Saturday, April 30, 2016

I'm Frustrated Because I'm Trying to Measure Myself

I often write about my struggles with discouragement and frustration.

I have an image of what I'm supposed to be, and I feel defeated because I don't live up to it. It is only human to have goals and aspirations. But I am trying to measure myself. That is the basis of my frustration.

To whom do I belong? Do I belong to myself? Am I defined by my own project, my ideas and my conception of what it means to love God, to be a good man, a good husband and father, teacher and writer, a coherent witness to Jesus, to the Gospel, a defender of the dignity of the human person? How do I stand in relation to my project? I am a failure.

But I need to remember, again and again, that I am not alone.

The fact is, I don't really know who I am. I don't know what God's will is for me. I don't know the depths of my own self-deception, or the wounds that I've caused by my sins.

I don't know what needs to be healed.

But Jesus is here. Jesus is present. What matters is to love Him, right now.

I must abandon everything to the merciful and compassionate Heart of Jesus, my Crucified and Risen Lord, who loves me.

He asks for my love all day, often in simple things that I would rather ignore. I pray that I might recognize Him and be drawn to Him.

I need salvation. I need Him.

Lord, give me this prayer, this aching awareness of my vital, desperate need for You. I thirst and You are a fountain of living waters. Remind me to open my mouth!

Come, Lord Jesus. Come into my life! Take the whole mess of my life and transform me.

I belong to You.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Our Friend Kate

Tomb of Saint Catherine in Rome
She was one of the most amazing women who ever lived, the youngest of 25 children, chosen to experience and communicate to the world the astonishing, relentless, mad love of God for every human being.

She spoke fearlessly to those in power, to the wealthy, the clergy, to anyone who would listen. She moved the hearts of popes, brought reconciliation to warring factions, served the poor and the sick, and left testimony to her experiences of the mysterious embrace of Christ the Bridegroom of her soul. His love burned through her and made her 33 years of life an unforgettable fire whose embers still glow, warming us and giving us hope even today.

She was a vital presence for me when I lived in Rome, from her repose under the main altar at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and out into the church piazza, into the streets, into the air. Catherine, from Siena, from the Tuscan hills she came to be the friend of the bishop and the people of Rome for nearly 700 years.

She held the fires of divine love in her heart and in her hands, and helped us to draw near to Him, this humble woman, this familiar friend, our friend Kate.

"You are a mystery as deep as the sea;
the more I search, the more I find,
and the more I find the more I search for you.
But I can never be satisfied;
what I receive will ever leave me desiring more.
When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger,
and I grow more famished for your light.
I desire above all to see you,
the true light,
as you really are."

~Saint Catherine of Siena

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Flower Hunting

Yesterday was a cool wet morning, but that didn't keep me from going for a walk in the neighborhood to look at the flowers that are ready to greet the beginning of May.

Here are some pictures of what I found.

Dogwood: Virginia's state tree

Rhododendron bud and bloom.

April showers cover the leaves with their drops.

These are lovely.
Look up at the trees!

Look closely pink tinged dogwood.

The Janaro house on a rainy morning near the end of April.

Best closeup flower picture, around the side of the house.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Being "Myself" Means Being in Relationships with Real People

There is a big difference between self-absorbtion and a realistic perception of the self. A closed and stunted self-preoccupation leads to narcissism and, ironically, an incapacity to see one's true "self." Realism, on the other hand, leads to the authentic discovery of one's self as a person, a some-one whose identity is formed by and can only flourish within one's relationship to reality and especially to other persons.

I can't learn this from books.
If I'm honest with my own experience, this fact is vivid and striking. If I truly look at "myself" I find that what I see are relationships, concrete relationships with real people; relationships that take me beyond myself.

I find that I am not an impenetrable atom, an isolated individual who creates his own identity. I am not simply a thing that is "there by itself." I have never been an isolated, autonomous entity, not for a single moment. I came into existence as someone's son, and the dawn of my awareness is full of the memory of being a son, a brother, a grandson, and a nephew.

I soon began to discover that I was also a "friend," and as the years have gone by I have been much enriched by these relationships on all of their many different levels.

And then I became a husband, and here I have really learned that I am nothing "by myself," that I must share myself, share my life, live in communion with others--in marriage that means first of all a covenant with one very particular person.

I have learned this not by philosophy, but by almost 20 years of hard human experience, not only by the joys of giving and sharing many blessings, but also through dark and difficult times, through recognition that the ugliness I found inside myself was a cause of real suffering to another human being, and that we had to give and receive and share "love" together even in these ugly, painful places.

At the heart of love and of all relationships is this mysterious thing called "sacrifice." You really know that you belong to someone when you just give without expecting anything back, you just give because there is this other person who is with you and who needs you in order to keep herself together and move forward.

You know you really belong to someone when you are humbled, when another suffers and makes sacrifices for you, and carries burdens with you because you are together with her in life. You know you really belong to someone when she makes space in her life for your faults, when she treats you with patience and compassion.

It can be a grubby business, like digging a long trail together through the woods, but some new sense arises in the midst of this work and struggle. You are going somewhere together, and you need each other to get there. Even more so, there is a truth that begins to emerge: you both want to get there together. You sacrifice because you really love the other person, you want her to arrive at her destiny, and it is the same destiny as your own.

And, of course, there are others on the path too.

At a certain point in my life, "I" suddenly acquired the identity of "Daddy." For five particular human persons, that is my actual name (though it slowly finds a way to shorten itself into "Dad" as they grow). There is something "authoritative" about the way they identify me by this name. It is their right. It changes me and determines my responsibilities in deep ways, but it does not hinder my identity. It enables me to grow. It is a gift.

Family. I tell all the amusing stories, because that is my nature and also because--thanks be to God--we are on the whole a cheerful, endearing, open hearted bunch (in the midst of all our chaos and squabbling and hollering and whatnot). But we have all the normal family tensions and problems.

And these kids have also heard their father's cries of pain and have seen the sufferings of his illness and its consequences. They have endured his weakness and incapacity, his sadness and withdrawal. They have no illusions about him being perfect.

But they have also seen that he loves them, that he struggles to be present to them, and they know that he prays for a strength that he does not possess by his own power. They also know that he and their mother love each other and are committed to each other for life.

These are relationships that are already taking new forms, and will change throughout our lives. I live each day and try to respond, knowing that "the future" will bring sacrifices and suffering and also some foretaste of true joy.

God, of course, makes everything possible. It is all the story of a fundamental relationship, the one that makes me exist: my relationship with God.

I dwell with God in the silent and secret places of my own heart. But in the depths of that heart I find the others that I have been called by God to love. He has brought us together to love one another and serve one another and let His mercy shine through us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Watching Jojo Grow

I usually don't notice it (because she's still so small) but Josefina is truly growing up! TimeHop lets me compare a photo from five years ago with a current picture. The newer picture is actually taken a few weeks ago.

Easter 2011 was five years ago. My littlest girl is still little, but she's getting bigger.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Leafy Leafy Leafy

The "big trees" are coming in and weaving their leafy curtains into shelters of shade under the warm sun.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jesus, Savior, Be a "Jesus" to Me

"Breathe again, poor sinner, breathe again.
Despair not, hope in Him whom you fear.
Fly to Him, from whom you did flee away...
O Jesus, Jesus, for Your name's sake,
do unto me according to Your name!...
For what signifies 'Jesus' but Savior.
Therefore, O Jesus, for Your own sake
be a Jesus to me.
You who created me,
suffer me not to perish;
You who redeemed me, condemn me not;
You who made me by Your goodness,
suffer not to let me, the work of Your hands
perish by my own wickedness.

I pray You, most gracious Savior, let not my iniquity destroy
what Your almighty goodness has wrought.
Acknowledge in Your goodness what is Your own in me;
and what is not Your own, wipe off from me.
...Receive me into the broad bosom of Your mercy."

~Saint Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 - April 21, 1109) 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

If Christ is Risen, Why Don't I Feel the Joy?

Christ is Risen!
O God, life of the faithful,
glory of the humble, blessedness of the just,
listen kindly to the prayers
of those who call on you,
that they who thirst for what you generously promise
may always have their fill of your plenty.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I was struck by the Collect of today's liturgy, so I decided to repropose it on the blog as we continue to seek the promise of the Lord's joy and plenty during this Easter season. It's worth praying again and pondering slowly.

Perhaps we don't feel that we're experiencing much "Easter joy," or the generous plenitude that God promises to His faithful. Here we are, more than three weeks into the Easter season and we feel like we're stuck back at Good Friday or that mysterious, silent day of Holy Saturday. We're still waiting for something to happen.

We have heard of His resurrection from the dead, but our lives aren't any different. Where is the Risen Jesus?

Okay, maybe on Easter Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday we did encounter Him and rejoice in Him, through the witness of the liturgy, through the sacraments, through the remembrance of the extraordinary ordinariness of the companions He has given us who help us live our daily lives.

But where did He go? Where is He now?

We're at work, at home with the kids, burdened with afflictions, confused about the present, anxious about the future. Are we back to kicking the dust around the empty tomb, feeling even more empty within ourselves? Or have we simply settled down into the "Upper Room" of daily life, trying to pass the time and (of course) bickering with one another?

I certainly don't want to underestimate the possibility that our lack of joy comes from our lack of trust in Jesus and our resistance to God's will in our lives. We miss a lot of even simple human joys because we persist stubbornly in trying to be the masters of our own lives, or in following our selfish impulses. Do we pray? Do we open our hearts to the gift of the Holy Spirit? Do we seek the guidance of others, those who can help us remember that our lives belong to Christ?

All of us can be more attentive to the many gestures that make up a living relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church. But I want to examine another factor that may make us feel ambivalent about our being joyful. We sometimes think "being joyful" means having no problems. Or we think it means that we have a kind of psychological control over our sufferings so that they don't really "bother" us.

But real suffering doesn't work that way. And we are all still suffering in so many ways, and our sufferings are greater than anyone realizes, greater and deeper than we ourselves can comprehend.

Just as suffering is mysterious, so too is real Christian joy.

For those of us who suffer from physical and/or mental illnesses or who care for loved ones in such conditions, it can be particularly difficult to hear about "the joy of the resurrection." We feel overwhelmed by life, but we also fear that our lack of "joyfulness" may be our own fault. We fear that it's just another sign of how we're not "doing this suffering business right." Others among us, on the other hand, may be perfectly "healthy" and energetic and cheerful on a psychological level, but we also have different kinds of sufferings that trouble us deeply. Or perhaps we don't even know what the "problem" is.

Do we have the joy of the resurrection?

We firmly believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, and we know that means someday we will rise with Him. And even now, we can offer our suffering in union with Him and share in His death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.

That's good. We know that. Some of us have long lists of other people to pray for (and those people benefit from our prayers, certainly). But we don't feel very joyful. We don't feel "connected" to Jesus. We might try hard to get our emotions moving, to play the part. And that's not such a bad thing, especially because we really do believe and we really do want to witness to others that Christ is risen. Still, for us the effort just seems to add to our suffering.
We may feel like saying, "Christ is risen. And I believe in Him. Why don't I 'feel the joy'... like, even a little bit? I follow the Church's teaching. I know the theology and the spirituality and I pray and read the Scriptures and receive the sacraments and offer my sufferings and I'm really trying to follow Him. He is risen! So why do I still feel dead? I don't know right now where He really lives within my life. I believe that He's in the Eucharist, that He works through the sacraments, that He's with me in my sufferings and in front of me in the life of the Church, in the Christian community, in my neighbor. I am grateful and moved and even consoled by this. And I do my best to recognize Him and love Him and serve Him in all the ways He is present. But still, when I say 'rejoice' I feel like a fake. Or like that's for other people. Where is the resurrection for me? When will my sufferings bear fruit?"
Of course, even now our sufferings do bear fruit, but usually in ways we don't understand. And we have faith in that too. Still, in this particularly dark place of unknowing, of the Holy Spirit's mysterious work, we must tend the seemingly tiny flames of faith, hope, and love. It is here that we must keep a loving faith that longs for God. It is here that we must keep hope alive. It is here that we must never give up!

And the Holy Spirit will help us. He is "the Spirit [who] helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26-27).

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. Let us therefore not be afraid of our weakness.

Remembering also that the "fruit of the Spirit" is "joy" (Galatians 5:22), we can be confident that joy is within us even if we don't feel any joyful emotions at all. In this present life, the joy of the resurrection is, so to speak, "in motion" -- it is a deep, often hidden, mysteriously growing thing. It can burst up into our awareness and even seem to carry us for awhile. But it always runs deeper than our accessible, conscious awareness. And it does not necessarily correspond to a merely human state of psychological or emotional well-being.

We usually "experience" the joy that is the maturing and ever ripening fruit of the Holy Spirit as hidden within longing, at the roots of the heart's desire, in the tenacity of a hope that endures so many disappointments and sorrows, that lives through all our afflictions of body and mind.

Sometimes other people can perceive the joy in us, even when we can't. It shines out of us in ways that we are not even aware of. (Mother Teresa is an extraordinary example of this. She was truly joyful and she gave joy to others even though she experienced terrible darkness and desolation within herself.) More often and for most of us, I think, joy is a simple, subtle, patient presence, like the ground that stays solid through all the sunshine and moonlight and shadows and clouds and raging storms above it.

When we remember that Jesus is truly risen, that He has conquered sin and death, and that He is with us, we will grow more and more in the confidence that His hold on our lives is firmer than the ground beneath our feet.

So when the weight is heavy upon us during this Easter season (or any time) let us recall the prayer of today's liturgy and the hope of God's generous promise.

When the weight is heavy, we are tempted to give up on Jesus, to settle for something less than God's promise. We might try to find "joy" by more-or-less forgetting about God in our hearts and aiming lower, by trying desperately to squeeze what we can from out of what the world proposes to us. In fact, we will all do this: it's called sin, and even the best of us will let ourselves be fooled sometimes by its illusions, in small things or even in big things, with varying degrees of blame.

But when the weight is heavy and the air is dark and our mouths are parched, there is another possibility. "O God... listen kindly to the prayers of those who call on you" -- there is prayer.

But what kind of prayer? How can we find God's love and grow more and more into the capacity to receive and return that love, a capacity entirely beyond anything we can generate by ourselves? By wanting Him, and by letting Him draw our real desire more and more to Himself.

He put this desire for infinite fulfillment within our hearts, and only He can give us the capacity to find that fulfillment. The desire, the awakening of our hearts, that painful yearning and longing that we scarcely understand--these are His gifts and He intends to bring them to fruition, if we let Him.

Who finds fulfillment? "They who thirst for what you generously promise." God wants the prayer of our thirst. He wants us to give Him our thirst.

And He will fill it with His plenty, but let us remember that His plenty is Himself, His life, He who is Eternal Love. This is the answer to our thirst, and yet we must slowly grow accustomed to the strength and the taste of this strong drink of Love.

That's ultimately what this life -- with all its aspirations and pains, its duties and rewards and failures and sufferings, its sweetness and beauty and peculiarity and strangeness -- is all about. 

And if we find a great emptiness in ourselves, perhaps it's a sign of God working to open more and more the space He wants to fill with Himself, with His Love.

In the depths of our enormous empty space, like the garments left behind in the empty tomb, there is the mysterious joy of the resurrection, even if we do not yet recognize it.

And if we thirst, let us turn our thirst toward Him. Let us remember that in the end everything is shaped by the mystery of Eternal Love.

Let us not be afraid to thirst for Him who thirsts for us.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Good Shepherd: "My Sheep Hear My Voice"

Jesus said: 
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

~John 10:27-30

The Fourth Sunday of Easter draws our attention to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which of course draws me (and many others, no doubt) to a special gratitude for the gift to the Church in our time which is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

It has been a great grace in lives of our children and to us. It extends the pedagogy of Maria Montessori into a child's experience of the Church. It involves them from a very young age in an environment that corresponds to the grace they have already received in baptism. It allows the child to engage the reality of the life of faith, and allows room for the Holy Spirit to draw out the mysterious depths of awakening hearts.

Here are a few pictures from the CGS environment (classroom) which is called the Atrium.

Scrolls with hand-written prophecies from the Old Testament

Timeline of Salvation History shows the Incarnation and Redemption as its central point.

Josefina works on drawing the timeline.

Map of the Holy Land at the time of Jesus.

Cabinet with books of Old and New Testaments with length of each book indicated by its height. Removable.

The sanctuary. All of these things are also available as child-sized models for activities to learn about the Mass.

Models of the monstrance, thurible with censer, chains, stand, etc., and incense holder.

In this work, Josefina explores the features of the Last Supper and its connection to the Mass.

Some of the materials of the Last Supper/Mass work.

Easter & Pentecost are key moments. Above: catechists and children put together a prayer service using Easter Vigil themes.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

It's a "Late Bloomer" Year

We've had a couple of frosts over the past week or so. I think the buds have held off a bit as a result, but now at last there appears to be a consensus in the natural world around here that it's safe to start coming out into the sun.

Color Collage

The Dogwood flowers don't seem quite as peppy as usual, but they're getting there.
The neighborhood is finally starting to look "springy"!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Glimpses of the Human Face

Pope Francis opened an Instagram account a few weeks ago, and he already has 2.2 million followers on the primarily mobile-device-based photo sharing platform. Of course, he's not taking pics and uploading them from his own iPhone (he doesn't have one). It seems that the Vatican press office is posting various photographs taken over the past three years and combining them with appropriate brief texts.

Very often the most striking feature in the picture is not Francis himself but rather the faces of the persons he meets.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Family Love Reaches Out to Others

Filipino families help one another to move a home to dry ground during the flooding after Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

"When a family is welcoming and reaches out to others,
especially the poor and the neglected,
it is a symbol, witness, and participant
in the Church’s motherhood.
Social love, as a reflection of the Trinity,
is what truly unifies the spiritual meaning of the family
and its mission to others....
The family lives its spirituality
precisely by being at one and the same time
a domestic church
and a vital cell for transforming the world."

~Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 324

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ask the Risen Jesus to Come into Your Life

Happy Third Sunday of Easter.
Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
Christ is truly Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Jesus shows Himself to Mary Magdalen on Easter morning (detail from illuminated manuscript, 14th-15th century)

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Love That Cannot Be Bought or Sold

"We have known a love
that is prior to any of our own efforts,
a love that constantly opens doors,
promotes and encourages.
If we accept that God's love is unconditional,
that the Father's love
cannot be bought or sold,
then we will become capable
of showing boundless love
and forgiving others
even if they have wronged us"

(Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 108).

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spring Break Baseball

I've been meaning to do something with these funny pictures of the kids playing baseball over the Easter break. They're not very high quality because I took them casually with my phone. So I decided to make a collage out of them.

Obviously, this game was geared to Josefina's size and skills, including plastic bat and foam ball (which also kept cars and windows safe). It was hilarious fun for all.