Friday, February 28, 2014

Ukraine: Where Will it All Lead?

Maidan in Kiev: Great events have begun 
As February comes to an end, we are full of questions about an ancient land, and also perhaps about the future. It would appear that what began last Fall as protests in the center of Kiev has been transformed into the Maidan Revolution. A corrupt dictatorship has been overthrown, and steps are in place for the election of a new President in May. But what lies ahead is far more complicated than "a Ukrainian Spring."

We know little about the history of this nation whose name means "the Borderland." A thousand years ago, the monarch of a region of Slavic peoples who were known as the Rus converted to Byzantine Christianity. The prince venerated today as St. Vladimir consolidated the region, and over the next two hundred years its capital city of Kiev arose as a vital center of civilization and culture in the Christian East.

But ancient Kiev disappeared after the Mongol invasions, and hundreds of years later -- when Eastern Slavs finally threw off the Mongol yoke -- another city rose in the north, the city of Moscow. It was the Grand Duke of Moscow who married the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, and his successors gathered the Slavs and their territories into an Empire that saw itself as the bearer of the great imperial heritage of Rome. Moscow's leaders took to themselves the mystique behind that unique name, Caesar, which they adopted as their own. Ancient Kiev was subsumed under the Empire of the Russian Czars.

One of the more peculiar things about the Soviet Union was the degree to which it held the territory of the old Empire together, including this land of the south, that bordered the Black Sea and the Latin West. One face of Ukraine (in the East) looked toward the Russian heartland and the other toward Europe. Ukrainians retained their distinctive language, and their awareness of themselves as a great, subjected people.

Stalin determined to break that spirit, and by a preconceived and ruthlessly engineered famine and the brutal exile of the population, he created a genocide that took the lives of millions of people, a genocide whose story has only begun to be told, the Holodomor.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine asserted its national identity. A people with a proud heritage and a distinctive language, but also a post-Soviet society, fragmented, poor, and with significant Russian minorities especially in the Eastern regions.

It is a nation with much division, and as we leave the month of February, we hear rumors that Russian troops may have already entered the country, while others conduct threatening exercises on its borders. The Ukrainian Spring may play itself out as an invasion, a civil war, and/or a fragmentation of the country into its diverse regions. What will happen to Ukraine? And how will it affect the European allies of Ukraine and their partners in the United States? Will there be war between Kiev and its historically younger brother, Moscow? What will this mean for the rest of the world? These are serious questions with roots that go back a thousand years.

Much depends on the dispositions and the decisions of the new Czar of the Russia of the twenty first century, and the nature of his own imperial ambitions -- another man called Vladimir.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thinking, Living, and Loving With the Church

The reactions to the Pope's video, at least in the comboxes of various YouTube sites where it is posted, have been decidedly mixed.

Many (both Protestant and Catholic) were very touched by the personal and "heartfelt" quality of the appeal. As far as its content goes, Francis was only presenting in a fresh way (and through a new medium) the "ecumenism of charity" that Vatican II called for, and that the popes have practiced energetically in many ways since the Council. Perhaps Francis succeeded in opening some hearts to take up this journey, and giving inspiration and focus to those who are already on the path.

Some comments, however, came from fundamentalists who are convinced that the Pope is the antichrist, and they warned people not to be "taken in" by the attraction. Some said it was a deception of Satan, and that everyone must flee from the snares of the whore of Babylon. Such comments were painful to read; I can only feel great sorrow to see people so trapped by their ideologies that they cannot recognize a genuine human gesture full of simplicity and love.

And then some of my Catholic brothers and sisters did not help the situation by expressing their anger at the Pope for "speaking to heretics and not trying to convert them." He was criticized for appearing without the regal symbols of his authority (including a crown), for speaking to non-Catholic Christians "as if they were equals." The Council of Trent was invoked as if it somehow mandated righteous hostility toward people who are seeking to follow Christ in good faith, people whom "the Catholic Church accepts...with respect and affection as brothers" (Decree on Ecumenism 3:1).
Those who want to know the fully Catholic character of Pope Francis's gesture should begin by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ##817-822.
So the comments chattered, with the occasional atheist chiming in and declaring that it's all nonsense. Christians being nasty was certainly no witness to the atheists.

A lot of loneliness and pain gets poured out into comboxes. The fact that some fundamentalist Protestants think the Pope is the antichrist is not surprising. It is a sad thing, and I have no desire to heap vituperation on them in turn.

The insults and disdain expressed by some Catholics toward the Holy Father, however, is something that should stop.

There are even Catholics who question whether Francis is a true pope. These unfounded doubts, unfortunately, have been spread so scurrilously that Pope Emeritus Benedict has felt it necessary to answer in writing several questions posed to him in a letter from an Italian journalist.

“There is absolutely no doubt regarding the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote from the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. He emphasized once again that his resignation was not in any way coerced, but was entirely his own free decision. "Speculation regarding its validity is simply absurd," he wrote. His responses, of course, were published in La Stampa and quickly circulated around the world to be picked up by every secular media outlet so that the Church might look foolish.

I hope that Benedict has closed this speculation. The fact that he felt it necessary to reaffirm publicly, in writing, the action that he carried out clearly and unambiguously a year ago is a shame. This is what happens when Catholics allow and even cultivate an atmosphere of casual disrespect -- a condescending and mocking attitude -- toward our present Pope. It is disgraceful.

I speak forcefully here, but I do understand that for some in the Church this has been a difficult period. When I was young, I suffered from some difficulties like this myself. In my career I have come to know many, many churchmen. They are flawed men. Sometimes churchmen do inexcusably bad things. There are scandals; more scandals than we realize. There always have been scandals.

But Jesus is still risen from the dead, and he is still with us. In particular, Jesus has promised that he will lead us and guide us in the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, the Pope. In the midst of whatever confusion, I hold fast to that promise, and I am willing to allow that promise to open up my life to God's design, which is something infinitely greater than my understanding.

I trust that Jesus is working through the Catholic Church as she is present in the world today. I haven't always had that trust. I've struggled. I used to assume that I was obligated to suffer anxiety about the Pope and the Church in the post-conciliar era because I couldn't see with my own mind the coherence of certain things; I couldn't see how they fit into my preconceived categories about what the Church should be. I had years of back-and-forth arguing with others, myself, and God, but those years are long behind me.

What changed me was that I met something in reality that was greater than any of my ideas. I met people who were full of joy, who loved Jesus, who loved the Church, who loved the Pope. What changed me was that a point of reference greater than myself took hold of my life. I found that Jesus was a real Person, that he loved me, really, personally. Following the Church, and following the Pope, was not a game of mental gymnastics; it was a matter of staying with the living God who gives me my being, redeems me, and draws me to himself. As Pope Benedict XVI said, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, 1).

Following Jesus in the Church with my freedom and also with my intelligence has enlarged me as a human being, and enabled me to be faithful to the truth without being afraid to be open to reality in all its facets and surprises and also in the difficulties and the suffering that simply cannot be resolved by anything in my power.

I can admit that ecumenism is not easy for me. (Is authentic ecumenism easy for anyone?) But that does not justify my rejection of the path that Jesus is marking out for the Church today. On the contrary, it is a challenge to me to seek a deeper understanding through a living adherence, which means looking to Jesus and asking him to shape within me an obedient and humble heart, a docility toward God's wisdom.

Of course, the teaching of the Council of Trent is definitive. The Catechism reaffirms this clearly. It does not follow, however, that the pastoral practice of 500 years ago is appropriate for today. Nothing in the teaching or pastoral practice of the popes today regarding ecumenism contradicts Trent. I am fully capable of arguing this point by point, showing that their actions are defensible. But this is not enough for me, and all too often those who insist on such arguments are not willing to be convinced. I do not want to suspend my adherence to Jesus in the Church and my desire to follow him concretely in order to first make sure that all of this fits in with my limited perspective and flawed logic. If I stay within my mind, I will get stuck there and end up going around in circles.

I don't want that. I want to stay with Christ, and this means that I want to follow the judgment of the Vicar of Christ for what is needed here and now for the good of the Church.

It is not my responsibility to watch the Pope, decide whether or not his gestures correspond to what I think the Church should be like, and then decide whether or not I want to follow him. He is, in a unique way, Christ's presence on earth, the continuation of Christ's human voice concretely guiding his people. In following Christ, therefore, I follow the Pope, making every effort to understand his gestures as part of thinking and living the mystery of the Church (sentire cum ecclesia).

The alternative to following Jesus present in the Church today is following my own judgment. Following my own judgment, or following others who are just generating their own ideas from an ideology (even an allegedly "Catholic" ideology that they have constructed from their own perception of the Church), has never produced anything worthwhile or fruitful in my life. What has changed me and given me joy even in the midst of many afflictions, is following Jesus present in the Church.

Thus, I follow the Pope. He is given the grace to watch over this "people" who belong to God, these particular people here and now. This Pope is given abundantly the grace of his office, to be the representative of Jesus Christ at this present moment. I am confident that he will be led rightly by the Holy Spirit to shepherd the Church, and if he makes mistakes, he will be led so as to overcome them in time (and thus I shall also be led). I love the Pope, and I pray for him.

What I propose here is not an argument. It is a witness. It is at the heart of my faith, and all that has truly sustained me in my life. Jesus in the Catholic Church is my hope.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pope Francis: THE VIDEO. You Have to Watch This!

In a recent meeting with the Pope, an evangelical friend used his iPhone to record the message linked below. He asked Pope Francis to say some words to a large Protestant gathering in the United States that was coming up (and has subsequently taken place).

Thus, with the help of a cell phone, a translator, and some basic editing software, Pope Francis addressed a huge conference of non-Catholic Christians last week. And now, thanks to YouTube, he can speak to the rest of us.

I could say so much about this video, but it's not necessary. Please, just watch it:

I am content to let Francis's moving words and expressive face communicate for themselves. This is a beautiful gift from the heart of the Pope.

The technology that made it possible is also a great gift from God that He has given to us through the creativity, ingenuity, intelligence, and hard work of created human persons -- His children.

The Pope has demonstrated how "New Media" technology is a gift from God. It can be means of giving ourselves in word and gesture and expression. Let us be grateful for this gift, and pray very much for the grace to use it well, according to the wisdom and love of God, within the context of our own vocations.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Luigi Giussani: The Embrace of the Mystery

The tomb of Msgr. Luigi Giussani in Milan is visited each day by hundreds of people who
bring petitions and thanksgivings for favors received, which are recorded by the cause
for his beatification. The tombstone reads, "Our Lady, you are the security of our hope."

"This is the ultimate embrace of the Mystery, against which man–even the most distant, the most perverse or the most obscured, the most in the dark–cannot oppose anything, can make no objection. He can abandon it, but in so doing he abandons himself and his own good. The Mystery as mercy remains the last word even on all the awful possibilities of history.

"For this reason existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ."

~ Luigi Giussani

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Winter Olympics and What Lies Ahead

Indoor Floor Sliding Gold Medal Winner
The Olympics have come and gone in these past two weeks, and we have seen lots of admirably refined athletic talent, competitive spirit, and well-earned triumphs. The skis and the sleds were a taming of speed, while the skaters amazed us with their elegance, virtuosity, and lightness upon the ice.

While they skated on television, the Janaros had their own "skater" in slippers and a ballet outfit, sliding and spinning across the living room floor to the accompanying music. She won the gold medal in our house (for "slipper sliding," at least).

Meanwhile we rooted for our team U.S.A. in hockey, and for our Capitals stars on other world teams. But the Canadians, once again, showed everyone that they own the game of hockey regardless of how good the rest of the world gets at imitating them.

The Russians do not need to convince anyone of their skill, ardor, and gracefulness. Russian athletes proved it once again in many venues. The political condition of the ancient land, however, is far more perplexing. Sochi, a temperate resort town on the Black Sea, was an unusual place to have a Winter Olympics, and we will never know if the vast sums of money spent on building its infrastructure will improve life for the people there.

Mr. Putin wanted the world to see that Russia was competent as well as vast, but his purposes and those of his regime remain inscrutable, and fail to inspire any sense of trust in anyone who has observed history.

Then there are the people. What does Russia desire to be? How does she desire to rebuild her identity as a nation, a people, and a force for good in the 21st century? It is difficult to take the pulse of a people who are still in part exhausted by the profound alienation of the Soviet epoch. The aspirations they do have arise from conflicting and contradictory impulses that must as yet unfold and perhaps struggle against one another.

Not far from the Olympic games, another contest has begun in Ukraine that holds a far greater significance for the history of the region, and that places again before Russia the necessity of taking a position. Will the words of Solzhenitsyn finally be heeded, and will the Russian nation and her leaders take the road of humility? Will there be the restraint (indeed the spirit of "penance") that must be embraced in order for Russia to be healed and rise up with the spirit of her saints, so as to be servants of peace in the world?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Luigi Giussani: Friend of Popes, Friend of Humanity

February 22 is a feast day in the Roman calendar. It is the feast of the "chair" of St. Peter, the sede in Latin, which we usually render as "the see" in our awkward ecclesiastical English. It celebrates this singular office in the Church which is the bishopric of Rome with all the universal significance it contains.

It is a day to celebrate devotion to (i.e. love for) the office of the papacy, and confidence in how the Holy Spirit works through the flawed men who hold this office.

I would also argue vigorously (and I don't think I'd be alone in this) that the men who have held the office during my lifetime (whatever their flaws) have been exceptional. February 22 is a time to remember and be grateful for these exceptional men.

In the year 2005, however, February 22 gained a new significance for me personally, and quite possibly in the future for the whole Church (if she so judges it). This new event, however, has a profound and fitting relationship to the present significance of the day.

Msgr. Luigi Giussani died on February 22, 2005, several weeks before his friend Pope John Paul II. It is well known that he lived a profound and exemplary affection for the popes of his time. He was also a witness who touched the hearts and the understanding of these men, contributing to a distinctive point of focus in the New Evangelization.

Giussani lived and expressed every day the fact that the presence of Christ is the definitive meaning of the whole of human existence, that the human heart's desire for truth, goodness, and beauty finds in the face of Christ the superabundant answer of Infinite Love, in a manner beyond all expectations. Jesus is the gift of God's love that, even as it transforms us by raising us up to a participation in the life of the Trinity, can also be recognized to correspond to the deepest needs of our humanity.

Thus, for Giussani, what is decisive for Christianity is the encounter with the Person of Jesus Christ, who is present now in his Church.

Christ is present in a way that provokes and challenges the human heart in every time and circumstance, and thus in our times, in our world, in all the environments in which humans search for meaning and fulfillment. He is present through the whole mystery of the Church, from her teaching and her sacraments to the concrete gestures of caritas -- the love, understanding, compassion, and companionship -- that build up the relationships between human persons who have been touched by Jesus and who live his joy as a gratuitous proposal of friendship and solidarity with every person.

Luigi Giussani has been a witness for many people in Italy, Europe, and throughout the world. There is much that needs to be said about this, but February 22 calls to mind the way in which his witness has touched in an intimate way the men who have been called to sit in the chair of St. Peter.

Luigi Giussani with Pope Paul VI
Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis are among those who knew him. Paul VI knew him first, when he was Archbishop of Milan in the 1950s and Giussani was guiding the high school students participating in the episcopally sponsored Azione Cattolica. He encouraged him then, while admitting that he did not understand his methods. Later, in his final years as Pope, he met with Giussani again, and this time he spoke without qualification, saying to him, "This is the path. Go forward on it."

John Paul II recognized immediately the congeniality of the movement that took inspiration from Giussani, that had come to be known as "Communion and Liberation." In a meeting in 1982, he charged them specifically to "go into all the world to bring the truth, beauty, and peace that are found in Christ the Redeemer... Take onto yourselves this need of the Church: this is the task that I leave with you today."

As CL expanded into a worldwide ecclesial movement, the priest who had begun as a teacher in a high school classroom, who said that he had never intended to "found" anything, relied much on the guidance and wisdom of one of the most important members of John Paul II's curia: a man named Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The great heart of this much misunderstood and under appreciated man grew deeply from this relationship. Ratzinger said at one point that Luigi Giussani had "changed my life."

Cardinal Ratzinger presides at his friend's funeral
When Giussani died in 2005 after a long illness, Cardinal Ratzinger -- who seldom preached in public -- personally requested to represent the ailing John Paul II and celebrate the funeral Mass in Milan, where he would preach before thousands in attendance and all of Italy through natioinal television coverage. People (and churchmen too) heard for the first time the clear, simple, and tender eloquence of the Cardinal whom they had seen primarily as the Pope's "enforcer." The memorable "funeral oration" of February 24, 2005 was the voice of Cardinal Ratzinger speaking of the witness of faith given to him by his friend.

In less than two months, he was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

For his personal household staff, Benedict chose consecrated women from the CL association Memores Domini. Each week the household held the common reading and meditation, the "School of Community," that challenges those who attend to make a comparison between the proposal of Jesus Christ and their own experience of life. These meetings are held all over the world today, and everyone is welcome regardless of their beliefs or lack of beliefs; they are welcome to come as much as their freedom prompts them. Of course, the School of Community in the Papal household was private, but there was one very conspicuous and faithful participant: Pope Benedict himself.

Benedict's staff has accompanied him in his retirement at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery (they are the "four consecrated women" who are sometimes mentioned as his attendants). Undoubtedly, they continue their small School of Community, and the Pope Emeritus continues to be helped by it to seek the presence of Christ in the unique circumstances of these moments in his life.

Bergoglio presents Giussani's book in Argentina
Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was reading the works of Giussani, and gave public introductions to the first Spanish editions on two occasions. He said that he had made a point of reading Fr. Giussani's writings because they helped him "to become a better man and a better priest." Cardinal Bergoglio also became good friends with the priest who helped guide the CL group in Buenos Aires, Fr. Giacomo Tantardini (who was very personally close to Fr. Giussani).

Pope Francis has an affection for many of the new ecclesial movements (as did Benedict and John Paul II). He speaks the language of the new evangelization: the need for personal witness, for bringing the faith into the places where real human life is lived, for building a "Culture of Encounter." If we think the word "encounter" is vague and mushy, Giussani can help us to see its authentic and profound ecclesial and human significance.

But there is nothing particularly "Giussanian" about any of Luigi Giussani's teaching, other than the charism of his particular focus, as well as the impassioned and sometimes difficult style of his words. Giussani only wanted to articulate the reality of Jesus in the Church as he had experienced it in its Catholic fullness. Giussani's challenge to popes and to everyone was to live the intensity of belonging to Christ in every circumstance, to allow Christ's grace to convince us and change us, and to find the joy of Christ in wherever we are and in whatever we do. And let us not be afraid to let others see this joy and be drawn by it.

The Servant of God Msgr. Luigi Giussani was the friend of popes and of humanity. He was, as John Paul II called him, a "teacher of humanity." He was a prophet and a pioneer in the New Evangelization.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Relationships Take Me Beyond Myself

If I try to consider my life in a truly objective way, something is very clear: I am not alone. Insofar as I am an actual human person, I am not an isolated atom who generates the meaning of my own identity. We are habituated to consider ourselves as autonomous, independent individuals who can be entirely self-fulfilled by whatever we choose to be and to do.

It's a very heady philosophy, but it just doesn't correspond to reality. It's certainly not my own experience. I am not the source of myself. I didn't even give myself my own name!

As soon as I look honestly at my real self, I find that I cannot separate that personal self from relationships, concrete relationships with real other persons; relationships that take me beyond myself.

I have never been an isolated, autonomous entity, not for a single moment. The most obvious facts of my life reveal that I have always been a person-in-relationship. I came into existence as the son of my parents, and the dawn of my awareness is full of the memory of being a son, a brother, a grandson, and a nephew. I soon began to discover that I was also a "friend," and as the years have gone by I have discovered the value of this relationship on all of its many different levels.

The original experience of belonging-to-a-family, far from being a prison or a suffocation of my freedom, has been the foundation from which I have grown in the capacity to love others and commit myself to further relationships. In this growth of love, I have not "lost" my original relationships. On the contrary, the depth of these relationships grows even as the circumstances change. It's not a smooth or perfect growth -- there are failures and misunderstandings and setbacks and forgiveness -- but it's real growth.

This is what happened when I became an adult; above all when I became a
husband. Here I have really learned that I am nothing by myself, that I must share myself, share my life, live in communion with a someone else.

I have learned this not by any theory, but by hard human experience, not only by the joys of giving and sharing many blessings, but also through dark and difficult times, through the recognition that the ugliness I found inside myself was a cause of real suffering to another human being, and that we had to give and receive and share our lives together even in these ugly, painful places.

At the heart of love and of all relationships is this mysterious thing called "sacrifice." You really know that you belong to someone when you just give without expecting anything back, you just give because there is this other person who is with you and who needs you in order to keep herself together and move forward.

You know you really belong to someone when you are humbled, when another suffers and makes sacrifices for you, and carries burdens with you because you are together with her in life. You know you really belong to someone when she makes space in her life for your faults, when she treats you with patience and compassion. It can be a grubby business, like digging a trail through the woods, but some new sense arises in the midst of this struggle. You are going somewhere together, and you need each other to get there. Even more so, there is a truth that begins to emerge: you both want to get there together. You sacrifice because you really love the other person, you want her to arrive at her destiny, and it is the same destiny as your own.

And, of course, there are others on the path too.

Bad for my back, even two years ago
At a certain point in my life, "I" suddenly acquired the identity of "Daddy." I tell all the amusing stories, because that is my nature and also because -- by the blessing of God -- we are (usually) a cheerful, funny, openhearted bunch, who have been blessed with much joy together (and also more than a little nuttiness and chaos). Thank God, we are a loving family, even if we do get on one another's nerves every single day.

But these kids have also heard their father's cries of pain and have seen his incapacity and his withdrawal. They have also seen that he loves them, that he struggles to be present to them, and to guide them according to the wisdom and love of God. They know that he prays for a strength that he does not possess by his own power. They also know that he and their Mommy love each other.

These are relationships that are already taking new forms, and will change throughout life. I live each day and try to respond, knowing that the future will bring sacrifices and suffering and also a greater foretaste of true joy.

God, of course, makes everything possible. It is all the story of a fundamental relationship, the one that makes me exist: my relationship with God. I am, at every moment, called-into-being by the personal love of God. God's love is the reason why I exist at all, in the beginning and also at this very moment. The same God draws my freedom into relationship with him, to love him as my ultimate destiny.

I dwell with God in the silent and secret places of my own heart. But in the depths of that heart I find the others that I have been called by God to love. He has brought us together to love one another and serve one another, to lead us all together to himself and to let his mercy shine through us.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cooking With Josefina and Friends

The "Josefina and Friends" Cooking Show
Recently, I walked into my living room and was surprised to discover that I had stepped onto the set of a live cooking show (just like the ones on TV). The expert cooks were dolls named... oh heck I don't remember; maybe she can tell me later and I'll fill in their names here: Jenny and Laura. The dolls were "assisted" by Josefina. (Got the names, haha!)

Lots of plastic vegetables and imaginary spices cooked and sizzled in pots and pans while the dolls gave very slow and considered explanations of each step. The audience was very impressed.

Jojo loves to watch cooking shows on television  This is a relatively new development for her, although she's been running her pretend restaurant for some years now. It's good because we all like to watch cooking shows. The best ones are very entertaining, and of course they about food, which is one of our favorite things, haha!

I am a person of Mediterranean heritage. That means that I not only enjoy eating food, but I also enjoy... food, period. Food is beautiful. Food is culture. It is the expression of peoples and their histories. Food is art! Good food looks beautiful. It sounds beautiful. A good chef (or even a good recipe) can get you to try new things in your own kitchen.

The cook and her book.
Watching a chef like Jacques Pepin beat egg whites while he describes the souffle... well, it's great fun as long as there is some hope that, someday, you might actually get to make it (or at least eat it) yourself.

Josefina certainly has this hope, and she has already begun to realize it in our (real) kitchen, thanks to her Kids Cooking cookbook. She made dinner for us last week, using the spaghetti sauce recipe. She has done a few lunches too, like tuna salad cones.

Lots of fun stuff that kids can do. Great, pre-digital illustrations.

I have great hopes for her future -- amateur at least, if not professional -- as a culinary artist. Yum yum!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Death Becomes Love

No mistake about it, here we have an entry from February 17... 1991. Young Janaro was pondering death in his entry for that day. This may be a bit hard to read, but let's give it a try:

Hmmm. This is a little hard to read. I probably need to rescan the original "paper" document.

"The fact that I am going to die has been overcome by a deeper fact: that I have already died." Still, I remain in the world because of mission, because I have been "sent" to others, to witness this truth to them.

I also note a few things here about a course I was taking on the Orthodox church, taught by an Orthodox priest. I had already begun to experience the division as a deeply personal pain.

The quotation at the end is from Von Balthasar's Engagement with God, p. 69.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Praying When We Don't Feel Like Praying

More snow. More RED marked "high" levels on the "aches and pains index." O Bother!

Still, I can't blame that for the odd malaise of today. Nor can I blame it on Monday. There are some days when time seems to just plod along, relentlessly going nowhere.

Everything seems to have lost its vividness and texture. It's all reduced to stuff: stuff to do, stuff to move, stuff to say to people, stuff to eat, stuff to read, stuff going on in the world.

I guess I am not surprised that people are materialists. What seems to be their experience -- the appearance of things -- is dull, monotonous, and seemingly beneath the level of their interest. Stuff.

But I have faith. I believe that God became man and dwells in the midst of all this stuff. But today I am not going to do a very good job of explaining why that is important. Today I feel a little stupified by stuff, and I find it very difficult to recognize Christ's presence in the midst of it all (or perhaps what I mean to say is that I lack the energy, and find it very difficult to summon the enthusiasm to write about such things with any insight).

Nevertheless I believe, and I summon myself to pray. Prayer. This is everything. Even when I don't feel like praying.

We have a choice: prayer or the void. Prayer or nothingness. Prayer turns to God and says, "You are here." Emotionally and intellectually the experience of prayer can seem dry and insignificant just like everything else we do. There is a serious temptation here, one that could lead me to think that prayer is just more stuff that I do during the day.

NO! Prayer is, first of all, something that God does in me. He whispers in my heart. If the desire to lift my mind and heart to God stirs within me -- however faint and weak and wretched that desire may seem -- it means that God is attracting my heart, he is drawing me to himself.

God calls us to pray everyday. He has given us the words. "Our Father...." To accept God's words and address them to God in obedience to God is already the beginning of the conviction that the "stuff" of the day is more than it appears to be.

"Hallowed be thy Name / thy Kingdom come / thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

There. I prayed it.

I lacked the warmth of ardor. I didn't pay attention to the words. I begin the words and my mind was immediately sucked back into the stuff that surrounds me and that appears so real, the stuff that is perishing all around me, the void....

Still, an event took place within my heart. Saying the words and just wanting to pray are the beginning of the affirmation of eternity. God will bring the rest: the attention, the conversation, the conviction, the transformation of the way I look at reality. He will do so in his time, according to his plan. But I must be faithful. I must pray. Pray, pray, pray. Even if that means just taking up the words in dryness and believing and hoping in God.

We do not need to fall into nothingness. Jesus. His very name is a prayer. "God saves." God, save me.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Winter is a Hard Time

Weather affects people in many ways.

A winter like this has given me a hard time, and I know it hasn't been easy for others either. We are creatures of soul and body, afflicted by sin and afflicted in so many ways by our complex environment and our mysterious physical constitution.

Ice and snow coat our external pathways even as they challenge our physical and mental health. But with all our pains and turns of mind, something endures that rejoices to see the light breaking forth against the shadows.

We never cease to hope for the warmth of the sun, and all these captive crystals opening up and rushing together as streams of water for our thirst.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

BASEBALL: Take That, Mister Big Bad Winter!

In OTHER news, Spring Training has officially opened. Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers have reported to their camp in Viera, Florida, and are working out.

Once again baseballs have begun to thump in gloves, and for thousands of hearts Spring has started!

Snow schmoe! Exhibition games in two weeks.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Manners, Love, and Living Together

When Pope Francis spoke to a meeting of engaged couples, he repeated to them the same advice he had previously given to families: "there are three important words for family life: permesso, grazie, e scusi." I give them in Italian because they lose something in translation, but they correspond to the English "excuse me" (or "please" or "may I...?" -- all of these go with permesso), "thank you" (grazie), and "I'm sorry" (scusi).

In keeping with our "Italiano style" home, Eileen printed out these three words and put them up on the wall in the dining room.

The Pope really nailed it, I think.

Although we have had a few laughs thinking of a some other words that might be added in a home with kids living in it, words like basta! ("enough" or "stop it").

Italians respond to grazie with the beautiful idiomatic term prego which comes from the word for "prayer" (pregare). Prego (literally "I pray") is also used for phrases such as "may I help you?" and to indicate things like "please, have a seat."

It can also be an invitation to "enjoy" as one might say after serving food (and this is how it connects to the well known American brand of spaghetti sauce).

In any case, simple expressions of courtesy are basic if people are going to share life in a human way. I rather like what we say in English as a response to being thanked for something. We say, "you're welcome." There is something fundamentally affirming and open about this phrase. It says, "I'm happy to do this because you are 'welcome' in my life" at whatever level the relationship exists, even if it's just a moment in the checkout line.

We say "thank you" and "your welcome" as we gratefully give and receive one another's generosity.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Big Snow

Annnddd... here is the big blizzard of February 12-13, 2014 as it was seen in progress on the morning of the 13th at Casa Janaro:

At this point it was still snowing in that quiet, slow, relentless manner of a real snowstorm. It just keeps falling minute by minute, hour by hour, all night and all day until things look like this:

This looks like quite a job of digging out lays ahead. Ouch!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is There Such a Thing As "Attention Excess"?

When I read, I read. What fire?
I have a pathological attention span. When I read, I read. Food? Meh. Sleep? When my head hits the book, maybe. House on fire? Hmm, I thought it was getting warm in here. Coffee? Okay, I'll get some coffee. Bathroom? KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! "Daddy, hurry up!" Daddy's reading in there again. That's basically the routine.

Of course, the same thing can happen when I start writing (which is kinda cool in a way, except that it exhausts me, because writing is exhausting even when -- especially when -- I'm on a roll).

The Internet is different. It's an adventure in exploration in which I may find myself in a mental place that I had no intention of visiting. One time John Paul forgot to put a block of cheddar cheese back in the refrigerator. He and his mother proceeded to have an "animated discussion" about whether or not it was spoiled. I decided to settle the whole thing by googling it.

Over the next hour and a half I learned some fascinating things about cheeses (soft cheese spoils faster), how refrigeration works, different kinds of bacteria, the digestive system, yogurt, fruit, molds, diverse climates, and the Arabian desert.

Was the cheddar cheese spoiled? I don't remember.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Slave Who Found True Freedom

St. Josephine Bakhita, February 8
I must shout out for this amazing woman whom we honor today. She was called "Bakhita" by the Arab slave traders. It means "lucky one." There was nothing that looked lucky about the horrible abuse and mutilation that she suffered as a slave in Sudan, but then she was brought to Italy, found Christ, and was baptized Giuseppina Fortunata ("lucky one" in Latin).

She became a religious sister and for 50 years worked at the convent and among the people simply but with profound charity. She not only forgave her oppressors, but said she would kiss their hands if she saw them, because they brought her to Jesus (ultimately, in God's plan).

St Josephine Bakhita, you have a lot to pray for. We need you. Pray for an end to violence, human trafficking, and child abuse. Pray for South Sudan, your homeland. Pray for us, that we might love our enemies out of the conviction that God loves us and orders everything to the good.

And just to let y'all know, you'll find her "Great Conversion Story" in Magnificat, September 2014, in the GCS series written by yours truly. (Don't miss these remarkable and inspiring stories that will be appearing every month in this wonderful magazine.) 

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Personal Relationship With Truth

I think Pope Benedict XVI expressed very well this point about teaching and education that I have been exploring in recent posts. Here are some words he preached two years ago. I would say further that his entire service as successor of St. Peter was a continual witness to what he said here:
The true educator does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants the child, or the disciple, to learn to know the truth and establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty to the end, he does not withdraw his attentive and faithful presence; but his objective is that the learner hears the voice of the truth speak to his heart and follows it on a personal journey. 
~Benedict XVI, Homily for January 8, 2012

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On Parenting and Encounter

It's particularly hard to be a parent in the secularist culture of the Western world today. But Eileen and I have been blessed to be surrounded by a group of friends who support one another in the task of giving their kids a complete education.

We see all the dangers and frustrations and dead ends in our society; some of us have been down these paths in the past. But we also see many possibilities for goodness and beauty and solidarity in our society -- many perennial human possibilities but also many new possibilities opened up by all that is genuine in this emerging new epoch.

The forces of corruption are pervasive, as is the tremendous damage that is being done to persons, relationships, communities, and the civil order. It's only human for us to want to be "protective" of our children.

So we protect them, certainly, by setting certain prudent "boundaries," but also by living so as to build an environment, together with our friends and their children, that allows them to grow and develop through the normal stages of childhood and youth. We thus engage life not with a reactionary ideology, but from inside the positive dynamic of human nature and redeeming grace: the life Jesus generates among us because he is present with us.

We live with Jesus, within the context of the family, supportive institutions, and the sacramental life of the Church. From this context we introduce our kids, in a pedagogical way, to the great potential, the challenges, and the struggles of adult life in this society.

Do I mean something more here than simply that "we want to raise good kids"?

Well, certainly we want to raise good kids.

With the right pedagogy, we hope to help our children cultivate a generous personality, an authentic understanding and empathy, and a sense of responsibility based on the truth -- a solid moral character.

These are all realistic and admirable goals.

But there is a problem that might arise. I might be inclined to take as a "given" the very purpose of everything else in life, to assume it in such a way that I forget about it or it loses focus. I want an intellectual and moral formation for my kids. But as the Pope said, "Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ." (And this is not Pope Francis speaking. This is Benedict XVI, and he says this over and over.)

I want to help my children to be open to the love of Jesus. I want them to encounter Jesus, to be drawn by his love, and to follow him in the paths of their vocations.

It's especially easy among us Christians to focus on raising good, morally strong kids who have the right ideas. It's easy for us to talk about Jesus and the Church and faith, but forget that he is present with us, that he is drawing the hearts of each and every one of our children and shaping their destiny according to the mystery of his wisdom and love.

Our children belong to God. It's easy to forget that as parents our vocation is to have stewardship over them, and the environment in which they awaken to life and hear his voice.

Of course we want our kids to be moral, but why? It is because we want them to respond in love to the God who gives himself to us in Jesus. This is what life is all about. Our primary task as parents is to prepare our children to encounter Jesus and follow him.

And I have failed so often (in 17+ years of parenting) to be the instrument of God's love to my children, but I pray and I beg Jesus to shine through even my weakness, to touch the hearts of my children and draw them to him, to enable them to know that he loves them personally and calls them to share in his eternal life with the Father in the Spirit.

Our children have been created for this and given to us for this. How do we truly succeed in our task as parents?

I can only humble myself before the Lord and ask for his grace for my own life, for my wife and our marriage, and for our family. The infinite mercy of the heart of Jesus is my hope. May all our children encounter him in his mercy, and place their trust in him.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Welcome To My Workshop

Who knows what this thing is?
I have done a lot of writing in the past three years, and quite a bit of it has been here on this blog. Here I find the impetus to keep up with posts, to write something, even if it is just a few brief words.

Rarely is much of what comes out in these posts "polished," nor does it pretend to be. Rather, this is a place that stimulates my thinking. It is a place where I can hammer out ideas into words -- in fact, as I've said often, I tend to think things through by writing them out.

Blogging is an experimental literary form. If writing were painting, a blog would be a kind of sketchbook full of things ranging from scribblings to quick but colorful drawings. But it's different too, because everything is set forth for people to see (or read, in this case) if they wish. For your sake, I try to put a little paint and varnish on what is presented here. The result is something that, no matter how primitive it may be overall, is always in some respects a finished utterance.

I like to think that I'm welcoming people into my "writing workshop," where I can be a craftsman of words and offer something beneficial to others by bringing them into the work even while it is in progress.

And there has been lots of progress in these years, considering that without this place I would have done little writing beyond my direct publishing assignments. It has required energy, but has also generated it.

Thanks to the blog, I now have a "workshop" full of roughly drafted texts (close to 600 by jiminy -- and that's after subtracting posts that are just pope quotations or cute Josefina pictures). A lot of written material here focuses around a group of related themes. There is the genesis and the initial development of more than one future book in here, if I can find the further energy (and--let's face it--the courage) to organize and develop, to cut and clarify, to revise and synthesize.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In the Midst of the Storm

Today's gospel reading contains a familiar scene from the life of Jesus and his disciples. With a little metaphorical imagination, we can easily see that this is also a good description of our relationship with Jesus.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Mark 4:35-41
It's not hard to see the point of this splendid account. This is my life. This is my way of reacting to crisis situations (and virtually every "situation" in life is, more or less, a crisis, or at least a challenge of some kind).

It's one thing to talk about Jesus (or write about him). I rather like it when the seas are calm, Jesus is with me, but I've basically got the boat under control. Jesus is "asleep," which -- I must admit -- seems convenient when I am captain of my ship. He's not going to suddenly pop up with his inscrutable demands about leaving everything and following him, or about how hard it's gonna be for me to get into the kingdom because I have lots of stuff and I kinda like having stuff.

Calm seas. Jesus "asleep." I'm at the helm on the open sea. I'll have to talk with him later, but right now it's break time. It's a little vacation from Christianity.

What am I thinking? What I really want is a break from being a human being. I'd be glad to sail in circles, going nowhere, as long as the passengers admired me and said things like, "What a fine captain you are!"

I'm the one who is asleep. I'm dreaming.

Then comes the storm.

And I go running to Jesus and I say, "Why are you letting this happen to me? Can't you do something?"

Jesus brings peace, and he also gently reveals the real problem. I would rather sail in circles in the sun because, really, I'm terrified of what's beyond the horizon. I'm afraid of the storms.

But he is gentle with my broken soul. He knows that the storms are sometimes so long and dark and fearsome, and that I often don't know where he is -- indeed, I am afraid that he has left the ship, I am afraid that he doesn't care....

Do I not yet have trust in him?

Come, Lord Jesus. Calm the storms of my fears. The winds and the seas of my soul belong to you, and I trust in you even when they rage and howl. I will not be discouraged.

Give me the grace to trust in you always.