Saturday, October 31, 2020

Meeting "Jesus and His Friends" in the Communion of Saints

It is the last day of October, the Vigil of the Feast of All Saints according to the Roman liturgical calendar, "All Hallows' Eve" they used to call it in English (hence Hallow'een even today).

I want to give the "last word" of the month to that blessed girl we just celebrated, and to one of her great concerns, young people like herself — not just people who were young in 1990 but youth of every generation:

Chiara Badano fought bone cancer for two years. She suffered a lot. She persevered by being drawn into the depths of the suffering of Jesus. Such depths often draw forth the language of paradox.

And so she speaks about herself as "nothingness" (literally nulla in Italian, "nothing") while at the same time "offering" this "nothing"-that-is-herself (one of the mysterious ways that Jesus has transformed suffering and death from within) and basically "asking for the moon"! She asks for the Holy Spirit to come upon young people, to give them the awareness of the precious gift of life and enable them to live every moment in the fullness of God.

What audacity! Human beings can't make up these kinds of things from their own imaginations. This is from God.

And yet (again, like Jesus) she remains deeply human, concerned about her friends, about the future, about those who are suffering. From what I can tell, Chiara was specially drawn to accompanying suffering people even as a child. She gave much time to young people who had problems, her schoolmates with their many difficulties, the girl in the hospital with depression and drug problems.

She had great hopes for young people.

But she was no fool. She didn't condemn her generation; rather she suffered with it, trusting in the infinite mercy of Jesus and seeking to be with Him especially in His accompaniment of those who are "on the margins," indeed those whose own minds and hearts are troubled, confused, broken, and even far from God. As she once said, "I can find Him in the distant ones, in atheists, and I must love them in a very special way, without interest" (i.e. I think "without interest" means without demanding or expecting to experience being "loved back" by them).

As an old cynic like me would put it, "she knew her generation was deeply screwed up." She never said things like that, but she spent lots of time with others her age and knew what they were going through.

She was also sustained and enlightened by the charism of the Focolare movement, and the friends who shared with her its profound pedagogy and "style" of Christian life. I don't know much about the Focolare movement (from what I do know, I am in awe of it — which is not to say that I think their people have never had any problems). I have belonged to the Communion and Liberation movement for 30 years, even if I am something of an oddball among the thousands of "students" of the great 20th century "teacher-of-humanity" Msgr Luigi Giussani (I am an "oddball" everywhere, it seems). Ecclesial movements are great sources of grace for the Church and the world in our times. Their members are not perfect. We journey by imperfect roads toward the perfection of our God and His Son, Jesus.

All that being said, Chiara Badano strikes me as a living example of the distinctive spirituality and graces God gives through Focolare. The people who live the charism of Focolare within the Church are in a privileged position to help us understand more fully the gift that Blessed Chiara is for the whole Church and the world. Today they collaborate with the current ecclesiastical authorities and the Chiara Badano Foundation set up by her parents. Click here for the website. "Meet" Chiara for yourself.

My reflections about my adopted, spiritual "kid sister" are only my own efforts to communicate about a "personal relationship" which I find hard to define, and about which I am far from being an authority (or even "the-one-in-charge" in any sense — perhaps I am really the "kid brother"😉).

Getting back to the subject of "young people," the old cynic can't resist speaking again: "If youth in the 1980s were messed up, boy-o-boy, youth in the 2010s-2020s are really really messed up!"

Well... the old cynic has a point...

...but only insofar as he constantly forgets about what might be called the "mystical practicality" of the love of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? In part, it could mean that "the New Evangelization" is going to "look" different in some ways from what we — the Catholic intelligentsia — are expecting.

I have always cared about young people. First I was a young person (and I was screwed up — recently I referred to it as "drowning"). Then I encountered Christ and found the joy of following Him in the Church (and in this one sentence I have condensed a long process that included more screw-ups... and still does!😉). Then I became a professor in order to "teach" young people, and I became a husband and father with my own young people under my roof. I worked very hard, too hard.

Then I got my butt kicked!

"Retired" before the age of 50 to the ranks of the "disabled."

I have slowly been opening up to the mysterious course of my own life, to God's love for me, to His goodness. I wrote a book about some of this, ten years ago. I'm still learning more about how "belonging to God" and "living every moment in the fullness of God" are where we find the meaning of life, and not in the successes and failures of our projects.

I have "met" a surprising variety of people — many of them young people — over the past decade, and some of them are not the kind of people I would have gone looking for.

In the days leading up to the Spring equinox of the year 2012, I first "met" Chiara 'Luce' Badano. I had never heard of her before in all my life (she had just recently been beatified, but I didn't know about it). I met her quite accidentally, while surfing the internet. I still don't know what led me to her website (the same website I have linked above). But there I was, on that website, reading this incredible story and looking at this girl's face!

It was "one of those days" that shook me deeply. At the end of that day, I wrote about it on my blog, though I didn't know quite what to say. It was a really personal event, an encounter. She sort of "showed up" in my life and said, "I'm here" with a heart like a big open space where I could pour out my soul. I was scared, I was overwhelmed, but that was okay. She wasn't going anywhere. She was listening, and... how to describe it?... involved, in a gentle way.

Here's what I wrote that evening. It's still in the blog archive:

Since then, lots and lots of people all over the world have "met" her in similar ways, and she has brought "light" ("luce") — the "light of Christ" — into the dark places of their lives.

Yes, someone can become a great friend to your life even if you don't "meet" them until after they are dead.

The apparently enormous and complicated processes by which the Church takes up a "cause" for "canonization" have their roots in this fact, and are sustained by it. It starts with people who are drawn by someone's life — not only during that person's life but especially after their death. People are changed by their encounter with this person, and they share their experience with others. What it develops into from there is God's business. There are lots more saints in glory than there are official feast days on the calendar. They all get covered tomorrow, in the Feast of All Saints.

As it happens, there are quite a few young people who are being considered for beatification and canonization (just recently a 15-year-old boy who died in 2006, Blessed Carlo Acutis, was beatified — I want to learn more about him). You can meet these people and learn their stories on the internet. They are young people who died in accidents or from afflictions. There are even some who were inspired by Chiara Badano to embrace their own sufferings.

This group of Jesus and His friends — His young friends — is "updating" all the time. To be honest, the closer they get to the present day, the harder it gets for me to deal with it on a human-emotional level. When they get close to being contemporaries of my own kids, it hits me at a gut level that's pretty overwhelming. No doubt the parents of these kids receive extraordinary graces. That was certainly true for Chiara's parents, but that doesn't mean they didn't go through a lot of suffering. Their own beautiful testimony does not imply that they were exempted from grief.

I still have lots of fears, at various physico-psycho-spiritual levels, besides the ordinary aversion to death that is natural to our humanity. When I write about these things, I don't want to be superficial, much less pretend that I could handle anything like this. Of course, there seem to be many more kids who die tragic deaths than those who die saintly, inspiring deaths. In any case, I hope I can have compassion for the sorrow of the parents (and in a special way for the fathers).

Live this moment in the fullness of God. The focus is here.

I would like to ask some of Chiara's old friends from this world — if I had the chance — whether she was the kind of person who facilitated "people meeting other people." I have never heard anyone say that she was a "networker" in the old-fashioned sense — someone who brought people together. I know she had a lot of friends and acquaintances as a teenager, and apparently they had plenty of house guests. Certainly she brought the people around her closer to God and closer together.

I will venture to say that, for me, she has been something of a quiet but determined networker. I'm still rather awkward at following her lead. But she doesn't give up. I'm a little nervous about where she may want to take me, frankly. But, I must live a little beyond my nerves, at least. If I think she is giving me a "nudge," I intend to follow through with it. She prompts me to go beyond myself and helps clear the way. There are some specific instances where I think this has happened and continues to happen.

Having said all that, I don't have much to offer in terms of a "testimony" in any conventional sense.

Whatever particulars I may hint about, even to myself, in my own mysterious connection with Blessed Chiara cannot count for much — my thoughts and attempted interpretations of any details are just smoke and wind. It's me and what I pull up from my subjectivity, which is a cluttered place, not noted for its reliability. I claim nothing, assert nothing, refer to nothing worthy of more regard than a roll of the dice. But for me, personally, it's a serious thing (even though an enigmatic thing). And sometimes, in life, one has to gamble...

So I "bet on" what seemed to be one of those nudges four years and a few months after March 12, 2012, not far from the Summer solstice of 2016, when — again on the internet — I read about another young person. It was the terrible story of the death of a girl, under very different circumstances (which are unbearable to think of, coming as they did from sudden, unprovoked violence). It had just happened, and the news was everywhere. Famous people were lamenting her loss, and it sounded so appalling. But I got a gentle nudge or a tap on the elbow or something, and I can't say I "heard words" but if I had to articulate what came to me at that time I would say that it seemed like Chiara was there, saying, "look, look, there is the light of Christ!" So, I looked. I can't say I was "convinced" immediately, or that I even knew what I was supposed to be looking for. But in time I began to see many things, and I saw another unforgettable face, and — yes — the light of Christ shined brightly there.

As I said, my thoughts on this are smoke and wind. Maybe it's just coincidence or my overactive imagination that puts these two girls together. But on a subjective level, I go with the sense that Chiara had a hand in getting my attention to a very different story about someone who wasn't even Catholic, who I had to look at with some attention before beginning to see the "extraordinary-within-the-ordinary" that shaped her whole young life. Indeed, it could be said that it was her "offering-of-life" to a Christ-centered mission within the world of popular music (using her voice "for His glory" and giving herself "with love" to whoever God entrusted to her) that ultimately led Christina Victoria Grimmie to open her arms to welcome the stranger who killed her on June 10, 2016.

Chiara Badano is not the only person in the last ten years who has become my friend after her death. 

There are a few other "coincidences" that I have noticed with Chiara and Christina, and what they mean to me. These girls both had a special love for those who were on the margins, who were suffering, or broken in various ways (or "oddballs" like me). For both, cancer was a major factor in their sufferings (with Christina it was her mother). I'll admit, I like to "look for coincidences" once I see that there is some foundation for them. I used to wonder if there was any "reason" why I met Chiara in the middle of March. What happened on March 12 that has anything to do with Chiara? Why March 12? Well, that's Christina Grimmie's birthday. In fact (unbeknownst to me at the time) Christina turned 18 years old on the day I first read about Chiara dying at the age of 18. 

I can't help noticing these things.

In any case, it's clear that these girls are not entirely unalike. I'm inclined to think they are friends now, and even collaborators in the communion of saints with their immense compassion for young people... and others too. My sense is that both of them continue to be a great help to me.

I often speak of friendships with those who have gone before us, who have finished the race and kept the faith. Such "spiritual companions" — and their prayers — are important to our journey in this life. Tomorrow we will celebrate, affirm, and ask for the prayers of all the members of the heavenly Church. Tomorrow we include everybody who is not on "the list," and those who are not likely ever to make any kind of list.

Blessed Chiara Badano knows well these unusual saints, and I think she continues to seek to draw more future saints from unusual places, and even from great distances and out of the midst of great troubles. Her role will grow greater in the years to come, and she will have no shortage of collaborators helping to "light the way" that leads to eternal life. She is immersed in the heart of Jesus, and knows the mysterious depths of His fullness. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Why I Love Blessed Chiara Badano So Much!

I probably have a better rapport with Chiara Luce Badano than any other saint (besides Mary). More and more I feel like she's just kind of "around," and I'm hanging out with her. Of course, I ask her to pray for a lot of things. I don't think I've asked for a miracle; I just pray for many concerns (my own and those of others) where her intercession remains hidden, although I believe that she does intercede and that she is great and deeply inserted within the heart of Jesus.

There are some saints that I listen to, primarily - which is not to say that I "hear voices," but rather that I learn from their teachings and the counsel they gave during their lives. Irenaeus, Augustine, Basel, Gregory Nazianzen, Benedict, and Bernard; Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure; Ignatius, Francis De Sales, Therese, Padre Pio, Edith Stein, Oscar Romero, John Paul II (although I talk to him a lot too). Then there are saints who I ask to pray for me, but the relationship (at least on my end) is a bit "formal," with requests that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And that's understandable. They lived hundreds of years ago and they have churches and places of pilgrimage named after them all over the world. They are awe-inspiring.

But Chiara Luce is like a kid sister (she is younger than me - she would be 49 years old if she were alive in this world today). Earlier today I called her my "adopted" kid sister, but it was really more like she "adopted" me. In fact, she is awesome in a way that inspires me, all the more because she seems so accessible and also so intent on helping me move forward.

It seems easy to "communicate with" Chiara Luce in prayer from within myself. I sometimes just think of her in certain situations and say, "help me out here," as if she were standing right next to me. Sometimes (like when I'm doing something dumb, or being stubborn or irascible) I can almost see and feel her gaze of concern, full of compassion and patience but also with an unspoken serene firmness that says "you-know-that-eventually-you're-going-to-have-to-admit-that-you're-wrong." 

Chiaretta has a simple heart. (Her friends called her “Chiaretta.” Sometimes I do too, when I ask her for help. But I never met her in this present life - not many people did.) She left no treatises and not many words, although the few we have are precious. I have posted in past years some of the beautiful (astonishing) things she said in the end, in the face of so much pain, before her death from osteosarcoma 30 years ago this month. But lately, I have been moved much by something she often said during her short life: “We have to love everybody.”

That may sound prosaic. But I can't even get through one day living this way, actually loving everybody that I have to deal with all day. It's humbling. But Chiara never gets down on me about it. She helps me to realize and remember that this is how I want to live.

There are many ways she can help us, many things she can pray for. She can pray for our children and our families; for "young people," certainly (that's her special assignment), but also for all the suffering people we know - especially people who have cancer with all of their grueling struggles. She's been through cancer and all it entails, and - again - it was not that long ago. She's also close to shut-ins and people with chronic pain; people whose lives are derailed by illness (young, middle aged or old).

I think she has a special understanding and a special compassion for those (like me) who suffer from mental illness. When she was in the hospital, she gave her time and her companionship to another woman suffering from depression (even though Chiara herself was in great pain and in need of rest). When she was younger, she once told her mother not to speak harshly about the drug addicts. "They are the lepers of our time," she said.

There's another reason why I am moved to open my soul to her. She was known in life to be an exceptionally good listener. She gave time to her friends, listened to their problems and doubts, and took things into her heart. She once said that she didn't speak much to people about Jesus, but just tried to be a living witness and instrument of His love.

Chiara Luce never condemns me. She is never harsh.

Yet I have to be honest: in a certain way the whole witness of her life scares me out of my wits. (And she knows that too.) Her life makes it so clear that this "Jesus" thing is really real; its not a mind game. It means tossing it all up and following Him wherever He leads me. Scared? I don't think I even understand what it means to surrender everything, to become (an instrument of) His Love, letting go of my own ever-conniving self-interest. I feel overwhelmed. I can't even begin to get it inside my head.

In so many ways I'm just so plain old fashioned selfish.

Chiara Luce knows all about the limits of the human self. She knows how hard it is to abandon everything to God. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she struggled, she "wrestled with God" before she could accept it. Then she offered her pain for those who feel abandoned in their suffering. 

She wanted so much to be in solidarity with those who experience the loneliness of this horrible affliction and of all afflictions. She wanted to find Jesus and follow Him there, in the depth of His cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" She was a "regular kid" and she followed Jesus all the way to the end, to the depths of suffering and humiliation. 

Maybe this is why I love her so much. No matter how much I screw up or feel like I'm just a piece of garbage, I know she's there, she understands, she won't push me away. No matter how bad it gets, I can be sure that there's always someone to "go through it" with me. 

Of course, it's God Himself who stays with us, as He revealed in Jesus. The saints help us to encounter that presence of Jesus by their being united with Him and "going through it" with us, to embody that closeness even more. Chiara is eight years younger than me, and she died in 1990! She's from "today." That's why I love photos of her - they bring it home that saints are not from another planet; they're human, like Jesus is human. Chiara helps me realize that I'm not alone. She says, "we'll get through this" - I'm sure it's deeper, but this is what strikes me personally. She certainly has room in her heart for everybody. You should ask her to intercede for you, for whatever you need, but especially for help to bear pain and suffering, and to grow in the love of God.

Ask her to pray for you. And expect miracles. "Little" miracles, lots of those. Of course we hope for at least one more big miracle to complete the canonization process.

Below is an unofficial (i.e. non-liturgical) English translation of the Collect for her particular feast day in her home diocese and, I would think, for people all over the world who participate in the Focolare movement. We can all hope that God's grace will indeed "transform deeply our soul," beginning with an attraction to this light of love, and giving us the desire and the will to live with this serene trust.

Father of infinite goodness,
who through the merits of your Son
and the gift of the Spirit
have set alight with love Blessed Chiara Badano,
transform deeply our soul
so that, following her example,
we too become capable
of always doing Your holy will
with serene trust.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever,

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

She's Now Fourteen "Going-On-Jojo"

Josefina Janaro turned 14 years old yesterday... which proves (as much as anything I have ever experienced) that time is just...weird

Human beings have always measured the passage of time, and today we do it with an almost-insane degree of precision. In one sense, time is unambiguously empirical both for ordinary common sense (morning, afternoon, evening, night - over and over and over) and for refined scientific study, which can count on the overall remarkable consistency of the astronomical movements and various relational positions of the third-rock-from-the-sun and the big fireball itself. Even the irregularities are "regular" and can be incorporated into our measurements with a bit of fine tuning (e.g. "leap day" every four years).

In the world, time is reliably incremental, objective, even boring to the "observer" who measures it. But within the experience of the human person, within relationships, within life and history, time is beguiling, uneven, unpredictable, and seems to defy the quantities we use to measure it. Maybe it has to do with the fact that human beings exist in time and are subject to the passage of time in many respects, but not entirely: intelligence, freedom, personhood, relationships, and the acts, events, experience, and memories that flow from them are "embedded" in empirical time but also "go beyond" its boundaries.

"Stop it, JJ," says the reader. "I came here to see cute pictures of Josefina, not to read your philosophical ramblings!" Fair enough. Here's a collage of cute pictures from various moments during the past 14 years:

Of course, you want to know about these pictures. That will require me to reintroduce the phenomenon of "time" to the conversation, at least in a more colloquial sense (while also remarking on the unique qualities of what might be called "Jojo Time").

First the collage: (1) Top left, Josefina near the end of 2006, while still in the hospital. Look at those big eyes and chubby cheeks! (2) Top middle, John Paul with Jojo, the squirmy worm, Spring 2008. (3) Top right, "Papa" (my Dad) opening Father's Day gifts with "assistance" from his youngest granddaughter, June 2012. (4) Bottom left, Daddy hanging out with Jojo - actually it's Jojo keeping me company and cheering me up - in early 2015. (5) Bottom middle, which is two pictures (with Mommy / with Daddy) from Josefina's first Irish Dance recital, looking lovely in her special dance outfit, May 2019 - just note, I'm around 5'10"-ish (the old spine has shrunk a bit, and I'm leaning slightly, so call it 5'9") and I weigh *cough-cough-cough* pounds, so you can see the proportions; it's clear that Jojo's still small in size (though not small in personality, and never has been!). (6) Bottom right, a beautiful bridesmaid for her sister-in-law at John Paul and Emily Janaro's wedding (John Paul, who had just turned 11 in the "top middle" picture), August 2020.

These pictures correspond to moments of time and events that span 14 years, according to clocks and calendars and the earth's orbit. But they also correspond to a depth of reality beyond all measure, to gifts of life and love that "begin" in time, but are destined to grow to a fulfillment that endures. They pass through some very difficult experiences too - sufferings that I believe have shaped my faith, but that are not easy to think about and that have left me a little traumatized, with some measure of unease about what the future may bring. Still, I know that "God is good, all the time" and I pray to see this more and have greater confidence in Him. Because the Father's love is real, and it constitutes the meaning of my life.

My family is an ongoing, convincing sign of that love - not because they're perfect or they always make me "feel good," or because everything is easy. Oh my, no! (You know I love you all, fam.❤). Rather, it's because in the provocations and struggles (and the many joys too) of life with these people, in my bond with them and my responsibilities toward them, I can only be true to myself and to my vocation by praying to the Lord with all my heart and imploring Him to lead me and sustain me. And even with my own sins, incoherence, and many weaknesses, I see the evidence of His presence and mercy, moment by moment, so that I can continue on this mysterious road of time, step by step, in the company of those entrusted to me (and those to whom I have been entrusted).

The face of each person in our family is precious to me. The littlest of the faces, of course, has had a particular impact, not only because she is "the baby" but also because I have seen an awful lot of her face throughout her childhood. We have spent a lot of "time" together, as her growing up has coincided with the period since my "retirement" from the classroom.

Really, Josefina has always operated according to her own special "timing." In the beginning it took an unexpected, sometimes frightening, exhausting, and very long period of time for her to get started living like a normal baby. We had four kids under the age of 10 when we were expecting Josefina to be born in December 2006.

Instead she came - much to everyone's surprise - on October 26 (some seven weeks premature) with immediate serious health issues due to her undeveloped intestinal tract. I baptized her as soon as she was born, and then she was transported to Fairfax Hospital for emergency surgery, where the neonatologists amazingly connected her intestinal tract, using surgical techniques that were truly marvelous. She was then put into an incubator with a intravenous feeding tube, and given her place in the "NICU" (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). 

We were told that when the operation healed and she began digesting normally, we could bring her home. At first they gave us a daunting estimate of about three weeks, which sounded like a long time. Anyone who has had a baby in NICU knows how stressful even a few days can be. But we had no idea of the marathon that lay ahead of us. Josefina kept having setbacks. The weeks turned into months. In March she needed another emergency surgery. There were some scary moments. There were further setbacks, infections, and breathing complications. My mother-in-law came from California to take care of the house and kids while Eileen drove every day to Fairfax to be with Josefina (I was still working full time teaching at my school). I went to the hospital as often as I could and took videos so that the other children could see their sister. 

She finally came home on May 16, 2007, almost seven months after she was born. At that point she was just over ten pounds. It took a few years for her digestion to become completely reliable, and she grew somewhat slowly (though not in a way that was of any medical concern). When I began this blog she was four years old, and there were plenty of funny stories about her in the early years that you can still read in the archives.

And now she is 14 years old, which is hard to believe. She is still small for her age, with one foot in the "world of kids" and the other foot in the "world of adolescents." But Jojo is growing up at her own pace (in "Jojo time"), and she is doing very well. The only thing we know from the other four kids is that every kid is different. And the world is also becoming a very different place from what it was even a few years ago. We know we need to keep praying, asking God to lead us, and trusting His goodness no matter what. It's very humbling to be a parent.

Time is a strange phenomenon. When you're middle-aged (or "upper-middle-aged"), the years can seem to go by with very little to distinguish them. I think of 2006 as being "pretty recent." But seen from the perspective of my kids, what they have experienced, and how they have grown up, I realize that it was also "a long time ago." Our perspective on time seems to vary (especially in the way we remember it) according to the experiences we have had in a given period of time, or what facets of our experience we reflect upon. But I'm getting philosophical again...

Okay, here are a few more pictures.

Here we have: (1) Jojo in Spring 2008 again - such a shrimp! (2) Jojo wearing "the lamby" costume in the Fall of 2011. (3) Jojo from Easter Sunday 2017. (4) Another view of the bridesmaid of 2020. Dimples are a consistent feature.😉

We love you, Josefina! Happy Birthday! What a precious gift you are to us and to everyone who knows you.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Art of Autumn

We have not yet had really good colors this Fall, though I'm sure the best is yet to come. Meanwhile I have taken the opportunity to "anticipate" (and, perhaps, exaggerate) some Autumn brightness with a few works of Digital Art:

Saturday, October 24, 2020

"San Lorenzo" of the Americas

On the sixth anniversary of his death (and - he would probably want me to add - his future feast day😉), I cannot think of a better way to remember the gigantic (in many senses of that term) figure of Lorenzo Albacete than to reproduce here the rambling tribute I wrote on the day of his funeral in 2014.

I'm not saying it was that great of a tribute, but I thought it would be appropriate to follow the lead of the Master and just "shamelessly plagiarize"... and as anyone who tries to write knows, you end up plagiarizing yourself all the time, whether you realize it or not. So rather than spend hours writing something that might not even be as good as this original, I shall take advantage of what I already have and recycle it!

The title above is a spoof he might appreciate, but it's also ironic, probably in ways that haven't occurred to me. But I do know that, on the one hand, Lorenzo jokingly campaigned for his "cause" while still alive. Regarding the much more streamlined process for canonizations in recent years, he quipped, "It's great. The more they lower the standards, the better the chances are for me!" Yes, he was always joking, but his humor was an expression of joy. And it wasn't a cheap joy, but a joy that prevailed in the face of much suffering.

I can't describe it without reducing it to a cliché. The best way to get a sense of Father Albacete now is to watch videos of his many presentations or read his writings (which are being collected, edited, and published). Visit the website dedicated to him for all the links: the Albacete Forum.

Here is my thing, reproduced below. If you can't see it, or it's too tiny to read, just click HERE and it will take you to the original post.

Friday, October 23, 2020

I Unite Myself Wholly to You...

O God, I give thanks to You. 

How amazing is the design of Your wisdom for the human race. You have willed to manifest and glorify the Mystery of who You are by pouring Yourself out and becoming one of us. You dwell among us and give Yourself up entirely for each and all of us. 

You reveal that the Absolute Being is Absolute Love, and You offer that Love to each of us. In your wisdom you shape the hearts of each of us, fashioning us to be Your companions, making us capable of giving and receiving love and then placing Yourself in the midst of us so that we might love You and be loved by You and be transformed into Your likeness.

O Jesus help me.
All I can do is offer everything to You.
You have created me for Yourself.
My heart desires You,
and yet how often do I even think of what I do?
I am resolved to do the best I can.
I am resolved to seek Your will and to do Your will,
because Your will is Love,
and it will always be what will enlarge my soul,
and make me truly free,
because I am made for Love.

I have been entrusted to Your Love,
ever since the day when You claimed me as Your own;
in spoken word and water and the Spirit,
I was born anew,
a child of the Father, 
inserted into the history of Love's ultimate gift,
anointed as a witness to hope.

I encounter You in worship,
in the precious faces of my brothers and sisters
who walk with me on this journey toward You,
in the welcoming words of Your forgiveness,
and especially in the Bread of Life given each day,
You, body and blood, salvation, become our food.

Jesus, I need You.
Come and nourish me, be my sustenance.
I embrace You and I unite myself wholly to You,
with my small love and all my incoherence, 
my wounds, my fears, my hesitations, my need for healing,
but also with all my confidence in Your presence and Your Love.

Never permit me to be separated from You.

I abandon myself completely to You,
and to Your plan for my life.
I know there is weakness and resistance in me
that I do not know how to overcome.
I know there are ways I must grow that I do not understand.
I know that my life is a mystery 
hidden in Your wisdom and goodness.

O Jesus, I offer everything to You.
Convert me.
Change me.
Open my heart to the Love You give me in this moment.
Carry my soul.
Give me, in Your Infinite Mercy, the willing heart
that loves You in the way You long for me to love You.
I am hindered from the freedom for which I have been made,
the freedom to live as the image and grow as the likeness of God.
And so I abandon myself entirely to Your Mercy.
For You have loved me first,
so that - by the power of Your Love - I might love You
and receive You in giving myself to 

Jesus, I trust in You.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Saint John Paul II Rescued Us When We Were Drowning

I belong to the generation that spanned the entire pontificate of the man we now know as Saint John Paul II. Even now, I speak about "Pope Benedict" and "Pope Francis," but when I say the Pope I mean John Paul II.

In fact, for our generation he was always more than "just a Pope." Through him, Jesus grabbed hold of our minds and hearts. We went from being confused and weak to being renewed with an intense and vital faith. John Paul II evangelized and catechized us. He showed us the face of Jesus.

It was a face we desperately needed to see.

Growing up in the 1970s was very difficult, and few of us came through unscathed. We were the children of the 60s, of all the upheaval and reevaluation that opened up in those times as the last rotting support beams of what had once been the edifice of the "modern world" gave way in dramatic fashion.

And when those last walls fell we found ourselves surrounded by fascinating and terrifying instruments for exercising power over the material world -- power to communicate and learn, to build and heal in remarkable ways, power to move from one place to another, power to manipulate our own bodies, power to shape our imaginations and those of others and to foster great illusions, power to expand our horizons and also to widen vastly the scope of self-indulgence and self-deception, power that opened up whole new categories of subtle psychological and emotional manipulation and violence, power for greater empathy and solidarity with others and also to destroy ourselves, one another, and our environment. All of this power was within the reach of our emerging personalities and freedom... a freedom that shivered in the winds of this strange new world, seemingly boundless but with no sense of direction, no idea which way to move or where to go.

So we experimented. We played with these powers like toys. We found good things and had beautiful experiences. We also did violence to ourselves and to one another; even as we worried about unspeakable weapons of mass destruction, we committed innumerable atrocities on a smaller scale, leaving a wreckage of interpersonal relationships that so many of us are still not ready to face.

Catholic Christians in the developed world in the 70s faced the same disorientation as the wider culture. The Church in the time of Saint Paul VI was heroic, but she was enduring a kind of martyrdom. Hers was a mysterious and hidden witness (for those of us who lacked the faith to perceive it at the time). It was a seed plunging deep into the earth, destined to bear tremendous fruit, but at that time far below the horizon of those of us who were thrown into the wild, primal seas of the new culture of power. We were desperate for a way to survive.

The amazing new world of possibilities and urges and speed and images was like a great flood. We couldn't direct it. We hardly knew what to do as it engulfed us. We had become lightheaded and out of focus, choking beneath the waves, dizzy from the lack of oxygen.

I can't adequately express what John Paul II did not only for me but for our entire generation.

People have to understand: we were drowning, DROWNING, and he rescued us.

He showed us that we were human beings, and that following Jesus was the way to find our true selves. He held up to our gaze the image of Christ, the greatness of Christ. He convinced us that Christ could give meaning to our lives, that Christ was stronger than all the forces raging around us and within us.

With Christ, we could find the way to live in the midst of the flood, and even to walk on the water.

The Lord used Saint John Paul II to rescue us from a deluge that was carrying away our sense of identity, our human dignity, our confidence in God. He showed us anew the face of Jesus, and proclaimed that Jesus was more than adequate to the upheaval of the times. John Paul II convinced us - by the depth of his teaching and by the witness of his own transformed humanity - that we didn't need to be afraid. That is why my generation loves him so much, and why we will never forget him.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

若望 強 看守者 "The Rectification of Names" (sort of...?)

"The Rectification of Names" (sort of...?)

若望 (John, my proper name in Chinese)

å¼·  (the term "Qiang" means "strong," sounds like "John")

看守者 (the term "Kanshouzhe" means "watchman" - ["Janaro" = "door guard"] )

My Chinese name is "Watchman Strong" (with surname first), but it sounds better to take the shorter term for a surname, result in this name

å¼·  çœ‹å®ˆè€… (Qiang Kanshouzhe)

Add my Christian name at the beginning and I am "John Qiang Kanshouzhe," è‹¥æœ› å¼· 看守者 ... I don't know if any of this is correct!

若望 強 看守者 "John Qiang Kanshouzhe" (pronounced "Chong Kan-show-je," or something like that?)


So what is the point of all of this linguistic speculation? Not much. One way to begin to understand a language (not just to "translate" but try to perceive its inner genius) is to "play around with it." In relation to the Chinese language, I have the aptitude of a baby. Indeed, I'm a baby who is curious and reckless and who has some very powerful toys.

In the global village, many of us are "babies" in more ways than we know. We are playing around with world, and it would be helpful if there were more "adults" here to guide us and keep us out of trouble. As I've noted before, the "global village" is not a quaint metaphor. It's a kind of paradox with its "enormous proximity." It's a dangerous place, where we must be very careful before we pick quarrels.

This year we have learned that it doesn't take much to paralyze the village. I hope we don't need to be reminded that it would be very easy to burn the whole thing down.

But... getting back to Chinese...

I am aware of the irony of playing around with one of history's oldest languages. But the Internet serves up characters, pronunciation, even images of calligraphy (that's my "name" in Chinese script at the top). I have titled this post (ironically) with an invocation of one of the basic concerns of Confucius: the need to call things by their right names.

In a global multimedia "conversation," this is a great challenge. Imagery is more than ever a "language" of its own: easily manipulated, but also possessed of the capacity to cut through elaborate and entrenched rationalizations and recall human beings to basic truths, and perhaps even present new things.

We must learn to use the language of multimedia wisely. Perhaps the Chinese have something to teach us, with their highly refined pictographic literature. Here, I have tossed around word-characters fed to me by AI translation technology. I was told that å¼· means "strong" but I was not told why. Written Chinese is not a language of abstract signs, rules, and grammatical constructions. It is a language of illustrations, that conveys levels of meaning, metaphors, and beauty in a different way.

The illustrations are stylized from centuries of use, but mastering the styles permits one not only to understand but also "to see" basic images associated with the concepts, drawn (at least remotely) from the experience of reality.

As we become less literate in the West (and we are becoming poorer readers and writers, even as we are surrounded by phonetic words), we also are adopting elements of (a still very primitive) pictoral writing. The emoji (😉) is a very long way from the rich, evocative Chinese pictogram. Am I correct in thinking that there is a connection nonetheless?

I don't yet "see" the pictoral construction in å¼· (is it an "arm" combined with a "person"?) but I wonder if "💪👤" could develop toward something like this in the future.

An interestic point: verbally diverse Asian languages can be written down using the same pictography. Though they have often developed their own variations, rooted in the Chinese styles.

Now that I have done my usual bit of overthinking, I want to remember again that all this was done "for fun," and it has that value if nothing else. If it all turns out to be foolish, it was only some foolish fun. It ain't nuthin like language theory, ok?😉


Other variations:

ジョン (John, Japanese)

요한  (John, Korean)


Evidence for my "research":

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Thirty Years Ago: From Bitterness to Joy

I have been looking back at the (handwritten) journal I was keeping 30 years ago. 

It was sort of a "proto-Blog," even though I couldn't have imagined in those days anything like what we can do now with blogs. It was my "writing workshop," I suppose, but I knew that no one else was reading it. Well... at least not yet! Given that I was planning on (dreaming about) becoming a Great Man "in the future" - this was half my lifetime ago - I probably had at least a subconscious expection that this journal would be of interest "to posterity." 

And it seems that my pompous subconscious was right, in a way: "posterity" is interested, and is reading the never-really-meant-to-be-private journals. Here I am, my posterior self, thirty years later (and "here you are," if you're reading this now). Anyway, here is a page that represents what I'm finding in the old journal, at the end of the month of October in the year One Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety (yes, that's 1990):

Hmmm. It seems that  Autumn always comes "late" to the DC-Maryland-Virginia area (I lived in Arlington, Virginia in those days). 

Edith Stein quotations have lost none of their vividness.

Television was "raising the kids" in 1990. The Box was indeed at its height. Cable was booming with new networks, and everyone had VCRs and at least one membership card to a video rental store. Of course, by 1990 we also had personal computers in our homes. They were planted on desks, and looked like bulky microwave ovens. They were useful for documents and data, but they weren't much fun. In those days, the television and the computer occupied two entirely separate worlds, and there was no reason to imagine that that would ever change. As for phones... well, they were your house, securely plugged into the wall.

TV was king. In a few months, Americans would get to watch their first "live war." Thanks to CNN, the bombing of Baghdad was brought into our living rooms like a football game. They even designed a eye-catching logo for "the Gulf War." TV was shaping all of us. It was defining the stories with its images. Upstart cable stations and poor quality homemade video tapes hinted at the possibility of "new media," but not much....

What about John Janaro in 1990? I was doing well in graduate school. "But I am not happy. I am not content. I am not satisfied." I was 27 and I thought that "all things [were] bitter on the tongue."

For all that has happened in the past thirty years — even with the ironic realization that the brilliant and promising future that stretched before me in 1990 ended up being the academic-and-human-trainwreck that 
happened to me (and that continues) in 2020 — still, I would not describe my life today as "bitter on the tongue." No. Not at all!

It is a great life

Things are not bitter. Arduous and difficult, yes. But not bitter. It is a great thing to be alive, and to have hope for each day. At the root of me, beneath whatever complaints, frustrations, problems and pains, there is gratitude

It is not some facile emotion. It is a stubborn disposition, and it's not something I feel like I can "take credit for" (if anything, it has grown in spite of my all my fears and impatience and petulance). I am grateful for this gratitude, this joy. I could make a long list of what I'm grateful for, but it would only scratch the surface of something about my life that I don't really understand (and that I can't take for granted, but must recall myself to it as best as I can, I must live it, I want to live it). 

I think it has to do with a deeper awareness of "belonging" to the ultimate Mystery, and a stronger conviction that this Mystery is a Someone who loves me. I can rediscover gratitude and joy, rediscover my true self, when I remember that I have a loving Father, and that I am his child, and that the long journey of this life is leading me home.

Perhaps in some ways I've grown younger with the passing of years.

Monday, October 19, 2020

In Memory of a Friend

In Memory of a Friend

"He didn't seem like he was depressed and was always smiling. This is shocking" (Anon).

A bright autumn day
sunlight flashing on the windows.
A clear day, blue with painted hues of leaf.

I stood strong and tall
in the breezy wind
and felt life once again
like great power
from my head flowing down through me.

With large strides
I passed over the fields
drinking fountains of expansive air.

And with the red sun playing on my head,
I burst through the door
but her face was bloodless white.
I stopped, and suddenly
the October air froze on my skin.

She searched my face
with a gaze of shiny wet cheeks
and spoke your name,
and this single word
had a weight
that said everything.

Sparks of fire enkindled my bones,
spreading all over and through me,
with warm rivers flowing out from my eyes.

And the sun flickered in the shadows.

              --in memoriam, jp, +october 17, 2005

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Strange New Joy of Ignatius of Antioch

We have all heard about the early Christians who were persecuted by being "thrown to the lions" during the games in Imperial Rome. It may seem like a cliché to us so many centuries later. 

The second century texts of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, however, speak about this tortuous and humiliating death with strange eloquence, long before anyone in the world had imagined that such a terrible fate could be embraced with heroism, much less longed-for as the crown of life. Yet as his condemnation drew closer, Ignatius wrote letters to the churches in Asia Minor and to Rome where he was destined to meet his earthly end. Before the year 110, he wrote about this "new thing" called martyrdom in astonishing terms. 

What gave a human being the audacity to say that when he was killed and shamed by those who hated him - when his body was torn apart by lions - "then, I shall become a man"...?

Something new had happened in the world: Jesus Christ had died on the cross, and was risen.

Death had been overcome. And in these days so soon after the era of the New Testament, Ignatius was vividly aware that this victory over death revealed the meaning of life. We have been made in God's image and destined to his glory through Jesus, the Father's Son, who took flesh in the womb of a virgin and made his dwelling with us. 

Ignatius bore witness to these very specific events as the central events of history, "mysteries...wrought in the stillness of God": Mary's virginity, Jesus's birth, his saving death... actual events that happened to a real man only very recently, and known only to a few people on the face of the earth. Ignatius bore witness in his final days, as a man condemned to death, that all of it happened, that it was all true, that it changed everything.

Thus, he could exhort Christians then and now to rejoice in God and share this new life with all the world: "You all are fellow travelers, God-bearers and temple-bearers, Christ-bearers and bearers of holiness, with the commandments of Jesus Christ for festal attire... But pray unceasingly also for the rest of men, for they offer ground for hoping that they may be converted and win their way to God. Give them an opportunity therefore, at least by your conduct, of becoming your disciples. Meet their angry outbursts with your own gentleness, their boastfulness with your humility, their revilings with your prayers, their error with your constancy in the faith, their harshness with your meekness; and beware of trying to match their example. Let us prove ourselves their brothers through courtesy" (to Ephesians, chs 9, 10).

This love - bearing witness to the redeeming love of Jesus on the cross - changes life and changes death. The ardent metaphors of Ignatius of Antioch in the face of martyrdom express this love:

"Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ" (to Romans).

The same spirit, the same willingness, the same love endures today. For two thousand years, people have given their lives: people from all over the earth, from every historical period, from the multitude of nations, the most diverse ethnic groups and cultures, men and women, young and old, from every occupation, every social class. They have given their lives, totally, willingly, passionately, with immense love, not for an ideology or a worldview or an emotional sentiment, but for a man ... 

Jesus Christ.

There is nothing in all of history that compares to this testimony of so many, through the ages - all the devotion and human vitality of witnesses who gave freely and are still remembered and celebrated to this day - all for the love of this man, Jesus Christ.

This man, our brother, is God-with-us.

So we have reason to rejoice, to share that joy, and to love everyone in the hope that they too will find this joy, that they will find God who loves them, for whom they have been made.