Friday, November 30, 2012

The Dawning of a New, Different Humanity

The next day again John was standing
with two of his disciples;
and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said,
"Behold, the Lamb of God!"
The two disciples heard him say this,
and they followed Jesus.
Jesus turned,
and saw them following,
and said to them,
"What do you seek?"
And they said to him, "Rabbi,
where are you staying?"
He said to them, "Come and see."
They came and saw where he was staying;
and they stayed with him that day,
for it was about the tenth hour.
One of the two who heard John speak,
and followed him,
was Andrew,
Simon Peter's brother.
He first found his brother Simon,
and said to him,
"We have found the Messiah."

John 1:35-41

Msgr. Luigi Giussani reflects on what must have happened to Andrew on that day, and how it changed him:

"At last came this John, called the Baptist, living in such a way that all the people were struck by him and, from the Pharisees to the humblest peasant, they left their homes to go hear him speak, at least once. That day, we don't know whether there were many or a few, but two were there for the first time, and they were entirely eager, open-mouthed, in the attitude of people who had come from far away, and see what they had come to see with boundless curiosity, with a poverty of spirit, with a childish simplicity of heart.
"At a certain point, a person left the group and went off along the path leading up the river. When He moved off, the prophet John the Baptist, suddenly inspired, cried out, 'That is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.' The people didn't take much notice […] but those two, open-mouthed, with eyes wide open like children, saw where the Baptist's eyes were looking: at that man who was walking away.
"So, instinctively, they set off after Him, followed Him, timid and a little embarrassed. He realized that someone was following Him. He turned around. 'What do you want?' 'Master,' they replied, 'where do You live?' 'Come and see,' He said kindly. They went 'and saw where He lived, and stayed the whole of that day with Him.'
"We can easily identify with those two sitting there, watching that man speak of things they had never heard, yet so close, so fitting, so resounding. […] They did not understand; they were simply captivated, drawn, overwhelmed by Him speaking. They watched Him speak. Because it is by 'watching' […] that some people realized that among them there was something indescribable: a Presence not only unmistakable but incomprehensible, and yet so penetrating; penetrating because it corresponded to what their heart was waiting for, in a way beyond all compare.
"Their fathers and mothers had never told them with such evidence and efficacy what made the years of their life worth living. They hadn't been able to, couldn't have known how; they had said many other right and good things, but like fragments of something they had to try to grasp in the air to see if one matched with the other. A profound correspondence.
"Little by little as the words came to them, and their eyes, full of wonder and admiration, penetrated that man; they felt themselves changing, felt that things were changing: the echo of things changed, the meaning of things changed.
"And when they went home that evening, as the day came to an end–probably walking most of the journey in silence, because they had never spoken to each other as they did in that great silence in which an Other was speaking, in which He went on speaking and echoing within them, and they reached home, Andrew's wife saw him and said, 'What's happened to you Andrew?', and the children, too, looked at their father astonished: he was himself, but 'more' himself; he was changed. It was himself, but he was different.
"And when–as we said once, moved, with an image that is easy to bring to mind because it's so realistic–she asked him, 'What's happened?', he embraced her, Andrew embraced his wife and kissed his children: it was him, but he had never embraced her like that! It was like the dawning of a new, different humanity, a truer humanity.
"It was as if he were saying, 'At last!' without believing his own eyes. But it was too clear for him not to believe his own eyes!"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29: Dorothy's "Day"

Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day has been on the blogs in honor of the anniversary of her death (the day that many hope will eventually be her "feast"). Not surprisingly, she has also lit up comment boxes. It somewhat misses the point, however, to cherry-pick statements from her many writings on political and social topics in order to enlist her as an ally, condemn her as an extremist, or commence upon a long episode of head-scratching.

Dorothy Day's holiness does not depend on her being correct in all her judgments. She was trying to articulate things from the perspective of a profound life, a life in which her real Catholic faith was immersed in circumstances and places where most of us would rather not go.

In these times, however, many are discovering the fact that living our faith seriously in contemporary Western society is very difficult. Now more than ever, Dorothy Day presents a provocative witness--a woman of heroic faith and burning charity who stood throughout her life as a sign of contradiction to the dominant mentality of our culture, in all its manifestations.

Dorothy Day with Mother Teresa
But what strikes me (and challenges me) in a compelling way is her radical awareness of Christ. Her daily work was simple: she lived with Christ, she fed Christ, she clothed Christ, she gave Christ a place to sleep. She built houses where Christ would be welcome. She did this for over forty years. She was drawn to the presence of Christ in the suffering of people. This was always the focus of her attention.

It would do all of us some good to practice a bit more those works of mercy that require us to get dirty and uncomfortable. But even here Dorothy Day does not want to be "dismissed so easily." Like her personal friend Blessed Teresa (who gave her the crucifix of the Missionaries of Charity when she visited the sisters in Calcutta), she knew that this is something we all have to do at home. We want to recognize Christ and love Him more in those broken and needy people we live with every day.

Here is what Dorothy Day has to say about life:

We face the situation that there is nothing we can do for people except to love them.
We continue in our fourteenth year of feeding our brother and clothing him and sheltering him and the more we do it the more we realize that the most important thing is to love.
There are several families with us, destitute families, destitute to an unbelievable extent and there, too, is nothing to do but to love. What I mean is that there is no chance of rehabilitation, no chance, so far as we see, of changing them; certainly no chance of adjusting them to this abominable world about them, and who wants them adjusted anyway.
There is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God–please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.
If one loves enough one is importunate, one repeats his love as he repeats his Hail Marys on his rosary.
What does the modern world know of love, with its divorces, with its light touching of the surface of love? It has never reached down into the depths, to the misery and pain and glory of love which endures to death and beyond it.
We have not yet begun to learn about love. Now is the time to begin, to start afresh, to use this divine weapon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let's Start With Coffee

Here are some lessons I've begun to learn. I hope that I'm really learning them, and not simply spouting them off. In any case, they are reflections from my life. Often I do the opposite of what it says here, but I hope that years of failure are teaching me something.

Love the person. Find what is good in the person and encourage it, foster it, strengthen it, help them build on it.

There is something in every person that is worthy of affirmation. Affirm the good.

Listen to people. Even when they're wrong.

And don't do it just to be "polite". Try to understand what they are seeking, what "good" they are trying to protect, and what they fear. I know from my own experience that when I think or do something wrong, its usually because I am trying to avoid suffering. I also know that it never really works.

Compassion. I must be willing to join that person in their suffering. This is the place where they need love.

Not condescension.

Not false approval.

Love. Humble love.

I should bend down and let them step on my back so that they might see what's on the other side of their wall.

And then there are things we have in common.

I don't think I've ever met a person with whom I had nothing in common. Find that common thing, however small it may be. Let solidarity with the person begin there.

It may seem small indeed. The disagreements among people in the world today are prominent. We rub shoulders every day with people who have completely different ideas about the universe and the meaning of life. Perhaps the only thing we have in common is a need for coffee in the morning.

Very well, let's start with coffee. In this detail of life, a person is present to me. Here is a place where I can give myself to another person and they can give themselves to me.

If I take the risk, they might respond.

I might even go so far as to have tea, if that's what they prefer.

Do good.

Avoid evil.

We cannot create common bonds by betraying the truth. Not only is is wrong; it makes no sense. If a person refuses to accept reality, I can't falsify reality in order to be united with them. We can only build on a foundation of reality.

"Oh, so you cut people's throats. How interesting! What kind of knife do you like best?"

No, that's going nowhere. That's not helping anybody.

We cannot pretend that there is no evil in the world. There is great evil in the world. And people attach themselves to it. Love tries to find ways to help them break free.

Here especially I must remember to love myself. There's plenty of evil looking at me in the mirror. I need to do some breaking free, but how? Love, love? I don't even know how to love myself! That means I have to let myself be loved. Why is this so strangely difficult?

Sometimes it is necessary to fight. We need the grace to make the difficult judgment of when that time has come, as well as where and how it needs to be done.

Then, we must fight hard and fight fair.

Fight evil. Don't fight against the person. Fight for the person, and against the evil that they are using to destroy themselves and others. And don't fight for the advancement of self. Don't fight for vengeance.

This is not easy. The temptation is always there, to prove myself by vanquishing the other person. The temptation is especially strong when I know I'm right.

War. I fight wars every day, especially with the people who are close to me. These wars are often unjust, almost always ill considered, and usually indiscriminate. If I really want peace in the world, I should start with my own house.

The greatest weapon of mass destruction is right between my teeth.

But the very same can be used to build peace, and to communicate the truth in love.

The tongue: use wisely. Often, silence is the better thing. Only use the tongue with the help of God.

Really, what I need to do is just forgive people. But I can't do this unless I encounter a great, healing mercy in my own life.

I need mercy, present in my life right now. We all do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Just Want a Little "Ego Gravy"

O Lord, what is Your will for me?

Wait...hold it!
Do I really want to know?
I am
of what Your will might be.

Is it Your will that I make some sacrifice?
I can make sacrifices.
I can give up anything,
except the stuff I want to keep.

Is it Your will that I suffer?
If I say, "Thy will be done,"
am I gonna get walloped by something?

Father in heaven,
where do we stand?

As I see it,
You want me
to love You
above all things,
with all my heart,
and all my soul,
and all my mind,
and all my strength.

What do I want?

I want to love You
as much as I can...
as long as I can do other things too,
and as long as it doesn't get inconvenient.

When that happens,
I want to negotiate.

What are the rules?
What do I absolutely have to do
in order to avoid...
you know...the Other Place.

I know I don't want to go there.

I want to love You, really.
But I want to clear some space
where I can just take it easy,
where I can do my will
without offending You, of course
(or, at least, not too much).

What do I want?

I want to be a good person.
I want to have a good life.
I want to make some sacrifices for higher things,
but I would like to be secure in my basic comforts.

(n.b. "basic" means "first world basic")

I want money.
Of course I mean "honest" money;
I wouldn't dream of stealing.

In fact, I don't want to dream about stealing,
so I beg You to give me invincible ignorance
about where it all comes from
and whose getting ripped off.
After all, there's nothing I can do about that. Right?

I really love my wife.
And I will be faithful to her.
I also want to make my wife happy,
and I'm willing to work on that...up to a point...
beyond which I hope we can make a deal to put up with each other.

I want economic security (i.e. money).

Children? Oh yes!
I want wonderful children who will raise themselves.
But since they can't do that, of course I'm willing to help them.

I love my children.
I really do.
I want to fulfill my role as "father"
(By the way, what the heck does that mean?
How do I know I'm doing it right?)

I want better health,
but not so good that I lose my excuse for being lazy, heh.
Actually, I wish my health were so good
that I never felt the need to be lazy.

I want to maintain a good standard of living (i.e. I want money).

I want to do important work.
I want (easy) access to the resources
that can assist me
in this important work
(which means I need money).

I want to educate people.
In fact, I like nothing better than to teach them about You!
I really do want them to love You.
I hope they will love You more than I do.

I also hope they will love me.
I worry that maybe they don't love me.

I want them to praise You, O Lord.

I also want them to praise me...
obviously not the way they praise you,
oh no no no no.
I just want a little ego gravy.

And, of course
I hope they will pay me
some money
so that....

"Enough!" says the Lord God. "I already know these things you are telling Me."

And the Lord God says, "Here is what displeases me: this word "worry". I do not approve of this word."

"Why do you worry?
Why are you afraid?"

Ummm....oh, heh, that....well...
I'm afraid...that...maybe...I'm

And the Lord God is silent.

Oh...ah...of course I KNOW that You love me!

You created me, and give me my being,
and You sent Your Son who died on the cross for me....


Hmmm. ...but I'm afraid.

I'm afraid because....
Sometimes it just seems so strange, the whole thing.
Here I am, a screwed up human being.
Why me?
Why should I be loved?
I mean...there's nothing worth loving here,
I don't deserve to be loved...certainly not by You.
You know I'm nothing but a sham.
I've never done anything....

I kept on talking but I couldn't hear myself anymore. There was only the weight of His arms around me as He lifted me and drew me to Himself. And then it was quiet.

Monday, November 26, 2012

He Dwells With Us

Jesus healed the sick.  He spent a significant portion of His public ministry doing works of healing.

It is true that the healing of the body is a symbol of the healing of the person from sin. And it is also true that the miracles of healing demonstrated His divine power. But I am always touched by that particular indication given in the gospels: that He “had pity on them.”

Jesus came to save us from our sins. He came to save us through love. And that Divine and human love burned with compassion for all the fragility of our afflictions, our sickness, and our poverty.

We are not always healed of our sicknesses. God knows that our journey to Him takes us through darkness and pain. But He does not simply leave us to endure this alone; in His compassion He takes our suffering upon Himself.

In the most desolate places, He dwells with us.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

So You Are a King?

Pilate said to him,
"Are you the King of the Jews?"
...the chief priests have handed you over to me;
what have you done?"
Jesus answered,
"My kingship is not of this world."
Pilate said to him,
"So you are a king?"
Jesus answered,
"You say that I am a king.
For this I was born,
and for this I have come into the world,
to bear witness to the truth.
Every one who is of the truth
hears my voice."
Pilate said to him,
"What is truth?"

(see John 18:33-38)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blessed Miguel Pro: "Take Care of My Promise"

"With all my heart I forgive my enemies.
Viva Cristo Rey!"

On November 23, 1927, the secularist Mexican government executed by firing squad Fr. Miguel Pro, S.J. They invited the press to take pictures, hoping to use the media to expose him to humiliation.

But the pictures revealed something very different. Though they tried, the government could not retrieve them.

And thus, a new icon appeared for all the world to see.

An icon treasured by the Mexican people, who continued to struggle for the freedom to practice their faith.

(…that same year, in the country immediately north of Mexico, the big news was Babe Ruth hitting 60 home runs.)

"I believe, O Lord, but strengthen my faith...

Heart of Jesus, I love You,
but increase my love.

Heart of Jesus, I trust in You,
but give greater vigor to my confidence.

Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to You,
but so enclose it in You
that it may never be separated from You.

Heart of Jesus, I am all Yours,
but take care of my promise
so that I may be able to put it in practice
even unto the complete sacrifice of my life."

--Blessed Miguel Pro, martyr

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful to God. People often talk about being "grateful" or "thankful" for things, and yet they don't mention God, because they think that they don't believe in God. But their language betrays a deeper awareness underneath whatever explanations they give.

Gratitude is always a response to the gift of a person. And if we are "grateful" for the circumstances and elements of goodness that come to us in life, we are already acknowledging the mysterious One who bestows these blessings upon us with attention and love.

If the material universe is all that exists, then nothing is worthy of our gratitude. There is no one to recognize, no benefactor. When we say we are "thankful," our natural sensibility leads to the spontaneous expectation: "thankful to whom?"

Logically, it would make more sense to just call it "Turkey Day." But it takes more than ideology to separate the human being from his or her essential thirst for God.

We had a beautiful Thanksgiving day. I am grateful to God for the food and all the good things He provides. The turkey was about 19 lbs., and stuffed full of good things:

I am far more grateful to God for this woman who expresses herself with such generosity in making a meal like this, caring for a home, directing a class, and loving a foolish man like me with such gentleness and consistency:

Our table is full and our family comes together, including "Uncle" Walter and "Papa and Grandma." We thank God that He has given us to each other.

And then, of course, those young people who are with us every day. We are grateful to God, and always a bit astonished. He used our love for each other as the instrument to create new persons, and these beautiful new centers of intelligence and love have been entrusted to us in time.

Also, we need them if we're going to finish all this food!

The littlest person even managed to weigh more than the turkey this year (although I think the turkey still had more fat). And she thinks the jokes about her providing extra drumsticks for the meal have really gotten old:

May you all enjoy this Thanksgiving weekend, and may God keep you safe in your travels.

Let us be thankful...not to the blind and unfeeling particles of nature, but to the One who loves us and provides for us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Here Comes Another ZERO!

I know, its coming up. The "milestone" day.

January 2, 2013.

Of course I've been thinking about it. Its an odd situation for me. I'm still very much a kid at heart. Indeed, I am "like a child" but not so much in the way Jesus had in mind. There is Christian joy and hope in me. I can't deny that; its a gift from Him. But there is also a lot of emotional immaturity. A lot of plain foolishness. Yes, its a mixed bag, again.

"Master, you gave me ten talents. I was so afraid that I buried five of them right away. But then I saw the other guys going to invest in the bank, and I followed them. I invested three. Then I took the other two and went shopping...." (see the parable in Matthew 25:14-30).

Age is also a funny thing for a college professor who has spent his life among young students, younger teachers getting started, experienced colleagues who are his own age, and the older generation of still very active teachers and scholars. The learning experience builds bonds of friendship between generations. In the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty, we are all children. The "fountain of youth" is wonder.

Then, for me, "middle age" has been twisted all around by the fluctuations of my health. I feel much, much better right now than I have in the past. I have been down to the dark places of the earth, and have been brought back up. My aspirations have been simplified. I am grateful for the amazing gift of being alive.

I am alive, outwardly and inwardly. Thank God!

I must accept that I have constraints and limits, but this is helping me to focus on engaging what is in front of me right now, risking the capacities and the talents that I do have to respond to the real vocation of life in the present moment.

I also know that there is weakness. There is failure. I must not let it discourage me. I must trust in the mercy of God, and receive His forgiveness. Then I must begin again when necessary, repair what has been broken, and always keep struggling to do the good and to build up what is good.

And we are all in this present moment together. It challenges us to help one another, to understand one another, to forgive one another, and to give ourselves. Give. Dear Jesus, please heal me and free me, please enable me to love!

I know its just stumbling, in the end. My life expresses itself in the gestures of a hungry man begging for food; and even more than food, begging for truth and meaning, begging for goodness and beauty, begging for love.

And I shall keep stumbling and begging, because I can see the merciful Father running toward me with His arms held open.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To Share His Glory

Jesus asks us to follow Him.

Its a little scary sometimes, being a Christian. Because we are in situations where we want to say, "How, Lord! How do I follow You!?"

I think we start by saying just that. "How do I follow you?" If we say that with faith, with trust that He is God and He will lead us, then we are praying.

Perhaps we are afraid that we lack that trust. We do believe in Jesus but He seems fuzzy in terms of how He relates to our lives. But wherever we are, however we feel, and whatever might be going on, God loves us. God loves us first. So we can turn to Him and begin, because He is already drawing us with His love.

If you have only a drop of trust, you start there. "Jesus, I am afraid to trust in You. Enable me to trust in You." And God answers this prayer, and we grow in trust.

There are Christians who we admire greatly, who we consider "heroic," whose daily "posture" of prayer before God basically amounts to that. There is that famous, ancient prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This prayer has brought many people close to God through history.

There is the simple prayer, "Jesus, I trust in You." I include in that trust even the places where I am afraid, where I am weak: "Jesus I trust in You to enable me to trust in You more...." But I have begun to realize that the rest of that need not be said (although it's fine if I want to say it). "Jesus I trust in You" is enough, because my "trust" includes my reliance on what He is doing in my life to change me according to His wisdom and by His grace.

The God who creates us from nothing brings our lives to fulfillment by His grace. His grace shapes and focuses and draws and empowers our freedom, so that we can and we will do--freely and lovingly, by the power of His grace--what He wills us to do, what is truly good and beautiful and just, what corresponds to our destiny which is to live with Him in His likeness, to share in His glory.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Time Flying? Not So Much.

Most of the trees are bare now,
but the weather has been brisk!
Its November 18 already. The month is flying by. Some people say the year has flown by, but it doesn't seem that way to me. So much has happened this year! I read back over the old blogs and I think to myself, "that was a long time ago."

We've got our top two growing teenagers, and the middle girls changing too, and even Josefina has gained like three pounds since January! (Haha...although that may be about right. She is still so hilariously little, but they've done tests and nothing is wrong with her. She certainly has plenty of brains and energy.)

Teresa's mind is growing in new ways. She has discovered that Daddy actually has some interesting things to say. She has started to shoot questions at me, with the full awareness that she's going to get long answers.

Meanwhile, as we go along with our busy days, the world makes its orbit, and the Church lives another liturgical year. We've had trips, and hurricanes, and the Washington Nationals (who saw that coming?), and Agnese joining John Paul at Chelsea Academy, and Eileen's work at the Montessori school (and me being well enough to be with her each day and make a contribution). We've had celebrations, and new friends, and discussions about so many things, and politics and an election, and hand wringing about the future, and lots of prayers, and the Year of Faith, and the synod on the "New Evangelization," and our bishops taking an inspiring and courageous stand--together.

On this last point, people shouldn't think that "the Church lost." Something grew this year, something small perhaps, but important nonetheless. It is a deepening of awareness of what it means to live our faith as citizens of this country. Catholics and other Christians too are starting to be pushed closer together in a way that forces us to talk to each other and, even, to disagree (although some disagreements are more constructive than others).

As this push continues and we find ourselves stuck with one another, we may discover that we are brothers and sisters, and that we have something unique to give to the world.

Well, this post is "stream of consciousness." Its early in the morning, and we're going to Mass now.

Sunday is always a beautiful day. Have a blessed Sunday!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Gift of God is Here and Now

The gift of God is present in every moment.

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Putting Up With Another "Dull Day"?

Have you ever tried to "offer up" a dull day?

Sometimes the challenge is just the fact that today is pretty much the same as yesterday...and that nothing happened yesterday! Should you just be resigned to put up with it?

"Dear Lord, I offer you my stiff upper lip...."

Hmmm. I think that we are invited to go further than that in making an "offering" of this day. God is here. Of course, we're not going to feel amazed about Him all the time. Especially since He so often conceals Himself in the ordinary, the small, the humble things, the stuff that happens over and over again.

Let's "offer" this day, and so open ourselves up to the slow and gentle work that He is doing with time, and things, and even our sense of frustration. He wants to give us true and lasting joy.

If we loosen the lips, they may find their way to a smile.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Encounter Between Man and God

Today many have a limited understanding
of the Christian faith,
because they identify it
with a mere system of beliefs and values ​
and not so much with the truth of God
revealed in history,
eager to communicate with man
face to face,
in a relationship of love with Him.
In fact,
the foundation of every doctrine or value
is the event of the encounter
between man and God in Christ Jesus.
Christianity, before being a moral or ethical value,
is the experience of love,
of welcoming the person of Jesus.

Benedict XVI, November 14, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Conversation: He Talks, But Does He Listen?

Everyday conversation. What do I have to say for myself? Well, for starters, I don't really know how to listen to a person.

I'm not saying that I'm a boor, or that I never let others talk. I do plenty of listening in a conversation. I listen to people's words and give a lot of attention to what they are thinking.

But I don't listen to people.

Sometimes, when people speak to me, my mind works hard to organize their expressions into the form of some coherent problem, and then respond in a way that helps them to resolve their problem. I assume that this is "communication," and I am sincere, because I really do want to help people--which, of course, means finding the right ideas to advance their ways of thinking.

This is not so bad, of course. It can be useful if the person is asking a question, or seeking information.

But often, when people speak, that's not what they want.

Of course, I know that, and I'm very flexible. I don't just belabor people with advice. In fact, I can be useful in variety of different conversations.

Sometimes people just want to banter. Well, I'm good at bantering. Jokes? Even better. Or talk about the weather, or whatever else. I try my best to be agreeable in conversation. After all, I like people. I come from an Italian heritage--of course I like people! I like people and food even better.

And of course, I want people to like me. So what's wrong with that?

Nothing, I suppose. There's nothing wrong with it...well, a bit of vanity here and there....

But am I paying attention to this human person who is speaking to me?

If the person is really giving something of himself or herself to me in a conversation, am I listening? As long as its articulate, informative, or entertaining, or I can be helpful, or I can get the person to like me more? Sure, I'm listening.

But what about those insoluble, inexplicable things, the cries of the heart, those words that are not asking for a solution but are trying to share a suffering? What if the person wants nothing from me? He or she just wants me to listen, to be receptive.

I will try, but my mind starts to wander pretty quickly. My effort is rather weak.

Too often, my desire in human interactions is for me to experience affirmation. I want to come out of a conversation with the sense that my value has been recognized and appreciated. This desire can even be a motivation for "helping" people. It feels great when I receive the recognition and gratitude of people who have been helped by me.

Of course, I'll say, "Oh really, nothing, nothing at all" and "its God's work" (funny how I'm willing to toss a few crumbs to God) and "I'm just a poor man who knows nothing," etc., etc. but don't be fooled by that! A vain person always has a "humility routine" to conceal his vanity from others and especially from himself.

I know that there is something psychologically complex at work here. I really want to recognize and love the other person. I want to see and to rejoice in the gift of God that is the mystery of this other person. I want to receive what he or she has to give. I want to do "what's right." After all, I'm a "good Catholic"! I won't violate God's commandments to satisfy my vanity.

Uhhh...well...not consciously, anyway. Ah...heh...okay, okay, in little ways, yeah...I'll fib sometimes, or I'll diss somebody (just a bit), or I'll play to other people's cynical tendencies because that's always good for a laugh! And I'll buff and wax everything you see and hear (and read) so that you will admire me (hypocrisy? Oh yeah!).

But its not just that. Really, my motivations are usually a complex mixture of self-seeking and other aspirations. There is the desire and the will to seek something more, to find the "you" at the other side of the conversation, to discover communication and community. And then I've glimpsed many times the Beauty that is so much greater than my grasping ego, and that Beauty is always drawing me.

Yes, I'm a mixed bag. A real muddle.

There are so many problems in the world. And I don't have to go anywhere to find "the world." The world beats beneath my ribs.

A real muddle. And also this Beauty, that draws mysteriously, works miracles, changes things. There is the muddle...and then Something Different.

Something has happened in me, in the world. Its changing everything....

People notice it even when I try to hide it. And, really, I don't want to hide it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

From Philosophy to Stickers!

I'm listening to the water running in the kitchen.

The pounding feet of these two young people making their lunch.

For a long time, I had an image of the tiny footprint of baby John Paul hanging on the wall in my office. Just a few inches of little foot.

Who is this man living in my house? Where did he come from?

Pound, pound, pound, pound. Going about his business. He wears my shoes all the time. On his large, grubby human feet.

And there is the determined stride of a young lady. That's my "little bundle of sweetness," Agnese Janaro. If I say she's pretty, she'll kill me. She clomps through the house too, like her father.

I shouldn't be writing any of this, of course. I'm embarrassing them.

Meanwhile, Lucia sits quietly, reading a book. Teresa and Josefina are somewhere else. We do still have some "kids" around here.

The other day, John Paul and I were at the dining room table discussing something like...gosh, what was it...human nature and the role of sensation in epistemology (this kid is smart, but we've always known that). Josefina comes pitter-pattering up (with her little feet) and starts shouting, "Look Daddy, look Daddy, look Daddy!"

"What's that?"


Haha, the spectrum in this house runs from philosophy to...stickers. What an interesting place to grow up in. Its a crazy place! I think its also a happy place.

I hope...I pray that its a happy place.

The first time we drove with John Paul was when we brought him home from the hospital two days after he was born. I wanted to go five miles an hour: "Sheesh, we have a b-b-b-baby in the car!" Fatherhood seemed utterly overwhelming.

Nearly 16 years later I'm still overwhelmed. I'm more overwhelmed than ever. In less than a month, that "baby" will be driving the car.

Meanwhile, we still have one set of little feet in the house. Thank you God for these children!

Friday, November 9, 2012

We Begin When We Say "Yes"

So often we are frantic and busy. We are distracted and, eventually, discouraged. We seem to want anything other than the actual life we have, with its often obscure challenges and demands.

The fact is that we are called to real self-giving love, here and now, in the circumstances of our daily life. Why do we always look for ways to escape?

Lets face it. When we hear about "real loving," we say "yes, of course, that's wonderful," and yet we still try to run away, or else we chafe under the weight of what seems like an imposed task. Why are we burdened? What are we afraid of?

Perhaps we are afraid to love because we think we have to make it happen by ourselves. We find no power within ourselves to love. We want to, but we can't. Everything in us feels bent, distorted, tainted by the monster of our ego. And we think that all we have is our own brokenness.

But this is not true. We are not alone. First and fundamentally, before and within everything else, we are loved. We begin to give ourselves in love when we say "yes" to the love that is being given to us.

There is a Someone, right now, who says to each and every one of us, "I love you. You are precious to me. You are beautiful." We cannot begin to imagine how much we are loved and cherished in this very moment. 

Our hearts are not lying to us. The Other we are seeking is already with us, and begs us to open our hearts.

"You are beautiful."

"But I don't deserve to be loved," you say. "I am full of my own guilt."

But you are loved by Someone who forgives everything. Everything.

Open your heart. Let yourself be loved.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Don't Have to be a Freak About Anything

I have so many thoughts running around my head. I can't focus on a topic to write about. Themes and ideas pass through my mind; images and impressions, memories and hopes and fears.


Go out and play ball.

That is pathetic. That's not a batting stance. That's a slouch! Where are your feet supposed to be? And what are you wearing???

That's not a slouch. That's just curvature of the spine.

Oh don't start whining. Move that creaky body and pay no attention to its complaints. Well...don't overdo it. But do it!

Human beings need a variety of activities: we need to read and study and think. We need to talk and to listen. We also need to eat, play, dance, make music, breathe deeply, walk, run, plant things in the ground, explore, and laugh. We need to look at beautiful things. And, of course, we need to sleep.

We need to lift up our minds and hearts and bodies to the One who gives us life, the One who loves us and draws us to Himself. We need to pray. We need to love, and to let ourselves be loved.

We move our bodies and we also move our minds. A healthy human life encompasses this variety in an organic way. You don't have to be a freak about anything. You simply have to live.

Children have a natural sense of how to live. Its one of the many reasons why its good to have them around.

Sadly, in our culture, we don't "live" well. We vacillate between distraction and obsession. This is what's killing us. We think we're all alone with this crazy life and we don't know what to do with it!

But we are not alone. We are never alone.

So give yourself a break.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Night: Presidents and Memories

Election night in America.

I don't know what it will mean for the future. But today, for some reason, I was remembering the past.

The first American President I can remember was Lyndon Johnson. It echoes somewhere in my memory, the words "President Johnson." I was younger than Josefina in 1968. But I was very aware that an election was taking place.

"What does the president do?" I asked my mother.

She told me something to the effect that the president is responsible for the whole country, and that he "watches over" the whole country.

My five year old imagination generated a vivid image: an enormous window where President Johnson sat, "watching" the whole country. The view from the window stretched in all directions.

"He works all the time," my mother said. "He doesn't even have time to sleep at night. [I don't know if she actually said this, but this is what I remember.] The only sleep he gets is cat naps."

She might have been thinking of Kennedy, who was known for his "cat naps."

He never gets to sleep? Wow! My eyes grew wide. I assumed that he must sit in front of that huge window, all day and all night, watching the country. It sounded like a very difficult thing.

Then there was an election. And President Johnson had decided not to run. Somehow, my mother conveyed this to me.

"Gosh," I thought, "He probably wants to get some sleep!"

I was awake on election night in November 1968. I remember seeing the new president on television, with both arms stretched out, giving his signature "victory" sign with two fingers of each hand.

Richard Nixon.

There was also this word that I remember hearing in those days, on the television news, every night, over and over: "Saigon...Saigon...Saigon...."

Saigon, explosions, and gunfire.

I assumed that the new president would take his place at the big window, and begin watching.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Suffering With Us

"Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvelous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis—God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus's Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love" (Benedict XVI, encyclical Spe Salvi, 39).