Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Throw Myself Upon His Infinite Mercy

All the events of last week were set within the context of our annual Divine Mercy novena and the celebration of Mercy Sunday. Having journeyed through Lent and the Paschal Triduum, we culminate with the celebration of God's mercy. (Another thing for which we can thank St. John Paul II).

The mercy of God in Jesus Christ is where I find my roots. I don't know where else to stand. Mercy is the creative, forgiving, regenerating love of God beyond all measure. Mercy is the love that gives us what we lack, that empowers us to accomplish what we can't do by ourselves.

Mercy is where I must go, because I am a complete mess as a human being. I'm not happy about that. I want to change (although, frankly, I'm often glad to just be lazy). My love for God is weak. My desire to grow in love is weak. What do I have, really, that I can bring before God in prayer?

Jesus. Every day I pray, "Lord, I throw myself upon your infinite mercy!" After all is said and done, and I find my work and my prayer to be a sorry mixed bag, what's left? Jesus.

God gives Himself. He is the way and the truth and the life. He is my hope for healing and for attaining my destiny. Jesus gives Himself to save me from my sins, and also to give me a participation in the life of God. The life of God! Whoever even thinks about this? Whoever thinks about the fact that Jesus brings not only freedom from sin but also a radical elevation of life to the level of union with God?

Here I am, struggling day by day just to get by, to survive, to tread water in the ocean of my own sanity. And yet I am called to live forever with God. It's difficult even to understand what this means. Do I even want this, really? Yes, I have been created to want this, and yet I live on the surface of myself. I don't know what to do in the end except to throw myself upon the mercy of God.

And this "God" for whom I have been created: who is He? Who is God?

Infinite Giving, Infinite Giftedness and Giving, Infinitely Poured Out: Infinitely, Eternally, Transcending all possible created worlds of limitation and definition such as we have ever known or have ever experienced.

All these words of mine are baby talk; I aim sounds of speech and fall so short. Poor words.

God Is, and God Is Love.

The very inner life of God is love. The One God is a Trinity of Persons. God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Let us allow our beloved Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI to help us adore this mystery:
"Three Persons who are one God because the Father is love, the Son is love, the Spirit is love. God is wholly and only love, the purest, infinite and eternal love. He does not live in splendid solitude but rather is an inexhaustible source of life that is ceaselessly given and communicated" (General Audience for Trinity Sunday, 2009).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Janaro Family Goes to Washington

Heading to the big city
I promised a post and more pictures from our family fun day in Washington, D.C. last week, and with good reason. It was fun! Not like hold-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seats kind of fun. It was a day of being together and sharing in a little adventure.

I went to school in Washington, D.C. I worked there. I lived in the D.C. area. All of that was more than 20 years ago. I can't think of a time when the whole Janaro family -- all seven of us -- went into the city. All we did was go to a couple of museums and hang around the Mall (not a shopping mall, but the long park between the Washington Monument and the Capital Building).

I also grew up in cities, whereas my kids are small town and country born and raised. Which means that they are thrilled and amazed in ways that I will never understand, by activities such as riding the Metro.

"Wow, this is incredible!"
John Paul is veteran Metro rider, having gone to Nats & Caps games, but he still likes it.
Agnese and Teresa: there were plenty of seats but they wanted to stand just for fun!
Lucia looks cool, but if you can see her dimples you know she's having fun.

We got off at the "Smithsonian" station, had our lunch and goofed around a little. The Mall has a leisurely feel to it, even in the middle of the week. It doesn't feel like you're in the capital city of the most powerful nation in human history.

Agnese and the Washington Monument: Are we tourists or what?
John Paul is cool.
"Can we just have the picnic now, please?"

Okay, we eat and then we're off to the sculpture garden and the art museum. The sculpture garden is, well, interesting, with things like this metal tree:

If this ever blossoms, it really will be time for "the return of the king"!
John Paul explains the deep existential significance of this... umm... thingy.
Eileen at the Chagall mosaic, which is amazing (much better than this photo).

Inside the National Gallery of Art, we went through the regular (and quite remarkable) collection, and we were allowed to take pictures. So I took hundreds of pictures with my phone. It used to be, strictly, no pictures, but now you just click away. Phone pictures are not that great, but it's fun just setting them up, looking at the work from different angles, discovering details. And of course, sometimes you just stop and look.

Pictures of a few works that I might not have otherwise noticed, such as:

And many other beautiful works. We spent a lot of time on our feet, but there are plenty of lovely and atmospheric places in the Gallery to rest also:

Josefina relaxes by a fountain.

Then it was off to the Museum of Natural History. We didn't have too much time here (and by then I was out of gas, so I spent most of that time on a bench), but we did get to see THE DINOSAURS. Just in time too: this whole section is closed as of this week for renovations that will take several years.

Josefina thought the dinosaurs were creepy. It took some cajoling to get her to stand in front of one so I could take a picture. She enjoyed the smaller exhibits like the fossils:

"AHHHH! Do I have to smile?"
Prehistoric sea is more in the comfort zone. "Is that real?"

I realize that unless you are the grandparents of these children (Hi Dad, hi Mom!) you're bored by now, so it's time for us to go home:

Back out to the Mall. Clouds in the late afternoon.
Escalators are fun too!

I highly recommend doing lightly planned little trips with the family. Don't try to do too much and don't have huge expectations, but just enjoy what's there and enjoy being together. It's worth it.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Popes and Saints: Our Fathers and Brothers in Eternal Life

Icon photos for the two pope saints
What can I possibly add to this astonishing, beautiful day? I just want to recount a few anecdotes on why it means so much to me.

I was born on January 2, 1963, and one reason I was named "John" was in honor of the remarkable man who was Pope at the time. On that day, 51+ years ago, my mother was giving birth while my father was in the waiting room outside: (Can you believe fathers used to have to do that?!)

But that was both the custom and the rule of those distant days. Personally, I'm glad I got to be with my wife, and to see each of my five children being born. My father, however, had to wait outside, like in the old comedy shows where the Dad is pacing nervously around the room, waiting for the nurse to come in with a bundle and say, "It's a boy!"

My Dad wasn't pacing, though. He was reading LIFE magazine's spread on the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Thus, in a different kind of way, he did "see" something pertaining to his new son, something pertaining to the work to which this "John" would dedicate himself in life. It was, perhaps, in some small way "prophetic."

Pope (now Saint) John XXIII and the Council he called (from LIFE, Dec. 1962).

John XXIII died only a few months after I was born, yet his was a visible figure in the early years of my life. I remember when I was about four years old, my mother -- while folding the laundry -- told me about this "Council," and how many people were spreading confusing ideas in its wake, but that she had read a book by a philosopher who was also a peasant (Maybe I asked, "What's a peasant?" and maybe she said, "it's like a farmer"). My Mom, and many others too, thought that the philosopher-farmer had brought great clarity to the whole situation (and I pictured in my mind some unusual person in overalls and pitchfork: I suspect that Jacques Maritain wouldn't have objected much to this imaginative portrayal of himself). In any case, it was clear that John XXIII's Council had begun something dramatic, and my little heart jumped at the thought that there was this great world of truth.

I've spoken about the powerful influence of St. John Paul II when he first appeared in 1978, speaking the words, "Be not afraid... Open the doors wide to Christ!" All through the 1980s he shaped my thinking and experience of the faith, my sense of belonging to the Church, my sense of what life was all about.

I still have a tee shirt (and it still fits!)
I finally saw him in person in 1993, first in Rome and then at the unforgettable World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. America put on a "show" for John-Paul-the-Rock-Star, and all of us were ready to be excited by something trivial. But as soon as he began to speak, he took control of this vast crowd. He totally changed the atmosphere, and it was something more than his massive, attractive personality. It was a mysterious Presence that was not him, but that he gave all his energy so that we might recognize and remain focused upon for the rest of the weekend.

St. John Paul and hundreds of thousands of young people spent the weekend with Jesus Christ. Those of us who were there will never forget it.

Then came that great moment, on July 3, 1996. The young John and Eileen Janaro, on honeymoon in Italy, got "newlywed tickets" to a Wednesday audience. Finally, we met and spoke with this man to whom we both owed so much. We asked him to bless our marriage, and he traced the sign of the cross on our foreheads. We spoke, and he gave us that great, intense personal attention. But there was something I had never sensed (up to that point) from a distance: it was his real humanity, his vulnerability, the frailty that was woven through all his strength.

John Paul II really gave himself. He was not "going through the motions." And the most amazing thing was that he didn't hide himself in any way. It mattered to him that he was meeting us; this was a moment of relationship. We were just totally hugging him and saying "we love you" and I felt like he needed that. He too was a human person, and he received and valued the love we expressed to him. The way he responded was totally real; he said, "thank you" and he meant it.

John Paul II was our brother, who suffered so greatly on so many levels, and he allowed us to see that. There were few of the symptoms of his physical illness at that time, but somehow he allowed us to see his need, so that we could love him and he could receive our love. For a moment we were "with" him, we were actually "helping him."

Mexico, 2002. A saint canonizes a saint.
I saw St. John Paul II two more times after that, in Mexico City; first in 1999 and then for St. Juan Diego's canonization in 2002. On the latter occasion some 12 million people crowded into the city and lined the streets of his route to the Basilica. By this time John Paul II could barely move, he was so crippled. I watched him in that special stand-up popemobile and the love was pouring out of him, and I thought, "this is like he has the stigmata...."

His natural human charisma was crucified in the end. That's when I really knew he was a saint.

And now, today, I am full of gratitude to both of these saints of my lifetime. I am grateful for their witness and their intercession. Both, I think, have watched over our family through three generations. Not long ago, St. John XXIII quietly came back into our lives, when Eileen and the kids (and me too) got involved in the work of the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center. And I know that St. John Paul II is my father and my brother in the Spirit. I pray to him every day. He has been with us through so many trials, and he continues to care for us.

I believe that what he has given to the Church and to the world has only begun to be discovered.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

These Days Are Rich in Mercy

Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions,
Jesus revealed that love is present
in the world in which we live: 
an effective love,
a love that addresses itself to man
and embraces everything that makes up his humanity.
This love makes itself particularly noticed
in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty,
in contact with the whole historical "human condition,"
which in various ways manifests man's limitation and frailty,
both physical and moral.
It is precisely the mode and sphere
in which love manifests itself
that in biblical language is called "mercy."

        ~John Paul II
          Dives in Misericordia (1980), #3

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christ is Risen, but I'm Exhausted!

"Dear Lord, may I borrow my future resurrected body, in advance (as in, like, now), just so I can keep up with everybody else for a few days?"

I love Easter Week. Divine Mercy novena, flowers, warm spring air, a fridge full of fun food, kids off school and relaxing and just being around one another. Eileen has a little time to breathe (but still plenty to do -- she'll get more breathing time in the summer, God willing).

We are going to take a family field trip on Thursday to Washington, D.C. Everyone is excited about it. I'm excited too... on the inside. But my body doesn't want to go anywhere.

I'm going on this field trip with my family. I don't care what it takes! John Paul is turning 17 in a little over a month. He will be a senior in high school in the fall. From there we know not yet where he will go. And Agnese won't be long in going her way. The family is growing, and this is beautiful. I want them to spread their wings and fly.

I also want to be available for the time we have together.

But I'm so tired. I've had some pain in the past few months, and I'm spending more time in bed during the day (although at least I have a tablet to keep me connected to the world, and even to write a bit). I also read as much as I can.

Physical books are lovely things. Tactile with pages that turn. And they are gentle to the eye. For me, it's hard to rest with an ebook. The light from the inside jacks up my brain, somehow. On the other hand, they're good on days when it's hard to hold open the pages of a physical book.

Josefina having adventures with her dolls.
Then there's Josefina, who comes bounding in to jump on the bed and visit me. I read to her, or we watch a video. Sometimes we just "talk" -- she says, "Daddy, can we talk?" So we talk about things, like her dolls and their adventures, or school things, or cooking, or questions about the body and the soul and death (she's been asking those questions since way back). Sometimes I just say, "Why don't you get a book to read yourself, and I'll read my book?" Heh, it's worth a try....

Well, if I'm going to make that trip, I need to budget my limited energy, so I shall put aside for now the particularly tiring work of writing. I also need to save up some energy in case Josefina wants to "talk" some more!

Wishing everyone a very happy Easter Week!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter 2014: May All Our Moments Be Filled

The Janaros, Easter 2014. John and Eileen; John Paul (almost 17),
Agnese (15 1/2), Lucia (13 1/2), Teresa (11) and Josefina (7 1/2)

Tulips in the church yard. Spring has finally come.

At the church: Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Teresa and Josefina, the "little kids"!

Going for the goodies in the Easter Basket.

This is NOT "cake" for breakfast. No one eats cake
for breakfast! This is a "cheese danish."

Picnic in the afternoon. At the Virginia Arboretum.

Picnic hamper.

A fine picnic feast!

An Uncle-to-Nephew talk.

After playing hard, Josefina enjoys the food too.

Nature's beauty is everywhere to be found.

Nature's beauty.

Blue Ridge in the distance.

Our prayers go out to all of our loved ones and friends that they might be blessed with all the joy of this Easter season. Jesus is risen, and may all our moments be filled with the newness of His glorious life.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Easter Triduum: Finding Again the Depths of Love

These are the most beautiful days of the year. These are the days when we permit ourselves to be silent within, to allow our minds and hearts to turn again, to be converted and changed by that great and singular event of history: the event that defines the meaning of all reality and of each and every one of us who has ever lived.

I am silent now. There is the glory of God.

The Cross is the Glory of God.
"Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.... Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself’" (John 12:23, 31-32).
I am silent now. I find within myself so much that is sinful, and broken, and unworthy; and the depth of it all seems bottomless. But the love of God is deeper.


The Young John Janaro was eloquent about his experience of the Easter Triduum in the year 1991. I like what he wrote in his journal, and so I shall present it here as we journey through this night to Paschal dawn.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Unequaled Suffering

Rouault, The Passion
"Offering himself freely in his passion and death on the cross, the Son of God took upon himself all the evil of sin. The suffering of the Crucified God is not just one form of suffering alongside others, not just another more or less painful ordeal; it is an unequaled suffering. In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love."

Blessed John Paul II, Memory and Identity

Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Crowned with Thorns

Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Christ on the Cross

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Have We Allowed the Seeds of Betrayal to Enter Our Hearts?

Giotto (14th c.), detail of Judas
Judas clearly chose to betray Jesus. This was no sudden impulse. It was a premeditated decision to sell his Master for money.

But why? Surely, Judas had once loved Jesus. He left everything to follow Him. How did this love die?

It probably began slowly. Perhaps what happened to Judas, in the beginning, was the same thing that happens so often to us.

As the fervor of his first love was tested, and as he began to realize that Jesus and His plan were not like his initial hopes, Judas allowed disappointment to creep into his love. Over time, his love for Jesus grew cold, even though he continued to “go through the motions” of discipleship.

As disappointment grew into bitterness, his heart turned to other loves: money, personal ambition, independence, perhaps even the desire to follow someone else. We don’t know.

But we face the same temptation to betray someone we love. Consider our commitment to our marriage. Time inevitably reveals that our spouse is different, and that God’s plan for our marriage is different than we first imagined. Here we are challenged: Will we trust in God, be faithful, and allow love to grow? Or will we give in to disappointment, begin to seek other loves, and slowly betray the other person (and God) even as we still “go through the motions”?
Father of love, protect our hearts from the disappointment that leads to betrayal, and grant us the faith to follow your mysterious and loving plan, rather than selfishly clinging to our own expectations. We ask this in the name of Jesus your Son, who has loved us to the end. Amen.

[Published in Magnificat Lenten Companion, 2014, p. 60]