Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Andrew and Peter

St. Andrew "the First-called" is greatly venerated in the East, especially by the see of Constantinople, which traces its origin to him. Andrew was Peter's brother, and undoubtedly unity between the brothers is his greatest concern. Let us therefore join with Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Bartholomew I and pray for unity, on this special day for churches West and East, Latin Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, and Orthodox.

I love the Kontakion for the day in the Byzantine Liturgy:

"Let us praise for his courage Andrew the Theologian, first Apostle of the Savior and brother of Peter, for in like manner as he drew his brother to Christ, he is crying out to us: 'Come, for we have found the One the world desires!'"

Note: for the East, "Theologian" does not refer to just any blockhead like me who happens to have studied and taught and written stuff about Christian doctrine and ideas. A "Theologian" is someone with a profound knowledge of God. The term is reserved for a very few. Here in the West, I put it on the profile for my blog. Oh my! Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner!

In the prayer, St. Andrew calls Jesus "the One the world desires." We have been created for Him. Our hearts are made for Him. The meaning and mysterious reality of the very impetus of life--desire--finds its fulfillment in Him.

Perhaps it sounds disappointing at first: "so the meaning of my life is this guy?"

Nathaniel understood this feeling very well. His reaction to this news was, "can anything good come out of Nazareth?" And the reply was, "Come and see!" And so the Church says today, "Come and see." And just like the first disciples, the Church does not say, "come and see how great we are." She says, "Come and see that Christ is present, here, not by virtue of us, but by virtue of His own promise." 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Greater Than Any Worldly Joy

Jesus, awaken us.
Rouse us from our lukewarmness and indifference.
How little we attend to You.
Invade our lives with Your mercy.
Come, somehow, even into our distractions
and shake them up so that we turn to You.
Wound our hearts
so that they might feel alive again,
and feel the pain of themselves,
that aching longing
which is so much greater than any worldly joy,
and that only You can heal.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Freedom, Self-Giving, Forgiveness

At the beginning of this Advent season, I pray that many will come to discover the love of God, and experience the true freedom that this love gives to their minds and hearts. May the God who gives us everything, in every moment, be recognized and loved in that wonderful expression of freedom called gratitude. This is not slavish fear, but the freedom that answers Love with love. Gratitude consciously receives with awe and wonder the gift of God that is nothing less than Himself, and in that receptivity is empowered to respond with the gift of one's own love, one's own self.

Come, O Lord. Be with us. Let us experience Your Love in our poor, bewildered human lives. Let us find strength in the presence of that Love, the strength that makes us free to open up and give ourselves. May we discover the fulfillment of our freedom in this gift. Lord, let us especially know Your Mercy, for we are awkward in the giving of ourselves, and sometimes we fall into doubt and fear because we forget that we are loved by You. Let us be rooted in Your Mercy, and find there the courage to ask for and receive forgiveness. Enable us to offer ourselves each day, and not succumb to the great temptation to give up in the face of our failures and sins. Have Mercy on us, forgive us, raise us up, strengthen us to continue on the path of loving You and loving others. Save us from our awkwardness and our weakness; do not let it be a scandal to us. Let it rather be an occasion for greater trust in Your Merciful Love, which is the Source of all that we are, and have, and do. You who have given us our freedom, and who sustain it within us, want so ardently to bring it to fulfillment in love, according to Your wisdom. Preserve us from turning away from You. Draw our hearts to you, convert us and bring us Your healing. Give us trust in You. Come, O Lord. Be with us.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Keeping Up The Struggle

I have already spoken in previous posts about my conversation with Fr. Luigi Giussani many years ago, and how he grabbed me by the arm and looked at me and said, “Be a teacher. You will be a great teacher.” This meeting had a powerful influence on my dedicating my life to the teaching profession, and working with a generation’s worth of college students. It was a great time of my life, and I seemed to be successful and satisfied.

But the path of my life was not destined to be so straightforward. Illness changed the course of things, and may yet do so again. For I do not know the long term impact that this disease will have on me. Perhaps I shall improve, or perhaps I shall get worse. Sometimes, there are disturbing signs that the future may be more, rather than less debilitating. I try to focus on the circumstances and opportunities of the present.

But in the last days of November, as students turn in term papers and prepare for final exams, and as I struggle through a difficult week, I realize that I’m still dealing with the trauma of being taken out of the work environment that I loved the most, where I was established and appreciated. One day I was told, "You can't do this anymore. You're too sick." 

I know that God has a reason for all of this. He has a plan. Fr. Giussani didn't say to me "you might be a great teacher." He said, "you WILL be a great teacher." Whatever this "greatness" is, I am doing everything I can to open myself up to make room for it to work in me and through me and to be expressed.

That includes the past seven years of fighting a disease that is more than depression and anxiety. I have seen the Lyme disease infection that is in my body; I have seen it magnified under a microscope. I have also experienced its devastating effects on my life. We have tried everything from intensive antibiotics to all manner of natural remedies. Right now we seem to have the upper hand (mostly from nature, although some meds are just necessary), but there are no magic buttons that will make things all better. It’s a struggle. Sometimes I get down about it. Sometimes I feel frustrated, and I take it out on others. I am truly sorry for this, and I beg forgiveness from anyone I may have let down. But I'm determined to keep up the struggle. I'm never giving up. 

I'm going to teach if I have to do it from bed. As a person I have my failings, but I know what my mission in this world is, and I think even my failings are used by God in its service, somehow. I will be a teacher, even if I do it primarily through writing. Maybe writing is my best talent.

It is where I am called to apply myself at the present time, and to recognize the goodness of God, who offers Himself to me in every circumstance, and bids me to help form this awareness in others. After all, that is the heart of what it means to be a teacher. God is good. This is the conviction that grows more deeply in me, through the days and years and trials.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Start To Ask

I want to reflect further on a maxim of sorts that I proposed in a previous blog: Back up your prayer to where you are. I'm not sure how much value this point has, but I have found it useful and perhaps others will too.

So I can pray from where I am, with what I have. Ask with trust. Someone might say, "I have NOTHING, no trust, no desire to pray--I don't want to ask for anything."

"Nothing"? God has no problem with "nothing"--He created from nothing. Give Him your "nothing". Say, "Jesus I don't want to pray, give me the grace to pray...." That's a prayer. A great prayer.

Ask Him to change your life. And keep asking. He will change your life. He will. He will empower you to change by His grace, and to live according to His will. "But I don't want to change," some will say. Do you wish, somewhere, that you did have the desire to change? Start there. "Jesus, give me the desire and the will to change, and to allow my life to be changed by you." Or even, "give me the desire of the desire...etc." Every person who is alive has a "place" from which they can start to ask. Remember Jesus is God. Give Him a crumb and He will feed you with bread, and feed the multitudes besides. You have nothing? Then just stretch out your hand.

Can't even do that? Then cry out, "Lord, I'm sinking!" and let Him reach out and grab you. I must remember that God is looking at me always with infinitely greater tenderness and attention than I have for my own children. If one of them cries out, "help!" I will go and I will do everything I can to help. What can God do? God can do anything. If I ask for help, He will help. If I keep asking for help, He will keep helping. Where will it all end? Glory.

"Help!" What a beautiful prayer.

And we must never forget the incredible fact: God has entered history. He has a face. He has a name--Jesus. Before I even realized I needed "help," He has already come. He came into history so that He could come into my life with a special presence, so that He could amaze me by His Love....

Jesus. This is how much God the Almighty, the Lord of all Creation, wants to win my heart

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I am thankful to God for my being, which He has given me and by which He sustains me every moment of my existence. I am, because I am His.

I am thankful to God for revealing and giving Himself to me in Jesus Christ, who became man to reveal the mystery of God's love, and to communicate that love in the Holy Spirit. There is A MAN, a real man, who lived and died and lives forever--a man of flesh and blood--a man who is GOD. God shared my humanity, my frailty, my suffering. God came to dwell with me. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being in my life, for becoming my companion.

I am thankful to God for everything, because I believe that everything that happens in my life is the gift of His wisdom and love by which He calls me to Himself--to a life beyond anything I can imagine or conceive. I am thankful to You, O Lord, for life and for the vocation to eternal glory.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Do I Follow You?

Jesus asks us to follow Him.

Its a little scary sometimes, being a Christian. Because we are in situations where we want to say, "How, Lord! How do I follow You!?"

I think we start by saying just that. "How do I follow you?" If we say that with faith, with trust that He is God and He will lead us, then we are praying.

Perhaps we are afraid that we lack that trust. We do believe in Jesus but He seems fuzzy in terms of how He relates to our lives. I think its useful to "back up your prayer to wherever you are." So if you have only a drop of trust, you start there. "Jesus, I am afraid to trust in You. Enable me to trust in You." And God answers this prayer, and we grow in trust. There are Christians who we admire greatly, who we consider "heroic," whose daily "posture" of prayer before God basically amounts to that. There is that famous, ancient prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This prayer has brought many people close to God through history.

There is the simple prayer, "Jesus, I trust in You." I include in that trust even the places where I am afraid, where I am weak: "Jesus I trust in You to enable me to trust in You more...." But I have begun to realize that the rest of that need not be said (although it's fine if I want to say it). "Jesus I trust in You" is enough, because my "trust" includes my reliance on what He is doing in my life to change me according to His wisdom and by His grace.

The God who creates us from nothing brings our lives to fulfillment by His grace. His grace shapes and focuses and draws and empowers our freedom, so that we can and we will do--freely and lovingly, by the power of His grace--what He wills us to do, what is truly good and beautiful and just, what corresponds to our destiny which is to live with Him in His likeness, to share in His glory.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lord Of Every Heart

I believe that Jesus is always, everywhere, trying to draw every human person to Himself by grace. So where people do not know Him, He works through whatever is true and good in their lives, their hopes, their experience, their prayers.

I sometimes wonder if there are many people--simple people especially, poor people, suffering people--who are very close to Christ, who really do know Him and love Him in their hearts, even if they can’t express it, even if its a secret, even if its so secret that they themselves don't know it in a discursive, reflexive way. If they love God, it must be Jesus who is empowering that love and drawing it to Himself.

And I am not saying this as a way of saying, "in the controversy over which religion is true, my religion wins!" No! How silly! The point is not about a controversy between different positions or different cultures. It's about a fact: Jesus is God! He is the Lord of every heart. Wherever there is any good, He is at work.

How could it not be true? Jesus really is God--we must never forget this. This is not "our position"--this is a fact; the central fact of the whole universe and all of history and every person's actual life. Its really true. To affirm it is to recognize a fact. If He is really God then He is really at work, in every person, in every circumstance. Because He loves us. Really!

What a blessing it is to KNOW Him, to see His face! The God who my heart longs for, who I find a taste of in everything that is beautiful and good, that God has shown His face. To know Him means that He has said, to us, personally, "follow me!"

Monday, November 21, 2011

At The Heart of Everything

Most loving Heart of Jesus,
Yours is the Heart that draws all other hearts,
the Heart that emptied itself so as to become poor,
that we might find fullness
in this love lavished so abundantly.

You are the Creator of all things,
the Source of the existing of every thing
and every person.
You are God.
You are One with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
and You became one with us,
a man,
so small,
and You took on all our pain and shame
and misery and sorrow
and death.
All of it, everything,
for Love.

At the heart of the universe
is the revelation of the mystery
of who God really is.

God is Infinite Love.

Is this possible?
That what we truly desire,
truly hope for,
even beyond anything we can imagine,
that something beyond all of our longings,
beyond even the greatest and most wonderful
truth that we could conceive:
is it possible that this could be true?
is it possible that, at the heart of all reality,
beyond and yet within all that we seek,
there is the fulfillment of this tremendous,
inconceivable hope?

That the heart of reality
is Love?
It really is true?
Love really wins in the end?
Lord what a marvel,
You Yourself are Love,
You are self-giving,
You are communion,
You are beyond and yet totally fulfilling
everything we ever hoped for.

What our hearts hope for,
what they long for more deeply than any dream,
what our hearts are made for...
a reality that seems impossible,
that seems too much to hope for
in a world
and in lives
that fall short every day,
in all this incoherence,
in all this confusion,
where dissolution seems to be an iron law...

At the heart of everything
is a Love that gives itself completely,
a God who is great enough
and "small" enough
to enter into the smallest openings of our hearts
and begin to change us.

Dear Jesus, come into our hearts
and begin to change us,
give us trust in You,
enable us to believe that You are really here
with us
in every little piece of our lives.
Help us to remember
that the wonder that You have awakened in us
is the beginning of a great adventure,
and the promise of a fulfillment
that truly corresponds to the deep places of our heart’s longing.
No cheap satisfaction
but a glory and a love
that hears and heals and answers and fills
the most hidden groanings of our hearts:
these hearts that You have made
in the image of Eternal Love.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What It Means To Be King

"Men...dream of being king, without knowing what it means to be king, or to be man" (Pascal).

Pascal wrote in the age of kings, although by his time the political office of kingship was already well on its way to degenerating into the nexus of a controlling and suffocating centralized bureaucracy --one that spent beyond its means, kept borrowing money, and eventually went bankrupt. Sounds creepily familiar....

What does it mean "to be king"?

Catholic Christians of the Roman rite celebrate today--the last Sunday before Advent--as the Solemnity of Christ the King. We celebrate Christ's Lordship over the whole universe, over the world, over peoples and nations, and--yes--over governments, because governments exist to preserve the public order and foster the common good. Governments are responsible for human beings, and Christ--who has assumed and redeemed the whole of human reality--is concerned with everything that is human. Whatever the complex structural machinery of a government might be, it exercises authority over human persons, and therefore it is ultimately subject to Him who is the Supreme Man, the Man who renews, transforms, and "sums up" (anakephalaiosis) all things in Himself (Ephesians 1:10).

How could it possibly be otherwise?

If we believe that He has conquered death itself, that He truly reigns in glory, that He is directly involved in shaping the destiny of every human person, then how can we imagine that we might be able to carve out some sphere of human existence that is "neutral" with respect the this Man, Jesus Christ?

Let's try not to think here about the role that religious authorities ought to play in society. Just set that question aside. Let's ask another question: do we believe that Christ is real? Do we believe it? This does not mean, "we think it might be true, maybe, sorta...." This does not mean, "we think its true for us personally, or for our culture, but...." This does not mean, "we think its a good idea...."

If I say, "I believe that Christ is real" I am saying that I know that He is real. To "believe" in the sense of Christian faith means "to know, by the power of the Holy Spirit and on the authority of God." The reality I affirm in faith is mysterious; it can only be grasped by the supernatural elevation of my mind and heart, by grace. But this does not mean that I "don't really" know it. And what I affirm in faith is not just a "worldview," or a way, or a set of rules; it is the affirmation of a fact about a man in history. I "believe" in Jesus--that means that I affirm, with certainty, that this man is God. That is what it means to be "Christian." It means to say, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matthew 16:16).

It is a matter of fact.

Either He is...

or He isn't....

Clarity, if nothing else, would be served immensely if we could just keep ourselves focused on this point. "This man is God." Yes or no? If we say, "yes," a lot of other things fall into place. If this man is God, He is Lord of the cosmos and of history.

Whatever it means to be “king,” He is certainly that and more.

As for the politics of this world? Much could be said about that. Suffice for now to say that those who claim to be “kings” in this world have no business fighting against Him, have no business playing about with the dignity of the human persons who belong to Him, who are created in His image and redeemed by His mercy.

Christ’s Kingship is first of all His freedom to be the Lord, to be the Lover, of hearts, minds, and lives. No earthly power has the right to infringe upon that freedom!

In the words of the Hispanic martyrs of the twentieth century, as they were put to death for their faith–for the freedom of Christ–by the rulers of this world:

iViva Cristo Rey!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Draw Us To Yourself

Jesus, on the Cross You wholly embraced every person.
You alone have given Yourself completely
and You alone understand
the mystery of every person,
because Your emptying of Yourself
has made "room" for every person in Your Heart.
Guide our steps, Lord.
Draw us to Yourself.
Draw us
by the inexhaustible beauty
and goodness
of that total gift of Your love for us.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It Really Happened

We have to realize that we don’t just adhere to a religion called “Christianity,” which is one of many world religions—even if the difference is that our religion is true.

“Christianity” was not anyone’s idea.  We do not just affirm a bunch of abstract theories along with a moral code and a cultural tradition.  We believe, fundamentally, that certain specific events really happened.  The world we live in today doesn’t have any particular problem with a Christianity that limits itself to ideas and moral sentiments.  The challenge comes when we affirm that God really did become man and really did die for us because He loves each one of us and He wants us.

Jesus loves us.  He wants a relationship with each one of us.  This is why the creed is a profession of faith—the faith that becomes possible and effective through the love that God empowers us to give Him in return.  Worldly reason is just never going to be able to wrap itself around the possibility that an Infinite Being would get involved with us in this way. St. Paul calls it “the foolishness of God” which is “wiser than men.”  It is only love that can respond to Love—the wild, wonderful, freely given Love of God that comes to us in Jesus.

From my book Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy (

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Let Us Not Lose Heart

When we experience our weakness, O Lord,
let us not lose heart.
But let us remember Your strength
which works mysteriously in our lives,
manifesting itself and changing us
according to Your plan,
which is to remake us in Your image and likeness,
to engender
and bring forth goodness,
to make of our lives the praise of Your Glory
and Your Mercy.
Let us not lose heart,
but enable us to abandon ourselves to You completely
with trust.

O Jesus have mercy on me,
make me merciful to others,
give me complete trust in You.

Jesus I trust in You.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Being a Loving Presence

How do we cope with chronic illness? How do we keep from feeling worthless?

The great enemy of the sick person is discourage- ment. Of course, sometimes even little things seem like too much, but then vegging out all the time is depressing. Parts of the mind are alive; others are sluggish or shut down. I think that, along with accepting and embracing our limitations in union with Christ and offering them, we should strive to develop whatever potentialities we have that are vital in us.

My mind is still very active but I do tire easily, so I have to pace myself. Pacing is important. The Italians have the right idea about living life with a human pace--piano, piano. When a civilization has been around for three thousand years, it tends to move slowly and devote a lot of time to eating good food. And though it seems to take forever, things do get done. Rome certainly wasn't built in a day. It's still a work in progress.

I have many projects and aspirations that I work on as I can (and they are "coming along"), but–professionally speaking–I have presently only two set goals for each day: (1) To post at least one edifying thing on social media--more than one is gravy; that's why we don't necessarily have posted on my media sites the Morning Prayer and the Angelus and the Hour of Mercy all three every day. (2) To write my blog and post it--post something, big or small, someone else's quotation if necessary, but something. Those are my daily professional goals as a theologian and an educator right now.

It so happens that I usually do a lot of work in a day. Indeed the two little goals have led to a great deal more. I find that I am doing much more than I thought I ever could, and that I am open to the risk of new possibilities and even new goals. But there is still a basic sense of accomplishment even if the day is a disaster but at the end I can still say, "I did the blog." (I should say, Sundays are off, and you may have noticed that the dates of the entries are sometimes a day or two behind, haha.) Some people say I have a whole "internet ministry" and I suppose in a way I do, but these are its two pillars. So although I have quite a bit of professional work these days, as well as lots of fun, it's really built around being faithful to these two goals.

On the personal level, of course, there is the simple fact that I am a husband and father. All I do and all I suffer pertains to my relationship with my wife, and the awareness that everything indeed is shared sustains this unique companionship through many difficulties. But that is a topic for another blog. As a father, however, I "accomplish" something just by being here. I find it hard to believe but it appears to be true. There are these five little people who love me–yes they "need" me to raise them and educate them and correct them, etc., and I do plenty of that (I try anyway). But first of all, they just love me.

That's how God set up the family (and, really, the whole human race). First, we are "given" to each other. We "belong" to each other. And this basic love generates more love. Concretely, what that means is that even if all I can do is "be around," that is still constructive. It is therefore an achievement to go from the bed (where no one can see me) to the chair in the living room, if I can. For the kids, it's the difference between "where's Daddy?" and "Daddy!" For me that's worth getting out of bed for. Sometimes it's the only thing that gets me up. But the life that ensues is full of surprises.

I found this hard to believe until one time when I was bemoaning my uselessness (which I often do, as my friends and family know only too well), and my own father was there. My Dad rarely talks about growing up: his father died when he was 9 and his mother died when he was 11 (thank God, his grandmother was able to raise him and his siblings). He said to me, with great feeling, that "you have no idea how much it means to these children just that you are here. Just being here is so important to them!"

Well, I felt that he could say that with some authority. Of course he knows that my presence, even on rough days, is a loving presence. To be a Mom or a Dad is first of all to be a loving presence. All sorts of things grow from that (including the frustration that we can't do more, as well as the challenge to really do what we can–but everyone faces that in one form or another).

But I found a basic goal right there: Get up! For me that was possible. For those who are really confined to bed it might just be "give time" or "give a smile," but give something, be a loving presence and let yourself be loved. This is the light in which children grow. So I can't "go out and work"? Well, banging my head against the wall won't change that.

Family duties must be divided up. Financial resources must be found. Sometimes sick people feel that they are not “contributing enough.” Not true. A family is an organism; it adapts. It will focus on the essentials. It will sacrifice what is not necessary. Others will offer their help. Do not be too proud to accept it.

Children take on more responsibility, and learn from it. They understand more than you realize. Love them, talk to them, encourage them, give whatever you can to them, give them yourself–that is what they need first and foremost. If nothing else, let them take care of you. You will be teaching them how to be courageous, how to endure the frailty of human life.

I am not saying we have a license to be lazy. Certainly we must do what we can, and we must challenge ourselves, but we also must give everything to God, and trust that He will bring forth what is good according to His wisdom.

Monday, November 14, 2011

He Never Fails

When I hear about some of the things that people suffer, I think to myself, "I could never handle that."

But I am given what God enables me to bear. I offer Him my best, today, in the circumstances right now. I ask Him to give me the grace to trust in Him. I ask Him to change me in whatever way I need to change. I ask Him to forgive me each day, because I know that every day I will fall short. So I ask for the grace to get up and keep going. "Lord, I desire to love You the way You want me to love you. Have mercy on me."

And then I trust in God to bring forth the good, and even though I often fail in trust, still He never fails: He brings forth the good, in His time and in His way, which always turns out to be better than what we thought we wanted.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How Writing Develops

The people who help me to care for my health think that the most important thing for me to do is to write. That is my excuse for being online all the time! It gets me writing, a lot!

Social media seem to create the right environment for expressing myself in writing by motivating me to comment and interact on posts and in private messages; little things develop into larger conversations, and the next thing you know, stuff is written. And there are also people I keep up with regularly, for various reasons, on the networks or via email. As a result of all these efforts to communicate, I hammer a lot of things out in writing. I then often transfer what I have written to a word document, where I work on it further. Sometimes (after editing or altering as necessary to ensure all possible respect for privacy) I may post some of this writing here.

Perhaps someone who is reading this might recognize some of the ideas and even some of the phrases and segments from posts, comment feeds or personal messages they have read from me before on one of the various social media. Please do not worry–all personal details are carefully removed and every discretion is observed. No matter how open I may be about myself, I always take care to preserve the confidences of others.

My desire is to make further and broader use of ideas and experiences that I have expressed in the written word in the initial context of communication. I also hope to rework some of this blog into my next book, and perhaps even beyond. That is how writing develops, at least for me.

It is something that gets pulled out of me. I write because of the sense that other people want it, that it helps them. That is where my motivation comes from. It was people responding to my book that first pulled me out of a shell that I hid in for more than a year (also a change in my medication, and the help of a good priest, and--as always–the effort and encouragement of my steadfast wife).

Now I'm determined to stay out of my shell, and to be there for those who need me. I shall not bury my talent in the ground.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Education and Reality

John Paul gave me a tour of his school notebooks and tests. He did this voluntarily (and enthusiastically). Every parent who has a child in school should definitely do this from time to time. In fact, do it frequently. This is your child's life. John Paul's life is really rich these days. He is learning some serious stuff at Chelsea. And he has done some creative projects of his own based on what he's been studying. He recently put together a power point presentation (just for fun) of Latin terms and their pictures corresponding to them.

Our son has had a Montessori education. He has learned to develop his interests in a creative and constructive way, dealing with reality--including the possibilities of multimedia. Montessori doesn't use computers; it's all "hardware," hands-on stuff. Calligraphy rather than word processing. And yet, the child who finishes the elementary level will take to computers like a fish to water. He has learned how investigate, how to be patient, how to be persistent in front of new things.

Montessori prepares a child for a secondary school education. He or she enters High School with a solid grasp of the basics of knowledge, but also with a great deal of experience, which fosters in him or her an inquiring mind, a sense of the diverse methods involved in approaching various kinds of subjects, and a readiness to take on new challenges.

I love the Montessori method. It is a realist education. In spite of what might seem like a superficial resemblance, the Montessori ideal is the opposite of the ideal of Rousseau. The point is not to leave the child "alone" so that the child can unfold the possibilities of his or her innate goodness. The point is to place the child in a pedagogically structured environment, so that he or she can discover truth, goodness, and beauty through a guided experience of real things. It is an education that corresponds to human nature.

And it is this human nature that I see maturing in my children.

For more information on the Montessori educational method, here is a useful link:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perfect Vessel of Jesus

O Mother Mary,
perfect vessel of Jesus,
help us.
When everything still seems too impossible,
you are there, Mary.
I entrust everything into your hands,
and I ask you who carried Jesus in your womb,
to bring Him to me and me to Him,
to bring together in your maternal heart
what the distance of my weakness keeps apart.
Mary, you brought Jesus into the world.
Bring Him, ever more deeply, into my life.
Dear Mary, mother Mary.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Taste Of Eternity

All of our life is related to our destiny. This is what makes reality attractive. The more we become aware of this, however, the more vulnerable we often feel. Why is this?

The "taste" of eternity that life awakens in us fascinates us and draws us on, but it also brings sorrow because the fulfillment is not yet here, because we must wait. We must endure. Nothing we do in this world can take this sorrow away, because we long for the Infinite--we really do! There really is a relationship between every event in our lives and eternity, and it is the secret behind every true joy.  But even the joys of this life are permeated with the ache of longing, with the "not yet." In the end, only the Cross makes this bearable. But joy is also full of promise and hope, and even its sorrow is sweeter than any regular satisfaction. It hopes in the Resurrection.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

After All

Well, we sure can make a mess of things sometimes. But I'm just never going to give up. I sure feel like giving up. But I'm never going to give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

Who am I to presume to give advice to people? But there is a God and He keeps loving us. Thank God for the Cross. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up on Him.

I am the least trusting person in the world. I pray, "Jesus I trust in You" all day and I don't seem to be getting anywhere. Or am I?

I wrote a blog today, after all.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remembering November 2005 And After (part two)

Here is the continuation and conclusion of the reflection posted on All Souls Day:

“I’m fine,” I told myself.

I felt shaken up, a little overwhelmed, a little out of joint. It was a Friday afternoon by the time things settled down and I had my rental car. I decided it would be a good idea to see my chiropractor on Monday, so I made an appointment. Then I tried to push my way through the many activities of a busy weekend.

Something wasn’t quite right.

Indeed it wasn’t. I should have been in bed. Complete rest will slow the progress of neurological damage after a concussion. Running around like crazy can make it worse.

I ran around like crazy through the rest of Friday and Saturday. Crazy in more ways than one. I became increasingly confused. But not enough to stop me from getting through my business.

Then on Sunday I started losing my balance.

Oh no, I thought. Here goes Lyme disease again! There are so many diverse symptoms that can accompany a Lyme flare-up that people with CLD are tempted to blame it for everything. I was also fatigued, but that was nothing new. And confused.

Monday morning I made the short drive to the chiropractor. By then it had been 72 hours. I was slow-minded, confused, and had balance problems. I wasn’t feeling very well, but I was used to not feeling well. Neither my wife or I realized that I shouldn’t have been driving anywhere at that point.

The doctor looked at me for a few seconds, and then asked, “is your wife at home?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Call her, and if she can’t get you we’ll call an ambulance. You need to go to the emergency room right away. You’ve got a concussion.”

“A what?”

That’s what it was, all right. I couldn’t even take a few steps with my eyes closed without falling over. The ER doctors explained the basics to me, and my own doctor and a neurologist followed up. I had a major concussion. I was ordered off my feet for a week. I was told it might take a couple of months to recover normal brain functioning. Meanwhile I was supposed to take it easy and avoid stress as much as possible....

“Ah...heh, heh...I’m a teacher...ha...y’know, thick-headed students, grueling lectures, papers, finals, senior theses coming up....” Stress? That’s the job description.

What could I do? We were two thirds of the way through the semester. I couldn’t just bail out on my “kids” (as I always used to call my students). So I worked six brutal weeks, laying down with splitting headaches between lectures, wearing sunglasses to cut light sensitivity, seeing students in my home as much as possible, and even having a few read their papers to me aloud. I needed pain medication to get my grades done, which contributed further to wearing down my immune system. This was all like passing out party invitations to the semi-dormant Lyme bacteria in my system.

I finished the grades. But my overall health was a wreck. And the concussion wasn’t healing. I had headaches. I had increasing difficulty following a conversation. And although I could still lecture, I was finding it harder to put words together in ordinary circumstances. I was still losing my balance.

By the middle of January, instead of being at opening weekend for the Spring semester, I was in the hospital. My semester was cancelled. I was demoralized and depressed.

Why had this happened?

When I got out of the hospital, I did nothing but rest for two months. I played games with my children. My limitations forced a certain simplicity upon me. The anger faded, and I began to heal. I also began to see a Catholic psychotherapist. This too was the beginning of a whole new dimension in living with my illness.

I began to heal.

On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the college chaplain came to visit me and gave me Holy Communion. Something began on that day, something that has slowly grown in me even in the midst of many subsequent setbacks in physical and mental health. Something deep in me began to heal. I was being prepared for a new task in my life.

As I began to feel better, I started working out. My strength returned, and with it a measure of energy that I had not felt in years. I started working on papers for publication, and by March I was doing everything but classroom lecturing. The previous year, I had patched myself together to return to my work. But now, I was beginning to feel well.

Could it be that my prayer was being answered after all?

Healing, as it turned out, has proven to be a much more complicated task than it appeared in those months. Still this temporary health was a blessing, and though I’ve had many setbacks and struggles since then, God has brought us through them all in a way that has made it possible for me to give attention to what was closest to my heart.

Indeed, it was this window of health that made possible the great gift that I had prayed for on that November morning.

Eileen and I prayed in March, about a possibility. We talked about it. We knew there were risks. But we judged in faith that God wanted us to take them. We prayed for another child.

And God blessed us. God granted the prayers of that November morning. If we had seen the road ahead, with all its trials, would we have had the courage? It is good that life is in the hands of God. Because looking back at that difficult road, we see even the darkest places lit up by the face of our beloved Josefina, and we have never had the slightest regret.

God’s ways are mysterious, and I still do not know how He will fully answer the prayer of that day in November. But I do know that I was struggling with work and keeping my head above water in those days. This was an absorbing focus of my energies, and there was no thought of another child and no plan to seek one. There was only a desire and a prayer, reaching out to some wild unknown future.

We were a family of four children and a father who struggled with his health and the burdens of a difficult job. Then the burden and the struggle were taken off my shoulders. I was forced to rest, in body and in mind. From this rest I found energy and health (even though, as it turned out, only for a time, and as a preparation for new trials that I have already described on this blog). This time engendered in us the hope and the willingness to risk asking for an unlikely gift, and a space was opened in the history of our family for another child.

Without that accident that God permitted to happen as a consequence of my foolishness, there probably never would have been a Josefina Janaro.

Can anyone imagine this family without her?

Thus what seemed miserable at the time became the beginning of an immeasurable good. And it was not my plan that produced this but God, who works everything for the good.

He allows those who trust in Him to perceive this, or at least to glimpse it a little, enough to muster the courage to take risks.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Endowed With Freedom

"The Church alone, in its tradition, defends the absolute value of the person, from the first instant of conception to the last moment of old age, however decrepit and useless the individual may be. And what is this defense of the human being's value based on? How is it that man has this right, this absoluteness whereby even if the whole world were to move in one direction he has something within which gives him the right to stay where he is? He has something within by which he or she can judge the world from which he or she was born.

"This single human being [is] free from the entire world, free, so that the world together and even the total universe cannot force him into anything. In only one instance can this image of a free man be explained. This is when we assume that this point is not totally the fruit of the biology of the mother and father, not strictly derived from the biological tradition of mechanical antecedents, but rather when it possesses a direction relationship with the infinite, the origin of all the flux of the world,...that is to say, it is endowed with something derived from God....

"So here is the paradox; freedom is dependence upon God.... Either we depend upon the flux of our material antecedents, and are consequently slaves of the powers that be, or we depend upon What lies at the origin of the movement of all things, beyond them, which is to say, God."

--Luigi Giussani   

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nothing But A Poor Prayer

I left everyone in suspense last night. I promised to continue the story, but I am a bit weary. Today I have only a poor prayer from the heart. The rest of the story will come soon.

Lord, have mercy on me!
Give me words that are useful, somehow,
in this moment.
Make me an instrument of what You want to give
and use my weakness and flaws
as well as my talents and gifts
because I just don't know how to separate them
even when I want to be an instrument of Your Love.
I just entrust everything to You.
Carry me in Your merciful Heart.
Jesus I trust in You.
Jesus I trust in You.
Jesus I trust in You.
Dear Mary, merciful Mother, pray for me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remembering All Souls Day 2005

I woke up very early on a crisp, clear morning, and a thought immediately took shape in my mind.

It was All Souls Day, November 2, 2005.

For the past several weeks, I had been carrying around the awful burden and the anguish of my friend’s suicide (see October’s posts: The Middle of October and I Cannot Leave Them Alone).

My plan was as clear as it was sudden: I decided to drive up to the monastery that morning. It was not yet dawn. I could get there in time for Mass, make a holy hour for my friend’s soul and his family, confess and speak with my spiritual director, and drive back just in time for my 10:30 class.

I was in my first semester back to teaching after my first struggle with Lyme disease. During the past year I had undergone extensive treatment. I appeared to be in remission, but I still found that I had to pace myself. My health still seemed precarious. This too weighed on me.

And yet on this morning, the world felt light. Anything seemed possible.

I drove up to Holy Cross Cistercian Monastery in Berryville, Virginia on old familiar country roads as the sun came up. And I had another idea. I decided to pray a novena of chaplets to the Divine Mercy: in the next hour I said nine chaplets in a row–this precious novena that we pray on the days between Good Friday and Mercy Sunday, this novena that I prayed in 1995 that God might send me the woman he wanted me to marry and send her “soon” (Eileen called a couple of weeks later and said she wanted to move to Virginia), the chaplet of Divine Mercy that I say every day, that played such an important role in my mature conversion to the Church and has been a continual source of sustenance and consolation and nourishment in building up my life.

I prayed this novena of chaplets as part of my devotions that morning and I had three intentions: (1) for the soul of my friend, and the consolation of his family; (2) for the restoration of my health; (3) that we might have another child.

Teresa was about to turn three. We had our four beautiful children–for a couple that got started in their thirties, we felt blessed. We were grateful. And I was still sick. I was taking a lot of medications. Yet, on that morning, something in me was moved to pray for this, to desire it ardently. Another child. Every child is a miracle and a gift from God. It was a little bold on my part to ask for another, especially since I hadn’t even talked to Eileen. But it was a secret desire in my fatherly heart, and I brought it to God that morning, along with my prayer for the soul of my friend.

I got to the monastery in time for the end of Mass, made my hour of prayer, and then was able to see the beloved old Trappist monk who guided me for nine years of my life, whose advice on prayer, silence, the presence of God and the living of human relationships still remains rooted in me (he is now living in a nursing home, and his mind has become as simple as his prayer; for him perhaps a blessing, but a loss–in one way, at least–for me).

The day seemed kissed by God. The silence of the monastery was a great balm for my aching soul, the words of Fr. Edward were wise, the fall air was fresh and the colors majestic. I took a few pictures with my camera. It had been a beautiful morning, like a taste of heaven.

I looked at my watch and realized that I had to leave in order to get back in time for class. Any former student of mine reading this remembers my Mediterranean sense of time, always “a little late.” I was trying to correct this bad habit. I was determined to be on time for class.

Oh, but first I had to stop in quickly to the gift shop to get a prayer card for the family. That took just a little too much time....

Well, I would just have to make up the time by driving faster on the way back.

God’s grace meets my stupidity. Again. How does He put up with me?

*People, listen to me. DON’T DO THIS! Drive safely. Don’t speed. Don’t think, “I can handle it. I know the road.” A car, when it loses control, can become an instrument of death–for you, or for other innocent people. I don’t care how good you may think you are, or how many times you’ve driven over that road, there are speed limits for a reason. It only takes one mistake, one mechanical failure, one queer obstacle on the road, one slip of the mind, one misjudgment. Yes, life is full of risks, but this is an unnecessary risk. Slow down, pay attention, stop worrying, drive your car safely. Do it for the sake of your family, of other drivers, of yourself.*

. . .

Speeding along and worrying about being on time. The old car’s got a pretty bouncy suspension. Country roads. Watch the curves. Here’s a nice straight stretch. No cars coming the other way.

Oh, railroad tracks. THUNK. What was...?


Heading toward the side. There’s a tree. A tree. Me, the air, and a tree in autumn a split second of high speed.

The tree whizzed passed just to the left of the car.

Grass wheels hit spin around I’m bouncing everywhere STOP.


Thank God there was no one else coming the other way. Thank God. God forgive me.

. . .

“Are you sure you’re alright sir?” the policeman asked. “Do you want us to take you to the hospital?”

“Oh, I’m fine.” I was sitting on the ground. I was staring. He asked more than once.

“I’m fine. I’m fine.”

A concussion only begins at the time of impact. The brain hits the inside of the skull, and there is a cascade of neurological damage that takes place over the course of the next 72 hours.

*You've just been in a serious car accident? YOU ARE NOT “OKAY”! Get yourself checked out.

I got into the tow truck with the driver.

The car was totaled. It was an old car, and only had liability insurance. This accident was a solo job. “I’m okay, though” I said to myself as the reverberation of the concussion continued to shred neuropathways in my brain.

“What happened to this beautiful day?” I wondered. “What about my prayers? My novena? And the sense that God was taking care of me? How does this fit in?”

How indeed? It was the beginning of a mysterious and dramatic period in my life. November 2, 2005. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

to be continued....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Unknown and "Unlikely" Saints

On this All Saints Day, I am led to ponder the saints in heaven who may never have entered a Catholic church while on earth.

People who do not know about Christ are still loved by God and led by His grace, and if they search for Him and follow what their conscience shows them to be His will, He leads them (in some mysterious way) to say "yes" to the Person of Christ present in their lives, and thus they can be saved by Christ and joined to the Church even if they have never heard of either. This must also be true of people who have "heard" of Christ and the Church, but do not understand them properly through no fault of their own.

Jesus, by becoming man, has united himself in a certain way with every human being. The secret drama of every person's real life is their decision to say "yes" or "no" to Jesus Christ as He makes Himself present in their circumstances. Since Christ’s coming, there have been many people who have never heard of Him, but they have sought God's will, and have sought through the knowledge that was available to them to do what they thought God wanted of them. They love the good, and in that love God's grace is at work so that they can somehow encounter and accept the person of Christ through love even if they do not know His name. If a person truly wants "God's will," then they want Christ even if they don't know it, because Christ is God's will, and Christ places that desire in them. Jesus Christ is what every human person is searching for. And so all those who truly search for the Mystery of life, and beg for that Mystery, will be led in a vital way to God's revelation of that Mystery: Jesus Himself. Thus many who do not know "about" Jesus in a way that they can express or articulate, can still say "yes" to Jesus in their lives through love, through fidelity to the grace that God gives them, and through mysterious ways that we don't understand.

There are various theological theories about how this can happen, and I am not proposing any of them here. Nor am I saying that someone who recognizes the truth about Christ and the Church can reject it in favor of some other path that he or she prefers. If I am truly searching for the One who loves me, and then He shows Himself to me in Person and reveals His Name, how can I not accept Him, let myself be embraced by Him, and embrace Him in return? If fear or my own preferences were to prevail at this point, it would mean the failure of my search rather than its fulfilment.

What I want to point out is the simple fact that God’s grace is central to the life of every human person, and it has ways of working even in those whose connection to the Church cannot be seen by us. It is something to remember on the day in which we celebrate all the saints. God’s mercy is a mystery, but it’s greatness will surely surprise us.