Tuesday, April 30, 2013


April has come and gone. It is still Easter. The candle marks another year of our Lord.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Sometimes in a moment, in a simple gesture, a word, the shape of a face, I am surprised. It really is true. There is an Absolute Love who has given everything to make me His own forever.

I could burst into rivers of tears for having forgotten everything. And I know that I shall forget it again. But the edifice of hope is being built in my soul. This is true. This is stronger than my weakness.

And when I feel my weakness, I discover that I am being held.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Janaroland: A Pictorial Essay

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and I just don't seem to have a thousand words in me right now, I'm going to take the opportunity to show some pictures! So here's some "life at home" and "life at school" images. As the children grow older, they are increasingly reluctant to be photographed, especially by me, because they know that any picture I take may end up here! So I have to be sneaky. The kids don't realize that only five people read this blog, and that one of them is their "Papa" (their grandfather, "Hi Dad!").

Before this rambling introduction gets to be a thousand words in itself, here we go:

Josefina has strapped on these binoculars on so she can have super vision (and look silly)

What is it, a space monster? !!

There's Teresa snuggling Alex, our "outdoor cat"! By the way, Alex is now a
grandmother. One of her kittens that we gave away to friends just had her own kittens.

Teenagers avoiding camera. "Daddy I can't believe you put that picture up!" They
will say when they see it. Oh well, we've got two thirds of Agnese's face here, hahaha!

The beautiful world we live in... a few weeks ago, before Spring started.

Alexandra and her daughter Reepicheep, our two OUTDOOR cats, eating fancy-pantsy
cat food instead of going out to hunt for mice. This is something like "grilled salmon with
cream sauce and portobello mushrooms." Its nice that they allow us to live in their house, lol!

That would be this house here. Ah, the humble abode! Yes, its small by American
standards for our family, but thank God we have what we need, and He takes care
of us. So we bump into each other a lot. That's not such a bad thing.

But we have to be careful where we sit. You never know where you might find
a little person taking a nap.

The kids (in 2013) can still fit in the old Toyota minivan....

Although they had more room in 2004 (from left to right, baby Teresa, Agnese,
John Paul, Lucia). Josefina didn't exist yet, which is mind-blowing even to imagine.

Back to 2013: Here's the little Missy in the school hallway. With a straw hat from somewhere.

And here's Teresa, lovelier than all the flowers

The lovely Lucia, busy at school

Three of our beautiful girls

And a handsome young man who is their brother (Go Caps!)

The little one is always up to something. Josefina's restaurant is open. "Hey Mister, what do wanna eat!"

At the Montessori Center, Jojo examines some coral

Then, of course, there are the parents who love each other very much, and who are grateful to God.

Flowers. Have a beautiful day. :)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pope Francis to Youth: "Have a Great Soul!"

"To you [young people],
who are at the beginning of the journey of life,
I ask: have you thought about the talents
that God has given you?
Have you thought about how
you can put them at the service of others?
Don't bury your talents!
Bet on big ideals,
those ideals that enlarge the heart,
those ideals that will make your talents fruitful.
Life is not given to us
so that we can keep it jealously for ourselves,
but is given to us so that we may donate it.
Dear young people, have a great soul!
Don't be afraid to dream great things!"

--Pope Francis

Friday, April 26, 2013

Asking For My Love

How do I treat the people who are closest to me in my life every day?

There is plenty of material right here for an examination of conscience: 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. I would despair of ever being able to find the bridge between my limited self and the lives of other limited persons. My solitude would be an impenetrable shell.

But I am not alone. Jesus is present, and He is at work drawing me beyond myself 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.

He is here, asking for my love.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Teresa's Take on Educational Method

Teresa at the Montessori
Center, dressed as an angel
Educational diversity is giving rise to some very interesting and unusual learning models. I have heard of homeschooling and various cooperative enterprises, charter schools, vocational schools, online schools, and of course the Montessori school.

Our kids have been enriched by the Montessori environment, and I think they are very much at home in it. However, they are aware of the existence of other unusual methods of pedagogy. Teresa told me about one of them the other day that sounded new.

It began with my overhearing a conversation, in which Teresa said something like this:

Teresa: "...its a Desk School."

Me (interrupting): "What? What kind of school did you say?"

Teresa: "A Desk School."

Me (not hearing well, ironically): "A deaf school? Oh, you mean a 'school for the deaf' -- that's good. Its good that they have resources for children with special needs."

Teresa: "No, a DESK school. Its a school where the kids sit at desks."

"Gosh," I thought... but before my mind could drift into a reflection on how constraining it must be for a kid to be stuck to a desk, I realized that I went to "Desk School" for twelve years! "Oh, hahaha, you mean like a regular school."

I hope the desks still have cubby holes underneath. :-)

Ah, the old "school desk" with cubby for storing textbooks, notebooks, pencils,
candy wrappers, baseball cards, paper airplanes, and even the occasional frog.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Have You Been "Busted" By the Pope?

"Gotcha!" No, just patting a kid's head
You have probably found that, when you read Pope Frank's homilies, you come across passages which make you think, "Oh my gosh, he just nailed me!"

Are you the lukewarm Christian who just wants a small, comfortable Church? Scorch!

Or maybe you think of God as a kind of "god-spray" that diffuses itself into a mist which goes a little bit everywhere but doesn't really matter. Zing!

Or maybe you have your little "idols"--success, careerism, vanity (or something...c'mon don't kid yourself)--that tend to bump Christ off the center of the road of your life. Yup!

Or you think being Christian is just wonderful, and you're in such a good place right now with Jesus that, like Peter, you want to build a monument right here and just be happy. But the Holy Spirit is "annoying" you, drawing your heart to grow, to go forward on the journey, and especially to embrace all that "cross" business, erk. Can't the Holy Spirit just take a nap for awhile? Hahaha...oh dear....

Do you actually worship the Lord, or do you just ask Him for stuff? Facepalm! Oh, umm... I forgot about that. Worship, yes...just saying, "God, wow, glory to You! Praise You! I adore You!" This means more than just mouthing the "Glory Be" and then saying "gimme, gimme, gimme!" It means real attention to God, silence, adoration, and praising God just because He is God.

God doesn't need our praise, of course. But as created persons, we are made to be worshipers; we are made to recognize, to adore, to rejoice in, to be amazed by Eternal, Infinite Love. He raises us up to share His glory and to fill us with His Love. We are made to worship, and as Pope Frank points out, if we don't worship God, we will worship something else instead, something less than God and therefore unworthy of our hearts and degrading to our humanity.

Okay, Francis. We surrender. We're busted.

But let us not stop there. There's a reason why he keeps ruthlessly slicing the baloney of our illusions. He wants us to see the real possibility that God offers us. He wants us to place our confidence in God and receive His mercy through Jesus Christ.

"Let us not be closed
to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives!
Are we often weary, disheartened and sad?
Do we feel weighed down by our sins?
Do we think that we won’t be able to cope?
Let us not close our hearts,
let us not lose confidence,
let us never give up:
there are no situations which God cannot change,
there is no sin which he cannot forgive
if only we open ourselves to him."

--Pope Francis

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Christianity Brings Joy...So Why am I So Messed Up?

A Christian is full of joy. Right?

So what's wrong with me? Why do I so often feel weak, angry, frustrated and broken? Why am I depressed and obsessed and devoid of energy, and why does my life seem like such a train wreck?

It is rather a blow to my "Christian Ego". I've tried using raw will power to bury all that and make myself joyful, but it doesn't work. Okay, I know there's a lot of pathology going on here. Its important to acknowledge that and deal with it on the appropriate level.

It is also important to recognize honestly that my Christian life and witness leave much to be desired. NEWSFLASH: I am a sinner!


I can't deny it. But I also must never be satisfied with it. God is changing me, and He wants me to cooperate with Him. Into the midst of all my mess, Jesus has come! Jesus is here with me, and I want to follow Him.

I'm on His mysterious journey, and it has plenty of dark valleys and sorrows on many levels. Its about healing me and raising me up to a supernatural life, making me a new creation, an adopted son of the Father.

Yup. Me. Bozo-the-human-being, destined to live forever in the glory of God.

The journey, with all its depths, is also about sharing in the mysterious solidarity of the human race, helping to carry the burdens of others, and being plunged into the great love of the heart of Jesus, which is always going out to the margins....

And so, again and again, I discover that I am weak and broken.

God wants all of that. He wants our crying out in pain–spiritual, emotional, or physical–to be a cry that begs for Him. Where else can we bring all of that? Jesus has already borne all of it, my weakness, my brokenness, all of it right down to the core of me… He has endured it all and wants me to open up that vulnerability so He can transform me. That doesn’t mean he’ll make me “feel better” (at least, not in the way I think He should), but He will deepen my trust in Him, and it is through trust that I am changed.

It is through trust that I begin to taste joy.

A priest once told me to imagine I had a basket. Take the anger, the fear, whatever, and (in my mind) put it in the basket, and then (again in my imagination) put the basket on the altar before the Blessed Sacrament and say “Jesus I give this to you.” If I find more stuff still there inside me, I put it in the basket again. And again. Give it to Jesus.

"But I can't do this..." Grab that feeling right there, and put it in the basket. Bring it to the altar. Give it to Jesus. "I feel so helpless..." Basket. "My head hurts, I can't think, I'm exhausted..." Basket. "But I don't want to change. I love myself. I want to keep my life. I don't want to give myself away!..." BASKET!

Okay, that’s a “technique” — it might be helpful, or it might not. If all we can do is groan in pain, let’s groan to the Father and let the Spirit groan in us. I am convinced that He works deeply this way. Just “give” it to Him. God is not surprised by our pain. He has made it His own.

On the other side of it all is an indestructible joy. A spark of this fire has already begun in our hearts, and sometimes others can see it even when we can't.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Pickle Jar

Lucia comes up to me with a pickle jar.

"Daddy, can you open this?"

Haha! Daddies live for moments like this. Lucia and Teresa and Jojo are sitting at the table, and Daddy has a chance to show his Olympian strength and be their hero. I rub my hands together.
[Of course, this family has no illusions. Everyone knows that there are many things that Daddy can't do. Daddy's sick, Daddy takes medicines, Daddy goes to doctors, Daddy rarely drives the car, Daddy doesn't teach anymore, Daddy's tired, Daddy's nervous, Daddy's tired, but he has written a bookAnd they can bother him anytime they want. Daddy can answer questions. He reads a lot. He works on the computer a lot.]
But my hands feel fine right now, and I'm the king of opening jars. I can also reach things in high places, and I can kill crickets. Gimme that jar.

Oof oof ow ow...these are usually easy but this one won't budge.

"Can you get me that thingamagigger that grips the lid?" Lucia gets it and brings it to me.

Lid secure, but now the jar is slipping in my other hand. My hand is almost circling the jar. What, did they glue this thing on?

Towels don't help. "Where's Mommy?" someone says. Hey, if I can't do this, Mommy can't do it either. How about both of us?

Mommy grabs the jar with both hand and I take the lid with both hands. Its not working. The jar moves.

This is the toughest jar of pickles I have ever encountered.

We decide to switch. I take the jar with both my hands and dig in, while Eileen takes both hands and turns the thingamagiggger on the lid. "Arrrrrgh!"


Success at last. It took both of us using all our strength. But the girls wanted pickles. Mommies and Daddies work together to take care of their kids. We do it hundreds of times a day without even noticing it. Its just being a family.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Desperate Josefina Turns to Cards and Drinking ;)

It was just a pitiful sight! She started chugging first thing in the morning. 100 proof H2O. Dangerous stuff. It should be regulated. People drown in it all the time. Although not usually from a sippy cup.

A sippy cup?

Okay, Jojo has some congestion, so it goes down easier in a sippy cup. She also requires entertainment.

Her: "Lets play a game."

Me: "I am not playing Reptile Bingo!" What is Reptile Bingo? Exactly what you think it is. A bingo board with pictures of snakes and lizards (and their names...its educational, of course), and a deck of cards to match. Actually, it is interesting in a nerdy sort of way, but after you've played it fifty thousand times, well....

Her: "No, lets play cards." She slaps the deck on the table.

Me: "What card game?" But the deck has the name of the game on it: "War." I never knew you needed special cards to play "war." Actually, you don't. But if a company wants to make money selling cards these days, they need to come up with gimmicks. Its just a regular card deck, but it says "war" on it, and the picture cards have cartoon dogs and cats instead of kings and queens.

Me: "Do you know how to play 'War'?"

Her: "Ummm... no... teach me!"

This looked like it might be interesting. Higher number beats lower number. That was easy enough. The picture cards were more of a challenge.

Her: "Can I have the cat cards and you can have the dog cards?"

Me: "No, it doesn't work that way. These are actually kings, queens, and jacks. We take what we get. But the picture cards are higher than the number cards. A king beats a queen and a queen beats a jack." I wondered how to illustrate this point. The cartoon dogs and cats were not clearly hierarchical. "Do you know what a king is?"

Her: "The king is a guy who can do whatever he wants." Hmmm. Maybe the kid is smarter than I thought.

Me: "Haha, just remember the higher card wins, but if its a tie, then its a "war," and...etc."

So we played our cards. She put down a six and I put down a ten.

Me: "Okay, see how it works. I have a ten and you have a six. So I win this one and I get to take it."

She seemed quite thrilled by the whole thing. She took another swig, squeezed the cards in her hand and looked at me and said, "Can we play again?"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Divine Babysitter?

"Hey, I'm baptized, I'm confirmed, I've got my identity card. Now I'm going to go to sleep!"

That's the way Pope Francis described a mentality that often prevails among us. I'm not sure he used those exact words. But since he was speaking off the cuff, I'll cite him off the cuff.

That's funny. Some of us who consider ourselves "serious Catholics" might have a bigger checklist, but once we get through it we're just as ready to hit the hay.

Francis (I am resisting the urge to call him "Frank") observed simply that if we sleep we don't grow, and if we don't grow the Church does not bear fruit. "Instead of being a mother, the Church becomes a babysitter," he said.

Hilarious images from a papal homily, and right on the mark too. They won't be easy to forget.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brain Power, Energy, and Love

I'm trying to write things, but its very slow and laborious right now. Forgive me if we are rolling through April with snippets and quotations and pictures. I've been tired, and my brain is just not running very well.

Let me show you some more spring flowers.

There are many projects I want to do, but the energy is just not there.

I continue to study the possibilities of internet media. There is much here, but all I can do is plug away at it slowly. The internet is certainly changing our brain patterns, for better or for worse... probably both. I think that it has been good medicine for my brain, in some ways. It seems to help an obsessive brain to be drawn out of itself and into diverse interactions. But it also uses great quantities of mental energy, or so it seems to me.

We need to maintain the tension toward learning how to discern what is worthwhile in all of this new media, and what is predominantly a waste of energy for us. Applying this discernment in our own lives comes with the development of virtue. Here the grace of the Holy Spirit will lead us, but also there will always be the earthly, human "grunt work" of trial and error and more trial and more error, and learning about ourselves, and listening to others, and helping one another.

People like me have limited physical and mental energy. We must prioritize and learn to measure out what we have. Still, we must give of ourselves. It is too easy to claim a lack of energy when our real problem is a lack of love. Often, for us muddled human beings, it is a combination of both.

There are other people who have a touch of the opposite problem. Their brains are in overdrive. They are a bit "manic," and so they are frantically busy and even successful in building many large projects, but perhaps without sufficient reflection on the real value of any of these things. We must also recognize that some people are simply gifted with energy and good health. Thank God for them! (Thank God especially for the one I married.) We are grateful for their accomplishments. Nevertheless, success and achievement in doing things can also hide a lack of love, or become a substitute for love. Here also it is, for so many people, some combination of both a desire for the authentic good and the subtle tricks of a selfishness that resists becoming a gift.

The point is not to feel guilty because we don't push ourselves to exhaustion, nor is it to have contempt for success, and have no regard for the legitimate fruits of creative energy and hard work. The point is that we all need to grow in love.

Here especially we need to ask Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to work within us and change us. And we need to forgive one another again and again and again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Do We Worship the Lord?

I would like all of us to ask ourselves this question:
You, I, do we worship the Lord?
Do we turn to God
only to ask Him for things,
to thank Him,
or do we also turn to Him to worship Him?
What does it mean, then, to worship God?
It means learning to be with Him,
it means that we stop
trying to dialogue with Him,
and it means sensing that His presence
is the most true,
the most good,
the most important thing of all.

All of us, in our own lives,
and perhaps sometimes unconsciously,
have a very clear order of priority
concerning the things we consider important.
Worshiping the Lord
means giving Him the place that He must have;
worshiping the Lord means stating,
believing – not only by our words – 
that He alone truly guides our lives;
worshiping the Lord means
that we are convinced before Him
that He is the only God,
the God of our lives,
the God of our history.

Pope Francis (April 14, 2013)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring is Finally Here!

Spring is finally here!

Flowers blossom, tree buds open.

Green advances by the hour.

Sky blue, hard heat,

then dark, wet storms roll through

Clouds dip down like fiery smoke on the mountain tops,

moistening the ground for the surprise

of shoots of yellow and laughing faces in the sun.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Home Where Jesus Dwells

In the heart of Mary, every human longing for the Mystery of God is overwhelmed by the miracle of Divine love, the miracle that transforms the universe: Jesus.

Mary is a living person, right now. The fact that she has always been free from sin doesn't make her any less human. Mary's immaculate heart is a profoundly human heart. The purity of Mary gave her, from the beginning, an aspiration that was utterly genuine, a vital space where God Himself could dwell with the human race. Mary is mother of God and mother of each one of us.

Let us remember the closeness of Mary, the tenderness in the way she looks at us. She understands each of us, and knows how to shape us and foster our growth. She makes our lives into a home where Jesus dwells. The Holy Spirit lives in her. He works powerfully through her intercession. She holds us “in the crossing of her arms,” in her heart, and it is there that the Holy Spirit forms the new life of Christ in us.

All-pure, loving, Immaculate Heart of Mary, my Mother, obtain for me conversion and trust in Jesus.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pope Francis and the Patience and Mercy of God

Pope Francis continues to place before us the face of God's mercy, his tenderness, his patience, his gift of ineffable love that is greater than our weakness: "The Lord saves us by his love: not with a letter, nor with a decree, but with his love."

God's love comes first. He has loved us, in a way beyond our understanding. "God did not wait for us to go to him, but he moved towards us, without calculation, without measures." He gives himself without measure, all way to the end, to the whole depth of our lives, asking us to open our hearts so that his love can change us and empower us to come out of ourselves, to love him and one another, to become a new creation in him. His mercy probes each of us; he who knows each of us more intimately than we know ourselves calls us and draws us, and makes conversion possible.

"On the cross, Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. Each of us can say, He loved me and gave himself for me. Everyone can say that for me."

And in his preaching, Francis even gives us a voice. He gives words to our own hearts:

"Lord, I believe.
I believe in your love.
I believe that your love has saved me.
I believe that your love has given me
the dignity that I did not have.
I believe that your love gives me hope."

"Lord, I am here,
accept my poverty,
hide my sin in your wounds,
wash it away with your blood."

Jesus calls us to believe in his love, to trust in him.

"Don’t be afraid, go to him, he is waiting for you, he will take care of everything. We hear many offers from the world around us; but let us take up God’s offer instead: his is a caress of love. For God, we are not numbers, we are important, indeed we are the most important thing to him; even if we are sinners, we are what is closest to his heart."

"How beautiful is the gaze with which Jesus regards us – how full of tenderness! Let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God."

Monday, April 8, 2013

"Pathophobia": On Freedom, Sickness, and Being Human

Suicide has been in the news again. I pray for the Warrens, and entrust the soul of their son Matthew to the infinite mercy of God.

I know very little about Rick Warren's work as an evangelical minister or his famous books. It doesn't matter. He's a human being, and a father. His wife Kay is a human being, and a mother. Along with thousands of other people, I sent them each a tweet expressing sympathy and solidarity. It won't reach them personally, but that doesn't matter. Solidarity is in the heart, and the human heart is the original "social network" and remains the only one that's necessary; the one that gives value to all communication. Twitter has some value, if it can be used to express a work of mercy.

I wish I could say I'm surprised and shocked by suicide, but I'm not. The awful fact is that it happens all the time.

It happens to "nice" people. It happens to people who "look normal" on the outside. It happens to good people, loving people, admirable and heroic people. I'm quite sure that you know and love people who struggle with impulses toward suicide or lesser forms of self-inflicted personal harm.

And I cannot stress this point enough: These are "regular" people! I'm not just talking about "crazies" here. I'm not just talking about people in straight jackets, people living in the streets, drug addicts, sociopaths, or terrorists. I'm not just talking about people like Monk who are always straightening picture frames and arranging the food on their plate, or people who are generally considered "weird," or even people who have especially melancholy temperaments.

I'm talking about your friends, neighbors, children, parents, spouses, teachers, students and co-workers. I'm talking about people who may be active in your parish, who volunteer for stuff, and - yes - I'm talking about your priests, your good and holy priests (who have never harmed anyone or stolen anything, who have nothing to hide and no reason to feel this way). 

Often suicide can be prevented (which is one reason why we should try the best we can to take care of people suffering from mental illness, and why we should pray for them). But there are times when it just seems to devour a person like an implacable monster.

We have to keep fighting the monster, and never allow ourselves to get discouraged even if it appears that the monster has won.

It is never good for a human person to end his or her life. But there are various ways that this can occur, and so it is important to be as clear as possible about the context of such an event.

Anyone who knowingly and freely chooses to kill themselves commits a serious sin against the loving God who gives life, and whom we must always trust, no matter how desperate or painful our circumstances. Suicide is never the answer. It is not "death with dignity" in the face of a terminal disease or any other problem. To choose suicide is always wrong, and to help someone else commit suicide is always wrong. Of course, we cannot judge another person's heart, and we know nothing about what might transpire in that final moment. We continue to hope and pray for the person, knowing that God's mercy can still work miracles at the moment of death, even while we recognize the evil and destructive nature of this action.

However, with our increasing understanding of the complexities and subtleties of human pathology, we find it likely that many instances of self-inflicted death are not chosen as such. Rather, they are obscure events of human behavior that are driven, in part or perhaps entirely, by a relentless disease that results in a neurological breakdown. It seems that mentally ill people can become altered in their brain functioning to the point where their judgment and freedom must wrestle with deeply distorted perceptions and impressions of themselves and their environment.

There is something truly dramatic about this struggle. Human freedom is called into play, as it is in any other sickness or suffering. It has its triumphs and its failures, which may be invisible to us and even to the person who fights in the darkness. No doubt, the Enemy of the human race is involved as well. The one whom Jesus calls "a murderer from the beginning" will make trouble wherever there is an opening for it. Those who accompany a mentally suffering person should "put on the armor of God" and use the weapons of prayer and sacrifice, and of course the sacraments.

But do not underestimate the devastating force of the diseases that afflict the brain--this most delicate organ of the human body that we have only begun to understand.  The human being is a unity of the spiritual and the material, of soul and body. Human knowing and loving work within the context of sensation and images. Even though they are spiritual, they draw from and are expressed in bodily reality, and to this extent they are "dependent" on the brain. This is obvious when we consider the fact that we cannot perform significant acts of human responsibility when we are asleep. Our capacity to understand can be hindered and distorted by a brain injury, or by alcohol or other chemical substances that interact with brain functioning.

Clearly, then, diseases of the brain can impair human judgment and even bring about substantial disability. Given the brokenness of a human nature affected by original sin in so many ways, it would be amazing if there were not a wide spectrum of problems in the functioning of the body's most complex and intricate organ.

How do we heal a sick brain? How do we keep our brains healthy? These questions make it clear that medicine, like life itself, is primarily an art. Medicine makes extensive use of science, but ultimately it must be practiced on a particular human person. Moreover the brain is not isolated; it is an integrated part of the whole organism of the body, and shares in its vicissitudes. The art of medicine continues to develop in this area, along with all the arts that constitute healthy living. Our world has the potential to accomplish much that is good for human health and well being, for opening new vistas and bringing healing to human places that are difficult to find and burdened with indescribable suffering.

But lets get rid of the stigma of "mental" illness. Once and for all. It doesn't help anything.

There is no real reason why a brain ailment should be considered more shameful than a heart ailment or a liver ailment. The difficulty is that it has more direct and pervasive effects on human behavior, and is therefore more invasive of human interiority. Moreover, we have no illusions of control here; our remedies are fragile and temporary, and the causes and cures elude us.

The symptoms of a brain illness make it clear to us that our humanity consists in the union of soul and body. What afflicts the human body afflicts the human person. This makes us afraid. It makes us want to distance ourselves. It tempts us to isolate the sufferer, because otherwise we might have to look at him or her and see the reflection of ourselves, and our own suffering.

Here is a challenge for our culture that no one wants to confront. Here is a form of discrimination that everyone practices and no one denounces. In a sense, its very much at the root of our common problem. One might even coin a sociological term of reference for it, although its not likely to catch on:


Pathophobia. The fear of suffering. The dread of suffering. The full scale flight from suffering, or the cover up of real suffering with fake solutions, and then the marginalization of those whose problems we cannot pretend to have solved.

But the fear only grows. We need the audacity of humility. We need to acknowledge that the human project is cracked at its foundation. None of us can fix it. But humility frees us to hope for a renovation, nonetheless.

We must see that we are all small and broken and we feel endangered by the world, and by each other. And yet we aspire to an endless life. We are afflicted in every way, and yet we aspire to live in the image and likeness of God.

Let us direct this aspiration, and let it be shaped into the recognition and supplication of the One who corresponds to our dignity and our need. And let us take care of one another. Let us be compassionate and merciful to one another.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I Throw Myself Upon the Mercy of God

Mercy Sunday is at hand. We have prayed the Novena during Easter week, as always. And I find myself among the lukewarm, once again...yet I still am offered the hope of running to Him, to Jesus whose compassion knows no bounds, Jesus who can change my heart. Jesus, help me!

I am a word maker. So I bring my words to Him, hoping He can use even words. It seems that He does use these poor words, in His way, mysteriously, according to a wisdom that will remain forever beyond me. So I place my confidence and my smallness and my weakness in Him. Jesus.

What can I do other than throw myself upon the mercy of God? I have the gift of expressing myself. I know that words are straw, but there is a place for straw in life and the task of making straw has been given to me. I will make straw.

I am a human being and I have met Jesus Christ. I express that humanity in words, inadequate words, sentimental words tinged with my own vanity; words that make it sound too easy, and that give me the false appearance of being "wise" as I toy with mysteries. All these words. All this straw.

My dear friends who are reading these words: I want you to know that in this feeble effort to give of myself, and with hope in Jesus, I make this straw for you. Use it for your bed. Throw it in your fire and be warmed. Let it dry up the damp ground under your feet. Find something in it.

From my own struggle, what I want you to see is that Mercy is at work. In all my efforts and words the great hope is that you might see His mercy. Because of Him, I am bold enough to hope that you might find it, even in me, in the midst of my many words.

Look for Him. Discover the beauty of His face. I know it's not as easy as it sounds. I know that. But still, He is here, and He is real.

Mercy is at work in the world, in me, and in you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This Says It All

When I say
I feel strong,
I feel I can work,
and I know that He is with me,
that He keeps me safe.

--Anonymous Humble Man,
Buenos Aires, Argentina

(Quoted by Pope Francis in his homily this morning. Amen, brother, and thank you.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

John Paul II: "Every Person Matters...Even You"

April 2 was the eighth anniversary of the death of Blessed John Paul II. But when I remember him, my mind reaches back over a long stretch of time.

It was the spring of the year 1986. I was 23 years old, and deeply immersed in mental suffering that was, in part, due to my as yet undiagnosed depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. I turned to the writings and talks of Pope John Paul II.

I had read him before, many times. But here I read him with a anguished, searching heart. And my heart recognized something in those words, and in the energy of the man who had expressed them. It was as if everything he said shined with an implicit but unmistakable truth: "God loves you. God loves every human person. God wants to draw particularly close to every human person in this time, in this age when so many have forgotten Him. God wants to glorify His mercy. Do not be afraid."

Here were words that came from a living man, a witness of my own time. The media made his presence in our world accessible in other ways. His face was in pictures and on television. I could see and hear his gestures and his voice with all of its great strength and tenderness. Although I did not "know" him, his particular humanity burst through all of the indirect and partial glimpses of multimedia and addressed me head on.
"Every person matters. Every person, absolutely every human person has been created by God and is loved by God. And that means that even you, John, are loved by God."
And I felt that I was loved, personally, by the man who was living such a compelling witness in front of the world. I "met" him in a dialogue of mind and heart, and through him, I met Jesus Christ in a new way--a way that has remained fundamental to my identity and my way of looking at life.

I discovered Jesus not just as a subject for theological study but as a Person who is really there "on the other side" of my prayers, who loves me, who is active in my life and who enables me to love Him.

Thank you, Jesus, for the life and witness of Blessed John Paul II. Thank you, Jesus, for this great family, the Church!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pope Francis's Challenge: Is He Talking to Me?

Pope Francis is challenging me in many ways. His preaching and witness strike me in a way that I cannot ignore. He doesn't make harsh demands, but he says and does things that challenge me to let my heart grow, and to become more aware of the concreteness of God's love in this world.

For example: "Go out to the margins...." Thus he challenges the Church. He has demonstrated what this phrase means, by his actions. For years as a bishop, he has "gone out to the margins" by actually going to the slums, to the poor, to the drug rehab centers, to the victims of human trafficking, to the elderly and the sick and the cardboard shacks and the garbage pickers and the crack heads and all kinds of people who actually smell bad. Not to mention sinners and unbelievers. Its a stunning example.

But what does it mean for me? How am I challenged by this? How am I supposed to respond to the Pope's call? My reaction to this is strangely defensive.
I feel like saying, "Hey, man, I go to the margins plenty. What, am I supposed to go live with the poor? We live on the margins of spiritual and cultural poverty! I'm trying to raise my family in the Catholic faith, and educate my children and others to be able to resist the dictatorship of relativism. I'm not part of the self-satisfied, 'spiritually worldly' Church, no way! Those are the cafeteria Catholics, and they certainly need to be shaken up. But I'm doing plenty. I've given all my energy, broken my health, and still make material sacrifices every day for the sake of the teaching vocation that my wife and I share. I'm doing a lot. In fact, I'm 'the poor': how about somebody else coming out to take care of me? I'm always helping people; maybe they're not drug addicts but they have problems, and still... I'm the one who needs help! I'm still sick and crazy and exhausted. I'm barely hanging on, I'm definitely going to the margins, I'm doing enough, I'm... I'm... I'm... I... I... I!!!"
JJ, stop it! *slap, slap* (metaphorically). You're overreacting, as usual. He's not talking to you! (the italics here is my Alter Ego responding; it may also be the reaction of some of my readers - if there are any who have actually read this far...) He's not talking to you!
["He's not talking to me? Oh, good. Whew!"]
He's talking to those fat cats in the Roman Curia, and to all those bad people whose names are in the secret Vatileaks report! He's talking to those lazy bishops, and the Big Money people who don't care about the poor, and the Big Government people who don't care about the poor, and those theologians who do nothing but talk (and talk badly), and those people who think the Church is just an NGO, and all those other self satisfied bad people. Not you! This is about orthodoxy and caring for the poor. You've always been in favor of orthodoxy and caring for the poor.
Now I'm thinking, "Hmmm. My Alter Ego has a point. I've always 'been in favor of' orthodoxy and caring for the poor. Of course I'm overreacting. I'm not like those bad people. I should say, 'Good for you, Pope Francis, you tell 'em,' because I agree with him. In fact, it will be fun to have a new way of judging people. Now I can say, 'Do these people go to the margins or are they just spiritually worldly and self satisfied?'"
"I'm fine. I'm not challenged here. He's not talking to me. I don't have to change anything."

Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:38-39).
Jesus was talking to me here. Have I "lost my life for His sake"?
Jesus said, "This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
Do I love the way He loves?
Maybe I need to think of this in a different way. We are all being challenged to "go out to the margins," although perhaps our "margins" are not the slums that surround the city of Buenos Aires. Each of us is called to a total love, to a complete giving away of ourselves. Many of us need to start "going out" in the very basic sense of actually paying attention to the persons God has given us in our lives. Pope Francis is continually reminding us that we must help each other, we must take care of each other.

The fundamental "margin," for me, is my "self." In fact, I would go so far to say that I must first of all love myself, but that means loving my real self, not the egocentric whirlwind of chaotic appetites and self-obsession that I am always trying to protect.

My real self exists in total dependence on God, in relation to God, in the image of God, and destined to share in the glory of God. "I" exist as a gift of Love and a vocation to love. The life of myself consists in loving. If I do not "go out" in love I get "sick" (as Pope Francis has also said). Eventually I die.

Go out to the margins! God is at the margins, as my origin and my destiny, and in Jesus as the One who is present in my life and calls me to share in His Divine life. This presence and this call come through the human persons and the real circumstances of my life, and especially the gifts of grace given by Jesus in the Church, in the sacraments, in the path of a concrete vocation.

"So I must love Jesus in the Church and in people" ... ah yes, but this not a package that I can just get and hold onto. Its a life that grows and changes, that is full of God's "surprises" (Pope Francis, again). If I am really following Christ and loving Him, I'm going to start noticing poverty. I will discover those who hunger for bread and also those who hunger to be treated like human beings, to know that they have value, that they are loved, that they are not alone. I cannot satisfy the ultimate hunger of any person, but I can help them and they can help me. We can care for each other and travel the road to our destiny together.

Life doesn't happen unless we respond to reality. We must "go out" in response to the whole of the reality of our lives which is given to us by Jesus. We must pay attention to everything, all the way "to the margins," which many of us already know can mean a lot of personal risk. The margins are in our marriages and families, in our work and our suffering, in the needs of the community, in the challenge to see every human person as a brother or a sister, made in the image of God.

If we love God, we will seek out and find the poor. We will find many things and we will have a great life, but we will never be satisfied! As long as we live, we will never be able to say, "Okay, that's it. I've loved enough." This mystery is in His hands. The Jesus we follow loved all the way to end, all the way to the Cross, bearing in Himself the poverty of each and all of us. We love Jesus Crucified (as Pope Francis has stressed from the start). We must never be "satisfied."

We must keep going out to the margins with all we have, and keep giving our lives ...giving Jesus who has made us His own and who wants to give Himself to every person. He will lead us to the margins and the persons who need to encounter Him through us.  We go out to the margins, and the margins keep getting bigger, because Love is beyond all our measure.