Sunday, September 29, 2013

And... Finally, Finally, Finally!

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Boys and Girls,
Fans of all ages...

We are proud to announce that,
at the age of six years, eleven months,
and three days...


has finally fallen from the mouth
of Josefina Janaro!

Congratulations Josefina!

Special thanks to Crispy Wheat Crackers, Inc. for its material assistance
in the fulfillment of this delicate project.

Note to all tooth fairies: As the designated agents of Miss Janaro, her parents will be happy to receive all nocturnal rewards on her behalf and insure that they are delivered safely and secretly beneath her pillow. We accept cash, check, or direct deposit. Please include all applicable taxes, delivery fees, customs, duties, and a ten percent gratuity for Miss Janaro's agents. Thank you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

John Paul Learning New Skills

Ever since he was a little kid, John Paul has always been very competent and responsible at carrying out tasks that require care, attention to detail, and a sense of responsibility. We've never been afraid to put tools in his hands.

John Paul, age 5, using a screwdriver

More recently, we've decided that it is time for him to learn how to operate some more complex mechanical equipment.

John Paul, age 16, with newly acquired learner's permit, driving (don't worry, its the
parking lot of the public library on a Sunday. So far we're just doing parking lots).
Yes, its really true. He is driving the car. Eileen and I have both taken him out onto the asphalt (though not yet into traffic). He is learning quickly, and in no time at all I am sure he will be a better driver than I am. We just went out to practice behind the K-Mart and Martins. These long back lots simulate a stretch of road. We drove around for quite a while, and then we parked and went into the K-Mart and bought a new basketball.

Soon he'll be ready to take on the dog-eat-dog world of Front Royal traffic.

He'll handle it just fine.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Series: "What I Wore On Monday"

Weird weather as the year grows old
Writing has become even more laborious and exhausting than ever. Its more than just the formatting of pictures and the business of putting together a "catchy" blog entry. Its the writing itself. I'm having trouble getting the words out. Its not just plain "writer's block" because I usually succeed in saying what I want to say. The problem is that it takes so long and leaves me so drained.

I know that this is the time of "weather change" -- sunlight decreases and shifts position in the sky, temperatures become cooler, humidity and barometric pressure go up and down, its cloudy, its damp, the mornings are suddenly dark, the baseball season comes to an end....

I need some BRAIN-O to unclog these neuropathways.

Maybe I should have "theme days." It works for the "Mommy-bloggers." How about What I Wore on Monday, haha. Lets see, I wore a purple tee shirt with one of those little pockets on the chest. (Why the pocket? You can't put anything into it, and besides, the reason why you wear a tee shirt is because you don't need pockets. You're not going to a board meeting! You're bumming around the house.)

Anyway, a purple tee shirt; really its kind of "hippie purple"... actually it may have originally been blue but experienced a color alteration when I threw it in with the hot-water-and-bleach white laundry by mistake. (Never let me near the laundry, ever, ever! Ehh, I guess there's some purple underwear around here somewhere....)

I set off my hippie-purple tee with some navy blue workout pants made of cotton fabric. These cozy, loose fitting pants are great for working out or going for a nice, brisk five mile run. They're even better for flopping around the living room and doing the absolute minimum amount of physical exercise required by a sentient human being.

Don't you just love the purple and blue ensemble? (That should be pronounced onnn-SOMMM-bluuh with appropriate lip contortions.) I wanted that random, "I-don't-care-I'll-wear-whatever-is-on-the-top-of-the-pile" guy look... you could call it "bachelor nostalgia." Bottom it off with a fresh new pair (no holes!) of white, cotton athletic socks. (Yes, I just bought some. They were on sale!)

This outfit gives off a light and casual resonance: it says, "really, all I did was hang around in my pajamas all day!"

Its a very comfy outfit for Mondays, which are often at-home days spent reading, answering correspondence, and engaging in creative procrastination while a six year old climbs on my back or tries to rearrange parts of my face.

Go work on your math, or whatever...!

Monday, September 23, 2013

"...Don't Worry!" Why is That So Hard?

Okay, lets say it one more time:

"Pray, hope, and don't worry!"

Everybody remembers this. We love the "don't worry" part, and yet most of us are worried to death all day long, every day.

Consider the opposite of these words:

"Forget God or ignore Him, run after the things you think you want, and....?"

Fill in the blank. Can you stuff "don't worry" in there? Honestly? How would you fill in the blank?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Being Looked Upon By Jesus

Today is St. Matthew's feast day. I was struck by the remarks of Pope Francis, about how he would often visit the church of San Luigi dei Francesi when he would come to Rome, and meditate on the stupendous painting by Caravaggio of "The Call of St. Matthew" (presumably someone was feeding 200 lire coins into that old box that turned the lights on the painting, because without those lights you can't see a thing in that old side chapel).

Its not surprising that the Pope has a special love for this painting, since it illustrates the event that underlies his episcopal motto Miserando Atque Eligendo: "looking upon him with mercy, He called him." This is how Francisco Jorge Bergoglio sees his own life and vocation. When asked how he would describe himself, he said simply -- without any affectation of self-conscious humility -- "I am a sinner." But the mercy of Jesus has looked upon him; the gaze of Jesus has penetrated his life, called him, changed him, and stirred within him the great desire to witness to the merciful love of Jesus that looks upon each and every person.

This morning, he preached about this gaze of Jesus and its meaning for St. Matthew, for sinners, for each one of us.

Jesus’ gaze always lifts us up.
It is a look that always lifts us up,
and never leaves us in our place,
never lets us down, never humiliates.
it invites you to get up;
[It is] a look that brings you to grow,
to move forward,
that encourages you, because it loves you.
The gaze makes you feel that He loves you.

And sinners, tax collectors and sinners,
they felt that Jesus had looked on them,
and that gaze of Jesus upon them (I believe)
was like a breath on embers,
and they felt that there was fire in the belly, again,
and that Jesus had ​​lifted them up,
gave them back their dignity.

The gaze of Jesus always makes us worthy,
gives us dignity.
It is a generous look.

"But behold, what a teacher: dining with the dregs of the city!"
But beneath that dirt
there were the embers of desire for God,
the embers of God's image that wanted someone
who could help them be kindled anew.
This is what the gaze of Jesus does.

All of us find ourselves before that gaze,
that marvelous gaze,
and we go forward in life,
in the certainty that He looks upon us.
He too, however, awaits us,
in order to look on us definitively,
and that final gaze of Jesus upon our lives
will be forever, it will be eternal.
I ask all the saints upon whom Jesus has looked,
to prepare us to let ourselves be looked upon in life,
and that they prepare us also
for that final – and first! – gaze of Jesus!

--Pope Francis

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ancient Blog, Young Writer: A Postscript on Hope

Young John Janaro (aka "JJ") in the mountains, around 1990

There has been some further consideration of the recently rediscovered ancient blog of Young John Janaro (dated from the beginning of September 1990).

After 23 years, the author finds himself looking at the issues of his 1990 Statement of Purpose within a larger and deeper context. It is not the result of any pretense to greater wisdom, but rather the fruit of his own experience -- over this time -- of his sins and his repeated failures, and of the transforming mercy of Jesus that continues to shape his life with patience and persistence.

Young JJ spoke strongly (and rightly) about the collapse of the culture of autonomous "man," even with man's immense technological power and its possibilities.

He said that 

Still, this desperate judgment was not a cause of despair for Young JJ. He knew that the hope for humanity was secure because God had intervened in history, and given Himself in love through the death and resurrection of Jesus:

As stated in the previous post, The Current JJ (in 2013) concurs with the thoughts expressed by Young JJ, but there is something that has changed.

JJ has grown in hope.

He has a more profound confidence today in that "presence" he wrote about in the second excerpt above: the presence of Christ. He has a deeper attachment to Him; or at least he is more concretely aware of his complete dependence on Christ's presence in every moment.

His confidence has grown in the ineffable power of God's love, in the presence of Christ as inexhaustible mercy, and in the often hidden but always patient and persistent ways that His mercy works in the world.

This means that JJ today -- while still fully acknowledging the divisions and the death that he wrote about in the first paragraph -- is less afraid of them. He sees more clearly (in spite of many hesitations) that death is not the final word, that evil -- in spite of its show of power -- has been defeated and uprooted forever, that however things may seem, the truth of reality is that everything is grace.

JJ is more convinced that the heart of Jesus is at work even in the darkest of places; that the suffering love of Jesus pierces the hearts of the many human beings of our time who have sought to make themselves autonomous and secure in their material power, but have succeeded only in making themselves lonely. Beneath the perversion and the violence of this culture of death is the human person's desperate loneliness and the terrible longing to be loved in a way that is real and permanent.
Mug shot of JJ today: Really he is
 much happier than he looks here.

The Crucified Jesus has carried the depths of all the pain that people inflict upon one another and themselves. He accompanies them in their loneliness and need for love, and with all of their deep personal wounds. He remains, He offers His love and mercy and healing, He waits upon even the most distant freedom and mysteriously engages it from within....

There is a great mystery at the heart of the world, at the heart of every moment. JJ doesn't grasp it, and usually forgets it. JJ doesn't know anything about the depths of this truth that the world has been redeemed. But he lives in hope. He prays for the grace to share in the love and compassion of Jesus, and to bear witness to it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FOUND: Ancient Pre-Digital "Blog"... From 1990!

Ancient media artifact discovered from "the nineties"
The recent Janaro Archeological Expedition (also known as "Get Ready For the Big Yard Sale") has recovered a remarkable document deep in the family storage bins. It clearly dates from the second millennium, and it appears to be a kind of primitive blog-like collection of ruminations by a twenty-something graduate student in theology. Young John Janaro began the work in September of 1990 and continued to post in it until May of 1992.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, before there was an internet... in the days when lots of people didn't even own a personal computer, human beings used to "write" with their actual, physical hand. They used a device that was the ancestor of the stylus that people use today on their iPads: it was called a "pen." In their own unique fonts (i.e. "handwriting"), people would write on pieces of compressed wood pulp called paper.

Writing on paper was considered a technologically advanced activity (hahahahaha). It beat the heck out of chiseling hieroglyphics on stone tablets, after all. Indeed, it had developed to the point where people could communicate with each other all over the world... within a couple of weeks!

Those nice folks with blue uniforms who come to your house every day and stuff your mailbox with coupons, bills, and political advertisements? Once upon a time they were the conveyors of interactive media. The sight of the mailman approaching the house filled people with excitement, anticipation, and hope that perhaps a "letter" might come. Lovers would stare out the window waiting for the mailman to bring a written communication from their beloved, and their hearts would leap at the sight of the mailman's approach. The mailman was a kind of daily Santa Claus, bearing who-knows-what in the way of gifts.

Today, when we see the mail carrier, the most we hope for is a two-for-one pizza coupon, or else that package from Amazon that we already know is coming today because we've tracked it on the internet. Sigh.

An even more peculiar phenomenon of pre-third millennium human behavior was the unusual precursor to today's blogging. Many people would fill books of blank paper with reflections about themselves, their families, and the world in general. A book like this was called a diary or a journal.

The strange thing about these hand-written blogs is that they had no readers. In fact, they were often deliberately hidden... from everybody! They were only read by the person who wrote them.

Cultural anthropologists today disagree about what might have motivated such strange behavior. Indeed, the whole idea is remote to our 21st century minds. We all assume that expressing our thoughts in text is synonymous with publishing them. We write blogs to circulate our personal views; we promote our blogs, give them their own Facebook pages, tweet links to them over and over, and are thrilled if someone retweets them to an even wider circle of strangers. We solicit email subscribers, and we even encourage people to comment on stuff we think about.

Imagine that your blog had no readers and no comments, ever. No "thumbs up" likes. No Twitter gold stars. Not even a "+1" from the Google Plus crowd. There is no crowd, man. You are writing to yourself.

On the other hand, it is possible that the artifact we have discovered is one of those very particular things known as a writer's journal. Writers have always been a different kind of animal in the human race. Ever since chisel was first taken to stone in ancient Sumeria, some people have dreamed that if they recorded their thoughts, someone, someday would read them.

It is difficult for us to imagine a world in which people didn't presume that every thought that came into their heads could be almost instantly published. In past ages, however, the vast majority of the human race never published anything; indeed, most of them couldn't even write. But there were always the scribes, and some of them dreamed and scribbled words and hoped that they might have value, at least in the future. Then came the printing press, and suddenly writers were intoxicated with the possibility that their stuff might circulate all over the place, even while they were still alive.

Still, "publishing" was a relatively rare achievement. For many writers it was only a dream, but it was a dream they kept alive, especially in their youth. And with this dream came the aspiration to fame and a Place in History. This was the secret of the "writer's journal." Along with dreams of future fame, the writer cherished the notion that someday people would want to know what their Great Mind thought about their early years of obscurity, and the events of their time. The writer's journal was really a blog for posterity, a record of allegedly "private" thoughts that secretly aspired to be a literary legacy, a chronicle for generations to come.

Today, it is not surprising that scribes have taken to bloggery, and the whole package of verbal New Media, in an almost natural way, and with gusto. Since the days of the Epic of Gilgamesh we have been motivated by the desire or the hope or even the delusion that other people would read our stuff.

Vanity, of course.

For the Christian, vanity plus hypocrisy.... But also, faith. Certainly the 27 year old graduate student who wrote the words below as part of the "Statement of Purpose" at the beginning of his volume was puffed up with his own rhetoric. But he also really believed what he was saying. And he really did want to say it well. Young Janaro did say some interesting things, in fact. (I may present them here and there during the course of the year, now that the journal has been rediscovered.) But in September of 1990 Janaro was preoccupied with declaring his purpose. Perhaps his vanity can be forgiven because it was so guileless.

Indeed, what is striking here is that these words sound a lot like my writing today. I could enter this text digitally and post it as today's blog, with no further explanation, and the difference would hardly be noticed. Perhaps some will remark that Janaro used to be a better writer before his brains got scrambled. One thing is for sure: the meticulous print reproduced below was a first draft, straight from the pen, without revisions. I don't think I can do that any more.

Oddly, I was more serious a quarter of a century ago. While texts like this often appear in my present writings, there is nothing comparable in the journal of 1990 to the sloppy, rambling blog entries that I often post here (such as the one I'm writing now). Yet I still write this way, not only because my thoughts haven't changed but also because what I wrote in September of 1990 is still true in September of 2013.

Fundamental truths, and the basic needs of this emerging new epoch, haven't changed. And, although the author of these words has changed a great deal, he is still the same person. He still has the same voice.

From John Janaro's Journal, "Statement of Purpose," September 5, 1990

Sunday, September 15, 2013

We Have to Say "Yes"

We trust God because we know He loves us.

Everything is His gift, and expresses His personal love for each of us and for the relationships between us. He is Love. He can only love. In the Cross He reveals that He is Love and He gives Himself as love, and He shows us that He is totally united to us in our difficulties. Totally united with us. So we don't have to be afraid of anything. It's hard not to be afraid, but of course, He is with us even in our fear. He has given Himself and gives Himself as present in our lives now through Jesus and His Church.

In the end, we will be amazed when we realize what He has done for each of us. The marvelous truth will be clear: God is the Great Lover, He pours Himself out for each person, as only God can -- all the hidden ways will one day be manifest. He gives because He is the Giver, He is Gift.

Of course, a gift needs to be received, and love is only received in a fully personal way by the return of love. We have to say "yes" to God, through our life.

We are called to say yes to God, to say yes to the next step as God's light makes it clear to us, to say yes and to pray with trust that He will make it possible.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

He Emptied Himself

Though He was in the form of God, 
[Jesus] did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, He emptied Himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness.

And found human in appearance,
He humbled Himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:6-11)

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Boys of September

They were marked as The Team of Destiny. April.
The season began with the Washington Nationals on top of the world.
Everyone expected them to win and win.
So it began in the cool evenings of Spring.
We had dreams of winning everything.

The season began, and the Nationals won! Of course!
And then they won some more games.
And then they lost some games.
...and won some...
...and lost some...
...and won some more...
...and lost some more...
And we waited for them to just keep winning and winning,
like the Team of Destiny should.
But instead they won and lost
like The-Team-That-Comes-In-Third-Place.

And we thought, "they are off to a slow start. Its only April."
"They're still getting warmed up. After all, its only May."
"They've had some injuries and some bad breaks. But its only June!"
"July. All-Star break. They haven't had a good first half. But they'll do better."

They were doing worse.
They fell below .500!!!
     (Perhaps, if you are not a fan, you do not understand what this means.
     But you do get the idea that this is not good at all.)
By now we were grumbling at our heroes,
for this is the nature of fickle-hearted baseball fans.
"You bums!"
We said to our players,
to these people that we have never met,
about whose lives we know nothing.
It is too easy to forget to remain playful in defeat.

The last playoff spot was drifting further and further away.
The baseball season had quickly gotten old
and neared its end.
We who had played the season in the seats
or on our couches
had moved by now into the stage of resignation.
It is that peculiar baseball resignation that eludes despair
because there is always "Next Year."

And then
the Nationals are on fire.
It is September
and they have finally found that elusive *sparkle*
that makes the difference between "winning and losing,"
and "winning and winning"!
Now they've got it at last.

And this is what makes baseball beautiful:
When the team trails by six games in September,
with some twenty or a few more left to play,
we start to dream again.
The mathematics of it are not promising,
but the strange twists and turns of this strange game
move between the numbers,
and what is possible
always remains possible.
If we win two more (and the Reds lose)
its only four games back.
And then another two
and its only two games behind!

Is it really possible?

It has happened before.
That's the beauty of a game with a history.
There's almost nothing that hasn't happened before.

And so,
in these cool September evenings,
we keep on dreaming.

Friday, September 6, 2013

More Josefinology

Josefina comes over to my big brown chair and just perches herself on the edge, which is her unspoken way of saying, "scoot over." Then she sits herself in the small space that I can still clear for her. She still fits in that spot, which means she's the only one of the children who can sit on my chair -- and only when I'm in it.

The other kids aren't really jealous, because they're too old to sit "with Daddy" (well, I do let Teresa sit on the arm every so often). What they would really like is to sit in the chair by themselves, but I have forbidden it. We've had this chair for over three years and we're trying to make it last. That means it has to be a "no fly zone," reserved strictly for me... and little people who are sneaky and a little spoiled by Daddy and, above all, implacably determined.

Josefina is six now, but still so little. Nevertheless there's a lot going through her little head. So the other day she sits next to me and says...

Josefina: "When we get our bodies back, will we have bones?"

She's talking about our resurrected bodies, of course, that are reunited with our souls at the end of history, when Jesus establishes God's kingdom in all its fullness. She thinks about this stuff -- body and soul and death and how it all "works." Even when she was four she had questions like this.

But this particular question I don't understand. Bones? Why wouldn't we have bones?

Me: "Of course we'll have bones. We'll have our whole human bodies." 

In fact, she does have something very specific in mind.

Her: "But how will we be able to go through walls if we have bones?"

Haha! Interesting question. Jojo's has obviously learned (in Atrium perhaps?) about that quality of the resurrected and glorified body that is called subtlety. Our bodies will be like the risen body of Jesus, who passed unhindered into the upper room on Easter, who "came and stood among" the disciples even though they were hiding behind locked doors. She's trying to figure out how that could be done. Maybe without bones the body might be squshy enough to get through. But what about bones?

Me: "Oh no, that won't be a problem. Our bodies will be greater than any physical objects in the New Creation. We will be transformed people living in a transformed world."

Her: "So we can start walking and just go anywhere?"

Me: "We can go anywhere right away, just by wanting to." Now, of course, we're talking about the property of agility.

Her: "But can we walk anywhere?"

Me: "Well, if we want to walk somewhere, sure. We can walk."

Her: "And keep walking?"

Me: "Wherever we want."

Her: "And we can go through anything?"

Me: "Anything, if its God's will."

Her: "But we don't go through other people!"

Hmmm. That's another question. Will we have some kind of corporeal circumincession, some communial indwelling that involves also (in some way) our glorified bodies "in Christ," such that there will be a unity that preserves the uniqueness of each one? Something completely unimaginable? I can't think of it without feeling like I'm venturing into the weird zone. I don't know. Images fail me utterly. But they are never adequate, because "eye hath not seen...." 

Josefina certainly can't imagine it.

"Not other people," she says decisively. "That would be disgusting!"

It seems like a big mix up, in our minds, which is gross to imagine.

Even worse if we have bones!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Rules for Interacting on Social Media"... by St. Ignatius!

St. Ignatius working on his blog. 
I've been doing some research on St. Ignatius of Loyola for an article I'm writing (part of a series I'm working on for a popular magazine that will appear next year).

The man blows. me. away. Of course, as is so often the case with the teaching of the saints, I feel overwhelmed. When it comes to holiness, I am just NOT THERE.

May God have mercy on me for presuming to say anything about Him.

Lets listen to Ignatius. He's the real deal. The early Jesuits compiled several collections of "sayings" from his letters. As I was going through these, several of them struck me as relevant to the interaction so common among us, particularly in what I like to call the "Catholosphere" (haha).

Of course these apply to any kind of human discourse, but they have particular importance for those of us who think we have something to say that will "help" our brothers and sisters. And they are excellent points to remember when we are engaged in the awkward, disembodied conflicts that often arise on the Social Media.

And so, without further comment, here are some Rules For Communication on Social Media (and everywhere else)... by St. Ignatius:

"[A] good Christian has to be more ready to justify than to condemn a neighbor’s statement. If no justification can be found, one should ask the neighbor in what sense it is to be taken, and if that sense is wrong he or she should be corrected lovingly. Should this not be sufficient, one should seek all suitable means to justify it by understanding it in a good sense" (from the Spiritual Exercises).
"We should be slow to speak and patient in listening to all men.... Our ears should be wide open to our neighbor until he seems to have said all that is in his mind."
"[In seeking to help our neighbor] we should not move straight to what is highest and most perfect, but proceed slowly and gently, from lower things to higher."
"We must adapt ourselves to people's capacities. Try to pour too much at once into a narrow-necked bottle, and you will just spill it and fail to get it inside."
"When, as is but human, errors are committed by others, you should see in them, as in a mirror, some deformity that needs removing in yourself."
"Beware of condemning any man’s action. Consider your neighbor’s intention, which is often honest and innocent, even though his act seems bad in outward appearance."
"If your neighbor’s sin is so manifest that you cannot in honesty excuse it, blame not the sinner but the violence of his temptation, remembering that you yourself might have fallen as badly or even worse."
"Love even the most abandoned: love whatever faith in Christ remains in them: if they have lost this, love their virtues; if these have gone, love the holy likeness they bear, love the blood of Christ through which you trust they are redeemed."