Sunday, June 30, 2013

Newlyweds in Italy: Angelus and a Sunday Afternoon

View of Rome from the Janiculum
June 30, 1996.

After having glimpsed Pope John Paul II the previous day, we headed for St. Peter's again, for Mass and then out into the crowded square for the Sunday Angelus, which the Pope leads from the balcony window of the papal apartments. Here's what I wrote about that event, seventeen years ago, in my travel journal:

We went out into St. Peter's Square for the Sunday Angelus. I felt almost a physical hunger to see the Pope again (at whatever distance) and to pray with him. Deeper for me than anything else in this vast encounter between the Pope and his people is the simple gesture of praying the Angelus with him. In that moment, we are together with the Successor of St. Peter in a single action -- the highest and most intimate of all actions, the action of prayer. My own prayer is profoundly confirmed when it accompanies his.

This was anything but an ordinary honeymoon. It was a time of pilgrimage and blessing. It was also a time to revisit beloved ancient and beautiful places (for the first time together), and to explore and discover new things. And of course we had a lot of fun.

We spent the afternoon walking in the city. Of course, both of us being culture nerds, this was tremendous fun. In fact, my travel diary is full of aesthetic, architectural and historical observation and analysis... but these are all things we talked about and enjoyed together. And words came after vision. Eileen and I love being together and contemplating great and beautiful things. Perhaps that sounds hokey, but its true.

The church of Santa Maria in Cosmedian
It was a bright Sunday afternoon, so we got some panini (sandwiches) and walked up the Janiculum hill. From there we were able to take in one of Rome's fabulous city scapes. As anyone who has been to Rome knows, one can spend a lot of time just looking at the city from various vistas. What one sees is not just a pretty town; one sees the centuries of living, breathing history.

After this, we walked back down, across the Tiber island and into the wonderful Santa Maria in Cosmedian. We marveled together at the dark, ancient simplicity of this church, which is one of Eileen's favorites.

Don't tell a lie!
The famous "bocca della verita" is on the portico outside this church. There is an old tradition of putting your hand in its mouth to prove the truth of what you say, because the "mouth of truth" was said to bite the hand of anyone who told a lie. I know I hammed it up for a photograph here, but I don't know what's become of that picture. We're still trying to find the pictures.

Another important aspect of this adventure which both of us heartily enjoyed together, of course, was food. We hunted for the trattoria popular with the natives whenever possible, or a small restaurant in some corner of an alley.

According tho my travel diary, the day ended with a "remarkable salmon pasta." And plenty of good table wine, as I remember.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Newlyweds in Italy: Remembering Our First Adventures Together

We were here... a week after our wedding
June 29, 1996.

I am reading the journal of the trip that my bride and I took seventeen years ago. I'm glad that I kept a travel journal; it revives the inner experience of places and times in a way that can only be done by the written word. Or perhaps that's just my personal bias, because I am a writer.

In any case, I think that this year we will review the journal in detail, and hopefully dig up some of the bulky old "photo albums" full of pictures.

As I have said before, Eileen and I are both "Romans" by virtue of the (different) times we each lived and studied there in our youth, and by our great excursion together at the beginning of our married life.

We spent three and a half weeks in Italy for our honeymoon back in 1996. We were able to make this trip because we didn't seek a "lovers' solitude" experience; we spent all but five nights at the homes of friends. It was a real trek, from Rome to Assisi to Florence to Ravenna to Milan to the Italian Riviera. I'm so glad we did it then, when we had the time and the energy of our youth. I'm glad that, while we were still able, we rode trains and buses, slept on floors or (worse) the infamous Italian "letto," and hauled bags that got bigger and bigger as we accumulated loot along the way! I recommend this kind of honeymoon for you young folks, especially if you are humanities buffs like us. Trust me, you will never be able to throw yourselves about with such freedom as in these early days of marriage. Soon come the babies, and then come the bad backs and the arthritis. Youth is the time to explore, to rough it, to have an adventure, especially with your spouse. Go somewhere beautiful and fascinating, full of human history and aesthetic richness. Or go on pilgrimage to the places where God's love has touched the world. You will build a foundation of common experience that will stay with you forever.

In Rome we spent a week and a half at an apartment not far from the Vatican, with a friend's mother. This lovely old woman cleared a room for us, made coffee for us every morning, and often fed us abundantly in the kitchen at night (even if we had already eaten). I have never found a restaurant that can match the culinary magic that happens in the simple Italian kitchen. Oh, my my!

We went to all our favorite spots in Rome and shared them together. We brought our newly married life to the tomb of St. Peter, and prayed a long time. We explored churches and ruins and great art. June 29th sticks in my mind because we went to St. Peter's basilica for the ceremony in which the Pope (then Blessed John Paul II) invests new Archbishops with the pallium, a woolen band worn as a sign of their particular responsibility and their communion with the Pope.

It was a beautiful ceremony, very crowded of course, so that we barely had a glimpse of the Pope. But we were so happy just to share in this beautiful event with him. Afterwards, in the midst of the crowds, we bumped into a little bishop from Malaysia and struck up a conversation with him. He was the first bishop to bless our marriage.

I wonder where he is today. We never did get his name.

Among many things, Rome is also a place of unusual meetings and unexpected changes in plans. It is a place where all the cultures of the world gather, dialogue with one another, and celebrate together the One who brings true unity to the whole human family.

Some wonderful surprises awaited us, as well as one of the singular graces that would shape our whole married and family life. I hope to share some direct excerpts from the travel journal in forthcoming blogs.

Friday, June 28, 2013

He Waits For Us; He Walks With Us

The Lord takes His time.
But even He,
in this relationship with us,
has a lot of patience.
Not only do we have to have patience:
He has! He waits for us!
And He waits for us until the end of life!

Think of the good thief,
right at the end,
at the very end,
he acknowledged God.

The Lord walks with us,
but often does not reveal Himself,
as in the case
of the disciples of Emmaus.
The Lord is involved in our lives,
that's for sure!
But often we do not see.

This demands our patience.

But the Lord who walks with us,
He also has a lot of patience with us.

~Pope Francis

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rescue Me, Lord, From My Enemies

I began the day with Psalm 143. "Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies," says this prayer. "Put an end to my foes...." The Psalms often express the hope that God will destroy enemies, blot them out, make an end to them.

Its not surprising that the world appears to be dominated by ideologies and agendas that ignore God's wisdom, God's love, God's tenderness, God's peace. Followers of Jesus may be tempted to discouragement.  But difficult times call for a deeper adherence to Him. Jesus told His disciples, "In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (John 16:33).

I take much confidence in this Psalm, because I am praying that God will give me His grace in my struggle against "my enemies," and that He will defeat them utterly; indeed that they have already been conquered in Christ. These are the "enemies" I find within myself, my own sins, bad habits, and weaknesses. My enemies are the distress and frustration that weigh upon my soul, the smallness of my faith and love and trust.

The only enemies that can truly harm me are the sins and resistance in me that hold me back from giving myself in trusting love to God, in whatever circumstances He has placed me.  And so I must hope, I must pray and struggle, I must get up off the ground again and again and rejoin the battle to conquer myself so that I might belong to Him.

Psalm 143

Lord, listen to my prayer:
turn your ear to my appeal.
You are faithful, you are just; give answer.
Do not call your servant to judgment
for no one is just in your sight.

The enemy pursues my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead, long forgotten.
Therefore my spirit fails;
my heart is numb within me.

I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands.
Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.

Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave.

In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
Make me know the way I should walk:
to you I lift up my soul.

Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will
for you, O Lord, are my God.
Let your good spirit guide me
in ways that are level and smooth.

For your name’s sake, Lord, save my life;
in your justice save my soul from distress.
In your mercy put an end to my foes;
all those who are oppressing my soul,
for I am your servant.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Who Will Forgive Me When I Fail?

I once heard our culture described as a place where "everything is permitted, and nothing is forgiven." There is much truth in that assessment. I think this is one of the reasons why so many people are anxiously trying these days to change moral norms so as to accommodate actions that humanity's moral conscience has always rejected in the past.

Deep down, people don't believe in forgiveness. They may talk about it, but in their hearts they don't really think its possible.

I can understand why people feel that way. Sometimes I feel that way myself. If I see "myself" as consisting in an autonomous project of self-definition, a project that I carry out alone, I will run into my own limitations everywhere. I will always fall short. And if I am truly alone, what can I do when I fail, other than condemn myself and suffer the condemnation of others?

When we find ourselves in this situation, we think that perhaps "society" can rescue us.

Thus we try to bend the moral norms, so that we can define our failures as success, and demand that others do the same. This can only be brought about by a refusal to look at reality, and by doing violence to ourselves and others. This violence, in turn, must be justified and redefined. We are afraid to be alone with the horror of what we have made of ourselves.

But perhaps our culture may begin to notice that redefining the standards of what it means to be human, among other things, doesn't work. We still bump into our own limitations, everywhere. We have seen that we can't follow with total coherence the meaning that is inherent to our humanity (and we're afraid to admit it). So we try to change that meaning, and to reshape society so that it supports what we think is a more attainable idea of human dignity. In the process, however, we have to establish a whole set of new rules. And, as it turns out, we're no good at keeping these rules either. We feel even less coherent, and even more alienated than ever, and we don't know where to turn.

We who claim to be "free" are in fact a society obsessed with guilt, terrified of failure, and full of self-loathing. We have succeeded in manipulating our understanding of humanity and creating our own rules. But when we look at our personal and social lives, everything is more messed up than it was before! So, we flee into addictions in a desperate effort to distract ourselves. Or we try to use will power to suppress our inner pain, to plug up all the real human anguish and longing that keeps spilling through the cracks and into our awareness. 

To put it simply: we are not happy.

We experience ourselves as failures, sooner or later. We condemn ourselves by our own rules, and we can't imagine the possibility of forgiveness because each of us feels more alone than ever with the confusion of who we are and the mess of what we have chosen to do. More alone than ever....

But what if I am not "alone"?

What if the core of my person consists in "belonging-to-Another"? What if my real life is in fact a relationship with the Source of all meaning and goodness? And what if I begin to realize that my very be-ing in this moment is the result of the fact that I am being loved by the One who is Infinite Love?

If this is true, then I am "good" and my humanity is a gift. A precious gift. I am precious to Someone. And when I fail, I can seek forgiveness. I can hope that the One who is Good will make me good. This hope is written on my heart, and I do not need to suffocate it. There is forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Do We Have "The Master Theory"?

Yeah, man. We are RIGHT!
"Christianity" or "Catholicism"... 

In the end, is it just another "ism"? Is it just another theory, perhaps the Master Theory, but in the end nothing but a system for fixing and organizing the world? Or is it simply the case that, in the contest in which people make competing claims about the meaning of life, my group makes the right ones? In the end, everyone will see that our Party is the Party of God. We will win at last!!! Huh?

But Jesus did not come for this; He brings so much more than any "ism" that could be domesticated by human thinking or justify the self-exaltation of particular human beings or groups. Jesus did not come to bring us "the official ideology approved by God." This would not be enough for us -- for the implacable desire for the fullness of life that we each carry around inside us.

It is very easy to think of Christianity as a bunch of stuff we have to do (or not do), because God and the Church say so, but if we think this way, we will find ourselves trying to negotiate and integrate this rather burdensome collection of stuff into our lives. We need to ask ourselves, "Is this how I try to live my faith? Is this how I present it to others?"

The rest of the world often views Christianity as a collection of external rules that more or less interfere with real life, that is, with the aspect of life that interests and engages us as persons. What a grim business! No wonder people are not attracted to it.

I must beware that I do not allow this kind of moralism to become my own view of Christianity. I must remember that Christianity is a new life, a supernatural life, a life of communion with God. In Jesus, God Himself came into history, so that He might share His life with us. The life that Jesus offers us fulfills and transforms our hearts. This is what is interesting.

Through baptism, I have been given a participation in the Divine life, and through grace this life grows within me and transforms me. God gives Himself to me; He draws me into a personal relationship with Himself; He leads me to my destiny which is to share forever in His glory, to behold and to love forever the One who is the fullness of all goodness, to belong to Him forever.

Eternal glory has already begun, secretly, in the very heart of this ordinary life, because God dwells in me, and God is at work in my life. But why am I so dull and unaware? Because I need the light of the Holy Spirit to show me the path He has laid out before me. Christianity is not external to the real concerns of my life. It illuminates them and opens me up to their true meaning. But this only happens if I live the relationship with God that He continually desires to deepen throughout my life.

And how can I live and grow in a relationship with Eternal Love except by asking for Him to change me, asking for Him to empower me to love Him more, asking Him to enable me to see the Church as the instrument of His love, and her teachings as the road of love that really corresponds to my life? I want Him to "come" into my life, deepen my relationship with Him, and make me more aware of His presence. This is why I must ask, continually, for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be renewed within me. This is why my whole heart has to be a living, loving, begging prayer for God's grace.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Our Happy Anniversary

The beautiful bride, and the groom at their wedding reception

It is June 22, 1996. Here's the happy, youthful, energetic newly married couple. Well, they're a bit "mature" -- he's 33 and she's 29. Both have pursued advanced academic study and are professional teachers. But they are younger than they realize, and have yet to learn many amazing, beautiful, and difficult things in life.

A few days after the wedding, they'll go to Rome and Italy for a three and a half week honeymoon. Both of them have lived in Italy before (at different times), and they intend to revisit sites, get together with old friends, contemplate great works of art, embark on religious pilgrimages, and eat lots of good food.

Cellphones in 1996!
Did you have one?
Indeed, they would do all these things and more in the coming month. Above all, they would also have a most unexpected personal encounter in Rome. (I'll write more about that later.)

After 17 years, looking at the old wedding pictures (none of which are digital) is a funny experience. Everybody looks "soooooo nineties." And sooooo young. I could scan the wedding album and tag all kinds of people and they would say, "Whoa, is that me?" But that would be more work than I'm up to now (aren't you glad?), and probably not worth the effort anyway.

When we got married, Eileen's father was only three years older than I am now. Wow!

It was almost a generation ago, and frankly it really does feel that way. I'm always musing about how strange a thing is time, but I feel the growth of those years, the many labors, the suffering, and the joys.

Today, I can't imagine life without Eileen at my side. I also can't imagine that there was ever a time when our five children did not exist. And its hard to believe there was ever a time when I had no beard, or actually even cared about the hair on my head (haha).

But there we were, newly married in 1996. Many new experiences awaited us. The deepest things were circumstances we could not possibly have dreamed. We knew enough to commit ourselves irrevocably to each other and to going through together "whatever might come."

We still don't know what's coming. Nor does any other married couple. There are challenges at every stage of a lifelong commitment. What we learn more and more, however, is how Jesus has consecrated that commitment with His love, through the sacrament of marriage. Christ crucified and risen has placed Himself at the heart of our commitment to each other, and made it a superabundant source of grace so that we might grow together in His likeness. And His presence is a guarantee that we can make it through anything, that our commitment is not based on our weakness but on His faithfulness.

One thing does not surprise me: she's still a beautiful lady. And she always will be.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The One Who Speaks....

"As generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received. The one who speaks is to deliver God’s message. The one who serves is to do it with the strength provided by God. Thus, in all of you God is to be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:10-11).
 Ah, good. There is something for the word-maker to do in the Kingdom.

"Speaking" is a gift from God, a gift of grace. Into all of the insecurity and vanity, and the brilliance touched by madness, the constant tilt of a mind that rises too high, too often, and therefore lacks oxygen, the impossible urge to express what cannot be said -- into this human whirlwind comes grace.

The words we can never find are given to us. And we are charged with a work of service, indeed a work of mercy: deliver God's message!

Here we are with our words and our education; we come not as wise men but as servants. Poor, pallid, wildly creative, brain damaged, exhausted by books and ideas, spent and broken by the failure of human heights, and full of wonder at the grace that is given to us right now, we come to serve. By grace we crawl on the ground and carry the bowl for Jesus as He washes your feet.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Into the Dirt

I know "words" are not worth much. "Words" are what I do: its partially vocation and partially compulsiveness. As my kids say, "blah, blah, blah" (imitation of Daddy).

Really, words are not much. We learn more by getting our butts kicked, and that's why God allows it to happen. We go crying to Him, and it stinks, and we tell Him that it hurts. But He heals us if we trust in Him. That's the gospel.

God goes into the dirt and gets us. For me this is an ongoing, grueling, precarious, and real experience.

I have found so many other people in the same place too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Spinning the World From My Bed

Europe? No, lets go somewhere else.
Earlier this week I started to get that "I've-been-run-over-by-a-truck" feeling all over (this is a hyperbolic analogy, of course... but this is a realm where one searches desperately for analogies that will work in any way).

And so I put myself to bed. I shouldn't be writing anything. I should just rest. Writing requires too much energy. But I'm writing anyway. I'm stubborn. I've had enough of sleeping, and the mind must be engaged or else it will create its own mischief. Thanks to the internet, I can travel the world without leaving my bed.

Spin the virtual world and see what we find.

Humm, hummmm, hmmmm... States in India. This looks interesting.

Did you know that India has states?

I thought I knew everything about India: Hinduism, Islam, curry, the British, Gandhi, poor people, railroads, Mother Teresa, customer service reps on the phone, snakes, "they make more and more of our stuff these days," tea, the Taj Mahal, population of 1.1 gazillion, monsoons, Bollywood. What else is there to know?

Well, for one thing, they have "states."

Oh, and I almost forgot: Cricket! They play Cricket, the only sport on earth that I find utterly incomprehensible. I get it that you hit this ball, but why? And you run, but why? And you catch and throw, but why? And what exactly are the "wickets" and what is their purpose? And the score ends up being 250-193, and I can't imagine how you score anything at all! What is going on??? But I digress....

My Indian friends know that I'm teasing. Right? Right? Not about Cricket; I don't understand it at all. But I know much more about India and its cultures, and its historic greatness. Still, what I know is mostly through study, conversations with others, and of course media. I appreciate these things, especially when I reflect upon them. But they have not sunk deeply into my imagination. I've never been anywhere near India. I have no experience of India.

So if I just "shake" my subconscious and watch what comes up, the images tend to be things like the Taj Mahal and elephants and mangoes and big dance numbers on screen. But one way to gain some development of imagination is through comparing and contrasting.

So lets look at this. India has states. But they're not like the United States. They're the size of whole countries, in terms of population. Lets look at one Indian state, the most southern one. Its called Tamil Nadu.

Let me focus on just a few things. The Tamil are a very distinctive ethnic group, with their own language and their own script. I kinda knew that already. But there are 70 million of them in the state of Tamil Nadu. That I did not know.

Tamil Nadu is close to the population of Germany.

Tamil Nadu has a higher population than France.

Higher than Italy.

Higher than Spain.

Higher than Great Britain.

Here are 70 million people in the world, members of the human race, my brothers and sisters, each made in the image and likeness of God, and I didn't even know of their existence. Now I do.

And here's another contrast: France is five times the size in land area as Tamil Nadu. France is about the size of Texas. (Maybe further comparison and contrast can enrich my understanding.) So that means that Tamil Nadu is one fifth the size of Texas. Lets get closer to home: this is about 50,000 square miles, which is roughly the same size as the states of Virginia and Maryland together. "We" (I speak as a Virginian) have a combined population of more than 14 million.

Tamil Nadu is geographically about the size of Virginia and Maryland (our fair land, with 14 million people all together).

Tamil Nadu has over 70 million people. People! Human beings. My brothers and sisters. I am grateful that I have come to know you, even from a distance.

Let me be clear: when I look at these numbers, I am not thinking about so-called "over"-population. Human beings are not "problems;" they are creative and intelligent persons. Give them the chance, and they will find beautiful solutions to the material challenges of living together and living well on a larger scale.

Poverty is not caused by too many people. Poverty is caused by too many greedy people. But that's another topic, and now I am sitting up. I do need to rest. Although the pains of one little man don't seem so important in a world so great and so mysterious, so burdened and so hopeful in the face of everything.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Slowing Down For Awhile (Trying Anyway)

Sorry. I'm slowing down the blog and just about everything else these days. I'm having some "red flag" symptoms (ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch! aaaacckk! clunk!) so I'm taking some weight off my feet and off my brain. I hope this is temporary. Please pray for the sick.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Agnese Janaro's Confirmation: A Father's Thoughts

Father and daughter at the reception
Agnese Janaro received the sacrament of Confirmation this past weekend. She took the name of St. Isaac Jogues (yes, you can pick a saint of either gender). She had read about him and was (no doubt) deeply impressed by his extraordinary Christian witness (who wouldn't be?), but she hasn't said much about why she chose him in particular. I am happy to respect her discretion.

I tease my poor girl too much. I want her to be confident that she can grow and have aspirations and try new things without thinking that her father is going to find out and start joking around and making her feel silly. Or that he's going to write about her adventures on his BLOG!

We love her so very much!

A little teasing, now and then, won't hurt her of course. She has her own sense of humor, and a heart inspired by courageous deeds. She is a marvel, and God is shaping her heart in His mysterious ways.

I spoke with her briefly the day before, because I wanted to express simply how much it meant to me in my own life to meet Jesus, to discover Him as a real Person, and to live a relationship with Him with all my desire. This is what matters in my life.

So I said a few awkward words. But more important than any words: does she see this in me, in the way I live the circumstances of my life as her mother's husband, as her father? Does she see this in the way I struggle every day with my disability and the limits it imposes on me; or in my struggles to overcome my sense of frustration and failure, and to battle against my own forgetfulness and the weight of selfishness and my countless petty faults? Does she see that (even with all my goofiness) He is the One who enables me to love her, and is the reason why I love her so much? Do I help her to see, not just in words but in real life, that He is real and He is here and that He loves us all? Do I help her to see that she can trust in His love?

I hope and pray that my life bears some witness to the real Jesus. The most important thing, of course, is that He is already here, with us, with her, already shaping her heart in His mysterious ways. This is the depths of her "self," this relationship that does not belong to me. God is her Father. Jesus and the Holy Spirit open her heart to this love.

But I have been given my own part to play, and I must carry it out in whatever circumstances. I must have the faith that gives me the confidence to get up again and again whenever I fail, and to thus witness through my life that His mercy sustains me.

His mercy is always worthy of trust.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Come Holy Spirit

Come Holy Spirit!

Fill the hearts of Your faithful,
and enkindle in them
the Fire
of Your Love!

Friday, June 14, 2013

No Answer Except Love

We have to admit that life opens up a lot of questions. A living relationship with Jesus, however, encompasses and carries us even in our struggles with questions and problems.

There are times when my own "questions" are not sincere. Rather, they are pretexts for my unwillingness to grow in love. They are expressions of resistance; they come from the places in my soul that I have not yet opened to God. Too often I just want to hide from the recognition of my own sins, because I forget that I have been made to receive the mercy of God, that He wants to fill my emptiness with His love. Or else I am too proud to admit that I am empty, and thus I deprive myself of the beauty of experiencing forgiveness. Why am I so proud?

But there are other kinds of questions, genuine and mysterious questions that have accompanied me for much of my life. I have frustration when I feel like I perceive some truth, but I don't know how to communicate with others. I feel misunderstood by others, or I am restless with the "in a glass, dark" obscurity that always accompanies faith, and that seems to grow deeper even as the experience of faith increases. I have a faith that seeks understanding, and this is a gift, but how can I acknowledge it for what it is while also bearing its limits?

And then there are the daily, very ordinary trials of trying to live with other people, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is nothing romantic about Christian community. Its human, its hard, its a clash of stubborn souls with so many wounds that we hide from ourselves and one another. Often my attempts to "understand" these issues only aggravates them. My mind weaves pretexts for opposition, ideologies for self defense or partisanship, or shallow evasions.

What is the point of these questions? What does Jesus want?

Sometimes Jesus wants to change my heart and sometimes He is asking me to recognize and embrace Him in His suffering, precisely in those issues, in the frailty of myself and others and our sins - this brokenness that He enters and endures, and that has no "answer" except Love.

I believe that Love happens right there. Love happens wherever the pain is, or the incomprehension, or the weakness, the resistance, the secret pride.

Love happens also in the awful burden of the gift of insight, and the patience required to understand what it means, to be humbled by the utter smallness of anything I think I understand, to learn from others who have other gifts, and to discover how to share what I have been given.

I know these difficulties are really for me -- they are places of God's love for me -- because I encounter the Cross in them. The Crucified One is there for me, and of course I hide from Him 99.9999% of the time.

I'm proud. And I'm afraid of the suffering.

But He calls me to let go of my pride, and to acknowledge my sins and experience my need for Him.
"O Lord, I am proud. Make me humble! Give me the grace to be humble and poor, with a heart open to receive Your love and be changed by You!"
He calls me to be not afraid, to trust in Him, to stay with Him and suffer, and that especially is how He wants to change me, and how He has (I hope) already begun to change me.

Sometimes He answers our questions (in part), but always He suffers them in us and calls us to join Him in that suffering.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I am a Rich Man Who Must Beg

How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

I am a rich man. Our family is rich in material possessions and conveniences, in spite of what in the United States of America would be considered our precarious financial circumstances. I could scarcely manage without all the comforts of this fully industrialized and electronically developed society. I do not know where the clothes on my back or the food I eat or the furniture in my home come from, nor what web of unjust socioeconomic relationships govern the paths they travel from their places of origin to my home. I do not know what I or my family can do about the injustice in the world, but it is a reminder to pray to God that the relationships which are within the reach of our freedom may be founded on justice, solidarity, love, and mercy. And it is a reminder that we need to ask the Holy Spirit to transform our minds and open our hearts to the creative possibilities that God gives us to contribute to the common good.

I am a rich man in other ways too. There are riches that I possess in abundance, and that are very much at my disposal: the wealth of talent, capacity for expression, education, and experience in teaching others. I would like to think that here I have given liberally, that I have shared myself, that I have poured out these riches in love. But the truth is that even here I hoard my wealth. It is with these personal riches especially that Jesus says, "Go, sell all you have...follow me."

How much of my "giving" is really self-advancement? Very much, I fear. Images from the gospels resonate with my life: I love the special seats at gatherings, and being called rabbi. I love praying and performing religious acts for people to see, and--I hope--to applaud. I love to show my misery to the world so that everyone knows that I am suffering. It's such a sweet thing to be admired.

And so I have my "reward." I remain rich. I am a fool and a hypocrite. Even this confession of pharisaical behavior right now is really something of a scam; deep down there is that part of me that craves your admiration for my candor. Don't trust me! I don't trust myself!

The flaw, the twist, the self-love, the grasping seem to be a little mixed in with so much of what I do. And so it is, for human flesh and blood. "Forgive us our trespasses," we are taught to pray every day. The assumption, of course, is that we are going to trespass. Jesus doesn't want us to obsess over our faults, but to ask for the Father's mercy, and to be formed according to His will in the school that is this life: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

So we fail, and God is rich in mercy. But there is a special way that we must ask for God's mercy, and that is with the humility of hearts that are themselves merciful. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Here Jesus sums up life. We sin. But others also sin against us. We are hurt. We are betrayed. We are the victims of injustice. We are neglected. But we must forgive others. We must be people of mercy. This is not easy. This is where I experience my powerlessness. Here I must really "sell all I have" and give it away. Here is where following Christ begins. Here is where true riches are to be found.

How can I be merciful to others? I must ask God to enable me to be merciful to others. Everything begins in the position of prayer and poverty before God. Another word for this kind of poverty is trust.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Now Peter is very perceptive at this point. He cries out, "then who can be saved?" It is more than a matter of economics, although on this level it is important to remember that there are, on the whole, two kinds of people: those who are rich, and those who want to be rich. On the personal level, however, everyone is "rich"--even if all he possesses is "himself." Because we must lose our very selves for His sake.

"For man it is impossible," Jesus says. So we can't trust in our own riches. We can't trust in ourselves!

"But nothing is impossible with God." So return, again and again, to that posture of begging for mercy, and that posture of trust because the God who does the impossible has given Himself to us. He wants to and He will transform us into people of compassion, people who give themselves away, people who follow Him and in Him discover the only true treasure, His Love.

I am a hypocrite and a fool, but I know that God's Mercy is true, and I want it, and I beg for it from God--I beg for it for myself and for the whole world. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on me, a sinner.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Trust in Him in Front of Every Person

In Pope Francis we see a twofold and entirely consistent passion for evangelization and dialogue. Not only is there no contradiction between preaching the truth of Christ and walking with human persons in mutual understanding and love. They are in fact two facets of God's plan to pour out His love and mercy upon the world.

It is the great gift that Jesus has given us in recreating the human race as God's family, wherein God is truly "our Father" and we are really brothers and sisters. This brother/sisterhood is something we know from the life of faith. It is established and vivified in a concrete and visible way through the sacrament of baptism. In baptism we are reborn; eternal life begins in us, and we are able to begin to live this life together in a way that the whole world can see through the great communio of the Church.

Moreover, belonging to Jesus opens our eyes to the fact that we are brothers and sisters of every human person, because every person has been created by our Father's love and has been truly redeemed by Jesus. In becoming human and dying on the Cross, He has embraced every human person right down to their very unique, personal, mysterious depths.

This means of course that we want the whole world to know Him. It also means that we have profound respect for every human person in the intimate dialogue between God's love and their freedom. We witness to Jesus with clarity, consistency, and without tiring; but not because we want to impose our particular culture or ideology on anyone. We witness because we know that He is the meaning and fulfillment of everything. But He does not "belong" to us, as though He were some pretext for our self-exaltation, superiority, and condescension toward others. He does not belong to us; we belong to Him. The fruits of our testimony are entrusted to the mysterious ways of the God who loves and shapes all hearts.

That is why proclaiming the truth of Christ's love for all peoples and for every human being also entails living as true brothers and sisters in this present moment with all those who have been given to us, wherever they come from. We don't need to put Christ and the Church aside to do this. On the contrary, we are called to live and extend faithfully this mystery of Christ's redeeming love wherever we go throughout the world. Thus we seek to live together with everyone in good will, to walk together, to help one another, to listen to and learn from one another about the mystery and struggles of our lives and the inexhaustible longing of our hearts. We live with and love one another always as brothers and sisters.

It is precisely Jesus Himself who makes this life possible. We place our trust in Him in front of every person. We bear witness to that trust by the grace of the Spirit, who inspires our manner of witness according to the steps that Jesus wills to take through us in order to make Himself known in the context of various circumstances and factors of life that are beyond our human knowledge. We bear witness to Him with words that foster understanding and express our own conviction, but always we must beg for the grace to allow His love to be present and to communicate itself through our lives.

And Jesus will give us the freedom to love persons in an exceptional way, and to appreciate the uniqueness of each and every one of them with profound tenderness. He will enable us to affirm with gratitude and to learn from all of the truth, goodness, and beauty that they possess from their religious and cultural heritages, and from their own experiences and understanding of life. He will give us a great compassion for their failures, and a humility about ourselves and the vocation that we all experience, which is to give ourselves in love, and to make room in our hearts so that we can let ourselves be loved.

We must neither impose our faith nor hide it for the sake of some imagined unity. Jesus Himself has established and is building up the unity of the human family, and He calls us in this present life -- in the face of so many obstacles -- to cultivate that unity in truth and love, trusting always in Him.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Her Own Library Card!

There are many rites of passage in the life of a child. The library is one of the first social institutions to recognize a child's capacity to assume responsibility. But they use a lot of big words that are surely beyond the child's understanding. Little people make big commitments, and its a good thing that we are there to back them up.

"Look, Daddy, I got my own library card!"

Josefina is all signed up! :)

Thus another Janaro kid enters the System, and agrees to "accept responsibility...policies and procedures...transactions...and fees incurred...." Got all that, Josefina?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Teach Me to Let Myself Be Loved By You

He comes close
and gives us His love with tenderness.
Closeness and tenderness!
The Lord loves us in these two ways,
He draws near and gives all His love
even in the smallest things:
with tenderness.
And this is a powerful love,
because closeness and tenderness
reveal the strength of God’s love.

It is more difficult to let God love us
than to love Him!
The best way to love Him in return
is to open our hearts and let Him love us.
Let Him draw close to us
and feel Him close to us.
This is really very difficult:
letting ourselves be loved by Him.
And that is perhaps what we need to ask
today in the Mass:

"Lord, I want to love You,
but teach me the difficult science,
the difficult habit
of letting myself be loved by You,
to feel You close
and feel Your tenderness!"

May the Lord give us this grace.

Pope Francis,
Homily for Feast of the Sacred Heart

Read selected quotations from the Pope's daily homilies at the Vatican Radio website.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Joining the Club" is Not Enough: I Want Brothers and Sisters

St. Benedict, patron of the Fraternity. This image
doesn't imply any endorsement by the Fraternity of
any of the nonsense in this blog post. The words here
are entirely due to the (lack of) responsibility of me.
I mentioned last week that my wife and I were able to attend the annual retreat/Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation held for our region of the United States. It was really good for both of us on a lot of levels. We got to see many good friends that we don't see often, since no one from the Fraternity lives near us. We were also reminded of why we continue to be attached more deeply to the Church through this charism.

What I've written here are not polished reflections at all. This is rough stuff that is being left largely as I wrote it on first draft, before beginning to study the written texts from the Exercises, which is a work that we continue throughout the year. I still have much to discover and clarify (and reconsider) so as to express these points more precisely.

The grace of the charism of CL witnesses to a crucial aspect of what it means to live as members of one another in Christ, journeying together toward our common destiny of eternal life and love in the Trinity. Its so easy, as Catholics, to have a moment in which we recognize, "this is the road for our journey!" But then we walk that road like we are strangers to one another.

I have a very hard time with that. For me, the road is so weird and I get lost all the time, or go around in circles. I can't do this alone. I need something more than polite fellow-travelers on this trip.

I've studied "the road" for 30 years, and I've prayed, and this has been a good thing. But its like studying food and learning about cooking. The cookbooks tell me all about food and what to do with it, but they don't actually give me any food. And I'm hungry right now. Studying cooking just makes me more hungry. I want to eat... at least something.

Prayer of course nourishes, but it also mysteriously deepens the hunger. If my prayer is authentic, then it will lead me to discover ever more profoundly just how needy and poor I really am.

So where can I go? The Church ...what do I find in a parish? Activities and groups. That's okay, but its not enough. After its over, I get into my car and drive back to my lonely fortress. Is that what the New Testament calls "the fellowship of disciples"?

What about just giving up my mind and my freedom to some "Catholic dictator" who just tells me what to think and what to do and relieves me of the awful burden of being a human person? I must admit that this option can be very tempting. "Conformity" and "comfort," disguised as obedience, could shape my notions and my behavior into a formulaic routine, and give me a sense of superiority, but they would also also suffocate my heart -- that depth of me that says, "I am someone, I have been made for a reason, I have aspiration, I have hope, I don't just want to be reduced to a 'part' of a project, not even the cosmic project!"

What else is there for me? Can I exalt my aloneness and say, "I'm gonna do what I want and just blow off everybody else"? For me, personally, that's the short path to the psych ward. Others seem to get by with this attitude, except that its really crummy for their spouses (who often become ex-spouses) and their children and anyone else who needs them or tries to care about them.

I don't want to be alone. I need people. Clubs and the internet are not enough. Being part of the collective just covers up the loneliness. There's a lot missing even from the experience of being in dedicated Catholic groups that work together for the good of the Church. People can share an activity (even passionately) without sharing their lives. Passion for the cause can become a cover for not acknowledging the poverty of my person, for not sharing myself, for not loving and for not being honest about my own vulnerability, my own need to be loved.

I can even "belong" to a "movement," and wear it like a badge, and conform myself to its external style, and do all the "stuff," and still not invest myself. I can cover up the fact that I'm poor and that I need God. I can hide it from others, and from myself.

And I can write about this whole subject, but really be trying to avoid it. I'm saying, "See, I know about my need for Christian community, and I'm helping others to discover that too... so I 'get it,' obviously. That means that you, my friend, don't have bother me, okay? So go away!"

Its true that I don't want people meddling in my life. There is a reason for this fear. So often in life, my experience has been that people come along, stand on their platform, rebuke me, and then leave! That happens so much. It even happens in movements. It certainly happens in marriages. We live alone. Then we come out to "help" one another every so often. Then we go back to being alone.

I don't want to belong to a group of people who just correct my behavior and call me "brother," but don't actively love me. That's not the Church. That's manipulation. That's a fundamentalist sect. Its just another form of power imposing itself upon the weak.

When we talk about our relationship within the Church, we use these terms: "brothers and sisters." Why? Are we just being nice? Why this metaphor, or even better, is it just a metaphor? The Church is our Mother. Baptism is a new birth. We are brothers and sisters and more, members of each other and members of Christ's body.

Is all this just "Christianspeak"? I hope not! Because this is what I want! I want brothers and sisters. I want a family. I want to belong to God, to call Him "Father," and to have the freedom to be with others in my life and say, "I am your brother" and "you are my brother, you are my sister, you help me just by the fact that we are together, you help me even when you fail or forget. We are together in Him. We help each other to follow Him to the place where our hearts will all finally be at home."

I run away from this myself, every day. It scares me to death (why is that?). But its still what I really want.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"The Janaro Family" Turns Sixteen Years Old

John Paul at maybe three or four months old.
So do you have a little baby in the house? On June 1, 1997 we had our first little baby at three o'clock in the morning. I guess I'm supposed to say something like, "Gee, it feels like it just happened yesterday!"

Actually, no. It doesn't feel that way at all. It was, in fact, sixteen years ago. Since then, I've lived half my adult life (note, I said "adult" life, which was preceded by 18 years of "pre-adult" life... you don't need to do the math). Four daughters have come after him, and many things have happened since then.

Sometimes I'll come across a book and realize that its been 16 years since the last time I read it. That feels unusual. Light in August by William Faulkner... I just read that recently, didn't I? No, actually, I was reading it while we were waiting for John Paul to be born. That seems like "yesterday."

John Paul at the age of sixteen.
But with my son there is a relationship. There has been a certain intersubjectivity* (n.b. *large philosophical word) between father and son, and with the other members of the family. It is the history of a relationship and a larger context of relationships that has grown and changed from year to year. My own childhood years seem very long in my memory. In a way, his years seem long too, at least when I think of the time in terms of our relationship and the subsequent development of our family up until the present.

John Paul was born like a little boxer, shaking his fists and wailing but also looking me straight in the eye with what appeared to be a sense of awareness and intelligence. Smart little feller.

He was the beginning of our family. He was the one who made me look at myself for the first time and say, "I'm a father." It put fear and trembling into me.

We're all growing together. At every point, I feel a more profound sense of helplessness: "How am I going to be a father to this (these) child (children)?" Somehow, Eileen and I have found the resources for every stage thus far. We are flawed parents raising flawed children, but we are also blessed and lifted up by grace and carried all along the way.

What does a father do? I don't have a clear "formula;" its a gift that keeps unveiling itself. A father loves his wife, and is grateful for her. He spends a lot of time on his knees begging God for help. He tries to teach and love and discipline with a trust in the grace of vocation and the providence that makes a family, as well as a healthy awareness of the "organic" reality that nurtures, in time, both interrelationships and the individual uniqueness of each person in a family. He never gives up on paternal tenderness, even when he fails every day. He prays together with the family. He prays alone, for the family. He prays and works with his wife, and trusts above all in the grace of Jesus present through the sacrament they share in marriage.

He is aware of the failures of his children, he is patient, he instructs, he corrects, but always he forgives. He does his best to be a man, but doesn't try to prove his manhood in some artificial way, and doesn't get insecure about his own weaknesses, because everyone is weak... (and fathers will be confronted with their human weaknesses in so many ways). He doesn't withdraw or hide. He just keeps getting up again, and keeps working on it.