Monday, February 28, 2011


This picture is from last year (that chair broke and we had to get me a new chair), but its such a typical image of my three middle girls that I thought I would use it for tonight's theme of family fun (left to right, Lucia, Agnese, Teresa).

We played a game after dinner. I'm not sure it has a name. One person gets blindfolded in the living room and then turned around in order to become disoriented. Then another person goes to some other part of that general area of the house and calls out the blindfolded person's name. The blindfolded person has to find the caller. Everyone else watches and laughs at all the silly things that the blindfolded person does. It may sound fairly easy to find someone by following the sound of their voice, but its harder than you think.

Everyone participated and took their turns calling and being blindfolded. We especially had fun with Josefina, of course. But everyone had fun. The blindfold reduced everyone to an equal level, in a way: Mommy and Daddy lose a lot of their advantage when they can't see and the object they seek is small and clever at scrunching itself up in a corner or behind a chair. Don't play this game in a place where you have fancy furniture, things that can be knocked over, or clutter that can cause tripping (perhaps outside would be the best place). We were in pretty open space, but I still found myself groping through the dining room before I finally came upon Lucia in the kitchen. I was surprised to find myself in the kitchen; I didn't think I was going there.

Its an odd phenomenon: to be deprived of a sense. It takes away a great deal of one's capacity. One has to rely on the other senses, which become more attentive. One also has to employ memory and common sense. Practical reasoning comes into play: Which way exactly is the sound coming from? What is this thing I am touching? Where is it in relation to the voice?

We are often presented with analogous kinds of deprivation in daily life (that's part of what makes the game so funny, deep down). "Problems" arise during the course of the day when we are lacking some of the capacities, information, or tools necessary to accomplish our goals. How often this seems to happen. And so we have to improvise. We have to make the best use of what we do have, make prudent guesses about what we need to know, and follow our best instincts. Sometimes we fail and have to start all over again. Sometimes we bungle everything and feel foolish.

Perhaps our entire lives can feel like this: stumbling around in the dark, seeking some voice, making wrong turns and having to start over. But we must not think that this means we are fools.

We are human. We move every day toward a destiny that is mysterious and enormous beyond any of our capacities. When we try and have difficulty, when we fail and have to start over, when we make a bit of a mess of things, lets not put ourselves down and regard ourselves as fools. In real life, it is true, we have help. Destiny has come down and created a path that we can walk even in our weakness. Our human poverty in the face of so many circumstances has been taken into account, and the "problem" that we face and wrestle with and might not be able to solve need not be considered "failure" if we have tried our best with what we have. In any case, we ought not to condemn ourselves. We need to learn to laugh a little at what is, after all, more than a little humorous. Humor is part of the human condition, and every one of us--without exception--is funny. At the depth of this humor one discovers the diamond of joy.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

God Is With Us

Another Brief Excerpt From My Book
Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy

Even when life is a black abyss, we must have faith, because God has promised: “I am with you.” Even when we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we must not give in to fear; which is to say we must not give in to the worm of anxiety that would bite us in a never ending circle, a circle in which we curl ourselves up forever and hate ourselves because we have not the power to make ourselves into gods. “The valley of the shadow”—it’s a long way from Paradise. And yet he is with me. I hold close to him in faith, a faith that comes to life through the breath of love, however faint that breath may be. “You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (see Psalm 23:4).

The rod and the staff may thrash the sheep like heavy blows in order to prevent the sheep from thrusting himself blindly in and out of the thickets of that valley of shadows. The sheep may have to endure the hard stinging snaps of the shepherd staff again and again, because his staff is the only thing the sheep can feel in the darkness, and the shepherd is determined not to lose the sheep; indeed he is determined to keep him as close to himself as possible.

It is probably in the most terrified and the most lost moments of the journey, when we are bleeding from so much running away and rolling in the brambles, that he raises us up and carries us on his shoulders. And we bleat and thrash and struggle because he locks our legs together in his strong hands. It is good that he is so strong. He is stronger. Love is stronger. We must never lose our trust in God. We must hold on to him, in the midst of the fury, with our understanding wherein we know by faith that his promise is true, with our love wherein we already know that his mercy is at the end of all things.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Brief Reflection on Love (Plagiarized From Benedict XVI)

I think there is a great deal of insight in this quotation from Benedict XVI's God is Love (7:2), in which he talks about the distinction between, and at the same time the integration of, eros (or "need love") and agape (or "gift love"). Our need for love, when fulfilled, becomes the source of our greater capacity to give ourselves in love. Human persons are made for relationship; indeed to be a person in action is to be in a relationship of love that involves both giving and receiving. Ultimately we are able to love God because He first loves us: He creates us and sustains us in being, and He enters into intimate relationship with us through His gift of grace in Jesus. God loves us, and so makes it possible for us to love Him, and to love one another. Here are the words of Pope Benedict:

Eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Brainstorming For a New Book

I want to write about someone I love, about a friend, a companion, above all else a mother. My mother. It is a very personal love, and I find it difficult to speak of it. And yet it is a love for a very “public” person, a person visited by millions of people every year. This public person lives in a particular place–she lives there–by means of an image. This image is one of the most extraordinary phenomena on the face of the earth. Scientists can’t explain it. Pilgrims call it a “Presence.” It is an icon, a “window to eternity.” But it is a different kind of icon. Icons open up for us a prayerful access to the Beauty of the New Creation. But this icon is one in which the New Creation opens a window to us; she wants, in a special way, to come to us and make herself accessible to us.*

But why has she come here to this place? Why has she come to my land, to “America,” and what does she want from me? I always ask her for things, and she said that she has come because she wants to listen and to console and to heal, and so this is part of it. But she also wants something from me. I am going to try to respond to her desire. I am going to write a book about this mysterious Presence, this luminous image that still looks out at us after almost 500 years and says, “I am the Mother of the True God, the Creator of all things, the Lord of the near and of the far.” I think she wants to gather us all up, all of North and Central and South America. I think she has plans for the whole world.

But is this not all a little superstitious or overly mystical? The Virgin of Guadalupe is a mysterious painting, granted. It was an image that converted the Aztecs to Christianity. Great. It is a devotion of old Hispanic ladies in black veils who light candles in front of copies of the image in churches in California. That’s nice. Or it’s a tattoo on the arms of Mexican drug dealers. It’s a Mexican “thing,” isn’t it? In any case, it’s just a picture of Mary, one of many pictures of Mary that we find over the course of the past two thousand years.

Mary. There is only one of her, after all. Maryam of Nazareth. Even if she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, God made man, still there is only one Mary. Why does every country have to have a different Mary? Is it just different cultures expressing their love for the Mother of God in different ways? I think it is something more profound than that.

Mary wants to make herself present to her children, her Son’s brothers and sisters, in as concrete a way as possible. She wants to be seen. She knows that children need to see their mother. Indeed, if you are a mother, you know that you need to use all kinds of tricks to get your children’s attention. Mary has seven billion children, and most of them are not paying attention.

The icon of the Mother of America has a particular reason for soliciting attention. Nobody painted it. Its not anybody’s cultural expression. It contains symbols that resonated with the Mexica people and their neighbors in the 16th century, but it is not confined to this symbolism. Contrary to what is often said, she is not dressed as an Aztec princess. Her features are not a combination of Spanish and Indian. She is beyond the divisions of races and cultures, encompassing and transcending them all. She is something that is not from this world. If we believe the story of Guadalupe, then we must recognize that the image is her expression of herself.

What I found when I went as a pilgrim to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was something that I did not expect. I found a very personal presence. I found my mother.

© 2011 by John Janaro. All rights reserved.

*In considering Guadalupe as icon, I must acknowledge a debt to the truly inspirational book/memoir of another surprised pilgrim and a man who has seen many things, the German journalist for Die Welt, Paul Badde. An English translation of Maria of Guadalupe: Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts is available from Ignatius Press. Here is a link:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Questions (Not Answers) About Work

“Work” is a phenomenon that I often think about. My wife and I do a great deal of very valuable work, in addition to building a home and raising a family. She is a Montessori teacher and works very hard and very long at it (in addition to being a truly great mother). I taught at a college for many years, and now I write and lecture as much as I can. Both of us experience what should be normal in the realm of human work, namely, we have some sense of accomplishment in the fruits of our labor.

Forming and guiding the minds of others, communicating understanding, even successfully articulating ideas in the form of comprehensible words–all of this involves true human labor. It involves craftsmanship in its own way, and it draws on the same fundamental human energies and practical skills as the making of tables and chairs or the plowing and harvesting of fields. The “sweat of the brow” is there. So are the “thorns and thistles” of frustration and failure. But the “bread” is made, the bread of the deepening and broadening of the personality and therefore of the capacity to be more and give more; the “bread” of a conscious contribution to the building up of human community by the giving of something that comes from myself, and that therefore “invests” me more–as a person–in the life of the community.

I think every human being who works should have some taste of this bread.

So we work hard. And we earn our bread. But then there is this other thing: money. We get very little of that, at least proportionately speaking. We would make much more money working at Wal-Mart. Still, this is America. Enough “trickles down” to us that we can eat and live daily life in a way that would make us the envy of kings in former ages. But by modern American standards, the house is too small and the budget is too tight. What we have is children and love and creativity and art and poetry and music and books and conversation and fun. And T.V. And more than our fair share of gadgets and junk.

That’s our life. It is far from perfect. But I think we have learned something about the real value of work. As for money...well, the money for the kind of things we do just doesn’t seem to be “there”. So we make do with what we can get.

Other people live differently. They have more things. They have more money. Or perhaps they have less things and less money. But whatever the case, what motivates them to work is not to not to bring forth from their talents and labor realities that bear the stamp of their own personality and that contribute to the building up of the human community. What motivates them to work is money. They work, purely and simply, in order to get money.

I think there is something wrong with this mentality.

It is a natural human thing for the worker to have a real interest in the thing he produces, because the worker is a person, and what he makes or contributes to making remains always in some sense "his," an expression of himself (see JPII, Laborem Exercens,). I don’t know if the fostering of this interest is the concern of economics or culture, or what role the government might play in relation to the social institutions (or lack thereof) of our communities and the stability of our families. Perhaps the lack of this interest has its roots in broader social problems.

All I know is that our society raises big questions about a healthy relation between the person, his work, and the truly human way of participating in the fruits of labor. Something is skewed, off balance, just plain wrong about the way we as a society approach work.

As I said, I don’t know what all this has to do with “economics” and I don’t feel prepared at this point to enter that debate. But a few basic points strike me. A healthy economy, it seems to me, is based on "meeting needs," and flourishes when work is (somehow) coordinated with the real, concrete material, cultural, and social needs of a human community worthy of being called a civilization. In our economy, however, work seems to be focused on "creating and stimulating desires." The result is that material needs are met (since we have no control over their clamoring demands) but instead of the construction of a healthy culture, we are witnessing the massive consumption and production of JUNK. We have what I would call a "junk economy."

People speak of the virtue of a “free market” economy in meeting human needs. I do not want to argue this point. What I want to understand is why we have–in fact–an economy whose engines are vanity, lust, gluttony, sloth, and avarice? I know that good people don't want this. They want a virtuous free market. But, alas, most of us are not virtuous. I do not exclude myself. I am a member of this society. I have never had much money, but with what I have had I have still participated too much in the junk economy. I own plenty of junk. I am a man who is vulnerable to having my desires manipulated. Which is to say, I am a man. I suffer from the effects of “original sin,” that most empirically verifiable of Christian doctrines. A human being is weak. That is one (though not the only) reason why human beings are social beings, made to live together and strengthen one another.

Economy, like everything else, needs to serve the cultivation of the higher virtues (i.e. not just "industriousness" and “cleverness”). How to do it? I don't know.

But there seems to me something unhealthy about how we work today, about the relationship between our work and what it accomplishes: we work for money and we don't care about the actual reality (product, service, or whatever) that is the fruit of our labor, or we care about it only in a secondary and lazy sort of way. Something is wrong with this. How can it be resolved?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Msgr. Giussani and Me

Tonight I must dedicate my blog to the memory of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, and to the charism that continues to live in the Church and in the world through his tireless ministry of more than 50 years. Today marks the sixth anniversary of his death. Especially precious to me are my memories of the man. Twenty years ago, I spoke with this man and told him my confused ideas about what I thought I should do with my life. Suddenly he interrupted me, grasped me by the arm--he grasped me; I will never forget that grasp--and said, "be a teacher!" And then he said, "You will be a great teacher!"

It took a couple of years of wandering and wondering before I became a teacher. But his counsel kept me on a path which I still tread to this day, although now I am a teacher in an unconventional manner. The classroom was my home for many years, but now I no longer raise my voice in a classroom. I spend my days with my laptop and my books and--when the weather allows--the sweet air of a country town and its ground beneath my feet. I write, as my strength permits me, and I work with my children. And, paradoxically, my "class" seems to have grown. A book I never would have written is being read by all kinds of people, and the circulation is growing.

I do not know if I am a "great teacher." But I do know that I cannot become "great" except by following something greater than myself, and to allow the One who is Greatness to shape my path. In these present days, that path is in many ways strange and unknown. But I am not lost. I have Someone to follow. I thank Msgr. Giussani for teaching me this, and for continuing to teach me through the movement of life that God has infused into the Church through his witness.

For more about Luigi Giussani and the Catholic ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation see this link:

For information about my book, see the sidebar or click

Monday, February 21, 2011

Am I Turning My Child Into A Geek?

We're not big on computer games. The kids have very limited computer play time. We want them to use their time exploring the world, making things, drawing, playing outside, reading books, inventing games, and in general being in a position where their creativity is drawn out.

They have virtually nothing that goes "beep". The little girls have toys and paper dolls and real dolls and lots of stuffed animals. The older girls knit and sew and make things with beads; they also have all kinds of girly things, stuff for their hair and clothes and many things that males of the species can never really understand. John Paul has cars and baseball cards and legos and konnects and all that kind of stuff. My kids actually have pen pals--they write letters to their friends and are thrilled to receive letters in return (I must say, I miss that special feeling of getting an actual letter in the mail, written by friend or loved one in their own hand).

We're not anti-electronic. I gave John Paul my old video camera, and they make up funny videos. And we have nothing against computers. But we want the kids to learn to inhabit their environment in such a way that the computer can take its relative place within that larger world. So we are gradually habituating them to the mysterious powers of the computer. The internet thus far has remained a limited experience for them too, and always under the supervision of Mommy or Daddy.

But things are beginning to evolve for John Paul. He is 13 going on 14, smart, and has a knack with gadgets. So I decided to cut him loose on the computer. I've let him pretty much take control of the family desktop, and he has organized it internally and externally--consolidating files and untangling wires. Its great. We have a new background screen every day. He has loaded programs I never knew we had.

And I've made it his project. I don't answer questions (usually because I don't know the answers). He says, "What's this for?" and I say, "I don't know; figure it out." And he figures it out. This is great, because I hate computer stuff--I don't care HOW it works as long as it works. And I have zero patience with problems. For me step one is throw the thing out the window and shout nasty words that I'm not supposed to say in front of the children. He is patient. He is learning to fix problems, and seems to enjoy the challenge. The other day, he was messing with something and suddenly yelled, "DARN!" and I said, "ha! like father like son," and he calmly replied, "yes, but notice I said darn."

Right now, the digital camera is his constant companion. I'll probably upload some of his better shots when I get the chance.

John Paul is learning to use the computer as a tool, a means to an end, a medium that has a purpose. He is not getting sucked into it. That is what I want. We have to learn to use these technological instruments to enrich life, the larger life, the life of the spirit and of freedom, of human relationships and love. I want my children to learn (and I want to learn too) that there is a Person at the other end of every action they perform, a Person who is loved primarily through and in the persons in our lives who need our love and our attention, who benefit from our talents and the fruits of our labor--whether it comes from the use of global-linking technology or from the use of a cloth to wipe the table.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

He Knows who I am

Tonight I post a brief excerpt from my book
Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy.

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 lives in us and suffers in us and through us. He accompanies us through our companionship with one another and reaches out to others through our witness.

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 child” that I am meant to be in Him for all eternity. And so my joys and sufferings are His infinitely wise, uniquely crafted, and tender love through which He shapes my life and leads me to my destiny.

How little I really understand about my “destiny.” How little I understand about the “eternal life” which means belonging to Him 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.” No matter the storms and the fury; the depths of our lives are not solitude. At the heart of life, of every moment of life, there is companionship with the Merciful God.

There is Someone with us in our lives, every moment. There is Someone “on the other side” of our prayers, listening, full of tender love, wanting to bestow mercy on us every moment with an attentiveness and care infinitely greater than that of any father or mother for their children.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Pizza is Getting Cold

We're overdue for an unplanned, stream of consciousness type of blog entry. We're having a late dinner and its "almost ready" so I may have to scoot away. There are Teresa and Lucia, acting pretty much in character. We had a great day today because the weather was so warm. Warm days in winter are great: the cabin-fever atmosphere is broken and the living sphere expands. Everybody goes outside. We had a stunning moonrise tonight. Mommy said, "look at the moon," and the kids all ran out, grabbing whatever footwear was available (which meant both pairs of my shoes--they wear my shoes all the time). I was stuck in my socks!

Where does beauty come from? We are suddenly struck: "what a beautiful moon!" The heart lifts up. The heart cries out, "wonder-ful." Where does this sense of wonder come from? Why can't we capture it, freeze it and hold onto it forever? We want that, don't we? Beauty forever. Who would say "no" to that?

And yet it eludes us. The moon fades. The day passes. The pizza is ready and its time to eat. Then it will be "time" for something else. Yet the experience of life is always hinting "eternity"--it says to us, "this joy should last...." And our hearts respond, "I want forever." Is it a lie, a trick, a tragedy, this life of ours with its hope? No. It must be true. Never give up. Seek the Beauty that reality points to every day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Empress of the Americas (that means all of us)

There is much discussion about the social problems that plague our country today. Good Catholics that I know tend to agree on social issues where the moral point is clear, such as abortion and pornography. But I find many diverse opinions on more debatable issues such as how to deal with economic problems, what to do about health care, foreign policy, etc. One particularly thorny problem is that of immigration reform, and our relationship with our neighbors to the south. I don't know how to solve this problem, and I respect the diverse and difficult concerns that my Catholic friends raise on various sides of the issue. As I develop my own thoughts on this matter, however, I do find myself compelled to place it within a broader context which I believe has been indicated to us Catholics in the United States by the Universal Church.

I believe that we Anglo-American Catholics are called to a special solidarity with our southern neighbors, especially Hispanic Catholics. This conviction arises not only from historical and geographical circumstances, but also and in particular from the plea of the Pope and the bishops of this hemisphere at the Synod on America, which resulted in the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (1999)--I was privileged to be present in Mexico City when this document was promulgated, and my attendance at related papal events has permanently imprinted upon me the deep significance of the need for solidarity among the peoples of "the American continent." And this solidarity is rooted in a particular way in our being placed--in common--under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I have made three times a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe; her presence on our soil is a special blessing that has never ceased to astonish me and fill me with hope; she is indeed the Mother of all who dwell in what she called "this land" back before there were any borders. For Americans, in my opinion, this is not just another Marian devotion (for us especially, but not only for us, because the reality at the shrine is a living miracle; as an image of Mary, nothing like it exists--it is as scientifically inexplicable as the Shroud, and the only way to describe it is to say that it is the "presence" of Mary, as she told St. Juan Diego, "build me a house," and "I will dwell there"). We Americans must come to know Our Lady of Guadalupe, we should have her image in our homes and in our hearts, we should pray to her for healing of the ills that beset our country and our continent.

What I have just said is supremely relevant to the actual social issues in our country today, and to how we approach them. To be sure, we deal hands on with specific problems. We are human beings. But God became man. He wants to live the details of our lives with us, and bring forth with us the fruits of community, solidarity, healing, and peace. He wants to build up among us the social goal we seek: a culture of life. Even more, He Himself--present, acknowledged, celebrated, and loved--is the culture of life, because "He is life" and even those who don't know Him seek Him insofar as they seek the truth about life.

If we want a culture of life, we must first of all ask Him for life. We must pray. We all think that we already know this, but I don't think we really understand what this means for how we live and think and make decisions. I don't understand it. I will forget about God within five minutes after I finish writing this. But I think it has something to do with prayer being at the center of our decisions and actions, rather than floating around the periphery. In prayer is the awareness that we depend totally on God and that He is present, now, with us in Jesus Christ. This is at the center, at the core, at the depths of every moment and every thing. This is what it is all about. How easy this is to forget.

God gives us signs to help us remember. For America, one of the great signs is Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let's face it, in the United States we know very little of her, pray very little to her, and care very little about her. This is a SHAME. She is our Mother, and she is HERE (if you go you will understand what I mean). Even if we can't visit her, we can honor her, we can recognize this extraordinary presence among us, who is closer to where we live than many of our own relatives.

Let me close with a bold statement. I do not believe that we Catholics will succeed in any of our hopes for the future of the United States unless we place Our Lady of Guadalupe at the center. She didn't come here for nothing. She has a plan. The Virgin is very concrete--she is, after all, a woman dealing with little children. Let us embrace her plan for America.

Oh, and P.S.--The first copy of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe ever to reach Europe was displayed on board the flagship of the Christian fleet that defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. If you know your history, you know that the loss of that battle would have resulted in the destruction of Christian Europe. The Ottoman Empire would have ruled from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. There would have been no one to found the United States.

So who knows what kind of plans she has....

START NOW: Download and print your own color reproduction of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Go to this website--

And if you want to know more about Our Lady of Guadalupe, please ask me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life Love Freedom Fire

What follows is a meditation that is trying to be a poem. It speaks of God's love and justice and mercy, and of the mystery of the gift of being that I have been discussing in this blog. I do write real poems, so I know that this is not polished. This is the way it came out. Just take it as it is:

Life Love Freedom Fire

He loves us.
He loves us.
He loves each of us.
He loves all of us.
Even if we drive Him away
Every day
Even if we run away
Each and every day
Even if we run away
through all our times; all our days.

He calls us to be free.
He will never force us
to accept His embrace.
But He cannot change
Who He is.
makes me to be.
He gives me myself.
I am His gift to me,
this is reality.
I am His gift;
He has no need for me.
And that is why
He gave me to myself,
to be my own.
I belong to myself.
No one, no thing
will make a slave of me.
He has made me free.
Not even He
will capture me.

But He who made me
is LOVE,
and love acts for love alone;
thus only love is free.
He is Love,
and He made me.
He made me for love.
He made me for Himself,
for Love acts for Love alone.
So He will never cease to love;
His love is a consuming fire
far greater than my desire.
If I say Yes He enters in
a light transforming from within
If I say No, He still says Yes
for Love is Love, and faithfulness.
He cannot say No to me
even if it tortures me
for then I would no longer be.
I am His gift to me
in Love He created me;
in Love He makes me
to be me;
this is His gift,
my reality
for Love can only love.

If love is not my desire,
still I am immersed in fire;
not changed
for I will not face
the open arms of His embrace.
Yet still, for Love says only Yes
forever and in faithfulness
to me, even if I myself
do not want to be myself.
Still Love says Yes to me.
Still Love wants me to be.
Consuming fire, forever flame
feels like unending pain
because I remain
outside and cold,
without the Light
that gives me to myself.

O God of Love who makes me be
Grant that I say Yes to you, to me.
Then I am freedom life and love
filled with fire from above
in the undying yes of love.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

This is a Lousy Column (Well, Maybe Not...)

Another day nears its end. It is very hard to believe that these days have any significance in the great scheme of things, or even in my own life. Time plods on relentlessly. Its been a pretty good day, I guess. I did a radio interview for my book. How did it go? I think it went alright. The kids want to watch a video and they can't find the remote, again. Josefina is spilling peanuts on the floor; why is she eating them in the living room? Oh yeah, I told her she could.

I am tired. I am always tired; its part of my condition (for more on that, see the link to my book). I have learned to live with being tired. I am writing today's entry because I am determined to blog every day (except Sunday). I am a writer, and writers write.

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 going on in the world. I guess I am not surprised that people are materialists. What seems to be their experience--the appearance of things--is dull, monotonous, and seemingly beneath the level of their interest. Stuff.

But I have faith. I believe that God became man and dwells in the midst of all this stuff. But today I am not going to do a very good job of explaining why that is important. Today I am oppressed by stuff, and I find it very difficult to recognize Christ's presence in the midst of it all. I believe, and I summon myself to pray. Prayer. This is everything. But I don't feel like praying.

Just do it. I don't feel like talking to God right now--He seems very remote. So I'll use the words I've been given. Sacred Scripture: The Psalms. O Lord open my lips / O God make haste to help me. The Church's prayers: the Memorare. The name of Jesus. The name of Jesus. The name of Jesus. Jesus I trust in You.

I am a writer, so I write. I am a human person, so I pray. We are extremely weak, fragile, apparently insignificant specks of cosmic dust whirling about a great universe. It seems as if all things follow their course and then disappear, and that they have been doing so for millions of years. Unless there is Something greater than the universe to rescue them? We have a choice: prayer or the void. Prayer or nothingness. Prayer turns to God and says, "You are here." Emotionally and intellectually the experience of prayer can seem dry and insignificant just like everything else we do. That is the great lie: that prayer is just more stuff that I do during the day. Prayer is something that God does in me. He whispers in my heart. If the desire to lift my mind and heart to God stirs within me--however faint and weak and wretched that desire may seem--it means that God is attracting my heart, He is drawing me 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. There. I prayed it. I lacked ardor. I didn't pay attention to the words. I begin the words and my mind was immediately sucked back into the stuff that surrounds me and that appears so real, the stuff that is perishing all around me, the void....

Still, an event took place within my heart. Saying the words is the beginning of the affirmation of eternity. God will bring the rest: the attention, the conversation, the conviction, the transformation of the way I look at reality. He will do so in His time, according to His plan. But I must be faithful. I 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 nothingness. Jesus. His very name is a prayer. "God saves." God, save me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day and the Blessed Trinity

Love, huh? Its an amazing thing, this "love" impetus and need 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 we don't even know what it is. We are fooled by cheap deceptions that pose as love. We are ready to run to anything that promises "love." But hopefully, through relationships with other people, we experience and grow in the reality of true love. Even still, it remains a mystery.

Ultimately, it is a mystery because it is at the core of our being in the image of God. The human person is made in the image of God! Don't get down on yourself. You are worthy of love. And you are capable of love. The reality of love is a possibility in every circumstance: in the family, at work, in the loneliness that can be offered as suffering, in difficulties patiently borne, in a concentration camp, in the intolerable dullness of an ordinary day wherein God secretly invites us to embrace the mystery of His ineffable plan. 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, God is the eternal embrace that we all long to give and receive in love.

But who am I to talk of such things. Let Pope Benedict XVI put things in perspective. Here is a quotation that is well worth pondering:

In the light of the Pascal Mystery is fully revealed the center of the universe and of history: God himself, eternal and infinite Love. The word that summarizes all revelation is this: "God is love" (I John 4:8, 16); and love is always a mystery, a reality that surpasses reason without contradicting it, and more than that, exalts its possibilities.
Jesus revealed to us the mystery of God: he, the Son, made us know the Father who is in Heaven, and gave us the Holy Spirit, the Love of the Father and of the Son. Christian theology synthesizes the truth of God with this expression: only one substance in three persons. God is not solitude, but perfect communion. For this reason the human person, the image of God, realizes himself or herself in love, which is a sincere gift of self.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Kids for Sale: Free Shipping

The Kids wanted me to write about them tonight. That is what happens when you ask the kids for suggestions about topics for writing. "Write about us!" At least that's what my kids say; I wrote a short chapter about the family in my book, and as far as the kids are concerned, its just "this book with a chapter about us in it."
The picture over there is about a year old, but its funny because they all fit in the big box that my chair came in (see "the chair" below). They would probably still all fit, but John Paul has definitely grown. And Josefina does not use a pacifier anymore (for a long while she needed one to help with digestion).
So what shall I say about them. They are wonderful. Really. People say, "Oh you have such wonderful children." We do. Normal, of course--good heavens they are normal. We've jumped through all the pre-adolescent kid hoops and the two oldest are on the threshold (indeed have already begun) that tumultuous time of external and internal change, decision, and expansion into the wider world. When you say 13 or almost 14, parents who have raised their children to adulthood go, "heh, heh, heh, now comes the hard part." Well, bring it on. I think they are going to turn out OK, with the help of God.
Why are my children so wonderful? First of all, its because they have a terrific mother. That is number one and cannot be replaced by any other factor. My wife gives, and gives, and gives, and it fills me with awe. The fruits can be seen in the children. To all mothers I say, "you hold the world in your hands. You are the builders of the future of humanity."
I don't want to give the impression that this is some fairy tale. My kids are rambunctious, they argue, they sulk, they think the floor is where you put things, and they would live amidst piles of chaos if they were not driven to clean it up, clean it up over and over again. But its also a fun, expressive, sometimes silly house full of love. And we pray together every day, and bless one another.
My home and my children have been a support to me in times of illness. When one's capacity to engage life is limited, one has a heightened appreciation of the companionship that is the family community. That is another reason why they are so dear to me.
Finally, there is the mystery of it all. Fifteen years ago, none of the beings existed. From a biological perspective, the genetic combinations that brought these five particular beings into existence (rather than some others) seem so fragile and even fortuitous. And yet to look at the face of a child is to see an eternal destiny, loved in the heart of God from all eternity, a destiny bound up with the face of God made man and the blood He shed on the cross for them, for these particular children. I did not create them, I did not plan them, I did not design them, and I do not control them. Sixteen years ago, I fell in love with a woman because, in part, God wanted these human beings to exist and to live and love for all eternity. He has entrusted this plan of His to us, and it requires us to be attentive to Him, responsive to Him, and aware of the mystery that He is working inside of each of them. So it is in dependence on Him--begging every moment for His healing and transforming mercy on me--that I look at my children and call them wonderful, and that I hold with firm hope that they will be brought through all the winds of life to the perfection of which their bright little faces are but a hint, the perfection of the glory of God.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt: What Next?

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a foreign land. This is an Ethiopian Coptic Icon of the flight into Egypt. Ethiopian Icons, and Ethiopian Christianity, are a topic in their own right, but I shall save it for another time. They were evangelized by the ancient Egyptian Church. I dwell on the sorrow and resignation in the face of Mary, and the weariness of Joseph.

Today the Egyptian "protest" officially became a "Revolution." That excites the American imagination: the people triumphing over tyranny. It is a kind of national myth (which does not hold up to examination--American independence was a unique political and cultural event, but that too is a story for another day).
What is really happening in Egypt? The military have basically staged a coup in order to restore stability to the country. With the eyes of the world upon them, the military will probably manage a transition to some sort of parliamentary democracy in which, increasingly, the controlling faction will be the well organized and politically astute faction that calls itself the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps under other names, they will enter the political mainstream with promises of a new Egypt. It will have many modern, secular elements. Perhaps the economy will thrive. But the sharia law will find its way into a society that already approves of many of its elements. This kind of subtle Islamicisation is in process already in Turkey, where the dome of Hagia Sophia still waits to have its cross restored after 600 years.
The Coptic Christians will be increasingly alienated and marginalized. Evangelization, already effectively restricted by the culture, will be forbidden by law as well: in sharia, the penalty for conversion from Islam to Christianity is death. In Afghanistan--another experiment in Islamic democracy--a man has been sentenced to execution for conversion, and Catholic and other Christian churches and communities live secret lives.
An alternative culture is arising. It is a culture that is anti-Western for many good reasons. It offers a proposal for human existence that is strong and purposeful. It is full of the idealism that attracts youth. It has deep roots in history. And it is willing to appropriate the technological tools (and weapons) of the West, even as it rejects Western enlightenment skepticism. It appeals to the roots of the human heart, the religious sense: it offers a proposal for the meaning of life. Western secularism, for all its glitter, does not have the power to prevail against the rise of the New Islam.
Islam has many beautiful elements, and many, many Muslims are good people. But Islam is exclusive: as the only true religion, it sees itself as destined to rule the world. It is true that Christianity is also exclusive, and claims to be the only true religion. But Islam is a system, and its means of propagation is power. Christianity is a person, and its means of propagation are relationship, freedom, and love. Islam is a religion of coercion (many Muslims do not live it this way, but that is the secret of God working in their hearts). Christianity is about communion and love. Yes, Christians have tried to coerce in the past, but these efforts have resulted in failure.
The West must rediscover its Christian roots, its Christian soul, or it will whither and die in spirit even as it conquers the world with its technologically enhanced decadence and all its gadgets. The New Islam will rise. They will have children. They will thrive on the earth.
But who will teach them to love? How will they ever learn about Jesus Christ?
It is time for the West to discover anew the Man without whom it has no identity and nothing to offer the human heart.
The West must discover Jesus Christ once again, its foundation and its source of renewal. Only thus can it speak to the forces that are rising in the lands where Jesus once laid his head.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Its evening, and I am tired. So I am just going to represent a very brief selection from something that I have already written (you may recognize it if you've read a certain book). In a way, the selection below ties in with my thoughts in a previous blog entry on Existence and Mercy. It also has to do with another recurring theme in this blog: realism. The presence and action of God in our lives is reality. Its not our "religious opinion"--its not the position the we choose to hold among the various theories of the universe. It is the way things really are. He is here. My prayer is that I might grow in the awareness of this presence. The selection below is about waking up in the morning Here it is:

As soon as we awaken each morning, let us offer our first thoughts to God.
The truth is that the first person I encounter every morning when I open my eyes is God. Everything around me is God’s creation, through which he greets me. I breathe in his air and open my eyes to his light. The day, with all its hopes and its trials, rushes into my mind; hopes and trials out of which he will build the road that will lead me on my journey for this day. The amazing thing is that even on the worst of days I can still remember that this is true.
Offering our life to God first thing in the morning is a way of acknowledging with gratitude that that our being, our life, and everything we have belongs to him. I am who I am because I am His creature. Everything that is “Me” is the effect, here and now, of his direct and personal creative and sustaining love. This is what matters, even without professional honors, or a job, or even the ability to do much of anything. His love is everything. Outside of that love there is “nothing.”
I give thanks to the Lord that He has grounded my life in His Truth. Suffering can drive me to forget, or lose focus. But reality remains what it is, and Jesus holds onto me inside that reality and enables me to remember it. He does this through the mystery of His Church, His people who for two thousand years have risen each morning and offered their prayers to God. And so, when I wake up, in whatever condition, with whatever misery or whatever happy expectation, the truth is that I am not alone. I am invited to pray in union with the whole people of God, with the angels and saints, with every creature that exists to sing His praise.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our Josefina

I think today's blog will be about Josefina. She is my youngest daughter, aged four, but she is a very special kind of child who has already overcome a few difficulties in life.

Why have I decided to write about Josefina? Because she is hanging on to me right now. Josefina is little enough to squeeze her way into my chair. I have the computer in my lap and she is holding onto my hand to "help" me. Now she is trying to use my fingers to type. Shall I let her do it and see what comes out?

BFSSFBGDVADADVBSSBD sssss FDDfDCVsG WQWWScSD1RWEREEEEEDdseqewwe There: Josefina says, "we did it. Look how many words!" She has two little books in her hands, which she is using to obstruct the screen while I write, which means that sometimes I can't see the screen. Here's Cleo the Cat. And here is Chloe the Cow. She insisted I inform you of the titles of these two important books.

Josefina was born on October 26, 2006, some seven weeks premature, with an undeveloped intestinal tract. I baptized her as soon as she was born, which means of course that there is a special bond between us. (The chaplain arrived some minutes later and administered Confirmation, which in the Latin rite is given to babies who are in danger of death). She was then transported to Fairfax Hospital for emergency surgery, where the neonatalogists amazingly connected her intestinal tract, using surgical techniques that were truly marvelous. She was then put into an incubator with a intravenous feeding tube, and given her place in the "NICU" (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).

We were told that when the operation healed and she began digesting normally, we could bring her home. But Josefina kept having setbacks. Weeks turned into months. In March she needed another emergency surgery. There were some scary moments. There were infections, breathing complications. My mother-in-law came from California to take care of the house and kids while Eileen drove every day to Fairfax to be with Josefina (I was still working full time at the school). I went to the hospital as often as I could and took videos so that the other children could see their sister. The whole experience contributed to the subsequent ruin of my health (for more about that, go to the link to NEVER GIVE UP: MY LIFE AND GOD'S MERCY and order my book). It was an extraordinarily difficult and uncertain time for all of us.

But Josefina made it. She finally came home on May 16, 2007, almost seven months after she was born. She started out with a nasal-gastric feeding tube, but soon she was on her own. She has scars from the surgery and where the intravenous tubes were inserted--occasionally when I see them I remember all that she has been through. (Wait, a pink teddy bear is being thrown at the computer screen--STOP).

She has occasional digestive problems and a moderate asthmatic condition, but is otherwise fine. She is still on the small side, very verbal, very social, and irresistibly cute. That's why I've been letting her climb all over me (now she's off coloring--whoever invented crayons is one of my favorite SAINTS). I am, obviously, wrapped around her little finger.

The girl that is always prancing around this house is a miracle. We so wanted her. In 2006 I seemed to be getting well, and back to a regular work schedule. We prayed for another child. Josefina was specially loved from the very beginning. She got such dedicated care in the hospital; it was evidence of the possibility and the desire of people in our culture to do good, of the instinct for life that still endures and even spurs the progress of neonatal medicine. How can hospitals perform life-saving wonders for premature babies in one place, and destroy them by abortion in another?

Everything has gone crazy since 2007. My lifestyle has changed dramatically, as has Eileen's, and here is this wonderful four year old girl with dimples who rules the house. We never expected any of this. But we are doing our best to respond creatively to the circumstances and above all begging God to take care of us.

Really, you cannot plan your life. Affluence has made us forget this. Of course, one makes prudent decisions and looks toward the future as far as one is able to judge its probable course. But we are not in control. Our possession of things is fragile. Really, we hold on to God's plan, with prayer and hope, because He brings good out of everything.

I better go see what kind of mess Josefina is making....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Creation and God's Mercy

This is a bit of a philosophical experiment. I marvel at this mysterious thing that we call "existing." It all points to God, of course, but I wonder if it points in any particular way to His mercy. I think it does.

God's mercy is the manifestation of His love for us when we are in need--in that which we cannot do for ourselves. We think of mercy primarily in terms of God's deliverance of us from our sins. But the fact is that even the most fundamental thing that I "do"--which is to exist--is not something that I accomplish "by myself," by my own power. I find myself existing before I even begin to think of doing anything. My being here right now is an event and I am not making it happen. But I am so grateful for it. I exist. I think even this simple fact is matter of mercy.

God's mercy is the source of my hope for eternal life, and I know that I depend completely on Him for my salvation. But without God's creative love, there would be no "I" at all. I am, by definition, poverty and neediness. So is every created thing. Really, the mercy of God is at the heart of everything; it is the foundation of all reality.

We can see the mercy of God everywhere around us, because everything we are and everything we have is, first of all, His gift. The astounding gift of created being manifests the attributes of God: His omnipotence, His love, His justice, His wisdom. It also manifests His mercy. For there is nothing more “needy,” more “indigent” than the utter poverty of “nothingness,” which is what we would all be (or, rather “not-be”) without the constant, particular, attentive care of God. Here of course we are talking about “nothingness” in a certain ontological context. In the abstract sense, in the terms of metaphysics, “nothing” is simply nothing, and therefore it is neither poor nor rich, neither “lost” nor needy. What we are referring to here is the “nothingness,” the “not-existing” of persons and things that are part of God’s created plan, as well as what is “left” of persons and things when we put in brackets God’s transcendent yet at the same time “super-immanent” causal and sustaining love.

So, in a sense, one could say that “mercy” is the foundation of the whole created universe. Nothing would exist without mercy. Nothing would exist if God did not in, in the superabundance of His Goodness, freely will to create beings, loving them into existence and activity. For a creature there is no “outside of God” or “independence from God.” Indeed it is worth noting that even the rejection of God cannot be accomplished without using the very human freedom that God has given us and that continues to be utterly dependent on Him for its sustenance and exercise. In and from ourselves we are “nothing.” God, however, is continually establishing, sustaining, and empowering us by His creative love. He is “loving” us right now in a manner which sustains us in our own being, and He holds our capacities, our talents, and our freedom; it is He who enables the human person to do great things, penetrating in an ineffable way the very root of our freedom, so that we can act in a way that is truly “our own,”–a way in which we really accomplish and personally possess “the Good”–while at the same time recognizing that everything we do springs forth from the Divine Mercy, from God whom St. Augustine said is “nearer to me than I am to myself.” Our “achievements” are initiated by God, sustained by Him, and brought to completion in Him. Without Him we can do “nothing.”

But it is not a show. We are not puppets. God really creates. I am totally dependent upon Him, and yet--precisely because of His transcendent creative power--I really belong to myself, He makes me in such a way that I really have my own being.

Ineffable gift. Is this not mercy, that in Him we live and move and have our being?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Heart Speaks to God

We understand that God's plan is mysterious. We pray, we offer, we try to embrace the sacrifices of daily life. What people often don't understand is how this deepens the sense of tenderness toward the world and other persons, toward the little things; how it makes for a greater awareness of the preciousness of life and all the gifts and the joys that God has given us in this world. We believe that the Mystery--God's love--is at the depths of everything, and that with Him nothing is lost, nothing! This is what the human heart asks for: EVERYTHING. And Jesus Christ is the answer to our heart's plea. Resurrection. Our destiny is a fulfillment in which we shall find everything anew; the gifts of God and the promises they awaken in our hearts are destined to be fulfilled. God and His world are NOT LYING TO US.

Resurrection. Then we shall love and be loved. There will be no more tears, no more separation, no more of that sense of division between joy and suffering, which is the pilgrimage of this life--a life in which the more deeply we possess something, the more deeply aware we are that the ultimate value and beauty of what we possess remains beyond us and beyond our power to grasp--we cry out for what we love in faith and hope, we beg for that "ultimate" that becomes more evident and more painfully absent in the measure that we really risk in love, and in allowing ourselves to be loved in this life.

We find this especially in the experience of loss. Loss seems to contradict love, and even though we know it is part of God's plan, part of our journey; even though we know that it is shaping and preparing our hearts for that fulfillment God has promised us, it remains--in this life--a darkness, an absence, a wound in the heart that is a sign. It is a sign that our destiny remains before us, that we have not yet attained happiness, that our life remains a state of begging before God. It is impressed upon the heart, and it manifests itself in ways that must not frighten us--rage, helplessness, distress, the lament of "Why, O God?" Misery. Grief.

We must abandon ourselves. We must let the heart pray. We don't understand these groanings but God does. Let the heart pray. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit...."(Romans 8:26-27).

Grief need not become despair. It is the Spirit moving our hearts to speak to God in ways that are beyond our thoughts and understanding. Grief is poured out. Grief is prayer. It does not forget that God is faithful to His promise.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jesus in Egypt

I have been trying to think of something intelligent to say about the situation in Egypt. But the simple fact is that I don't know what is going to happen there.

Egypt is an Islamic country with a large Coptic Christian minority (some of whom are in full communion with the Catholic Church, while others are not but maintain a cordial relationship). The Christian presence in Egypt dates back to apostolic times, and to the great Patriarchal See of Alexandria. Egypt has given the Church some of her greatest saints: St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Alexandria. Christian monasticism has its origins in the deserts of Egypt.

But we can go back further. Egypt is holy land. The Chosen People sojourned in Egypt during the days of famine, when the Lord blessed Joseph. The Lord God works wonders through Moses, delivering His people from slavery, parting the waters, leading them through the desert. God gave the Commandments on Mt. Sinai, He fed the people with manna from heaven, and quenched their thirst with water from the Rock. And then, fleeing the wrath of Herod, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to live in Egypt. The footsteps of Jesus and Mary crossed the land that today is clamoring for a new government, for change--with many factions having many different ideas of what that change ought to be. And it must be said that the social and economic conditions that prevail in the modern Egyptian state justify the frustration and protest of the people.

In light of the events that unfold even as I write this, many questions and concerns arise regarding peace, justice, and stability in the Middle East. Without ignoring these issues, my heart--in this moment--focuses on the lives of the Christians and their Churches. What does the future hold; indeed, what suffering must they endure even now.

We know that a Coptic Church in Egypt was attacked at Christmas, and that worshipers were killed and wounded. Virtual war has been declared against what remains of the ancient Chaldean Church in Iraq (the land of Abraham). Arab Christians flee to tolerant countries: Jordan, Syria, and--in large numbers--to our own United States. Christians have been persecuted in Pakistan. It is said that the policy of Islam is to tolerate Christianity, and yet it seems undeniable that the more a country adopts Islamic law, the more difficult and dangerous the lives of Christian communities become. From the flow of events will emerge the future of Egypt; let us pray that the Copts and other Christians in this land will have the peace and security that is their heritage and their right.

The picture above comes from an ancient Coptic icon. I do not need to tell you who it is. He can always be recognized. So many diverse cultures, epochs, artistic styles, but always the same face. Its the face of a real man. From some source or sources (this is another, fascinating topic), artists have learned the particular details of this man's face, and have faithfully reproduced them through the centuries. The real face of that real man. Christianity is the only religion with a human face. Look at Him. Let Him look at you. That is worth more than anything I can say.

Let us pray for Egypt, all its people, and in particular its Christians. Come Lord Jesus.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Love Books

I have been spending a lot of time with the laptop lately. Trying to promote book. Writing. Doing this new blog. And then...oooh lets check Facebook, hey there's a comment, there's a message, there's an interesting article, wait I've got to post a funny status, and oh I've got to comment on this. Then, what's the Weather? Yahoo weather. What are we doing tomorrow? Did so-and-so email? Check the email. "Daddy, why do we bless throats on St. Blaise's feast day?" Hang on. Google St. Blaise--oh, that's interesting (I'll let you do it yourself).

Prayer time. Wait, the reading I'm working on is on a pdf file: clickityclickityckick. Maybe they could put a rosary decade right on the keyboard, you know, an Our Father key and ten Hail Mary keys. And while they're at it a video for each mystery.

In addition to all this, people want Kindles. Heck, I want one. An entire library that I can take wherever I go? The convenience and utility factors cannot be denied.

Fine. But after I finish this blog I am going to put this thing aside and pick up a book. The book is waiting for me, quietly, like an old friend. I just have to open it and there are the familiar pages, the same pages I saw yesterday, the same pages I touched yesterday. I can flip through the pages with my fingers.

It just stays the same. It doesn't blink. It doesn't splash ads all over the place. It has no battery. It doesn't clunck out, erase itself, or flash incomprehensible error messages. It doesn't require tech support. Its not linked to a service company hundreds of miles away, and no one on the phone is going to tell me that I can't read my book because of technical difficulties. The Book Operation Manual is simple: (1) Pick up book; (2) Open book; (3) Read.

Here's a book. Nothing special, a paperback. I read this book 16 years ago. This here thing here, this book. Open to a page. Yes, I was living in Rome when I read that page, that very page there. What was I thinking 16 years ago when I was touching this very same page that I am touching now. I was looking at a vast unknown future, holding this page; Eileen was in Texas and I never dreamed that I was going to marry her; there were no children--those irrepressible, lovable, all-consuming children simply did not exist--but there was me and this book. Rome and its beauty surrounded me and paths opened in many directions. If I had taken another, I would probably have brought this book with me.

Now I pick up another. My mother gave me this book. She read it before I did. Some books have been around for a long time.

What am I trying to say? Not something so pedestrian as "books are better than computers." I am saying simply this: I love books. I love to pick them up and put them down. I love to hold them. I love to turn pages. I love to have books on a shelf. I love that they have simplicity. I love the fact that they have a history; that they have been my companions. They are three dimensional pieces of my life's journey. And they can be passed on to others, by hand.

Computers and the internet are great tools for writers. I spend a good part of the day using them. One of the things I use them for is to write BOOKS. I have published three books, all with extensive use of computer technology. But there was always the satisfaction when the box arrived, and I opened it up, and there in my hand was the finished product.

It must have something to do with being human, something that I hope we will not lose.

Okay you have labored with me through these musings. I am going to quote something for you from a book. It is a prayer, and it takes us back to the theme of suffering:

I am tired of suffering,
therefore, make me understand
the reason and love that exist in suffering,
make me understand
the humanity that exists in suffering,
make me understand
the love toward Being that lies in suffering,
make me understand
the love toward Christ that lies in suffering,
make me understand
the love toward You,
O Mystery,
that lies in suffering.

--Luigi Giussani

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Going Crazy for Christ

CenturyLink. I'm going to kill them.

The service is "down" in our area. Why? Who knows. There was no snowstorm here. I was working merrily along when all of a sudden KLUNK. I called the tech support. Oh, it might be 24 hours. Will they deduct that from our bill? Right now I am using an old dial-up connection that we still have. I have spent hours the last two days dealing with technical problems involving dysfunctional computer programs and internet connections.

I was on the phone with this nice tcch support person with RAGE building up within me when suddenly something inside me said "offer...." I usually get angry at times like these because I think, "this is such a waste of time!" No. This is not true. What is the real meaning of this moment; what is being asked of my freedom right now?

And in that moment--waiting on the phone--I thought, "This is suffering. Think of the world of suffering you live in. Offer this stupid out-of-sortedness. It doesn't have to be meaningless. Someone is suffering now: maybe God wants you to help that person, to suffer with that person. Offer yourself to Him just as you are--don't feel like you have to manufacture a pious mood in order for it to have value. Offer the big ugly mess that you feel like you are right now." God I offer it to you. I offer this. I offer myself.

Did I go into a rapture of spiritual delight? Noooooo. The internet still doesn't work. But how can I call this suffering, this paltry inconvenience? Think of the people in Egypt, in Iraq, Afganistan, North Korea, starving people in Africa. Think of the people I know personally who are in real pain or real trouble right now. Can I really call this spoiled, pampered snit-fit that I am having suffering? What matters is that, here and now, it is "I" who am afflicted; the circumstances of this situation are calling on me to make a sacrifice, to recognize the mystery of my own life and to say, "Lord, this belongs to you, this moment belongs to you, 'I' belong to you."

The world is a communion of sacrifice. How little we understand of what God can build out of the circumstances we consider worthless. Love does not have to feel sweet. Anyone who has changed a poopy diaper knows that. The power of sacrifice is beyond our measure. Offer everything. When I offer, there is--however faintly it may seem--the recognition that "I," my circumstances, the whole world, belongs to Someone Else, to Christ--the Christ who suffered and triumphed and inaugurated the New Creation. It is His. I am His. Nothing is wasted, thrown away, lost, stupid, meaningless. Real life is the affirmation of this through sacrifice, through letting go of my idea, through the constant abandonment of my limited perspective, my measure, my attachment to my own expectations, including especially my expectations about myself. I am frustrated with myself. Offer the frustration. Do not cease to love, to aspire, to cherish ideals, to struggle, to do good, but remember that it all belongs to Him and that He shapes everything according to a plan that He knows is right for me.

God will change me, in time, in His way. God does not want to make me St. Therese of Lisieux. He wants to make me John Janaro. I don't know who John Janaro is, or who he is destined to become. God knows.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Family Life

I am in the living room trying to write something, while Eileen and the children are in the background practicing a play. We have a sort of unique schooling situation. Perhaps I should start by mentioning that we have five children: John Paul (the only boy, but WHAT a boy!, age 13), Agnese (age 12), Lucia (age 10), Teresa (age 8), and Josefina (age 4). They attend a three day a week Montessori program that we have here in Front Royal, Virginia. My wife is the elementary level teacher, which means she teaches all of them except Josefina (who is in primary). Then we supplement with home schooling. Many of you know how that is. I might despair of home schooling if I did not remember how much goofing off I did in the institutional schooling of my youth and still I somehow managed to get an education. They are doing very well. Montessori gives kids a great perspective on approaching the world and discovering opportunities to learn.

Between (frequent) breaks to fool around, the kids are practicing this play. Loudly. Josefina is singing her own song and playing on a shelf with something that I think is hers. We haven't taken down our Christmas tree yet (its fake), but now that its February 2 its definitely coming down...soon. By the way, happy Candlemas day to everyone: this is the last day of the traditional Christmas season. I guess that means that tomorrow we have to stop being merry.

My wife is directing the whole thing. O, by the way, I should mention that this is a selection from Shakespeare's "The Tempest." The top three kids, along with a family friend, are preparing it for presentation next week at the Montessori school. The room is full (where are we going to put these kids when they get bigger?). I am in my chair. Daddy's chair. If I didn't have this chair, I would have noplace in this house. Seriously, no place. I would have to rent a hotel room. But I have my chair, with a table next to it and my books and my laptop. Its my island and no one else is allowed on it. (Well, Josefina is when she want me to read her a book).

I have a gift for being able to concentrate, read, and write while surrounded by audio and visual chaos. In fact, I often prefer it to solitude. Its as if I focus better on my particular thing when I have the feeling that the rest of the world is going on. I even like my work to be punctuated by the (occasional) distraction. But this is not always a virtue. "John what does she want?," Eileen would yell from another room. I would be sitting in my chair reading metaphysics or The Brothers Karamazov or something and a kid would be screaming her head off right next to me. Or there would be a knock-down, drag-out fight going on. This was more true when they were smaller. I would look up...hmm, no blood, no barf, I don't smell, ah, anything...what's the problem?

I have gotten better at this. Now when they are fighting, I look up from my book and yell, "cut it out!" (no, just kidding, I really have gotten better, but so have they). Still, it seems that Mommy is usually the obvious point of reference. As a Dad, I am kind of surprised to find out that my kids need me as a person. Like, they want me to come with them to the library. Yay, Daddy's coming. This is a source of excitement. Mommy is bringing them, what do they need the schlep of a Dad for? They like me. They love me. Because I'm their father. Its awesome, when you reflect upon it.

They also need me. And at this age they don't scream and cry all the time when they have problems. Mothers always seem to know what to do (although I know that's not true). Dads have to make an effort. They especially have to "learn their fatherhood" as John Paul II once put it. As my kids enter the adolescent stage I know I face new challenges. Our family faces new challenges. May God help us to meet them.