Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Is it “Worthwhile” to Look at the Flowers?

May is coming to an end.

As you know, I am fond of things that grow. I often post pictures of flowers and fields and streams, although I know very little about the facts and specifications associated with them. I could learn more about them, and perhaps I will in the future. But over the past decade I have preferred to appreciate them with a quiet discursive mind, allowing greater scope for simply seeing them every year, doing a little photography and/or art inspired by them, and sharing their annual images.

I spend almost all my other waking time studying, reading, writing, doing creative work, thinking - all of which, in recent months, have become more difficult for reasons I don’t know but which I hope are temporary. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the unprecedented events of the past two years - jarring for humans even for this perpetually tumultuous emerging epoch that we live in - have brought many of us to the brink of a psychological and emotional exhaustion that we can’t afford to admit to ourselves. We are keenly aware, still (even if only in the back of our minds) that we have not arrived at anything like a decisive resolution to the global crisis that began more than two years ago. Twitter feeds and clickbait headlines preserve their determination to remain fickle and easily diverted. We must not allow them to remake us into fickle, easily diverted people. Many human challenges and catastrophes that we were introduced to in 2020 (and 2022) remain very much on center stage.

So it may seem that flowers, and the appreciation of their surprising yet tenuous beauty, provide an opportunity to escape from the seriousness (an often unwelcome) business of engaging the controversies of our time. That is not true. Flowers are very serious indeed. But we waste too much time, in any case, living the pretense that every problem depends on our securing the correct opinion, doing “something” about it, and defeating the opinions of our adversaries (who are, of course, wrong). Certainly we all have tasks, responsibilities, reflections to contribute, and also convictions about reality where we must take a stand. And when we do take a stand, it is more often a matter of endurance and fidelity - a matter of patience, sacrifice, suffering, witness [even martyrdom] rather than “winning” or success in seizing power with too much presumption that we will be different, that we will use it for the good.

The flowers give us a chance to “rest” from the burdens we so often impose upon ourselves.

They bloom every season for a few weeks, and then give place to the verdant leaves of Summer. There is nothing to argue about here: perhaps many people are already bored of them before they disappear. Can they really be worth our attention? Flowers are nice. They are sentimental. They seem to be the opposite of “provocative,” and they don’t move or challenge (or threaten) anyone, except perhaps poets and lovers. Some flowers are edible, or decorative, or useful in other ways, but otherwise what concern are they to us? When we need to pour the concrete for the sake of building new edifices of human convenience or diversion, who thinks of the flowers?

Don’t misunderstand me. There are things we must build. But we must build carefully, with greater simplicity and attention, because one of the foundations of “sustainable human development” is recognition of gratuitous beauty.

That’s the thing about flowers: colors and formations and intricacies and such variety of inherent coherence in the flowers of Spring. They are beautiful. They are exquisitely “made”… but not by me, nor by anyone on this earth. We can make synthetic copies; we can cross breeds; we can cultivate them. Even if someone were to produce an organic flower entirely in a laboratory, they would still be copying something first encountered “gratuitously” in the world.

The flowers surprise us every Spring. It is good to encounter them and be stirred by the gift of their beauty. Then, in a few weeks, they are gone. But we still want to find the Beauty that resonated in those flowers, a Beauty that is beyond us, beyond all of its gratuitous abundance of gifts, an indestructible Beauty.

All of life is a search for this Beauty that never ends. The flowers cannot satisfy us, but they are signs that give us hope.

Friday, May 27, 2022

"Is Jesus Coming or Going?" A Meditation

Some years ago (while I was still active as a teacher professor) I was blessed to have as a "spiritual father" an old Cistercian monk at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville. Father Edward (Memory Eternal, Rest in Peace) had been Abbot of the community during the challenging years of the 1960s and 70s, and within his profound disposition of joy, simplicity and humility you could glimpse the fruits of immense interior sufferings patiently endured.

I mention Father Edward not only in gratitude for all the help he gave me in my own difficulties, coming through the door of the cloister and meeting with me in the guest parlor (thank God for him!) - but also because the penance he always gave me after every confession was to read prayerfully chapters 14, 15, and 16 in the Gospel of John.

In these present days near the end of the Easter Season, as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we ponder these texts in the liturgy. It's understandable if we feel as clueless as the disciples, and yet we listen because we know that He loves us and He will never abandon us. If He "goes," it is to draw us with Him through the Holy Spirit into the glory of the Father, to draw us into participation in the Eternal Love who is the Trinity, into a life that is our destiny but that has already begun even as we journey upon this earth.

The revelation of the Mystery of God through Jesus Christ can seem like a bunch of irreconcilable paradoxes if we receive it only as words that we measure by the limits of our own ways of thinking. But in fact, this revelation is addressed to us by a man with a human face, a man whose humanity has been taken by the Eternal Son of the Father to be His own, so that He can dwell with us, redeem us, give us eternal life. His is a human face that looks upon us with love.

Risen from the dead, Jesus has begun the transfiguration of all that is truly human, and all of creation. He "ascends" and yet remains with us because He has won the victory in this world. The world "belongs" to Him. The Holy Spirit will vivify the concrete center from which His victory extends through human history, bringing His disciples together as the Church that will endure through all time with real links to His humanity in the events by which He saves us (the apostolic succession, the teaching, the sacraments, the witness of the saints).

He goes to the Father, the man Jesus who is the Father's Son and our brother! He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that we might recognize that He is still "with" us, loving us, drawing us to the glory that has already conquered the world; so that together in the Church we might see His face in every circumstance and every human reality, wherein He looks upon us with love and asks us (begs us) as He did Peter after the resurrection along the Sea of Galilee: "Do you love me?"

How humbling and strange is it that He still wants my love. He is always appealing to me; He who is the One I have betrayed so often, the One I ignore most of the time, the One I close my heart to as I seek my own will and shrink to the measure of my momentary urges, desires, fears, covetousness, anger: the One I even regard as my enemy and meet with violence. He looks upon me with love and still asks, "Do you love me?"

At this moment, I could just look exclusively at myself: all the stumbling, bumbling, pompousness, self-indulgence, self-inflated egocentrism, hypocrisy, flabby mediocrity, all the "running away when things get tough" - I know too that I don't have any power from my own self that can guarantee that I will ever be anything more than this mess, this human wreckage. 

Yet, Lord, whenever you ask me, "Do you love me?" the Holy Spirit comes, stirring the depths of my heart. I know what I want to say, what I was born to say: "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!

Yes, Lord. I don't know where this journey is taking me and I am often afraid and feel totally incompetent, but I believe in your love for me, and that you are with me, and that you will give me the strength to endure whatever comes (and joy too, far richer than any temporary thrills that we all try to conjure up without you, that always leave us disappointed). Yes, Lord, I love you and I trust in you. If I run off again, deny you, and do something stupid, please come find me! But, even better, never let me be separated from you, and grant that I might always love you.

And so, in these days, we hear the words of Jesus once again as He speaks to us in the Gospel of John:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. 
"When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. 
"On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

“I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God. 

"I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

His disciples said, "Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God." Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. 

"I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."

~John 16:20-33

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

"Christ is the life of my life..."

Some words from what we have been reading recently in the School of Community, from a 1997 retreat by the incomparable Msgr Luigi Giussani:

"Christ, this is the name that indicates and defines a reality I have encountered in my life…. It is possible to grow up knowing the word Christ well, but for many people He is not encountered, He is not really experienced as being present. In my case Christ bumped into my life, my life bumped into Christ, precisely so that I should learn to understand that He is the central point of everything, of the whole of my life. Christ is the life of my life: in Him is summed up all that I would desire, all that I look for, all that I sacrifice, all that develops in me out of love for the persons with whom He has put me….

"Christ, life of my life, certainty of a good destiny, and companionship in everyday life, a familiar companionship that transforms things into good. This is His efficacy in my life."

Monday, May 23, 2022

Mental Illness: A “Crown of Thorns”

I guess I should say something for “ Mental Health Awareness Month.”

I heard somewhere that it was Mother Teresa who said that Jesus entered into special solidarity with the mentally ill when the crown of thorns was driven into His head.

In any case, I have been consoled by this “connection” - it helps me to remember that Jesus is present, that He is with me, accompanying me in my episodes of Major Depression and OCD. Indeed, He understands all the twists and turns of my overcharged, brilliant, strange, creative, wildly dreaming, fantastically overanxious, relentlessly driven, exhausted brain.

Medication has helped me (while also, no doubt, taking its physical toll on me over the course of decades). After years of trying many things (and still in conjunction with some of them) I have found that long-term treatment with regular medications is something I still need. They have been crucial for an overall stability that enables me to care for my loved ones and use the parts of my brain that do work pretty well.

I thought May was also supposed to be “Lyme Disease Awareness Month” but I haven’t seen much about it this time around. I suppose we all have “epidemic fatigue” from all the COVID vigilance. The tensions of the past couple of years have certainly worn me down. Nevertheless I continue to maintain my uneasy “truce” with Lyme, provided I pace myself slowly and diffuse stress as much as possible.

But mental pain in particular is sometimes like puncture wounds in the head. This is an analogy, of course, but modes of perception undergo distortion and constrain our capacities to see things in perspective within ourselves. It’s still very hard to convince many people - who occasionally “feel down” but manage to “pull themselves out of it” by thinking positively or changing a few activities - that mental illness is not like what they experience. Mental illness involves relentless afflictions that tear down the foundational psychological and emotional resources that help normal people resolve basic problems. It sucks the person into a downward spiral from which he or she cannot rescue his or herself without the intervention and support of mental health care practitioners, as well as loved ones and friends (insofar as possible).

It’s good to “be aware” of mental health. Whether or not you suffer in this way yourself, many of the people around you are “Christ” struggling on their way of the Cross while enduring the special blinding, burning, shattering pains of the particular “Crown of Thorns” that is mental illness.

Please, do not mock them. Do not let them fall to the ground and be crushed. Be compassionate and help them carry their burdens. Life is hard for all of us, and yet we are called to live it together, to live with understanding and love toward one another, caring for one another, sharing one another’s burdens. In this we follow Jesus, who is present with us, who is close to us in all our pains and disabilities, who frees us from the self-absorption of our sins - frees us to love and to let ourselves be loved - and carries all our burdens and our very selves because He wants to be with us forever; He wants us to be His brothers and sisters: divinely transformed in the Holy Spirit and humanly whole and free, dwelling in the House of the Father, which is our true home.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Giving Thanks to You!

…in faith and hope and in the love that Your love for me, and for everyone, awakens in my own small heart; in the midst of many joys and some tribulations, clarities and obscurities, health and sickness, laughter and tears and cries for Your mercy on my every breath, I give thanks to You.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Papa Looks Forward to Summer

Papa is looking forward to the upcoming Summer season. Are you ready, Maria?…😊 

Well, the weather is certainly getting nice.☀🌿

Monday, May 16, 2022

Lucia Graduates From University. Next Comes "The Wedding"

My daughter Lucia and her COVID-surviving Class of 2022 just had a wonderful, one-hundred-percent live graduation ceremony at Christendom College (i.e. "University," as I prefer to specify for my readers who are not from the U.S.A., and may be from places where "College" is a term used for what we call "High School").

My gosh! Can you believe it was two years ago that schools and universities were closed, and this class was desperately struggling to finish the bizarre Spring semester of 2020 online? We had no idea what the future held in store for us back in those strange days....

I don't mean to imply that we know what "the future" has in store for us in the days to come. But we are grateful that things worked out for these kids to return to campus and finish on time.

Christendom remains my "academic residence" (even though I am no longer able to teach in the classroom). I remain Associate Professor Emeritus, and - although I rarely visit the campus in person - I value my ongoing connection for many reasons, not the least of which is that I have access to many resources for my research, which is helpful for my monthly articles in Magnificat as well as my ongoing projects.

Lucia is now the third of our kids to graduate from Christendom, and we are very proud of her. (And Teresa just finished her freshman year.) We have gone out of our way to not put "pressure" on any of the kids to attend "the local college" (which has also been, in a way, the family business for three generations of Janaros, at least in terms of contributing to building it). Perhaps it has been just as well that the kids have been able to experience the place as their own turf, without the oversized ego of their father casting his idiosyncratic shadow around as a teacher. That might have been awkward for them. As it is, all I do is participate with cap and gown in their graduations. This time, rain moved in and we didn't even get a picture with Lucia after the ceremony.

In any case, they have all grown in their faith, gotten an exceptionally thorough undergraduate education, and have made great friends. In the case of John Paul and Lucia, they found something more than friends...πŸ˜‰ 

John Paul met, dated, and eventually married (in August 2020) his wonderful classmate Emily Farabaugh. They are an outstanding couple as well as now the dedicated parents of Maria Janaro (I think you know who she is😊). 

Lucia has been together with Mike Rego for several years, and we have come to know him well and have enjoyed visits from his parents as well. Mike is a great guy, and is planning to get a Masters degree in the Psychology field and become a certified Counselor. They got engaged during their semester in Rome, and the wedding is on July 9 - which is less than two months away!

I'm going to be "Father of the Bride"!😳 Help!

Really, I'm just immensely grateful. We do not know what the future holds in store for us, our family, our poor world... but in all things I pray that we might continue to trust in God who is our Father, who loves us, and to grow in recognition of the closeness of Jesus Christ to every aspect of our lives. We pray to be servants of His immense mercy and love for every human person, with particular solidarity and compassion for all those He entrusts to us.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Remembering May 13, ... 1981

May 13th commemorates the first appearance of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima, Portugal in the year 1917. 

May 13th is also a day that commemorates another event, an event undoubtedly linked to that other afternoon in 1917, which could conceivably be remembered with its own “optional memorial” at some point in the future: the memorial of Saint John Paul II’s Confession of Faith. On this day, forty-one years ago, he shed his blood in Saint Peter’s Square.

I remember very well May 13, 1981.

I was an 18 year old boy, a few weeks from graduation from public high school, walking through the noisy hallway. It was around lunchtime in America. More than two thousand kids were in motion in the halls of that school. Not many of them were Catholic. I was going to my "home room" classroom. I can still see the door in my mind. I can see the hallway. I was almost ready to reach for the door. It’s something I had done hundreds of time; it was almost automatic....

A girl from class came up to me; she was also Catholic, a nice girl, though I didn’t know her very well... But I could see she was in shock. Here face was pale, so pale....

She said, "The Pope has been shot!" Forty-one years later, the astonishment of that moment hasn’t left me.

My memories of what happened the rest of the school day, however, are fragmented. Still, I have vivid images from that afternoon, and the time that followed. At some point, we were all in our various classrooms watching the news reports. The routine of the school day was utterly broken. The potheads and the jocks, the smart kids, the nerds, the heavy metal kids, the tough kids, girls and boys, all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, kids with all kinds of beliefs and ideologies and adolescent confusion, students and teachers too: we all watched the television and we were all united by the shock that had jolted our common humanity.

It was a moment when we realized that we were just people, just frail people holding onto our own lives by the thinnest of threads.

On television, the newscasters (themselves visibly disturbed) described with diagrams the surgery that was to take place. All over the world people prayed. I felt numb, with people I had known for the last four years without ever really knowing them, in a high school classroom watching the TV that was on in the room. Did I pray?

My Jewish friends wept and hugged me, as if the Pope were my own father (which, of course, he was - in a sense that I had scarcely begun to understand). Kids who called themselves atheists sat with their heads in their hands. It was like everyone's heart was trying to pray, somehow. Everyone was suffering.

It was like the whole human race was attacked on May 13, 1981. Somewhere in their depths, people knew it. They felt it.

History was riding a bullet fired at close range into a man's abdomen by a professional assassin who knew what he was doing, who never missed. And on that day, he didn't miss.

But “It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path,” the Pope said later.

Can you possibly imagine what the world would be like now if that bullet had not been “guided by a mother's hand” forty-one years ago, on this day? Many things would have been different, and - as awful and dangerous as many of the events are in today's news - I think life might have been much worse if John Paul II had died in 1981. In any case, there is much to be grateful for: the Pope’s survival, his sacrifice, and his courage and endurance for 24 more years, were tremendous graces for the Church and the world.

Our Lady of Fatima, thank you for saving the life of Saint John Paul II!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Christina Grimmie: Light Shining All Over the Internet

Five years, eleven months.πŸ’š⭐️

Christina Grimmie still shines her bright beautiful light all over the Internet.

Monday, May 9, 2022

A Mother’s Day Without “Mom”…

Mother’s Day was bittersweet this year.

The physical absence of my Mom (who died last July) and my Dad (+2019) is still… uncanny. It’s more than just “missing them” (though I do, certainly). I know they have gone to be with the Lord, to be drawn through His mercy (which brings healing and perfection) to the eternal joy, the beatitude, of unending communion with Him. 

I think of them every day, and pray for them. I really think they also pray for me, and continue to look after me and my brother and Eileen and the grandchildren. But life in this world has changed in ways I never could have imagined, and sometimes it has been strange and dislocating, overwhelming and full of sorrow.

Life changes, and we have to “let go” of people we love, so as to grow toward the One who holds us all in His love - to seek Him in deeper, more mysterious ways, including those dark valleys where we don’t even know what’s happening or where we’re going as He carries us on His shoulders.

I missed my Mom on this first Mother’s Day without her.

I worked on “restoring” the photo above, with only limited success. It looks to be sometime in 1963, with my very young parents, Walter as a toddler, and me as an infant. Here is the young Janaro family in 1963.

Meanwhile, I was glad that Eileen got to see all five of her children at our house during the course of the day, plus her granddaughter. She is a wonderful mother (and nana) as well as being a wonderful wife. I know that seeing everyone made her happy. On a bittersweet day, this was the “sweet part.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Monday, May 2, 2022

“Clothed With Incorruption”

May 2nd honors the great Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, defender of our faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation in the fourth century. 

"Through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all humans were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of humankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all" (Saint Athanasius, On The Incarnation 2:9).