Monday, December 31, 2012

What is "2013"? The Number on My Mind is "50"!!!

Its sneaking up on me, accompanied by that increasingly intense theme music (dum-dum-dum) that everyone my age remembers from the movie Jaws, you know...when the shark is stalking its victim.

Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum: January 2, 2013.

As the ancient peoples used to say, "I have seen many winters."

Or as I like to put it, "I have seen many Spring Trainings."   [If you're scratching your head on that one, its because your not a baseball fan.]

Sigh. I can do this! As the noted American philosopher Satchel Paige once said, "Age is just mind over matter: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter" (and he was still pitching at age 60!).

I don't "mind" at all, really. (Really!) But I have been thinking about it a lot, and also about the wild, head-spinning half century that I have seen in this world, and the unique experience that has made up my own peculiar life. I may as well express some of these thoughts.

Thoughts and observations about the approaching FIVE-OH!

(1) When my Dad turned 50, I was about to graduate from college.

(2) Most Americans at this age have empty nests. They are past parenting, and sometimes even grandparents. They're itchy and looking for something to do. I'm up to my neck in parenthood on various levels, from teens to munchkins who skin their knees and cry and want band-aids for nothing.

(3) Sometimes I read blogs of millennials, and I laugh my head off when they say things like, "Gosh, I was the only person in the group who wasn't over fifty years old!" Well, let me tell you, we feel a lot younger on the inside than we look on the outside. And we still have plenty to offer. :-)

(4) I read this somewhere and thought it was funny: "Inside of every old person there's a young person trying to figure out what happened!!!" 

(5) I remember my mother's 50th birthday. We went on a pilgrimage to the National Shrine in Washington DC. I was a graduate student (!). I was 26 years old, in fact.

(6) In my profession, 50 is the prime of life. Theologians and philosophers "peak" in their fifties and sixties. Everything up to now has been "youthful," "early" work. Finally, its time to get serious!

(7) I got married at age 33. The age range of my children makes me feel like I should be ten years younger. Josefina is only six years old. She has friends whose parents are pretty much half my age.

(8) Note to all those anxious novena-praying twenty-something single ladies out there: Eileen was 29 when we got married, and we have five beautiful children. You can have plenty of children in your thirties, without even having to rush.  So don't give up and don't panic.

(9) Why did I wait so long? What a dummy! No, I know why. Crazy Rome, but so good, and it solidified certain things in me. Who knows? Maybe Rome is still in the future. One of my friends might become Pope (haha, that's actually not totally impossible, but, eh...I'm not worrying about that now). All my meandering turned out for the best. It shows that we have to be patient and trust God to work even through the messes we make. And now Eileen and I are going on 17 years. Time is a mysterious thing.
More advice for the single ladies club: So yeah, patience. Nevertheless, I'll give you some "silly" advice. That good Catholic young man who is your "friend"? I was a bachelor for a long time. Let me tell you a secret. There is something that every single young man wants: FOOD! Really, they want food. They don't know how much they want food. Cook for that man! I speak from personal experience; I was conquered by a loaf of exotic fresh baked bread! 
I'm not being "sexist" here. Its just a fact that you are better than him at it! If you can't cook, learn! You'll learn fast, don't worry. He actually may be able to cook food very well, but he does not know how to feed himself. And he will never learn. He'll be great at cooking one thing, and he'll eat it every. single. night. Hahaha. 
In any case the basic thing to remember is that the twenty-something single Catholic man is a barbarian. I don't care what he has a doctorate in, I assure you the man doesn't know what socks to put on. He is pitiful. Civilize him! If he's called to the priesthood, it doesn't matter because all he needs to wear is black. But if not, he needs you! 
Haha, okay some guys know how to dress. But there is something he fumbles with in life without even realizing it, and if he's really the man for you, you will find it if you look for it. I'm not talking about wimpy guys here; I'm talking about good men. That's the key: find the things he doesn't even realize he's missing. They are signs of deeper things of the heart, and this is what its really all about. If he's truly called to celibacy, God will more than make up for it with his grace, above all in those deep places of the heart (and he'll wear black). Otherwise, he needs you! 
Well, that's my advice just tossed out to people I don't know, based on my own experience and that of numerous formerly clueless single urban professional friends who are now all happily married. Meanwhile, keep trusting in God, ladies. He has a plan for you. And if its not marriage, He will use your "feminine genius" in some other mysterious and wonderful way. Be the great woman God made you to be.
(10) Seriously, single men or single women, whatever your age and your competence, you are very much loved by God, and you can live your circumstances as an extraordinarily fruitful commitment. Paths of life are as unique as people. But remember, if you don't actually make a commitment to be single, God can still surprise you. He's good at that. If He does, it won't be some dreamy thing, though. It will be something that pokes you out of your comfort zone. I've seen all kinds of things. Trust and don't worry.

(11) Its beautiful to see the younger generation maturing and accomplishing things in the world, with their own experience and energy. I really enjoy working and interacting with solid adults who weren't even born when I graduated college.

(12) Really, in some ways I feel more like I'm turning 40. Of course, my forties have been a weird decade. Part of me wants to erase it from my life, but no! It was good for me. I'm leaner (literally) and tougher than when I turned 40. And I have learned that God is in charge, and that I am not smart. I'm just a poor human being. I don't know nuthin' about nuthin' and that's that. The "sophomore" period of my life is over. Am I ready to be an upper classman?

(13) People who are usually younger than me now: doctors, lawyers, parish priests, store owners, journalists, mechanics, students (of course), parents who still have children at home, all athletes, engineers, stockbrokers, middle and even upper-middle business management people, police, and the majority of everybody else.

(14) People who are usually my age or older than me still: popes, cardinals, presidents, heads of state, most bishops, CEOs (other than those who head wacky companies like Facebook), grandparents, Plato's "philosopher king" (minimum age 50), ummm, ummm... great-grandparents!, and also many accomplished scholars and thinkers, especially in theology or the humanities (hey, if you make a defining contribution in these fields before age 50 you're a wunderkind).

(15) I'm grateful that I get to spend most of the day, every day, with a lively, happy 6 year old girl.

(16) Of course that means I'll be pulling my white hairs out during my sixties! ;)

(17) I hope I live a long time, with better health and some energy. Of course, I throw myself upon the mercy of God and His loving Mother, for life and -- I pray -- in my final breath, whenever it may come. Still, I have human hopes, which I try to offer with trust in God's wisdom and mercy. I want Eileen and I to be around for the kids (and grandkids). I want us to be there for them as they embark on their vocations, and into their middle age when they start hitting those big bumps. I want us to be there for them like our parents have been for us. And I want to grow old with Eileen and read poetry together, and go to Rome with her again. These are things I hope for, if it be God's will.

(18) Yes, I want to know Jesus and the joy of the Holy Spirit, and the mercy of the Father. I want to serve the Church, and build her up, and -- of course -- be part of the New Evangelization! Or, rather, I need to be newly evangelized. I need to let the Church, in all of the particularity of the people that Jesus has given to me, build me up! I need to discover the presence of Jesus in all the vast spaces of every day where I still live with a heart that forgets about God. I don't know how He will use me as a witness for others. The most important ways, I expect, will be hidden from me. May He put the love in my heart to cooperate in His infinitely discrete and tender care for others.

(19) I have a sense that I am in the midst of important intellectual and cultural work, and that it is slow, ponderous, time-consuming work. Illness has set me back, but it has also slowed me down and forced me to focus. Many people don't see how intellectual work is real work. That's probably because its so easy to fake it. Sophistry is easy. Playing around with ideas is easy. But its hard to take insights and refine them, explicate them, make them coherent, and polish away all the crudeness so that they will shine like mirrors of real beauty. If there is such a thing as "culture," something worth passing on in history, then our lifetime is only enough to cultivate a very tiny piece of it, with much labor and patience. And we must immerse ourselves in that great community of human wisdom called tradition, while also having a sufficiently rich personal experience to make our own very small contribution.

(20) And of course I want to "be a teacher," somehow. Not because I think I am wise, but because this is my calling. For the little human being, "teaching" is like leading a hike. Neither he nor anyone else in his group has ever climbed the mountain, but others have done it. It is a narrow way. The leader knows the terrain and how to navigate it. He has studied the maps. He knows which trails to follow, which rocks to climb, and he has to make sure that no one gets lost. He has learned things about the mountain, and perhaps even seen pictures. Still, the peak will grant a view that is new and beautiful for everyone.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Poverty of a Child

Teresa, age one, as baby Jesus in Nativity Play, 2003

The glory of God is not manifested in the triumph and power of a king, it does not shine in a famous city, in a sumptuous palace, but dwells in the womb of a virgin, it reveals itself in the poverty of a child.

The omnipotence of God, also in our lives, acts with the force, often silent, of the truth and of love.

Faith tells us, then, that the defenseless power of that Child in the end overcomes the noise of the powers of the world.

                                            Benedict XVI

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Hidden Faces Gathered at Our Christmas Crib

Our "traditional" Nativity Scene

May God bless the people in China who made it, wherever they are, and the men who accompanied it on ship across the ocean (along with thousands of exact copies), and all the anonymous Stuffmart employees who trucked it, unpacked it, and shelved it, and everyone else who worked with it...all so that we Americans could buy a decent looking and cheap nativity set. I mean this really: God bless you. Each of you on the gigantic chain of global commerce is a real human person. And you are part of our Christmas, by virtue of whatever role you played in the process of bringing this artifact to us. Your work, however "insignificant," is an expression of your human dignity. Every thing in my house is the fruit of human work--the application of the human energy of countless persons I will never know. But it is fitting, as I look upon the image of God Incarnate, that I remember you all; that I remember that things don't just fall out of the sky; that I remember how much we all depend on one another. There is much injustice in how all of this goes into effect, and I have no idea what would be necessary to unravel it all. But at least, I can acknowledge my gratitude to you. At least I can pray for you, that the Child many of you don't know, but who loves each one of you with an infinite love, might embrace you, and all of us, in His great mercy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Day at the Janaros

Merry Christmas from the Janaro family!

Jesus Christ is born. Come, let us adore Him!

We went to the beautiful Midnight Mass, and finally got home around 2:00 AM. But Christmas and Easter pictures are a tradition, so we had to take one quickie while we were still wearing our Christmas duds. Then the kids went to bed so that "Santa" could put the presents under the tree.

Shortly after I awoke in the morning, John Paul was peeking in the room. "I have been sent as a scout," he said in his increasingly deep voice. I was bleary-eyed. Who was that at the door?

Was it this guy?

Or was it THIS GUY?

I had to shake my head so I could see clearly. "Okay John Paul," I said, "we need ten minutes."

We soon came out to the living room and saw a bunch of kids ready to open presents:

What? Who are these kids? We'd better have some coffee!
(Really, that's Christmas 2003, with (LtoR) Teresa, Lucia, Agnese, and John Paul. Josefina is not in the picture because...there was no Josefina. Indeed, the universe once existed without Josefina, or any of these other monkeys.)

But seriously, the kids who opened presents yesterday looked like this:

John Paul (these days he brings down most of
the heavy boxes from the attic for Christmas)

Agnese, who is always a challenge to photograph

Lucia, a lovely young lady

Teresa! (She's the one year old baby in the 2003 picture)

                     And FINALLY....

Josefina (who is a year older than John Paul was in the 2003 picture)

Here's something interesting: Look back at the picture from 2003. Do you see the pajamas that the 3 year old Lucia is wearing on that Christmas morning? Now look at the 6 year old Josefina. Yup, same pajamas. Obviously our kids wear hand-me-downs, and Jojo is still working her way through her sisters' old toddler clothes!
After presents it was time to get ready for the arrival of Uncle Walter and "Papa and Gramma" (and more presents). I've celebrated many Christmases with these precious people, who still take care of me after all these years. The first one that I can remember was in 1966, when I was just short of 4 years old. I don't remember much, other than the fact that Walter got a cowboy. I liked his toy cowboy better than anything I got. And I drew lots of pictures.
[Later in the evening, thanks to the distance-bridging technology of Skype, we were able to "visit" with the other grandparents too, who are three thousand miles away in California. Woo Hoo!! Hooray for Skype!]
I want to say how much I love my wonderful wife. Eileen made it a great day for everyone, with delicious food and hospitality, and an inexhaustible patience in managing a crew of kids-who-were-supposedly-"helping" (really, they were a great help).

I am so grateful for the affection that permeates everything she does. She makes Christmas at our home beautiful and merry. She helps me to remember the Joy, which is sometimes hard for me. I can't have joy alone, but Christ is born into the world and He is the One who has woven our lives together, that we might know His joy and thus come out of our own solitude. Thank you, Eileen. I love you.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Joy of Christmas is a Gift

What's this? A sad Santa?
"....a toy camera, and a coloring book with coloring pencils...."

Toy camera? Jojo waits until Christmas Eve to come up with that idea? Maybe Santa can scrounge something up. Now she runs around singing, "Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas" to her own tune.

John Paul and the girls have been baking cookies. The tree is getting its proper Christmas adornments. We will keep it up, bright and cheery, through all those January nights, all the way to February 2. The Christmas tree is a symbol of the New Tree of Life, the life that the child who is born this night is giving to us.

Santa has been dragging around a bit lately. But his family keeps forgiving him, and in their exuberance and chaos and burned cookies he realizes that the joy of Christmas is not something he creates by his own strength and activism. It is a gift.

Christ is born, alleluia. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Children, Do What I Say....

I exhort my children to strength of virtue and feats of courage that I do not myself possess. Just think of what the world would be like if grown ups behaved like this:

Don't be afraid.
Stop complaining.
When you say something you know is not true, that's called a lie. You should never lie.
Clean up your mess.
Be careful!
Pay attention!
Stop fighting. Now I want you to forgive each other.
Remember that God loves you so much.
You can't just ignore your sister. If she needs something, you have to take care of her.
I know it's hard, but you still have to do it.
God loves you. Pray for the strength to know and do His will.

If I could manage to do that much each day, in my own circumstances, I would be in a lot better shape than I am now. Still, I must tell my children the truth, and then ask God to make me more of an example of the words I speak. After all, they learn more by example. And of course, I must never forget that God loves me too.

It is very humbling, to be a parent.

(post from 12/22/11)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is It Real Trust?

"Jesus, I trust in You."

But the voices of Worry get stirred up, and they say: Really? Are you sure you trust in Him? Would you still trust Him if...?

"Stop these thoughts! Jesus, I trust in You!!!"

You're a hypocrite. You have to FIX YOURSELF first. Then you'll be worthy to trust in Him.

"Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner. I trust in You!"

Is it real trust? Or is it actually presumption!!??


Are you sure you're trusting in the right way?

"Am I sure?
Jesus, give me the grace to trust in You. Have mercy on me!"

"Jesus, I trust in You to enable me to trust in You."

"Mother Mary, carry me. Hold me in your heart."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

There Are No Shortcuts

I have nothing to say. I have been staring at a blank screen for over an hour. Staring. Really.

Lots of ideas have gone through my mind. The Amerisphere is full of ideas, because we have all been provoked in recent days. Why do these mass killings keep happening? People argue about gun laws. People argue about whether or not these shooters are "mentally ill." People talk about our violent society, our narcissistic culture, the effects of violent video games, the degradation of masculinity, social isolation, family breakdowns, and so on.

Some of these reflections have value. Some of them are rather silly. Many of them are, in part, ways of distracting ourselves. We want to reduce the fundamental questions of life to social and political problems that can be fixed somehow.

Let's figure out what causes this, and fix it!

But many of us are just shaken up and confused. I work in the office of a children's center. Eileen teaches there. We have a six year old daughter. My gosh! There are no words for this.

We have prayers and sorrow and deep sympathy for the families, certainly.

We are also reminded of our own vulnerability, how we have invested ourselves so profoundly in relationships and circumstances that seem to hang by a thread. We are reminded of the presence of the faces we love so much, how dear they are to us, but also how fragile everything easily we might lose our loved ones, even our children.
"Why do people have to die? Why this darkness, this absence, this wrenching separation from someone I love?"
The big questions. We all experience them sooner or later. Even if we are convinced that we "know the answers," our guts will still be torn by their pain.

Christians need to remember this.

Of course, our faith reassures us that there is eternal life, that death has been conquered. There is comfort here; indeed, when life seems incomprehensible we are reminded that our trust in Jesus must be radical and total. We must trust, because it is through love that faith holds on in the most obscure places, the inexpressibly personal places where ideas can seem so cold.

[If I continue writing words here, it is only with the understanding that I'm just stammering, and that I hardly know what I'm talking about. If I write, its only to point to a reality that is infinitely more important than anything I can say.]

Christianity is not "cheap answers to the fundamental questions of life." Christianity is a Person who loves us and endures our vulnerability to the very end, transforming it from within. The "answer" is the way He embraces each of our lives. We are changed by living with Him. We are not changed by a satisfying explanation. We are changed by Him.

There are no shortcuts. We must live through everything, trusting in Him. Especially when we feel powerless and He seems absent. We may not even feel any trust, but still we must trust, we must beg to be able to trust, we must continue to hope even if it all seems wild and impossible. Because He Himself really endures with us all the tears, the separations, the crushed hearts. Really.

He has made it all His own.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Are Not Left to Ourselves

God has left His Heaven and come down to earth for man...
taking on human flesh and becoming man like us.
Advent invites us to follow
the path of this presence
and reminds us again and again
that God is not removed from the world,
He is not absent,
we are not left to ourselves,
but He comes to us in different ways,
which we need to learn to discern.
And we, with our faith, our hope and our charity,
are called every day to see and bear witness to this presence,
in an often superficial and distracted world,
to reflect in our lives the light
that illuminated the cave of Bethlehem!

Benedict XVI

Friday, December 14, 2012

For the Children who Died....

In prayer and remembrance.

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut.

December 14, 2012.

For the children who died, Jesus have mercy.

For the teachers and staff who died, Jesus have mercy.

For the parents in their grief, Jesus have mercy.

For the families who have endured loss, Jesus have mercy.

For the children who witnessed this horror, Jesus have mercy.

Jesus have mercy, and protect the sanctuaries of the child from all this monstrous violence.

Protect the classroom, and every learning environment.

Protect the home, and the families who build the home.

Protect that inner, sacred space of the child's emerging awareness.

Protect children in every place where they are vulnerable and defenseless. Grant that they might find love, and be nurtured, and supported in every step of their growth.

Protect every child, from the dawn, in that intimate space beneath the heart of his or her mother.

Protect the mother and the child, and the sanctity and inviolability of their relationship, which is always a gift from God.

Give us the strength to love and support the lives of every mother and child, from the beginning, in whatever crises they may face.

Protect the children, from the beginning, from their first moment through all the moments of their epiphany, their opening up to reality, their expression of themselves as persons, created uniquely in the image of God.

Jesus have mercy on us.

Give us hearts that cherish Your beauty reflected in every child.

Give us reverence and humility in our care for the children entrusted to us.

Help us to remember that every child belongs to You.

From whence comes this unearthly, unspeakable violence that invades the human soul, and drives it to killing? So much killing.

So much blood.

Jesus, have mercy on us all. Have mercy on the whole world.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

She is Here

Yesterday was a beautiful day.

I gave presentations on Our Lady of Guadalupe to the primary and elementary classes, and I handed out cards with a photo reproduction of the image and Mary's words promising to heal and strengthen and carry us--the words of our Compassionate Mother.

Giving out the cards is a tradition I've had for a long time. I used to do it in my own classroom on the feast day. Usually, December 12 is a final exam date for college students. They would all stumble in, bleary-eyed, in sweat pants, with caps on their heads to cover their unwashed hair, giving one last look to their study sheets. I would give the cards to them first. If any of my former students are reading this, I hope you still have yours.

I was very happy yesterday to speak with children about Mary.

People can analyse these things in hundreds of ways, but in the end its very simple. Mary is a real person. She is the mother of Jesus. And Jesus is my brother. That means Mary is my mother too.

But what good does it do to talk about a "compassionate mother" in a world of orphans? After all, isn't the appalling loneliness of our own lives what we fear most?

"Mother of God and my mother, carry me!"--but when I cry out, I am already in her arms. She is already holding me.

This is what Mary says to each of us: "I am here."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

We Are Cradled in Her Mantle

The words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego
(as presented in the Nican Mopohua):

"Do know this, do be assured of it in your heart,
My Littlest One,
that I Myself, I am the Entirely and Ever Virgin, Saint Mary,
Mother of the True Divinity, of God Himself.
Because of Him, Life goes on, Creation goes on;
His are all things afar, His are all things near at hand,
things above in the Heavens, things here below on the Earth.

How truly I wish it, how greatly I desire it,
that here they should erect Me My Temple!
Here would I show forth, here would I lift up to view,
here would I make a gift
of all My Fondness for My Dear Ones,
all My Regard for My Needy Ones,
My Willingness to Aid them,
My Readiness to Protect them.

For truly I Myself, 
I am your Compassionate Mother,
yours, for you yourself,
for everybody here in the Land,
for each and all together,
for all others too, for all Folk of every kind,
who do but cherish Me,
who do but raise their voices to Me,
who do but seek Me,
who do but raise their trust to Me.

For here I shall listen to their groanings, to their saddenings;
here shall I make well and heal up
their each and every kind of disappointment,
of exhausting pangs, of bitter aching pain."

. . . .

"Do listen,
do be assured of it in your heart, My Littlest One,
that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you,
nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart.

And do not be afraid of this Pestilence,
nor of any other pestilence,
or any rasping hardship.

For am I not here, I, Your Mother?
Are you not in the Cool of My Shadow?
in the Breeziness of My Shade?
Is it not I that am your Source of Contentment?
Are you not cradled in My Mantle?
cuddled in the Crossing of My Arms?
Is there anything else for you to need?

Nothing else, though, should trouble you,
should disquiet you." 

Monday, December 10, 2012

"My Dearest and Youngest Son"

For today, I want to continue the theme of Our Lady of Guadalupe, even as millions of pilgrims are arriving in Mexico City for the celebration of the feast on December 12. This was my post last year for St. Juan Diego, and its worth a repeat. Also the link at the end of this article takes us to the classic (apparently contemporaneous) account of Juan Diego's experience and the gift that the world has received through him. The Nican Mopohua is a text worthy of prayer and meditation in these days.

I think that St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin is one of the greatest saints of all time. It is his hiddenness; he is almost invisible behind that cloth he once wore--the second most amazing piece of cloth on this earth (well, maybe the third, if the Holy Face of Manoppello is really in fact the head wrapping from the tomb that goes "with" the Shroud). Many in the world still do not know of the truly wondrous, scientifically inexplicable image of the Virgin Mary that appears on a nearly 500 year old cactus fiber cloak.
For the millions who do know her, and who have visited her at her “house” in the center of Mexico City, she is a stunning and profoundly personal presence. One is almost tempted to forget about the man who wore the cloak. He seems content to remain in the background.
We know very little about him, apart from his famous account (see link below) and the testimony of a few others. His entire sanctity is summed up in this very simple gesture: He gives us Mary.
Actually the task was not easy, and he then dedicated himself for the rest of his life to prayer and to the service of all those who came to the "little house" of Mary. But in the end it was all simple following and trusting in Mary. He gives us Mary. Think about it for a moment. This is his cloak.
She called him "my dearest and youngest son."
Most of us can't even pronounce his indigenous name, which means "singing eagle" and which is included in the name under which he was canonized. As far as I know, its "kwatt-LATT-zican." But I could be wrong.
For many of us, his name may as well be "Oh yeah, Juan Diego, he's great." But we need to get to know him and love him more. We may know the story; perhaps we even know it well. But it must become personal. When Mary speaks to St. Juan Diego, we must hear her speaking to us.
There is one part of the story that sticks in everyone’s mind, and is invariably remembered: "Didn't he try to sneak past Our Lady?"
Yes he did! Why? Because he was worried.
He worried about his sick uncle. He thought the matter was in his own hands, that it depended on him alone, that "the Lady" would only slow him down.
But she knew what he was up to. He tried to do it on his own, but she went to him. She foiled his little trick. She found him and she said, "stop worrying! I am your Mother. I have you." 
This is the great secret of the universe: we have a Mother. She is not a goddess. She is a human person who said yes to God and brought the God-man into the world; she is a human being who says yes to us and wants to bring Christ to each of us. 
And she is not shy. She loves us with all the power of a woman's love: she is intelligent, practical, persistent, and downright spunky when necessary. And all of this with a woman's love, a mother's love, that brings peace. Juan Diego's story makes this clear. Really, it is clear in the New Testament, if we take the trouble to dwell on the woman that appears there, and the great heart that is manifest in her every gesture. 
Juan Diego is one of the greatest of all the saints, I think, not only because of his hiddeness, but also because he was an ordinary man, like us. The story of Juan Diego is the story of how Mary loves each one of us. It is the story of how she takes care of us, and even how she outwits us when we try to run away. 
There is this woman, a real woman, who knows me and is totally determined to crush the serpents that threaten me, to draw me away from my self love and free me from all my worries, and to give me Jesus Christ. 
Yes, Jesus is our Redeemer, and nobody knows that better than Mary. That’s why no one can bring Him close to us like Mary. Doesn’t it make sense that, at the heart of the plan of salvation, there is a woman, a real woman, who is not just a passive vessel, but whose active, vital, feminine, maternal love really makes a difference in our lives?
I pray to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin every day. Somehow, I want to be like him. I want to show people Mary, so that she can bring them to Jesus.

Here is a link to an English translation of the Nican Mopohua, a beautiful recounting of the events, originally written in Nahuatl in 1546 by Antonio Valeriano, an indigenous scholar who took the testimony of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin himself:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

He Brought Only His Suffering

This past July was the tenth anniversary of the canonization of Juan Diego. In 2002, I made the second of my three pilgrimages (thus far) to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where I witnessed this extraordinary event.

It was truly an encounter between two of Mary's "smallest" (and greatest) sons. There was Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, the first indigenous American saint. And there was John Paul II, painfully crippled by Parkinson's disease, almost immobile, but moved by a palpable love to show his suffering to millions of people.

It was his fifth and final visit to this blessed, troubled land. Love for Christ had exhausted all his talents and his personal and historic greatness.

He brought only his suffering. But he came, because he wanted to tell us again, through his pain: Be not afraid!

Be not afraid of all the darkness in the world.
Be not afraid of your own weakness.
Open all the doors!
Open the doors of your vulnerability,
and of all the scars
and the wounds
and the failures.

People are just poor,
lost in themselves but loved by Jesus
inside of all their pain,
and loved by Mary.

Be not afraid to love people.

Jesus is deeper
than all of our inexorable problems.
His healing will amaze and humble us.
And Mary will bring Him close.
Everything is entrusted to her tenderness.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mary is a "Yes" to God

Statue of Mary at Mission San Juan
Bautista, California (six months ago!)
I love these days. These are "Mary's days," beginning with this great celebration of the beginning, of that radical moment when God did something new. In the silence of St. Anne's womb, the new creation began, the definitive victory of Divine grace burst into history for the first time.

From the very beginning, Mary is all about grace. She reveals the love of Jesus, the power of God to change everything. She is called to be the Mother of the Word who dwells among us, to "embrace God"  totally and entirely because it was from her concrete, human historical reality that He would take flesh. From the moment of her conception, Mary is nothing but a "yes" to God.

He knows that the "yes" of Mary goes all the way to the Cross. That "yes," by God's redeeming grace, fills Mary totally, from the beginning.

She is also called to be close to each one of us, with all of our sins. Because she is without sin, there is a place in her heart for all of us sinners.

There is no limit to the "yes" that she says to her Son, and to each one of us.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

He Communicated Himself to Us

"He has made [His plan] known
by engaging with man,
to whom He has not only revealed something,
but His very self.
He has not simply communicated a set of truths,
but He communicated Himself to us,
to the point of becoming one of us,
to being incarnate.
God not only says something,
He communicates with us,
draws us into the divine nature,
so that we are involved in the divine nature,
God reveals His great plan of love,
engaging with man,
approaching him
to the point of becoming Himself a man."

Benedict XVI

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Just Don't Get Too Involved

We have arrived, once again, at these meaningful weeks that mark the end of the calendar year and the beginning of the liturgical year. For many of us, its a season of tensions, where different facets of our lives come together and jostle with one another.

We are preparing for the celebration of the mystery of the incarnation, of God taking our human nature and being born of the Virgin Mary. Of course, in the "bad-old-world-out-there" its time for the annual celebration lights and decorations and family and "the spirit of giving" and songs and eggnog and, especially, stuff! 

We Christians of course are not like that! We remember The True Meaning Of Christmas. We don't start celebrating before Christmas (well, not too much...). We observe Advent (kind of). We decorate first and above all with the Nativity scene (ours is made in China).

We Janaros put an Advent wreath on the table, with candles (and we have to watch the girls to make sure no one's hair catches on fire).

We Janaros actually have a lot going on in this season of preparation. Teresa's birthday, December 6. Agnese's birthday, December 21. (Mine is after the New Year.) This means family celebrations and birthday parties too. Also--even though we're not tainted by the Materialistic and Consumerist Culture--we still have to do some shopping. In other words, we want some stuff. But not too much stuff; we wouldn't know where to put it.

We also try to observe this as a penitential season. (Which means...what did we decide to do? Oh, we still have to think about that.)

Its Advent! Christmas is coming! Christ is coming!

God is coming.

Uh oh....

People used to ask Jesus, "what must I do to be saved?" I find myself saying the same thing. For me it means, "God, You are the Lord of all, and *wow* here You are, so...heh...I hope we some kind of a deal...?"

I shouldn't be surprised that people want to dodge the whole "incarnation" thing. Really, its a bit overwhelming. I'm usually overwhelmed by it, insofar as I take it seriously. I feel like saying:

"Dear God, I want to know You and obey You. I certainly don't want You to be mad at me. And I know that I'm all messed up (but don't forget, this whole 'freedom' schtick was Your idea--You never asked me; I probably would have been fine if You had made me as a rock). 
"Can't You just 'fix' me? Just do it, like, from up there
"Oh, and give me a 'How To' manual, something like Rules For How To Operate My Human Being: Final Edition. 
"And, God, I think You're awesome. You are the Creator of beautiful mountains and galaxies and everything. You are greater than everything. And really, I'm okay with that. In fact I think its wonderful. If You could just stay up there and be God, it would be great....
"But there's no need to overdo it.
"You just stay up there and keep the universe going, and I'll stay down here and make myself happy. Of course I'll follow Your Rule Book...most of the time. Oh, and give me stuff when I ask for it, please? 
"I'll worship You, no problem (make sure the Rule Book has a chapter on that). I'm not proud or arrogant or cruel or perverse or anything like that. I'm a good person. I try very hard. And I understand: You're God and I'm the creature. It will be great, God. Just don't get too involved, and everything will be fine."

Of course, I would never really say anything like this; I know that what I usually think of as "the Rule Book" doesn't permit me to present this as a serious proposal. But these words express an attitude of heart, the attitude that I usually have in my life. I think many people have a similar attitude. Good people. Even Christians.

I'm also a father. What would I do with a child like this? The child says, "Dad, you're great, tell me what I'm supposed to do, give me what I need, and then go away!"

Obviously, this child is a teenager.

I'd be patient. But I wouldn't be satisfied. My child needs so much more. I'd hope that one day this child would come to me and say, "Dad, I think I'm in love."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

If I Were an Onion, I Would Want You To Eat Me

We had this delicious stew for dinner with chicken and beans and spices and onions. I was eating mine up and enjoying it (of course, I'd hardly taken a spoonful and John Paul was already eyeing the pot and saying, "Is anybody gonna want more?").

One of the main reasons why fathers are given authority in the household is because otherwise they would starve to death.

Then there's little tweety-bird on the other side of the table. Josefina is carefully removing each onion slice and placing it (neatly) on the side of her dish.

"What's wrong with the onions?" I asked.

"I don't like the onions."

"Ohhh," I replied. "You know what? If I were an onion, I would be really sad if Josefina refused to eat me."


"Because I would be so lonely on the side of the dish. And I'd be so sorry not to be eaten by Josefina."

So she thought for a moment, and said, "Would you want me to eat you more than anyone else?"

Oh no. How did I let myself get into this position? When you have several daughters, you have to be careful not to play favorites. I always tell them that I love each of them in the special way that only she can be loved.

That sounds like a political answer, but its true. Why does every woman think she's special? Because she is special. Its not a competition. Right from the beginning, every girl should grow up with the awareness that she is a gift. Fathers should foster this awareness.

This can't be done without attention. And real attention is difficult. It is an interior thing. It is the fruit not so much of a self-conscious effort, as it is a kind of sacrifice, a self-effacement that makes space for each person to be the object of a special appreciation and gratitude. Of course, sons also need attention, but with different accents (that's a topic for another time). Every child needs this from his or her parents.

I've never been very good at self-effacement. And its not a matter of being timid or passive. Its a matter of humility. Humility is the habit of wonder and gratitude in front of everything. Humility sees everything coming from the hand of God. It is a grace for which we must pray.

Getting back to the story: If I were an onion, would I want Josefina, more than anyone else, to eat me? I deserved this question. I set myself up for it. What do I say?

"Well," I said, "If I were your onion, I would want you to eat me."

Hahaha. Back to the dinner. Josefina continued to add to the arrangement on the side of her dish.

Finally I said, "Bring those onions over here. I'll eat them!"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Its Sweet Because Its Sweet

I have no idea what this plant is, but
you've noticed that I'm desperate for pics
I have been feeling cramped, achy, and exhausted.

Washed out.

I know that the times I feel like I'd rather die than go outside are precisely the times when I have to get up and move. Anything at all is better than nothing.

We needed some basic groceries. Food disappears around here. Our Five-Headed Food Monster devours everything in sight! John Paul is a budget-buster all by himself (just like I was at his age).

Milk. Gosh, there's never any milk! We should just get a cow. Hmmm, make that two cows.

"Okay," I said, "I'm going to the grocery store!" I roused my great bag of aching muscles and joints, and went to get my wallet. Oh heck, I'm grumbling too much. Its not that bad at all.

"Can I go with you?" shouted Agnese.

These children are wise. They know better than to let the philosopher go shopping alone. He needs supervision. He might start pondering behind the cart, and miss the cereal aisle.

"Yes, great." I love going places with my number one girl. She will be 14 at the end of the month. I remember when she was just 8 years old and I "took her out" for a fancy dessert at a restaurant. I'm not surprised that she's growing up so lovely. And she's also very competent and practical.

Up and down the aisles. She grabbed the fruit, the cereal, the milk, the bread, etc. My main contribution was to say, "Get more! You guys will eat twice that much in one day!"

I needed something from the "natural foods" aisle. Yes, indeed. Organic foods, herbs, supplements, have made it to the Major Leagues! The supermarkets and the stuff marts now devote at least an aisle to you. Yes, its true: Big Food and Big Pharma have been forced to acknowledge the emergence of Big Natural.

I just needed some stevia. One of the great blessings that God has bestowed upon the world for the benefit of the human race: STEVIA! Naturally sweet, zero sugar of any kind, and its even good for you! Of course, I could get stevia in the regular aisle, right next to the rat poison that's sold as "artificial sweetener," now that their-Lords-and-Majesties-the-FDA have deigned to acknowledge that stevia is truly, officially sweet.

My taste buds have been government certified. I feel "real" now!

Still, I don't think Big Food knows what to do with stevia. They're always mixing it with something else! They think we need to "feel like" we're using sugar, so they have to add some useless white powder. I guess its hard to market the idea that something must be used in very small quantities. Very. Small. Quantities.

I've been using stevia for years. I'm not diabetic, but I keep my sugar consumption down. Its a healthy thing that I have found useful. I'll use some honey, but I try to avoid refined sugars and the whole "high fructose" menage of who-knows-what, not to even mention any kind of chemical blech-a-leene that's been engineered in a laboratory to create the illusion of sweetness.

Generally, I like to eat foods that have a simple answer to the question, "What is this stuff?" So tomatoes: "what is this?" A tomato. Perfect. But then we get to the latest Big Food "diet" product: SuperSweete! Okay, what is this stuff, really? Well, its a monophosphate poriferol of dipotassium monophyliceride phenosphenol....

Sorry, you lost me.

What is stevia? Its a kind of grass that tastes sweet. Its not sugar. Not even sneaky your-body-turns-it-into-sugar-later stuff. Sweet tasting leaves, very simple.

But I remember the days when you could only find it at certain heath food stores (or on the internet), and the bottles had to say "SUPPLEMENT" on them, because it was illegal for you to even think that it might actually be able to sweeten things. You had to pretend you were buying it for no reason at all (lol). Anyway, I still like the stuff straight up. Okay, maybe the "extract"? That's two syllables. I can handle that.

So we got a small bottle of stevia-and-nothing-but-stevia from Big Natural. And, of course, we paid Big Money. The fact is that the world of Big Natural is a real wild west. There's lots of fools' gold on the shelves and not a whole lot of real gold. But there are "some things that somewhat help some people some of the time." That's been my experience. There are things worth trying, depending on what your needs are. But don't go bankrupt trying to find a miracle. Please. Don't.

Stevia is far from a miracle (although it beats the heck out of rat poison). Actually, most people don't like the taste of stevia (at least initially). Personally, I love it.

But this is an enormous digression. Where was I....

See what happens in the supermarket? This is why I need help. I'm in danger of breaking out into discourse at any moment.

We got what we needed, and Agnese pushed the cart and bagged stuff. She wanted to do it. We had a jolly time (she'll kill me if she reads this, haha).

I had wanted to just go to bed, but it was much better to stretch out and do something. It was much better to go to the store with my daughter.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Charles of Jesus

For December 1, I have already circulated last year's post on Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Here it is (click on those words right there):

The Little Brother of Jesus

The symbol Charles wore on his habit, which
was taken up by the Little Brothers and Little
Sisters. I've rendered it crudely, using the
materials I had on hand ("Paint"). My family
laughed, yet I think Charles would (and does)
approve of the poverty of this effort.
Postscript: Blessed Charles de Foucauld wrote a rule for a community, the "Little Brothers of Jesus," but no one joined him, though he prayed ardently for it. Charles had the deep sense that he was "founding" something; nevertheless his killers discovered him alone in the Sahara desert, without followers, an apparent failure. He spent his last years living his contemplative life among the Taureg people. His death on December 1, 1916 seemed to bring his hopes to an obscure end. But he had a few friends; over time they collected his writings, and quietly made his witness known to others.

Eventually men began to follow his example, and the first community of the Little Brothers was founded in 1933. The charism of Charles de Foucauld began to grow, attracting in various ways priests, consecrated men and women, and lay people. The seed of his life and death began to bear fruit.

Today the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus, along with 16 other religious families and associations, bring the witness of Blessed Charles to the poorest and most forgotten people in "deserts" all over the world, especially the secularized countries of the West.

"God who is infinite, all powerful, has become human, the least of human beings. My way is always to seek the lowest place, to be as little as my Master, to walk with him step by step as a faithful disciple" (Blessed Charles de Foucauld).

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Dawning of a New, Different Humanity

The next day again John was standing
with two of his disciples;
and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said,
"Behold, the Lamb of God!"
The two disciples heard him say this,
and they followed Jesus.
Jesus turned,
and saw them following,
and said to them,
"What do you seek?"
And they said to him, "Rabbi,
where are you staying?"
He said to them, "Come and see."
They came and saw where he was staying;
and they stayed with him that day,
for it was about the tenth hour.
One of the two who heard John speak,
and followed him,
was Andrew,
Simon Peter's brother.
He first found his brother Simon,
and said to him,
"We have found the Messiah."

John 1:35-41

Msgr. Luigi Giussani reflects on what must have happened to Andrew on that day, and how it changed him:

"At last came this John, called the Baptist, living in such a way that all the people were struck by him and, from the Pharisees to the humblest peasant, they left their homes to go hear him speak, at least once. That day, we don't know whether there were many or a few, but two were there for the first time, and they were entirely eager, open-mouthed, in the attitude of people who had come from far away, and see what they had come to see with boundless curiosity, with a poverty of spirit, with a childish simplicity of heart.
"At a certain point, a person left the group and went off along the path leading up the river. When He moved off, the prophet John the Baptist, suddenly inspired, cried out, 'That is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.' The people didn't take much notice […] but those two, open-mouthed, with eyes wide open like children, saw where the Baptist's eyes were looking: at that man who was walking away.
"So, instinctively, they set off after Him, followed Him, timid and a little embarrassed. He realized that someone was following Him. He turned around. 'What do you want?' 'Master,' they replied, 'where do You live?' 'Come and see,' He said kindly. They went 'and saw where He lived, and stayed the whole of that day with Him.'
"We can easily identify with those two sitting there, watching that man speak of things they had never heard, yet so close, so fitting, so resounding. […] They did not understand; they were simply captivated, drawn, overwhelmed by Him speaking. They watched Him speak. Because it is by 'watching' […] that some people realized that among them there was something indescribable: a Presence not only unmistakable but incomprehensible, and yet so penetrating; penetrating because it corresponded to what their heart was waiting for, in a way beyond all compare.
"Their fathers and mothers had never told them with such evidence and efficacy what made the years of their life worth living. They hadn't been able to, couldn't have known how; they had said many other right and good things, but like fragments of something they had to try to grasp in the air to see if one matched with the other. A profound correspondence.
"Little by little as the words came to them, and their eyes, full of wonder and admiration, penetrated that man; they felt themselves changing, felt that things were changing: the echo of things changed, the meaning of things changed.
"And when they went home that evening, as the day came to an end–probably walking most of the journey in silence, because they had never spoken to each other as they did in that great silence in which an Other was speaking, in which He went on speaking and echoing within them, and they reached home, Andrew's wife saw him and said, 'What's happened to you Andrew?', and the children, too, looked at their father astonished: he was himself, but 'more' himself; he was changed. It was himself, but he was different.
"And when–as we said once, moved, with an image that is easy to bring to mind because it's so realistic–she asked him, 'What's happened?', he embraced her, Andrew embraced his wife and kissed his children: it was him, but he had never embraced her like that! It was like the dawning of a new, different humanity, a truer humanity.
"It was as if he were saying, 'At last!' without believing his own eyes. But it was too clear for him not to believe his own eyes!"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29: Dorothy's "Day"

Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day has been on the blogs in honor of the anniversary of her death (the day that many hope will eventually be her "feast"). Not surprisingly, she has also lit up comment boxes. It somewhat misses the point, however, to cherry-pick statements from her many writings on political and social topics in order to enlist her as an ally, condemn her as an extremist, or commence upon a long episode of head-scratching.

Dorothy Day's holiness does not depend on her being correct in all her judgments. She was trying to articulate things from the perspective of a profound life, a life in which her real Catholic faith was immersed in circumstances and places where most of us would rather not go.

In these times, however, many are discovering the fact that living our faith seriously in contemporary Western society is very difficult. Now more than ever, Dorothy Day presents a provocative witness--a woman of heroic faith and burning charity who stood throughout her life as a sign of contradiction to the dominant mentality of our culture, in all its manifestations.

Dorothy Day with Mother Teresa
But what strikes me (and challenges me) in a compelling way is her radical awareness of Christ. Her daily work was simple: she lived with Christ, she fed Christ, she clothed Christ, she gave Christ a place to sleep. She built houses where Christ would be welcome. She did this for over forty years. She was drawn to the presence of Christ in the suffering of people. This was always the focus of her attention.

It would do all of us some good to practice a bit more those works of mercy that require us to get dirty and uncomfortable. But even here Dorothy Day does not want to be "dismissed so easily." Like her personal friend Blessed Teresa (who gave her the crucifix of the Missionaries of Charity when she visited the sisters in Calcutta), she knew that this is something we all have to do at home. We want to recognize Christ and love Him more in those broken and needy people we live with every day.

Here is what Dorothy Day has to say about life:

We face the situation that there is nothing we can do for people except to love them.
We continue in our fourteenth year of feeding our brother and clothing him and sheltering him and the more we do it the more we realize that the most important thing is to love.
There are several families with us, destitute families, destitute to an unbelievable extent and there, too, is nothing to do but to love. What I mean is that there is no chance of rehabilitation, no chance, so far as we see, of changing them; certainly no chance of adjusting them to this abominable world about them, and who wants them adjusted anyway.
There is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God–please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.
If one loves enough one is importunate, one repeats his love as he repeats his Hail Marys on his rosary.
What does the modern world know of love, with its divorces, with its light touching of the surface of love? It has never reached down into the depths, to the misery and pain and glory of love which endures to death and beyond it.
We have not yet begun to learn about love. Now is the time to begin, to start afresh, to use this divine weapon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let's Start With Coffee

Here are some lessons I've begun to learn. I hope that I'm really learning them, and not simply spouting them off. In any case, they are reflections from my life. Often I do the opposite of what it says here, but I hope that years of failure are teaching me something.

Love the person. Find what is good in the person and encourage it, foster it, strengthen it, help them build on it.

There is something in every person that is worthy of affirmation. Affirm the good.

Listen to people. Even when they're wrong.

And don't do it just to be "polite". Try to understand what they are seeking, what "good" they are trying to protect, and what they fear. I know from my own experience that when I think or do something wrong, its usually because I am trying to avoid suffering. I also know that it never really works.

Compassion. I must be willing to join that person in their suffering. This is the place where they need love.

Not condescension.

Not false approval.

Love. Humble love.

I should bend down and let them step on my back so that they might see what's on the other side of their wall.

And then there are things we have in common.

I don't think I've ever met a person with whom I had nothing in common. Find that common thing, however small it may be. Let solidarity with the person begin there.

It may seem small indeed. The disagreements among people in the world today are prominent. We rub shoulders every day with people who have completely different ideas about the universe and the meaning of life. Perhaps the only thing we have in common is a need for coffee in the morning.

Very well, let's start with coffee. In this detail of life, a person is present to me. Here is a place where I can give myself to another person and they can give themselves to me.

If I take the risk, they might respond.

I might even go so far as to have tea, if that's what they prefer.

Do good.

Avoid evil.

We cannot create common bonds by betraying the truth. Not only is is wrong; it makes no sense. If a person refuses to accept reality, I can't falsify reality in order to be united with them. We can only build on a foundation of reality.

"Oh, so you cut people's throats. How interesting! What kind of knife do you like best?"

No, that's going nowhere. That's not helping anybody.

We cannot pretend that there is no evil in the world. There is great evil in the world. And people attach themselves to it. Love tries to find ways to help them break free.

Here especially I must remember to love myself. There's plenty of evil looking at me in the mirror. I need to do some breaking free, but how? Love, love? I don't even know how to love myself! That means I have to let myself be loved. Why is this so strangely difficult?

Sometimes it is necessary to fight. We need the grace to make the difficult judgment of when that time has come, as well as where and how it needs to be done.

Then, we must fight hard and fight fair.

Fight evil. Don't fight against the person. Fight for the person, and against the evil that they are using to destroy themselves and others. And don't fight for the advancement of self. Don't fight for vengeance.

This is not easy. The temptation is always there, to prove myself by vanquishing the other person. The temptation is especially strong when I know I'm right.

War. I fight wars every day, especially with the people who are close to me. These wars are often unjust, almost always ill considered, and usually indiscriminate. If I really want peace in the world, I should start with my own house.

The greatest weapon of mass destruction is right between my teeth.

But the very same can be used to build peace, and to communicate the truth in love.

The tongue: use wisely. Often, silence is the better thing. Only use the tongue with the help of God.

Really, what I need to do is just forgive people. But I can't do this unless I encounter a great, healing mercy in my own life.

I need mercy, present in my life right now. We all do.