Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our Lives are Funny, Really...

Cool, irrelevant graphic. Something's gotta go here!
Dear Blogging Friends (and Blog Readers, too):

There are so many blogs out there, so many shapes and styles, varieties of length and frequency, covering so many diverse topics. People voice opinions, share recipes, talk about their families, post pictures and graphics, develop philosophical meditations, or just ramble.

Many bloggers are struggling to write stories — their own personal stories — even as those stories continue to unfold.

Some of us have an urgency to reflect upon our own lives, to put our experiences into words. And we also want to share our experiences; we have the sense that something is happening in our lives that might be interesting to others, or perhaps helpful, or even inspiring.

Some of us are hoping that the miracle of the Love that cares for us and carries us will shine through even when people realize that we are incoherent, that we hardly know who we are, that no matter how expert we may be with words we can't hide the fact that we are really children.

The beauty of blogging can be seen in the different ways that we try to tell our stories (and to read the stories of other people). I want to encourage my blogging friends (and myself) to keep telling those stories.

And we needn't be afraid to be candid and to let the messiness show. In an honest recollection we can express how things happen, and the sloppy and awkward drama of every day. We can show our strength and frailty, our determination and all the limitations, frustrations, and obstacles that confront us. We can express reality in the midst of this collage of problems and our response to them, whether it be courageous, patient, bad-tempered, angry, calm, persistent, foolish, or (most likely) some combination of these.

And we will discover, often spontaneously, some things that are quite funny.

Those moments of humor — miraculous humor that comes through like shafts of light, humor that we don’t need to make up because it’s just there in the circumstance itself or in the effort to convey it — that humor is a beautiful thing, a strong and hopeful thing. Of course, we can go through long periods where we don’t see it, even in retrospect, but that underlying hope is still there.

It certainly helps us to communicate these things in writing, working through these experiences by putting them into words, and sharing them with people who are on the other side reading — knowing that among those who read there are people who pray and who care about what we're going through.

I’m sure, also, that our writing touches people and brings strength, encouragement, and healing in ways that none of us know. We must keep writing from the heart and letting our humanity show, because that’s where God’s grace is working.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jeter Finishes; Nationals, We Hope, Have Just Begun!

I haven't blogged about sports recently, but on this final day of the 2014 baseball regular season, there are several things worth saying.

First of all, some well deserved "RE2PECT" for Derek Jeter, who played the final game of his outstanding Major League career today. His hit in the third inning brought his final hit total to 3465. Only five players have more hits in Major League history. He finished his 20th season with a lifetime batting average of .310, and he played all of those 20 seasons with one team, becoming a legend in his own right on the legendary New York Yankees.

During an era when sports players have not always put their best faces before the public, Derek Jeter has been a consistent class act, a sportsman, a vigorous competitor, and a gentleman. He has represented baseball well, endeared himself to two generations of Yankee fans, and earned the respect of rival teams and fans, including the zealous enthusiasts of the Yankees' perennial archnemesis the Boston Red Sox.

After he left today's final game against the Red Sox at Boston's Fenway Park, the Red Sox fans gave him a long loud standing ovation. I don't think any New York Yankee has ever been treated to such a display of affection in Boston in the 150 year history of baseball in these two cities.

It was class all around.

Of course, Derek Jeter was not the only story in baseball today. Our own beloved Washington Nationals finished the season as National League East Champs with the best record in the league. In the coming month, Daddy and Mommy and John Paul (and all other Nats fans) will experience either the thrill of World Series victory or the agony of defeat at some point in the playoffs, but at least we are back in the running.

And Nationals' pitcher Jordan Zimmermann closed out the season with a magnificent pitching performance, throwing a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.

We are ready for some "Curly W's" in the weeks ahead! GO NATS!

Friday, September 26, 2014

There Are No "Coincidences"

God is present in this moment. Whatever the circumstances may be, He is using them as elements of a Person to person dialogue with each one of us.

God became man out of love in order to seek us out; He has personalized the whole vast, apparently random and chance-filled universe. He takes all the multitudes of forces that come together and make up the situation of reality at any given moment, and fashions them -- from all eternity -- into a love song that He wants to sing to each of us personally.

There are no "coincidences" in real life. In the ultimate truth of things, which has to do with their place in God's plan, no event is insignificant; no situation we find ourselves in can be called meaningless, because God in Christ has chosen to dwell in this world, and to shape everything into the possibility to discover Him through love, through joy, through suffering freely embraced, through sharing His mercy.

God has come to us, to dwell in this moment, to consecrate the human concreteness of this moment so that it becomes a gesture of His love. He comes to dwell with us; He takes on a human heart so as to accompany each of us and to gather us to Himself.

He comes to us and draws close to us in the humanity He has assumed in Christ, and asks us to recognize His presence and His transforming mercy even in the most difficult moments of life. This recognition takes shape within us as a genuine response of confidence and love.

Even in its apparent weakness, adherence to the mercy of Christ is the radical form of every truly constructive engagement of life. Through Christ we enter the real world, and we accomplish work that bears enduring fruit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Within Shouting Distance

Josefina hams it up instead of doing her math.
It's remarkable that at the age of 51, the human being I probably spend the most time with every day is a seven year old girl.

Josefina is usually within shouting distance of wherever I am during the day. When she goes to the Center, I work in the office there. When she stays home, I stay home.

Much of the time, she does her things and I do my things. On home days, Mommy is often in and out of the house, but I am the fort holder. I'm always "around." I see what the dolls are wearing, or the latest artwork, or I hear about her most recent imaginative perceptions.

Some days, I need to lie down a lot. She will come and settle in nearby with her coloring stuff, and draw her pictures and talk to me.

I am grateful to have her.

"Helllllllooooo. How may I help you?"

Monday, September 22, 2014

Saying "Yes" is the Work of Every Day

Everything is grace. Everything is God's gift, expressing His personal love for each of us and His presence within 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.

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.

Saying yes to God is the work of every day and every moment. We adhere to Him, day by day, with gratitude and readiness to receive the transforming power of His love. This is the humble, seemingly insignificant but implacable power to take the steps of responsive love from moment to moment.

It is the firm hope that endures in the midst of every tribulation, the hope by which we take the next step as God's light makes it clear to us, saying yes and praying with trust that He will make it possible.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn Sky

Clouds and the reflection of the sun on an early Autumn evening.

Friday, September 19, 2014

If You Have Daughters, Keep Your Hair Short

Teresa gave me antennae (notice my hair, not Jojo being silly)
Well, that settles it. I definitely need a haircut.

When you live in a house full of girls, it's best to keep your hair short. If there's any hair available at all, girls start fiddling around with it.

So Teresa was standing behind my chair and she started to twirl the salt-and-pepper locks on the sides of my head. With the help of a couple of ribbons, I suddenly had horns. Or maybe antennae.

What is it about girls and hair?

I'm a good sport. "Go ahead and take a picture," I said. So Teresa grabbed the phone, and Jojo, of course, said she wanted to be in the picture too.

Today was the Janaro Family Feast Day. Legend has it that the Great Ancestor of our very own Janaro Clan was none other than the original St. Januarius himself (a.k.a. San Gennaro), the fourth century bishop and martyr (and I should know the legend of this ancestry better than anyone, because I made it up). So we celebrated by having spaghetti (which is what we have for dinner every Friday night). After having my hair twiddled, I felt like I needed more spaghetti but we pretty well cleaned out the pot.

Wow, food just disappears around here. Oh well, HAPPY FEAST DAY!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love Never Fails: An Examination of Conscience

Today's first reading was the familiar text from 1 Corinthians 13. Here is that great litany of agape that stirs our hearts, that resonates within and beyond the heights and depths of our desire to live and find fulfillment. They are direct and uncompromising words: nothing can take the place of this love, which is our greatest gift and is the energy that shapes and gives direction to everything else.

"Love" is a word we use in so many ways. When we say it, we usually mean some kind of selfishness. We think love means giving in to our impulses and urges, acting from our fears, our desperation, our grasping, our illusions. But this is not really love. It is not what our hearts seek, and that is why it always ends in bitterness.

We know that the love that fulfills our vocation as human persons is the gift that God gives us, that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts so that we might share in His infinite life. God is Love. God gives Himself in love to us. God calls us to love.

This text helps us understand something of what the love of God is like, and how it transforms our lives. I wonder what would happen if we read these words at the end of each day and compared them to our priorities, motivations, and actions during the day. We would find ourselves examining our consciences with seriousness and depth. We would grow in love, in the awareness that the mystery of God's love sustains us and draws us to Himself. Even in the midst of tribulation, we would find joy and peace.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous.
Love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never fails.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"News," Rumors, Opinions: Where is the Truth?

It's good to get a glimpse of how a first century backwater Roman province did "the news" -- they had information and expert opinion (Scribes and Pharisees) and social media too (the village gossip... recall, for example. the famous hashtag that went viral in Nazareth: #Isn'tThisTheCarpenter? [Mark 6:3]).

Clearly, the problem of failing to put current events in perspective is an old one. Human beings like facile judgments that can be passed around rapidly. We have always liked labels. We can see how the news spread regarding the provocative religious phenomenon that was happening in first century Galilee and Judea:
"John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine,
and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by all her children" (Luke 7:33-35).
Wow, that sounds like today's news. But I want to be a child of wisdom. What can I do? What can we do to be children of wisdom in the midst of a storm of folly that increases by the day?

We need to pay attention to reality. We need to sustain that attention, refusing to allow the manipulation of words and images to reduce us to superficial partisans of one or another set of fashionable ideas. Nevertheless, we must navigate through the storm, testing what gets strewn about in the sea, and making use of anything that can really float. Apathy is not an option. We will drown.

This is a real challenge, because it requires us to be both engaged and patient, active and receptive. It requires us to love the truth more than ourselves, more than that self-centered urge to possess reality by reducing it to our own measure. So often we take up this (apparent) satisfaction and the secret smug feeling of superiority it gives us. It's easy to forget about the truth because we think we can make ourselves happy by being right, by being on the winning side. We stop paying attention to reality. Indeed, we grasp our positions and our slogans like hammers and try to beat reality into the shape we have decided it should have.

No wonder there is so much violence.

In the end, truth "wins." And "wisdom is vindicated by all her children." We hope to share in the promise of that victory. It is this hope that ought to steer us through the winds of the daily news and every variety of opinion, with prudence and patience and charity, with a firmness that keeps our feet on the ground and enables us to take one solid step at a time on our journey.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rescue My Soul

"Have mercy on me, Lord, I have no strength;
Lord, heal me, my body is racked;
my soul is racked with pain.
But You, O Lord, how long?
Return, Lord, rescue my soul.
Save me in Your merciful love" (Psalm 6:2-4).

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Charles Peguy: A Poet for France and for the World

I have not forgotten the importance and the gravity of the Centennial that commenced this past summer. In these early days of September the initial German offensive into France was stopped outside of Paris in the "Battle of the Marne." But within this battle, we must recall the 100th anniversary of what seemed at that time only one of a multitude of tragic but otherwise unremarkable battlefield deaths.

It was a brave death, leading an offensive charge, taken out by a single bullet to the brain. He was a brave man, a soldier who loved his country and defended his homeland, a Frenchman, a man of peasant stock, a recently mobilized reserve Lieutenant who owned a book shop and printing press. He was a craftsman who chose and cut his book pages and set his type with great care. But not many people appreciated it.

He was only 41 years old, but the world and life and death and eternity and the deep sky and the stones of cathedrals filled his head and his heart, and he had written passionately in essays and poetry that very few people read or cared about in his lifetime.

No one knew that from his pen the French language sang in ways it had never sung before. No one knew that while he wrote, perched atop stacks of old page proofs, an entire movement of literature was being born. Indeed, it was more; it was a new Esprit.

It would inspire a great revival in French literature, poetry, philosophy, and even theology. It was a flame that would spread out into many lights in the darkness of the coming generations -- rays of hope in the terrible, desperate darkness.

But when the great poet Charles Peguy fell in the Battle of the Marne on September 5, 1914, he was as little known as the times and the turmoil that were destined to fall upon Europe; as little known as the grandeur and the heroism of so many people who would come after him -- who would read his work from out of the ashes of the Great War, and find therein the humble courage of the human person held in the hands of God.


Charles Peguy

From the poem Freedom [n.b. God is the speaker]:

...I myself am free, says God, and I have created man in my own image and likeness.

Such is the mystery, such the secret, such the price

Of all freedom.

That freedom of that creature is the most beautiful reflection in this world

Of the Creator's freedom. That is why we are so attached to it,

And set a proper price on it.

A salvation that was not free, that was not, that did not come from a free man could in no wise be attractive to us. What would it amount to?

What would it mean?

What interest would such a salvation have to offer?

A beatitude of slaves, a salvation of slaves, a slavish beatitude, how do you expect me to interested in that kind of thing? Does one care to be loved by slaves?

If it were only a matter of proving my might, my might has no need of those slaves, my might is well enough known, it is sufficiently known that I am the Almighty.

My might is manifest enough in all matter and in all events.

My might is manifest enough in the sands of the sea and in the stars of heaven.

It is not questioned, it is known, it is manifest enough in inanimate creation.

It is manifest enough in the government,

In the very event that is man.

But in my creation which is endued with life, says God, I wanted something more.

Infinitely better. Infinitely more. For I wanted that freedom.

I created that very freedom. There are several degrees to my throne.

When you once have known what it is to be loved freely, submission no longer has any taste.

All the prostrations in the world

Are not worth the beautiful upright attitude of a free man as he kneels. All the submission, all the dejection in the world

Are not equal in value to the soaring up point,

The beautiful straight soaring up of one single invocation

From a love that is free.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Living and Learning to Love

Young Janaro, complete with hair!
Faithful readers of this blog (heh heh, is anybody there?) remember that it was about this time last year that I discovered the ancient hand written "blog" of the Young John Janaro (1990-1992). The year has come round again, and I am looking at what I wrote 24 years ago today.

These words are a little bit ironic, having lived almost a quarter century after their writing. I cannot say that I have any special intuition on this point today. I still work with a sense of purpose on certain projects that need time to mature. Sometimes I sketch out ideas in this blog that I hope to develop further. Others remain in the stage of creative procrastination. In any case, my life and the scope of my accomplishments are in the hands of God -- a fact that I can affirm much more concretely after 24 years. Here is what I wrote on September 6, 1990:

It is true: a single act of perfect love for God is enough. Living one moment in the heart of Jesus is enough. I pray and hope that God is drawing me into His love, and I've experienced a lot in the past quarter century of the "much labor" and the "many sorrows" in life. Learning to love God is, indeed, a work of a lifetime, but its length (like its depth) is hidden in His wisdom. That is where I place my trust.

I still hope to live a "long life," but insofar as this is a reasonable hope today, it has to do primarily with the desire to be there for Eileen and the kids for as long as they need me. In 1990 I had no idea that these particular human beings would be so decisive for my future. My life has been very different than anything I could have imagined. At the same time, some of my goals have been fulfilled, and the investment of considerable time has borne fruit (in ways that I planned, and also in surprising ways).

The family is one of the surprising ways of fruition in my life. Eileen and I both got into the marriage and parental business a little late (as is often the case with people in the academic world). It is a business that requires planning, learning from mistakes, and looking forward even while being open to the continual surprise of real human relationships.

As for the (more or less healthy) remaining years, my first goal now is to be with Eileen and raise these kids, and then the two of us can go back to Italy and just... look at beautiful art together for a long long time. Actually, we'd be happy if the kids (and grandkids?) came with us. But that's just my dream. Only God knows the real plan. In any case, in order to see everyone down to Josefina through adolescence, young adulthood, marriage and grandchildren (if they are called in that direction) and into middle age, I will have to live into my nineties! Given that I have days now when I feel like I'm 90 years old, this prospect is a little overwhelming. Whatever lies ahead, I can only take it one day (indeed one moment) at a time. This present moment is where love is possible.

I have no idea of what the future may bring. There will be joy and there will be suffering. I pray that, holding fast to Jesus, there will be the love that I am called to give, moment by moment. That is what matters. That is what will bear fruit.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Terrible Hunger For Love

There is a terrible hunger for love.
We all experience that in our lives:
the pain, the loneliness.
We must have the courage to recognize it.

The poor you may have right in your own family.
Find them.
Love them.

~Mother Teresa

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Shall Always Be a Teacher

Professor in his duds, 2003. Only a goatee back then.
Well, it's September already.

The older kids -- John Paul, Agnese, and Lucia -- are pretty much back to their normal school routine. At Chelsea Academy this means plenty of study, plenty of sports and other activities in the fresh air, plenty of formation in their faith, plenty of fun, and plenty of homework too. They also manage to eat and sleep, somehow. (Haha!)

John Paul is a Senior now. As parents have been saying since the beginning of the universe, "Where did our little baby go?" But there's not much time to think about that: too many things to do this year. The college application and discernment process is well underway already.


The beginning of September makes me think of the many years when I had a normal academic routine, as a student and then as a teaching professor. There are advantages, certainly, to the "quieter" style of life that I now must live, not the least of which is the freedom to make my own schedule. But I miss being caught up in that great swell of activity and anticipation and "new beginnings" that are always in the air with the new academic year.

Sure, I'll continue to be "special resource associate and scholar in residence" at the John XXIII Montessori Center (which starts up in a couple of weeks). That means at least that I will be getting up early in the morning with everyone else and going to the Center's office. It will be a good change of atmosphere, but it's not the same. It's not my classroom. It's been over six years but I haven't stopped missing it.

Still, I remain a teacher, and not only "at heart." I have found new forums in which to teach, and new subjects too. And I remain a student. In these last several years I have studied and observed and learned so much, from books, from other media, from observation, from endurance, from the whole scope of this unusual life.

I am convinced that the best teachers are also perpetual students; they communicate to their own students the enthusiasm about what they are learning. The best way to guide the search for truth (in any area) is to be on it one's self. The teacher is the one who is at the head of the hike, looking for the hilltop through the laborious path, and when he comes to the top and sees the view, he shouts back to the others: "Come this way, it's here, look at this wonderful view!" The teacher is the one who wants to know all about what he is seeing, who studies the map so he can understand as much as possible -- not only for his own personal appreciation but also so that he can point it out to the others: "There is the river that flows into that lake where the old fort is, and beyond the horizon there is...."

The teacher is also the one who sees the next hill, and says, "now we have to climb this one!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mary Wants to Take You By the Hand

My daughters don't often read this blog, unless it's a funny family story or something about the cat. But I hope they will read this entry because it is addressed especially to them. Dear Agnese and Lucia (and Teresa and Josefina, when you're old enough to understand), I am putting into words here a small piece of what I hope you are learning from our home and from the way we live, from the witness of others in our community, from the life of the Church, and from the Holy Spirit who speaks in the depths of your hearts.

It's just a few small words, but as I watch you grow into young women I have an urgent desire for you to know more intimately the beautiful tenderness of The Woman who will lead you to discover your dignity and your tremendous value as women human persons: the courage, tenacity, and solicitude of your femininity, and the greatness of your vocation.

I write this as a blog post because I would also like to say this to every young woman, and to every woman of every age who longs to know why God made her. Your identity is very precious to the heart of the Mother of our Lord.

Dear Daughters,

Jesus wants you to have a very special woman with you on your journey to eternal life, a woman to be your companion, your most attentive and most faithful friend. Isn't that GREAT??? It is His mother, Mary. She will help you to grow to become a great woman, to become the particular feminine human person that God wills you to be in His wisdom and love.

Mary is a gift of God's love. The outpouring of His goodness gives her as a Mother to each of us. She is mother of the new life we receive in her Son Jesus, our life as children of God. This life involves her particular tenderness and closeness to each one of us. She is your mother and your intimate friend.

Talk to Mary. Tell her your fears, your troubles, your questions, your hopes about life. Just talk to her, pour your heart out to her. Don't be surprised if she responds, in her own way. Mary will accept you as you are, and help you step by step.

A friendship with Mary will give you two great things that you seek: She will help clear all the difficulties on your path to eternal life with Jesus. Mary is very practical; she understands your challenges, your struggles, your sensibility, your frustrations in all their details. Mary will help you; she will shape your way to Jesus. She will bring Jesus to your heart. That's what she does. She started doing it when she said "yes" to the angel, which allowed Jesus to come into the world through her womb. She gave Jesus to the world. She will give you Jesus, and deepen your relationship with Him. Talk to her in your heart as a person you know you can trust completely. The Church guarantees that this is true; the Church has promised down through the centuries: Mary will bring you to Jesus.

That's the first thing. The second thing is also very important to you. Mary will teach you what it means to be a woman. Mary knows better than anyone that we live in a time when women are becoming conscious of their full dignity as human persons. Mary understands the aspirations of women's hearts today, especially young women. She will teach you to become the mature, dynamic, self-possessed and self-giving, fostering and nurturing, constructive and creative woman that you long to be. She will teach you.

Mary wants to take you by the hand and mentor you, help form you into the woman God is calling you to be: free, conscious of your human dignity, responsive to God and willing to give the unique gift that is your self, with confidence and love.

Trust Mary, confide in her, and let her know you and hold you in her heart.