Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is There a LIST of "Things-to-Do-to-Become-a-Compassionate-Human-Being"?

Lately, there have been quite a few blog posts and articles that feature lists of "what not to say" to people who are suffering, followed by brief explanations of why people can be hurt by these things even when we say them with the best of intentions. These lists often apply to "invisible" or often misunderstood afflictions: "Ten things you shouldn't say to people with Depression." "Five things you shouldn't say to people with chronic illness." "Ten things you shouldn't say to people who are grieving." Every day there seems to be something new that perhaps we've never thought about before.

I have also read blogs and comments expressing some frustration with the whole (cumulatively overwhelming) explosion of these various lists. At a certain point, it begins to seem like anything we say is going to offend someone. We end up feeling even more nervous and uncomfortable around people whose problems we don't understand. Is there anything we can say that won't offend them or increase the weight of their afflictions?

I must say that I have found reading some of these lists to be very useful. I suffer from chronic illnesses, and I know that certain points listed are valid and good for other people to know. I also have found helpful insights into types of suffering that I don't appreciate from personal experience. For example, I have no way of knowing what it feels like for a woman to have a miscarriage; so I appreciate some tips on how to offer condolences and be a friend without acting like an oaf.

This kind of awareness, however, is about more than just giving (or taking) offense. It's helpful toward learning the art of compassion. Many people want to be compassionate, and anything that contributes to their practical understanding of the suffering of others has some value. We do need to learn how to build one another up, to share one another's burdens. I think these lists can make a contribution here, even if they do tend to seem a bit constraining. It's good to combine such things with more positive information about how we can be helpful, what we can do that will make a difference.

Perhaps the thing that should be stressed above all is that these lists can never give us a guaranteed "formula" for approaching human suffering and loving another human person perfectly, without mistakes. They may help us to focus in certain ways, but true compassion is always personal, and the only way to really learn it is by giving it and receiving it within relationships with real people. Even the most basic human interactions require an awareness of the other person, an investment of one's self, an attention and a tenderness that are foundational to a relationship. There is simply no other legitimate way to approach a human person (and even though we forget this and fail constantly, we must keep trying again and again). There are no shortcuts to developing strong and deep human relationships; they must be cultivated with patience and persistence. Compassion always grows in this way, by means of a love that can't avoid taking risks and therefore must be resilient. We need to stay with one another and keep loving one another concretely even though we will always make mistakes.

Human relationships are forged through compassion, and we will never be able to make them safe and easy. We must learn, be attentive, and develop the habits of a courageous empathy, but still we will never find a foolproof set of rules or behavior patterns that will always "work." Human persons and human suffering are too particular and too profound to be resolved by any system, or penetrated by any wisdom that we may attain by ourselves.

We will always be weak; we will always fall short in love, and we will often hurt one another. A million lists won't solve this problem.

Only Jesus solves it, but He doesn't solve it by magic. He works in us through real life, with our good intentions, our weakness, our efforts to learn, our commitment to one another as persons, the investment of our time, and the forgiveness, perseverance, hope, and compassion for one another that His Spirit engenders within us.

Our hope is in Him. He gives us the strength to persevere in love, and His grace transforms us into instruments of His mercy.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

James Foley: "I Am So Thankful."

American journalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS on August 19th
Earlier this month, I marked significant dates in the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. But August 2014 has written its own pages in the history of war and death. The rolling of thunder grew louder in eastern Ukraine as Russia staked its claim through military intervention. Meanwhile, the I.S. (or ISIS) fanatics continued to perpetrate violence and destruction in Syria and on the ancient Plain of Nineveh. An especially vivid image of this past month was the horrifying beheading by ISIS of American journalist James Foley, which was presented to the world in a bizarre YouTube video intended to terrorize the West while also advertising the ISIS agenda to radical jihadist sympathizers everywhere.

The unanticipated surprise in all of this, however, was the hidden strength of the man ISIS chose to murder. James Foley had dedicated himself to reporting the human stories and the suffering of various war torn regions. He had been captured before, in Libya in 2011, and held for 44 days, during which time he found and later testified to the sustaining power of prayer. The longing to be close to his family had drawn his mind to the Rosary that his grandmother always prayed, which he said using his knuckles for beads.

This memory apparently remained with him when he was captured again a year later in Syria. After two years of shadowy captivity, he managed to communicate with his loved ones by means of a fellow reporter who committed his message to memory before being released. In the days following Foley's death, his parents shared the contents of this remarkable communication with the world. Included in his words was a clear indication that, once again, he was being sustained by prayer.

Whatever may happen in this world -- whatever terrors and havoc may afflict us in these days or in times to come -- James Foley reminds us that prayer is the only adequate human response, the only possibility that never fails. Prayer places us in the presence of God, whose love bridges the gulf of separation, enlightens the darkness, and awakens gratitude even within the most trying circumstances of life. Foley's words have a force that the perpetrators of human violence do not understand, a force that is greater than every human power. This is the power of God's love, which unites us to Himself and is the enduring source of the unity we share with one another.

"I know you are thinking of me and praying for me.
And I am so thankful.
I feel you all especially when I pray.
I pray for you to stay strong and to believe.
I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray."

James Foley (from a message to his family and friends, June 2014)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Josefina's Cooking Show

I've been meaning to post this recent clip of Josefina chopping vegetables and playing the part of a television chef. She loves watching cooking shows on PBS Create, and she has a knack for learning things quickly.

Eileen just put the music on for fun, and then I got the camera going and this cute snippet developed spontaneously. This should bring a smile or two on an evening when many of us may need it. So, here's the show that she herself (at 0:17) calls Josefina's American Kitchen Table:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Conversion of Saint Augustine

Here is a blurry photograph of the February 2014 edition of Magnificat (pp. 228-229). Today is a good day to revisit it.

If you don't have your own copy of this terrific magazine, you should subscribe right away by clicking HERE! Okay, okay... in case you don't have this issue and you don't want to squint, here is the complete text in blog format. Happy Saint Augustine's Day!

The story of St. Augustine’s conversion is one of the most famous in the history of Christianity, and indeed in the history of Western humanities and literature, thanks to the penetrating account of it that he gives in his epoch marking autobiographical work, the Confessions.

Augustine was born in Roman North Africa in 354, during a period of transition and religious instability that saw the rise of the recently legalized Christianity even as it struggled with the great heresy of the Arians, various gnostic groups and oriental mystery religions, and the prevailing decadence of the pagan social milieu.

As a young man, Augustine went to study at the cultural center of Carthage, where he was introduced to pagan morals. He took a concubine and embraced the Manichean sect, while also sharpening his mental and rhetorical skills. Eventually he traveled to Rome and Milan, abandoned the intellectually weak Manichean system, and dedicated himself to a genuine pursuit of truth through philosophy. Soon he found himself grappling with the claims of Christianity as his aesthetic and intellectual objections to it were overcome. What remained was the need for a conversion of heart, which came finally in the famous reading of Romans 13 in the garden in Milan (Confessions VIII.12).

The story of Augustine could be understood as an intellectual and moral journey, and these are certainly crucial elements. But its important, also, to emphasize the personal communication that pervades his whole experience of conversion. The Confessions make this clear by their genre; they are written as a prayer to God, and this is clearly more than a literary device. Augustine makes it clear that God’s grace and mercy, given through the Church, is the profound source and focus of his conversion. He learns that philosophy is not enough; that truth and salvation are constituted by a personal relationship with Christ, the Truth in person.

We see this too in the crucial role that the companionship of particular Christians plays in Augustine’s life. They bring the Church close to him in a way that opens him up and enables him to overcome his objections of mind and heart. The key person, of course, is his mother St. Monica. Her maternal love and her constant, ardent prayers for his conversion were a continual witness to him through all his wanderings. And she joyfully received the news moments after grace finally won over her son’s heart.

Also of great importance is St. Ambrose, who received him with fatherly kindness when he first came to Milan, and by cultivating his friendship and trust, drew him to attend his sermons. Augustine’s admiration for the beauty of their style soon grew into an attraction to the radiance of the truth they imparted. He would eventually be baptized by St. Ambrose on Easter 387. “To him was I unknowingly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to You“ (Confessions V.13).

The world honors St. Augustine as a founder of Christian philosophy and the great prose writer of late antiquity. But Christians know that he was above all a Christian person, transformed by the love of God that reached him through human instruments: the prayers of St. Monica, the friendship of St. Ambrose. They helped him to discover that Truth has a human face.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Remembering a Very Special Summer

Northern California (pic by Agnese). So glad they had this time!
The Janaro family summer is coming to a close.

It was a time of many blessings for us. The pace definitely slowed down. We rested. We spent more time together. We didn't worry about the school week. We watched the World Cup, and some late night movies. Eileen and John Paul played tennis. I worked a little with John Paul on the guitar, and he practiced quite a bit on his own. He's getting pretty good. When everyone else is gone, John Paul and I will continue to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to some of that great Music-That-Nobody-Else-in-the-House-Likes.

We all had some good conversations, and in general there was more space for personal time, one-on-one time without the looming shadow of all-the-stuff-that-needs-to-be-done hovering over people. Eileen and I even talked about literature... a little bit. What a beautiful thing it is to linger over the morning coffee with my wife. (It's not so easy to find time during the school year, so I will have to make sure that I don't miss the opportunities when they do come.)

Then, of course, there was the California trip for John Paul, Agnese, Lucia, and Teresa. They have been back for a week now, and school is beginning for the three high school kids. It was a great vacation for them, and a lovely interlude for us as well with Josefina here at home.

Of course, there were also all the usual mistakes and tensions of daily life. In this blog, I always emphasize the good stuff, but of course we're a normal family. We get irritated with one another, negligent, stupid, stubborn, negative, and all the rest. And we have enough Italian blood to put fervor into whatever we do (good or bad). In other words, there's plenty of yelling in the house. But there's also good food!

John Paul & Agnese hiking in Yosemite
So far, our teens have been specially blessed with good companions and a human environment that permits them to grow through the challenges of adolescence in a healthy way. Still, these are challenges, and they are not easy. Eileen and I have been discovering new dimensions of motherhood and fatherhood in our relationships with the kids. The top four kids can pretty much "take care of themselves" on the physical level, but they have different kinds of needs -- more intangible and personal.

It's really hard to discern and help at this point. It demands attention, availability, and patience. These kids need guidance and space to be free; they need space to test their freedom, and to (OUCH!) make mistakes. None of my disabilities excuse me from the very real task of being a father to them, and I praise God for the grace that makes me able to give of myself to my children in the way that they need me now. Several times this summer, I was able to help one or another of the kids with their personal challenges in ways that convince me that they really need me as their father.

Teresa with one of the Big Trees
I can't go hiking or boating or fishing with them (like I dreamed when they were little). But I get up in morning and beg Jesus for the grace to love these persons, to be a father to them. I entrust myself to St. Joseph, asking him to pray that God make me the man, the husband, and the father He wills me to be.

And every day, I fail. I fall short in my attention, in my courtesy, and as an example to them. I fail them, not because I'm too tired or too sick. No, I fail them precisely in those responsibilities that are within my power, in ways that I see clearly and want to fulfill. I forget, and I give in to selfishness, laziness, and the temptation to turn my wit toward cynicism.

I struggle against this every day, in all my relationships. With trust in Jesus, I will continue to struggle. I will continue to ask the Holy Spirit to form the virtues and gifts in me that empower me to give myself to my wife, my children, and my neighbor... i.e. anyone who has been entrusted to me in God's plan.

And when I am in a dark cloud, I am still called to give myself, even if all I have to give is my difficulties, my aching cry to God, my incomprehensible solitude. Is this a gift for others? Never give up because God knows what He is doing. God knows what others really need from me.

Now I walk in the dark and Mary, my merciful mother, holds my hand.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Something REALLY Happens

We are called by God to a new birth. The struggle of this life is the mysterious and dramatic transformation by which mortal, broken human beings become children of God in Jesus Christ.

But there is so much that I cannot see yet, that I don't understand. So much struggle that seems futile, because I'm so small. I'm like the dying seed in the earth. I can't imagine the fruit that will emerge from my being broken open and emptied. The truth of life is this passing through death to resurrection, and even when we follow this passage with trust in Jesus, the whole "death" thing is still dark.

God lifts us up to His Kingdom, where "glory" is the radiance of Infinite Love. It sounds great on paper, but suffering reminds me that this transformation is something that happens to me. I am afraid, I feel powerless, I need to be carried. God is a consuming Fire -- and I believe that this fire is love and mercy, but I need a tenderness, a gentle presence, a great inspiration, an implacable dedication, and a unique sympathy for me, as a person, so that I can give myself and let myself be carried by God's fire.

From the depths of His own heart pouring out His love on the cross, Jesus entrusts each of us to His mother. "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing beside her, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home" (John 19:26-27). Every word Jesus speaks from the cross is relevant to the whole mystery of our salvation. If Jesus really matters for every single person, then we must recognize that the gift of His love encompasses every person being entrusted to this woman.

Mary is my mother. Even when I forget, she doesn't forget. She remains at the cross till the end, and so she remains with me. She has always a mother's heart for me, for you, for everyone. Through her we learn to be children. Through her we learn to let go of all the fear.
Mary, help me in the dark. Be with me at the hour of my death, and through all the moments of my dying. Remind me that I am loved. Remind me that I am small and that you are carrying me, with a tenderness that won't let go.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rest For Weary, Burdened Souls

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

It rained yesterday and into the morning. I spent a lot of time troubleshooting computer problems. In between I read the relentless news: a crisis on the streets of a St. Louis suburb, a heroic American journalist beheaded by the ferocious "Islamic State" in Syria, and in the "borderlands" almost due north of the Levant, rumors of the Russian military crossing into Ukraine. Wars, and rumors of wars.

Jesus said, "I will give you rest...."


Our weariness and our burdens are heavy. But He is "gentle and humble in heart." The "rest" and "ease" that He promises do not necessarily coincide with physical or psychological or emotional relief. It's about the heart. It's a promise for our hearts.

It's a promise for my heart.

I feel weary and burdened, and also rather pathetic because I am laid low even within the comforts of my own home. After all, I'm not a refugee in the desert. I have not been bombed, or taken prisoner. But I know something of what it feels like to be helpless. To be afraid. And I know there is a secret suffering in every life. In our weakness and our cry to God we have a mysterious solidarity; we are together in our greatest solitude.

That is where Jesus comes to each of us. In that solitude He calls each of us by name. I'm not a hero. I have no courage. Still, He calls me.

Sometimes we must be stilled and silenced by that loneliness so that we can hear His voice, so that we can remember that we have a need to listen.

And He speaks to me with a compassion that reaches me. He understands me. He makes a promise: "You will find rest." He says, "Come to me" and "learn from me."

"Learn from me." Sometimes we are brought back to the place where we remember that we need to learn from Him.

That's what I want to do, and I believe that if I stay with Him I will learn. I believe this, and I trust in Him... even though I forget all the time, I forget He is here, but when I remember Him, I trust. And that trust is already the beginning of a change in my heart.

I know only too well what it's like to be burdened and not know any place to go with my heart. When I trust Him I discover that He is already changing me. I'm not alone. I'm with Him, and my hope is alive. I'm beginning to learn.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Depression: Why I Haven't Blogged About It

Shifting clouds, with some open spaces.
Last week, a celebrity tragedy provoked lively and sometimes intense discussion about depression and mental illness. Television and the standard media outlets gave out a steady stream of commentary, analysis, and speculation. Internet, social media, and the blogosphere also presented a very wide spectrum of opinions.

Some of the things expressed were simply cruel, and/or appallingly ignorant. Others were well-intended but poorly expressed, or clearly emerged from people theorizing abstractly in realms beyond their competence. Others still were conflicted and even disturbing because they came (at least in part) from people's own experiences and sufferings, and their awkward attempts to make sense of personal traumas. Then there were those who wrote good and sympathetic things, and those who honestly opened up about their own vulnerabilities. Finally, as always, there were a few offerings that were remarkable and truly able to educate, clarify or render vivid through personal testimony the objective reality of depression and mental illness.

I watched/read/listened-to a lot of this discussion. With the exception of a couple of brief comments, however, I did not contribute to it.

I found myself at something of a loss for words.

I've been struggling with my own most recent bout of depression in the past several months. I'm working with my doctor. We've tweaked the medications, and I've made some adjustments to my regimen. It's... okay... kind of.

People see me and say, "Oh, you look good!"

Dear friends, it takes an immense amount of energy for me to "look good" during the brief period of time you see me.
Try to imagine this for a moment. I am not here describing a real circumstance that I currently face, but trying to use an analogy to help people understand what it's like to have an "invisible illness." Imagine: what if I had a painful back injury, but I appeared after church on Sunday looking straight in posture, with no apparent pain? I am cordial, even animated in conversation. As far as you can tell, my flexibility is pretty good. I look "fine," basically. Right?
What you don't see, however, is that I'm wearing a back brace under my shirt; something well-concealed but essential for me to spend a few hours in an upright position. I've taken pain medicine. I'm going to be exhausted by the time I get home, take off the brace, and collapse into bed. But you won't see any of that. Do you still think I'm doing "fine"?
That's the analogy. When you've seen me lately, I've been wearing a "mental brace." I'm not doing this to "pretend" I'm okay, but because I really want to be myself for a little while, to communicate, to be with my friends and neighbors. This depression is not so severe as to obscure entirely my interest in life, or my interest in people. Please don't avoid me because you think it will make my life easier. Quite the contrary. I need to "wear the brace" and get out as much as I can manage, not because it's therapeutic or because it's making me get better (because it's not, really... we go over the hills and valleys of chronic illness by using a whole bag of tricks, and sometimes just riding it out). I "get out" from under the cloud (whenever possible, for however long) because I'm a human being. It's worth the effort.

I need the same "mental brace" when I write, which may account for why I am not writing very much lately. It's worth the effort to do whatever I can.

There is a fundamental difference, of course, between the effort to live within my constraints by doing what I can, and the illusion that I can "cure myself" if I just try hard enough. It doesn't work that way. To change the analogy, if I have a broken leg, I have to put it in a cast and let it heal. Meanwhile, if I want to get around, I have to use crutches. The crutches don't heal my leg, but they let me function, somewhat, while nature and the arts of medicine take their course. People with mental illnesses (and also people with chronic illnesses of all kinds) use crutches and props and bandages and whatever they can rig up so that they can live and interact with other people and do valuable work... as much as possible.

The crutch has something of a bad rap in our culture. We are encouraged not to "rely on crutches" but to stand on our own two feet. That makes good sense... unless your feet are broken. Then it's stupid. You can't "stand on your feet." You need help. There is no shame in using crutches when you need them to get around. When the brain and the mind are broken, a person needs a lot of creativity and energy to find ways to keep standing up. Crutches and braces need to be reinvented and adapted to changing circumstances.

If you're around me often enough, you're going to see me pooped. You're going to see the whole mess. Please don't think it's your fault. Or that I wish you would go away. No. Stay. Work with me.

Meanwhile, I don't have it in me to write a coherent blog about all this, nor to address the issues surrounding last week's tragedy. I've finally managed to put on my "mental brace," take up my well-worn crutches and limp over to the blogosphere in order to share pieces of my own experience.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

St. Maximilian Kolbe: Love Lives Through Sacrifice

Love lives through sacrifice
and is nourished by giving....
Genuine love rises above creatures
and soars up to God.
In Him, by Him, and through Him it loves all men,
both good and wicked,
friends and enemies.
To all it stretches out a hand filled with love;
it prays for all,
suffers for all,
wishes what is best for all,
desires happiness for all,
because that is what God wants.

~ St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Auschwitz, August 14, 1941

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When I am Drowning, Lord, Save Me!

Today's gospel always strikes me. It's such a parable of our relationship with God. How frail we are, and how easy it is to forget, to falter, to lose confidence in God.

"O you of little faith," Jesus says, "why did you doubt?"

The compassion of God wants us to understand that there is never any real reason to give up on Him. There is never any circumstance in which He does not accompany us and draw us to hope in Him and abandon ourselves to Him.

Still, how easily we are overwhelmed by difficulties, and they are not only the great pains but also the ordinary frustrations we face every day. Even though we have seen His miracles of love, we must learn confidence again and again as we walk on the waters of life.

I can say many things about the meaning of suffering and about the fact that God knows all things and directs everything to the good, and yet, when it comes to my own trials I seem to lose sight of it all and start to flounder. My sufferings seem to be nothing else but humiliation; I feel like I am being crushed, or suffocated. And what is it after all—petty things! The voice of discouragement begins to creep in.

There is always the danger of discouragement. But God’s mercy is stronger, and I cry out to Him.

I am learning to trust Him because I have seen that He does not leave me alone. It is like that moment in Peter’s life when, after beginning to walk on the water, he panics and starts to sink. Jesus reaches out and grabs him.

When I am drowning, this is the one thing and the essential thing: let Him grab me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Edith Stein: Light in the Darkness of the World

Today the Roman calendar observes the memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Edith Stein (1891-1942). Hers is a great story, from her Jewish roots, through atheism, to the search for truth in philosophy, to conversion to Christ in the Catholic Church, to teaching and advocating the dignity and vocation of women, to the cloister of Carmel where she continued to write philosophical and spiritual works, and finally to Auschwitz where she gave her life.

Edith Stein is a special saint and helper for the world we live in today. Her death in the Holocaust links her forever to her own Jewish people, whose endurance through all of history remains a mysterious sign of the irrevocable faithfulness of the gifts and the call of God (see Romans 11:29). She is also a martyr of charity, a witness to God's love for the human person, and to the fact that no state or society or human idea has the right to build itself on the dead bodies of other innocent human beings.

And especially, she is one of the children of Carmel, who wear the mantle of Elijah and listen for the still, small voice of the Lord, who know the hunger for God and the fire that comes from heaven. She knows what it means to search, and to find. She also knows the darkness -- the terrible affliction in this past century of a world that cannot find God and cannot find satisfaction or hope in anything else, a world that protests against its own nothingness by an endless spiral of violence.

She knows the darkness, and she knows that God is present there, not to be grasped by our human powers, but to reveal Himself as the companion of our weakness who leads us on hidden pathways through faith, hope, and love.

She knows human life in its frailty, summoned by the Mystery of God infinitely beyond itself, but also carried by Him day by day in the conquest of fear and the promise of hope. Her prayer speaks to everyone who travels the path of life:
"O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace" (Edith Stein [St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross]).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

California Dreamin'

Some of my friends have noticed, perhaps, that Josefina is getting even more attention lately than she usually does. It's not only because of the milestone loss of her front baby tooth.

Jojo is spending some "special time" with Mommy and Daddy for the next few weeks. Sure, we still see the other kids and talk to them plenty:

Agnese will kill me for posting this!
Chatting with John Paul... of course!
After all, this is 2014. We can use Skype whenever we want, not to mention the old fashioned telephone (with the not-so-old-fashioned unlimited long distance). But the other four kids are three thousand miles away right now. They have gone to California to visit their grandparents and cousins.

They're having lots of adventures, swimming, hiking, exploring, and having lots of fun. We decided that the teenagers (and the "almost-teenager" Teresa) would be able to make the trip themselves this year. So off they've gone, and the house is much quieter and (heh) less cluttered without them. And the grocery bill is down to nothing!

I won't deny that I wish we were there too. We've been going to California since 1995 (when we were engaged) and I've spent enough time there that I feel very much "at home." But I'm not up to making any trips this summer. Eileen has a lot of work to prepare for the upcoming school year. And the "foursome" are mature enough to do the trip and stay with their relatives without... how shall I phrase it?... "requiring to much maintenance."


Eileen and I are not having a Second Honeymoon Staycation! Oh nonono. We have one little person still around. She keeps us busy, but it's also cozy.

Everything seems to work out much easier for everyone if Jojo stays here with us. She wouldn't want to spend so much time separated from her Mommy. And... umm... also her... oh-heck-who-am-I-kidding... her Mommy!

But I do come in handy, when Mommy can't be around. And of course I make sure to keep her in line. Yesserie, I'm the boss around here and I make sure that... ummm... well, I take the pictures, anyway.

I think this picture shows clearly WHO IS IN CHARGE around here! :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


"A bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him'" (Matthew 17:5).

May "his grace transforms us into his image, so that living in the spirit of the beatitudes we are light and consolation to our brothers" (Pope Francis, August 6, 2014).

TRANSFIGURATION icon by nuns of St. Damiana Monastery, Egypt.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Lamps Go Out in Great Britain

Today was a remarkable day of remembrance all across the United Kingdom. After evening vigils, lights were turned off in public places and all were encouraged to observe the hour before 11:00 PM GMT by turning off all lights and leaving only a single lamp or candle burning.

100 year ago today, on August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war against Germany. The previous day, foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey gave his famous speech to the House of Commons revealing England's attitude toward the war on the Continent. His memorable and symbolically prophetic words were the motive of today's observance, when he said, "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

There had been hope that England might maintain neutrality, as statesmen in London and Berlin worked right until the end attempting to reach a settlement regarding the status of Belgium. The British government insisted on upholding the 1839 treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality, while the Germans insisted that they had no interest in Belgian territory, but that their own (preemptive) defense (strategy) required their troops to pass through Belgium to head off the French before the Russians mobilized. German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg expressed his amazement to the British ambassador that his country was ready to go to war "over a scrap of paper."

The two modern empires had been struggling to find some mode of peaceful coexistence in the first years of the twentieth century even as they sought strategic advantages and economic dominance in European and world trade and manufacturing. Belgian neutrality became England's war cry, though Grey had made it clear in his speech that British interests could not endure a German victory on the Continent. Meanwhile the war party in Berlin, having already used duplicity to egg on the Austrians and light the fires in the East, would now have their way by driving an unconscionably ruthless and destructive path through Belgium.

On the morning of August 5, 1914, England awoke and found herself at war. The players on the field were now complete, and the monstrous game was on.

"Please God it may soon be over," King George V wrote in his diary. Many of the English, convinced that the war would be over by Christmas, rushed to the recruitment offices to volunteer lest they miss their chance for battlefield glory. How terribly wrong they were in their expectations of brevity and of glory.

Indeed, the awful, impossible game was on.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The War of the World

August 1, 1914. 7:30 PM. Germany declares war on Russia.

Both armies are mobilizing, bringing weapons to the field that are exponentially more powerful and more ruthless than anything before in human history.

It was clear that this was a momentous step, unleashing a catastrophic war in Europe. They knew it would be terrible when it began, but they did not know the dimensions of the horror that was being unleashed.

Armies of volunteers and conscripts poured into the field (and soon, the trenches) over the next four years, and massacred one another by the millions for reasons none of them really understood.

Terrible battles lay ahead, in which hundreds of thousands on both sides would be slaughtered, with no purpose being achieved, no ground taken, no advance, no retreat, nothing. The soldier who fell was anonymous, and his dead body would be replaced by another and another and another....

This conflict would bring the dehumanization of war to a new level, and would sow poisonous seeds of discouragement in the hearts of people in Europe and the West. The Great War raised the dramatic question of that last century: "Does the life of the individual human person have value for its own sake? Or is it merely part of a mass of humanity that is manipulated by those in power?"

This is still the urgent question for us today.