Saturday, July 30, 2011

Suffering Has Meaning

I am certain that my suffering has meaning.  This in itself is something that amazes me. Even more, it astounds me that I know that it is even possible to be cheerful, and to have profound peace in the midst of great sufferings.  I do not arrive at this knowledge from the natural world.  Where does it come from?

I belong to a people—God’s People, the Church—where there are witnesses to this great peace and cheerful acceptance of suffering, not only in the lives of the saints, but even in the lives of some people that I know (and what a blessing those people are to me).  It is faith that enables me to recognize this, and to know that it is really true.  I know that the beginning of this peace is to suffer with the awareness of God’s presence and His plan for my life.  The road to a peaceful and cheerful acceptance of God’s plan passes through the practice of patience and trust.  “Jesus, I trust in You” begins as a prayer (a prayer that in a certain sense says, “Jesus I am afraid.  I do not know how to trust.  Give me the grace to trust in You.”).  The practice of this prayer develops into a habit, and out of this habitual prayer God forms in us and with us (slowly) the Christian virtues, especially humility and courage.  And so I pray to grow more actively aware of the truth that God’s Mercy defines my life.

To be honest, I do not know how much I understand all this concretely.  I could write a book on the “theology of suffering,” but how much do I really understand in a vital way?  I see it through a dark glass, a very dark glass.  So I pray.  I offer everything to God in the morning.  Then I grunt through the day, feeling lousy, and being grouchy toward my loved ones (perhaps I am not that bad; you will have to ask my wife if you really want to know). Then at night, I examine the worst of the day’s mess, make the act of contrition, and I really mean it.  But the next day is pretty much the same.  Will I ever grow beyond this level?  I pray that God may sustain hope in my heart.  In faith and hope I know that it is possible, that God’s grace can make something out of my nothingness, and therefore I must not—I will not—be discouraged.

From my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy
(click here to order:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Martha, Martha

Saint Martha.

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were "good friends" of Jesus. He spent time with them. They were dear to Him. God made man had friends. These were people He "hung around" with, and there is a sign in that. It means He wants to be with us in that way too. He wants to be with us not only in Church, not only in prayer, not only in works of service, but also when we're sitting at the kitchen table, or when we play, or when we go eat pizza. He doesn't want to be left out of anything authentically human in our experience.

How does He stay with us in those "informal" moments that make up so much of life? He stays with us through the friends He gives us in our circumstances. When we gather together out of love for each other's destiny, we are gathering "in His name" and He will change us, through relationships, through ordinary life lived together.

Let us not think of Martha as the woman who was "too busy." Let us remember her as the one who said, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world." She was a friend of Jesus who recognized Him.

Spend just five minutes with this text, from the great encounter between Martha and Jesus: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even if he die, shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die" (John 11:26). Then he asks her, "Do you believe this?" To "believe in Him" means to adhere to His Person with a faith vivified by hope and love, to trust in Him.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Front Royal Cardinals Lose in 13 Innings

My blog is postponed tonight because I just got home from a very long and very disappointing baseball game. Our pride and joy, the Front Royal Cardinals, lost their final regular season game in 13 innings. After falling behind 9-0, they rallied back to tie the game, only to lose after several scoreless extra innings.

The Cardinals finished the season tied for the last playoff spot with the Haymarket Senators (yes, that's "Haymarket"--quaint, eh?), forcing a special one game winner-take-all match up tomorrow night, same time, same place. So John Paul and I will be back there again. It may be our last game of the summer, or it may be the beginning of the road to Valley League glory.

I just hope it's not extra innings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The True Form of Desire

The more human beings are conscious that only He can constitute their true rest, the more they are moved by the fact itself that God exists. They cannot help being flooded with emotion at the fact that God exists, as Fr Giussani so often repeated: "My heart is glad because Christ lives." For this reason, His presence fills us with silence: "For Your way and Your judgments, O Lord, we look to You; Your name and Your title are the desire of our souls."  But this desire cannot survive even a few minutes if it does not become an entreaty, because the true form of desire is entreaty: it is called prayer.
Fr. Julian Carron, Spiritual Exercises, 2011

"The true form of desire is entreaty...prayer." I am moved by the possibility for life, that is, the expansion of my being in relation to truth, goodness, and beauty. This is the desire that reality engenders in my heart. But it is a desire that exceeds my capacities, that reveals that I am poor and in need, that I must go beyond myself and "give myself away" in order to attain my "true rest." If I remain alone, my desire cannot remain true. I must reduce reality to something less than myself, something I can grasp and consume. Thus I do violence to persons and things, and find in the end that I am still alone with my frustration.

But I do not need to remain alone with my desire. At the origin and the end of desire there is Another, and it is He who calls me through all my life to give myself over to Him in my poverty, to allow desire to blossom into a plea, a crying out, a patience that is both painful longing and joyful confidence in His mysterious presence and in His promise of fulfillment.

The true form of desire is entreaty, and within that plea is already rejoicing, worship, and a foretaste of glory: "My heart is glad because Christ lives!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Warren Carroll, Rest in Peace

We buried Warren Carroll today, on the campus, on newly consecrated ground on a bluff overlooking the Shenandoah river, a stone's throw from the building where he taught most of his classes and wrote many of his books. Here, in this beautiful place, his body will await the glory that is to come. And we will be able to remember him, and pray for him. For me it will be a special place to visit on walks in my beautiful valley. It is a poignant thing, to visit the tomb of someone who has been an important influence on your life. It's a point of reference for remembering that the absence of the person does not mean the end of the relationship. We remain united, able to support one another and help one another in the "communion of saints." It's a reminder that death is something that has ultimately been overcome.

A coffin seems so final. It would be easy to look at a grave and think of it as representing the limit that seems to haunt all of reality. "All things come to an end." It seems like an overpowering fact, that flies in the face of our wild hope for eternity. At the very least, it suggests that our hope for fulfillment has nothing to do with human things, and that enduring meaning can only be found in escaping from the oppressiveness of an irredeemable reality.

But we honor the tomb. We know that humanity, and all of reality, is changed by an event that takes us beyond the end of all things. Love is not an unattainable dream. It has clothed itself anew in immortal flesh.

The tomb is not the final expression of human destiny. For we know that the greatest tomb in the world is empty.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lots and Lots of Money

The President of the United States will address the nation tonight.

About money.

I don't think I can say a single intelligent thing about money. Well, I know the basic stuff, "medium of exchange," etc., but the current crisis of the Federal government escapes my intellectual capacity. Or maybe it just escapes the limits of my patience. Trillions of this and trillions of that. It's clear enough that something ain't right here. But the technicalities are too geekish for me to sort out.

I do study history. I know that it's a bad thing for a government to run out of money. Louis XVI's government ran out of money. The Weimar Republic ran out of money. Bad things tend to happen when a government runs out of money. Of course our government ran out of money a long time ago; we've put off the problem by borrowing kazillions of dollars. Now we're reaching our "credit limit." America is maxed out.

I know enough to know that's a bad, bad thing.

What I focus on is "home economics"--the Janaro version of home economics. For us, "money" is whatever is necessary to keep our family in a decent modern lifestyle. We don't want luxury. Just the basics. (Never mind the fact that the "basics" of a "modern" lifestyle surpass the dreams of emperors in all the previous epochs of history.) Small house. Old, junky furniture. Electricity, plumbing, heat, refrigeration, cooking, telephone, television, videos, computers, internet. Doctors and medicine for our illnesses. And, of course, air conditioning. Oh yeah, and cars. Used cars. We're modest, simple people. If I have enough money to take care of that, I'm satisfied.

How does it work? Eileen and I are both "service oriented" people. We want to serve the community in our profession: education. You can't put a price on education. I look at my own education and I say to myself, "I wouldn't give up this for all the kazillions of dollars that the world can hold." I paid tuition for higher education and it helped support the institutions and the teachers. I am glad my teachers had money to live and eat and have air conditioning. But the fact is that there is nothing that I could have given my teachers that could possibly have "reimbursed" them for what they gave me by leading me on the path of education.

And, as a teacher, I never have expected my students to "pay me back." Just give us what our family needs to live so that we can serve the community in our profession. We realize that this is best accomplished by the community we serve, through subsidiary institutions. It doesn't always work out that way for academic professionals. It hasn't always worked that way for us. Sometimes the money comes from weird places. Anyone who has been involved in "start-up" educational enterprises has stories about donations from strangers that fall from the sky. Donations. As in charity. Yes, sometimes we live on charity. Should we be ashamed?

If I calculated the relationship between the work I have done in my life and the money I have been paid, I could become a bitter man. But I am not bitter. I am grateful. I have been able to practice my profession.

Meanwhile, there have been some rough patches recently. I could be bitter about that too.

But God does provide. Do not seek what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, and do not exalt yourselves (for after all these things the nations of the world seek); but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be given you besides (Luke 12:29-31).

Is there any advice for governments here? I am a naive man, and I don't pretend to be otherwise. To monitor the delicate instruments that facilitate civic life is the task of the Statesman. I hope our society can find people who can fulfill this role. It is truly a priceless work.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

East and West: Fear and the Grace of Reconciliation

The need to build unity between Eastern and Western Christians has been a preoccupation, and I must say something of a cross, for me in my work. It seems to appear everywhere, in my study of theology through the years, as well as my more recent considerations of the history and prospects of Europe and Russia, and my investigations of Islam and the current circumstances of the Middle East.

I say that it is a cross, however, not just because of the frustration of seeing a possibility so close that it seems tangible, yet at the same time so thwarted by a tangle of obstacles. It hurts me in a visceral way. I don't understand why. I am told the Janaros of southern Italy have some Greek ancestry. How deep do such things go? I don't know. I am an American who nevertheless has a deep love of Europe, and desires for it authentic unity. I am also, from head to toe, a Catholic of the Latin rite who is rooted in my own tradition and yet loves the Eastern churches with all their rich heritage and ancient memory. To "breathe with both lungs" seems to me more than a metaphor.

One of the great obstacles is fear, a profound, ecclesiological fear. It is a fear that goes beyond dialogue, and beyond history. Certainly it has some basis in complicated political circumstances going back to the Crusades, and the diverse linguistic and cultural heritages (and even different alphabets) of the various peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. The Catholic Church has done much to dispel the basis for this fear, however, especially since the Second Vatican Council, and the great Encyclicals of Blessed John Paul II Ut Unum Sint (on Christian Unity) and Orientale Lumen ("Light of the East"). But the fear remains, a mysterious obstacle, woven from inexplicable pain as well as the inscrutable interplay of human freedom and Divine providence. The fear remains like a wound, and sometimes tries to justify itself.

What is needed is healing and reconciliation, which is the work of the Spirit. For me this means praying to be open to the Spirit, and to seek by His grace to be always a "person of the Church"--in fidelity of mind and heart, in words, in life, in suffering and in love.

Friday, July 22, 2011

True Martyrs Answer Violence With Love

This video may take a few minutes of your time. Please watch it.

I have written about the persecution of Christian minorities by militant "Islamic" groups in our time, as well as the constraints that indigenous Christian populations have suffered through the ages under various Islamic states.

But this short documentary presents it with shocking immediacy. Here are the words, the faces, the blood of the Chaldean Christians of Iraq who were slaughtered in a terrible attack during their service at the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Bagdad on October 31, 2010.

The Chaldeans are not only a religious minority. They are a distinct people, descended from the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia. They lived in the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates long before the Arabs came in the great seventh century Islamic conquest. They endured and suffered under many invasions and regimes through the centuries, preserving their faith, their ancient liturgical prayer, and their dignity. They nearly perished during the Ottoman genocides of a hundred years ago. But they endured.

Now they face perhaps their greatest crisis. The militant forces that claim to represent the religion of Islam pose a threat to many throughout the Middle East. In particular, these forces hate Christianity. They conceive it to be a duty to Allah and a command of the Qu'ran to kill Christians. The Massacre of last October 31 makes this abundantly clear.

Priests, lay men, women, and children were killed without mercy, out of hatred for the faith of Christ. It was neither the first nor the last expression of hatred toward these people. Many are fleeing their 2000 year old homeland. Who will defend their human rights?

I am not an expert on the religion of the Qu'ran, or the interpretations that wicked people may be able to draw from it. It is clear that the rights of all human persons must be upheld and defended against the attacks of the violent. But I also think that we must not let this violence provoke us to hatred, or to a purely defensive or reactionary posture, or to a division of the world into warring parties. Christians have something much greater to offer than "culture wars."

I do not believe that murder is a constitutive feature of the hearts of Muslim peoples. They are peoples with rich and varied traditions and cultures, and many have themselves been persecuted and oppressed down through the centuries. Facile generalizations cannot help us here. What is essential is to continue to seek understanding and love, and to find ways to live together in this world--now more than ever as we find ourselves increasingly side by side. Also, we Christians must continually witness to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to all people, what it is that constitutes the human heart, and in allowing our hearts to be drawn we must hope and pray that others will be drawn with us to the Only One who satisfies the human heart.

In laying to rest the martyrs of October 31, 2010, the parents, children, brothers, and sisters who remained behind had a message for their persecutors: "We forgive you. We pray for you." What secret seed has been sown by their blood on this holy ground? Forgiveness is the strongest energy in the universe; there is no bullet or bomb that can overcome it, and it works miracles in violent hearts. Forgiveness brings reconciliation. It is the gift of Christ for Eternal Life.

And it radiates out to give hope to our poor world.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hey, What's Goin' On? It's Hot!!!

102 degrees? Are you kidding? O cosmos, you are thwarting me again! How dare you?? This is...this is an...inconvenience!

In spite of all I’ve been through, I still expect life to be easy. Any difficulty that comes along seems like an imposition. It’s not fair! We were going to go to a ball game! Suffering? Grumble, grumble, grumble. O sure, I wrote a book about suffering (), but it doesn’t mean that I like it. Whatever eloquence my words may possess, I have as much trouble as anyone remembering the value of suffering in daily life. I am positively a wimp when it comes to suffering, or any inconvenience for that matter. And I am put off by it. Life is supposed to be easy: that is the deeply rooted mentality in me (and others, I expect).

Part of it is that so many material aspects of life have come under our "control," and thus seem "easier." So we are tricked into thinking we can avoid suffering because--for example--I can do something my ancestors never dreamed of: on a sweltering hot day, I can control the temperature of my house to 72 degrees. Heat? No problem.

Just think of how we live! Think of what you do every time you turn on a light switch. If the ancient Greeks were transported to our time, they would worship us as gods. We live like gods!!!

But then, after a while, they would wonder: "why do they live like gods, but work like slaves?"

Indeed, we exhaust ourselves in labors and cares in order to secure our easy life, in order to protect ourselves from suffering. Underneath the surface of our ease and comfort there is the yawning abyss of anxiety. There is a desperation that is frightful, and that we do everything we can to ignore.

What would I do if the air conditioning broke down right now? I would freak out.

It doesn’t help to know theology. All that does is give me a deeper awareness of what a jerk I am.

Something more is needed, and I have spoken about it often on this blog. The truth is that the Mystery carries me with great delicacy, in all my pathetic weakness.

I am amazed by this Gentleness. It is a gift beyond anything I deserve.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Soul is Yearning For You

Just some reflections from my reading for today.

Longing, yearning, aching for that "something"--this is the way my heart is made.

Most of the day I smother it, but it is what makes for every authentic engagement of life that I manage in a day, and it makes it possible to perceive things as they really are and to recognize that my relationship with reality consists in a recognition of its beauty and a joy tinged with sadness--things are and yet they are not enough.

Being Christian does not take away this yearning. It intensifies it. It does not remove the sweet pain of my need for the Infinite. It is the revelation that the Infinite One has embraced my life.

Being Christian makes it possible to live life according to its true meaning, without escape or desperation. I don't live this possibility. I flee every day, into my own schemes and vain imaginings and grasping and blindness. But I have moments when I remember that this is what life is really all about.

They are moments of prayer. They generate hope. In hope, I truly begin to live.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Team USA: Let Us Not Forget

Those who have been paying attention for the past two weeks know that a great drama took place in Germany. A sport that many Americans rarely think about--women's soccer --seized the attention of our troubled nation as Team USA made a thrilling and glorious effort to win the World Cup. The high point, undoubtedly, was the victory in the Quarterfinals against Brazil, in which the USA scored on a marvelous set play in what was literally their last chance, in the final seconds of extra time.

Americans are strangely resistant to the beautiful game. Soccer is loved the world over, perhaps because it is a game that can be understood by anyone, a game that transcends cultural differences because its fundamental rule corresponds to the simple human reflex of kicking something. It requires no equipment beyond some object that can serve as a "ball"--in the favellas of Brazil or the muddy back roads of villages in Africa, a malleable piece of garbage and a group of kids is all that is needed for a soccer match of dramatic intensity. The wealthy youth of Europe with the most refined athletic footwear, a regulation ball, and a beautiful field are nevertheless engaged in the same game. Kick it into the goal. There are no rich or poor on the soccer pitch. It is a game that highlights our common humanity on the most basic level. And it demonstrates that even on this level, human beings manifest intelligence, tenacity, and a desire that reaches out for victory. What is this desire to win? It is an elusive and inexhaustible thing, ultimately, because even when one triumphs, the flame of desire to win again only grows stronger.

In soccer, triumph often comes in a sudden and explosive way, after much ponderous effort. Perhaps we Americans are spoiled by too much accessible gratification; it is difficult for us to participate, as fans, in the labor of a soccer match. But Team USA drew us in, by their hard work, by their tenacity, their refusal to give up, their incredible sense of being a team and representing their country. For a week, we were fascinated by soccer. We danced around the room and shouted like Italians or Brazilians when the space of players suddenly opened up like clouds making way for the sun and a GOAL shined gloriously before us.

Soccer is "beautiful" not only because of its gracefulness, but also because scoring a goal requires one to be in the right place, with expectation and attention, when the opportunity suddenly emerges from the obtuse struggle, like a gift. Soccer inspires wonder in me, wonder about the human being. What is this "human being" who takes something so simple as kicking a ball and turns it into an expression of the human desire for exaltation, for a triumph that never ends?

For Team USA, the end this year came in a loss in the finals to Japan. For awhile, it looked like the names of Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and the other heroines of the team were about to enter the pantheon of American sports legends. Perhaps they will anyway. They should. They gave us some of the most splendid moments in the history of our sports, they bore their loss with dignity and grace, and they remained always a team: human beings gathered together seeking a common purpose, a sign of destiny.

(Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, after the victory over Brazil)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Warren Carroll: Fidelity to a Charism

Warren H. Carroll. I don't know where to begin. I think it is going to take more than one blog entry for me to express all that I want to say.

Warren Carroll had one of those concrete inspirations: he saw something, dedicated himself to it for the love of Christ, and never gave up. Thus began the extraordinary adventure of founding a college in 1977 with nothing but trust in God, a handful of brave collaborators, and the conviction that it had to be done. Christendom College today is an established and respected educational institution, with a graduate school and a beautiful campus--a place sought out by high dignitaries of civil society and the Church. More importantly, it is an institution which offers a genuine education in which various academic disciplines, with all their particular riches, are harmonized and integrated in an overall vision that Warren summed up in his "five words": Truth exists. The Incarnation happened. Christendom offers a liberal arts education that takes seriously and ponders deeply the words of Blessed John Paul II: "Jesus Christ is the center of the cosmos and of history" (Redemptor Hominis, 1). Everything was created through Him and for Him. It is God's plan to bring all things together under His headship. "Instaurare Omnia in Christo" (Ephesians 1:10).

The Incarnation happened. Warren Carroll was convinced that this real fact revealed the meaning of everything. From this intuition came not only a curriculum and an institution, but a living reality, a history of relationships over the course of nearly 35 years among those who have been touched by the Christendom experience, and who have come to realize that they are members of a "people," the "People of God," the Catholic people--who are called to bring the beauty of Christ to the world.

There is only one thing that can explain the phenomenon of Christendom College. Warren Carroll was given a special grace to accomplish a work for the good of the Church and the world. He was given a charism. And he was faithful to that charism, that grace of the Holy Spirit, that begun its work with such fragility, that endured so many challenges from every direction, that continues to grow.

This is one constant memory I have of Warren Carroll through the years. He remained faithful to the mission God gave him. He allowed the seed planted within him to grow, he tended it, and he was always ready to fight to protect it. Thus it was able to bear fruit, abundant fruit, in the minds and hearts and lives of many.

Thank you Warren. God grant you eternal glory.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Don't Deserve What I Have Been Given

I often speak of my afflictions. Tonight I am moved to count my blessings. And I find that my blessings are beyond calculation.

There are Mommy and some of the kids plopped all over and on top of the couch. It could be any old day. We are a family, together.

Thank you, God, for my family.

Thank you for my wife. It is not only difficulties that make us stronger. It is also joys. So many simple joys shared together. Life shared together. Learning and growing together.

And many joys come from the adventure of raising these children. Plenty of difficulties too. But also the joys that come from being entrusted with these five completely unique human beings. The greatest joys come from watching them open up and express that unrepeat-able image of God that each of them possesses. We do not create these children and we are not making them. We direct them, correct them, and teach them about how to enter into a relationship with reality. But it is reality, and the call of the Mystery conveyed by reality, that shapes their lives most deeply.

Thank you God for my children. Grant that I might look upon each of my children with love and respect.

And thank you God for keeping us together as a family. Without You we cannot remain together. Even if we stayed together physically, we would not be a community except through Your grace, and Your constant care for us.

I am sure that it is the presence of Christ in our family that keeps us together, and forms us into a community where love is (in spite of everything) the dominant language. Our blessings are a sign that He is mysteriously with us, with all of our weakness, and that He is at work, and that He is calling us to stay with Him and follow Him.

There is no sentimentality about what I am saying here. I don't deserve what I have been given. It is all mercy. I find myself enfolded in the compassionate Heart of Jesus. Why me? So that I can proclaim that His Heart is open to everyone; that His compassion brings joy and sustenance in the midst of affliction, if only we trust in Him. My trust is so very, very weak. And yet his desire to love is so strong. He gives so much, and He enables us to recognize it and be grateful for it.

Trust in Jesus. Or at least, ask Him to give you the grace to be able to trust in Him.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Healing We All Need

The human being has a terrible fear of uncertainty.

I know I do. Since I was a child, my introspection, obsessiveness, and anxiety have convinced me that I cannot trust in myself. I cannot be confident about my opinions of myself. I cannot be confident that I am seeing reality in the right way.

Yet I have to judge. I have to act. I have to live my life and attend to my responsibilities. Even in my present, convalescent environment, with external pressures kept to a minimum and reliance on simple routine, still I am a man, a husband, a father, a companion to my wife and an example to my children, and--to the degree that I am able--a help to others. I still must work. Every day, I work on myself. I work on the healing process. I work on projects in the struggle to keep my profession alive.

Yet I often do not feel grounded. For many years, I attempted to trust in a kind of "Christian ideology." I attempted to impose a conception of what was "necessary to be a good Catholic" on the awful ambiguity of my life. It required a fair amount of rationalizing, interpreting, and good old fashioned fibbing to stuff the mess of my life inside this box so that it would not haunt my sense of self-confidence. Alongside of this, of course, God was at work, I was praying, seeking Him, and genuinely desiring (in however wobbly a fashion) to do His will and to trust in Him. Yet the ultimate uncertainty of my ideas constantly undermined my confidence.

Illness has forced me to face the need to rely on other people. What a relief it would be to abandon my freedom to their judgment. There is the temptation here to trust in other people's coherence, as if the reason why I follow the guidance of my wife, my doctors, my friends and my spiritual director is because they "have it all together" and I don't. But this kind of trust doesn't hold up either, because it is clear enough--sooner or later--that they are weak human beings too, with flaws and limitations and failures of judgment.

I have to trust in Jesus. This, for me, is not only a spiritual but also a psychological necessity. I am grounded in Jesus. I cry out to Him and beg for that certainty, and to keep my life centered on Him. In the Church He lives as a Presence for me now: as a way, as gestures, as a companionship. And other persons are given to me by Him to help me to insert myself into that life. It is He who works through them. It is because of His love for me that I can trust them. Even if we make a mistake, I can trust that He is behind us to catch us.

Look at this great mystery: marriage. Eileen and I do help each other and together we carry out the task of shaping an environment in which our children are growing. It's not because we are coherent. It's because marriage is a sacrament. It's grounded in Him. From here, it becomes possible to perceive that my relationships with my other companions are grounded in Him, in the communion of saints; that my relationship with every human person is grounded in Him who is the Savior of the world; that my relationship with reality is grounded in Him who is Lord of all creation.

Beyond any pathological condition, there is that radical anxiety, that radical fear of uncertainty, that afflicts us all. The healing we all need comes from Jesus. This is why He says, "believe in me."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Speaking New Languages

So now I have gotten on board Google+. Where does the craziness end?

I suppose it spans the whole course of life.

It’s all about communicating in the world we live in: a world of frighteningly powerful information technology. Can we learn how to be Christians--how to be human persons--in this dangerous world? We must! The love of Christ compels us. Wherever words are uttered, Christ must speak. We--members of His Body--must learn the art of speaking to each other in these new languages; we must learn the art of loving with the love of Christ in these new "places" where so many desperate people dwell. If we build communion on the internet, we will be given the grace to "speak" to the world in new ways. Wherever human persons go, we must go (provided that it is possible morally: i.e. we don't become bank robbers in order to preach to the bank robbers; but wherever it is possible to go without losing our Christian and human dignity).

It is possible to be present as Christians in the new media, and to expand that presence in the measure that it useful for bearing witness to the truth. The Church calls on us to use communications media, whether we like them or not (personally, I'd rather be playing with my kids than messing around with the internet, but this is part of my vocation as a communicator--a teacher and a writer). We have not been brought together in the Church so that we can sit around and look at each other and say, "isn't-it-great-that-we're-Catholic." We have been brought together to meet Jesus Christ, to come to know and love Him more, and to go with Him into the world...together. It is not easy: "tools" like the internet can suck us in and distort our life, but this doesn't have to happen! We can use these tools if we help each other. Finally, it’s about love. These words are being written for love, because whoever is reading these words is loved by Jesus.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Will Make Me Truly Happy

If we are able to look deep down at the mystery of our being, then everything is small compared to the capacity of the soul--how we complicate life because of not under- standing this–because it does not resolve anything to go after the first thing that passes. It does not resolve anything: it complicates everything even more, and then you find yourself back where you started. We cannot respond to this in a merely moralistic way: “Because it’s prohibited,” and then tell ourselves, “But, deep down, we lose the best.” It means we have not understood anything!
Fr. Julian Carron, Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity
of Communion and Liberation, 2011

This text was part of my reading for today. I am deeply struck by how much it describes my ordinary mentality. How easy it is to think of "God's will" as something external and even capricious, something that is alien to the deepest desire of my being. I try to obey God's will and keep His commands, but deep down I think that if only I could do it my way, according to what I perceive in the moment, on the surface of things, then I would really be happy. I have to do God's will, however, because He is bigger and stronger than I am.

How alienating this is, and yet how easy it is to be tinged with this kind of perception in one's practical attitude, no matter how much theology one knows. But it's wrong as a practical attitude, and it results in getting nowhere (as Fr. Carron says). It's not true about God and it's not true about myself. But to really change, I need more than a theoretical understanding of this. I need to know this in a vital way, from within my engagement of life. I need to know it from the heart. What God wants corresponds to what will make me truly happy. That is the truth about reality, even when it doesn't "seem" that way to my limited human perceptions and whims. God's will is what is, really, "for me"! Nothing else can make me happy.

I must beg God to help me become more aware of this truth, and stay with other people who help me to remember it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Something Greater Than This World

July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict.

St. Benedict was a man who went off into the desert in search of God. He sought to dedicate himself to God alone.

He had no project.

He did not plan to establish a monastery.

He did not plan to found a religious order.

He did not plan to lay the foundations for the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages.

He did not plan the preservation of classical learning and culture.

He did not plan to feed the poor, care for the sick, found schools, or become a counselor to the great and powerful.

He sought only to give himself to God. He found God in the desert. He found Him in silence and prayer. He also found Him in obedience, which for Benedict meant responding to the little things that God gave him. It meant loving God in those first followers who sought him out. It meant helping them to live together as brothers. It meant writing his directives down, as a rule "for beginners."

Silence, prayer, obedience, humility, love. These are still the things that really matter. These are the things that build up the heart of the Church. But we must acknowledge all of God's gifts: it is also this radical self-forgetfulness of love for Christ that builds up the world. St. Benedict was not aware of this, but God used him nonetheless, and for centuries in the West he has been known as the "Father of Europe." By seeking God after his example and according to his rule, Benedict's followers would also change the history of the world. Benedictine monasteries rose out of the ruins of the Latin Roman Empire, preserved and fostered all that was good from antiquity, and inspired and helped shape the institutions of the new peoples who built Western Europe's Christian culture.

Our world today may be on the threshold of a new dark age. Are there, even now in our midst, the "St. Benedicts" whose prayer and sacrifice are sowing the seeds of a new Christendom in the future? Or is this not in some way the calling of each of us? We must go into the desert of daily life, in this world which cannot but be a world of sorrows because we are not yet in the embrace of the God for whom we have been made. We must go into the desert of our hearts that are so distracted, and we must cry out for His mercy and healing. We must live in the midst of a world that has tried to make God absent, that has obscured the signs of His presence, and we must seek Him and stand with Him as He unites Himself to humans in their loneliness.

This is what makes the world a better place: knowing that we are made for Something greater than this world, and letting that "Something" touch us in the midst of this world and shape our way of looking at everything.

The Icon of St. Benedict is by Lu Bro:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Three Thousand Hits

Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit today. It's a great day.

Perhaps I should explain first, for those who don't know anything about baseball. 3000 hits is an outstanding achievement in a baseball career. Only 27 players have ever reached this milestone. And Derek Jeter is the first Yankee to do it.

The Yankees are known for many things. They are the most winning team in the history of organized sports. They have fielded legendary teams since the 1920s. And almost every decade has had one or more standout players who have represented the franchise: Babe Ruth in the 20s and 30s, Joe DiMaggio in the 30s and 40s, Mickey Mantle in the 50s and 60s, Reggie Jackson in the 70s, Don Mattingly in the 80s, and for the past two decades, Derek Jeter. These men have stood as heroes to generations of kids, and introduced those kids into a world of play that they would inhabit mentally and emotionally all their lives, long after they became adults and their physical capacity to play the game had past. The same thing could be said for many athletes in many different sports.

I love almost all sports, and tried my hand at many of them in my youth, but I want to talk about baseball because it is the one I love best, and the one I understand most "from the inside." Baseball has a particular hold on its fans because of its rhythms and its variations of possibility, because of the way it marks the seasons of the year, because of the patience that it cultivates over a six month season of daily games, because of its multitude of statistics, because of the unique atmosphere of the ballpark--convivial, pastoral, leisurely, but then gradually building or suddenly bursting into intensity. Its ardent spectators are not being "entertained" passively; they are participants in the action in a vital way--whether at the ballpark or through the media of television or radio--they are engaged in that mysterious and essential human activity called "play". In the final analysis, play does not need to be justified. It is one of the fundamental ways that human beings enter into relationship with reality. It is a modality of knowing and loving, and in its proper place it is right and good and fruitful of many things.

My son and I root for the Washington Nationals (which are his "home team"), but the Yankees will always have a special place in my heart. I was born in New York and discovered baseball growing up in the Bronx. The first games I attended were at Yankee Stadium. The Pinstripes will always have a symbolic significance for me beyond what I can articulate.

There is too much money and too much pressure in baseball today, just like in the rest of professional sports. It has become an oversized monstrosity of a spectacle, just like the grotesque, bloated society that engenders it. Many say that the Yankees, who are today perhaps the largest sports corporation on earth, are the epitome of everything that is wrong with sports. I expect that an investigation of Yankee Corporation would reveal many unseemly things beyond the ones that are in plain sight. Nevertheless, the Yankees remain a baseball team. They are more than a business. 

People don't understand that the Yankees are a symbol of tradition, continuity, and roots. I may not live in New York anymore, but I root for the Yankees because I can still smell the Italian bakeries and the Jewish delis in the Bronx where I was born; I root for them because my father did, and my grandfather, because it was once a rite of passage for my Bronx Italian immigrant forebearers to become Americans.

The human good of "play" builds bonds between people and across generations. It is an instrument of human communion, and its awkward expressions are human struggles to taste beauty and goodness. And the men who play the game on the field make it possible for the rest of us, and are therefore worthy of our gratitude.

And so today I am happy to say, "Thank you, Derek Jeter."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Building Up a More Human Community

On this night I am grateful that our family is together again, and that our living situation is going to return to what passes for normal in our household. We have come to the end of a small trial, but one that seemed quite daunting when we began in 2008. Everyone in the family has cooperated in their own way to live through it piece by piece, step by step. Cooperation and sacrifice for the overall goal shows me something profound: that our family is indeed a little community. We live more fully in relation to one another; indeed we understand ourselves in relation to one another. The tasks of work and growing up and suffering are things we all share.

We stand together in our common mission of building up a more human community. That can sound abstract and overwhelming, except if we remember that we are called to give by engaging the circumstances and opportunities that our real human life presents for us. The crises of war and peace, the destinies of nations, the world's great social problems, the great weight of human personal pain are complex intersections of the drama of a multitude of lives, and we only touch those who have been entrusted to us. We reach out to all, of course, in the mystery of prayer and the aspiration of solidarity. But because we are beings of space and time, building the human community always means beginning where we are, cultivating the soil of human relationships and fostering the institutions that serve them by using the tools and talents we have.

We do not, however, seek to place limits on God. We seek to make ourselves available to His mysterious plan for our lives, with all of its possibilities and burdens. It is God who gives the growth, and who uses everything we offer for a reality that is ineffably great: His Glory.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ordinary Sacrifices of Daily Life

The ordinary sacrifices of daily life.  What a drag!  But this is the school of love; this is where we learn to give.  This is where God opens us up and draws us into that mysterious “giving away” of ourselves.  It is a challenge to go through the day without grunting and grumbling inwardly.  The little things are exactly where we don’t want to “open up.”  It is easy to love in our imaginations, or in the future.  But it is hard to love today, because today is full of little things, and these are the real things.  How can we walk the road of daily sacrifice?  Indeed, how can we learn to become cheerful givers?  Do we believe that Jesus has made the One Sacrifice that encompasses all our sacrifices?  Do we believe that He really wants to make us holy?  Perseverance is first of all a matter of faith.  I fail and I repent and I fail and I repent day after day.  It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But this is no surprise.  I am weak.  He will change me in His way, according to His plan, in His time.  The great temptation is always frustration, discouragement, and—finally—forgetfulness of God.  “Selfish,” an evil voice whispers, “that is the way you are.  You are never going to change!”

No!  What I am is a need for God’s saving and transforming love.  I need to remember Him, believe in Him, adhere to Him, be forgiven again and again and again.  It always comes down to faith.  Faith recognizes that He is here and that He has promised me the fullness of life and love.  “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:31).  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).  Believe in Him.  Hold on to Him.  Trust in Him.  It is He who make the little things into great love.

--from the book by John Janaro, Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy
(link to  )

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mommy Will Be Home Soon

Today is Wednesday.

Tomorrow is Thursday.

Then comes Friday.

On Friday evening Mommy comes home. And she stays home. I am so ready for her to come home.

We're still having fun. The girls have been camping out in the living room, three of them sleeping on the floor. I'm not sure why they like to do that. Then John Paul stays with me in the big bedroom, where we can listen to late night baseball on the radio.

Its too hot during the day to do much outdoors. The highlight of the day is a trip to the grocery store, or the library, or the gym. Then dinner and T.V. and the rosary. Sometimes we have family conversation, but those are always better when Mommy is here.

Everybody bosses Josefina around. She stands her ground, and whines as only a four year old can when she doesn't get what she wants. But I think she's a little on edge because she misses the Mommy connection.

It seems like a usual lazy summer evening. The ball game is on. Kids are lounged around, reading. If Mommy were here, she might very well be on her laptop doing some work.

But she would be here, and the house would feel like home.

Instead everything seems messier (well, it is messier), everything seems a little disconnected, a little scattered, a little "temporary," like a camp. I don't feel completely myself without her around.

It's hard to have a "home" when both parents are not there. I have had just a taste of that in these summer experiences we've had. My heart really goes out to families where there is long term separation, due to whatever particular circumstances.

Meanwhile, Mommy has the sprint to the finish line with finals and presentations and submitting her paper topics. We just have to get through a few more days.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"The Perfect Harmony of Truth and Love"--Some Words From Pope Benedict XVI on Beauty and Art

Benedict XVI speaks to artists on the occasion of the opening of an exhibit in the Paul VI Hall Atrium, July 4, 2011:

Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent that we draw close to Christ, in our own lives too, truth and love are blended. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like "a clanging cymbal" (I Cor 13: 1). It is precisely from the union, I would like to say from the symphony, of the perfect harmony of truth and love that authentic beauty emanates, capable of eliciting admiration, marvel and true joy in the hearts of men. The world in which we live needs the truth to shine brightly and not be obscured by lies or banality; it needs love which enflames and which is not overwhelmed by pride and egotism. We need the beauty of truth and love to strike us in the intimacy of our hearts and make us more human.

Dear friends, I wish to renew to you and all artists a friendly and passionate call: do not ever separate artistic creativity from truth and from love, do not ever search for beauty far from truth and love, but with the richness of your genius, of your creative leanings, be always, courageously, seekers of the truth and witnesses to love; let truth shine brightly in your works and make their beauty elicit in the gaze and in the hearts of those who admire them, the desire and need to make their existence beautiful and true, every existence, enriching it with that treasure which is never lacking, which makes life a work of art and every man an extraordinary artist: love, truth. May the Holy Spirit, author of every beauty that is in the world, always illuminate you and guide you towards the final and lasting Beauty, that which warms our minds and our hearts and for which we wait, one day, to be able to contemplate in all its splendor. Once again, thank you for your friendship, for your presence here and for bringing a ray of this Beauty, which is God, to the world.

Monday, July 4, 2011

America, America

Shall I add more words to the vast commentary that has been made upon this document? So much has already been said, over and over again.

I am an American. I love my country. I am also fascinated by it in many ways. But my study of American history is still very much a work in progress. I have learned enough to be hesitant about making any rash or sweeping statements about what is a very complex national experience.

This makes me feel peculiar, however, given the fact that it appears to be a very "American" thing to make vast and grandiose proclamations about the importance and significance of the United States. I have no desire to underestimate that significance. But I have read a great deal of history--enough to know that the character of peoples and nations is something that develops over a long period of time. The United States emerged in the midst of a historical epoch that began, for the West, in the 15th century and that--arguably--is just now coming to an end. The period that styled itself "the modern world" (and that was in reality a phase of Western European civilization) is ironically coming to an end just at the time when Western ideals, technological innovation, and lifestyle have become "standard" for the whole earth.

We are entering a new, globally interdependent phase of human history; indeed we have been for some time. Whether or not this is a good thing, and what social forms it takes, remain to be seen. The United States, as a people who self-consciously formed their own nation and institutions, paved the way to the eventual collapse of modern imperialism and the foundation of constitutional republics all over the world after World War II. The new nations look to the American experiment for their example; indeed, the success and persistence of American institutions have inspired the world.

So what does this mean about the significance of the document whose anniversary we celebrate today? Looking at the great scope of human history, my inclination--following the Chinese proverb--is to remark that it is too soon to tell. America is still a new country, relatively speaking. Many of the political experiments taking place in different parts of the world today involve ancient peoples with long memories. Much remains to be seen.

To a significant extent, however, the enduring legacy of the United States remains in our own hands. For in the midst of the various circumstances and ideas that contributed to the birth and formation of this country, there is a core ideal that became a working political hypothesis on this day in 1776: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights....

Much depends on the continued working out of this core American ideal of "equality"--I believe that we are still very much in the process of trying to understand what it means. It is imperative that "equality" be conceived and lived as a matter pertaining to the dignity of every human person, and the solidarity of human beings in a dedication to the pursuit of the common good. We must also look more deeply into the relationship between human dignity and the mystery of "being created"--that there is a Transcendent Source and Purpose that ultimately gives significance to human dignity and human rights.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Purity, Destiny, and a Mother's Heart

In today's liturgical feast, the Church draws attention in to the Mother of God with a particular emphasis on her "Immaculate Heart."

The term "Immaculate" refers to Mary's complete freedom from sin from the first moment of her conception. This freedom, of course, has a positive corrolary: her purity. Mary is uniquely attuned to the Wisdom and the will, the goodness and the beauty of God and His loving plan for all creation. The Greek term "Panagia" expresses this.

Then there is, like yesterday with Jesus, the focus on "the Heart." The heart of Mary is that center of faith, love, and contemplation during her earthly journey with her Son, and now in glory it remains the source of her maternal solicitude for each one of us. The Mother of God wants to lead each of us, in the journey of our own lives, to ponder in our hearts and in her Heart the mystery of Christ, who has assumed her love into cooperation with His own mission of salvation, and has given her to each of us as a concrete expression of His love, and as a means of bringing it to us with a particular intimacy. It is fitting that the attainment of our salvation, our destiny, our happiness should involve the living tenderness of the heart of a woman, and the special companionship of her maternal love.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, thank you for being my mother.

Here are some selections from a homily on this feast day by Blessed John Paul II, whose particular love for the Mother of God contributed so much to his exquisite sensibility for the whole greatness of the human vocation:

Today the Church’s Liturgy commemorates the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We consider Mary, filled with anxiety and concern, as she looks for Jesus, lost during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As devout children of Israel, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem each year for the Feast of Passover. When Jesus was twelve, he went with them for the first time. There the event which we contemplate in the fifth glorious mystery of the Rosary took place, the mystery of the finding in the Temple. Saint Luke describes it touchingly, on the basis of information we may suppose he received from the Mother of Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? . . . We have been looking for you anxiously”. Mary, who had carried Jesus beneath her heart and had protected him from Herod by fleeing to Egypt, acknowledges in a very human way her great worry about her Son. She knows that she needs to be present on his journey. She knows that through love and sacrifice she will cooperate with him in the work of Redemption. In this way we enter into the mystery of Mary’s great love for Jesus, that love which embraces with her Immaculate Heart the ineffable Love, the Word of the Eternal Father....

Christ says to us: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). These words bring us to the heart of the Gospel truth about man. Those who seek Jesus will find him, as did Mary and Joseph. This fact sheds light on that great tension present in the life of every human being, namely, the search for God. Yes, man does indeed seek God; he seeks him with his mind, his heart and all his being. Saint Augustine says: “our heart is restless, until it finds its rest in God” (cf. Confessions, I). This restlessness is a creative restlessness. Man seeks God because in him, and only in him, can he find his own fulfilment, the fulfilment of his aspirations to truth, goodness and beauty. “You would not seek me, if you did not already possess me”, wrote Blaise Pascal (Pensées, Sect. VII, No. 555). This means that God himself takes part in this search, wishes us to seek him and creates within us the necessary conditions to be able to find him. Moreover, God himself draws near to us, speaks to us of himself and enables us to know him. Sacred Scripture is a great lesson on the subject of this process of seeking and finding God. It offers us many magnificent images of people who seek God and find him. At the same time, it teaches us how we should draw near to God, what conditions we need to fulfil in order to encounter this God, to know him and to be united with him.

One of these conditions is purity of heart. What does this mean? At this point we touch upon the very essence of man who, by virtue of the grace of the redemption accomplished by Christ, has regained the inner harmony lost in Paradise because of sin. Having a pure heart means being a new person, restored to life in communion with God and with all creation by the redemptive love of Christ, brought back to that communion which is our original destiny.

Purity is first and foremost a gift of God. Christ, by giving himself to man in the Church’s sacraments, comes to dwell in our hearts and enlightens them with the “splendour of truth”. Only the truth which is Jesus Christ is capable of enlightening the reason, purifying the heart and shaping human freedom. Without understanding and free acceptance, faith withers. Man loses sight of the meaning of things and events, and his heart seeks satisfaction where it cannot be found. Purity of heart is thus, above all, purity of faith.

Purity of heart prepares us for the vision of God face to face in the realm of eternal happiness. This is so because already during their earthly life the pure of heart are capable of glimpsing in all creation what comes from God. They are capable in a sense of recognizing the divine value, the divine dimension, the divine beauty of all creation. The Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount, in a certain way, shows us all the richness and all the beauty of creation, and exhorts us to discover in all things that which has its origin in God and that which leads to him. Consequently the carnal and sensual man must draw back, he must give way to the spiritual man, the spiritualized man. This is a profound process, which involves interior struggle. Sustained by God’s grace, it bears marvellous fruits.

Purity of heart is thus given to man as a task. He must constantly struggle to oppose the forces of evil, those which press upon him from without and those at work within him, and which would distract him from God. And thus there takes place in man’s heart a constant battle for truth and happiness. In order to gain victory in this battle, man must turn to Christ. He is able to win only if he is strengthened by Christ’s power, the power of his Cross and Resurrection. “Create in me a clean heart, O God”, exclaims the Psalmist, conscious of his own weakness, for he knows that to be righteous in God’s eyes human effort alone is not enough....

Let us turn our gaze to the Immaculate Virgin of Nazareth, Mother of Fair Love, who accompanies people of all times on their “pilgrimage of faith” to the house of the Father.... Even the Mother of Jesus, to whom the mystery of Christ’s divine sonship was most fully revealed, had to learn gradually the mystery of the Cross. “Son, why have you treated us so?”, today’s Gospel reports her as saying, “Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously”. And Jesus replies, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” “But they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them” (Lk 2:48-50). For Jesus was speaking to them of his messianic mission.

Before understanding it, man learns “by pain of heart” the meaning of crucified Love. But if, like Mary, “he keeps all these things in his heart” (cf. Lk 2:51) — all that Christ says — and is faithful to God’s call, he will understand at the foot of the Cross the most important thing, namely, that the only true love is love which is united to God, who is Love.

Blessed John Paul II, Homily of June 12, 1999

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Heart of Jesus and Our Hearts

This is the heart of the man who loves you.

Today is the First Friday of July and, on this year's Roman calendar, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Church dwells on the heart of Jesus. Jesus's love for us is not some abstract thing. It is love communicated through an act of sacrifice. A man died on the Cross in order to transform death, in order to unite Himself to the death of every person. God the Only Begotten Son of the Father, made flesh and dwelling among us, gave us His flesh out of love. His heart, the vessel of His life's blood, suffered and poured itself out as an offering for us in a real death that transformed our death by the power of His love. Death has become, in the Heart of Jesus, the path to a new creation, a transfigured life, a resurrection to eternal communion with God that will never end.

Pompeo Batoni, Sacred Heart (Chiesa del Gesu, Roma)

Images cannot encompass the reality, but we can make images because the reality is that of the Word made flesh. The Son of God in His human nature died a real death in history, on a particular day, so that history would no longer be a prison for our lives, but a path to our destiny, to that unending life for which our hearts long.

This really happened. I want to cry out, "This is not a theory or a sentiment. This is a real event. His love happened in history for us. It happens now for us. He lives!"

The Sacred Heart. The Holiness of God (all purity and wonder and beauty and glory, fulfilling and going beyond all that we yearn for) has been given to us, that we might become holy. If this is not a real event, then why bother talking about it? It would be a crime to raise such elemental hopes for a happiness that did not really exist.

I speak of the Heart of Jesus, as I speak of my own heart, because it is real.