Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Learning New Things, and Finding New Places

Another October is passing by. It brought the bursting color to our leaves and now is taking them away. The mornings are dark, and the days are shorter.

College students are back from their Fall break, and it is time to begin to get serious about thinking about those term papers that are due at the end of next month. Of course, you'll wait till the very last possible moment to write them, and they'll arrive in your professors' boxes at 11:59.9 PM on the due date.

Then the next day in class, we shall have the sleepy, and the scruffy, and those who are begging for extensions and trying to lose as few of those precious *POINTS* as possible.

Please, write a good paper.

Seek the truth. Try to understand something. Yes, I know, the professor is obtuse and you don't know what the class is supposed to be about...but just look at what's there and find something real and grab hold of it.

Its your education. Stop blaming circumstances and other people. Roll up your mental sleeves and work with what you have. You will learn many things, and also you will begin to learn how to live. Wherever you are in life, reality is your teacher, and circumstances are the resources that are given to you so that you may grow as a person.

Circumstances can be strange and painful, but there they are, every day. So we engage them. We often do badly, but we learn from our mistakes too.

Right now, this "retired" professor spends his days in the office at the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center, where his wife directs the elementary program. One might say he's a sort of "writer in residence," although he does his own research and writing at his laptop (and he is working on developing some "new media" platforms for the Center...eventually).

He is also a kind of "resource person," who gives small lessons on religion or history, helps students with research, works with maps (he's always loved maps), reads stories to the primary level kids, answers the phone, fills in wherever an adult is needed, etc.

The most important thing he does is just be there, frequently going out of the office and into the "classroom" (oops, wrong word; the word is environment--and that's exactly what it is). He sits in a chair, reads a book, and lets the children "bother" him. They find ways to learn all sorts of things from him.

These are not the circumstances he expected for himself at this period of his life. But they are good.

The professor is learning about what it means to learn...and to teach.  He sees his own children, and others, in a learning environment, where they look at what's around them, find real things, grab hold of them, and discover paths of understanding--ways of seeking the truth.

If they want to learn about plants, they can read about them. But they can also plant something, tend it, and watch it grow. Math is involved with tangible things. Numbers are strings of beads that they can see and touch and combine. Shapes are...actual shapes! And there are spheres, and cubes, and cones of various sizes.

There are rocks, and there are jars with minerals and all kinds of things to compare and contrast tangibly, visually, engaging the senses. They learn how something smells by actually smelling it! Maps are of every sort: maps that show terrain, maps in puzzle form with pieces corresponding to country borders, and many globes that model various facets of topographic or political geography.

One thing cannot be found here. There are no grades. There are no *points* to be accumulated as external rewards. Progress is monitored according to the interests and capacities of each child. Learning is not about discovering and mastering the tricks necessary to win a prize. Learning is about reality; its about experiencing and understanding reality.

The children grapple with real projects, using their hands and their minds. They make mistakes and learn from them. All of this happens in an exquisitely organized environment in which everything has its proper place. The directress guides individuals and groups of children in the various works, gives lessons, and "keeps order"--not with a stick, but by helping the children to learn what is required of them if they are to work together.

And they also do plenty of reading and writing. They even learn handwriting, with pens and pencils, on real paper.

The Montessori environment is a rich and beautiful place, where children are guided in a learning experience that engages the senses, imagination, mind and heart. The environment is realistic for the child. This method actually works! Discipline is built into the order and the ethos of the place, and that includes a healthy awareness of fallen human nature, but not a morbid preoccupation with it.

It is a beautiful place, and there's room in it for anything interesting...

...even an old, rheumatic, "retired" professor. :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Blessed Chiara (1971-1990): A "Light" For Us All

Today is the feast day of Blessed Chiara "Luce" Badano, an Italian girl of our own time who died of bone cancer in 1990, a few weeks short of her 19th birthday.

A devoted member of Focolare, Chiara Luce is the first person to be beatified from the "new ecclesial movements" that flourish today with so much vitality in the Church. Thus, she is a particular witness to the depth of Christian life that the following of a charism can generate.

There are many charisms in the Church, through which Christ seeks to enter the concrete circumstances of people today, especially young people. They are as various as the vast freedom of the Holy Spirit, and some are still in the process of development. What they share in common are their extraordinary fruits, and their profound obedience and love for the Church.

Chiara Luce Badano amazes me. I find myself dizzy and powerless, gasping for air in the atmosphere she inhabits. But I am also drawn in my heart, fascinated and filled with longing even in front of the things that seem frightening and incomprehensible.

I do indeed have a glimpse of my destiny in the love and sacrifice of Chiara, though I have been entrusted to a different charism, another path that leads to the same place.

I acknowledge that I am far from God, broken, and above all proud. Only the humility that trusts in the transforming presence of Christ in my life can change me. I don't know how to "imitate" a saint like this. I can only beg for the grace of Christ to awaken and deepen in me the awareness that the circumstances of my own life are His gift through which He draws me to Himself. Blessed Chiara, pray for me. Pray for us.

I offer my nothingness
so that the Holy Spirit can bestow his gifts
of love, light and peace
upon the youth;
so that everybody can understand
what a free and immense gift life is,
and how important it is to live every instant
in the fullness of God.
I feel so little and the road ahead is so arduous
that I often feel overwhelmed with pain!
But that’s the Spouse coming to meet me.
Yes, I repeat it: “If you want it Jesus, so do I”.

--Blessed Chiara Badano (1990)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Josefina Turns Six! Happy Birthday!

Once a child is born, it is difficult to imagine how the universe could have existed without them. A person, who once was not, appears in all of his or her radiant uniqueness. We have before us something ineradicable.

There is something about the human person that proclaims, loudly: FOREVER!

Josefina is six years old today. Each of our children has changed our lives simply by being themselves. What words can I use to describe it?

Gratitude. Amazement. Craziness!

They are the daily reminder in our lives that God exists, and that we have been invested with an awesome responsibility. We are called to love each of these persons in a way that somehow helps them to discover and experience the particular love that God has for them.

We a preparing our children to discover and respond to their vocations--to the plan that God has for each of them--and then to continue to support them with an abiding love.

I hope and pray that I will live long enough to be everything God wants me to be for these kids.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Life is not Solitude

God never leaves me "alone." My very existence in this moment is brought about by His creative and sustaining love.

This goes to the core of my identity; this is what I am: "relationship-to-Him"! There is no autonomous "me" that can somehow stand "outside" of this relationship. Sin adds nothing to me, because sin is radically "no-thing." It is a lack of existing. It can only diminish me.

God gives me to myself, right in this moment. And He calls me to Himself.

My joys and sufferings are His infinitely wise, uniquely crafted, and tender love through which He shapes my life and leads me to my destiny.  How little I really understand about my “destiny.”  How little I understand about the “eternal life” which means belonging to Him forever.

We must remember every day that God is with us and that He draws us toward our true identity, which is to reflect His eternal glory in that unique way that corresponds to each of us as a person created in His image and likeness—a reflection that we do not yet understand but that He sees and knows.

No matter the storms and the fury; the depths of our lives are not solitude.  At the heart of life, of every moment of life, there is companionship with the Merciful God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Are We Always So Frustrated?

Everything is grace,
Everything is the direct effect of our Father's love. 
Everything is grace, because everything is God's gift....

--St. Therese of Lisieux

Everything? Really??

Okay, I can do the theology here, but when it comes to actual stuff that happens ... its very hard to see everything as a gift. Sometimes "everything" is a train wreck. Where is the "gift"?

At such times, it seems easier to understand that proverb of contemporary worldly wisdom, which might be paraphrased as: "Life stinks and then you die!"

But no. Those are always words of profound dissatisfaction. The human person knows they are wrong. If there is any "resignation" in them, its only in the attempt to make a cynical peace with the idea that the universe is one big scam.

But I can't say "I've been cheated by life" except from the expectation that life is supposed to give me something, that at the heart of life there is a promise.

Thus, people go on hoping for something, and if they say things like this its because they are trying to cope with a sense of frustration that seems to renew itself over and over again.

I usually don't go so far as to say that "life stinks..." (well, not lately anyway). But I do feel that "life is often frustrating."

How can my frustration be a gift? Why do I have to live with frustration, day after day; dull, throbbing frustration aching through the day; frustration like a prison that seems to build walls in every direction? What's the "gift" in that?

Well, frustration provokes me; it challenges my freedom, and my sense of who I am.

In the face of frustration, I can choose to give up. I can say "life stinks" and wallow in pity for my isolated self.

Or I can remember that my very self is a gift, and that this moment of frustration (with all of its bitterness, pain, and incomprehensibility) is a gift because it deepens my awareness of who I really am. It reminds me in a concrete way that I am made for something greater, something beyond my control, something I don't make or measure or manage, something that I can't find anywhere in this world.

Nevertheless, this "something" is real. It is at the root of me, it sustains me, and it carves itself into my heart in the form of a promise.

What does my five year old daughter do when she's frustrated by something?

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! Help! Please help!" She asks for help. She asks Daddy to come.

What do I do if I see Josefina crying, helpless, frustrated by something because she's just too small to understand it?

I go to her and pick her up and hold her. She still cries. Sometimes she cries even more. It seems like she doesn't even notice I'm there.

But I am there, and I keep holding on to her.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blessed John Paul II

How grateful I am for this feast day, which is now officially added to the Roman Rite calendars in the United States. The bishops requested it because of the tremendous impact that Blessed John Paul has had on the Church in America. He taught more than a generation of Catholics (and others) in this country that Jesus is really alive, and that He understands the human person. John Paul's teaching and his own personal witness enabled us to discover not only that it was possible to be a Christian at the turn of the millennium, but also that Christ's way of valuing the human person was so much greater than anything we had ever heard or seen in our lives. Christ sees what is in the human being, and what He sees is beautiful, astonishing, breathtaking.

For people like me, October 22, 1978 was the beginning of a new world (although it would take a few years before I discovered that world). How many of our generation would even be in the Church today if it hadn't been for this man?

He was "the Pope." And he was so many other things too. His was a unique mission, a special charism. He was an evangelist, a catechist, a spiritual father who taught us how to listen to the Church and be shaped inwardly by her. He brought us a wisdom that put things into perspective. He brought healing, deep inner healing that reached so many of our unseen wounds. He gave us courage.

Blessed John Paul II convinced me that Jesus Christ is real, that He lives, and that He is the answer to my life.

The unforgettable words of October 22, 1978 spoke to my soul anew today, in the Office of Readings:

The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth....
Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “that which is in man”. He alone knows it.
So often today, man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Memory of a Friend

"He didn't seem like he was depressed and was always smiling. This is shocking"

A bright autumn day
sunlight flashing on the windows.
A clear day, blue with painted hues of leaf.

I stood strong and tall
in the breezy wind
and felt life once again
like great power
from my head flowing down through me.

With large strides
I passed over the fields
drinking fountains of expansive air.

And with the red sun playing on my head,
I burst through the door
but her face was bloodless white.
I stopped, and suddenly
the October air froze on my skin.

She searched my face
with a gaze of shiny wet cheeks
and spoke your name,
and this single word
had a weight
that said everything.

Fire arose in my bones
and spread all over me
until it found my eyes.

And the sun flickered in the shadows.

              --in memoriam, jp, +october 17, 2005

Monday, October 15, 2012

Surviving a "Nationals" Disaster

Saturday morning was gloomy outside, but especially gloomy inside the Janaro home.

John Paul finally broke the silence: "So, do you think that was the worst sports disaster that I have ever seen in my life?"

John Paul likes to rank things and various aspects of his life, not only according to "best" and "worst" but also in an orderly sequence of preferences. For example, he has a ranking for all 30 baseball teams, from favorite to least favorite.

The St. Louis Cardinals used to be his third favorite. Not any more.

"Well," I began to say, "that was just baseball. Things like that happen in baseball."

Of course they do. I am almost fifty baseball seasons old. I've seen every kind of crazy thing. I know well the truth of those famous words of Yogi Berra: "It ain't over...till its over."

"We were one strike away," John Paul groaned.

"I know," I said miserably. "And he threw strike three and the umpire didn't call it!" Certainly not. No smart umpire is going to decide the outcome of a playoff series on a called third strike at the knees.

It was painful to watch the end. It was terrible! Even Eileen suffered (she's now thoroughly hooked on baseball). We felt that awful pain that the old sports show famously described as "the agony of defeat."

Baseball is a kind of drama: a living stage on which intelligence, human effort, and even a kind of heroism combine with the uncontrollable forces of material contingency. Sometimes the difference in a baseball game is a breeze that blows at a certain moment, or (literally) "the way the ball bounces."

Of course, 24 hour sports talk analyzes every single detail, on and on and on. Fans get angry at players and call them all sorts of names that they don't really mean: "He struck out! What a moron!" Actually, he's a trained professional athlete with outstanding capabilities who was trying to do something very difficult. He was trying to hit a baseball at 90 miles an hour and he missed three times. There is nothing "moronic" about this at all.

But our emotions are invested in the game, and the players take on roles in a drama of winning and losing, triumph and tragedy. We experience a kind of catharsis. We also affirm civic or regional loyalties, and sometimes even the bond between generations.

We also go way overboard. Sports--like almost everything else in our culture--are bloated beyond proportion. They have become part of the all-absorbing distraction that we call "entertainment." They are a monstrous parody of their natures, and people drug themselves or otherwise do disproportionate damage to their bodies in their efforts to achieve success.

It is difficult for any of us to find our balance in the whirlwind that is everywhere blowing our culture beyond all boundaries. But that does not excuse us from the effort to live the game according to its real nature.

We must learn to play, even in the whirlwind. This requires special personal skill, which the ancients called virtue. Not many people in the world care about virtue, and those who do generally find that its hard to get very far in acquiring the skill to live well. We must try to help one another. We need to learn how to play the game hard, and then let it go.

That's never been easy for me.

When I was a kid, I used to throw the radio across the room (thank goodness it was just a radio back then) when my team blew a lead in the ninth inning.

But I'm much more "mature" now (haha). On Friday night, when the Cardinals rallied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat our beloved Washington Nationals and bring their splendid and surprising season to an end, I didn't smash the television.

I felt like smashing the television.

Nevertheless--although I have hardly developed anything in the way of virtue--I have acquired a veneer of civilization over the years. So I swallowed my frustration at the always-unpredictable tricks of the little white ball. I simply rose from my chair, went to my bedroom, and--putting on Vivaldi's Four Seasons--laid down and closed my eyes, The first of the seasons, of course, is Spring.

Spring. It will be here before we know it. "We'll get 'em next year!"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who Needs to be Newly Evangelized? ME!!!

The Year of Faith has begun. It will provide many opportunities for us to pray, study our faith, and consider the possibilities of the New Evangelization. What I hope and pray for in this year is that each of us, starting with myself, might discover Jesus Christ anew and belong to Him more fully. For is there anyone among us who is not utterly poor in front of Him? 

We can always grow in our adherence to Him, and our allowing of our hearts to be more deeply healed and penetrated by His love for us. The faith we have been given, and that we want to share, is nothing less than the event "of encountering Jesus as a living Person, of letting ourselves be totally involved by Him and by His Gospel" (Benedict XVI).

The New Evangelization must be this, or else it is just more clanging cymbals. Every human person has been created to encounter Jesus Christ, and to be transformed by His mercy. And my awareness of this is real only if it is fundamentally an awareness of my own need as a person.

First of all, I need to be newly evangelized. Every moment of every day, I need Christ.

*Jesus, I pray, open the depths of my self so that I might let You love me more!*

Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:37-38)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Time: An Education in the Love of God

ALMOST THREE O'CLOCK (picture courtesy of
"Time is a gift."

That's what they tell us, anyway.

It usually seems like something else. We presume upon it. We take it "for granted." Or else, we feel like we don't have enough of it. We're afraid of losing it. On the other hand, it can seem to stretch out before us like an endless dry desert, or burden us like a terrible weight.

Its hard to say anything good about time that doesn't sound cliche. Of course, many things sound cliche to us because we go around repeating them without trying to understand what they really mean.

Human things take time.

Even that apex of human existing--the free decision--that instantaneous flash of spiritual vitality, usually occurs within a context of time, as the fruit of deliberation, the process of formation that shapes our way of perceiving goodness, and the cultivation of good (or bad) inclinations.

Time signifies the "becoming" of things, and especially the becoming of human persons. We are not born in a state of complete realization. We are born with the vocation to become the persons that God, in His wisdom and love, wills us to be. Time is given to us for the discovery and the fulfillment of that vocation, for the learning and the carrying out of God's plan for me.

Time is necessary for that unique human endeavor and experience that we call education.

But we never learn the whole of God's plan, even as we struggle to cooperate with it and, often, endure it in its many incomprehensible aspects. The "map" of human nature only sketches some parts of the journey, and shows us the boundaries of the road.

This is because the person that is "you" and the person that is "me" are called to a supernatural vocation--we are called to transcend "human nature" as we can conceive it, and become sons and daughters of God. And we are born into a human family that bears the mark of this vocation and at the same time the strange alienation and incapacity to attain it. Yet it is this vocation that corresponds to the very depths of what it means for "me" to be "myself."

And so the Word became flesh. In his humanity the Son used time, to dwell among us, to educate us, and above all to love us with that transforming love that expresses and communicates God's plan for each and all of us. Jesus on the Cross conquers our alienation and separation from God, and makes it possible for each of us to become children of God, which is the real destiny that corresponds to our vocation--the path upon which God continually draws our hearts.

Thus the ultimate answer to the question, "Who am I?" is inseparable from an event that took place in time (but that is not limited by time). My person and my life are defined at every moment by the redeeming and transforming love of Jesus Christ. This is the truth for every person, and it is the great mystery that is woven into God's plan for each of us--the plan that unfolds in the time we are given.

Time is the realm of faith. Time is where we are educated to trust in God, to lose ourselves in order to find Him, and to find ourselves in Him.

Who am I? What gives my life value? What shapes my personal vocation, and places before me the steps I take? What is the meaning of my life, of this present moment? What is the real, concrete foundation of my unshakable dignity as a human person? It is this: Jesus Christ loves me.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Homecoming and Friendship

This weekend's annual Homecoming at our college drew me to the post I wrote for last year's Homecoming. I was then prompted to reflect and develop further these (still very incomplete) thoughts about friendship. On a certain level, the things I said last year are a precise "fit" for this past weekend. But my reflections have continued to grow, and so here is a revised post of considerations that are still in progress:

I had some nice visits this weekend with some long-time friends (notice I didn’t say “old” friends). Some were people I had not seen or heard from for many years. Others were people I had not seen for a long time, but whom I have been in touch with in varying degrees through one or more kinds of media. Still others were people I have seen (and keep in touch with) frequently over the past thirty (or more) years

And then, finally, there were the people I see all the time, and who help me in my own life. Especially with them, the pace of daily events often crowds out the simple possibility of "visiting" one another. This is something we hardly realize until some celebration comes along that brings us together gratuitously. This is one of the great values of a celebration.

It is a blessing to be with friends. I marvel with gratitude that my life has been endowed with such real, substantial, and long-lasting friendships. I realize after nearly half a century of life that this is not a common experience in our culture.

But what makes these friendships real? What makes any friendship real? I have found that there are two kinds of enduring friendships, and although both presuppose time spent together, both are based ultimately on something that transcends (even as it enters into) time and space. That “something” is truth.

The first kind of enduring friendship is one that is based on a common search for the truth. These friends may not share the same faith, and may have other disagreements over matters of importance. But they have traveled the road of life together in some way, and have ardently engaged together in seeking the purpose and significance of things.

In these friendships there is a real recognition of “truth,” even if the term is not used, because what unites these friends is their awareness of a common desire for something real, for something that lasts and gives meaning to the events of time and the story of life. It can be a something that is hinted at and reflected through very ordinary experiences that people share, or even in the intuition that corresponds to the harmony they discover with each other through shared interests or sympathy of temperament and perspective.

But for friendship to endure, it is not enough to have “things in common,” or to simply “get along;” there is the enduring theme of a great destination, toward which friends journey–perhaps in the dark, perhaps without knowing the way, perhaps in continual argument over what exactly the destination is, or perhaps simply with the quiet, implicit recognition that it is there and that it draws them onward.

The second kind of enduring friendship is in many ways like the first, but it has another aspect. It is a common journey toward the fulfillment of the truth that has already been encountered. Such friends are often brought together by some particular event or experience they have shared. They have had an encounter with persons and circumstances that seem quite ordinary in themselves, and that might be spread out over a significant period of time. But this apparently ordinary history of place and time and circumstances carries within it the experience of something extraordinary and utterly convincing.

These friends have experienced together something that defines the rest of their lives and that they will never be able to deny without denying themselves. And one often finds that they will be the most odd and unusual sort of companions. One is struck by a great variety of temperaments and preferences, backgrounds, inclinations, and tastes. What binds them together as friends, however, and keeps them together through the years and even through divergent circumstances is this common experience.

And it is not just any experience. It is an encounter with nothing less than the Mystery that gives meaning to all of life, the Mystery that has entered their world and placed them together on a common road. At a certain point in time the truth brought them together, they recognized the truth, they tasted it, they said to one another, “Here is the reason why we live,” they met the truth and were regenerated by it.

Sometimes we forget where we come from. But when we meet our brothers and sisters again, we remember whose children we are, and the home that we are all seeking together. We help each other simply by seeing the different ways in which this awareness has shaped each of us thus far, We recognize--in the various ways that our personalities are maturing, and also in our struggles and failures--the Reality that we still have and still seek in common, even if we haven't seen each other in a long time.

And, of course, we can become great friends with others who have found this same truth under different concrete circumstances, whom we meet further down the road.

All this, however, raises another question: When I encounter the truth of my life, does that mean I can no longer have the "first kind" of friendship? Does it mean that I ought to look down upon those who are still searching, with pity and a sense of superiority? Not at all. Quite the contrary!

The truth of my life is not an abstract theory, which I can master by learning its terms and its logic. The truth of life is a Person. He has not come into my life to end my journey, but to show me where I'm going, to draw me to Him, and to shed light on everything along the way.

This means that my friendship with those who are still seeking the truth can only become more profound. The relationship with Him who is the truth of life can only deepen my appreciation and reverence for every person, and my desire to be their companion. I recognize that I myself am part of the experience of that person's life, through which the Mystery-who-dwells-among-us invites and draws their freedom.

Those of us who know Jesus Christ cannot simply live like a club, or a partisan group that controls truth and that preaches down at others. We are called to stay together as brothers and sisters, but also to dwell with others and share their lives and their sufferings and their searching. He who is "the truth" has us. He is changing us, and He wants us to be living witnesses within the journey of others...with the right words in their proper time, but above all with the love that He generates and shapes according to His particular plan for each person.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What's "New" About The New Evangelization?

Artificial lights conceal the gathering storm....

The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization begins this coming week. It is worthwhile to recall the words of Benedict XVI when he established the special Congregation for the New Evangelization last year. Among other things, Benedict has a special concern for the need to bring the Gospel in a new way to Western culture that has become alienated from the faith that shaped its past:

The term, “new evangelization” recalls the need for a renewed manner of proclamation, especially for those who live in a context, like the one today, in which the development of secularization has had a heavy impact, even in traditionally Christian countries.
The Gospel is the ever new proclamation of the salvation worked by Christ which makes humanity participate in the mystery of God and in his life of love and opens it to a future of strong, sure hope. Highlighting that at this moment in history, the Church is called to carry out a new evangelization, [which] means intensifying her missionary action so that it fully corresponds to the Lord’s mandate.
The Second Vatican Council recalled that “The groups among whom the Church operates are utterly changed so that an entirely new situation arises” (Decree Ad Gentes, n. 6). The farsighted Fathers of the Council saw the cultural changes that were on the horizon and which today are easily verifiable. It is precisely these changes which have created unexpected conditions for believers and require special attention in proclaiming the Gospel, for giving an account of our faith in situations which are different from the past.
The current crisis brings with it traces of the exclusion of God from people’s lives, from a generalized indifference towards the Christian faith to an attempt to marginalize it from public life. In the past decades, it was still possible to find a general Christian sensibility which unified the common experience of entire generations raised in the shadow of the faith which had shaped culture. Today, unfortunately, we are witnessing a drama of fragmentation which no longer acknowledges a unifying reference point; moreover, it often occurs that people wish to belong to the Church, but they are strongly shaped by a vision of life which is in contrast with the faith....
Throughout the centuries, the Church has never ceased to proclaim the salvific mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but today that same message needs renewed vigour to convince contemporary man, who is often distracted and insensitive. For this reason, the new evangelization must try to find ways of making the proclamation of salvation more effective; a proclamation without which personal existence remains contradictory and deprived of what is essential.
Even for those who remain tied to their Christian roots, but who live the difficult relationship with modernity, it is important to realize that being Christian is not a type of clothing to wear in private or on special occasions, but is something living and all-encompassing, able to contain all that is good in modern life.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

St. Francis Part One, Creation, and Benedict at Loreto Too!

The dateline on this post is October 4th, which was when the remarks below were given by the Pope during his pilgrimage to Loreto, to consecrate to the Blessed Mother the upcoming Year of Faith and the synod on the New Evangelization. These are the beginnings of what we trust will be specially blessed, even extraordinary days for the Church, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Of course, October 4 is the feast of St. Francis, and this post was supposed to be devoted to him. But to adapt for my purposes Boromir's popular meme:

I rather think he has a point. So far I have not been able to get out much about St. Francis beyond *GASP! What a man!*

There is so much to say. One could start right here: without St. Francis and his way of being-at-home-in-the-world while not belonging to the world, it is hard to imagine that anyone could have written The Lord of the Rings. St. Francis embodies that new Christian vision of the created world, in which things have their own truth and beauty precisely through their reference to One who made them.

LOTR is a "myth" without any gods, not because it is atheist, but because it is everywhere indicative of the transcendent source of reality. It is a "Christian myth" by the very fact that the divine is not to be found in nature or in fate, but rather in the pervasive presence of a transcendent Providence that calls forth personal responsibility and also shows mercy.

St. Francis provokes a lot of thought about a lot of things.

And that means that I intend to devote a post to him. Its just going to take a little more time. But its coming soon.

Meanwhile, to return to Pope Benedict's schedule, the Year of Faith begins October 11. It is intended to be a time for deepening our faith, and growing in awareness of the amazing event that is God's presence in the world through Jesus Christ. Like Mary, we must entrust our freedom to Him. He is not a restriction on our freedom. On the contrary, He alone is adequate for our freedom. He is the source and fulfillment of our freedom. Here are the words of Benedict XVI:

"As we contemplate Mary,
we must ask if we too wish to be open to the Lord,
if we wish to offer him our life as his dwelling place;
or if we are afraid 
the presence of God may somehow
place limits on our freedom,
if we wish to set aside a part of our life
in such a way that it belongs only to us.
Yet it is precisely God who liberates our liberty,
he frees it from being closed in on itself,
from the thirst for power, possessions, and domination;
he opens it up to the dimension which completely fulfils it:
the gift of self, of love,
which in turn becomes service and sharing."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Guardian Angels Are Our Friends

My Guardian Angel has a hard job. In fact, I'm pretty sure there's a reserve squad on call to protect me from my own stupidity.

"Stop philosophizing and pay attention to the road!"

Wait, that's not my guardian angel. That's my wife. Although she gave up saying that a long time ago. Instead,  whenever we're in the car together, she drives. More and more these days, that voice would be John Paul. (Although both of them are more gentle in the way they say it.) John Paul says things like, "um...Daddy, what is the speed limit on this road?" Ah yes! Speed, car, it!

How do our angels watch over us? There is much here that is mysterious. But our guardian angels are our friends. They are part of that great family constituted by God's loving embrace--that vital communion in which God enables us to love Him and to love one another.

They help us every day in so many ways that we never notice. They will help us even more if we ask them. God expresses His love for us in a great chorus of relationships.

Certainly, everything is accomplished by Jesus Christ. But the participation in His particular love for my life--by my wife, children, family, friends, Mary, saints, and angels--is not something that diminishes His love. On the contrary, it shows that His love for me is so powerful that it generates the love of others.

God wants us to recognize, love, and rejoice in all of His creation, and above all in the wonder of created persons--human and angelic too--who are made to reflect His love in the mystery of their own freedom.

I pray to my guardian angel (and those of my wife and children) every day. We pray to our guardian angels in our family prayers each night.

I know that my angel helps me very much. His work, nevertheless, is almost entirely woven into the environment of ordinary life. We're not talking about flashy, visionary displays. We're talking about help to live life, and strength to face its challenges.

The work of the angels is carried out mostly in that vast realm of ordinary life that escapes our conscious awareness. We know that, among other things, it is their task to fight against sinister spiritual powers that are opposed to us, and that seek to destroy us. The good angels take care of us as instruments of Jesus, and their protection is a gift that comes from His victory over evil and sin.

Let us not take this "for granted." Rather, let us rely upon it. Let us invoke the holy angels with confidence and gratitude. Let us love them as brothers and friends, for they are devoted to Jesus, and they are companions in our lives to help us on our mysterious journey toward God, through Jesus in the Church.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.

Monday, October 1, 2012

St. Therese Understands

"Do not fear to tell Jesus that you love Him, even though you may not actually feel that love. In this way you will compel Him to come to you, and carry you like a little child who is too weak to walk."

St. Therese, pray for us, that we might give our weakness to God and let Him love us.