Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Do You Say "Matilda" in German?

This day takes us back to the Benedictine calendar and the medieval abbey of Helfta in central Germany (depicted in the miniature on the left). 

Gertrude the Great's "elder sister" in consecrated life—who was among her teachers as well as a guide and friendis commemorated among Benedictines as one of the particular saints venerated in the order (I may be wrong, but this seems similar to the status of "blessed" in the Roman church). Mechtilde ("Matilda") was also known for her mystical closeness to the Heart of Jesus.

"O good Jesus, I love You, and whatever is not in me, I beg of You to offer to the Father in its stead the love of Your own Heart.... I offer You, therefore, this love, in order to supply thereby for all that is wanting in me" (Saint Mechtilde von Hackeborn, c. 1290; feast day November 19).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Life is a School Where We Learn to Trust in God


I have spent too much of my life trying to "bargain with God" instead of simply abandoning myself to His never-failing love. But life is a school where God teaches us how to trust in Him and draw enduring vitality from living in relationship with Him.

Some of us need a lot of "schooling."

But we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the interior Teacher in the ways of love, and often He leads us along hidden paths by His gentle guidance, correction, and instruction, "writing straight" with our crooked lines, "outwitting" in His Wisdom all our narrow efforts to keep God at a distance.

Our loving Father has made us for greater things. He knows how to "raise us" to be children and heirs to His kingdom, and Jesus knows how to win our hearts and draw us onward in the Spirit.

Jesus knows, from the Cross, all the deep places that need healing and rejuvenation in our lives.

Then, of course, there is that precious gift that Jesus gives us (from the Cross), His Mother Mary.

Totus Tuus! With Mary, I can say those words like a child who sometimes just runs to his Mom, not knowing what's going on, who is anxious, confused, who keeps making mistakes.

She especially teaches us that abandonment meets a tender embrace, a nurturing and strengthening goodness.

And kids run to their Moms a lot, every day.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Gertrude, the Benedictine Tradition, and Me

Today two women are honored on the Roman calendar. My observation over the years has been that in English speaking countries, Queen Margaret of Scotland - 11th Century Anglo-Saxon refugee, reformer of Christian life in her adopted country, and apostle to the poor - is usually the chosen option for the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours of the day. This is understandable and entirely appropriate.

But when I was 18 years old (in the Spring of 1981) I happened upon a book on my parents' bookshelf, started perusing it, and was drawn into a compelling and astonishing reading experience that turned my life upside down. The book was The Seven Storey Mountain. In those days, Thomas Merton's famous conversion-vocation-witness-/-literary-masterpiece still also had a certain level of cultural proximity and relevance (especially for an intellectual, curious, perplexed, adolescent "bad Catholic" such as I was at the time).

It blew me away.

In fact, it had been doing that to its readers - especially young Catholic men - for two generations. More than a few ran off to monasteries themselves after reading it (some persevered, many others left during the turbulent days of the 1960s). Merton's own unusual monastic life and legacy - with all the complexities surrounding it (these may be topics for other blog posts) - if anything extended the interest in his 1948 classic well into my post-Vatican-II generation. No doubt it will continue to be read and to touch hearts, but in my youth it had some lingering flavor of something "modern" and "contemporary," of recently living persons and events of a historical period that was not entirely "the past." I don't know how to express this precisely, but I think it is one element of the special impact this book had on my life.

The later Thomas Merton was (and still is) often misunderstood. Unconventional, brilliant, flawed as he was, he remained faithful to the Church and to his vocation to the end, in sometimes difficult but genuine obedience to his superiors and with remarkable charity and affection for his brothers at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. It was this real devoted love and sense of belonging that he expressed in a letter to his own community two days before his accidental death in 1968 at an international monastic conference in Thailand, ten thousand miles away - a journey he made with the approval of his abbot.

In any case, I knew little or nothing of this in 1981, when I encountered the early Merton through his honest testimony, his vivid and compelling story, his masterful prose and singular poetic sensibility, and above all the graces of God that accompanied my first reading of The Seven Storey Mountain so many years ago.

Thomas Merton
And though I didn't run off to enter a Trappist monastery, it was the beginning for me of an ongoing and appreciative relationship with the Benedictine spiritual tradition. We have Cistercians in the Shenandoah Valley (at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville) and they have been a great help to me at various points in my life. Among other things, I have learned to love their saints.

As I noted at the beginning, two medieval women are commemorated on the Roman calendar today. One or the other (but not both) may be chosen for the proper prayers of the liturgy. But for Benedictines the world over, worthy Saint Margaret's memorial is tomorrow. Today is always observed as the proper Feast Day of that other amazing woman, known to history as Saint Gertrude the Great. She was a 13th Century German Benedictine nun, a scholar and counselor to many, and a mystic enraptured by the merciful and loving heart of Jesus.

Thomas Merton studied and wrote about medieval Benedictine and Cistercian monastic life, and helped inspire a renewal of interest in its saints. He was no stranger to Gertrude, nor was she to him, as is clear enough in his conversion story. Today happens to be the 81st anniversary of his baptism, first communion, and reception into the Catholic Church, which occurred at Corpus Christi parish - home of the Catholic chaplaincy for Columbia University in New York City - on November 16, 1938.

In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton indicates that on the day itself, he was joyfully aware that it was Saint Gertrude's feast. No doubt, she was also very much aware of him.

Gertrude isn't called "the Great" for nothing. She was something of a phenomenon in her own time, and has remained a special heavenly friend down to the present day. The Benedictines and Cistercians have always known this. "Gertrude had the power to stay the clouds of heaven as also to open its portals, for her tongue had become the key of heaven," proclaims the antiphon from today's Benedictine office for Morning Prayer. These words correspond to a powerful witness that still speaks to us after 800 years. We have only a few of the many texts she wrote during her lifetime, but they testify to her transcendent, personal relationship with Jesus, which she attributed to His boundless love overcoming her own weakness and incoherence.

In her Spiritual Exercises - which were called "a rare jewel of mystical spiritual literature" by that most German and most "Benedictine" of Popes, our own recent and much beloved Pope Benedict XVI - Gertrude continually calls our hearts back to the memory of the love of Jesus for us:

"Ah! Wake up, o soul! How long will you sleep? Hear the word that I announce to you. Above the heavens there is a king who is held by desire for you. He loves you with his whole heart, and he loves beyond measure. He himself loves you so sweetly and he himself cherishes you so faithfully that, for your sake, he humbly gave up his kingdom. Seeking you, he endured being seized as a thief.... For you, he cheerfully surrendered his flower-like body to death" (Saint Gertrude the Great, Spiritual Exercises).

Gertrude experienced the deep tenderness, but also the power and mysterious relentlessness of Infinite Love who draws close to us: "O devastating coal, my God, you who contain, radiate, and brand with living heat!...O powerful furnace..by whose operation dross is transformed into refined and choice gold when the soul, wearied by deceit, at long last blazes with an inner and insatiable desire to track down what belongs to it, and which it may receive from you alone: the very Truth" (from Gertrude’s The Herald of Divine Love).

Gertrude knew intimately the One of whom she spoke. She recorded (or confided to her sisters in the medieval abbey of Helfta) many special visions of Jesus, which formed in her an intense awareness of God's compassion. These testimonies remain a source of great encouragement for us, a witness to just how much, how beyond measure, is God's love for us and His wanting to be with us.

On one occasion, she reported these words from Jesus: "My Divine Heart, understanding human inconstancy and frailty, desires with incredible ardor continually to be invited, either by your words, or at least by some other sign, to operate and accomplish in you what you are not able to accomplish yourself. And as its omnipotence enables it to act without trouble, and its impenetrable wisdom enables it to act in the most perfect manner, so also its joyous and loving charity makes it ardently desire to accomplish this end” (ibid).

We must trust in Jesus. Whatever may be the trials or the darkness of this life, He is with us. He wants, with all the ardor of His Heart, to be with us, to love us, to save us, heal us, and transform us. Saint Gertrude, pray for us to remember His presence and His love, and to call upon Him with confidence.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mother Cabrini on Prayer

"Prayer is powerful!

"It fills the earth with mercy, it makes the Divine clemency pass from generation to generation.

"Right along the course of the centuries wonderful works have been achieved through prayer."

~Saint Francesca Cabrini

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

God's Love is Here For Us

O Lord, you are not a distant God who lays impossible burdens on us and then condemns us when we fail.

You are the God who loved us before we ever thought of you, whose love is the very Source of all our life in you and obedience to you. You are the God who took our sins upon yourself and died for us. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy us sinners.

Jesus.

He offered Himself for us. His heart was opened for each one of us on the Cross, and His heart remains open, calling out to us. 

He longs for each of us, and His desire to be with us pours out like a flood through all of history, to every time and place, from that moment when He dies on the Cross for our sins. 

He does not withhold His love from us because of our sins. His love is here for us and offered to us who are sinners, so that we can be changed by it and saved by it. 

On the Cross Jesus wants to win our love, by giving Himself totally for us.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Christina Grimmie Still Looks Upon Us With Love


This day marks three years and five months. Has it really been so long? Yet the stature of her short life grows steadily (albeit mysteriously and quietly), and her witness more convincing.

Christina Grimmie was someone who looked right at you through the screen. She wanted so much to see you, personally, and somehow - through that ardent desire in union with Jesus Christ - her gaze would find you, and me, and anyone who needed to be seen, encouraged, affirmed, valued.

Today, living in the heart of Jesus, she looks upon us still. She sees us more deeply than ever... with love.💚

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Thirty Years Ago: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Above: the Berlin Wall, as it looked in the 1970s and 80s. / Below: the Berlin Wall on the night of November 9, 1989.

Before that day thirty years ago, anyone trying to climb the wall to escape Communist East Germany would have been shot. But after months of demonstrations in Soviet bloc countries, and unprecedented changes in Eastern European governments, this "front line in the Cold War" in Berlin finally gave way and it all turned into a massive spontaneous celebration. (By the way, those lights in people's hands are not cell phones. They're cigarette lighters. That's how it was done in the old days.) 

In the West we watched these scenes on TV news and we were astonished, wonderstruck. It was like a miracle.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The "Spiritual Company of the Church"

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, 
and let perpetual light shine upon them. 
May the souls of the faithful departed 
through the mercy of God rest in peace.

From the Pope's Instagram:


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Three Generations of the "Virginia Janaro Men"


Here is a "Throwback Thursday" collage featuring some fathers and sons (and uncle and nephew, older brother and younger brother, and grandfather—i.e. "Papa"—and grandson). 

Top left: me with Dad, 1978 (I'm 15, he's 43). Bottom left: me with Dad, 2015ish. Top right: me, Dad ("Papa"), and "Uncle Walter" with John Paul, 1998 (John Paul, obviously, is the little kid). Bottom right: John Paul, me, Dad, and Walter, 2014 or 2015 (last picture of the "three generations of Virginia Janaro men"). #TBT #AllSouls #November #EternalRestGrantUntoHim #RememberingDad

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Bright Short Afternoons

On a bright, short November afternoon, red and yellow and even some stubborn green all glitter in the waning sunlight.








Pretty? Yes. Gorgeous!! The problem is that the sun is setting and it's 5pm in the afternoon, which is rather early for my preference. But, well, it's November... #NoComplaints

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Faithful Departed

ALL SOULS DAY.

Thinking about and praying for Dad especially today, and all those who died during this difficult year.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Requiescant in pace. 

"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

Today we remember those who have walked before us, in the hope of meeting them, of reaching the place where we will find the love that created us and awaits us: the love of the Father” (Pope Francis).

Friday, November 1, 2019

All Saints Day: "We Shall Be Like Him"


HAPPY ALL SAINTS DAY!

“Beloved, we are God's children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).