"

We got in the car and went on our way.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Trust: Why Does It Seem So Hard?

We must trust in Jesus. But why does this seem so hard?

If trust is something we are afraid of, then we must ask Jesus to take the fear, to heal us, to open our hearts so that we will be able to trust in Him. Whatever we are afraid of, we must bring it to Jesus, and let Mary help us.

And we must keep asking, keep praying, never give up.

God's plan for our lives is to heal our hearts and enable us to love Him. But we can't see this with our eyes. We need faith. We need to reach for God from wherever we are. He is with us and loves us and will open us up to that love in the way that He knows is good for us.

He wants us to ask for Him, not because He is holding back, but because He knows that it is by asking for His love that we open up space inside ourselves to receive Him.

I have begun to realize that I just have to give everything to Jesus. That means especially the feeling of resistance that I have toward Him, the feeling of wanting to keep myself because, in some ways, I trust myself more than Him.

I just have to give the whole big mess to Him and say, "Jesus here I am. Change what needs changing in me. Enable me to trust in You. Enable me to open myself. Come to all the hidden places where I throw up obstacles to Your love. Come to all the places where I am hurt, where I am damaged and afraid and cannot see that You are here for me."

That is my prayer. Dear good merciful Mother Mary, hold me, carry me.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Eucharist and the Fire of God's Love

Jesus remains with us in His own reality, the wonderful gift of Himself that is the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the mysterious act of His offering Himself to the Father for our salvation is continually "made present," and made available to our here-and-now lives so that we can join our hearts to the offering of His Heart. And from this Heart, the fount of Mercy flows, bringing us healing and empowering us to be the instruments of His Mercy in the world.

This is what the Eucharistic Liturgy means. Jesus has offered Himself once for all to the Father. But that one offering penetrates space and time and reaches us, because it is made on behalf of every human person. In the Mass the Church is enabled to offer to the Father nothing less than His Only Son, through those who are ordained to a share in the ministerial priesthood of Christ, and who offer this one sacrifice "in His Person," extending its presence throughout the world. The faithful Christian also offers Christ by virtue of his or her baptismal consecration; he or she offers the Eucharistic Christ through the ordained priest, and together with him. The Christian who offers and then receives the mystery of Christ is called to bring Him to the whole world.

The call of God's love and mercy extends beyond ourselves; He burns with love for every person, and in the Eucharist He longs to enkindle that flame in our hearts. For this reason the Christian is called to live and to manifest something new in the world. This is the world that is so poor, so confused, so struggling and seeking, so full of human persons who have been created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ, and who travel along broken paths searching for the One who loves them and calls them, but who they do not yet know. It is also the world of those who have rejected God and those who ignore God, but who He continues to seek and to draw back to Himself. God's Mercy works in their hearts, mysteriously, but it also works through us and wants to manifest itself and give itself through us. God wants the beauty and the glory of His Mercy to shine through us, so that those who are burdened by the riddle of life's meaning may see that God Himself has brought something new into history as an answer to the human question.

Here we are, poor earthen vessels of His love. We ourselves are so much in need of healing and of experiencing His love and mercy. Our mission is not one of winning over the world to our party, as if the transformation of creation somehow came from our own selves and was the construction of our own brilliance and coherence. No, our mission is to let Christ win us, and win the world with us and through us. The conversion of the hearts of others is linked to our continuing conversion, our growing in love for Him and our solidarity with all our brothers and sisters--our willingness to suffer and share all the burdens of being human.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Presentation of the Lord

Adorn your bridal chamber, O Zion,
and welcome Christ the King.
Salute Mary, the heavenly gate.
For she, the mother who has never known wedlock,
has brought into the temple
Him who shone forth before the ages from the Father,
and who in latter times was born from a virgin womb.
He who gave the law upon Mount Sinai,
makes Himself obedient to the ordinance of the law.
His mother has brought Him
to the priest and righteous elder,
whose appointed lot it was to see Christ, the Lord.
Simeon, receiving Him in his arms,
greatly rejoiced, crying aloud:
"Now, O Lord, let your servant depart in peace,
for mine eyes have seen your salvation.
The Lord of life and death,
and the Savior of our soul."

From Vespers for the Presentation, Byzantine Liturgy

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Josefina Dreams of a Monster

I hope Josefina doesn't have prophetic dreams.

Today in the car she said, "I had a bad dream. There was a monster and it was chasing me. And then my Daddy came and tried to kill the monster, but the monster killed my Daddy!"

Oh dear. Her Daddy was driving the car as she was telling this to Lucia. It sounded like she had told this story already to her friends at school. I said, "What? What? If a monster ever attacked you, your Daddy would kill it for sure!" Gosh, I'm not about to let myself be killed by some monster. No way, I'll get that monster, I will!

"But this was in the dream!" she insisted. She was right, of course. If it was in the dream, then it was in the dream. I can't change that. So she continued, "The monster killed my Daddy, and then John Paul came and tried to kill the monster, but the monster killed John Paul!"

Yikes, I thought. Did we watch something recently with monsters in it? Or is it one of these books I keep reading her, like The Grouchy Ladybug or maybe a Maurice Sendak story. Monsters?

But there was more: "Then the killed! And my Daddy waked up, and John Paul waked up. They were only pretending to be dead. They were sleeping. It was very scary!"

We got home and I took her out of the car and carried her. She held onto me and said, "I don't like scary dreams!" But then, as soon as we got inside the house, she said, "I'm gonna draw a picture of the dream."

There is the picture, above. The monster is in the upper left corner, lashing out with his two long arms. Daddy can always be recognized by the hair sticking out of his chin. John Paul is on the lower left, getting killed with me while on the right the terrified Jojo watches. Wow, pretty intense! Now she doesn't want to look at the picture because "it's scary."

It often occurs to me that this little girl is the person that I spend more time with every day than any other person in the whole world. Except for her school, we are pretty much together all the time. She's often doing her own things, of course, but she's usually not very far away. My day is full of doing things for her, taking care of her, changing her clothes, making sure she eats (the girls make her lunch) and goes potty and washes her hands, putting on band-aids, and keeping a part of an eye on her always to make sure she's not getting into trouble. And we have little talks, and we read and read. Of course, she goes out to play and I run errands and things. Still, we're not separated for very long. Sometimes she just curls up in my big brown chair next to me while I'm working on the computer, and reads books to herself.

She gets into trouble all the time. She climbs on the furniture. In some ways, she still has some toddler characteristics (besides wearing toddler clothes). This is all normal for a pree-mie who went through what she had to endure in the first seven months of life. So, for example, she still has "accidents" (you know what I'm talking about)--that is definitely not fun. But we're working on that and making progress. She's smart...sometimes too smart for her own good! She has crying fits when she doesn't get her way. If I'm lucky, she'll do what I say after the third time I say it. I love Josefina and, yes, she's very cute, but she's also a pain in the neck. It's a pain I'm glad to have.

As I am writing this, I hear a little voice from behind another chair, "Daddy?" What, sweetie? "I'm still scared of the monster."