Thursday, August 29, 2013

Extrovert, Introvert, or What?

Would an introvert let anyone see this picture?
There's been a fad bopping around the internet recently. Maybe its not so recent, but in any case I have recently noticed it. People are identifying various aspects of their personality, sometimes by taking quick online versions of the Mertz-Dorkheimer screening test, or some other test.

The results of these tests are condensed into an acronym that folks then proceed to toss about on their blogs, or Twitter, or Facebook or wherever, which makes them sound very sophisticated and makes me very confused because I don't know what any of these acronyms mean.
Sometimes I see a post like this: "Well, I've been acting like a typical IHMT recently. But we have our particular needs, you know!"
Oh, I see. Yes, I know. "Thumbs up," and all that.

What the heck are they talking about? I have no idea, but of course I'm not going to admit that. I'm out for a promenade in the main square of the global village. We all know what the acronyms mean, of course.

Maybe I should google the "Hamburger-Fries person preferential assessment test" so that I'll know more. I can even take the test myself. ...

Okay, it seems that I'm a strong LMKNT person. Wow, that's true. I could get into this! (See if you can figure out the acronym before I reveal it at the end of this post.)

Really, I should know about these things. For years now, my personality has been the object of scientific study, and scientific experimentation (of course they don't call it that; they call it "treatment," hahaha). I've taken lots of assessment tests. My favorite tool for clinical behavioral analysis has always been this one:


This test is one of the great achievements of science in our time. Everybody can find themselves in one or a combination of those faces, in any given moment. Its brilliant. I understand this test. But the ones with verbal questions tend to get me confused. Do I want to be at the big party or on a quiet beach with a book? I'm not sure. I need more details.

I don't seem to fit into any box.

There's the basic and very popular distinction between "introvert" and "extrovert" -- websites have gotten into posting lists, cartoons, and memes about introverts and extroverts.
"When extroverts see a person, they assume that he or she wants to have a conversation." Well of course. I assume that. Doesn't everybody?
"Introverts like to be alone and read books." Well that's me for sure. Sometimes I've thought that solitary confinement wouldn't be so bad... as long as I could bring a few books.
I am always thinking, reflecting, and empathizing from the moment my eyes open. Sometimes when Eileen is sitting quietly with a cup of coffee, I ask her, "What are you thinking about?" and she says, "Nothing."


Wow! How do you do that!? Oh, I would trade mountains of gold for the ability to think about "nothing"! What bliss! What a blessed relief!

Of course, I realize that she's not talking about some kind of vacuous state of emptiness. She's just relaxing. The closest I get to "relaxing" is thinking about Josef Pieper's book on leisure.

I must be an extrovert. Right?

I can also sit in a room full of people and completely tune them out. I can focus my attention on something I'm reading, or even something I'm working out in my mind, and be oblivious. Screaming babies all around me? Oblivious. "Here come the bride and groom?" Everybody stands and claps and I'm... oblivious.

Am I an introvert?

They say that writers are introverts. A writer is a person who thrives on solitude. I do love solitude. I love getting up early in the morning, when the house is quiet, when the rest of the world is quiet. I pray. I reflect on the themes that will eventually become words on a page (or a screen). I go for a walk. Alone.

But when I actually work, I like to be in the middle of things. In college and graduate school, I wrote my papers in the commons or the lounge. Concentration was not a problem. In fact, I seem to do it best when I'm surrounded by the sounds of life. And I don't mind being interrupted, whether its just to say hello or to break off and have a conversation.

During my teaching years, I offered additional "office hours" for students... in the lounge or the coffee shop! Not only because its a fact that a lot of good teaching goes on in those places, but also because I like being where the people are.

At home, I do not have a "man cave". I have a "man campground" in one corner of the living room. I have my stuff, my chair, my table, my gadgets, and the 235 books that I'm "currently" reading. Eileen tolerates my corner; it is yet another small but heroic sacrifice that she makes, another one of my quirks that she bears patiently as she grows daily in virtue and holiness. ;)

I love the busy atmosphere of the living room, although I admit that I usually retreat to the bedroom at some point in the afternoon for some "quiet reading" (which usually includes a nap).

I don't feel the need to go out seeking people, but I like to be where people are, especially if they are people I know. Extrovert? Introvert? Neither one, it seems to me. I guess that's where the acronyms come in. I'm an EI or an IE. Whatever "alpha" is, I am not that. IEPDQLOL?

I guess I won't know until I take one of those "Wiener-Schnitzel experimental classification" tests. Sounds yummy!

Ah, I almost forgot, here's the meaning of the other acronym... Lettuce Mayonnaise Ketchup No Tomato. Seriously, do you want my tomato?

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Don't Care What Anyone Says: ITS STILL SUMMER!

Early morning walks, bright, sunny and still cool
I don't care what anyone says: its still summer!

I don't care that our older kids (three of them now) are starting at Chelsea academy next week. I don't care that the "kids" of some friends are leaving for college this weekend. I don't care that its almost time for football's regular season to begin.

I'm not ready yet.

The Montessori Center starting date is still a couple of weeks away, but things are already gearing up over there with unpacking for the new location, parent conferences, and planning. Mrs. Janaro is plenty busy these days.

But we've had fun this summer. Although we didn't make any trips, we've had several visitors. We've also had some time to hang around as a family. With John Paul turning 16, it may be the last summer in which all the kids are still kids. John Paul and Agnese can still be dragged down by their younger sisters to the level of participating in a five part whirling chase throughout the house. But Josefina is also old enough to stay up late so we can all watch a video together.

We had Agnese's Confirmation in June:

The Newly Confirmed with her parents and our beloved bishop
and"Someone-Else-Who-Wanted-to-be-in-the Picture-too"!

The Fourth of July:

A patriotic Teresa

And sparkler fun for John Paul too!

And everybody relaxing:

Ungarded moments....

Very laid back.

And Nationals baseball in August (they lost):

It looked closer in real life. Honestly....

But we still had lots of fun (annual baseball couple picture)

I'm not ready for summer to end. In any case, this blog will probably remain "lazy" through the end of this month. Still, I'm looking forward to the Fall, to the new John XXIII Center and my continuing role as "resident scholar and resource consultant," and also to the High School adventures of the teens, including girls' volleyball matches.

The melancholy cloud of mournful nostalgia that usually covers this time of year for me doesn't seem to be around. I don't mind so much that "school is starting but I am not teaching." That's not to say I wouldn't love to be teaching, if I had the strength for it.

I do have the strength for the matters at hand, for what is given to me now. And I'm open to surprises.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Church: Jesus Remains With Us

God chose a moment of history--a particular place and time--to enter into an inconceivable solidarity with the human race by becoming one of us in Jesus Christ. God gives Himself in the particular life, death and resurrection of Jesus -- but it is not only a gift for the immediate disciples of Jesus or for the human race of the first century; He gives Himself so as to be an offering for each and every person of every place and time. Jesus desires with all the ardor of His heart to be present as the Word who has become flesh, and who continues to dwell among us even today.

This is what the Church is all about. Jesus. He remains present among us through the Church.

This means that Jesus has taken the "risk" of putting Himself in the hands of sinful human beings so that He can continue to give Himself to us twenty centuries later, in a concrete way. He has promised that He will reach us today through the Church. We trust Christ in His Church.

Even if many of His representative are great sinners, He has promised that we will always find Him in the Church, and He has established the means whereby He makes good on this promise. Thus Christ reaches us in the sacraments and makes Himself present for us in the Eucharist, even if the minister -- His human instrument -- is unworthy to represent Him.

We must never forget this. It is not a matter of an omnipotent, merely human priesthood conjuring Christ by some magical incantation. It is a matter of His sovereign determination to be with and to give Himself to you and me in the space and time and reality of our lives through human gestures that take place in our world today--gestures which are guaranteed to have value for our lives because it is He who performs them through His ministers.

The value of the sacraments and their meaning for our lives is founded on the presence and action of Jesus Christ, not the merits or worthiness of those He uses as instruments. He is present in His Church, and it is always to Him we adhere. Even as we recognize that He comes to us through other men, we trust Him, and we know that He will not deny Himself to us because of their weaknesses and limitations. This is the promise that Christ in the sacraments has made to every human being who seeks Him.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

We Have a Mother Who Loves Us

We're in Mary's "week" -- the octave of days between the great feast of the Assumption and the feast of August 22, the feast of the Queenship of Mary (which is not a Holy Day of Obligation, but that doesn't mean that a person trying to follow Jesus in the Church should just ignore it).

Mary, our Merciful Mother. I love Mary, although I feel like lately I've taken her a little bit for granted. I'm praying for her intercession and entrusting myself to her as much as ever, with my words (and I hope with something of my poor heart too). But I'm forgetting to let her maternal heart, her tenderness, shape me as a person. I'm forgetting that I need her maternal love to heal me and help bring my life together.

Mary brings healing. She's my Mother, and her presence reminds me that I am a little child, always. What is fifty years of life in front of the mystery of God and the whole drama of the history of salvation? I'm a child, still so recently born, still in need of everything, stumbling, falling, and being rescued from danger countless times without even knowing it. My true eloquence is still the cry of a baby, and it is a mother that hears and feels the person inside that cry: the person that I am, and that I am called to be in her Son.

And the mother knows that I am still so very small.

We can too easily "forget" about Mary. Thank God, she is such a good mother that she never forgets about us. Still, her heart has so much affection for us, and so much wisdom to instruct us, and she has been gifted with the particular secret of who each of us is called to be.

We need to just draw closer to her. She brings Jesus and us together in all the impenetrable details of life. God was born of a woman, and then He gave that woman to us. She is our Mother.

She is a good mother. Lets just go to her and be children. She will teach us how to walk and how to grow strong with the strength that comes from knowing that we are loved, and that we do not need to be afraid.

Mary, merciful and loving mother, help me!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Person You Will Me to Be

Father in heaven,
through the merciful heart of Your Son Jesus,
crucified and risen from the dead for our salvation,
and by the grace of Your Holy Spirit,
make me
the man,
the husband,
and the father
that You will me to be.

Bless my wife and our marriage,
our children,
and our home.

Bless my whole family,
my work,
and all those You have entrusted to me
in various ways.

Make me
the son and brother,
the teacher,
and mentor
that You will me to be.

Give me the grace to see
that every human being I meet
and interact with this day
is a person,
created in Your image and likeness,
created for love,
and deserving of nothing less from me
in every circumstance,
in whatever forum;
a person whose dignity is worthy
of recognition and reverence,
honor and service,
openness and respect,
solidarity and compassion.

Lord, have mercy on me.
Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Monday, August 12, 2013

On Being a "Good" Father

Giving the kids important lessons about life
Its hard to be a father. Or, rather, its hard to be a good father. I've told lots of funny stories about our family, and a few painful stories. We have faced some notable obstacles with health issues, but (as I have often emphasized) many "ordinary people" endure such things. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that our family life is mostly ordinary... and flawed.

For me, the day-to-day responsibilities of fatherhood all too often end up engendering a bunch of mistakes. I don't give the kids enough attention, or I speak rudely, or I'm too demanding, or (more often) I'm too lenient, or I get impatient, or I get snarky, or I deal with them in the mode of what-do-I-need-to-do-to-get-this-annoying-distracting-person-out-of-my-face, or I join in with their goofy games and forget to enforce basic family rules like DON'T JUMP ON THE COUCH, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I'm sure my wife could draw up a longer list. Any Mom reading this knows (and puts up with) the standard DadFails every day.

Its just the standard, ordinary stuff. There's much more on the positive side (I hope). Really, I'm a "good Dad." But I need to be better. I need to grow.

I want so much to love my children more, and I truly believe that there are abundant graces from God that make it possible fulfill the vocation of being a Christian and human father. God loves my children with an infinite love, and He wants to show them one of the foundational signs of His love through me. This is an awesome task which is beyond my natural powers as a human being and as a man.

Remembering my own fatherhood helps me to see my total need for healing and grace.

The illusion of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction can be difficult to break, and it is very easy to ignore God's presence (and even His existence) as long as we live inside the bubble of this illusion. But one way God awakens us and draws our hearts is through our children.

If we allow ourselves to love our children, we open ourselves up to the awareness of our own vulnerability. Children remind us again and again that we are not the ones who control reality. If we truly care about our children--if we let them burst the bubble of our self-centeredness--we are going to experience how much we need God.

Being a father reminds me that I need to pray.

I want my kids to discover and to grow in the awareness of the fact that God is their Father. I want them to know that their Daddy on earth is called to "help" them to experience in a more intimate way this true Fatherhood, this tremendous Love that gives them to themselves each moment, in His image, and calls them to be His children forever.

I can't fulfill my vocation without remembering continually that God is my Father too. He has made us all His children by giving us our lives, and by giving us His life in Jesus.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Holy Bar-Be-Cue!!!

Jesus has suffered for all of us, and suffers in all of us. He is the reason why redemption and glory are destined to rise up out of our own suffering, if we adhere to Him in faith, hope, and love. It doesn't usually "feel" this way when we are going through difficulties and pain.  But in the life of the Church, God has given us signs that suffering has indeed been transformed. For example, some saints have experienced the marvel of an ecstatic and wholly supernatural joy—a kind of anticipation of glory—that penetrates the heart of suffering itself.

Such joy—the foretaste of glory—is a kind of miracle, a special gift of grace. It is given to chosen souls. It lights the way for us all. We can see radical examples of this miracle of ecstasy and glory in the ancient accounts of the early Christian martyrs.

The history of the church in Rome during the great persecutions includes the story of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, whose luminous courage comes down to us through the ages in the form of an unconquerable (and profound) sense of irony and wit. When compelled by the authorities to surrender "the treasures of the church," Lawrence appeared in the presence of the magistrates with a crowd of poor people, proclaiming that "these are the treasures of the Church."

Later on, the story tells us that—as he was being roasted alive on a grill—Lawrence joked to his executioners, “You can turn me over. I’m done on this side”! In the spirit of this transcendent humor, the Christian people honor St. Lawrence as the patron of cooks—this is not a crude analogy, but a recognition in the heart of the Church that the triumph of the Cross penetrates all the way to the details of ordinary life.

The joy of St. Lawrence is a sign for us, not unlike the Transfiguration was for Jesus’s disciples. It is a flash of eternity in the memory of God’s People, reminding them of the real truth of the things of time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

He Gives Himself First

With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:19-20).

This is Christian life.

What can I add to this? I have been dwelling on this text recently. What happened on the Cross? He intervened, definitively, in my life. He did something completely new, so new that it changes who I am. He identified Himself with me, to the point of even taking on my sins, from which He sets me free in the mystery of His love.

He loved me and gave Himself up for me. We should read these words every day. He loved me and gave Himself up for me. What is this "me" that He loves so much? Weakness. Selfishness. But then He takes hold of my life at its roots. Where I am helpless He comes with the love and the gift of Himself, He the Son of God. He claims my life, in order to become the source of something new.

He asks me to let Him embrace me and become a source of new life--a life that is beyond the selfish prison of an "I" that struggles to find meaning in itself, alone. He breaks down the wall that separates me from the God that He is, the God that my "I" was created to live "for"--and this living for Him means that my self is opened up to Him. I am no longer alone. He lives in me.

How can this be? What does it mean? I live in the faith of the Son of God. I live a vital, obedient faith, full of hope, love, and trust because He has loved me.

He has found me, He has given Himself to me, He has made it possible for me to recognize Him and live for Him. The Christian "I" lives in a relationship of self-abandonment to Jesus Christ, a relationship made possible because He gives Himself first.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hands, Voice, Mind, Heart

The Rosary. We cry out to God with our profound existential crises, and then the Blessed Mother comes and says, "Pray the Rosary."

"But I'm confused about why I even exist. Does God even care?"

Wait. You're a human being who is distracted and broken by nature, and you're beaten up in your interior life, your perspective, your anticipations and fears by many bruising years of experience. You're carrying the consequences of your mistakes, of being manipulated by other people, and also all the flaws and disappointment woven into even your most cherished relationships.

"But I believe in Christ. Why am I such a mess? And not just me. The whole parish is a mess. The priests...gosh! Holiness? We're called to holiness, really? It seems like a joke...."

You got hands?

"What does that have to do with anything?"

You need to use your hands. Your fingers. Start with your fingertips. Take the beads.

Hands, voice, mind, heart.

Use your hands and your voice, and do the best you can with your mind, and Jesus and Mary will give you the heart. Take a journey through the Gospels with Jesus and Mary. Ponder the moments of His life. Be patient with yourself because your mind will wander a lot. Just do it, and try to do better. Try to do it even a little bit better?

You have the crucifix and images for you eyes. Let Jesus in. Let Him come in through those tired senses... those senses that have endured so much affliction.

Let Jesus and Mary bring you healing and peace.

Pray the Rosary.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Self-Inflicted Violence: It Doesn't Always Meet the Eye

I beat myself up all the time. Does that sound scary? Yet you won't find cuts or scars or bruises on my body. No... as is so often the case, I'm talking about something I do inside my head.

I think its important to take seriously the metaphor of "beating ourselves up" mentally and emotionally over our own real or perceived failures. These metaphors resonate for reasons that are deeper than we may realize.

Mentally ill people can develop even compulsive forms of interior violence, and repetitive psychological self injury. This can be even more crippling than visible, external self-inflicted violence, although I think the two often go together in life circumstances and illnesses other than my own.

Whatever the nature of the behavior, we need to become more aware of how damaging (and how potentially dangerous) it is to "beat up on ourselves."

I am not a medical doctor or a therapist. I am just a "patient" who has lived with my own mental illness for more than 40 years. All I can do is share what I have learned, what has helped me in my own struggles. And I have certainly learned that beating up on myself is very bad thing. Neurological dysfunctions in the brain can give rise to dark and distorted perceptions or feelings of doubt, which then strive to articulate themselves as compulsive thoughts and emotions.

This can break out into a cycle of interior self abuse that is not only painful, but that causes me to withdraw from my responsibilities and from others who need me. I know that I must try my best to break this cycle, by turning to God in prayer, certainly, but also by sticking with my medications, watching what I eat, following my routine, managing stress, exercising, using cognitive therapy, and relying on people who can help me get back into focus and stay there.

I have never been able to think my way out of this. Help comes from outside, and no degree of illness can take away the personal responsibility that I have to be receptive, to struggle to be open to the help that I cannot give myself.

I know that there are many people who don't worry about much of anything, and who would benefit from a good dose of sober self-criticism (n.b. sober, which means balanced, measured, realistic). And we all feel guilty and ashamed at times simply because we've done something wrong. This is normal and good. But its something entirely different from a pathological and constant interior assault that is all out of proportion to any fault, that seems to block out goodness and that leads to discouragement.

Don't give in to this. Move away from it, even if all you can manage is an inch. Do it one inch at a time. And search for anything that helps you to draw out of yourself. If some of those helps begin with "psych," don't be ashamed of that. Its awkward terminology, but when properly applied these "helps" encompass both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. And we all need mercy. 

It is essential to people with mental illness to remember that God loves them just as they are, and that they must learn to love themselves, to be kind to themselves, and to turn their energies outward in constructive ways. And they must not be ashamed that they need help from others.

From my own experience I can say: It is possible to live in a relationship with God, with joy and patience, and constructive engagement of work and relationships, even with chronic depression, bi-polar, OCD, and other neurobiologically based disorders. It is also possible to be healed greatly from much self inflicted personal damage.

It is an ongoing process, and you can't do it alone. You need help.