Monday, July 22, 2024

Saint Mary Magdalen: “New Things Have Come”

When Mary Magdalen encountered the Resurrected Christ, she did not know Him until He spoke her name. He enabled her to see in His risen life the radical beginning of a “new thing” beyond all the hopes and searching of human history: the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s gratuitous gift of His love poured forth for the salvation of humanity and the transformation of all things—the beginning of a “new creation.” He sent Mary to reveal this to the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit inspired within her heart a great desire to witness to them.

So it was also with Saul of Tarsus, when He encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus, when Jesus changed his heart and gave him the mission to announce salvation to the peoples of the earth (as we see in the first reading for today’s feast). So it is too for each of us who have encountered Jesus in the Church, where He touches the personal depths of each of our hearts while also uniting us with our brothers and sisters and calling us to serve every human person made in God’s image and called to share in God’s Eternal Joy.

We may not feel “impelled” by the love of Christ, as was Mary Magdalen, the Apostles, Saint Paul, or the many great saints of history. But through Baptism into His Body, He has begun to transforms us —even if we usually forget, or fail to live coherently. He calls us, and insofar as we recognize this call we want to share it with others. The Spirit of God lights a flame in our hearts to spread the hope of Christ all around us. Even if we break away from Christ and reject His love, still He calls us to return to Him, and is always ready to rekindle the fire of our hearts.

Christ is King of the Universe, and He seeks out every human person—including the great majority that do not know Him, or fail to recognize the true significance of His name. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for every person, the impetus and the goal of every human journey. Still, the “way” He chooses to make Himself known and loved throughout the world is through us, His Church.

If this were merely a human project, it would overwhelm us. But it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and He brings it to fruition in Christ in God’s time, with much that remains hidden and mysterious but which still pertains to the fullness of Christ in His Church. What matters most for our vocation is to stay with Christ and to follow Him. It is to respond, like Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Paul, when He calls our name with love, and meets us in “places” in our lives where we never expected to find Him. It is to believe in Him and adhere to Him with the strength of faith, hope, and love He gives to us, to allow Him to refashion our hearts and move our hearts by the “new things,” by the miracle of His presence with us as the Life of our lives, the One who reveals the Father’s love for us and for the world, the One who shines light on everything, who is the meaning and fulfillment of all things.

We are weak, we fall short, we make a mess of so many things; we repent, return, and begin anew, we learn and grow in Jesus Christ in the communion of His Church. He is here, the New Adam, the beginning of the new creation. He is God-with-us and He is with us all through this life, sustaining all things, drawing all things and all people to Himself. The more we grow in awareness of His enduring victory, the more we will share it with gladness and joy and thanksgiving, and the more it will illuminate even our most unbearable sorrows.

As Saint Mary Magdalen learned, He turns our sorrows into joy. And Saint Paul says in the reading in today’s liturgy:

“The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

“Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:14-17).

Saturday, July 20, 2024

“God Does Not Forsake Us…”

This piece is titled The Dusk of July 2024, and it seems to match the mood I find within me. My illness has reasserted itself. Once again, I am crashing into a wall. This is the struggle of the past 25+ years, and it has been very frustrating and sometimes humiliating. Meanwhile, I’m getting older, and I'm feeling even more vulnerable to all the ways that Late-Stage Lyme screws up one's body.
I’m scared.

Yet, listen to what Pope Benedict XVI says, only a few days before resigning the papacy. This is what I want to take to heart.

“God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves with a faithfulness that surpasses by far that of men and women, opening onto dimensions of eternity. ‘For his steadfast love endures for ever,’ as Psalm 136 [135] repeats in every verse, as in a litany, retracing the history of salvation. The love of God the Father never fails, he does not tire of us; it is a love that gives to the end, even to the sacrifice of his Son. Faith gives us this certainty which becomes a firm rock in the construction of our life: we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of despair in times of crisis and suffering, sustained by our trust that God does not forsake us and is always close in order to save us and lead us to eternal life” (Benedict XVI, General Audience of January 30, 2013).

Thursday, July 18, 2024

“I Will Give You Rest”

This Gospel passage always brings encouragement, as well as a profound sense of being understood and loved by God. Jesus knows each person’s suffering.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The “Mantle” of Mary

According to Carmelite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the Superior the Carmelite Order in the thirteenth century (during a time of uncertainty and turmoil for them and other “new” religious movements—such as the “Dominicans” and the “Franciscans”) and gave the Carmelites the long brown double-sided “apron” that is worn over the shoulders in their religious habit (this portion of the habit is called the “scapular”). In this way the Blessed Mother enfolded them in a special way in her mercy and protection.

In the ensuing centuries, lay people associated themselves with the Carmelite charism and Mary’s special protection by enrolling in a broad association (a “confraternity”) that connected them vitally and particularly to the prayers and sacrifices of the Carmelite Order. They were symbolically “clothed” in Mary’s “mantle”—the garment of the Carmelite brown scapular—by taking up and wearing a cord with two small pieces of brown cloth (for the front and back). According to the reports of the thirteenth century vision, when Mary originally gave the Carmelites their brown scapular, she said, “Whoever dies clothed in this will not suffer eternal fire.” Not surprisingly, the brown scapular became a very popular and widespread devotion in the Western Church, to the point where many parishes enrolled (and gave a brown scapular to) every person when they received their First Communion. 

I’m not sure whether or not I was enrolled thus (in the olden days), but I did formally receive the scapular from a priest at my University, according to the proper (and simple) “form” at that time for enrolling in the Confraternity. I wear it day and night and I cherish it. I don’t “think much” about it. It’s a gift from Mary. I’m grateful for these little tangible pieces of cloth that “enfold me” in the maternal love of the Mother of God who wants to be with me on my journey to her Son (and—thanks to her “fiat”—my Brother) and His Kingdom: this journey that is beautiful and full of faith and love and building up the good, full of the “hundredfold” of the zest for life, and at the same time arduous and steep, extreme and so hard, with stumbling and wounds and dark places that make one cry out, “Where am I?”… with failure and humiliation, pain and disappointment, but also those inexplicable joys that persist in the still center of the soul in whispers and sighs too deep for words.

I know that the Carmelites have revised their norms regarding their confraternity and have emphasized its specific relationship with the worldwide Carmelite family and its spiritual tradition. I’m not sure what that entails, but it’s not a kind of “third order” (Carmelites have a proper Third Order, just like the Dominicans and Franciscans, which diocesan priests and lay people can join). The Confraternity of the Scapular (I would think) involves more of an “awareness” of a relationship with the Carmelites, their charism, their profound tradition of penance, prayer, and the ways (even mystical ways—remember Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and of course the astonishing “little” Thérèse) to abandonment and union with God through the grace of Jesus Christ.

The proper enrollment in the brown scapular is important. I don’t know if it has become more “difficult” or whether parishes in North America have just neglected it in recent years. I haven’t researched this point much, to be honest. Nevertheless I recommend to you the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Ask your parish priest or any priest who helps guide you in your faith. Brown scapulars are still sold wherever Catholic religious medals, icons, or books are sold. Sometimes I tell people to just get a scapular and start wearing it (I don’t think Mary will have a problem with that). Then you can work through the particulars that enrich the devotion when the opportunity arises.

It is important to understand properly the “promise of not suffering eternal fire” within the context of living a life committed to Christ. The scapular—like so many other physical gestures and helps and objects that Catholics integrate into the practice of their faith (and to the perplexity of their Protestant brothers and sisters)—is a sign of the fundamental promises of Jesus who is God made flesh: “Whoever believes in me has eternal life.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). 

These are not promises that allow us to disengage from living our relationship with Jesus in the Church; they are promises that “move with us” as we adhere to Jesus in trust, abandoning ourselves to Him, cooperating with the grace of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to do His will, keep His commands, worship and love God above all else, and love one another in Him. We live these promises in the hope that the Holy Spirit instills in us on our journey every day, as we trust that the love of God our Father is shaping our lives for the glory of His Son Jesus, which it is our destiny to share as His brothers and sisters. 

This too is the concern of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and us. She knows we need signs, gestures and objects that we can touch and wear and carry and gaze upon with our eyes. The scapular is a sign—something we wear that is physically linked to Christ’s Body, the Church—of the new life that has already begun for us in Baptism, that is nourished or restored by the Sacraments, that enables us even now to engage life in this world with the transformed knowledge and love of Christ. In hope and prayer we open our hearts to Him, living and hoping to remain in Him, to persevere in Him, to die in Him who has conquered sin and death.

Wearing the scapular is sharing in a gift from our Merciful Mother who is full of tenderness toward us, who is abundant in maternal solicitude and gifts that are close to the heart (the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe reminds me of this too).

Here are a few words from someone with a deep devotion to the brown scapular that he wore from his youth, the great Pope Saint John Paul II:

"Mother of Christ, let there be revealed, once more, in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the Redemption: the power of merciful Love! May it put a stop to evil! May it transform consciences! May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope!" (Saint John Paul II).

Monday, July 15, 2024

Saint Bonaventure: The Mystery of Christ Crucified

The mystery of Christ Crucified:

“…cannot be comprehended by anyone
unless he surrenders himself to it;
nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it;
nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit,
whom Christ sent into the world,
should come and inflame his innermost soul.
Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom
is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

“If you ask how such things can occur,
seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine;
in the longing of the will, not in the understanding;
in the sighs of prayer, not in research;
seek the bridegroom not the teacher;
God and not man;
darkness not daylight;
and look not to the light but rather
to the raging fire that carries the soul to God
with intense fervor and glowing love.
The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem,
fired by Christ in the ardor of His loving passion.
Only he understood this who said:
‘My soul chose hanging and my bones death.
Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God,
for it is certainly true that:
‘No man can look upon me and live.’

“Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness....
Let us pass over with the crucified Christ
from this world to the Father
so that, when the Father has shown himself to us,
we can say with Philip: ‘It is enough.’
We may hear with Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’
And we can rejoice with David, saying:
‘My flesh and my heart fail me,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my heritage for ever.’

~Saint Bonaventure (1217-1274)
from The Journey of the Mind to God, ch. 7

Sunday, July 14, 2024

“Summer Recuperation” With JJ on Video

Here I am, on a break from a walk at sunset, when the roasting heat cools down… slightly. It’s a grainy video because it was getting dark. Notice that I got a haircut and a beard trim. Just because I’ve been living like a hermit doesn’t mean I have to look like one, huh?

I'm still struggling, but trying to keep a sense of humor about it.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

“Benedict on Benedict,” or Jesus, Modern Popes, Ancient Monks

Today is the Feast of Saint Benedict, the sixth century youth who left his place among the Roman nobility to seek God “alone” in the wilderness. In the course of his journey as a monos (a “person alone”—apart from human society—from which we derive the term “monk”), he was first helped by, and later gathered together under his guidance, others who were similarly seeking God. Thus, he became the father of a monastic community, and began a movement that—through the ensuing centuries—became one of the key features of the foundation of the new civilization of Christian Europe.

Today is a good day to remember another person who took the name of “Benedict,” who after a lifetime of service to Church’s teaching office, also became a monk in a somewhat different way, resigning the Papacy and passing the final decade of his life serving the Church through prayer. The work of this “Benedict”—Josef Ratzinger, the late Pope Benedict XVI—will also yield as-yet-unknown fruits for the future in the Church and human society.

Let me note that I completely oppose the idea that the papacies of Benedict and our current Pope Francis (who has also taught me so much) should be cast in conflict with one another. Quite the contrary, in the midst of the tumultuous changes that have been shaking world events and human minds since I was born, the astonishing consistency of teaching, direction, and guidance of the Catholic Church by all the great Popes of my lifetime is something like a miracle. Not that everything that every Pope has said or done is perfect, but there is an overall solidity and groundedness—a multifaceted but unified Catholicity that charts the “narrow path” of truth and love through the explosive, gigantic, marvelous, and jarring circumstances and events that we are all still experiencing and enduring. 

The papal teaching office makes it possible for us all to hear together how Jesus wants to lead us in His ways and see reality as it truly is. Jesus is present and dwelling with us now in His Church, and He continues to guide and unify His whole People. Because of this, the Popes of our era have not only sustained and developed our understanding of the Catholic tradition (“reform-in-continuity”) but also helped us find some orientation in the otherwise disorienting times in which we live. Like the “miracle” of the Council itself, the Popes of this era have been instruments of the Holy Spirit that help us to engage the enormous challenges of the emerging new epoch.

Returning to Pope Benedict, it must be said that he is far from obsolete. His spectacular patrimony of papal teaching has not disappeared, but continues to offer much that can enrich us.

On the feast of Saint Benedict, we should recall once again Pope Benedict's masterful Catechesis on the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, which is both profound and accessible, the fruit of outstanding scholarship, a life of prayer and meditation, and the teaching charism of the successor of Saint Peter. In the excerpt below (and I encourage people to read the entire series of these homilies), Papa Ratzinger speaks of Saint Benedict, the Father of monasticism in the West, who also set forth an enduring path for all human beings who seek God and have been drawn by the invitation of God's love. 

"St Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Saint Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Maria: “Young, Wild, and THREE!”

Our oldest granddaughter celebrated her third birthday (July 9) in many ways, including by having pizza. She is such fun, and is growing into a regular little person! Happy Birthday, Maria!

Here are a few pictures comparing July 2021 with July 2024. (Notice that Maria is wearing her “Young, Wild, and Three” tee shirt while eating pizza. She indeed has all of these qualities! In reality, She and her sister Anna bring us lots of joy.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Friday, July 5, 2024

America: Prayer and the “Power of Love”

We had a perfect view of the town fireworks display from the back deck of the house that my son and his family bought at the beginning of this year. 
The United States of America has been an independent nation for nearly 250 years. The “Semiquincentennial” anniversary will in fact take place in 2026 —a year that once seemed quite remote, especially for those of us who remember the national celebrations of the “Bicentennial” in 1976.

For the whole length of my lifetime, my country has possessed more material power and prosperity than any society in the history of the human race. There are many ways in which this power has been used for the common good of the people of the U.S.A. and of the whole world. But we cannot deny that it has also been used to make entrenched problems worse and to help create a host of new ones that continue to grow.

Whatever political or social activities Americans take up in the coming months (and beyond), we really—desperately—need to pray for our country. Our material wealth is useless to us if we forget God, if we fail to beg Him for the wisdom and love that alone will enable us to use all He has entrusted to us for the proper realization of the good, and in service to the common needs of our interdependent world, especially in those places where poverty and violence cause so much suffering.

With God is the only true power: the power of love. Only God can give us hearts capable of measuring wisely and using well our material power in the service of works of mercy. Prayer and works of mercy are essential, especially for a nation that has been given so much. Prayer and works of mercy will bring healing to our country, and make us exemplary for the whole world.

Below is one of Collect Prayers that are optional for Catholic liturgical prayer on Independence Day.

Father of all nations and ages,
we recall the day when our country
claimed its place among the family of nations;
for what has been achieved we give you thanks,
for the work that still remains we ask your help,
and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation,
grant that, under your providence,
our country may share your blessings
with all the peoples of the earth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

St Thomas the Apostle and the Reality of the Risen Jesus

Today we celebrate Saint Thomas the Apostle.

The Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus said to 'Doubting Thomas': “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27). 

Caravaggio's famous 1602 painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas assures us that Jesus was speaking literally... for some people it "assures them" to the point of making them uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the jolting realism of Caravaggio has a point, and maybe we're right to feel "discomfort" in one sense. Ultimately, real Christianity is "uncomfortable" because it's not a collection of stories and ideas and rules that we can finally master and control by our own power (though people always try). Real Christianity is a Person; real Christianity is A MAN, a particular man from a particular place and time, a real man of flesh and blood and bones, of spirit and intelligence and freedom—a man who says of himself: "I AM the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

Real Christianity is the Word who became flesh to dwell with us; God the Infinite Mystery, the Source of all things, for whom the depths of our hearts yearn—whom we long to know and love—but who is always beyond our power, who cannot be grasped, to whom we cry out for a fulfillment we seek without being able to understand it: the Infinite became a man so that he could be with us as our brother, so that he could save us and bring us to a fulfillment beyond anything we could imagine.

The Mystery became flesh so that as a man he could enter human history and heal and transform it "from the inside," through his human life, death, and resurrection that initiate a New Creation beginning with his risen humanity. Still he remains a real man (Thomas is invited to verify this with his fingers that touch the transformed but still "open" wounds in his now-immortal but still human flesh). Through his humanity we are called to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) in communion with the Triune God forever.

This man, Jesus of Nazareth, is deeply involved in every person's life whether they know it or not. He calls us to a relationship with him. He is all wise, all good, entirely trustworthy and (if I may put it this way) madly in love with each one of us, with our particular humanity, our flesh and blood, our soul, our reason, our freedom. He loves me, he loves you right now, even if our lives are totally messed up, even if we've done terrible things, even if we have been running away from him. 

He calls us to a real relationship, which is going to be mysterious and difficult and better than anything we could ever do alone: it is an adventure in which we are not the ones who are "in control" (even as it engages all our intelligence, creativity, co-operation, and responsibility). "Blessed are they who have not seen, but still believe" (John 20:29). 

Believers are called "blessed" by Jesus. They are not called "comfortable." Living a relationship with Jesus Christ takes us way outside our boxes and way beyond our comfort zones. It's a "love story," after all. It corresponds to all our hopes, while also exceeding any kind of hope that we can measure. It promises and even now "begins" to fulfill all of our desires for life and love, while also "overflowing" them, because in Jesus God gives us Himself.

Jesus never said "Do not be uncomfortable." He said, "Do not be afraid" (see e.g. Matthew 14:27, Luke 5:10, John 14:27). Do not be afraid. Trust in Jesus Christ, always!

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Remembering Mom Three Years Later

July 3rd is the third anniversary of the death of my mother, Joan M. Janaro (December 29, 1938-July 3, 2021).
Here's a picture of Mom, sometime in the late 1970s-early 1980s. May the Lord grant her eternal glory.

I will share here a few words I would like to say to my mother, in my heart: "Dear Mom, I miss you. I pray for you and think of you every day (often). I have only begun to realize how much you have given to me since the beginning, to Eileen and I in our marriage, to our family, your grandchildren, and even your great-granddaughters who didn't get to meet you in this earthly life. It never seems like you're very ‘far away,’ especially when the family gets together. Thank you for everything, Mom. I love you!"