Friday, September 17, 2021

"The Uncertainty of Wealth": Does STUFF Make Us Happy?

"For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.

"But you,
[Timothy,] man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness....

"Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life"
(1 Timothy 6:7-11, 17-19).


Ah, "the love of money...." Why do we love money so much? Because it enables us to get stuff. It gives us the power to pursue all our often dangerous (and usually foolish) desires. We want to grasp all the stuff we think we need to obtain security, even though in reality it is vain to measure ourselves by what we possess, by our power over stuff, by "rely[ing] on so uncertain a thing as wealth."

Yet today it seems that the sheer quantity of stuff and the rush to accumulate it define the entire horizon of human life. Obsession with stuff has become a kind of social pathology of monstrous proportions. As a result, many people are sad. We "have pierced [our]selves with many pains." 

Many of us humans are dis-illusioned. Our pride has been shaken. We have experienced unimaginable power over things in this world. We have lived "like gods," with the average first-world person taking for granted his or her easy access to a vast infrastructure of stuff that would have utterly astonished the people of Saint Paul's time. (Imagine, just for starters, the light switch...!) Yet Saint Paul's words to Timothy continue to be vindicated.

We have so much power over the stuff of this world. And we are so bored!

Time plods on relentlessly. Everything is reduced to stuff: stuff to do, stuff to move, stuff to say to people, stuff to eat, stuff to read, stuff to achieve, stuff to "experience," stuff going on in the world. It's not so surprising that people are materialists. We are preoccupied with stuff. Indeed, it's no surprise that people are desperate materialists. We are drowning in stuff. Things that once seemed so interesting and full of promise are grasped, devoured, taken apart, and ravaged until they become dull, monotonous, and disappointing. Stuff. Everything ends up in storage bins, in storage facilities, because for some reason we can't just let it go.

Many of us are afraid to let go, because we think, "What else is there?" Our power always runs into limits. We can't stop time. We can't go back to the past. We have misused the material world in pursuit of our foolish and dangerous desires, and now we are staring at ruin and destruction. 

We are not so powerful after all. Are we in fact nothing but weak, fragile, apparently insignificant specks of cosmic dust whirling about an inscrutable, implacable universe? It seems as if all things follow their course and then disappear, and that they have been doing so for millions of years.

But... no! We can immerse our lives (especially today) in the distractions of stuff, but there are those moments when we "come to our senses" and realize that what we really want is something more, something that is beyond our power.... Then we become conscious of the "piercing pain" of our utter impoverishment in front of the Mystery that illuminates reality, that awakens desire and yet eludes our grasping - our effort to reduce the Mystery to something we can dominate. Then we become aware of our need to have our lives changed, to seek, to cry out from our poverty, to decide on an adherence, a fidelity, an allowing-ourselves-to-be-measured-by-Another

In the end, all our self-defining and self-acquiring power only leads to a more profound awareness of our insuperable limits, but also of the inextinguishable human aspiration to go beyond those limits - to endure, to flourish, to love and be loved without limits. But this aspiration takes us beyond our own power; it reveals the need for a relationship with a Mysterious Other. It requires "trust" in something - some One - beyond our "control." The One who is the source of all things, the source of their attractiveness, their fascination, their promise: the ineffable One who is beyond all things, the One who is source of all that is good.

What can we do? We can cry out for that "beyond," or we can give up on finding meaning and goodness in life (but does anybody really, completely "give up"?). We have a dramatic choice: prayer or the void. Prayer or nothingness.

Ironically, we don't have the power to choose "pure nothingness." We don't have the power to destroy our own being. Despair, instead, turns into nihilism, and spends itself in deceit, resentment, and violence. 

Prayer turns to the Mystery and says, "You are here." Prayer turns to God and says, "I belong to You. Rescue me. Save me."

Christians are supposed to know about their need to pray. Christians have encountered Jesus Christ, and have come to know that the love of God gives all things meaning in Him. Still, Christians easily forget what we have encountered; we forget the teaching to which we have been entrusted. So often we turn what is supposed to be a living relationship with God into a set of ideas that spend most of the time "in the back" of our minds while we live in the world grasping for stuff just like everyone else. We may follow some rules ("no stealing") or at least we try to convince ourselves that we are following them, but our hearts are easily taken in by the dominant mentality that measures the value of human existence in terms of riches, wealth, and superficial achievements. 

We must hold fast to Christ, and we must pray. Emotionally and intellectually the experience of prayer can seem dry and insignificant just like everything else we do. Indeed, that is the great lie: that prayer is just more stuff that we do during the day. 

Prayer is, first and foremost, something that God does in us. He whispers in our hearts, opens them, awakens them. If the desire to lift our minds and hearts to God stirs within us - however faint and weak and wretched that desire may seem - it means that God is attracting our hearts. He is drawing us to Himself. 

God calls us to pray everyday. He has given us the words. "Our Father.." To accept God's words and address them to God in obedience to God is already the beginning of the conviction that the "stuff" of the day is more than it appears to be. Hallowed be thy Name / thy Kingdom come / thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Pray! Perhaps it seems "dry" and "distant." Perhaps we don't pay much attention to the words. We should try; we should yearn to speak with God. Often we begin the words and our minds are immediately sucked back into the stuff that surrounds us and that appears so real, the stuff that is perishing all around us. Still, the most fragile prayer is an event that takes place within our hearts. We may feel like we are only "saying-the-words" but in our hearts there is the beginning of the affirmation of eternity

If we are faithful to prayer - to the desire to pray that has been awakened in our hearts - God will bring all the rest: the attention, the conversation, the conviction, the transformation of the way we look at reality. He will do so in His time, according to His plan. But we must be faithful. We must pray. Pray, pray, pray. Even if that means just saying the words and believing and hoping in God. We do not need to fall into disappointment, discouragement, and nihilism. 

Jesus. His very name is a prayer. "God saves." God, save me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Exhaltation of the Holy Cross

"Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

"Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."


~Philippians 2:6-11



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years After the Towers Fell

It has been two decades since the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 that left such a terrible mark on the beginning of the 21st century for the USA and the whole world. We commemorate this anniversary with prayer and sorrow, and consolation and help for those who continue to suffer losses that cannot be forgotten.

"9-11" still shocks and saddens me in some particular personal ways. I know people who lost loved ones on that day, as well as relatives and friends who were among the first responders and who then continued to respond in the days and weeks that followed. Also, New York City was my "home town." Although we moved when I was 9 years old, I remember the city very well and returned frequently. I spent a lot of time there in my youth, and it always felt like "home." My ancestors came from Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to live and work in this city and built the foundations of our family in the USA.

I haven't been back to New York in recent years, but it was one of the "old stomping grounds" of my youth, and it is full of memories.

The person in the picture is me (yes, it is really me—stop laughing!) in the summer of 1983, on the Staten Island Ferry gesturing to the barely visible Manhattan skyline in the foggy distance. It's not just the picture quality here; I recall that it was this sort of cloudy day, though I can't recall who took the picture. Needless to say, we had no selfies back then.

Can you see the two exceptionally tall buildings through the mist, standing far above the others? I remember when those "Twin Towers" opened ten years earlier, in 1973, not long after our family moved from our native city to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For a long time, they were just part of the landscape of New York.

During the course of many visits, I went up to the top and marveled at the amazing views. (It was fun to take visiting Europeans up there; in fact it's fun just taking them to New York, which is not like anything they've ever seen except in the movies). I remember hanging around various parts of the buildings day and night. I walked right past them, barely noticing them as I hurried somewhere else. I saw them from many angles of the Manhattan skyline. I saw them from airplane windows....

It seemed like they would just be there forever. Like mountains.

The nightmare that took place 20 years ago was inconceivable for a large part of my life. We in the First World at the end of the twentieth century grew up with images and/or fears of nuclear war, totalitarian dictatorships, systematic genocide, and the destruction of entire nations. We also knew the peculiar anxiety (which still exists today, and has expanded to other realms of life) of living with ever-increasingly complex and opaque political bureaucracies and the ever-expanding power of technologically sophisticated weapons capable of wiping out millions of people by putting into action protocols that nobody really understood. It seemed almost that the world could be destroyed "by accident," and that political violence in general was becoming something anonymous.

Of course we also knew about "local wars" in the global South. Thanks to the ingenious simplicity and the cheap but durable, portable, and effective AK-47, guerrilla warfare had been raised to a whole new level of destructiveness. Still, those of us who grew up in the First World during the Cold War era tended also to view these wars in large, abstract terms. Great ideologies were supposedly enacting geopolitical strategies through "proxy wars" all over the world. The local revolutionaries and resistance fighters seemed to us (with a few notable exceptions) "faceless" instruments in the global power struggle, and only historical hindsight has begun to allow us in the West to see the immense complexity of human motivations, local rivalries, ethnic conflicts, and sometimes ancient grievances that were behind the allegiances in these local wars. 

Indeed, as the millennium dawned, many of us in rich countries - gaping in awe at our vast technologically sophisticated arsenals and having just lived through a decade in which the Great Enemy (Soviet Communism) had been vanquished, had grown "a bit distant" in our sensibilities regarding the true sources of political violence in this world. Perhaps some of us had also grown distant from another essential, irreplaceable factor in the struggle against evil: our own courage

But that all changed on September 11, 2001. There had of course been terrorist attacks in recent years, but nothing remotely on this scale. Yet it was a group of young men armed with nothing but box cutters, a few flying lessons, and the fury of a suicidal fanaticism, a boundless rage and resentment, and a perversion of their religious sense: the deepest and most implacable human drive that searches for the ultimate meaning of life was twisted by fantasies and nihilism into a violent project to bring down the two tallest buildings in the world into a raging fire of death.

This blasphemous and inhuman horror, along with the personal catastrophes and the countless instances of heroism that followed, proved once again a very old truth.

It proved that the greatest power in the world — for violence and destruction or for valor and courage and solidarity — remains the human heart with its designs, its choices for good or evil, and the ever-renewed gift and vocation that draws the human heart to love and to hope and to begin again.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Christina Grimmie Remains a Great Help to Me in This Time

I haven't posted since June any particular "remembrance" of Christina Grimmie on the 10th day of the month, which has become a custom for me personally.

This does not mean that I have forgotten about her. Quite the contrary. This has been a time of great change and great sorrow for me, as my mother passed away on July 3 even as I continue to grieve for my father's death in 2019.

Both my parents have gone forward toward that fulfilling and definitive encounter with the Mystery. Even in the light of Jesus Christ — who reveals and communicates to us the healing, forgiving, and transforming love of the Mystery, who teaches us to call God "Our Father" by the grace of the Holy Spirit — we still walk by faith in this world and not by sight. Without the accessible presence those we love most in this world, those who have guided us from our first footsteps, there is an unavoidable sense of sorrow and even a new sense of "loneliness." Even though they are "not far" from us, even though it is "only for a season," even as our hope in eternal life grows stronger, still it is difficult to walk this part of the human journey.

We are called to "lose ourselves" in order to find ourselves again in the Kingdom of God, in that inheritance which our Brother Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, offers us a share. It is a mysterious inheritance, beyond our limits in ways we can't imagine, but that we know are good. Life and death are mysterious, but ultimately they are the mystery of indestructible love.

Many who have gone before us — passing beyond the life of this world — still shine for us like lights, like stars that seem distant and yet can be surprisingly warm. They remain our friends who encourage us to persevere, and who wait for us to join them when our labors in this world are done. My parents are now among them, and I have an inkling of their nearness even in the midst of the "loneliness" of going on without them.

There are others whose witness continues to resonate, to reach people and help them to become stronger. The love through which they gave themselves in this life becomes in some way "greater" — as a very particular and personal affection that shares in the boundless love of the Heart of Jesus and in precisely this way (in Him) it becomes more than ever "theirs" personally, as they "find themselves" in Him who in His Resurrection is "the firstborn of many brothers and sisters."

I never met Christina Grimmie in this world. How is it that she is such an important sister in Christ, such a friend to me, such a source of hope and strength in the often-encroaching darkness that threatens us all in these recent years?

Why do I love her so much?

I have reflected upon this (here on this blog and elsewhere), but have hardly exhausted it. But I do love her, and have found her to be a constant friend. There is nothing esoteric or strange about this friendship. Rather, I think it has to do with what we call in the Apostles' Creed "the communion of saints."

And now, in these recent times, as I struggle with grief and loss such as I have never known before, Christina continues to shine on as a bright beautiful star who encourages me to go forward, to not be afraid to love.

Five years and three months after her own tragic death while opening her arms to "welcome a stranger" (as she had dedicated herself to doing every day, with her music and her life, for the glory of Christ) Christina Grimmie is more than ever a great inspiration and a great help to me.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ten Years of “The Picture Phone”πŸ˜‰

I was LATE to the "game" of live interactive audiovisual communication. TEN YEARS AGO, we experienced our first Skype call! On a clunky laptop, with an external webcam.πŸ’»πŸ“Ή Things sure have changed...😜😳 #LivingOnZOOM2020

……………………………………..... And alas, though we tried - and did make a few brief and awkward connections - my Dad was never able to catch on to how it worked.πŸ™ My parents used Internet and email, but that was their limit. Dad got a flip phone, but he didn't like it very much. And needless to say, in these kinds of tech things, Mom relied on Dad. Thank God we got to see them a lot "in real life"...

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Many Faces of Miss Maria

She keeps growing! Such an expressive little face (the last pic in the series really needs a caption). Anyway, Maria Janaro is two months old on September 9.☺️❤️




Sunday, September 5, 2021

A Journey of Ongoing Conversion, Renewal, and Transformation

PREFACE: Over the past decade, I have drafted many reflections on this blog in a kind of "homiletic style." In fact, I have no mandate to preach; I am merely trying to carry out the common task enjoined on all Christians by their baptism to exhort and encourage one another in fraternal love. This gives me hope that some of my words might be helpful to others.

More fundamentally, what I write here represents my own exercise in reflection on the truth and remembering what I have seen and heard, what I have encountered and begun (however obscurely) to "understand" through meeting Jesus Christ and following Him in the Church.

More than anything, I am seeking encouragement, and begging the Lord for a deeper conviction regarding His loving presence in my sinful, over-complicated, weak, confused, incoherent life. Since I have studied theology and am a somewhat competent rhetorical hack, these reflections may sound like they are expressed by someone with a greater existential grasp and a more authoritative coherent practical life than anything I could possibly claim for myself.

I am a wreck. I speak to try to remember what has touched my life, and if these words have any value it is because they reflect the experience of life that fills the whole of the great tradition of Christ's Church, guided by her teaching authority and witnessed in the lives of her saints down through the ages. In the company of such witnesses, seeking the face of Jesus to whom we all belong, and throwing myself upon the mercy of God, I endeavor to speak of these things. I claim as my own only the flaws of these words. I hope and pray that the Spirit of God shines through, so that we all might learn and grow closer to the God who loves us.

REFLECTION: A JOURNEY OF ONGOING CONVERSION, RENEWAL, AND TRANSFORMATION

The life of faith is a struggle, an ongoing task, an experience of learning to love in a true, Christian way.

It grows from a renewed encounter with Christ into a fuller and more thorough conversion away from the tendency of selfishness and toward the cultivated dispositions of sincere self-giving.

The Holy Spirit works within us to heal us (each according to our own history, circumstances, and unique personal vocation), to free us from ways of "loving" that are stunted by the ambivalence of our wounded humanity, by our selfish tendency to reduce other persons to mere "things," by our craving to amplify and impose on reality our distorted perceptions of self and others.

The Christian life is a path of conversion from an egocentric posture to an ever deepening habit of authentic charity - an attitude of mind and heart that truly loves God as He is in Himself, and that truly loves other persons for who they are in themselves, i.e. children of God and brothers and sisters redeemed by Jesus and called to share in His inheritance.

Our Christian vocation takes concrete shape in the Lord's call of love, addressed to us each day, which draws us into communion with Him in silence and prayer, in adoration, thanksgiving, and hope in His mercy. The same call of love permeates all aspects of our lives and human relationships: in our families, in work and social environments, in various responsibilities, in the joys of life, in play, in the beauty of things.

God shapes our lives in such a way as to draw us along the path of loving Him and loving others. Our sufferings, too, are permitted and find their "place" within this particular plan of healing and transforming love that our Father has for each of us as unique persons, embraced in His infinite wisdom.

In answering the call of the vocation to charity, we must have great trust in Jesus our Savior, for without Him we can do nothing. But He is with us, working in our lives and teaching us through His Spirit how to grow in genuine self-giving love.

We must not become discouraged by the apparent persistence of our imperfections, selfish tendencies, and fragility, but continue to work toward cooperating with God's grace and moving forward on the path of love that He opens in front of us.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Gregory the Great: Servant of the Servants of God

Today is the feast of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, the 6th century Benedictine monk who articulated the path to holiness in a compelling and enduring manner, even as he served the Church in Rome and in the world, calling himself the "Servant of the Servants of God."

Here are some of his wise and evangelical words, that remain pertinent today:

"Our Lord and Redeemer entered the world and gave the world new teachings. He offered the contrast of his new way of life to our old one, which was nurtured by our vices. What did our old and carnal nature know how to do except to hang onto its own belongings, to seize if it could what belonged to someone else, and to covet what it could not seize? Our Physician brought from heaven remedies for every single moral fault. The medical art cures fevers with cold compresses, and chills by applying heat. Similarly, Jesus prescribed qualities contrary to our sins: self-restraint to the undisciplined, generosity to the stingy, gentleness to the irritable, and humility to the proud. Let us listen to Christ's words: 'Those who would come after me must renounce themselves.' He tells us that we must renounce ourselves. Some may not find it difficult to abandon their possessions, but it is extremely difficult for us to abandon ourselves. Renouncing what we have is not so much; renouncing what we are amounts to a great deal.

"...Christ said: Those who would come after me must renounce themselves. We cannot go beyond ourselves if we do not know how to sacrifice ourselves. We transplant seedlings to help them grow, and so we can say that we uproot them in order to make them increase. Seeds disappear when we put them in the earth, and then spring up to renew their kind; it seems as if what they were is being lost, but that is how they receive the ability to become what they were not."

Thursday, September 2, 2021

More "Remembering" My Mom and Dad (Part 2)

The old furniture was never cluttered while they lived here.
The beginning of the month of September has not been easy for me in the years since I was forced by illness to put aside the "active classroom teaching" aspect of my educating vocation. 
Right now, everyone is "moving on" to new things, It's a new school year, and there is a freshness in the air. They are going back to school - including Eileen to teach at John XXIII Montessori, Jojo to the age 12-15 Program, and Lucia and Teresa to the university (Teresa is a freshman at Christendom, wow!)...  they are all going back to school. And I am not.

It makes me a bit melancholy. 

This is not a clinical issue. It's just an "ordinary mood." This year, of course, it's mixed with other emotional complications. I have participated in "academic years" since my mother brought me to my first Kindergarten classroom in 1968. Mom left me "alone" that day... for a few hours. It was easy to adjust those new circumstances and to grow into them. Kindergarten was fun!

Now, it seems like there are so many new circumstances that I must adjust to, or simply endure.

This September is my first school year since "becoming an orphan." Yes, I feel a little like an orphan sometimes, even though I'm 58 years old. It seems silly, but the feeling is there (along with my embarrassment about it). I don't understand why; perhaps in part it's because I am in some ways emotionally greedy, self-centered, and childish. I'm not exaggerating about this; people who know me well enough have seen these problems in my broken, sinful life.

But I don't blame myself entirely or solely for these character flaws (much less do I blame my parents). I grew up in the U.S.A. in the 1970s, and our generation is a socially and culturally damaged generation. I'm sure others my age know what I mean, whether they are willing to admit it or not. 

My parents raised me as well as they could, but we were all a bit disoriented. Everything was spinning wildly in the wind - not only confusion among many people in the Church, not only moral principles, but all the simple features of life that allow people to live in common and form friendships. Customs, day-to-day values, the pace of life, even the food we ate - these things were all changing. Our lives and behavior were dictated by "experts," and stretched out among artificial products relentlessly peddled by the ubiquitous images of advertising. We were given no direction from those we admired and considered as models of success, or our more proximate early-Boomer elders (i.e. adult "examples") except to indulge our whims with whatever means available, as long as we were nice to other people and didn't break the law (in fact, we were not very nice, and we broke the law a lot).

The new "global village" sometimes felt - in the psychological realm - like a kind of prison. It was run by rival "gangs" of style-shapers and opinion makers inevitably taking turns on top. Of course there were many good things accomplished during those times, and many sincere people who worked hard to make the world better. And we couldn't complain if anyone had asked us, "Are you not entertained?" Oh boy, we were nearly "entertained" to death. 

Really, I have to say that overall the "global village" was a constraining and stressful place for a kid in the 70s, especially a oddball creative kid like me. 

But the love and discipline of my parents was a great help. Even when I got into trouble, I could always "feel" the inner boundary that our home life established - a boundary that was the "shape of love" between us: it was a love I needed, and I did not want to get "lost" outside of it. This was immensely important in growing up, and most of it came from my parents just living the way they did, and from their fidelity to each other. I have no words that can express my gratitude for what they gave us by building a loving, stable, safe, happy home, and - above all - a home that loved Christ and was faithful to the Church.

Still, there are aspects of my personality that even today remain so immature, that seem stuck in a pre-adolescent mode of interaction, an uncertain self-esteem, and a "sense of responsibility" dominated by fear. But this is not Dad's fault or Mom's fault. Sure, they made mistakes; after all, they were living in the midst of the same confusion. It was hard to be a parent in those days too (and it has not gotten any easier). 

I never doubted for a moment that my parents loved me. My Mom would lose her temper and yell at us sometimes, while my Dad could appear somewhat distant and aloof sometimes, but we knew these were just the limitations of their personalities. They were flawed human beings. But they loved each other and they persevered in that love. And they loved us and gave us a home that continued to nurture us long after we stopped living there. That home of their hearts was "big enough" to become a special, joyful place for their grandchildren as well.

I realize more poignantly now what a great gift these things were to us (and how increasingly rare it is to be so blessed).

Thank you Dad. Thank you Mom. I love you both! May God reward you forever in His eternal embrace.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

"Nurture in Us What is Good..."

The Collect prayer in the liturgy this week is another of those apparently simple that we might easily miss, but which is in fact profound in its encompassing of the foundations of our journey through this life. 

It is good to “take time” with the these prayers of the Church, to dwell on them and “with them,” to let our hearts be formed by them.



Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Finding Memories of My Parents in the Blog

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Dad and Mom were my two most faithful readers. I often thought of them when I wrote or posted pictures over the years. Even though I did not "succeed" in many of the ways I had aspired to in my life, they always encouraged me and appreciated whatever I managed to accomplish. It was a wonderful thing to have such affirmation from one's parents. It turned out to be something I really needed, in the circumstances I faced - but ultimately it was a gift for which I can only be grateful.

So they read the blog faithfully... but it wasn't just for my sake.πŸ˜‰

If you go back ten years in this blog, you'll find a lot more funny stories about "the kids." You'll also find plenty of "JJ-pondering-things" too. Themes and ideas in this latter regard were not much different than they are now. But the life of the Janaro family was totally different in 2011. 

The house was full of kids who really were kids (John Paul was getting ready to begin his Freshman year of High School), and my parents also came to visit us sometimes (as well as our making weekend visits to "Papa-and-Grandma's" place in Arlington). They were "only" in their 70s back then, and they were still pretty "vigorous" (well, my mother was never very vigorous physically but her mind was prodigiously active, and my Dad had just retired from his full time job two years earlier - he worked from age 18 to 74, but he seemed to be doing well with his new schedule - serving on the Condo board, helping my mother, and doing plenty of reading).

We say that "the years go by so quickly," and yet when we stop to think about all the life we have lived, it becomes clear that 2011 was a long time ago.

What a decade it has been! I never would have imagined the details of the way things would happen and how they would affect our lives. Yet we have passed through (in a inimitably particular and personal manner) a perennial "season of life" such as humans have experienced for countless generations prior to ours, and will continue to experience in future generations.

Clearly, I was aware a decade ago of the "basic form" of what awaited us "in the future." Recently, while updating my downloaded backup of this blog (in PDF form), I came across this article from April 2011, on the occasion of Dad's 76th birthday. (Back then, my posts often did not include pictures, which is hard for me to believe given my interest and involvement with photography and graphics and digital art now.)

It seems appropriate to conclude these eventful Summer months by reproducing below the article from April 8, 2011, in which I talk about my parents and wonder about the times to come:





Sunday, August 29, 2021

Lucia Turns 21 Years Old

August 28 was Lucia Janaro's 21st birthday, but we spread the celebration out all weekend. A happy time for the whole family!πŸŽ‰πŸΎπŸŽ‚πŸΌ We love you, Lucia!❤️πŸŒŸπŸ™‚



Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Profoundly Personal Conversion of Saint Augustine

August 28 is the day on which we celebrate the feast of Saint Augustine, the fourth century bishop and greatest of the Latin Church Fathers. The story of Augustine’s conversion as a young man is one of the most famous in the history of Christianity, and indeed in the history of Western humanities and literature, thanks to the penetrating account of it that he gives in his epoch marking autobiographical work, the Confessions.

Augustine was born in Roman North Africa in 354, during a period of transition and religious instability that saw the rise of the recently legalized Christianity even as it struggled with the great heresy of the Arians, various gnostic groups and oriental mystery religions, and the prevailing decadence of the pagan social milieu.

As a young man, Augustine went to study at the cultural center of Carthage, where he was introduced to the "sophisticated" lifestyle of wealthy urban pagans in late antiquity - with all its self-indulgence, superstitions, and fanciful cosmological and religious speculations. He took a concubine and embraced the Manichean sect, while also sharpening his mental and rhetorical skills. Eventually he traveled to Rome and Milan, abandoned the intellectually weak Manichean system, and dedicated himself to a genuine pursuit of truth through philosophy. Soon he found himself grappling with the claims of Christianity as his aesthetic and intellectual objections to it were overcome. What remained was the need for a conversion of heart, which came finally in the famous reading of Romans 13 in the garden in Milan (Confessions VIII.12).

The story of Augustine could be understood as an intellectual and moral journey, and these are certainly crucial elements. But its important, also, to emphasize the personal communication that pervades his whole experience of conversion. The Confessions make this clear by their genre; they are written as a prayer to God, and this is clearly more than a literary device. Augustine makes it clear that God’s grace and mercy, given through the Church, is the profound source and focus of his conversion. He learns that philosophy is not enough; that truth and salvation are constituted by a personal relationship with Christ, the Truth in person.

We see this too in the crucial role that the companionship of particular Christians plays in Augustine’s life. They bring the Church close to him in a way that opens him up and enables him to overcome his objections of mind and heart. The key person, of course, is his mother Saint Monica. Her maternal love and her constant, ardent prayers for his conversion were a continual witness to him through all his wanderings. And she joyfully received the news moments after grace finally won over her son’s heart.

Also of great importance is Saint Ambrose, who received him with fatherly kindness when he first came to Milan, and by cultivating his friendship and trust, drew him to attend his sermons. Augustine’s admiration for the beauty of their style soon grew into an attraction to the radiance of the truth they imparted. He would eventually be baptized by Saint Ambrose on Easter 387. “To him was I unknowingly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to You“ (Confessions V.13).

The world honors Saint Augustine as a founder of Christian philosophy and the great prose writer of late antiquity. But Christians know that he was above all a Christian person, transformed by the love of God that reached him through human instruments: the prayers of Saint Monica, the guidance and friendship of Saint Ambrose. They helped him to discover that Truth has a human face.

Friday, August 27, 2021

August is Full of Heat, Greenery, and Thunderstorms

As I have recently noted, these days in August are just too hot-and-humid for me to spend much time outside. Every plant and tree is full of lavish growth, but if one looks around a bit, one can find some new beginnings or other idiosyncrasies of certain odd plants that have their own growing cycles.

Here are recent outside photos, some of which have artistic thematic development or graphic tools augmentation. Thunderstorms have been loud and frequent, but they have brought welcome cool air late in the afternoon.





Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"How is JJ Doing These Days"?

If you ever read this blog, you might be wondering, "How is JJ doing these days?"

When it comes to my physical and mental health and my overall emotional state, I guess all I can say about myself in these times of so many personal and familial changes is: "I don't know."

"How am I 'doing' after this Summer, and indeed after a year and a half sharing with everyone else the common stresses and strangeness of the COVID pandemic?" Well, generally speaking, I'm no worse off than anyone else in the "First World." I have had my fair share of human uncertainties and worries about my own and my family's health and security in these months. We who live in the world's "rich countries" are being confronted - in a particularly persistent fashion - with the fact that no amount of wealth and power (nor even the now-abundant access to apparently effective preventive resources and treatments for this new disease) can solve the overarching "problem" of our own radical fragility, our susceptibility to suffering in ways beyond our control, and all the inevitable emotions entailed by this vulnerability that we have become accustomed to forgetting about while living lives of wildly unprecedented material prosperity.

I say "WE" here, not as a rhetorical contrivance, but because I too need to be shaken out of my own illusions of the "collective self-sufficiency" and omni-competence of the technologically advanced society I live in. I am grateful, of course, for the progress we are making in the fight against COVID, and I hope we will share our resources with the poorer places in the world, out of a sense of human solidarity, fraternal love, justice and equity, and respect for human dignity. This will draw us closer together as brothers and sisters who love and care for one another, who treat one another with mercy and compassion.

Nevertheless, even in the best case scenario, no medical advances will ever "overcome" the fundamental human drama (the mystery) of living within time, within limits, living with suffering, incapacity, loss, and death.

This may all seem like a tangent diverting far from your question ("How are you, JJ?"), but it's actually all tied together because this is how my brain works. I'm always thinking (over-thinking) about everything, finding the connections between my problems and the problems of the world, searching for the bigger context, trying to understand, and worrying because I can't figure out how to fix everything. (Well, I worry less than I used to....)

Nothing new about me living with my "beautiful mind" (and you can read more about that in my 2010 book - which can be ordered by clicking HERE - or in numerous previous posts about mental illness and mental health ranging over the past ten years of this blog - click HERE to see some of those).

My emotions are still all over the place. We are making the slow inventory of my parents' possessions. So many things - large and small - they had since the earliest days I can remember, from furniture (which they used all my life and in three different residences) to boxes and business cards and jewelry and all sorts of little accessories. The smallest object, such as a pin, can suddenly stir up a vivid - almost tangible - memory from over forty years ago. There are so many memories that I don't even know I still have, and even when they are "bittersweet" it seems that eventually the weight tips more to the "sweet" side, from which we receive an unexpected sustenance. This must be why people give useless gifts to one another, why things are cherished as souvenirs, "keepsakes," and - eventually - heirlooms.

What kind of people are we becoming, who consume or use-and-discard such huge quantities of material things without a thought? It's more than "wasteful." We lack memory. We are constantly distracted and afraid of commitment. But it's a hard world to live in, where our constantly increasing power pushes and pulls us relentlessly like a raging river flooding its banks, carrying us ever faster without our having any idea where we want to be or hope to go. Life is more disorienting and traumatic in many ways today. But it's still worth living in a human way, building fruitful, committed relationships with one another, and living with a sense of purpose that is worthy of our humanity even as we face new challenges, so as to pass on to the new generations a richness of awareness that will prepare them to meet the unprecedented challenges of the future.

That reminds me: Maria is sleeping in the same crib her father and his sisters slept in as babies. There are probably fancier cribs available today but this one is pretty good. It's safe, sturdy, useful enough... It certainly has gotten a lot of use, and it has a lot of memories attached to it. Now, with Maria, those memories stretch forth new branches, new hopes.

So, how am I? Do you think I'm trying to evade the question? I'm not; I'm just rambling about it a bit, because it's a question that intersects with many things. 

I am full of gratitude and hope (really), which coexist with lots of feelings of different kinds, some of which are part of a long-standing psycho-pathology that I will never entirely eradicate, and that I will always have to attend to "day-by-day" (again, see those links above to read more about these particular problems).

I also get anxious and depressed in more conventional ways about the things that trouble us all, and I wring my hands about "this-crazy-world-we-live-in" (and which Maria and [God willing] our other future grandchildren will have to grow up in and live in long after our time is complete😳).

It has been hard seeing my parents die in the last two years. I was very close to both of them, and they were with us for a long time. I'm so grateful we had them nearby, and that our kids grew up knowing them. My heart goes out to so many people who have lost their parents in tragic circumstances, or while they were still young.πŸ’” I cannot imagine how hard that must be. I feel a little silly referring to my own grief, which in any case is not complicated by any special trauma or catastrophe. 

Really, I don't understand grief. It's a strange experience, which I "notice" in different forms but can't really analyse in a coherent way. I miss Dad and Mom, but I also don't feel "too far removed" from them. In this regard, faith in Jesus and our continued common belonging to the communion of His Church are a true source of consolation and sustenance.

Meanwhile, Maria has burst into our lives and brought us lots of joy. I hope to write more about being a grandfather in future posts. (There will at least be pictures.)

I have aches and pains, but I manage. I get tired very easily, still. I miss my usual walks. July and August are just too humid for me to get around much outside. But I have plenty of books at home, and tools for creative expression. Regarding the latter: even if my rather undisciplined artistic explorations amount to nothing worthwhile, I feel the need to work in this aesthetic manner, like I used to feel it when I was a child. Though I find it to be absorbing and fascinating activity, I don't worry about it too much.

September is coming soon, with cooler weather. As I grow older, I find that I am more inspired and more at peace with the splendors of Autumn. They are awesome yet gentle, and in my part of the world they linger graciously and have time enough to tell us their own special secrets.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Recognizing God in the Humanity of Jesus

God is not found in dreams of grandeur and power, but in the humanity of Jesus, and in our brothers and sisters, especially those in need.


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Everybody Wants Love. But What IS "Love"?

Love.

It's an amazing thing, this impetus and need we call "love" that boils so deep inside everyone of us and that provokes us so inescapably.

We want love, we long for love, we fight over love, we resent the lack of love, we try to render ourselves immune to the pain and the risk of love...

Love: it is engraved on the heart; it constitutes our identity, and yet we don't even know what it is.

We are fooled by so many cheap deceptions that pose as love. We are ready to run to anything that promises "love," only to be disappointed again and again. Too often we abuse one another and provoke violence and atrocities, all the while claiming that we are doing these things "for love." Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong in our perception of what "love" is all about.

Often we use the word "love" as a synonym for a phrase that indicates something-I-really-WANT or something-that-makes-me-feel-really-good. This is only part of the whole dynamic of love. The real goal of our "wanting" is far greater than the limits of objects we use or feelings we perceive (which are not enough to satisfy us and ultimately point beyond themselves). In our lives we experience a fundamental intuitive sense that we are "called to love" - that the meaning of our existence is realized in an ecstasy of self-giving and receiving, of reciprocal interpersonal belonging - which, moreover, is founded on something Greater, on an original and sustaining gratuitous Gift.

We want to love, because in the depths of our being we recognize the basic fact that we are already loved. We are radically given to ourselves and to one another by an original Someone who "holds us all" in a transcendent mysterious love: all-encompassing yet intimately personal to each of us; invisible, ungraspable, yet real - the Source of our own reality - and entirely worthy of our trust.

Therefore, we are made for love. But we fail to trust in the Mystery who makes us, we lose perspective on reality, and our efforts to love degenerate into grasping at the world and reducing persons and things to our own measure. Without radical trust in the One who loves us, we try to make ourselves into the "guarantee" of the value of our own existence by dominating others (and we fear the power of others to crush us and deprive us of our value and personal dignity). Our "love" does not know how to receive and give, and so it becomes a project to take and manipulate, to crave and covet what we think we want and to hoard and devour what we think we "possess." We're all messed up regarding what it means to love and how to realize this basic facet of our humanity. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in all the dangers and crises and dysfunctional relationships and social problems of the world we live in. 

Nevertheless, it remains possible to love and be loved in this life. It is necessary to our humanity. And by living in authentic relationships with commitment and fidelity to other people - wherein we receive and give love, sacrifice ourselves for one another, collaborate in common endeavors, and look at one another with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy - we can experience and grow in the reality of true love.

Even still, it remains a mystery.

Ultimately, it is a mystery because love is at the core of our being-in-the-image-of-God. The human person is made in the image of the Infinite Mystery that that transcends all things, that brings all things into existence, sustains them in the fragility of their finite being, and guides them sweetly to their fulfillment - with the unsearchably vast and at the same time attentive tenderness and intimacy of ultimate wisdom and love.

We are made in the Image of God! We have an ineradicable dignity, a sense of purpose and responsibility, and the freedom to affirm and live our true identity.

Don't get down on yourself, ever! You are not worthless! You are worthy of love. And you are capable of love. The experience of love and the practice of loving are possible in every circumstance: in the family, at school or work, in play and recreation, in the self-giving of creativity, in helping others in a multitude of ways, and even in all the "little, inconsequential things" - the apparently superficial interactions we have with people all the time.

Love is also possible in times of darkness, amidst life's great burdens: in difficulties patiently borne, in the midst of confusion and upheaval, in the loneliness that can be such a great invisible suffering, in every kind of sickness, incapacity, sorrow, or grief. These things reveal to us our fragility and poverty, and we may feel that we cannot love because we have nothing to give. But this not true, because in these times especially God loves us and is close to us. He is at work within us to transfigure our poverty into more profound ways of loving. 

Finally, and perhaps harder to believe than any of the others, love is possible even in the intolerable dullness, boredom, and frustration, the apparently paltry and flawed accomplishments, and all the undignified failures and mistakes of an ordinary day. Here, where so much of our life is lived, God is surely present. Here, He secretly invites us to embrace the mystery of His ineffable plan wherein He is accomplishing the all-encompassing victory of love.

We must be confident that "Love will 'win'." (I am certain that this triumph of God's love has already been radically achieved and is working in the depths of human history and the heart of every human person, because my own life - incoherent though it may be - has been taken hold of by the love of Jesus Christ, who is the definitive revelation and accomplishment of God's love not only for me but for everyone. That is why I am "compelled" to profess the name of Jesus. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-Begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:16]. Whether I mention Him explicitly or not, all my hope for any goodness in the world, any recognition of human dignity, any value to what I accomplish with my work, is rooted in the joy of knowing the love of Jesus and the promise of the fulfillment of all things in Him.)

Love is at the heart of all life. We must never give up and turn to cynicism or discouragement because of the strange ways and apparent absences of love, or because of our impatience with the arduous and seemingly distant fulfillment that the vocation to love often entails. We are destined to grow through this life in ways beyond our imagining. We must sacrifice and persevere, because the fulfillment of love is so much greater than our hearts and our own measure. But it's worth it. It's what we are made for!

Love is real. So do not let yourself be cheated. God created you in His image. And God is not a void of ultimate loneliness. God is Love. God is communion. In an infinite and transcendent way - yet in a way that wholly penetrates and constitutes our being, awakens our aspirations, and sustains our hope - God is the "eternal embrace" that we all long to give and receive in love.

God calls us to love Him and to love one another "in Him," to be His children, and to realize the purpose of our lives by sharing forever in His embrace - the inexhaustible gift and fulfillment of Infinite Love.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Saint Bernard and God’s Love

Happy Feast of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the great Cistercian monastic reformer, the counselor of kings and popes, the wise and prolific “mellifluous doctor” of biblical theology, and above all the mystic, the contemplative who waited on the Lord, the tireless lover of God. (Texts from Saint Bernard below are in bold font.)

"For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him."

God loved us in creating us, and when we went astray in our own sins and in the narrowness of our self-destructive will to dominate one another, He loved us immeasurably more by coming to dwell with us, die for us, and restore us to His love.

"In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. 

"God deserves exceeding love from us, a love that has no measure… The reason is that He was first to love. He who is so great loves us so much; He loves us freely, little and poor as we are. 

"That is why I said there should be no measure of our love for God. For since love given to God is given to the Infinite and Measureless, what measure or what limit could it have? He, the Unmeasured and Eternal God, He who is Love beyond all human knowledge, whose greatness knows no bounds, whose wisdom has no end, loves. [He loves us "first," giving us existence and giving Himself to us in Jesus Christ.]

"Shall we then set a limit to our love for Him? 

"I will love you, O Lord my strength, my rock, and my defense, my Savior, my one desire and love. My God, my helper, I will love you with all the power you have given me; not worthily, for that can never be, but to my full capacity. Do what I will, I never can discharge my debt to you, and I can love you only according to the power that you have given me. But l will love you more and more, as you see fit to give further power" (texts from the Treatise On The Love Of God).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Using "Media" to Share Our Humanity

YouTube was (and remains) a pioneer in the new realm of accessible audiovisual communications media. Though the content varies greatly, it has long included the possibility of "everyone having their own T.V. station" or broadcasting platform.

I use my YouTube channel for the occasional "vlog" which can be posted elsewhere and conveniently linked here. I decided to use the video below to continue the theme of yesterday's blog post. Notwithstanding the "general" thematic title (Using Media to Share Our Humanity), the content is primarily personal, reflective, and - I hope - encouraging:

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Social Media: "Offering" it to Christ

What is the use of all these communications technologies that we call "social media"? Do they have a positive value for our lives as human beings, and more particularly for our vocation as Christians?

Certainly they provide many ways to bear witness the Gospel, and to perform "works of mercy." I want to focus in particular on the opportunities they provide for us to give of ourselves - through attentiveness, instruction, sympathy, and awareness of one another's needs - and in these ways to encourage and build up one another and pray for one another. Here we can share words, images, music, prayer, and solidarity in the Lord. It is all “offering,” to Christ, to be His instruments to build God’s Kingdom, and the Lord brings our offerings to fruition according to His measure, in His time. Much we do not see, and what we do glimpse - what touches our experience - is only the beginning. 

To encounter brothers and sisters all over the world, to pray for them (and with them - even in powerful and moving ways, such as many experienced during the live streams last year), to learn from them, to receive their gifts of expression, wisdom, and witness, and to offer my own encouragement and words (the two “small coins” of my poverty, which is not much but it's what I have; it's what I can give) - all of this is blessing, a cause for gratitude, a sign of the mystery of the Father’s love and the Lordship of Jesus who has won the victory and draws all things to Himself. 

Communications technology belongs to Christ, and through it He brings us to possibilities to experience our “being-together” person-to-person, and to live in greater solidarity in this moment. A heart emoji❤️ is only a shadow of the inexhaustible “Yes” that Jesus says to our whole humanity, to each person, through the gift of His pierced heart on the Cross. Through His Heart, we can express gratitude and fraternal charity even with these apparently superficial means of communication. Jesus gives them value on a whole new level, which we experience insofar as we remember our belonging to Him and to each other in Him.

We don't need to worry overmuch about how "effective" our interaction is here, or on how many people we "reach" in our efforts to communicate. The Spirit is at work, and His measure is infinite - beyond all the small limited unstable statistics, “likes,” followers, responses, or anything we can measure. Of course we make our best practical attempts to reach out in appropriate ways that media make possible. But our efforts for "success" have only a relative importance, and will be fruitful only if we “offer them” to the Lord and receive our own value from His love.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Jesus Embraces Us in Our Suffering

We live in a world of immense suffering.

We all know how hard it is to deal with acute, immediately perceptible instances of suffering—instances of physical, mental, and/or emotional pain. It's hard enough to hear the stories of other people. And usually we want at least to be distracted, as much as possible, from our own pains. What we feel intensely is the need for relief, and we are grateful for anyone and anything that can give us some real help.

But the whole reality of suffering is deeper than the external struggles that engage so many of us. People don't suffer "equally" (certainly not on every level or at any given time). But everyone suffers in this world, and everyone's suffering is uniquely their own.

At some point, everyone has distinct and profound experiences that can be at least partially articulated, that indicate the brokenness and incompleteness of their life: something that has disappointed or hurt them; someone who has betrayed them or manipulated them; something that does not measure up to a once-cherished hope; some kind of health issues; some catastrophic events or tragic losses; some family or friends who have let them down, abandoned them, misunderstood them; some limitation that inhibits their freedom; some burden that tires them; some hunger that is never satisfied....

People usually accommodate themselves to reduced expectations about life, especially as they get older. How else could one get through the day? Sometimes, however, one can still catch an echo of a cry of pain, that deep and mysterious pain at the heart of every human life. Life is, in some measure, always something that has to be endured.

Why is this? Most broadly, it's because we live in a radically broken universe. We suffer because of sin: original sin, our own personal sins, and the sins of the world. But why has God permitted so much sin and so much suffering?

God doesn't give a theoretical, intellectually satisfying answer to the depths of this agonizing question. He does something much greater. He comes to dwell with us in this broken world, and bears all our sufferings and sins out of love, thereby transforming the meaning of suffering.

Because of this, we do not suffer alone. We suffer in Jesus Christ, who is God’s love made personal and particular for each one of us.

Jesus is God drawn close to our wounded humanity, so close that He takes it upon Himself—not only in some “general” way, but in a way that encompasses each one of us. Jesus is the intimate companion of each and every human person, even those who do not know Him. He knows each one of us; He unites Himself (He—God the Eternal Son of the Father) to my humanity and to your humanity; He dwells with us and suffers with us in order to raise us up to a share in His life with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

He knows “who I am” and who He wills me to be. He knows the secret of why I was created. He knows my sins. He knows how to heal me of them, how to draw me to Himself, how to make me the “adopted son” that I am meant to be in Him for all eternity. He knows each one of us in this way; He knows the depths of every created person. We exist because we belong to Him—not as "slaves" or mere "things," but precisely in the freedom He has given to each of us so that we can recognize His love, respond to Him, and come to share in His life.

And so our joys and sufferings too (which He permits, because He has the power to bring forth greater good from them) are taken up into His infinitely wise, uniquely crafted, and tender love through which He shapes our lives and leads us to our destiny.

How little I really understand about mydestiny”! How little I understand about the “eternal life” which means belonging to Him in an all-fulfilling, inexhaustible communion of face-to-face vision and love, forever. We must remember every day that God is with us and that He draws us toward our true identity, which is to reflect His eternal glory in that unique way that corresponds to each of us as a person created in His image and likeness—a reflection that we do not yet understand but that He sees and knows.

We ought to dwell upon this and call it frequently to mind. Those little prayers throughout the day are worth so much: "Jesus, I love you." "Jesus, I trust in you." "Come, Holy Spirit." God, help me!" No matter the storms and the fury; the depths of our lives are not an empty solitary abyss. We are never alone.

At the heart of life, of every moment of life, the merciful God who is infinite, unconquerable love accompanies us, gives Himself to us, and asks us to open our hearts to receive Him.

Let us take courage from the profound and beautiful text of the Collect Prayer for this week: