Thursday, December 31, 2020

One Plus One Equals Three (A New Adventure Has Begun)

As this year ends and a new one approaches, it is the appropriate time to confide to this blog the news regarding what promises to be a dominant theme of my reflections in 2021.

To put it more simply and directly: my dear daughter-in-law Emily Janaro is three months pregnant.

Of course, John Paul and Emily have already told all their friends. But I have said very little so far. It's such an awesome reality. It humbles me once again, makes me grateful — so grateful — to be human, and ... well, I feel a bit shy, when it comes down to it.

Sure, we all know how these things "work" — here we are, a family, and John Paul and Emily got married, and they want plenty of kids, and well, ya know ... it's not like rocket science ...

And then, BOOM, there's a "someone," just like that, who is going to be a major part of the rest of our lives!

A new human person has already come into existence. Already, this new person is changing all of us around him or her in ways we never could have constructed from out of ourselves. This child, who right now is only the size of a peach, has already changed our whole family.

My wife and I are grandparents for the first time. Our daughters are aunts. My son and his wife are a father and mother.

Wait, what?? Let me say that again.

Grandparents. What is that like? Plenty of my old friends are grandparents now, so it shouldn't be a big deal... except that none of my friends are me! I am a grandfather. Sure, it doesn't involve much right now besides empathy for "the kids" in this new experience — "the kids" being John Paul and Emily, and especially Emily who has been a trooper through all the first trimester stuff.

Birth is, of course, the grand entrance of the child on the stage of life, and the cutting of the first and most physical of the many "umbilical cords" that nurture the child in the stages of growing up.

Birth is coming around July 2021.

But thanks to technology, this kid has already "Skyped" from inside the womb. They had their first sonogram weeks ago. The still pictures weren't very clear, but the live action and sound were a wonder. There is nothing quite like the first time you see and hear that new heart beating.

This was John Paul's and Emily's Instagram post
announcing the news a couple of weeks ago. 

When Eileen and I saw pictures of this first sonogram, we were amazed because the day is still clear in our memory when we first saw the sonogram and heard the heartbeat of this child's father

After the new year, they will have another sonogram, which might reveal whether the child is a "he" or a "she." He or she may acquire a name before birth. Then it's just one more step to Instagram! (just joking😉). Needless to say, I'll post "baby updates" (just like I used to do verbally in my classroom when we were expecting John Paul). Of course, our grandchild's mother will have veto power over any posts....

I feel a little bit giddy, like this is a totally new thing. We did have five babies... well, Eileen had five babies, but I was there supporting her, and I saw each one of them born (women reading this are so totally not impressed). But we're going to do whatever magic it is that grandparents do with their grandchildren, without a clue as to what that means, but no worries about it either. (As I recall with my own parents, the grandchildren did most of the "magic" and they just rode the wave.)

I decided (without much thought, but very spontaneously) that I will be called "Papa." Eileen will be "Nana." Our kids called my Dad "Papa," which was what he called his grandfather. The name has a lineage. "Papa" Pasquale Janaro born around 1880; his grandson "Papa" Walter born in 1935, and "Papa" John in 1963 (son John Paul, 1997, and first grandchild, 2021). There's a good chance that this child will live well beyond 2080, and perhaps even into the 22nd century.

That's a chunk of real history, potentially spanning four centuries in 200+ years. That's living, breathing history: my father's stories of his grandfather passed on to me, and me passing on the memories to the next two generations. It's a heritage of relationships.

Suddenly, I have a "new name" that has come down to me from the past. And the reference point for that name is the peach-sized baby who will keep growing and, with God's help, be born in six months.

G. K. Chesterton, in one of his mystical quips, once said that "God knows all things... except arithmetic!" He was referring to the incalculable, overflowing, gratuitous, boundless love of God. In God's eyes, one plus one does equal three, and much more. It flows over from persons to families to peoples linked through the generations. History. The "place" where God cultivates the human family with a tender wisdom, a "human ecology" that has proven resiliant through many trials. (We do well to remember it, and revere it.) Above all, history is where God gathers us in a more radical way as His children, as brothers and sisters of His Son Jesus Christ.

Before I was born or any of us were born, He loved this child. He wanted this child. He loved and wanted each one of us.

How can I not be in awe of this gratuitous love? I hope and pray that my grandchild, and others if God grants them, will experience a taste of this marvel, this beautiful mystery of love, in the heart of his or her family ... our family.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Letting Ourselves Be Loved By God

Pope Francis has preached very powerfully in this Christmas time on God's coming to dwell with us and what His presence means for our lives.

The astonishing revelation that we are loved awakens an unexpected joy in us, and a new sense of responsibility to say "yes" to Love, and to share the joy of love with the whole world.

"True nourishment in life comes from letting ourselves be loved by God and loving others in turn... God always loves us with a greater love than we have for ourselves... Only the love of Jesus can transform our lives, heal our deepest hurts and set us free from the vicious circles of disappointment, anger and constant complaint... Dear sister, dear brother, never be discouraged. Are you tempted to feel you were a mistake? God tells you, ‘No, you are my child.’ Do you have a feeling of failure or inadequacy, the fear that you will never emerge from the dark tunnel of trial? God says to you, ‘Have courage, I am with you' " (Pope Francis).

And today the Pope posted this picture and these words on Instagram (English and Spanish are provided here).

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Joy of Our Redemption


“Christmas Day” is a great festival that lasts for a whole week, and the season continues into January. The liturgy continues in these days to mark the glorious event of God’s coming to dwell with us. 

Keep celebrating the joy of His birth in your hearts and homes. This is the joy mysteriously at work deep within us, the joy of the redemption of our humanity that is stronger than all our sorrows and frustrations, all our disappointments and regrets, all our sins

Let us make room for Him, for His joy, for His inexhaustible love that draws near to each of us with tenderness and “longs for us” to welcome Him into our lives. His presence changes us, saves us, fulfills us and gives meaning to everything. 

We may feel like strangers in a strange world, far from home, perplexed by the brokenness of our lives, estranged from ourselves. But He has come to be with us, and He is our HOPE!

⭐️Merry Christmas.⭐️

Monday, December 28, 2020

For All the Innocents Who Suffer...

It is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Let us pray for innocent victims of violence throughout the world.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Family: A Wonderful and Fundamental Community

From homilies of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Saint John Paul II), Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, Christmas week 1968 and 1969.

"My dear brothers and sisters, today we are all filled with the Christmas joy which comes from the faith that God has been born into the world. However, our joy must expand and spread, so that each year it embraces new thoughts and events and brings them into the joy of Christmas, in order that the mystery of the Incarnation may grow fuller and fuller each year until the end of time."

"The mystery of the Holy Family concerns each individual family in a specific way, both husband and wife but also that special community which begins with their marriage, in other words, the community of parents and children. Whether this is a community of mature people or of those still in formation, it is a wonderful and fundamental community, and without it the human race would not exist.

"While we can change the parts of an engine, the fundamental human community of the family cannot be substituted. It must be served and helped to develop. It is not licit to destroy it, since it is a work of God."

When God "gave [man and woman] the power to transmit life, he invested them with the divine power of creation. Thus the work of creation continues through the family in every age and generation of human history. As parents, you are partners with God and share in his work in a way in keeping with the dignity of the human person. The Creator wants the work of creation to be manifested in every human family and, through the family, in every people and society and in humanity as a whole."

Jesus comes to redeem and fulfill creation. "The work of redemption shows us the full value of everything human and especially of marriage and the family. It is as if God himself  symbolized in the family by every newborn child — said to every couple: 'See how beautiful it is, and how it is both human and divine!' This is the meaning of today's feast.

"The divine and human beauty that exists in the family can only be gained through constant effort. It is not ready-made, but must be worked for by every couple. We are quite right in saying that marriage is based on love; we find this truth in the gospel. However, we must immediately add that true love makes us capable of taking on the tasks and problems of married and family life and that if it does not give us this capacity it cannot be called love. We should therefore be careful not to debase this wonderful word that was spoken by the Son of God as the greatest commandment.

"Through marriage and the family Christ carries out his work of redemption, which he won for us on the cross. However, just as Christ came to resurrection through the cross, so too, difficulties and hardship bring us to the true values of marital and family love and real formation and development: first and foremost the mutual formation of husband and wife and then the education of their children."

"We are all of us overwhelmed and dumbfounded in the face of the divine love which took on human flesh and entered into the human spirit. We compare our miserable human love with his immeasurable love, and we pray that love may grow within us, that it may never be extinguished despite any difficulties or obstacles, and that it may never dim but always grow stronger. May it never dim or fail, particularly in our families, in our marriages, and in relations between children and parents and between old and young... May it grow ever stronger within our society and withstand every effort to undermine or destroy it. 

"These are our wishes as we gather at this eucharistic table on which in a few moments, as at every Mass, Christ will be born to become our bread and to nourish us. Let us say to him today: 'Welcome! Come to us, be our nourishment, and teach us to love.'"

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020

Christ is Born! Come, let us adore Him!

We had a lovely Christmas Day, and look forward to observing with gratitude the coming weeks of this beautiful Christmas season.

The table and food were great as always:

Lovely and great above all was the woman who always makes it happen. Thank you, Eileen!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

He Has Come to Dwell With Us

He has come to dwell with us.

He has come, the One who creates and sustains our very being, our intelligence, our freedom. 

He has come, the One who is the ineffable source of the miracle that manifests itself everytime one of these strange little material entities in the universe says, "I am a 'someone'" and when it sees another speck of cosmic dust like itself and says, "You are a 'someone'!"

He has come, the One who makes our mysterious, otherwise inexplicable personhood real, vital, and so intimate that it is truly "our own." He comes to be with us, to be close to us, to fulfill to the end His fidelity, His mercy, His love for us.

He has come: Jesus.

He, the Eternal Word, took flesh in the womb of a woman, the always-and-all-holy woman He chose and prepared to be His mother. Jesus born of the Virgin Mary.

He has come to dwell with us, to make us His brothers and sisters. 

He wants us to be with Him forever, to share with Him the fulllfillment of all things, and above all to share in His own inexhaustible life, His glory, His joy, His love.

He comes, who encompasses and surpasses all our aspirations. Let us take time, in these days, to make room for Him in the center of our hearts, of our lives.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Agnese Janaro Turns 22

The birthdays come in thick this time of year for our bunch. Earlier this month was Teresa (as I have already noted). Now Agnese turns 22. Before the end of the year, my mother will be 82. Then just after New Year's comes my 58th birthday.

Thus the seasons change once again. Winter has come and the days will begin to grow longer again.

Happy Birthday, Agnese. We love you! We are so grateful to God for you.⭐

Sunday, December 20, 2020

COVID and Society: As 2020 Ends, Cracks Widen in the Ground

Looking back from this late-December vantage point at the wreckage of the past year, I am much troubled and filled with sorrow. Many of my "troubles" are personal and/or pathological (indeed, I have been suffering from a strong bout of depression for the past month), so I generally avoid trying to draw corollaries between my "moods" and the specific problems of our times. I do have some broad observations drawn from the obviously increasing degenerative condition of our technologically hyper-developed society, with its misshapen and haphazardly scattered engines of material power that we grasp more desperately even as our ignorance (our lack of wisdom) grows greater.

Some things are simply puzzling. Certainly, the answer to the larger question "Where do we go from here?" is something we will probably only learn as we stumble through it (and even then only if we're paying attention). But there are plenty of particular puzzles too, in this year when the strangeness of life has inescapably confronted even our ordinary routines.

The resurgence of COVID in these recent weeks and months has hardly been a surprise to anyone. (Did we really even get a “break” since March?) Serious illness continues to burden victims and hospitals everywhere. Meanwhile there seem to be more people in our local region coming down with “mild cases” identified by positive tests or by some of the more peculiar symptoms of the virus. Now, several different versions of the COVID vaccine are beginning to be administered, according to where the need is greatest.

As Christmas approaches and the year nears its end, we are still wondering how this whole global phenomenon will play itself out. In the U.S.A., the situation remains "complicated." Infections are still on the rise of a disease that, for a great many if not most people, manifests itself as a flu-like illness that resolves itself in a couple of weeks, along with some odd, lingering effects like temporary loss of taste and smell.

In the proximate environment in which I live, COVID doesn’t seem to strike people as anything unusually or horribly dangerous, and they and their immediate circle of relatives and friends seem to weather it pretty well.

Thank God for that.

In any given locality, COVID does not look like that big of a problem... UNTIL IT IS!!! Add to your “immediate circle” just one person who is susceptible to grave infection and he or she can become life-threateningly sick. And while age and predisposing conditions have been identified as more likely to bring on the more dangerous forms of COVID, it has also landed serious and even fatal hits on young and otherwise healthy people.

Recommended precautions by public health authorities require some measure of sacrifice, but people are increasingly worn out by all these months of vigilance. Frequently they are not careful, which is like playing Russian roulette with the disease. Just because many people “dodge the bullet” doesn’t mean they are behaving in a responsible way.

Overall, I hope that what I have seen in my own country during this past year is not an example of how we plan to respond habitually to future national emergencies. 

Those in the hospital, along with medical personnel and healthcare workers, have a vivid sense of what is (and will continue to be) at stake in grappling with an unprecedented public health crisis. And it is a crisis, if for no other reason than the fact that we are dealing with the sudden appearance of a new, globally transmitted disease that health experts are still trying to understand. It's the kind of phenomenon where civil action needs to be taken: people who have responsibility for the common good must exercise their authority. We immediately think of legislators and public officials, but a healthy society also has established social institutions that need to serve as reference points in a time when unified action is needed.

Our community has commonly accepted processes whereby experts in medical science are verified, and there are associations that oversee the quality of their work. It's a deeply flawed process, and may well not always produce an "academy" of ideal competence, but in a time of emergency their established social position must be given a measure of credit. Unless they recommend that we do evil in order to obtain a good result, it is entirely reasonable to accept and implement their "guidelines" (individual circumstances allow for prudence and flexibility here, but the common good needs to remain in focus for everyone). 

For many ordinary U.S. citizens during this pandemic, however, maximizing certain recommended practices of self-restraint and minimizing the risk of spreading infection have not been perceived very clearly as civic responsibilities. Instead, there has been a tendency for both “sides” of this nation’s chronically over-politicized and acutely dysfunctional civic culture to interpret adherence to health precautions as a partisan action, a demonstration of allegiance to or rebellion against "government intervention." It has often seemed, too, that public officials have been too ready to hijack the story of the pandemic (from different angles) in support of their own demagoguery.

All of this is very disturbing for someone like me, who experiences his own health as a particular area of vulnerability. I don't mean this in the sense of a personal fear of contracting the disease in a serious and dangerous form. I wouldn't want that to happen, of course, but the "vulnerability" I'm referring to here is broader in scope. To use an analogy, a person who has difficulty walking is more aware of their dependence on the solidity of the ground under their feet. They are more vulnerable to earthquakes. In battles, they are more likely to be "collateral damage."

So many things are troubling, beyond the impact of the COVID pandemic itself and the socioeconomic problems it has occasioned. The U.S.A.’s popular pandemic response has been too much burdened by a dialectic of hypocritical moralism versus individualistic revolt. In my opinion, the capricious and sometimes chaotic behavior of national political leadership has exacerbated the problem, as have those elements in the press and media that have engaged in relentless provocation and their own political grandstanding or pursuit of settling scores.

The U.S.A. has had difficulty in dealing with the pandemic as a unified civil society. What does this indicate? Certainly it would be easy enough to say that we are beginning to "reap the whirlwind," that we are on the threshold of seeing the cracks in our social order widen to the point where they themselves will begin to rupture the most mundane elements of our daily routines.

Ever since I can remember (over 50 years), ominous voices in our society have declared that we are falling apart, that chaos is just around the corner. It has often looked that way before. And yet much has endured, and new worthwhile possibilities have been realized. Even in this darkness, a wonder persists, and grows, and deepens — something greater is being engendered, something with a hidden but inexhaustible solidity.

No matter what, I am grateful for my life. If my perspective is dim at the moment, that doesn't mean I have forgotten what makes it worthwhile to get up every day, and set about living life with the expectation that truth and goodness will always make a way forward, even when the earth shakes and its noise drives people to folly, and everywhere they sharpen the weapons of war.

There are other forces at work in history, beyond our violence and stupidity.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Just "One Cup"...

Now THIS is what I call a "CUP" of coffee! 😉🍵❗

Friday, December 18, 2020

A “Purified Experience” of Christmas

“I would like to invite everyone to ‘quicken their step’ toward Christmas - the real one, the birth of Jesus Christ. This year we are constrained by restrictions and discomfort. But let us consider the Christmas of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph: it wasn’t all roses and flowers! They faced many difficulties! So many worries! Yet faith, hope, and love guided and sustained them. May it be so for us as well! These difficulties may even help us to purify somewhat our way of experiencing Christmas, of celebrating by getting away from consumerism. May it be more religious, authentic, and true” (Pope Francis - December 16).

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Let it Snow? Let it Snow?❄🎶 Do I Have a Choice?😉

 The snow came... about a foot of it here around Casa Janaro, give or take.

I did a quick digital graphic art workup of a snowy street and the hills beyond it. Are we heading for a "White Christmas"? In Virginia there's no way to be sure what it will be like next week.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

In Our Trials, Do We Grumble Against God, or Cry Out To Him?

Christian preaching had always exhorted us to bear sufferings patiently. In particular, we must resist the temptation to grumble against God when sufferings come or grow deeper. 

Faith makes it possible to bear our suffering, and we must never forget about the superabundant resources for courage and endurance that are given to us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. What we are given, in this relationship, is not some "abstract" courage and capacity for endurance, but precisely what each of us needs, personally, to persevere on the path God opens up in front of us. Our Father loves us, and leads us according to His wisdom.

This is good news, indeed. But the knowledge of it doesn't make suffering go away. Even within a personal relationship with the Lord, we are tempted to grumble. We know in faith that God allows us to endure pain and suffering in order to purify us, lead us to Him, and participate in His redeeming love for others. But pain (in itself) remains mysteriously opaque, contrary to our human inclinations, frustrating, and very difficult to carry. We are tempted to reject God's will for us, or rather—at least—to resent His will for us. As we know from human experience, resentment poisons an interpersonal relationship. It will do violence to our relationship with God.

Still, suffering can throw our poor humanity into such perplexity. It cleaves our hearts. How do we speak to our God and Father at such times?

It is important to distinguish between “the grumble” (which is a loss of trust in God motivated by my own misery) and “the lament” (which is a cry of pain—the pain that a creature feels under the weight of the transforming “pressure” of the Divine Creator and Lover who carries out His mysterious plan in my life, which encompasses His permission of what may seem to be an incomprehensible suffering). Both “the grumble” and “the lament” can express themselves as “God, why are you doing this to me?” But they mean two different things. “The lament” is a prayer—read the Psalms or the prophet Jeremiah. “The grumble” gets you forty more years in the desert—read the book of Exodus.

The Israelites grumbled against the Lord in the desert, not just because they were hungry and thirsty, but because this suffering made them forget all the signs and wonders of the loving God who had delivered them from slavery and had proven His faithfulness over and over again. Instead of asking God to give them food and drink, they said, “why did we ever leave Egypt?” Still, what does God do in His enduring mercy for His people? He feeds them with manna from heaven. He quenches their thirst with water from the rock.

How often God tenderly takes care of us and provides for us in ways like this, even when we are grumbling and complaining and forgetful of our own faith. He is so good. How can we not love Him?

But it did not take long for the Israelites to start complaining that the manna was a monotonous diet and start grumbling that they wanted meat. “In Egypt we had meat!” Etcetera, etcetera. This is the path of grumbling—it leads away from God’s love and into selfishness and ingratitude.

On the other hand, let us listen to the prophet Jeremiah: “Cursed be the day on which I was born!” He had just been beaten and put in stocks in front of the gates of the temple for public humiliation, because he had been prophesying the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah constantly laments over the vocation that has been given to him, to be the prophet of disaster, and therefore the prophet that everyone wants to persecute. “Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14, 18). Jeremiah, in his misery, seems to “wish he had never been born.” That sounds like grumbling, doesn’t it? But there is a difference. In the midst of this very lament, he also says, “O Lord of hosts, who tries the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind…to you have I committed my cause” (20:12). 

Jeremiah does not understand His own suffering. He does not understand why he even exists. Why, O Lord, should a man be born to such misery? — and yet he trusts in the Lord, and remains faithful to the very mission that brings upon him so much suffering. This fidelity—and even the lament of poor human flesh grappling with Divine mystery—leads into the very heart of God’s love.

Our relationship with God is mysterious, and its trials are part of the mystery. We are called to share in the infinite life and love of God; we flesh and blood human beings, who have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning even on a good day. We are called by God to a relationship that is destined to transform us into His likeness, to “divinize” us. This is going to take some stretching, to say the least. And on top of our basic fragility as human beings, we all have the effects of original sin and our own personal sins with which we must contend. Then there is the further mystery of the suffering that God calls on us to endure for the sake of others, to participate in His redemptive love.

So we must suffer. Jesus has suffered for all of us, and suffers in all of us. His Resurrection reveals that redemption and glory are destined to rise up out of our own suffering, if we adhere to Him in faith, hope, and love. 

The Resurrection encompasses the whole of God's promise for our destiny. But in the history of the life of the Church, God has given us other "signs" of this mystery, that suffering has indeed been transformed. Some saints have experienced the marvel of an ecstatic and wholly supernatural joy—a kind of anticipation of glory—that penetrates the heart of suffering itself. 

Such joy—the foretaste of glory—is a kind of miracle, a special gift of grace. It is given to a few saints, in order to be a source of encouragement for all of us. This does not mean, however, that we should expect to "feel" some kind of ecstatic triumph in the midst of the sufferings of our ordinary Christian life. We will be transformed, ultimately, by that victory (which is Jesus's victory of death), but each person has their unique vocation, and is given the sustenance they need to fulfill it. The Holy Spirit gives His gifts to every Christian, and through them we grow in the likeness to God. Yes, each one of us is called to become “godlike”—that is our destiny, to “participate” in the life of God. We know that it is here that our ultimate happiness lies, but God alone knows what our true destiny really “looks” like (“eye hath not seen…”). So we must let Him lead the way.

We shouldn't expect (or demand) from God extraordinary "illuminations" and "ecstasies" to compensate for the psychological and emotional perplexity that suffering brings upon us. Of course we can ask to understand more and be consoled, with confidence that the Lord will provide us with what we need to persevere and grow closer to Him. We should pray above all for the grace to allow God to accomplish His mysterious work in us. 

The grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will sustain and empower us, not overwhelming our emotions with instant joy, but opening our hearts to the signs of God’s presence, with enough certainty, with enough courage to take the next step. We must not be discouraged, or even surprised, that we ourselves are not enraptured by unspeakable joys and the foretaste of glory in the midst of our trials. Peace, patience, and above all prayerful fidelity in suffering constitute the path that most of us are called to travel. 

Perhaps we can manage to be cheerful in the midst of suffering; this is a courageous virtue, and not easily attained. Mother Teresa counsels us to receive everything from God with a smile. She also acknowledges that sometimes it is hard to smile at Jesus. Hard is nevertheless good. Cheerfulness is a sign that we are growing in love, but growing takes time

Mother Teresa also tells a story about a person was in great pain from an illness, and Mother Teresa told her that the pain was Jesus kissing her. The woman replied, “can you ask Jesus not to kiss me so much?”

There is no sin in this response. There is no sin in saying, “I hurt. This hurts. Why, O Lord, why must I hurt like this?” This is a form of prayer called “the lament.” The Psalms are so eloquent in expressing this profound human experience. To accept God’s will in suffering, it is not necessary to pretend that it doesn’t hurt. Nor is it necessary to pretend that—because we embrace God’s will—the pain doesn’t bother us. Nor is it necessary to pretend that we understand why God is permitting us to be thus afflicted (we do not fully understand, and never will in this life). 

We should ask Christ to give us the grace to begin to see His Presence in our lives, and especially in our sufferings. With the eyes of faith and the Spirit’s grace and His gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge we can recognize the Presence of Jesus. That Presence is enough, although God in His mercy will not deny us some consolation. He is the Consoler of the Afflicted, and He knows what we need. Indeed, He knows exactly what is good for each of us. The path He calls us to travel is set before us, step by step, as the gift of His infinite goodness and love.

Remember, what God wants for us is so much more, so much greater, so much more glorious and joyful, than what we think we want for ourselves. In eternity, we shall see all and rejoice in all. Here, we see through that dark glass called faith. Sometimes it is very dark, but we must trust God to give us what we need to sustain hope, and to grow in the capacity to respond to His mysterious Love with our own self-abandoning love.

Let us therefore not grumble. Let us cry out our pains to the Lord with trust in His goodness, and persevere in that trust, because the Lord has promised to hear our prayer and save us from all our distress. This is certainly a theme of this Advent season: waiting for the Lord with confidence, waiting for the fulfillment of His promises. Indeed, we "await" the answer that has already come, Jesus who is God-with-us, who accompanies us in our sufferings and transforms them from within.

He is already at work in us more deeply than we know. He is coming, in ever greater fullness, to complete the work of victorious love that He has already begun in us.

Let us make room for Him.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The River Changes, Yet Stays The Same...

A beautiful December day, listening to the calming sounds of the waters of Happy Creek under the bright air and (mostly) bare trees.🌊🌲 There were tweeting birds too!🐦

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Guadalupe: The "Prophecy of an Embrace"

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Maria, madrecita. ¡Buena Fiesta! 


Today is a day of grace and mercy for the world and especially for the peoples and nations of "the Americas." Today is a day to remember that miracles happen, and that Mary can change history if we give her room in our hearts to come with Jesus.⭐🌹 

Hoy es un día de gracia y misericordia para el mundo y especialmente para los pueblos y naciones de "las Américas".  Hoy es un día para recordar que "ocurren milagros," y que María puede cambiar la historia si le damos espacio en nuestro corazón para que venga con Jesús.

As Pope Francis reminds us: "When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity" (12/12/2014).

Como nos recuerda el Papa Francisco: "Cuando la imagen de la Virgen apareció en la tilma de Juan Diego, fue la profecía de un abrazo: el abrazo de María a todos los pueblos de las vastas extensiones de América, los pueblos que ya vivían allí, y los que estaban por venir. El abrazo de María mostró lo que América - Norte y Sur - está llamada a ser: una tierra donde se unen diferentes pueblos; una tierra preparada para acoger la vida humana en cada etapa, desde el vientre materno hasta la vejez; tierra que acoge a inmigrantes, pobres y marginados, en todas las épocas. Una tierra de generosidad” (12/12/2014).


"O God, Father of mercies,
who placed your people under the singular protection
of your Son’s most holy Mother,
grant that all who invoke the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe,
may seek with ever more lively faith
the progress of peoples in the ways of justice and peace.
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 the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Friday, December 11, 2020

Eighteen Years With Teresa Janaro

Teresa's birthday was on December 6th, so this is a bit late. But when your fourth child turns 18, you have to think about what to say.

When I started this blog nearly ten years ago, it was all about "the family." There were lots of stories about the kids, individually and as a group. Just go look in the archives. We had five kids in January 2011, aged 13, 12, 10, 8, and 4 years old. (Teresa was the 8-year-old.)

The last decade was one of big changes for our kids. It has been the decade in which four of them grew up.

I used to take pictures of them and write about them all the time. Then came adolescence with its drama and its challenges, and with each of them taking up distinctive and increasingly self-possessed pathways. They don't want Dad nosing around with a camera; naturally, they want to take responsibility for telling their own stories.

As a parent, you may have twinges of nostalgia for their childhood years, but the sense of gratitude watching them grow up is far greater. I really want to thank the Lord for His mercy, and frankly acknowledge that He is the one who has sustained us through these years, that He is the source of whatever is good in our family.

We are so "proud" of Teresa, for reasons that are obvious to everyone in our local community. But extended family and others far away may not realize what an extraordinary young lady she has become. She has taken initiative and realized her interests with persistence and dedication. This kid drives an SUV and a truck, owns and works with horses, and has a black belt in karate. She is also (like her sisters) a beautiful girl, full of intelligence and empathy, aware of her dignity, and strong in her faith.

It is a wonderful thing to see a person grow from infancy ("Teresa, you're only the size of an extra large pizza!" I used to sing to her) to the beginnings of adulthood, to see her manifest the qualities of her own personality and the hints of an interiority that is vast and mysterious, that comes from God and answers to Him alone.

Each of our kids has grown in different and special ways, and they have grown together with us as a family. We are grateful to Jesus for each of them, and we trust that He will continue to be our Good Shepherd as the journey of this life continues.

Many happy years, Teresa. We love you!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

An "Empty Chair" For Peace

Ten years ago, an empty chair held the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the great Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. In 2010, Liu was in prison in China for his persistent advocacy for fundamental human rights and human dignity. 

The Chinese Communist PartyState denounced the award, put Liu’s wife under house arrest, and effectively prevented any of his friends or associates from traveling to Oslo to receive the award on his behalf. Thus, an “empty chair” has become the symbol of his resistance to the PartyState’s suffocation of the human person. Liu remained in prison until two weeks before his death in 2017. For many months, doctors from all over the world had made offers to travel to China to treat his liver cancer. The world's most advanced hospitals were prepared to airlift the suffering Nobel laureate from the Chinese prison hospital to their own state-of-the-art facilities. Nearly all these offers were stonewalled by the government until it was too late to make a difference. We'll never know if better care could have helped him, or if negligence hastened his death. In any case, China's rulers saw no cause for mourning. They made sure Liu Xiaobo's ashes were scattered over the sea, so that there would be no grave - no place where he could be remembered and honored.

Perhaps their small minds didn't realize that they had already made the empty chair into an "icon" of China's first millennial hero. His courage has not been forgotten. The memory of his dedication and his suffering has not been erased.

The PartyState-controlled Chinese Internet search engine Weibo still censors “Liu Xiaobo” and the term “empty chair.” Now the same PartyState is plotting the fate of Hong Kong’s jailed young activists whose “crime” is their protest against Beijing’s suppression of their city’s guaranteed freedoms.

What kind of people are these men (and the ones at the top are all men) who rule one-fifth of the human race with their obsessive, controlling paranoia? How much longer before their political house-of-cards collapses under its own enormous weight? And what (who?) will take its place?

China needs more great souls like Liu Xiaobo. The unfolding history of the 21st century needs them.

I had a Facebook post on that day, ten years ago (reproduced below). Now, I remember Liu with even more respect, honor, and gratitude. I have learned more about his land, its history, and its people. I have also been moved deeply by what I have read of his writings during the course of my ongoing East Asian studies project. His integrity in the search for truth and for China's authentic path in the emerging new epoch will bear fruit. Really, it doesn't depend on the "outrage" or the global political maneuvering of the "free nations." Liu himself ultimately recognized that the West has its own need for regeneration, and is in no condition to provide solutions for China.

In this respect Liu Xiaobo is not unlike another great dissident, another absentee Nobel Prize winner who fought against a repressive regime - one that no longer exists. They both knew the irrepressible value of truth. As that other famous dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, said: "One word of truth outweighs the whole world."

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Juan Diego, Roses, and Eagle’s Wings

December 9th is Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin Day! (The image below is of a statue I got in Mexico some years ago.) Don't forget to keep celebrating the GUADALUPE FIESTA from now until the 12th of December.⭐❗

And in a not-entirely-unrelated incident, I came across a beautiful blooming rose... a rose in December!😮😊🌹 

It hasn't exactly been warm this week, but we've have a few sunny days. Near the top of the hill of "Marlow Heights" I saw one of those durable and prolific garden rose bushes with a couple of buds and this one pink rose!

Maybe I should come back in a couple of days and bring a cloak?😉

Finally, I was struck by the fact that we had the reading from Isaiah 40 on our feast in honor of Saint Cuauhtlatoatzin ("Singing Eagle," Juan Diego's original name in Nahua, the languauge spoken by the indigenous peoples of central Mexico). The eagle represents courage, endurance, and attentive care (such as the mother eagle has for her brood).

The eagle is strong, soaring into the sun, singing down through the centuries, ever renewed in its strength. The eagle does not grow weary.

Here is the text of Isaiah 40:28-31 from the Digital Scriptorum:

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Beginning of These Beautiful "Days of Mary"

Remember, today's Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is only the first day of a five day Pan-American Marian Fiesta! [Picture on the left: detail of a retablo painting of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Mexican, anonymous, 18th century.] 

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, and the ensuing days recall the events of his encounters with Mary "the Madrecita" on the way to Mexico City, culminating in a sign given for all ages, a sign that would change the history of the Western Hemisphere. Saturday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who remains with us today, and continues to change us.

Through this singular gift to all our peoples (and to the world), Mary's all-holy, boundless mother's heart has been bringing her Son to the poor, the sorrowful, those who are burdened, sinners, and all those "who live in this land" for 489 years. At the geographical center of "the Americas" - the middle of a varied continuous landmass and regional islands stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, with a population of more than a billion human beings - the Mother of Jesus, and of all of us, is uniquely "present" through the scientifically inexplicable "icon" she entrusted to an indigenous man (Saint Juan Diego) on December 12, 1531. She remains "with us" at Tepeyac, and every year during these days millions of people set out on pilgrimage. I don't know what restrictions there will be this year, but they will come in whatever way they can.

In these "Marian Days" let us accompany the pilgrims in our hearts (at least), let us approach Mary who will give us Jesus, and who will lead us to reconcilation with one another - our brothers and sisters in Jesus, the children of Mary.


En Español: Recuerde, ¡la Solemnidad de la Inmaculada Concepción de hoy es solo el primer día de una Fiesta Mariana Panamericana de cinco días! [Imagen: detalle de una pintura retablo de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, mexicana, anónima, siglo XVIII.]

Mañana es la fiesta de San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, y los días siguientes rememoran los hechos de sus encuentros con María "la Madrecita" camino a la Ciudad de México, culminando con una señal para todas las edades, señal que cambiaría la historia de el hemisferio occidental. El sábado es la fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, que permanece con nosotros hoy y continúa transformándonos.

A través de este don singular a todos nuestros pueblos (y al mundo), el corazón de la madre santísima e ilimitada de María ha llevado a su Hijo a los pobres, a los afligidos, a los agobiados, a los pecadores y a todos los "que viven en este tierra" durante 489 años. En el centro geográfico de "las Américas" - en medio de una variada masa continental continua e islas regionales que se extienden desde Alaska hasta Tierra del Fuego, con una población de más de mil millones de seres humanos - la Madre de Jesús, y de todos nosotros, está singularmente "presente" a través del "ícono" científicamente inexplicable que confió a un indígena (San Juan Diego) el 12 de diciembre de 1531. Permanece "con nosotros" en el Tepeyac, y cada año durante estos días millones de personas parten peregrinaje. No sé qué restricciones habrá este año, pero vendrán de cualquier forma que puedan.

En estas "Jornadas Marianas" acompañemos a los peregrinos en nuestro corazón (al menos), acerquémonos a María que nos dará a Jesús, y que nos conducirá a la reconciliación unos con otros, nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Jesús, los hijos de María.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Evanescence is Still Around and Still Solid

Evanescence streamed a "virtual live concert" tonight, from Nashville, California, and Germany. The entire show was excellent!🎵🎸🎹 

Amy Lee and the band have returned to the "traditional rock" format, but their new hard-driving music continues to be innovative, brilliantly crafted, and superbly performed.⭐💥

The video presentation features shining individual moments from every member of the band: Jen Majura in Germany backing Amy's vocals and playing guitar, Troy McLawhorn also on guitar in the studio in Nashville, Will Hunt bringing rhythmic energy and precision on drums (Nashville), and Tim McCord doing the bass from California.

Ordinarily, on stage, the powerful voice and virtuoso musicianship of singer-songwriter, keyboardist, pianist, and creative genius Amy Lee dominates the show. The video allocates the musical space differently, and illustrates well the coherence, durability, and breadth of talent of the whole current band lineup (which with one exception has remained consistent for more than a decade).

Still, Amy's creative leadership and charisma are everywhere apparent. In addition to singing lead vocals on all the songs with her inimitable expansive range and depth of tone, Amy also presents the final two songs alone, accompanied only by the piano she plays so beautifully.

Moreover, before the concert, she spent a half hour answering pre-submitted questions, discussing the challenges of the past year and the upcoming new album. As ever, she was articulate and cheerful when speaking - seemingly quite different from the melancholic intensity of her songs.

The big dramatic Evanescence style has a quality analogous to Opera, in that it treats much of the "twilight" themes related to sorrow, tragedy, disappointment, loss, anger, and seemingly irresolvable conflict. But the music, especially, suggests a persistence of hope. It has a "dark" character, but the twilight here is the one that usually signals the coming of the dawn.

An audience from all over the world watched this virtual show from wherever they happened to be. Listeners of my age and condition appreciated this kind of accessibility. There were nothing but "good seats" for everyone.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Arrests and Prison Sentences for Hong Kong Activists

Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow (whom I wrote about earlier this year), and Ivan Lam - three of the inspiring young adult leaders of Hong Kong's freedom movement - have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms of 7-13 months for various infractions related to their i
nvolvement in an "unlawful assembly" at police headquarters during the Summer 2019 protests. Agnes Chow received a 10 month prison sentence for her first "offense," on a matter that would ordinarily involve nothing more than "community service."

But there is nothing ordinary about Beijing's escalating tactics this year in their aggressive move to smash Hong Kong's civil society. This is only the beginning of their offensive. All three of the young people face further "charges," and they may end up being imprisoned for longer - even indefinitely if "national security" requires it.

Nevertheless, as Joshua Wong said, "Cages can't lock up souls." He is right. These kids are opening a new chapter in the history of their people.

Moreover, not all of Hong Kong's heroes are kids. 71-year-old Jimmy Lai - the main sponsor of the pro-Democracy media (and publisher of the popular opposition newspaper Apple Daily) - has been jailed without bail, and charged with a minor technicality involving the use of rented office space. This allegation of "fraud" pertains to an arguably perfectly reasonable use of the space, and is not financially related. It is clearly an attack on his courageous activism, which he has continued even after Beijing's imposition of the draconian "national security law" last Summer.

We are seeing new methods of repression in our time. Instead of employing tanks and the military as they did to massacre dissidents in 1989's Tiananmen Square protest, the 21st Century CCP wages what some have called "Lawfare" against its opponents, using bureaucratic legalism to make them "disappear."

A noteworthy point: Jimmy Lai was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1997, and has been a strong supporter of the precarious religious freedom preserved in Hong Kong (a freedom not likely to last much longer). My column in Magnificat only treats "conversion stories" of people who are dead. I hope I don't have the chance to write the story of Jimmy Lai anytime soon. But if the Chinese Communist PartyState "disappears him" from this world, then I WILL WRITE IT. Jimmy Lai will be first on my list.

But for now, let's all pray for his safety, as well as for Joshua, Ivan, and Agnes, and for an end to the repression of Hong Kong.