Monday, April 30, 2012

Do I Belong To Myself?

I am frustrated with myself. I don't have the energy to expand the scope of my work. Why not? What is it that afflicts me? My daily work seems to be to gather myself together and live like a man. It is such a struggle just to live every day and not fall into a hole. But I am doing it. Every day is a little victory.

And I write a few words. I chip away at the work of communication. Such is my charism, but how is it meant to grow? When I write, I just say the same thing over and over again. Well, perhaps its something that needs to be heard.

But I've had so much education, so much experience, so much cultivation of mind. I have been gifted in so many ways. Can't I be more useful, more productive?

But these are not the right questions. I have an image of what I'm supposed to be, and I feel defeated because I don't live up to it. It is only human to have goals and aspirations. But I am trying to measure myself. That is the basis of my frustration.

Who do I belong to? Do I belong to myself? Am I defined by my own project (and it's a worthy project: bearing witness to the Gospel and the dignity of the human person)? How do I stand in relation to my project? I am a failure.

But I need to remember, again and again, that I am not alone.

The fact is, I don't really know who I am. I don't know what God's will is for me. I don't know the depths of my own self-deception, or the wounds that I've caused by my sins.

I don't know what needs to be healed.

But Jesus is here. Jesus is present. What matters is to love Him, right now.

I must abandon everything to the merciful and compassionate Heart of Jesus, my Crucified and Risen Lord, who loves me.

He asks for my love all day, often in simple things that I would rather ignore. I pray that I might recognize Him and be drawn to Him.

I need salvation. I need Him.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come into my life! Take the whole mess of my life and transform me.

I belong to You.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Just Love Baseball

The end of the month of April draws near. Ah, April! Springtime, Easter time, and--for the baseball fan--the season of dreams. Anything seems possible in April.

The baseball season begins in early April. By this time the baseball fan (especially a young fan) has already followed an elaborate ritual of preparation. Around February, he starts looking for current season baseball cards at store checkouts. When I was a kid in the early 1970s, a small pack of cards plus a stick of gum cost 10 cents! The larger packs were 25 cents! Now they are $1.99 and $2.99 (I guess that corresponds to the overall value increase of everything).

Baseball cards are followed by the start of "Spring Training" in late February and exhibition games in March. Baseball teams go to Florida (or Arizona, increasingly) for spring training. This is all fun in the beginning, but eventually we get itchy for the "regular" season to start. April ushers in the season, and the Major League standings begin appearing once more in the daily newspapers (or these days, on the mlb website). Suddenly, the great dance of baseball begins. 30 teams (when I was a kid there were 24) begin a six month odyssey of daily play, with all its subtlety and nuance, all its strength and speed and gracefulness, all its peculiar instincts and--especially--its battle of wits, practical intelligence, and strategy.

Baseball appears like a leisurely game to an untrained observer, and in a certain sense, it is. That is part of its beauty. Certainly it requires athletic skill and energy if it is to be played well. But even as it engages the senses and the imagination in so many ways, baseball is in a very special way a form of "play" for the mind. For someone who grows up with the game, all of its rules and peculiarities and strategies are learned until they develop into a sort of "practical wisdom" that grasps how the game is played, and finds exercise and enjoyment in its rhythm. The baseball fan understands the significance of so many aspects of the game that seem to an outsider as slow, dull, and boring. The baseball fan appreciates the drama of the game. There is, in fact, a great deal of drama.

And when spring comes, if you are young (as I once was, and as John Paul still is), you break out the gloves and balls and bats that have been sitting in the carport for what seems like forever, and start pitching, catching, and hitting with whoever happens to be around, or--if necessary--by yourself.

"Little League," of course, is an American institution, but for whatever reason I never played as a child, and I haven't (yet) gotten involved in it with any of my children. John Paul has participated in baseball camps and a few summer leagues. We were hoping that Chelsea would have a team this year, but they chose tennis instead. So John Paul is playing tennis (which is fun too), but we're still lobbying for baseball.

I grew up in a city neighborhood, with a playground and baseball field right behind my house. My baseball playing experience as a kid was entirely "pick-up" with neighborhood friends, and we had different versions of the game to accommodate limited groups of kids (there was even a "one on one" version--batter and pitcher) The ball field had a couple of buildings on one side, and we would chalk in strike zones on the walls.

As soon as the snow melted and the mud dried up, I would venture out to the field with ball and glove, and begin pitching against that wall, while taking in the smell of the dusty field and my leather glove. I dreamed of being a great pitcher. April is a time for dreams.

And always, there were games on the radio. Today, the games are all on TV, and although we don't watch every minute of every game, I do find baseball a relaxation for my all to often anxious and restless mind. It is not a distraction. I am convinced that it remains for me a constructive exercise for my mind and, in its own small way, a healing for my soul. Life is impoverished without genuine play.

We are only a few weeks into the season, and the Washington Nationals are in first place. Haha! April is a time for dreams, indeed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mysteriously Embraced By God's Love

I found this text from Pope Benedict today and it meant a lot to me. Life is indeed mysterious; it is not at all about an "efficiency and well-being" that corresponds to our narrow expectations. We are made for so much more. We are made to belong to God, and we really can't imagine what this means. But He wants our questions to become prayers; He wants our suffering to become awareness of our need for Him, and it is there--even when we don't understand, and can do nothing except place ourselves in His hands--that He transforms us.
"It is in times of pain that the ultimate questions about the meaning of one’s life make themselves acutely felt. If human words seem to fall silent before the mystery of evil and suffering, and if our society appears to value life only when it corresponds to certain standards of efficiency and well-being, the word of God makes us see that even these moments are mysteriously 'embraced' by God’s love. Faith born of an encounter with God’s word helps us to realize that human life deserves to be lived fully, even when weakened by illness and pain. God created us for happiness and for life, whereas sickness and death came into the world as a result of sin (cf. Wis. 2:23-24). Yet the Father of life is mankind’s physician par excellence, and he does not cease to bend lovingly over suffering humanity. We contemplate the culmination of God’s closeness to our sufferings in Jesus himself, the Word incarnate. He suffered and died for us. By his passion and death he took our weakness upon himself and totally transformed it."
Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini 106

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why Am I Afraid?

Dear Mother Mary,
When I say Totus Tuus,
I know I'm holding back.

You give birth to Jesus in my life.
Through you, I learn to live as His brother.
Through you,
The Word becomes flesh in my life.
Through you comes my salvation,
and my healing.
I am "totally yours"
but I am afraid, even still.

You are my merciful Mother.
I am in the folds of your mantle,
and the crossing of your arms.
And I know your tenderness.
Why am I afraid?
Jesus is here.
Why am I afraid?

Is it because I have been hurt in life,
lashed and torn,
Life seems to attack me sometimes
and I am powerless to defend myself.
Life is hard
and I am afraid of the pain.

I know it is not entirely my fault.

But I cannot deny my fault is there,
and that I fight God's grace,
contesting every inch of ground.
This causes me sorrow,
that I struggle against my own healing.

Still I come to you, my Mother,
I come as your petulant,
complicated, quarrelsome son.
With all my objections
and all my resistance
and all my fear,
I come to you.
I ask you to embrace my life
in your maternal heart
and nurture me in your patience.

Please bring me to Jesus.
Please give me confidence.
Please bring me healing.
Please obtain for me the grace of the Holy Spirit
to renew my life,
to change what needs changing in my life.

I am totally yours
and all that I have is yours
including my weakness
and my resistance (if that makes any sense,
and I think that it does).

I pray for joy.
I pray to be free from fear.
I pray for conversion.
I pray for healing.

Jesus is here. Deepen my trust in Him.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Loving Me in This Moment

There are times when I remember that I belong to Jesus, that the source of my identity and the energy that draws me to seek and build the good is His love and mercy. "I no longer live; Christ lives in me" which means that "I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me."

Living faith is trust, and that requires me to realize that the source of my life is something more than a man who lived and died two thousand years ago. He lives. He loves me and gives Himself to me now. There are moments when I remember this truth, this real fact that defines me and that defines reality right now.

But too often, it slips away from the present. Somehow, the truth of "Jesus loving me in this moment" subtly turns into "the Christian worldview" or "the Christian system of thought." These latter things, of course, have their place as aspects of living with Jesus in the Church and in the world.

The problem comes when they become a substitute for the awareness of belonging to Jesus, of being in a relationship with the Person of Jesus who is present in my life, who is working by the power of His Spirit to make me an adopted son of the Father. When "Christian thought" loses its vital connection with the Person of Jesus, it atrophies. It becomes my system, my project, my way of defining myself.

Its so easy to become a member of the "Christian party," to fight for "Christian ideas," or even to talk about things like love, mercy, and presence (such as I am doing right now) and forget all about the Person of Jesus Christ! I can so easily live as if He doesn't exist, which means, of course, that I live in the presumption that everything depends on me. And that I am alone.

I am not saying that it is necessary to constantly conjure a picture of Jesus in my mind, or be obsessed with explicitly thinking about Him at every moment. This is a living reality, an intimacy, an attachment of the heart, an impetus for love.

He loves me and gives Himself for me: this is what constitutes the real value of my "self." How much do I live this and depend on it? Very little. I live in forgetfulness and distraction. But He never forgets.

The only way to grow in this awareness is to pray. "Jesus deepen my awareness of Your presence in my life. Deepen my trust in You."

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Whisper of "Forever"

I am spending time with my family, and I am content.

And yet....

It is not only in disappointment and suffering, but also and especially in the experience of good things that the yearning of the heart awakens, and I am wounded with wonder and hope. I expect and reach toward the Mystery for whom I have been made. Every true satisfaction, in this world, contains within itself this deepening of desire.

The experience of being loved is a sign and a promise that points to my destiny, where everything will be fulfilled. And so I can truly appreciate and receive with tenderness and joy the genuine goodness of this moment. I do not grasp it in a selfish and possessive way; rather I hear its call and am empowered with the confidence to give myself.

When the fragile moments of life whisper "forever" to our hearts, they are not lying.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A New Earth

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

"And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1).

"They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

"The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 40:28).

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1-3).

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

"Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41).

"...and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32).

"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid" (John 19:41).

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:19-21).

"For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:9-10).

"Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Call To Love

It is so easy for me to forget that the human beings I encounter every day are real persons. Of course I forget about the check-out person at the grocery story, or the person behind the fast food counter or the drive through window. The person at the bank. The person in the car in front of me. The person on the other end of the phone when I need tech support. They are all just widgets whose purpose for existing is reduced to fulfilling my needs.

Well, perhaps I don't entirely forget them. I try to be nice and polite. These encounters are brief, and barely scratch the surface of my consciousness. Still, I know that I am not adequate to the reality that they bear; I am numb to the miracle of the unique persons all around me.

It's even worse when something goes wrong.

Part of it is simply the weight of being human. I'm tired. I'm in a hurry. I am troubled by my own frustrations, and am anxious to accomplish a task (even a simple one) because I have been hurt by the experience of failure and I am afraid of failing again. I am physically and mentally incapable of handling stress. Perhaps I'm hungry. Or constipated. The wiring in my brain is all messed up, of course. I have issues, I have defense mechanisms, I have walls that I have built to protect myself, I have genetic predispositions to react in certain ways, I have hormones and an endocrine system that is--no doubt--out of balance. Biotoxins flow through my blood, the environment poisons me, the relentlessness of getting older wears me down. This is the human environment from which my conscious intentions, thoughts, and desires emerge.

But the fact is that I have free will. I am responsible for myself and my actions. Whatever problems I may have, my freedom is still summoned to grow in love. Every encounter with a person is an opportunity to love, however small. The call to love is greater than my weakness. But I am weak. I must learn to adhere to this greater reality that is love.

The call to love is a grace, and it is drawing me toward healing. Healing comes from grace. The capacity to recognize the human person comes from Christ, whose presence I must learn to recognize. How? I must pray. I must ask for Him to heal me and transform me. I must receive Him in the sacraments. I must follow those who have already grown in the art of living. I must listen, and be humble.

The need to recognize the person, and the possibility for love, penetrates the whole day. I must ask myself, "How often do I treat my wife as a 'thing,' a piece of my life rather than an other person to be loved?" How often do I look at my children and recognize that they are persons? It is easy to acknowledge all of this in theory, and write nice, appreciate essays about my wife and children. That's easy.

But in real life? In everyday things? The call of love is blocked by evasion, impatience, words ill-spoken, the subtle workings of power and manipulation, or just plain distraction.

How do I treat these people every day?

There is material for an examination of conscience right there: one that brings humility, and sorrow, and a memory that commits me again to the vocation of love and the work that it requires.

If I were alone in my own being, however, it would be a fruitless commitment. But I am not alone. Jesus is present, and He is at work in my life by the power of His Spirit.

I fail again and again. But Jesus is present. Jesus has conquered my weakness. I must never be discouraged. I must keep going to Him, seeking Him, asking for Him, letting Him build me up through the instruments of His grace, and learning more and more to recognize Him in other persons, in every circumstance, asking for my love.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


My wife and I were remembering a trip to New York we made "some years ago" for a college benefit. We were both struck by the realization that it was before any of the children were born. We were still newlyweds, and we had dreams about the future. But we didn't have any idea about these particular children. We couldn't have even imagined the faces of these kids. These particular human persons!

Marriage is an awesome thing!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Victorious Certainty That It Is Really True

Faith, hope and charity go together.
Hope is practised through the virtue of patience,
which continues to do good
even in the face of apparent failure,
and through the virtue of humility,
which accepts God's mystery
and trusts him even at times of darkness.
Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes
and gives us the victorious certainty
that it is really true: God is love!
It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts
into the sure hope
that God holds the world in his hands
and spite of all darkness
he ultimately triumphs in glory.
Faith, which sees the love of God revealed
in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross,
gives rise to love.
Love is the light
—and in the end, the only light—
that can always illuminate a world grown dim
and give us the courage needed
to keep living and working.
Love is possible,
and we are able to practise it
because we are created in the image of God.
[We are able] to experience love and in this way
to cause the light of God to enter into the world.

Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 39

Monday, April 16, 2012

Everything is Interesting

Easter Week is over, but the Easter Season continues until the feast of Pentecost at the end of May. School is starting up again, and for our Montessori kids, that is a happy event. Montessori children actually like going to school. I always find this remarkable and encouraging.

The John XXIII Montessori Childrens Center includes the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as an essential component in the overall Montessori program. Children starting at age three learn to be attentive to the liturgical seasons, and the change from Lent to Easter will be marked by a special prayer "service" that the students prepare under the guidance of their teachers.

Meanwhile they proceed with their academic work. In a certain sense, they never stopped. One thing I have observed about my own kids is that Montessori has shaped them into "learners" all day, every day. They find everyday reality interesting, and are often engaged in some kind of constructive or exploratory "play." They are open to discovering the good in things, and the good that develops through their engagement with things.

Reality is good. Created things are good. The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is good, even if he or she is burdened by limitations and requires guidance and discipline to remain focused on reality. This is a pedagogy that has a tremendous confidence in the capacity of being to reveal its truth, goodness, and beauty; to shape the minds and hearts of children who are placed in an environment that allows them to encounter the being of things.

Is this confidence well founded?

The world is full of violence, tragedy, and ambivalence. Does this pedagogy rest on some naive ideology that ignores evil, destruction, and suffering, or that somehow proposes to change the world by its own efforts?

In fact, a genuine Montessori pedagogy--faithful to the vision of the foundress--has nothing to do with ideology. Maria Montessori's program and all her efforts and insights were informed by her own profound Catholic faith, and her experience of the life of the Church. The Montessori environment, and the activity of the teacher, are designed with an awareness that children are marked by the effects of original sin.

But the confidence of this pedagogy is based on two factors. The first is that original sin has wounded but has not destroyed human nature and the human capacity for the good. The second, and truly the central factor, is that the world has been redeemed. The world has been redeemed.

I was listening to a talk given recently by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete in which he reminded us of an essential aspect of the truth about Easter: Christ has already won the victory. History and reality belong to Him.

Certainly, life is a trial. But it is a trial that we conquer in Christ. The redemption is a reality that has meaning for every person. All of creation--all of the experience of truth and goodness--has been penetrated by the victory of Christ's redeeming love and the glory of His presence as Lord of the cosmos and of history.

Christ shapes the journey of every human person. Yes, even of the billions who do not know Him. He is present in the world as the One toward whom everything points.

He is the One who awakens our interest in reality, in truth. Msgr. Albacete said, "This is what Christ has come to do—to revive, to give life to our interest so that we can recognize His victory, and therefore our victory."

We are speaking, of course, within the context of a realism about the continuing human struggle with original sin, recognizing also that even this struggle has been redeemed by Christ.

The Montessori pedagogy is one that is infused with the realism of Christian hope, and the confidence that those who bear this hope can generate an environment where nature and grace can fascinate a child, and lead him or her forward in the personal search for the path to their Destiny.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Divine Mercy Sunday

Infinite Mercy.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Take my whole self.
Enfold me in Your most compassionate Heart.
Keep me always with You.
Touch with Your Mercy all those You have entrusted to me.
Have Mercy on us,
and on the whole world.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

God Wants To Create Me Anew

What is mercy? Mercy goes out to the one who is in need, and gives what is necessary. Mercy shines especially when it is gratuitous, when it is extended to someone who doesn't deserve it, or even to someone who is trying to resist it. Mercy is solidarity with the need of another; it is a love that calls out to the other in his solitude, that invites him to healing, that touches his solitude from within with the desire and the promise of freedom and transformation. Mercy is the origin, and the energy, and the fulfillment of hope.

God is Infinite Mercy.

And our relation to God is one of pure need. We depend on Him for our very existence; outside of God's creative and sustaining action, we are literally nothing. And each of us exists gratuitously. We exist as "gift," as continually receiving our being from God. So we are totally dependent on Him, but not as slaves, for He gives us to ourselves in such a way that we really belong to ourselves. Only inside of His gift do we find our true selves. Only God can create a person. Each of us is a mystery, existing by that creative power that is beyond anything we can understand.

Each of us is a work of Mercy.

The God who gives us being, out of nothingness, can bring new life to restore us from all the violence we have done to ourselves. He can create anew, overcoming the "voluntary nothingness" of our sins.

If I am a sinner, I must remember this. If I have willingly alienated myself from God by denying Him or doing violence to His wise and loving plan for the world and for the truth of the human person, I do not need to be broken and destroyed forever. I do not need to live in my self-made abyss of separation from God and from my own true identity.

God wants to create me anew. He has made the way, and His grace is already stirring up in me the desire and the hope for healing.

I can choose to wallow in my own abyss, or I can cry out to Him, I can beg Him that the mercy He has already given might take hold of me and change me. I can trust in Him. Trust reaches out to a Presence that I recognize. It adheres to that Presence, and follows Him. It surrenders itself to the ways of God's mercy and love. Trust never gives up.

If I trust in Him, He will really change me, He will give me a new heart, He will work miracles. There is no evil in me so great that He cannot heal, and He wants to awaken, change, and give me a new energy of love beyond anything I can imagine. I must trust in Him. I must adhere to Him. I must follow Him. He is Mercy.

On the Cross, He has revealed and given His Mercy, to me, to each one of us. And He remains with us in the Church, in the miracle of the sacraments, and in the faces of those people who have shown us that it is possible to be changed, to live in a new way.

I must go to Him in trust, to let Him heal me and transform me. I trust in Him to make me into the person He has created me to be.

"O blood and water, which have poured forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You."

Friday, April 13, 2012

God Has Come To The Place Where I Am

There is no Easter without the Cross.

We sometimes hear these words spoken as a kind of exhortation and warning, as if to say, "Don't think it's gonna be so easy. Joy comes through sacrifices. You have to sacrifice. You have to suffer." Fair enough. That's certainly true.

But let's not reduce the mystery of the Resurrection to an ethical reflection. The Resurrection, before anything else, is an event. Indeed, the Cross and Resurrection together are the real event in the world that gives hope to our lives.

Most of us know very little about real joy, but we know a great deal about suffering. Our lives are open wounds. We are all suffering. The horizon of all our human hopes is frustration. So many human projects are designed to distract us from this fact with temporary satisfactions, or evade it with subtle ideologies. It's the survival instinct: we can't bear to look our own suffering in the face, and yet--sooner or later--it will impose itself upon us, and we will withdraw into resentment and bitterness, or perhaps yield to it with a dignified resignation.

If someone says to us, "God loves you," we might be inclined to reply (not without reason) "What does that mean?"

Easter, without the Cross, is just someone else's triumph. It's just another distracting dream about a happiness that doesn't exist.

My desire is for the fullness of life. My experience so often seems to suggest that there is no way to get there, that I am trapped in suffering and frustration, and that the best that life can offer is distractions.

Easter, however, proclaims that God has done something in history, and that He is doing something in my life. He was crucified and died and rose from the dead to begin a New Creation.

The Cross is good news, because the Cross means that God has come to the place where I am. That place is suffering, and above all the suffering caused by the fact that I have made choices that have irrevocably screwed up my life: I have sinned! He has united Himself to me in that place of solitude, and from there He has Risen. This is what it means to say, "God loves you." It means He has united Himself with my whole life, He has taken all the depths of me, and is even now working to awaken my heart and penetrate inside my sorrow and my misery and the guilt that I don't want to face. He is here, creating a new possibility for my freedom, a new possibility for love.

And He's not an abstract God, or some purely interior divine force. He has a human face. He is Jesus, a man. He lives through a people in history, who He has "assembled"--the ekklesia. I don't have to make it up. It's real. It's here. It's a gift. It's a path that can be followed, and I can begin now, because He is present in the place where I am; He has penetrated the depths of my suffering and my guilt and by His love He is creating in me the power to change and be Love.

He is Risen from the dead. Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trust in God, Don't Be Afraid, Be Ready to Say Yes

Easter Week is Divine Mercy Week.

We have prayed the Divine Mercy Novena from St. Faustina's diary every Easter Week of our married life (and me also the year before, in a way that was very significant).

In the Spring of 1995, I was nearing the end of my first year of teaching at Christendom College. I had been through a lot of discernment, spent a year in Rome, and was following the path that Msgr. Guissani and others who were guiding me in my life had indicated. Now, I had a teaching position. It seemed like the time to give my life in a deeper way.

I had once been comfortable as a footloose graduate student, dreaming about great intellectual projects, collecting experiences of life, and generally evading responsibility as much as possible.

That changed when I went to continue my studies in Rome. There I spent a year living at the house of the Fraternity of San Carlo Borromeo, the missionary society of priests (and now religious sisters too) associated with the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation. I lived with men who were preparing to be missionaries, and I watched them closely. They amazed me.

They were ordinary, down to earth men, and several of them became my good friends. I saw their readiness to commit themselves radically to the mission of the Church. I saw them preparing their hearts to go anywhere in the world they were sent. Africa. South America. Siberia. The Holy Land. And the desolate places of the developed world, to begin anew the mission of evangelization.

I could not watch them live without becoming convinced that I too was called to give my life, in some form. I was not called to be a missionary, although I allowed myself to be shocked and terrified by the possibility of this ideal. But the head of the Society, a priest of great personal sensitivity and deep prayer, assured me that this was not my vocation. I was called to live as a layman and a professor in the world.

But I learned that my vocation was also a Christian vocation, and that in order to carry it out I must give myself, commit myself, take responsibility for something greater than myself. I needed in my own life the kind of "readiness" that these men were cultivating.

I also began to realize that I might really be able to do this, with God's grace. And in my life and circumstances, that grace might very well take the form of "another person." I began to discover that marriage is really a vocation.

And so I kept my eyes and my heart open, during that first year of teaching. I prayed for God's will to be done. I began to become convinced that my vocation was joined to that of another person. But who?

I prayed the Novena of the Divine Mercy that Easter Week, asking God to send me the woman he wanted me to marry, and to send her "soon"! Rather demanding and impatient of me, eh?

About a week later, I got a phone call from my old friend Eileen Balajadia. I hadn't talked to her in some years, although we had kept up a regular correspondence. But as far as I knew, she had put down her roots in Texas, and I was in the process of planting myself in Front Royal.

We talked for a long time. She revealed that she wasn't happy with her teaching position in Texas, and was thinking of moving back to the Northern Virginia area, where we had met five years ago.

Of course, I was sure Eileen just wanted to be my friend....

But something inside me said, in a very simple way, "Trust in God. Be ready. Be open. Pay attention. Don't be afraid. Follow the signs. Be ready to say yes."

We didn't know, when we were talking on the phone in April 1995, that 14 months later we would be married. (I've told that story elsewhere on this blog.) But God knew. God brought us together in His Mercy.

Today we have five children, two of them adolescents. When I fell ill, my wife's work as a teacher blossomed in new ways. Now I am being healed and God is opening up new directions for me. Still, I worry about the future in hundreds of ways. Why? God has promised us that He will take care of us in His Mercy. He has never failed us. He hasn't promised that it will be easy, of course. I think that trust in God is the great and difficult and necessary thing that all of life is trying to teach us.

Eileen and I have to help each other to sustain and deepen that same attitude of heart:

Trust in God.
Be ready.
Be open.
Pay attention.
Don't be afraid.
Follow the signs.
Be ready to say yes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trust: Walking in the Hope of the Resurrection

Easter Tuesday. Today I present one of my favorite poems from my book Never Give Up ( Those of you who know the book are aware of the way in which its narrative is interspersed with poetic prayer reflections, not unlike those I've posted on this blog. I thought this text was appropriate during Easter week, as our daily toil is touched by the glory of a great hope. At the heart of this "Divine Mercy Week" is the aspiration and the prayer for the virtue of trust. We hardly even know what it means to trust. Even this we must ask of Jesus: "Teach me how to trust in You completely." For if we do not know, what else can we do besides ask? But He will answer. He will form that awareness, that simplicity, that spiritual childhood within us.


Jesus, I trust in You
even in the turmoil of this night:
O let me feel in its wild winds
the breath of Your eternal lips
        enlivening, expanding,
        spiriting dull flecks of my ashy ground
        into form, flesh, body
        of my New Eden everlasting.

For it is You who speak me,
You who call me by name in each moment,
You who penetrate
the spaces within me that I do not know,
the moments of me
        not yet birthed by time,
        nor conceived in the tiny gaps and crevices of my mind,
        nor even beginning to trace dim shadows
               before my near-blind eyes.

It is You who see me.
You who grasp my hand and guide me
in the valley of shadows.
For You have taken every hollow trench
and scaled every slope,
to stand in the fiery sun that has burned me.
You have won the victory
that You proclaim and celebrate each moment,
each day,
when You call my name,
when You call me to awaken
        to the frail pieces of light
        and gray dust of earth’s every morning.

Save me!
For only You know me.
Shut my eyes and stop my ears
from phantom shades who cry out:
        “your name is slave,
         your name is fear,
         blackness is your life.”

You call my name.
O open my ear that I may hear Your voice,
For You carry, whole, within Your Living Light,
the only “me” that will ever glimmer and shine—
        pool of light,
like splendid diamond
clean and cut
with the lines of Your Face.
My real name:
sounding like song, and gushing—
        fresh, cold, sweet water of life,
        that rises up from the deep
        deep well
                of Mercy’s hidden spring.
You call me by a name never spoken before
and never to be uttered again.
Let me live, O Lord, by faith—near blind, near deaf,
        straining the ear of earth to hear the echo of my name
        in gifted speech of hinted truth,
        though shallow like shells:
                Child, Beloved, Likeness, Your Glory
                                              Your Glory.

Lead me,
by the Glory that slips between the crack
of faith’s eye,
        to trust in You,
        to spy the promise of all made new.
Grant me that glimpse,
of all earth’s pain and weight.
Of my fighting, faltering,
fumbling heart’s hope
        washed in White Wonder.

                from Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (
                [click link to order, hard copy or Kindle available]

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ is Risen: Happy Easter From The Janaros

"This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad."
Happy Easter from the Janaro family.
God bless you!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"It Is Finished"

I do not trust myself. I trust Jesus. Jesus I trust in You. Jesus, save me. Jesus, draw me to Yourself. Jesus, convert me, change what needs changing in me, penetrate the depths of my weakness, heal me and raise me up.

At the center of the event of our redemption there is an ineffable mystery. The grace of the Cross is something we receive in faith, hope, and love. It reaches us in our misery and transforms us from within. And the Cross makes it clear that Jesus has truly loved every human person, from the foundation of the world until the end of time. Somehow, this love makes itself present, in all of its greatness and ineffable generosity, to the freedom of every person.

What a blessing and what a responsibility it is to be entrusted with the task of bearing witness to this love, of offering ourselves in union with it, of praying to the Father that His mercy will prevail, that the human person will say "yes" to this love: For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. He seeks our hearts, and no sin--no matter how horrible--is beyond His reach. Let us say "yes" to Him, trust in Him, and pray that His saving love will break through and change the hearts of others. Let us struggle to make Him known and loved by those He has entrusted to us, and by those He wills us to seek out in the circumstances of our lives. Let us not be afraid of all the opposition of the world, for He has overcome the world. Never give up.

In his unforgettable Apostolic Letter On Human Suffering (1984), Blessed John Paul II goes to the very heart of the redemption, not to explain it but to set it forth in all of its mystery and glory. On Holy Saturday, as we feel with special keenness the whole Paschal Mystery, this stunning passage (from section 18) is worth citing at length, and worth reading:
Jesus's words "attest to this unique and incomparable depth and intensity of suffering which only the man who is the only-begotten Son could experience.... Not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the subject), but at least they help us to understand that difference (and at the same time the similarity) which exists between every possible form of human suffering and the suffering of the God-man.... When Christ says: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?", his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many times found expression in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and in particular in that Psalm 22 from which come the words quoted. One can say that these words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union of the Son with the Father, and are born because the Father "laid on him the iniquity of us all". They also foreshadow the words of Saint Paul: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin". Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the "entire" evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of his filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. But precisely through this suffering he accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as he breathes his last: "It is finished".

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Wood of the Cross Has Brought Joy to the World

Olive wood, hand carved crucifix from Assisi, on the wall next to the front door of our house.

"We worship your cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify your holy resurrection, for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world" (Antiphon from Morning Prayer, Good Friday).
"...the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world." Let us not forget the joy that is born from the event of this day. Salvation is accomplished. Blood and water flow forth from the Heart of Jesus. The Church is born. Man is reconciled to God. The mystery of the depth of Divine Love is revealed and given to us. It is the beginning and the foundation of the New Creation.

By faith, we recognize in Jesus Crucified the Glory of the God who is Love. We must not brood in an artificial gloom. Let us instead embrace our own sufferings and the sufferings of others who are in our lives, and offer them together with Jesus. On the Cross we receive that love of God that heals and fulfills the deepest desire of our being, the heart's desire to love and to be loved by the Infinite.

But it is more than this. We are given the possibility of sharing in God's love, of a participation in the Divine life. On the Cross, God the Son marries our hearts, and makes us children of the Father in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The human person, wounded and broken, but still searching for meaning, for the Infinite, for truth and goodness and beauty and love, encounters an unimaginable joy: the love of God penetrating the depths of every sin and pain and sorrow, taking it all up, transforming, healing, and drawing all things to Himself.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Christ Lives in Me

"We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, that through God’s gracious will he might taste death for the sake of all men. Indeed, it was fitting that when bringing many sons to glory God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make their leader in the work of salvation perfect through suffering" (Hebrews 2:9-10).
Jesus embraces the great mystery of His Passion; he "taste[s] death for the sake of all men." Jesus becomes the companion of all our sufferings, and He unites Himself to every person's death.

None of us knows when we will die. We receive every moment of every day as a gift from God for the fulfillment of our own vocations. Each of us is a unique person, a mystery whose life is held by the wisdom and goodness and mercy of God. The moment of death--that final moment in the history of our becoming "who we are"--is also God's gift, designed to correspond to the fulfillment of the unique calling that each of us has received. It is the passage to the whole encounter with the Destiny that defines every moment of our lives.

In Jesus that Destiny embraces our death from within, becomes a presence within its solitude, and transforms it into a moment of hope and self-abandoning love. What might otherwise seem like the loss of "myself" becomes, in union with Jesus, a moment to give myself over wholly to the Father in complete trust. The inevitable horizon of death encourages me to live every moment in trusting self-abandonment, in union with the One who said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Being a Christian means that even now "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Message of Love

"I was offered high government positions and asked to quit my struggle but I always refused to give up, even at the cost of my life. I do not want popularity; I do not want any position. I just want a place at Jesus' feet. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and indicate that I am following Jesus Christ. Because of this desire, I will consider myself most fortunate if -- in this effort and struggle to help the needy and the poor, to help the persecuted and victimized Christians of Pakistan -- Jesus Christ will accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and I want to die for Him."
These are the words of Shahbaz Bhatti, the well known Catholic Christian defender of minority religious rights in Pakistan. Indeed, he made that supreme sacrifice on March 2, 2011, when he was shot and killed by men who called themselves the "warriors of Islam." They issued a statement which included these words: 
" put a cursed Christian infidel Shahbaz Bhatti in charge of [the blasphemy laws review] committee. This is the fate of that cursed man." 
Though it is not my task to make the definitive judgment, it is certainly my opinion that these words express clearly the motivation that brought about his death. The Roman rite uses this term: "in odium fidei". It means "in hatred of the faith".

Bhatti was killed because he was considered a "cursed Christian infidel" who sought to defend the freedom of Christians to practice their faith, and also to defend the religious freedom of other non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan. He died defending the Church, and also the principles of justice, charity, and humanity.

And what was his response to this hatred and violence? He saw his destiny. He may be the first martyr to leave us a "video icon," a statement he made in this brief message, and that he wished to be made public in the event of his assassination, because "it is with the Muslim world I want to share the message of love. That is the only message that can bring the Muslim world out of the circle of hate and killings." During Holy Week, it is fitting to remember that in today's world, those who try to break the "circle of hate" are also being judged, condemned, murdered, and reviled as "cursed men." The victory of the Cross is visible in them today.

They bear "the message of love...."

Click the link to see the video, not the picture:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A New Form Of Worship

We await in hope what we have already begun to live:

     With Easter
     Jesus initiates 
     a new form of worship, 
     the worship performed by love, 
     and a new temple
     which He is Himself, 
     the Risen Christ, 
     through whom every believer 
     can worship God 
     “in spirit and truth" 
     (Benedict XVI).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Adventures of a Freshman

Who is that guy?

That's the dashing "Captain Denny" from a stage version of Pride and Prejudice.

That's the kid who got straight A's in his third quarter as a high school freshman.

That's the new Chelsea varsity tennis player (they had no baseball team this year, can you believe it?).

That's the kid who is old enough to be within months of getting his Learner's know, as in "to drive A CAR!"

He is all of this and more. John Paul is well launched on his adolescent journey. I keep waiting for the walls to come falling down on us, but they haven't...yet.

Certainly, he is a growing boy. The grocery budget has gone through the roof. When he was little it was so cheap to feed him. "Another mouth to feed" just sounded like one of those cliches. In fact, we had to force the kid to eat. Ha! I can't imagine what that was like (but thanks to technology, I don't have to--we have a video of baby John Paul eating his first bowl of hot cereal).

Obviously, he's growing in many ways. A lot of credit is due to the remarkable school he has been attending this past year. John Paul really seems to be blossoming at Chelsea Academy, where he is not only learning plenty of math and science, but also...gosh!...real humanities. The kid is reading Plato. In ninth grade.

I don't think I even knew who Plato was in ninth grade. And I went to a pretty good high school.

He is learning to expand his imagination and developing a more structured approach to logic and abstract concepts. He is encountering great minds and great ideas, and he is gaining a deeper awareness of the horizons of art and philosophy, as well as the profound correspondence between reason and Christian faith.

Of course, we've been trying to give him that since the day he was born. And given his natural gifts and his nerdy parents, no one is surprised to hear that John Paul is "smart." What makes us especially happy, however, is to be able to work with a school that shares our commitment to Christ and the Church, to building a solid and balanced Christian and human environment, to opening up opportunities for sports and other formative experiences, and to real friendships. It has been a good transition from the Montessori educational experience that has already formed him and helped prepare him to be an engaged, interested, and self-motivated person.

It was a year ago that I wrote a blog post about taking John Paul to a hockey game. Already, a year has gone by.

It's been a good year, thanks be to God.