Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pictures of a Summer Adventure

I promised more pictures from our trip to South Carolina a couple of weeks ago. Some of these have already appeared on social media sites (I'm milking this trip for all it's worth) but there are some never before seen photos as well.

We spent more time at the beach, but I did take quite a few pictures from the marshy area that we explored one morning, with its striking vistas and diverse wildlife.

The Palmetto is the state tree of South Carolina and they are everywhere to be found.
Only "the little kids" (Teresa and Jojo) came with us on this trip. The "big kids" didn't come because their college or school years were already starting up. John XXIII Montessori Center doesn't start until September, so we're still partly in summer mode.
It was Jojo's first time EVER at the beach. Did she love it? "This was the best day I ever had!" she said after the first visit. And it only got better.
Along with the beach, we visited a swamp... uhh, I mean "wildlife nature preserve." Here are some sticks in the water, but look MORE CLOSELY! Is that a... a... a... ? Yup. ALLIGATOR! Just a little guy. And remember I have a good zoom lens so I was at a safe distance. I ain't no Crocodile Dundee!
Dragonfly, zoomed way up close.
Another dragonfly, from a different angle. We spent much more time at the beach than in the swamp, trust me. But the swamp just had lots of interesting subjects for the camera.
There was beach bumming too, in the bright warm breezes.
Tall pines in the woody areas right off the beach.
These beautiful inland lakes are found in the southeastern coastal regions.
This is the American white ibis, a fishing bird found on the southeastern Atlantic coast. Look at that long beak! Got close to this one with the help of the zoom lens. I love the reflection in the water
I was happy to get a good look at this bird (and a good pic too). The anhinga has a neck made for catching fish and spends a lot of its time on the water in the coastal marshlands. This one, however, was in a pine tree next to a lake sunning its wings. Wow, what a bird!
The Nature Preserve had these efficient and non-eco-invasive walkways that let us get through the swamp.
Great towering magnolias: another basic tree of South Carolina
Then we emerge from the trees to long stretches of sandy, sparsely populated beach.

We_had three full days, along with two backbreaking daylong trips in the car. As hard as the trips were, however, it was worth it. And a note to my parents: we drove the Taurus, and it was about as comfortable a ride (or as minimally uncomfortable a ride) as I could hope to have in a car, as far as the contour and mobility of the seat.

We thank God, and all our friends (you know who you are!) who helped make it possible for us to have this little getaway. As Eileen said, the ocean is so large and peaceful that it lets your mind rest. As the busy school year begins for her, the mental rest was most welcome.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Deep Topics," Episode 2: We Get DEEP About Music...

Inspired by some of the terrific artists on YouTube, Josefina and I decided to make our own a cappella video for the second episode of the hit series, DEEP TOPICS.

The result is, well, interesting. Here it is:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Young Janaro Goes to Rimini, 25 Years Ago

I've seen some of my friends posting from Rimini, Italy in these days.

They are attending the annual Meeting of Friendship Between Peoples, the remarkable festival that has been sustained for some thirty plus years now by the Catholic ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation.

It's been a long time since I last attended the Meeting. I still hope to attend our own annual New York Encounter or one of the other festivals that are popping up in different parts of the USA. Now that I have made a trip and survived, who knows?

It has been 25 years since the first time I went to Rimini, which was before some of the current generation were born. I have vivid memories because I kept a journal in 1991. Below I share some excerpts from those days, texts which evoke rich memories for me but may also give others a sense of the experience of the Meeting a generation ago.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"I'll Pray For You" - Are These Words Really Meaningful?

Yes, of course. Please pray for me anytime you want. Thank you.

But when we say these words to someone, they can mean much more if our hearts are truly invested in them.

As Christians, we have the possibility of offering this transcendent expression, "I'll pray for you." Obviously this is very good, as long as we really mean it, as long as it's more than a "spiritual brush-off" or a cheap excuse to avoid meeting the needs of the person.

This expression is not just something "nice" to say to people. It is a possibility for love that has been opened to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Far more important than saying "I'll pray for you" is the actual praying, of which these words form the beginning.

And the vitality of our prayer comes from the love we bring before God for the mystery of that person's life. When we pray as Christians for another person, we recognize and affirm our unity with that person in Christ's body, in which the fulfillment of all things has "already" been radically achieved and is being carried out in space and time "mystically" (which is to say "really," in the most profound sense).

When we take up another's needs as our own and bring them before God, we in some sense participate in Christ's redemption. The Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus and joins our prayer to His pouring out of Himself in love on the cross which applies to every place and time, every circumstance, every person in the history of the world. It is God's will that we might really share in the love of Christ's heart, in His ardent desire and His particular attention to the person we pray for.

This an essential, though incomprehensible, dimension of how prayer "works" in God's plan for each person and for the whole world. This is the reality of the body of Christ "extended" through all time, the unfolding through history and through our lives together of the victory of His resurrection.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Weak of the World

"God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to Him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."

~1 Corinthians 1:27-30

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Painful and Beautiful Summer

We  had three really lovely days way down south on the Atlantic coast last week. It had been more than ten years since I had last seen the ocean. Josefina had never been to the beach in her entire life. It was a happy, unexpected coincidence of circumstances that opened the possibility (and determined the location) of this last minute trip.

I'm really glad we went, and it was lots of fun.

It was also much too far away, and I'm totally pooped. The traveling really wore me out.

I'm slowly arranging some pictures and I will share them here soon, along with more specific details. Right now I'm just trying to recuperate a little.

It all fits in, I guess, with these recent months, this painful and beautiful summer. The pain of this time seems obvious enough on various levels: my own pain, the pains that are tearing apart my friends and weighing down my country and the world, the bloodshed and the "aftermath" that remains for the afflicted when everyone else has moved on to the next preoccupation.

The beauty, however, is veiled and mysterious. I can't really describe what I mean or even why I mention it at all. But I can't deny it. It's my faith and my hope and the love that they generate, drop by drop from the dry stone of my soul.

It's so hard.

I can't take refuge in sentimentalism or platitudes. They don't hold up. Nothing shields me from this cold, hard, real beauty.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saint Bernard: 800+ Years of Witness to God's Love

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux died on August 20, 1153. That's 863 years ago if my arithmetic is correct. Yet he left a mark on Christian history that remains fresh and vital even today, his feast day on the Roman calendar.

Bernard de Fontaines-les-Dijon was a young nobleman who left all his wealth to join a radical new monastic movement. The movement was trying to recover the ancient Benedictine tradition of living in prayer and solitude, in poverty and by the work of their own hands.

These radical monks dwelt in the wild marshland of a place called Citeaux (from the word for cistern), near the border between medieval France and Burgundy. They were ragged and unknown when Bernard first came to them, but they were dedicated to living by the original rule of Saint Benedict. They had gone to work clearing and draining the swamp, and building a humble dwelling place to worship and pray and labor. In and through Bernard, these small seeds planted by the founding monks bore a remarkable fruit.

Though he was not the founder of the great religious order that came to be known as the Cistercians, Bernard's presence, his dedication, his wisdom, and above all his radiant holiness were fundamental to the order's explosive growth in the 12th century. He became counselor to popes and kings, peacemaker, preacher, teacher, and guide along the paths of Christian life.

His sermons, letters, and commentaries remain classics. No one since Saint Augustine had spoken so profoundly and so eloquently about the love of God, and the grace by which He enables us to love Him.

And thus he continues to speak to us today:

If one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.
For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him.
I know that my God is not merely the bounteous bestower of my life, the generous provider for all my needs, the pitiful consoler of all my sorrows, the wise guide of my course: He is far more than all that. He saves me with an abundant deliverance. He is my eternal preserver, the portion of my inheritance, my glory.
Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He has given me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. 
He is all that I need, all that I long for.

"My God and my help,
I will love You for Your great goodness;
not so much as I might, surely,
but as much as I can.
I cannot love You as You deserve to be loved,
for I cannot love You more
than my own feebleness permits.
I will love You more when You deem me worthy
to receive greater capacity for loving,
yet never so perfectly as You deserve of me."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

In All Things and Above All Things

"O God, you have prepared for those who love you
good things which no eye can see,
fill our hearts, we pray with the warmth of your love,
so that, loving you in all things and above all things,
we may attain your promises,
which surpass every human desire.
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."

~Collect for this week (20th week of "Ordinary Time") in the Roman liturgy.

This is one of my favorite prayers in the whole liturgical year. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mary: The Beginning of the New Creation

Today the Church celebrates the solemn feast of the "Dormition" (the "falling asleep") of the Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, at the end of her earthly pilgrimage. The detail from the icon shows Mary "born" into eternal life, assumed into the fullness of glory in soul and body. Here the Mother is portrayed as the infant, carried by her Son, which expresses the mystery of her entire existence from the beginning.

She has always been fully His, and so she remains, glorified with Him entirely, united with His presence before the Father in the Spirit.

Mary, the New Eve, is with Jesus, the New Adam, in the fullness of the New Paradise, the beginning of the New Creation.  The young girl from Nazareth who said "Yes" to God has gone before us and thus remains with us as our Mother, the Mother of Mercy.

Mary's total transfiguration and definitive realization in soul and body with her Son is the dawn of the eschaton. Mary's  splendor is the beginning of the complete realization of God's loving plan for the world.

Today let us remember the Woman who is full of God, whose "yes" to God has become the acceptance of each one of us as her child.  Each one of us is loved by a real Mother, with a real nurturing tenderness, affirmation, and patience that touches our every day--even if we don't know it.

Let us pray that the Mother of God might be gratefully acknowledged, honored, and relied upon by every human person, because her tender maternal love embraces each one. Let us pray especially that all baptized Christians will recognize that she is their Mother, and allow her to lead them to the fullness of Christian faith and life.

Holy Mother of God, protect us. Watch over all your children, especially those who are suffering, those who are poor and persecuted. Pray for us always, that Jesus might draw us all into the final fulfillment of the Kingdom, so that we might dwell forever with the God whose Love renews all things.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 14th

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. This is a reproduction of a written manuscript of a poem I wrote 27 years ago, on August 14, 1989. A typed transcription of the poem follow beneath it.

When Kolbe stepped forward to offer his own life in place of another prisoner, he said, "I am a Catholic priest."

August 14th
I am the guardian
of the flesh and blood that I command.
I stand
from world's edge to windowless walls,
the quarry-block place markers 
around my becoming-all-things.
I am a mother's graceful, sweet breath
like fine, penetrating mist
against your broken, burned skin.
I am the witness
stepping out of place
beyond the trembling assembly 
of bony finger-clutched this-moment,
toward the timeless returning unto dust of you
and you
and you.
step forward...
                           ...out of place
for I am
your sacrifice.

--August 14, 1989

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Maturity and Forgiveness: Growing in a Great Mysterious Life

I sometimes say that I am "old" or "washed up" but I know it isn't true. All I have to do is reflect upon some of the many experiences I am having together with other friends and colleagues over the age of fifty.

Life is an ongoing journey. Often I still feel like a kid inside, and I think there's something real about that. I don't think we "outgrow" things but rather we "grow into" new things, deeper things. Our whole lives are "still alive"--the good things can continue growing, and the failures can heal because we can find forgiveness if we are willing, also, to forgive.

At our age, we either begin to move humbly toward wisdom or we begin to fall into disappointed resignation, cynicism and bitterness. I'm always trying to sort out these motivations, and, honestly, I think they are usually muddled and mixed up as I live through these days and years in my life.

So I throw myself upon the mercy of Jesus, and I try to remember that I must keep forgiving other people. I must forgive every day.

And surely we have reached the age where we ought to understand concretely the need to forgive people, especially those close to us. We have enough experience to know their limits, to know that they can't give us everything we feel like we need from them. Nor can we be sufficient for the fulfillment of their hopes.

God alone suffices. He alone corresponds to our need. How can we not forgive one another when we are all beggars before Him? We are beggars, but there is no shame in embracing this poverty. We are poor because we are made for an infinite love, and He who is that Love fills to overflowing all the spaces we open up to Him.

In ordinary life it can be hard to be forgiving, but through it we can attain a renewed, mature innocence. Forgiveness generates healing, and keeps alive our hope and our capacity to be surprised by life, to see all the good there is in reality and in other people.

Maturity is a blessing. We're all still "growing up" in this great mysterious life. Time deepens our capacity to love (if we let it). I feel like I'm more aware of people as time goes on, and more aware of how many people are with me on this journey.

I have more empathy for young people with their fresh aspirations, sincerity, and restless energy. How great it is to see them grow. I also have a deeper appreciation for older people, who are wise and beautiful in so many way I never used to notice, and who deserve my attention and, indeed, veneration.

This is a good time to live, these later years of "middle age."

Really, we have so much to be grateful for. And still much to give.

It is our turn to be courageous in taking responsibility for our milieu, to be leaders, and we have to do our very best to rise to this challenge. We can only do this if we continue to grow humbly in maturity and forgiveness.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Olympics 2016

It's hard to believe that another four years have gone by and we have arrived, once again, at the Olympics. People all over the world are watching the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The modern Olympics--whatever may be their flaws--are a remarkable display of so much that is good in human beings, and they remind us of our common humanity and its most basic aspirations.

We cheer our athletes, who build something beautiful and awesome by the arduous work of developing their talents, strength, and skill. This requires intense training, total focus and dedication, and lots and lots of sacrifice. Here, people can clearly see the value of submitting to an objective discipline. People see the value of sacrifice. They are stirred to the experience of a kind of wonder.

But things of deeper beauty are not so evident. Many people don't see these things, and so they don't even understand why they are worthy of seeking, of effort, of sacrifice.

It is here that we must aspire to be champions. We must take the "field" of each day, and keep working hard and making sacrifices in order to live lives of deep beauty, so as to make truth and love shine in the world.

Saturday, August 6, 2016



"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).

"All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Thursday, August 4, 2016

All is Vanity

Vanity, vanity, under the sun.
All is vanity.
And the day we die is better than the day we are born.

We toil away our days under the sun
while the birds of the air come and go,
filling the dawn and the day and the dusk
with carefree melodies we do not hear.
We do not listen to them
under the sun.

We toil away our blazing days
until vanity swallows us into the dark night,
and then deaf ears strain against the silence.
The birds are gone.
We long to remember the songs they sung
while we forgot to listen.
But we shiver in the wild wind
that passes through us in the night.
Exhausted from the toil under the sun,
our spent frame moves no more.
The dark wind flows freely and disappears.

All is vanity.
And the day we die is better than the day we are born.

We never listened to the birds.
We never listened to their songs.
We were delighted by their colors and cheer.
We watched them soar with free firey wings,
and we loved them.
We toiled under the sun and wrought metal cages for them.
We caught them and bought them
and sold them, two-fifths penny each.
But a few got away,
found sanctuary.
And others flew over our heads,
high and bright and lost in the clear light of the burning sun.
But we never listened.

All is vanity.
All our days under the sun,
grasping for the wind.
It blows through our hand
and we do not understand.
We do not listen.

Everything has its season under the sun.
As it passes away it whispers about forever
and our hearts beat to the breath of this whispering
yet we know not where it goes.
We dance, we laugh,
we weep, we mourn,
but we do not understand the birdsong.
So we toil and hoard our pieces of time
and we are not satisfied.
We know not stillness until the day we die
when secrets open to blinding light.

The birds are gone.
One day they fell from the sky and we forgot them.
We never understood their songs.
But not one of them is forgotten before God.
Not one of them falls
without being carried by the hand that fashioned it.

~Dedicated to the memory of Christina Victoria Grimmie, songbird, March 12, 1994 - June 10, 2016.


During an interview, Christina Grimmie displays the tattoo on her right arm with the words "All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Jesus Said, "Take Courage, it is I; Do Not Be Afraid"

Here is the Gospel text from the liturgy for Tuesday, August 2. I love this Gospel passage. I am always learning from it. Read it and ponder it, and then I have a few reflections of my own to share, some words about how this Gospel is such a source of hope.

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

(Matthew 14:22-33)

First of all, let's put ourselves on that boat.

We all know this fear, don't we?

We are terrified by the storm. And God seems so distant. Where is He? Is He alone, on the mountaintop of His own ineffable transcendence? We are just weak little things, and the universe is vast and cold and seemingly empty.

"Where is God?"

We have learned that "God is Love," but we wonder why Love is so silent when the thunder is all around us. We struggle to believe that He really cares what happens to us. A similar story in Mark's Gospel has Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm, and the disciples desperately waking Him and crying out, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38).

"God, do You really care?"

We have all asked this question from our hearts, even when our faith tells us that it's not a fair question to ask the God who made us and who gives us our existence in every moment. It's not fair to a God who has proven His care for us by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. We know that God is with us in the midst of the storm.

Still, we are terrified. We believe these doctrines of Christian faith (we really do!) but we don't see how they help us in our turmoil. They seem abstract to us, like ghosts. We need something more. We need to hear His voice.

"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27).

God is mysteriously present (He is "walking" on the stormy water, after all) but also humanly present. He is that man we know, with whom we share our lives, our friend. He is the man who gives everything for us, who pours out His life for us.


He gives us the capacity to recognize Him. And through the faith He communicates to us, He awakens our humanity and draws us to Him. He inspires us to the realization that He is not with us simply so that we can survive the storm; He is with us so that we can share in His life and His love, so that we can step out of our own fear and walk with Him in the midst of the storm.

Now let's put ourselves in Peter's place. We also know what it is to take these impossible steps, to begin to take the risks of love in faith, only to be overwhelmed by sheer force of the storm that surrounds us and the total inadequacy of our own humanity to endure it.

We start sinking. We panic. We feel completely powerless. In the midst of all of this new confusion, we must try, somehow, to remember that Jesus is still with us. Remember, so that we can cry out, "Lord, save us!"

This is, in a sense, the most fundamental prayer. We can't see Him, and we don't know what to do, so we just cry out from the midst of our own failed, ruined efforts, "Lord, save us!" And the very name of "Jesus" means "God saves."

He is with us, in Jesus, to save us, even before we cry out to Him. Through the woundedness of that cry, the "little faith" that is all wrapped up with so much fear and practical doubt, we let a tiny place be opened up in our hearts so that He can enter in to rescue us. And we need to be rescued again and again and again. Just like Peter.

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

This is the question God asks us.

Not because He's angry with us or because He's tired of grabbing us and holding onto us in the midst of the storm. He wants us to ask this question to ourselves, so that we will begin to doubt less, so that He can make our hearts grow more.