Friday, February 16, 2024

Pope Francis Begins His Twelfth Lenten Journey in Rome

On Wednesday February 14, Pope Francis began his twelfth Lenten Journey as Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, Servant of the Servants of God. 

I remain grateful for his ongoing apostolic ministry, and I pray for him. May the Holy Spirit continue to sustain, strengthen, and guide him in his papal mission until it is fulfilled.



Thursday, February 15, 2024

“Catholic Saints”: The Coptic Martyrs of 2015




February 15, 2024 marks the first public liturgical commemoration of the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Egypt in the Roman Catholic Church since their insertion into the official Roman Martyrology last year by Pope Francis. This is the ninth anniversary of their being brutally beheaded on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea by ISIS Islamist Terrorists for refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. 

Who can forget how ISIS recorded this murderous act and posted the video to YouTube and distributed it to media outlets all over the world? Many of us saw at least parts of this video, where flesh-and-blood men—ordinary Coptic Orthodox Christian working men doing migrant work in Libya—repeated the name of Jesus as a prayer during the last seconds of their lives. In this world of global interactive media, what was meant to be a propaganda video instead allowed millions of people to see the faces of their fellow human beings giving their lives for their faith. It was terrifying in many ways, yet the truth being lived before our eyes was compelling and convincing. 

Twenty of the martyrs were Egyptian, but one was from Ghana (listed here as unidentified "worker" but I'll revise it when I find his name). He was not baptized Christian, but had been arrested with the others. When commanded to convert to the ideology of his violent Islamist oppressors, he pointed instead to his brother workers and said, "their God is my God." Thus dying for his faith in Jesus Christ, he obtained what the ancient Christian tradition called "the baptism of blood."

These martyrs were members of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, which has not been in full communion with the Catholic Church since the year 451, but which has retained valid apostolic succession through the ("monophysite") Patriarch of Alexandria, and therefore has the sacraments, the Divine Liturgy, and the Eucharist. Last May, Pope Francis decided to recognize the holiness of these 21 martyrs of 2015 who were already being celebrated as saints in the Coptic Church. They are now officially honored as saints in the full sense of the term by the Catholic Church.

We should remember them and prayer for their intercession, especially for Christian Unity, which their sacrifice embodies as a "beginning" and stands as a sign for all who believe in Jesus and profess His name—the name they loved more than earthly life.

1. Saint Milad Makeen Zaky, pray for us.

2. Saint Abanub Ayad Atiya
, pray for us.

3. Saint Maged Solaiman Shehata,
 pray for us.

4. Saint Yusuf Shukry Yunan, 
pray for us.

5. Saint Kirollos Shokry Fawzy, 
pray for us.

6. Saint Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, 
pray for us.

7. Saint Somaily Astafanus Kamel,
 pray for us.

8. Saint Malak Ibrahim Sinweet,
 pray for us.

9. Saint Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
, pray for us.

10. Saint Girgis Milad Sinweet
, pray for us.

11. Saint Mina Fayez Aziz,
 pray for us.

12. Saint Hany Abdelmesih Salib
, pray for us.

13. Saint Bishoy Adel Khalaf
, pray for us.

14. Saint Samuel Alham Wilson,
 pray for us.

15. Saint [Worker from Awr village]
, pray for us.

16. Saint Ezat Bishri Naseef
, pray for us.

17. Saint Loqa Nagaty
, pray for us.

18. Saint Gaber Munir Adly, 
pray for us.

19. Saint Esam Badir Samir, 
pray for us.

20. Saint Malak Farag Abram
, pray for us.

21. Saint Sameh Salah Faruq
, pray for us.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Miracle of “Reconciliation”

“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

As the season of Lent begins, I want to give special attention to this text from today’s liturgy. This is how much God loves each one of us; this is how close He draws to each of us. Jesus “carries the burden” of our sins and opens the way to something new: a new life that overcomes sin and death, and that begins now—a transformation, a New Creation, that begins now, in Him.

Reconciliation… beyond anything our sinful humanity could have imagined. Reconciliation with God, and with one another. What a miracle! God finds me, though I had turned away from Him. He carries me on His shoulders and brings me back to the Father’s house, if I let Him, if I recognize my poverty and brokenness and let Him heal me.

And what a miracle! The persons whom I regarded as obstacles to my ambition, as objects to be manipulated for my own purposes, as enemies—I now call them “my brothers” and “my sisters.”

Reconciliation is a new beginning, and we must return to it again and again, because we fail every day, and because we must grow in this new life.

But it is an inexhaustible wellspring of mercy, “deeper” than the inertia of our weakness and forgetfulness, “deeper” than all our sins. “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The “Papa and Anna Show”


Here is a video (link is not visible on YouTube but only through this post). Recently, I had a few minutes to chat with my younger granddaughter Anna Rose, chubby-cheeked and wide-eyed and lovable at two-and-a-half months old.

It’s a bit of fluff. Obviously, I talk TO her (and the viewers) while she fusses a little and smiles a little and scrunches up her face in various ways and sucks her passy. Nana was with Maria in another room, and Maria was not happy about something, so you will hear her “complaining” from time to time in the background, toddler-style.

Well, Lent begins tomorrow in the Roman Rite, and of course I am not ready. That, I suppose, is one of the reasons why it’s good that we have this annual season of penance, charity, and preparation to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We enter this time together, as the communio of the Church.

Here is the actual link to the video. Happy Mardi Gras!

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Christina Grimmie is a Daily Inspiration

Remembering Christina Grimmie for seven years, eight months. I am grateful for her inspiration every day.💚

This is a Digital Portrait by JJStudios:

Friday, February 9, 2024

Walking With Jesus in the Midst of the World

As Christians we place our hope in the mercy of God who has become our companion in Jesus. Jesus wants to be with us, to remind us that we are not alone in front of the enigma of existence. We struggle every day with life, its joys, its suffering, its mysterious and inescapable destiny, but we know that He is here to respond to our poverty with His divine and human compassion.

And as we experience this compassion, we are called to proclaim it, to share it with one another and everyone in need. The call of God's love and mercy extends beyond ourselves; He burns with love for every person, and He longs to enkindle that flame in our hearts. For this reason the Christian is called to live and to manifest something new in the world.

This is our world, full of sin and violence, ugliness, stubbornness and willful ignorance. But God loves the world and wants to save the world through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, whom He has given for everyone. He brings forgiveness of sins. If by the gift of God we have encountered Jesus and experienced His forgiveness, we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in Christ’s mission, His giving of Himself. He doesn’t take us out of the world, but calls us to adhere to Him in the midst of the world, to walk the roads of the world along with every human being who is entrusted to us on the path of our daily lives, accompanying them with the richer and more joyful, more hopeful humanity that Jesus gives us as we follow Him. We know that Jesus Christ is the only hope of the world.

This is our poor world, confused, struggling and seeking, full of human persons who have been created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ, and who travel along obscure and winding paths searching for the One who loves them and calls each of them by name.

It is a world in which so many do not yet know Him, or do not know Him enough, or perhaps hold onto Him mysteriously in the depths of their hearts but without knowing all of the beautiful ways He wants to help them, strengthen them, and be a light to their steps. It is also a world of many who have rejected God or who ignore God, even as He continues to passionately seek them out and draw them to Himself. God's mercy works secretly in their hearts, but it also works through us and wants to manifest itself and give itself through us.

God wants the beauty and the glory of His mercy to shine through us, so that those who are weary and heavily burdened by the riddle of life's meaning may see that God Himself has brought something new into history that answers and indeed overflows superabundantly all the depths of the human question.

Here we are, poor earthen vessels of His love. We ourselves are so much in need of healing and of experiencing His love and mercy. Our mission is not one of winning over the world to our party, as if the fulfillment of human existence somehow came from our own selves, our ideas, our projects—as if it were the construction of our own brilliance and coherence, the assertion of our own power.

No. Being Christian means knowing that we are weak and broken, that we depend upon His mercy in every moment, and that we must beg for His mercy to change us and make us grow in the newness of life He gives us in the Spirit. This new life is a participation in His risen and glorified humanity that begins even now, as we journey through this present life. Christ is the meaning of human life and brings everything that is truly human to fulfillment in Himself. In following Him, we don’t become “less human.” Quite the contrary, we become more human! 

We are sinners. We are not called to be disciples of Jesus by isolating ourselves and condemning the rest of the world. Our mission is to let Jesus win us, and win the world with us and through us.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Papa Tries to Get Maria to Talk About “Peter Rabbit”

It’s time for a video with the remarkably articulate Maria Janaro, who is two-and-a-half years old. She has many of her stories memorized (in some fashion) and I was hoping she could tell the Peter Rabbit story, but I used a question-and-answer format, which may have confused her.

She was certainly distracted by seeing herself on the video screen. Still, listen closely and you will hear how much she gets right. You will also notice that she is “holding back” in order to tease Papa.

My older granddaughter Maria loves to tease me. But I don’t mind a bit!☺️

This video is on a restricted setting and is accessible only through the link below:

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

God’s Power is Patience, Meekness, and Love

William Congdon, Crucifixion, 1962
“As Father, God wishes us to become his children and to live as such in his Son, in communion, in full familiarity with him. His omnipotence is not expressed in violence, it is not expressed in the destruction of every adverse power as we might like; rather it is expressed in love, in mercy, in forgiveness, in accepting our freedom and in the tireless call for conversion of heart, in an attitude only seemingly weak—God seems weak if we think of Jesus Christ who prays, who lets himself be killed. 

“This apparently weak attitude consists of patience, meekness and love, it shows that this is the real way to be powerful! This is God’s power! And this power will win!….”

~Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, January 30, 2013

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Love of Saint Agatha Still Matters…

February 5 is observed on the liturgical calendars of Eastern and Western churches as the feast of 
Saint Agatha of Catania (who was tortured and martyred c. 250). She was just a girl, but she was one of the earliest of the Virgin martyrs whose personal story is remembered in the Christian tradition. She was a courageous young woman filled with the Holy Spirit, who gave her life for Jesus Christ.

Her heroic sacrifice, her total gift of herself to Jesus, has been celebrated since ancient times. She is one of the patron saints of Sicily. Since Sicily was at that time a Greek island, Agatha is an important figure in the Eastern tradition. On this day, the Byzantine liturgy honors her with many beautiful prayers such as this one:

You were a fragrant flower of virginity and an undefiled bride of the Lifegiver; you desired the Source of all good and excelled in martyrdom. O glorious Agatha, intercede by your holy prayers for those who lovingly honor your contest.

Agatha and countless others who followed her example of courage down through the ages bring to mind the words of Saint Paul: "I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ,...to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death" (Philippians 3:8,10).

Even today, Catania celebrates Saint Agatha with a three day festival, including a procession of her remains through the city streets accompanied by crowds of hundreds of thousands of people. It is one of the largest "religious festivals" in the world.

What ancient personage has such a vital connection to real people today? This is not a celebration for Julius Caesar or some great philosopher or politician or king or movie star from the past. This is the celebration of a teenage girl who gave her life for Jesus Christ nearly 1,800 years ago!

Today, Saint Agatha is still remembered and honored with love by countless people, and she is a friend to their hearts. Real people have had real relationships with this person through the ages. They have looked to her example, confided in her, asked for her help. This is not superstition. This is the reality of the Church, the communion of saints.

This communion of persons with God and with one another in Jesus Christ cannot be broken by the power and the violence of the world. They couldn't destroy it in the year 250. Long after the powers that raged against her have been forgotten, Agatha still lives! They can't destroy it in 2024. They will never destroy it.

Violence is only for a time. Love never ends.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Urgency For Happiness

"Our nature is need for truth and fulfillment, or, in other words, happiness. All human movement, whatever it might be, is dictated by this urgency that constitutes us" (Luigi Giussani).

Friday, February 2, 2024

"A Light of Revelation"

Happy and blessed Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

"Simeon was a holy and devout man who looked for the redemption of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was with him" (antiphon, morning prayer, Feast of the Presentation). Simeon praises God for allowing him to see the Christ, the One who was sent to bring God's mercy to the world: "My eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of all nations. A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).

Today we rejoice with Simeon and Anna, and look forward through his prophecy, and with Mary, to the Cross whose the path we will soon begin to travel. (Picture: Fra Giovanni da Fiesole [a.k.a. Beato Angelico] San Marco, Florence).

Thursday, February 1, 2024

God's Gift of Love Makes Us Fully Human


Here is the great text of Saint Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, a text that draws us close to the heart of the Gospel: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude. It does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will p cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13).

The "love" here is not just any sort of love. It is "agape" which the venerable Latin of Saint Jerome translates as "caritas" and which we know to be the theological virtue of charity.

So we're not just talking about "love" in the vague way that the word is used in contemporary English to cover a multitude of diverse actions, emotions, preferences, impulses. We mean something more here than what we mean when we say, "I love mashed potatoes," for example (though there is a common—and mysterious—reality underlying these various kinds of "love," but that's a topic for another day).

1 Corinthians 13 is talking about the supernatural virtue of charity, God's own love in which we are called and empowered to participate through God's grace and His utterly mysterious, free and supernatural gift of Himself.

All of this is true. Yet this love is also profoundly human. Look at how Saint Paul describes "agape"—patient, kind, not pompous, not rude, not grudge-bearing, rejoicing in the truth, enduring all things.

Enduring all things. That certainly seems beyond any sort of limited human love. But also patient, kind, not pompous, not rude, not quick-tempered or self-interested. It rejoices in the truth. It never fails.

This is a close, intimate love. It is a human love, the most human of loves. It is the love that we have been created to give and receive, and which we long for whether we know it or not.

Indeed, this inexhaustible Love corresponds to our whole humanity, because He-who-is-Love has entered our history. He has become flesh. The Infinite Mystery has become a man, so that He could save us, so He could embrace the whole of our humanity, so that we might be healed from all sin that alienates us from Him, and “lifted up” to share His eternal life as His brothers and sisters, children of His Father, vivified and transfigured by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus.

He is the only real meaning of human existence—the One through whom and for whom all things are created and sustained in being, the One who encompasses, fulfills, and overflows all the hopes and aspirations of our lives. Love has given Himself to us, to each and every one of us, so that we could be touched by Him and respond to Him with faith and hope, with trust, and be transformed into lovers of Him and of one another.

If I look at these verses seriously, I can't help but be struck by the fact that my life is so far from being this way. It causes me sorrow, and sometimes I am tempted to look away, to settle for some lesser kind of love. But I would have to lie to myself (and others too) because I know deep down that this love is the only thing that matters in the end. I was created for this love. You were created for this love. Every human person was created for this love. It seems too much to believe, but who would dare to deny it? If we reject this unfathomable but at the same time inescapably concrete fact, life falls apart, our humanity falls apart, and we begin to become monsters...

We are made for this Love that "bears all things," this Love that never ends.

Can we "live" this Love? Jesus is here, in the midst of our history, our daily lives, and He gives this Love to us from the Father, in the Holy Spirit. He is here even for those who do not yet know Him, but whose hearts are stirred up by the Holy Spirit to beg for a love they don't understand. They have hints and signs and mysterious interior personal and communally-shared realizations of His nearness, in the midst of their searching and whatever level of obscurity (and light) characterizes this particular moment of their life's journey. We Christians walk this road with them, struggling with our own sins and our own limits and myopia. If we have been called and gifted by Christ with the truth of the Gospel, it is to be witnesses, to serve everyone, to beg with greater awareness of our total need for Him.

Nothing prevents us from following the call of Love, of opening our hearts to the transforming power of this Love. We must never become discouraged. We may stumble again and again in the ways of love, but He is with us, always ready to lift us up and lead us forward if we let Him. We can begin again, every day, because He has come to dwell with us. God became our brother because He wants to be with us.

Let us place our confidence in Him, and begin again.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

"The Girls" (My Granddaughters)

Look at this little "chipmunk," Anna Janaro, who just turned two months old the other day. Chubby cheeks and dimples too! And, of course, it's clear from the second picture that she loves her big sister Maria.😊

💕 Yay, grandchildren!!🙂


Monday, January 29, 2024

“RoboJJ” Writes the Blog? What Does This Mean??!!

Oh my, this post marks the thirteenth anniversary of the launching of this blog. And I am marking it with an experiment. I’m turning things over to “RoboJJ”… aaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

Not really. These words are being written by me, as an introduction to my “virtual secretary/editor,” an AI app that allows me to verbally dictate my thoughts and then arranges them into an organized text. Actually it offers a variety of format options. Then, of course, I can go back and edit personally, add, change, rearrange, and do whatever I want with the words on the page. I am also given a direct transcript of my spoken words which I can also refer to.

RoboJJ (my term for this technological assistance) does not have “intelligence” in the proper sense of the term, nor will it ever have such intelligence. AI technology doesn’t even have the organic “sense cognition” that higher animals possess, by which they perceive and respond to their environment according to the path of their instincts and also “spontaneously” toward realities that accord with their natures.

Nope.

AI is a highly refined mechanism for data organization. I think that this kind of “organization” could be useful to me here on this blog, which is my “writing (and artistic) workshop.” Let’s see how it works. The first segment of text (in brown type) is the transcript of my spoken words that I “recorded” while laying in my bed as I began to recover from a flare-up of ill health—there was some flu involved, I think. Then, in blue type, I present one of RoboJJ’s condensed versions (the one most suited to a blog post). I am far from satisfied with it, but it might be useful for drafting and organizing a written text. I have lots of things I can be prompted to gab about, but I find it hard to put them in writing.

First, this is the real me, talking in my own words. Here is the transcript [lightly edited] of my verbal ramble:

My name is John Janaro. I am 61 years old. As long as I can remember, I have been communicating my thoughts through writing, starting as a child with pencil and pen and typewriter, moving on to working on the editorial team of my high school newspaper, literally cutting and pasting, then writing my first book…

First, actually, then going to college, writing a lot of term papers and a senior thesis, two senior theses, actually, and then going to graduate school, writing more papers and eventually writing a dissertation, and then along the way, writing my first book. 

All that gets me up to around 1992. Then I began teaching, and I was involved with teaching until my illness, which forced me into retirement from the classroom in 2008. Because of ill health, I have a hard time making public lectures and having the stamina for all of that preparation and consideration and organization and intensity of presentation that I require for my classroom environment. Actually, I have a hard time doing much of anything that requires sustained, consistent effort. So I “retired” (also, by then I had published my second book in 2003). 

Then I published my third book about my illness and difficulties and struggles, and how my faith in Christ sustained me. That was in 2010. The book is called Never Give Up: My Life and God’s Mercy. For the past decade, I have also published a monthly column in Magnificat called “Great Conversion Stories.

In 2011, I started to keep a blog. This very blog that you're reading now was begun, golly, 13 years ago. It's kind of mind-blowing. Of course, you've seen everything in this blog. If you've had the patience to follow this blog from the beginning, you've seen my life change in many ways. You’ve seen the kids grow up. You’ve seen marriages and grandchildren. You’ve seen me grieve the deaths of both my parents.

You’ve also seen me hammering out ideas in various forms, in a not-always-felicitous writing style. I'm a good writer, but I tend to stretch sentences on, have too many subordinate clauses, have three or four adjectives instead of one. Basically, I have never encountered a simple thought that I was not capable of turning into a complex expression of lots of things. It may be very interesting, maybe full of fruitful possibilities, but often it’s very wordy. 

Sometimes I just feel too tired to write now. I feel like I don't have the energy to put my ideas together. I've kind of gotten less involved, and have slowed down in writing. Nevertheless, sometimes I'll sit down and I'll write a very long post. Sometimes, I'll work for days on a post where there's important ideas that I want to hammer out. And I get stuck and go back. I just keep writing until I think, well, this is good enough to put out there because it's just a blog post. That's the way it goes. Sometimes, I revisit old posts, hammer them into better shape, and continue refining the same ideas. 

You reach a point in a life of philosophical reflection when you realize that you have a few ideas that are interesting. Then, basically, you just keep refining them more and more. That's all you can manage in the course of a single human life. I'm at this point now. I want to give my “two small coins”…which are very small indeed.

Of course, I've been witnessing revolutions in technological media since I was a child. Like I say, I went from pencil to typewriter, to word processor, to internet. I went from submitting articles to newspapers, magazines, whatever, to being successfully published, and then, finally, not having to depend on anybody but just “publishing myself” in this blog. But I would like to organize a lot of the thoughts from these 13 years into something more digestible, topically or in terms of what's most insightful. 

Again, this is a big job. How can I put that all together by myself? 

Most recently, we've seen, most recently, of course, in the last few years, this technology of, I don't know, I guess I would call it artificial data coordination. It doesn’t rise to the philosophical meaning of intelligence, neither in a proper spiritual sense, which is the human intellect, nor even the sense-cogitational capacity of higher animals. You're just dealing with very sophisticated technology that works with language and associations and connections and coordinates things together, not really knowing what it's doing, of course. That's the artificial feature, as is also the vocal process, which is the method I'm using right now by speaking. The vocal process is data, which is translated into written data, which is coordinated and shuffled around and represented. 

But the taking of observations, articulating them into ideas which crystallize real experience, and in turn, moving forward through judgments, intellectual judgments, to new understanding: that’s the process that I know that the new technology cannot do for me. It cannot replace the human mind. But what I'm testing today, in this late hour of my life, relatively speaking, is whether or not this new technology can be useful as a kind of “secretary.” This is the first blog post I've ever done in this manner. I'll have to decide whether or not I want to show you a transcript of the original audio rumination and compare it to the resulting artificially polished version. Although, of course, I'll probably go and polish the polished version, edit it, make it read better. On the other hand, that's part of what the program proposes to do for you, so it will be interesting to see if that would work. 

I tend to “think around” things. I tend to have a topic in mind, and I look at it from different perspectives, examining different aspects of it. I go around it. I analyze it from various points of view, according to certain features, and then according to other features. I’m searching for the unity and harmony of things. I look at something like writing, and I think, oh, writing is a work in which you try to organize your ideas and communicate them. You try to do so in a manner which is clear, convincing, and also beautiful in its prose style. As far as anybody cares about that anymore, a beautiful prose style is something that I would at least aspire to, and I have been able to achieve beautiful style in the past. That's one way of looking at writing. 

Another way is to say, how can writing be made easier for me in a time in which I have less energy and I need more assistance at work? I wish I had a secretary who would just take notes on all my ruminations and organize them, or, at least, get them back to me in some more coherent form. It's like, well, hello, now we have technology that claims to be able to fill that sort of role, so here it is. I'm able to do as much as 20 minutes of talking in one note. I’m thinking about whether I should just run this thing all through 20 minutes and see what it sounds like, looks like, whatever. 

It would be a tremendous thing if this works well. I have so many things in my head, so many things I think about. If I could just “think out loud” and get organized, that would be an extremely helpful tool. I hope that it would always remain a tool for me, that it would not become a substitute for real writing. I know something of the power of AI, of these various forms of data manipulation technology. I've seen how they work with graphics. You guys who read the blog, you also see the “artistic workshop” that has developed here. The basis is photography, usually using my own photographs, and then I work with the digital technology that allows artistic changes to be made and introduces various—sometimes surprising—possibilities. 

Imagery just becomes a more “plastic” kind of material. That's why I have often referred to my digital artworks as “sculpture,” rather than as painting (because no matter what the apps say, there's no real painting involved). There is, however, matter involved. It is sometimes remarkable, things just come from the material itself that I'm working with. For example, a certain application allows you to give the image a rough exterior look, so you can integrate that in. Maybe I wasn't originally planning for that kind of look, but now that I see it, I like it. I like what it does for the picture that I'm working on, which is maybe a view of the mountains. I integrate that into my “sculpture.” It's a process of discovery as well as creative expression: finding many ways to portray this extensive piece of imagery, allowing the technology to expand the material element that I'm working with. 

I tend to keep working on it forever. I can make 100 different versions of the same picture. Often, I can't decide which one I prefer. As a result, my storage is full of pictures that have never been finished. But some of them do get finished. As you know, some of them end up on the blog. Well, this is a long way of saying that I am familiar with how this AI technology works: this power of manipulating digital data, this mixing and mashing up and organizing of visual media. How it works with the written word is a question that remains to be explored. 

In the beginning of 2024, in my 62nd year of life, I'm going to launch out into this brave new world. Well, maybe there’s another way of putting it, but using this phrase indicates that I am aware of the dangers on this path. But—asking the Lord for poverty of spirit—I'm going to launch out into these possibilities and see what can be done with them. I mean, I can sit here and talk about China or East Asia or media technology or theological thought and speculation or political or cultural philosophy or some of my dearest ideas that I have in various areas. I could talk about those and turn them into something that would be useful that could be communicated to other people in a coherent way. That'd be great. 

That's obviously what a teacher always wants to do. It's sort of the dead end I ran into as a teacher in a lecture hall at a certain point in my life. You know, if this were a 20-minute lecture, I don't know how interesting it would be (once upon a time, it probably would have been a lot clearer). But the fact is, my lectures were always best when they were in text form, which I could then read from in an engaged manner and digress from when I felt inclined. 

This technological tool/method could be very helpful in many ways at this point in my life. Hopefully, I can get a lot of the stuff out of my head while I'm still around to do it, so that it can benefit other people.

Okay, I did tinker with the transcript more than I thought I would, but it retains its spoken, off-the-cuff form. Now, in blue type, here is what RoboJJ came up with (again with some light editing). It’s “concise” for sure, but I still feel the need for more detail. A lot of my “thinking around” things is left out, and I do want to keep some of that.

But you can read it yourself and see what you think:

My name is John Janaro and I have always expressed my thoughts through writing. From childhood with pencil and typewriter, to working on my high school newspaper, to writing books and academic papers. Teaching was my passion until my illness forced me into retirement in 2008. Due to my health, I struggle with public lectures and the preparation required for my classroom environment. I retired after publishing my second book in 2003 and wrote a book about my illness and how my faith sustained me in 2010. 

In 2011, I started this blog, which you are reading now. It's been 13 years and life has changed in many ways: you've witnessed the growth of my children, marriages, grandchildren, and the deaths of my parents. You’ve also seen the ongoing evolution of my writing style. I tend to be wordy and sometimes lack simplicity. Lately, I've been feeling tired and lacking the energy to put my ideas together. I've slowed down in writing, but occasionally I'll write a long post after days of working on it. Sometimes I revisit and refine my ideas. As I've grown older, I've realized that I have a few interesting ideas that I continue to refine. 

Throughout my life, I've witnessed technological advancements in media, from pencil to typewriter to the internet. Now, I'm testing whether this new AI technology can be useful as a kind of secretary. This is my first blog post using this method and I'm curious to see if it can help me organize my thoughts. Writing is about organizing ideas and communicating them clearly and beautifully. I aspire to achieve a beautiful prose style. I wish I had a secretary to take notes on my ruminations and organize them for me. Now, this technology claims to be able to fill that role. I can speak for up to 20 minutes and have it transcribed. It could be a tremendous tool to help me organize my thoughts. I hope it remains a tool and doesn't replace real writing. I'm familiar with how digital technology works with graphics and have seen the artistic possibilities it offers. I integrate digital elements into my image-based “virtual sculptures,” often creating multiple versions of the same picture without being satisfied with any of them. Some get finished and end up on the blog. 

Now, I want to explore how this technology can work with the written word. In 2024, at the age of 61, entrusting myself to the Lord, I'm going to venture into this new world of word-tech and see what can be done with it. I can talk about various topics and turn them into coherent pieces that can be communicated to others. This tool could be very helpful at this point in my life. I hope to get all the thoughts out of my head while I still can, so that they can benefit others.

Eh, so? The app offers other “versions” (longer or—believe it or not—shorter) to the point of being maybe a little creepy. Yikes, what am I doing? What if RoboJJ takes over my mind? What if AI takes over…the world? Aren’t we supposed to worry about that?

AI is technological power, developed for many complex reasons by human beings with all their mysterious seeking of greatness and their confused desires and their ambivalence. It is like everything else in the world, like every human invention, like the technologies we are surrounded with every day. We can’t run away. But we must be aware, we must attend to ourselves (and our neighbors) as irreplaceable persons, and we must beg for wisdom. Power brings possibilities for terrible evils, but also possibilities for great goods.

This AI tech is a possibility that I should explore in this world that I have been given, in these circumstances of life in 2024. So I say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus / Veni Per Mariam.” Come Holy Spirit. Everything for your glory, Jesus, through Mary. Then I move forward, with eyes open, in the communion of the Church and with the help of my friends, with the new mentality through which the Holy Spirit enables me to seek the value of all human things according to the glorified humanity of Jesus. He has taken hold of my life and is transforming my heart.

Whatever storms may come, He is here. So I can go forward with confidence and hope, remaining with Him, trusting in Him.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Taking the Lowest Place

"Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others [thus] becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift. This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid."

~Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 34-35

Monday, January 22, 2024

Prayer, Non-Violence, and the Protection of Human Life


As Christians, our politics must be shaped by the non-violence of the Gospel, which fights against evil while also loving the perpetrators of evil as human persons, made in God’s image, sinners like us in need of experiencing an encounter with Jesus Christ. As I have indicated elsewhere, Christian non-violence is not incompatible with physical force used in necessary defense against violent crime or military aggression. It struggles, however, against the tendency of human adversarial relationships to be defined by the inherent dynamic of material power which seeks its “efficiency” in the reduction of human persons to things. The adversary, the “other,” in every battle against evil remains a person, who as such is worthy of love and our ardent desire that they might be converted and separated from the evils they are perpetrating.

This is a difficult, indeed a heroic disposition of our selves, rooted in the new life we receive through Christ in the Holy Spirit. It’s not a partial life that we can “set aside” when we engage in politics. Human political struggles in this world are inevitably “bent” toward violence because they absolutize the success of a political program even if it requires the degradation of human persons. In defending the common good against widespread injustice, we may sometimes conclude that it is necessary to work temporarily in coalition with political movements that are obscure or that fail in some ways to recognize the full measure of human dignity and instead prioritize the success of their faction. But in such circumstances, we must always be clear about who we are, and not allow our social presence to be reduced by the “logic” or the strategic machinations of any faction. We must resist being “caught up” in the enthusiasm of political idolatries of any kind. We must distinguish ourselves, we must make no compromises with violence, we must always be known by our love.

This in no way diminishes our active struggle, opposition, and resistance to the evils we fight against against in society, and our determination to build up structures that protect human life and human dignity. In today’s world there are abundant social injustices and evils that we cannot ignore. The Catholic Bishops of the United States, with good reason, draw our attention to the sin of abortion in our society. Objectively speaking, the violence of abortion is directed against the most invisible and defenseless of human persons, and it brings division to one of the most vulnerable and essential of human relationships: the relationship between mother and child.

This is why Pope Francis, speaking in particular about the dignity of unborn human persons, insists that "a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be" (Pope Francis).

So we are invited to prayer and penance, today and every day. It is a good reminder for us of the fundamental significance of own interior life, of this hidden, grace-empowered dimension of our humanity.

Prayer and penance are the irreplaceable means that we possess, as sharers in Christ's royal priesthood through baptism, in the struggle against our own sins and the sins of the world. They are the means whereby Jesus's redeeming sacrifice "extends" its human proximity through all space and time, to transform the world. And these means are always available within that immediate and specific piece of the world—of history—that has been entrusted to us.

Through our prayer and sacrifice, God's love draws closer to the anguish and destruction of human violence, to initiate and nurture (often in unseen and unheralded ways) the process of conversion, of the change of hearts, of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Here, then, is the soul of whatever other kind of political or social activism we judge to be prudent and necessary or helpful to build up the common good, to work toward protecting the dignity of every human person and healing the wounds of every kind of violence.

Prayer and sacrifice (which can be a voluntary penance or even the embrace, in faith and love, of the unavoidable sufferings of the present moment) are "activity" that anyone can carry out. They do not replace our specific social and personal responsibilities toward our brothers and sisters in justice and charity. Rather, prayer and sacrifice remain always the vivifying center of the love with which we carry out all our other actions—because we are thus united in our own hearts (which are the origin of our freedom and love) to Christ's crucified love.

We must not allow our actions and our hearts to lose this focus, because the love of Jesus is the only hope for humanity.

Prayer and sacrifice are also a kind of "power" that cannot be taken away from us, no matter how poor and oppressed we are, regardless of sickness, pain, or weakness, in whatever limitations we find ourselves.

This does not, however, give any excuse to those who hold human power to neglect their responsibilities toward those in need. Not only charity, but also justice and the proper use of political power are the concern of all of us and require our vigilance. We are all responsible for cultivating justice, peace, generosity, and community among the persons and in the places we find ourselves, within our particular circumstances with their demands and possibilities, and as members of a larger society. 
We must always do what we can to love those who have been entrusted to us, and each of us is responsible before God for discerning the concrete ways he calls us to be involved in the various levels of political and social life. Prayer is not a substitute for the more "external" work of seeking justice and mercy in human law and civil affairs, protecting the weak, or building up our families, communities, living environments, peoples, nations, and the international community. But prayer is what carries forward all these good works, and it is also what always remains possible even when no other kind of work is possible.

Prayer and sacrificial abandonment of ourselves to the transforming power of Christ are essential elements of the path of grace through which we fulfill our Christian vocation. They also constitute the foundation of Christian Non-violence as a “force” (the supernatural “soul force” of redeeming love) that can impact, change, and enliven from within the course of temporal structures and events according to God’s will. 

Prayer, of course, is more profound than the whole of this world. But because the Incarnation touches everything human, we can say in a sense that prayer is the most fundamental political action. It is also the most "democratic" in that it is always available to everyone, because the Spirit of Jesus is at work in every person's heart. Prayer has the highest aim, in that it directs itself to the One who can do all things, the God of mercy who loves us.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Why Do We Live in This CRAZY-COLD Place?!

When I was very young I used to wonder, “Why do ‘old people’ all move to Florida after they retire?” Seriously, this was (is?) a phenomenon well-known in the immigrant communities of New York City, where I was born and my parents were born. It seemed like whole neighborhoods of Italians and Jews just transplanted themselves from the Bronx to Fort Lauderdale when people reached a certain age. They brought with them bakeries and restaurants, delis (kosher, of course, with those inimitable all-beef frankfurters), the “New Yawwk” accent, fresh Parmesan cheese (long before it became a popular fad), bagels and lox, and even the Yankees, who did Spring Training in Fort Lauderdale. Why did they all go to South Florida?

Why? Very simple explanation, really. It stays warm in the winter. The snow and frigid temperatures we had this past week were really hard on arthritic bodily joints, hard on the immune system, hard on the whole structure of anyone who has logged up lots of “personal high mileage.”

Florida, though… too humid in the summer. Arizona has dry heat, which is easier on the body. Lots of retirees have been heading to Arizona in more recent generations. There's plenty of inexpensive real estate, the cost-of-living is reasonable, the environment is beautiful, and you've got the freakin' Grand Canyon. I'm sure there are many interesting activities. As the southwest has grown as a retirement hub, baseball teams have built up the “Cactus League” for Spring Training. The thing about Arizona, of course, is that it is an actual DESERT. You really can fry eggs on the roof of your car in the summer. It’s no surprise if the temperature tops 110 degrees, which is just too hot even if there’s no humidity. And [other than the already-noted Grand Canyon] it seems awfully far away from… everything (at least, if you’re an East Coast person). Where’s the beach?

Virginia is not far-enough South to stay warm all year round, but we usually have fairly mild winters. Usually

Not this year, however. This past week, the cold was embellished by snow: only a few inches, but it hasn’t gotten warm enough to melt.

January isn’t going to get any better as we grow older. Hmm…Caribbean Islands are looking really good right now. But who am I kidding? I’m not going to leave this beautiful Valley!

Sun. Snow. Freezing Cold. Shenandoah Valley, January 2024.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Importance of Non-Violence

As the USA honors the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we would do well to remember that “non-violence” is as necessary today as ever. In the face of much opposition, tension, and misunderstanding, Dr. King and the African-Americans of the southern United States generated an effective non-violent social movement for racial equality and justice that had a real historical impact, not only in the USA (where much yet remains to be done), but throughout the world. Political practices of nonviolent direct action—boycotts, marches, protests, sit-ins, and suchlike—have become almost “commonplace” in the world of recent history. Perhaps most memorably, the tenaciousness and perseverance of the Polish labor movement Solidarity—inspired in part by Dr. King’s nonviolent witness—began the process that led to the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

Various types of popular-protest-driven “peaceful revolutions” have toppled or modified corrupt dictatorial regimes all over the world. Some have been unsuccessful or have been co-opted by extremist groups. Others (e.g. Ukraine’s Euromaidan movement in 2014) have had success, but have been followed by military invasion by powers that claimed to be threatened by them. From the Philippines to South Africa to Central America to China and Hong Kong, movements of nonviolent inspiration have caught the attention of the world. External “results” might appear to be small, imperiled, or overwhelmed by new crises (or—as in the cases of Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 and Hong Kong’s 2014-2019 “Umbrella Revolution”—plowed under entirely by the institutionalized violence of a relentless bureaucratic PartyState). 

Nevertheless, under God’s loving providence that works on all levels of human history, every genuinely upright action aimed at the recognition of the dignity of the human person is destined to bear fruit for the good. The human aspiration that “hunger[s] and thirst[s] after justice” (Matthew 5:6) is a promise written on the human heart that begs for fulfillment, and that is filled to overflowing by God Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the victory of Christ is present already in this world, and His mercy is glorified when we permit it to give shape to our individual and social lives as we journey toward our final destiny. 

The term “non-violence” itself is hard to define precisely, and I remain convinced that it is compatible with the necessary use of “physical force” in self-defense (which bares no hatred for the aggressor but aims to protect human dignity and human persons who have been entrusted to our care). Using physical (military) force to stop an aggressor involves grave risks, but communities and nations may have no other reasonable course of action in circumstances in which they are subjected to ruthless invasion. Nevertheless, here especially a nonviolent mentality is crucial not only for limiting to a minimum the dangers and destructiveness of military escalation, but also for governing the interior disposition that remains at the heart of the distinction between “force” and “violence” as such. A nonviolent mentality also counters the tendency of war to result in mutual resentments and multigenerational “cycles of violence” that frustrate efforts of constructive dialogue and reconciliation.

Non-violence is a difficult but noble standard which encompasses “loving our enemies even while resisting the evils they perpetrate” and “the ‘power’ that comes from accepting the suffering our enemies inflict upon us without seeking revenge.

The redemptive love of Christ is the power that changes the human heart, that brings about my conversion-of-heart and your conversion-of-heart, the conversion-of-hearts in our communities, and the conversion of our adversaries’ hearts. Conversion is the ever-deepening foundation in human society of the real efficacy of non-violence, the measure of the emergence of that “power”—in society, among peoples, and nations—of nonviolent loving-of-enemies and suffering-affliction-without-hatred; a spiritual power that also extends in significant ways through solidarity with those who suffer unjustly. In such vicarious solidarity we find the fundamentally interrelated value of everyone’s effort—offered with love—to assist those involved in non-violent struggles, and in the efforts to build pathways of understanding and endeavor that can shape a new civil society of peace and gratitude, a new culture of life and encounter, a new civilization of love. 

In the ensuing days when many in the United States will march, pray, fast, and recommit themselves to the need for our society to recognize, protect, and foster the dignity of pre-born human persons and their mothers, it is important to reflect on the tremendously delicate yet crucial and pervasive role of non-violence in meeting the great challenges such recognition entails. It calls for the protection of both human persons, the devotion of respect, affirmation, and care for both human persons, the unconditional love that meets the needs of both human persons, and the sustenance of the wider familial and local communion-of-persons that provides primary support for mothers and children after birth as well as before. There is much needed here in the way of prayer, mercy, solidarity, and active love, but there is no place whatsoever for violence, hatred, or any spirit of vengeance

Non-violence, as understood and practiced by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and those who came after them, doesn’t fit into the framework of ideological individualism, with its factions, its pretenses, it’s resistance to the integral human vocation. It is based on the recognition that human persons created in the image of God are created to love and to be loved, that persons are fulfilled only in communion. This challenges our self-assertiveness and self-indulgence, but if we are followers of Jesus we know that it’s true. We know that He calls us on this path, that His grace will give us the power to follow Him, and that all our struggles against one another and all the sufferings we impose upon one another are not as strong as the power of His saving love and mercy. Those who do not know Christ explicitly as Savior still draw on this power through the implicit bond with Him that exists through their service and recognition of His afflicted brothers and sisters.

And His redemptive love is necessary if we are to even begin to understand how non-violence is possible to our human weakness, or why we should continually return to it and take it up afresh in every circumstance of conflict, no matter how often we fall short. We must persevere in humble love and service. We must pray always and never lose heart.