Friday, December 31, 2021

The “Long Year” of 2020-2021

What is there to say at the end of 2021? It has been a long year. This was not one of those years that just "zipped by." At least, it doesn’t seem that way to me.

In one sense it feels like the surreal year of 2020 hasn't ended yet. The first year of this decade started out "normally" (as far as we first-worlders knew). There was some new virus in China, or something like that... it was hard to gauge the news regarding it: A few doctors expressed concerns but, after being visited by the police, they seemed to change their minds. In any case, most Westerners didn't see what was coming.

The PANDEMIC. This capricious new disease - ironically named Covid-19 (since it first appeared at the end of 2019) - began spreading all over the world. Often, people who caught this highly contagious virus developed only a mild illness, with few discernible symptoms. Others got sick with a pneumonia-like illness, and/or other kinds of acute respiratory distress that required hospitalization. A small percentage of people - especially among the elderly and others with preexisting medical conditions - died from the disease or from health complications which it contributed to and aggravated. Covid-19 was easy to catch and to pass on to others, difficult to predict in severity, and overwhelming for hospitals that were overfilled with seriously ill people and lacking resources to treat them. The West, and other advanced or advancing technological societies, were caught off guard. A strategy of putting virtually everyone into a state of quarantine (“lockdown”) was adopted in a unprecedented way. By the end of March, my country - the United States of America - was, basically, closed. But everyone knows about this (and the complexity and controversy surrounding it) so there is no need to rehash it in detail.

Now we are ringing in 2022, and Covid-19 is still around. The Pandemic is still in the news every day, as the virus continues to mutate and generate uncertainty. We now have several versions of a vaccine, and millions and millions of doses have been administered. A third (and now a fourth) booster shot is being recommended for maximum protection against the new Covid variants that keep marching onto the scene denominated with Greek letters (“Delta,” “Omicron,” …).

This has been a very serious and tragic factor of The Long Year. We know people who have gotten seriously ill, and some who have died, even in recent months from Covid and/or a variety of conditions which Covid contributed to making worse. It has become a sorrowful and potentially hazardous factor, and we still don’t know how it will all play out, or what might come next.

Since the initial emergency lockdown, events began to happen again (and events got cancelled). Businesses opened and closed. Advice regarding wearing masks fluctuated (sometimes from one week to the next). Churches restored the ordinary responsibility for Sunday Mass attendance (in the summer of 2021) but most continued to livestream daily Mass now that they had the basic tech gear in place to do it. Lots of other new methods of remote communications connection got a boost because of the Pandemic, and we continue to find them useful even when they are not necessitated by restrictions on movement and gatherings.

But on the eve of 2022, Covid-19 is still around.

We still don’t really know what might happen next. We can only do our best to be responsible in the circumstances and then … either live in constant anxiety and take refuge in whatever distractions we can find … or trust that our lives are shaped by a Wisdom greater than ourselves, a mysterious plan in which we participate but do not control, a promise of goodness and love that will ultimately give meaning to everything, that will console us and change us if we allow our hearts to be open to it.

During the Long Year, lots of events and changes have taken place in the lives of the Janaros. Our son John Paul got married, and our daughter Lucia got engaged (stay tuned for more about that - Summer 2022). Our eldest daughter Agnese graduated university, began working, but now has some kind of illness (not Covid-related) that made her quite sick and ended up hospitalizing her through Christmas. It has also given her parents a few more gray hairs, although it appears that she has a condition they will be able to resolve (or at least manage). She just got home this afternoon, armed with medications and appointments with specialists, and it was so good to see her! (Because of the ongoing Covid situation, the hospital had restrictions on visitation: one person at a time from a pool of two people, who were Eileen and our daughter Teresa - and Teresa started university in August, by the way).

Then my mother passed away on July 5 after a brief illness (not Covid). And four days later our first
grandchild, Maria Therese Janaro, was born. She is nearly six months old now, and she has already asserted her distinctive identity (and 
charm) in our familial world and beyond. It’s mysterious: my father and my mother have gone beyond this world and at the same time Maria has entered this world.

I have experienced a range of emotions much larger and more complex than I ever knew were possible. Remarkably, the pathological aspect of my “moods” has remained pretty stable, but all the changes we have seen during this Long Year have taken a toll on me physically, I think. The same pains, the same exhaustion have gained some ground in recent months. (That “other Pandemic” - Lyme Disease - may still be causing trouble.) I still take walks, photograph the countryside, and then experiment with digital art projects (something I can do in bed). I’m determined to keep going, or at least do what I can. For the moment, I am ready and hopeful to enter a new year. It is fitting to begin the year on the Octave (the eighth day) of Christmas, the culmination of the week during which we remember with singular gratitude the birth of Jesus.

We will celebrate again tomorrow the coming of the One who gives us hope in every circumstance, who gives us the courage to act and the patience to endure everything according to the challenges of this life. We know that we will all die, but He has died with us and had risen, and He stays with us. He is making all things new. So let us persevere in hope, whatever comes. Circumstances and feelings go up and down, and we can live all of these moments because He is with us and He is preparing us for a joy that will never end.

Merry Christmas Octave and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

"Christmas Season" Birthdays: Mom Would’ve Been 83 Today

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Facebook Memories are especially vivid during the holidays. There are a lot of images and texts from the past dozen years to prompt memories from Christmases Past. I was struck by something from this Facebook post from TEN years ago, namely, how long my mother suffered in circumstances that were difficult for most people to comprehend, but that were very real nevertheless. She would go on to live nearly another decade "home bound and in poor health," and I know it was very hard for her. The Lord permits us to endure trials of different kinds and durations, but He also accompanies us as the Incarnate Word, and on the Cross He makes all our suffering His own and transforms everything from within, so that we might be raised up with Him to a new life in the victory of His love.

December 29 has been a special day during Christmas Week for my family for a long time. My mother was born on this day in the year 1938. We celebrated her birthday, along with my own (on January 2) and then - since 1998 - Agnese's pre-Christmas birthday on December 21. Sometimes we would have a "triple birthday party" at Papa's and Grandma's condo in the later years.

Nothing is the same this year. We haven't even celebrated Agnese's birthday yet. She may be back from the hospital before the new year, and she is improving (though they are still searching for the cause of her current illness). I never expected to spend Christmas Week worrying about my daughter and having so many as-yet-unanswered medical questions. It reminds me, strangely, of another Christmas 15 years ago when our youngest daughter Josefina was already two months in the NICU with complications from her premature intestines and problems recovering from the surgery that had connected them initially. (Another surgery was required the following March, and JoJo didn't come home from the hospital until mid-May, nearly seven months after her birth.) Of course that was an entirely different situation. But whether your kid is two months old or 23 years old, she is still your kid when she's not well.

I was expecting to miss Mom this year (and Dad too, again). And now I'm "talking to her" in prayer and saying, "Can you help them figure out what's going on with your granddaughter?" I'm quite sure she is helping.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The “Peace of Christ” Who Dwells With Us

It has been a great blessing to be able to attend Masses in churches so far during this Christmas season. Something many have taken for granted most of their lives - the festive decorations and the parish Nativity displays - were very much missed last year, when COVID restrictions and/or precautions kept people at home. There’s nothing quite like a church at Christmas. Natural and sacred images come together to create an environment that helps us gather together in remembrance of the event we celebrate, and worship the God who has come to dwell with us.

May we continue to rejoice in the birth of Jesus in the days ahead.

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:12-17).

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas 2021

Our family activities for the Christmas celebration this year are going to have different “segments,” due to present circumstances. We hope that everyone can be together soon.

May Jesus be born anew in all our hearts. In all things He is our hope and strength.

Merry Christmas to everyone!



Friday, December 24, 2021

Dear Daughter, Get Well Soon!

So it is a most unusual Christmastime in this most unusual year for our family.

This beautiful young woman turned 23 years old on Tuesday. It was her birthday, and we hope and pray that God grant her abundant grace and blessings for the year ahead. But it could not be said that it was - in any ordinary, conventional sense - a "happy" birthday.

Agnese, my oldest daughter, whom I love so much, has been ill for more than a week.

It is definitely NOT Covid. She tested negative, and in any case the symptoms are entirely different. (I won't give many details, even though for all practical purposes this blog has become little more than a private journal: it no longer has many readers, and I haven't posted about this on my much-more-widely-viewed social media platforms, and I won't until we know more about what's going on.) But she has been in the hospital since Tuesday, requiring medication to stabilize blood pressure and normalize kidney function. Meanwhile, a multitude of tests are being run to determine the cause of these abnormalities and other symptoms of her persistent illness.

Most likely, all of this sounds much worse than it actually is. There are many (unusual but resolveable) circumstances that might be causing these problems. Doctors, as yet, do not have answers. We can't really speculate, and I'm counting on the discretion and courtesy of the very few people who still see these blog posts.

The main reason I'm writing about this is that I just need to "get it out" on (virtual) "paper" so that I can put it into some kind of context for myself. In the same way, I wanted to make the graphic, above, because it's something I do for my kids (usually) on their birthdays.

I am a weak and sinful man, prone to worry. I want things to be "back to normal" (indeed, normal - at this time in my life, with all the changes, with the passing of the generations, the 'loss and gain' that humbles us but also makes our hearts grow - "normal" is dramatic enough for my nerves).

But beyond all this, I love my daughter. I love my family. I know that God is all-wise and all-good and that He loves us. Whatever comes is woven into His mysterious plan which is shaped by His immense love for us, the love we celebrate in these days as we rejoice in the gift of His Son - the birth of Jesus.

I hope and pray that Agnese comes home soon.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Winter Winter, Cold and Bright...

I recall that in May or June I posted a video greeting on how awesome it was to still have light in the sky at 9:00 PM. It's only fitting that I take a positive look at the Winter Solstice, when we're glad to have light in the sky at, like, 4:30 PM! Thus a greeting from a more bundled up and chilly me than six months ago.

Of course the sun has many lovely hues when it does come out. And the lights of the approaching Christmas and New Year (and Epiphany too) will add their brightness.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Ten Years Ago: "Marked By The Fire"

I found this rather intense poetic reflection posted ten years ago today on the blog. I can't say whether or not it was prompted by any particular circumstances at the time, or whether it was a more general reflection on those periods in my life when I have found myself "wrestling with the angel," or "contending with God" (in a sense) as if I wanted to convince Him of my terrible, inexhaustible need for Him.

In my youth, I exulted in my own strength, aspiring (without knowing it) to conquer the universe and perhaps even God's revealed truth by the power and lucidity of my "beautiful mind."

Then I found myself plunged into the dark, and I was compelled to "wrestle with" the Mystery that I could not contain, struggling to find a place to "hold on," and finally begging to be held, to be "blessed" so that I might walk the long narrow path day by day with humility, with obedience to the signs in life that point the way forward, with many stumbles and many hindrances.

But I was no longer walking alone. I could no longer pretend it was possible to travel by my own power.



Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Merry Christmas to You, Dear Christina Grimmie

Once again, Christmas approaches, and for the last six years I have celebrated the birth of Jesus with the help of a wonderful human being whose life, music, and witness have been a shining light reminding me that Jesus gives meaning to everything.

Jesus does not hide in just the part of my life devoted to explicitly "religious" thoughts and practices. He is my whole life, and He wants me to recognize His companionship and be strengthened by it in every facet of that life: in my interests in media, culture, and society, my love for music, my hopes for the new generation of young people, my entertainments and "diversions" and laughter and sense of fun. He also wants me to trust in Him in the changes, sorrows, tragedies, and in all the incomprehensibility of life. 

He wants to sustain and deepen my hope in His victory over death.

When Christina Grimmie was taken from this world five-and-a-half years ago at the tender age of 22, she had already accomplished so much as a pioneer on YouTube, recording artist and songwriter, and one of the most memorable contestants ever to participate in the television competition show The Voice. Her talent and abilities were astonishing, and yet her personal qualities were even more remarkable in that she was not proud or self-absorbed; indeed she was quite the opposite: gentle, humble, lots of fun, radiant with affirmation and deep affection for anyone she encountered, with an appropriately firm sense of her own value and a great capacity to love that was rooted in the fact that she knew herself to be loved

All of this she communicated to her peers in a "natural" way, which was (to superficial eyes) hardly discernible from what everyone else did, but which in fact had an inspiring and penetrating power because (I am convinced) she had offered everything to Jesus for His glory. Ever since the dramatic fulfillment of her offering of herself to the very end, it has seemed that all the (often apparently ordinary) gestures leading up to it are illuminated on a deeper level and continue to reach people and change them to this present day.

Christina was full of smiles and kindness, not out of a mere sentimentality, but for love. She was innocent but not naive; hers was a strong goodness, ready to bear the burdens of others, to suffer with them (even as she has known much suffering in her own life because of her mother's long battle with cancer, among other things).

From time to time she indicated simply and directly the great aim of all her activity: Jesus, and His glory. She was not a preacher. She was a lover, a great lover, and each and every one of us was touched personally and carried along within the superabundant amplitude of her love for Him.

Several years ago, I wrote an article [see HERE] about the music Christina Grimmie gave us for the Christmas Season. She never recorded a Christmas album as such, but YouTube preserves the legacy of her covers from two Christmas Stage-it shows in 2012 and 2014, as well as numerous other individual songs. 

Indeed, it was ten years ago at this time (December 15, 2011 to be exact) that the then-17-year-old posted her stunning, jaw-dropping, gorgeous rendition of O Holy Night. In doing so, she almost apologized for the fact that she had prerecorded the track of her own piano arrangement to accompany her voice, rather than trying to sing the immensely challenging vocals while simultaneously accompanying herself on the piano - as was her standard practice with nearly all the covers she posted over the years. In fact, her humble confidence, great labors, and persistent love bore fruit in a precious, lucid, unforgettable rendition of this classic Christmas song.

Now especially, as Christmas 2021 draws near, I am more than ever grateful for the smile of Christina. We can still see the countless images of her beautiful face that still shine all over YouTube and in a multitude of legacy accounts on Instagram, as well as my own poor efforts to "spend time" with her and allow images of her face to inspire my own artistic creativity. In this first-ever Christmas for me without either of my own parents, and for continued encouragement in the face of personal losses suffered by our friends, I am glad that Christina's witness to Jesus - the Lord of the living and the dead - remains a vital presence, and for me personally a constantly renewed reawakening to joy.

Dear Christina Grimmie, thank you for your LOVE! πŸ’š

Your love continues to touch and move people's lives because it flowed from your faith and your hope in the One who is born at Christmas, who died and rose and lives forever, the One who has the last word on the mystery of why we exist, the One in whom you live, the One who is transforming us and reaching out to everyone, to heal the deepest wounds and the most incomprehensible sorrows.

Jesus.

He called you to Himself five-and-a-half years ago, and we miss you in this world and we still don't understand "why?" Perhaps we have begun to see signs, hints that there was [and is] so much more to who you are than any act of violence can destroy.

It all remains mysterious to us while we journey through this world, and still touched with sorrow. But perhaps we are beginning to discover a joy in the midst of it all - a joy that promises to endure. Now we celebrate again the birth of Jesus, and we are reminded again, dear Christina, of the love you shared with us, how you poured yourself out so that we might know that we have been loved by God who has come to dwell among us and make us brothers and sisters in His joy.

You said that your singing and your whole life were "for His glory." Dear Christina, how greatly you SHINE in Him! πŸ’š✝️πŸŽ„⭐️



Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Oh Christmas Tree?

UPDATE: On the 20th of the month, we have thought about the tree. Gotta bring the stuff down from the attic.

Facebook calls this my "Avatar." Hmmm. Too skinny to be believed, I'm sorry to say. But Christmas is coming soon, and we will have our genuine artificial tree.πŸ˜œπŸ˜‰



Monday, December 13, 2021

Thirty Years Ago For Me, 1700 For Saint Lucy

From my old journal I found this entry from thirty years ago for Saint Lucy's feast day. As you can see, I have depended on "God's Girls" for a long time. They are truly extraordinary, and — back in the 1990s — as a (relatively) young man I felt like I would have been drawn by their beauty to the beauty of God (as indeed, some pagan suitors were, in certain stories, who became Christians; or as the men who pledged themselves to defend France at the summons of the astonishing Jeanette La Pucelle [Joan of Arc]; or as the young missionaries struggling far from home were consoled by correspondence with Saint Therese, and...).

Thirty years later, I think of my own daughters. I want my daughters to live to a ripe old age, of course, and the possibility of being Christians in a society in which young people are martyred (not to mention old people) is not something I want any of us to experience.

I am weak. (Although I think those girls of mine are stronger than me... but still...😳) The "glory" in the witness of martyrdom is only discerned by eyes of great faith, illuminated by supernatural grace. From a natural human point of view, the brutality of persecution is shocking. If it were to happen to someone you love, it would be a cause of great grief, and you would have to be patient with the Lord and with yourself if the mysterious joy that faith affirms is slow in penetrating your whole complex emotional and psychological human frame. Nevertheless, even in the midst of grief, Christian faith begins to give the vision of something transfigured, of the inconceivable and wonderful presence of God's Love that changes everything. The vision of the real beauty of this Love, which is working even through the most horrific circumstances by the Cross of Jesus, grows existentially with grace and in time.

And part of that is the way that these "kids" get involved in your life, and the wonders of their intercession from among the Communion of Saints. In this way, the glory of the Cross and of its witnesses dawns upon even those of us who are weak....

But here's young Janaro, aged 28. He makes some good points:



Sunday, December 12, 2021

Guadalupe: "I Am Your Compassionate Mother"

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The words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego (as presented in the Nican Mopohua):

"Do know this, do be assured of it in your heart,
My Littlest One,
that I Myself, I am the Entirely and Ever Virgin, Saint Mary,
Mother of the True Divinity, of God Himself.
Because of Him, Life goes on, Creation goes on;
His are all things afar, His are all things near at hand,
things above in the Heavens, 
things here below on the Earth.

"How truly I wish it, how greatly I desire it,
that here they should erect Me My Temple!
Here would I show forth, here would I lift up to view,
here would I make a gift
of all My Fondness for My Dear Ones,
all My Regard for My Needy Ones,
My Willingness to Aid them,
My Readiness to Protect them.


"For truly I Myself,
I am your Compassionate Mother,
yours, for you yourself,
for everybody here in the Land,
for each and all together,
for all others too, for all Folk of every kind,
who do but cherish Me,
who do but raise their voices to Me,
who do but seek Me,
who do but raise their trust to Me.


"For here I shall listen to their groanings, 
to their saddenings;
here shall I make well and heal up
their each and every kind of disappointment,
of exhausting pangs, of bitter aching pain."


.  .  .  .

"Do listen,
do be assured of it in your heart, My Littlest One,
that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you,
nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart.

"And do not be afraid of this Pestilence,
nor of any other pestilence,
or any rasping hardship.

"For am I not here, I, Your Mother?
Are you not in the Cool of My Shadow?
in the Breeziness of My Shade?
Is it not I that am your Source of Contentment?
Are you not cradled in My Mantle?
cuddled in the Crossing of My Arms?
Is there anything else for you to need?

"Nothing else, though, should trouble you,
should disquiet you."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Mother Mary, Guadalupe, and “Guadalupanalia”

<--- pic 1 (see below)

I have made three pilgrimages to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe: in January 1999 (at the closing of the "Synod on America"); in July 2002 (for the canonization of Saint Juan Diego); and in March 2003 (with students on a mission trip, working with the Missionaries of Charity in Mexico City). The events of these three journeys would require a whole book to recount (and perhaps I should write that book). Two of my trips corresponded with two of the five pilgrimages that Saint John Paul II made during his pontificate. 

But I treasure, above all, the personal encounters with Mary in her "house" — she was always there "for me," somehow, whether I was relatively alone in the early morning hours or at a Sunday Mass packed in like a sardine with a multitude of pilgrims. The closest I can come to conveying my "sense" of her "presence" is to liken it (obviously it's not the same, it's not substantial) to the impression that surprises one — from time to time — at Mass or in times of silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There are those moments in front of the Eucharist when our hearts are struck by the reality that Jesus is "present for me." Perhaps this is nothing more (in my case, at least) than a pious emotion, but at Guadalupe I have come away with the (surprising) sense of her loving maternal gaze upon me, her probing of my heart, her closeness to me "wherever I am," with no need to pretend or try to fool myself — Mary seems to say, "I love you, tell me the truth, we'll get through it, I know all your pain and I want to help you to heal." The iconography of the image on the tilma indicates clearly that Mary is pregnant (e.g. the black ribbon). What we might easily miss was crystal clear to the Mexica indigenous peoples: Mary brings Jesus, she gives us Jesus.

Mary's maternal love is a kind of "inherent factor" in the grace that enables us to encounter Jesus and recognize Him as our Lord and Savior. She is united with the Spirit who "came upon her" in the moment of the Incarnation, and she accompanies the Spirit with her maternal love in our own rebirth in Christ and growth as children of the Father, little brothers and sisters of Jesus who also call Mary our Mother just as Jesus did (and still does). Mary is the "Mother of God" — the mother of the Person of the Son according to His humanity, of the Word made flesh in her womb. Her heart has plenty of room for all of us.

But at the Shrine of Tepeyac, any "sense of complexity" we may feel about the dogmatic and theological explications of Mary's role in our lives gives place to the vivid impact of her very real (and very practical) concern for us (this, at least, was my impression — for me vivid, striking, unforgettable unless I were to forget my own self). In any case, she is a wonderful, tender, and consoling mother, but she is also a strong and persistent woman and she has no intention of giving up on us, or on any of her children.

Here I want to place some pictures of "little things" I brought back from these visits, ways that we have celebrated this feast here as a family and as a church community, and some of the small signs that help me remember that Jesus and Mary are close to me, that God's love carries me, and that the "sorrows" that I can never entirely escape are seen and understood and are being transformed by a greater love...

Here are the notes explaining the pictures: 

[1] Above (embedded with the text) a ceramic holy water font with La Guadalupana as she is generally depicted in statue form. We've had it for a long time. The remaining pictures are below. 

[2] Statue of Juan Diego with his tilma, which I think I got at the Basilica's gift shop some twenty years ago. 

[3] This postcard photographic reproduction of the image is among the icons at my bedside. The Church has always used "media" to help us "stay connected with" Jesus, Mary, and the saints. I put an image of La Guadalupana anywhere that I spend a significant amount of time, because it reminds me that she sees me and loves me. 

[4] Next to Mary on my little "icon space" is a small, hand-painted holy water font with Mexican design, which I probably bought at a shop or from a market. 

[5] Yes, it's a Guadalupe bed spread! We don't use it, actually (that's an old picture), because it's too nice, but we really ought to find a place to hang it. I bought this from a street vendor who said (if I remember correctly) that it was hand made. In any case, it's well made. It's beautiful.

[6] This is the "big" image that can be framed and enshrined as the focal point of a room — they sell these in the Basilica gift shop, but ours was actually a gift of some Hispanic religious sisters who were my students many years ago. The Queen of America is Queen of our home, and she has always presided over our dining room, as... 

[7] the digital art presentation of that wall shows. Whatever chaos of our lives piles up on that bookshelf, the Madrecita is never overwhelmed by it. 

[8] Here are some memories: pictures from our family meal on December 12, 2011 — i.e. ten years ago. So much has changed in this decade. Look at all five of those kids fitting so easily around the table! 

[9] You can see the fun food along with the then-11-year-old Lucia, who is getting married next July (I still have to write about that). And there's... 

[10] Jojo who has grown so much without losing any of her sense of fun. She's five years old in this picture. Today, at 15, she's the last one we are "still raising" and sometimes we feel a little old to have a teenager, but she is a lovely girl and brings us lots of joy. 

[11] The kids are watching Mommy as she prepares to serve the "fried ice cream" (which, as I remember, was really good!πŸ˜‹). 

[12] Now we dial it back even further, to the previous decade, with a picture from 2004 taken at the parish fiesta with little Agnese, John Paul, Lucia, and Teresa (in Mommy's arms). Jojo would join us two years later. This is life, people. They grow up fast, but it's a beautiful sacrifice to endure change as they grow up and you "grow" (as persons) with them. There's a bit of "dying" in every change, but also a "renewal" that's a sign, that helps us journey on the path to our ultimate fulfillment. The Mother of Jesus understands this like no one else, and she will help us. 

[13] Here is the Fiesta statue in our parish today. Our Hispanic parishioners prepare terrific food in the parish hall every year. We haven't attended recently, but I suspect will be back in a few years (God willing) when granddaughter Maria says, "Papa and Nana, come to the Fiesta." How could we possibly refuse?😊

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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Juan Diego: Apostle to the Americas

Today we celebrate Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, and with him we recall the "spiritual founding" of the modern Pan-American experience in the extraordinary first visit of the Virgin Mary to the hill of Tepeyac outside Mexico City on December 9, 1531. 

She came to this hemisphere in the midst of profound turmoil and change, when the gospel of her Son was first being preached here by missionaries from Spain and Portugal (among whom there were many dedicated and holy servants of God). These new European missionaries, however, faced special difficulties. Not only were they ignorant of many of the languages and customs of the people they encountered, but they were also dependent on the power of European compatriots who sought worldly glory, including those who thought little of betraying Christ for silver and gold. There were, indeed, many complex and contradictory motivations that fueled the engines of what turned out to be a rapid and profoundly ambivalent political expansionist project. Indeed, we might say that - unbeknownst to anyone at the time - "globalization" had embarked on its initial phase of historical realization. 

The previous four decades had ushered in a sudden and unexpected "collision of worlds" that brought the emerging modern nation-states of Europe into contact with the various indigenous peoples of the Americas. Too many evils were perpetrated in the rush to conquer territory, seize valuable resources, and gain advantage over rivals as European powers and their agents were inevitably driven to seek their own exaltation and enrichment, to the detriment of the dignity of the persons of the original inhabitants.

The already-challenging task of evangelization may have seemed hopelessly obscured and compromised for early 16th century missionaries who wanted to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ as meaningful for every person - and therefore as God's mercy and salvation reaching out to indigenous peoples in their own sufferings, conflicts, and fears, as well as for the fulfillment of all that was beautiful in their own traditions, all the longings and hopes of their ancestors.

But Jesus and His Mother had a special plan, a miraculous encounter that would "remain" in the midst of these lands to generate a new gift of unity and forgiveness, consolation, reconciliation, and solidarity that would overcome many forms of sin, oppression, and division.

It began with the songs of birds at dawn on December 9, and a poor simple man who at that time was one of the few indigenous Mexicans who had already obtained the grace of explicit faith in Jesus.

In a sense, Juan Diego was chosen to be the "proto-evangelist" of the Americas. But we would be mistaken to regard the great work that began on December 9, 1531 as something that was finished long ago, as if the luminous tilma with the icon of Mary carrying Jesus in her womb is just a curious relic of the past. Guadalupe is a foundation for an enrichment of faith that is offered to us here and now.

Guadalupe is for all of us. We can accompany in our hearts the tens of thousands who are making the pilgrimage in these days to the Basilica on Tepeyac hill in Mexico City to "spend time" with the Madrecita through her 490-year-old miraculous image. The "Queen of America" (North, Central, and South), Our Lady of Guadalupe's house is geographically at the center of the habitable Western Hemisphere. December 12 is her Feast Day, although some countries will celebrate on December 11, since the 12th this year is Laetare Sunday.🌸

We can display photographic copies or artistic renderings (in various styles) of the mysterious original and still vivid self-presentation of the woman who called herself "the Mother of the Creator of all things, of the Lord of the near and of the far." She came 490 years ago, and she remains here today, to console her children in their sorrows and be their refuge amidst tribulations: she who is the Mother of Jesus, she who always accompanies Him and reaches out to us.

We must have confidence in her promises, and entrust ourselves to her tender love and unique maternal intercession with her Divine Son. The love of Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh in Mary's womb, is greater that all our sins and all the complexities and conflicts and dangers we face today.

In fact, the full evangelization of the Americas has only just begun. We are still in the dawn with Saint Juan Diego. The greatest fruits of the unique events we celebrate in these days are yet to come.



Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Immaculate Conception and the "Grandeur of God's Love"

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. 

We have begun the days of the "Marian Fiesta" that are very special (and particularly important) to all the peoples of the Americas. Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, has demonstrated a concrete and enduring solicitude for this hemisphere. 

We must have confidence in her promises, and entrust ourselves to her tender love and unique maternal intercession with her Divine Son. 

We must bring to her the many intractable problems and overwhelming spiritual and physical sufferings we endure in various ways, some of which remain shockingly evident while others are hidden behind disingenuous facades - superficial pretences of human satisfaction that hide our tremendous loneliness and disconnection from reality. All of us sinners — forgetful of our God-who-is-Love and who is worthy of all our love, adoration, and gratitude; perpetrators of so much deeply-rooted violence against one another and ourselves; and victims of that violence that seeks to desecrate the "image of God" that is each one of us, and that should shine through the experience of being loved and loving our brothers and sisters in communion with Jesus and by the gift of his Spirit — all of us need to seek the gifts of healing and forgiveness that the Mother of God can obtain for us as she brings us closer to Jesus her Son and our brother.

As Pope Francis stresses in the remarks below, Mary's grace-filled, all-holy life is a sign that God's love and mercy are greater than sin. She is a sign of hope for us all:

"The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love.

"The words of Genesis [about original sin] reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Sin can only be understood in this light. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God...leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment

~Pope Francis

Monday, December 6, 2021

Teresa Janaro's Birthday

Happy 19th Birthday Teresa Janaro! You have always been full of vitality and a spirit of adventure. We’re so proud of you and we love you very much!♥️

[On the left, two-year-old Teresa experimenting with music and shadesπŸ˜‰; On the right, current Teresa on one of her horses.]



Saturday, December 4, 2021

Francis Xavier: Following Jesus to the Ends of the Earth

On December 3, we commemorated Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first and most prolific of missionaries to East Asia, as well as an important figure among those who built historical bridges between East and West. 

Though his evangelizing ministry coincided with modern European expansionism in the 16th century, Francis was no "colonialist" or seeker of earthly power or riches. He was among the earliest followers of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and was one of the original seven members of Ignatius's "Society of Jesus." 

Francis Xavier set the example for countless missionaries who came after him. He was above all a man on fire with the love of God, with a passion to witness to Jesus through all the world. He preached in India and the Indonesian archipelago, became the first Catholic missionary in Japan, and longed to bring the Gospel to China, where he recognized the presence of an extraordinary human civilization.

It was there, before beginning any work in the Middle Kingdom, that Francis finally died of an illness (having reached the limits of human endurance) on an island seven miles from the coast of the southern province of Guangdong. Subsequent generations of Jesuits (and others) would take up this work after him. While they preached Christ, they also pioneered the first truly global  encounter between peoples from all over the world, with their diverse customs, heritages, and environments. In Christ, every people and every history is destined to find its fulfillment.

The ardor of Saint Francis Xavier's missionary heart brought great multitudes to Christ, shined the light of the Gospel explicitly in nations where it had never shone before, and planted seeds - many of which have yet to grow, blossom, and bear fruit. 

But they will…

Friday, December 3, 2021

December is Here

December is here. 

The sun glows near the horizon in the middle of the afternoon. The last of the bright colorful Autumn leaves have faded and fallen to the ground, giving way to the cold, relentless beauty of large spaces.

Now we are surprised to find ourselves under suddenly big skies unveiled behind the naked trees. They are brightly clear and blue in the brief hours of the day, though also traversed by strange angry clouds that look like great mountain ranges in the air. And the yellow sun is luminous in gentler and more various hues, sometimes seeming to shine "upward" from edges of waning daylight.



Thursday, December 2, 2021

The "Great Conversion Story" of Charles de Foucauld

Yesterday marked the 105th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed (and soon to be Saint) Charles de Foucauld. In my social media posts and blog post yesterday, I quoted and remarked briefly on the unique vocation of this great, great saint.

Today, I thought it would be useful to present here the short account of the beginning of his vocation, and the troubled early life that preceded it. No one would have predicted the future of the worldly agnostic young man who lived a life of indulgence and excess in the France of the Third Republic.

But Charles's encounter with Jesus Christ and his conversion were profound, dramatic, and total in a manner rarely seen in any era. These few paragraphs give only an outline of a magnificent story that will become more familiar to people (let's hope) as the date of his canonization in May 2022 draws near.

The text below appeared in my monthly column in the October 2021 issue of Magnificat.

He called himself the “little brother of Jesus,” and he became a saint by bringing the presence of Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor on the margins of the Sahara Desert.

During his troubled youth, however, it seemed hardly likely that sanctity – or even faith and love – would be associated with the dissipated life of the Viscount Charles EugΓ¨ne de Foucauld. Losing his childhood faith, Charles spent a dozen wayward years as a profligate, soldier, and explorer-adventurer, but was deeply afflicted by the inadequacy of it all. In this time, he tasted the bitterness of a “godless” life.

Charles was born in 1858 to a distinguished French noble family, and as heir to great material wealth. Tragically, both his parents died when he was six years old, and he was raised by his maternal grandfather, with the intermittent company of other relatives. Still, the absence of his parents affected him deeply, and he became an unruly and notorious adolescent: intellectually gifted but lazy, rendered agnostic by careless reading and his own indifference, undisciplined and apparently resentful of all authority.

In 1878, Charles reluctantly joined the French cavalry to please his grandfather. He soon became famous for his lavish parties, extravagant spending, and improper liaisons, none of which could assuage what he later acknowledged was an overwhelming loneliness. A listless, insubordinate soldier, he was temporarily invigorated by martial zeal when his regiment was called to fight in Algeria. But something more long-lasting also began at that time: Charles’s small “accidental” role in France’s colonial misadventures was the occasion for God to stir up his soul. He watched the Muslims in their fidelity to prayer, and it seemed to open up in him a sense of wonder at the Mystery greater than himself and the whole world. After his military service, Charles determined to pursue this fascination into the desert, spending a whole year exploring Morocco disguised as a Jewish rabbi, and eventually writing an authoritative, award-winning book on this region.

Charles returned to Paris in 1886, with his extended family still much concerned about his erratic behavior. They hardly could imagine that he secretly visited churches, his heart crying out, “O God, if you exist, let me come to know you!” His older cousin, Marie de Bondy, however, had known Charles since his childhood. She intuited the pain and the questions and the troubles of his soul. Rather than argue with him, she offered him love and friendship. Her tenderness and goodness penetrated beyond his perplexity, and led him to seek out her great friend and spiritual guide, Father Henri Huvelin. This learned and holy priest knew well how Christ’s grace opens doors for many restless minds. When Charles made his acquaintance and requested to “discuss” Catholicism, Fr Huvelin knew that what Marie de Bondy’s wandering, weary cousin really needed was Confession.

In October 1886, Charles de Foucauld confessed and received Holy Communion like a child, and his thirsty soul was filled with the certainty of faith and the ardor of a great love. “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.” Thus, also, was his vocation born, which is an even better story than all that led up to it. And these two great friends who led Charles to Christ – Marie de Bondy and Henri Huvelin – remained in communication with him and supported his unique vocational path for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Charles, the "Little Brother" of Jesus

Charles, the "Little Brother" of Jesus. 

He desired to "shout the Gospel with [his] life." After his dramatic conversion/"reversion" to the Catholic faith, he felt called to love Jesus in an utterly radical manner. 

First with the Trappists in France, then in the Holy Land and Algeria, he sought to follow Jesus with a humility that worried his friends and his spiritual director, but they continued to support him, convinced of his holiness and the reality of his unique charismFinally, he went to live among the poorest and most forgotten people at the edge of the Sahara. He made his hermitage/"house-of-hospitalty" among the Tuareg, a nomadic Muslim people, and befriended them and gave special attention to their desolate black African slaves.

They called him "marabout" (holy man). He did not preach with words. He spent his days in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in serving the poorest of the poor. He was martyred - killed by bandits - on December 1, 1916. After his death, others began to follow his way of life. He taught us in a profound and (in a sense) "new" way that contemplative love and fraternal charity are at the heart of Christian witness. In May 2022, he will be canonized a saint. 

Charles de Foucauld is the saint we need today.

While living at Ben-Abbes in Algeria, he welcomed everyone. He said, "I want to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and nonbelievers, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. Already they're calling this house 'the fraternity' (khaoua in Arabic) - about which I'm delighted - and realizing that the poor have a brother here - not only the poor, though: all men."

He was familiar with struggles, dark-nights-of-the-soul, and loneliness.

Charles failed in his efforts to found a religious community during his lifetime, and he experienced much sorrow and pain and spiritual darkness and obscurity even regarding his own work. But in a letter of December 1, 1916 - which was never sent - he wrote these words: "When we can suffer and love, we can do much, it’s the most that we can do in this world: We feel our suffering, but we don’t always feel that we love and that’s an additional suffering!  But we know that we want to love and to want to love is to love."



Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Andrew: Bringer of Good News

Today is the Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle.

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The Scripture says,
'No one who believes in him will be put to shame.'
There is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

"But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach unless they are sent?
As it is written,
'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!'"

~Romans 10:9-15

Monday, November 29, 2021

End of Autumn: Homage in Digital Art

In various styles of digital graphic art from "JJStudios," here are my final “pictorial words” for November, near the end of this year’s Autumn season: