Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dairy Products and Spiders, Ooooh!

Well it's Halloween again.

Not so long ago Mommy was dressing five little kids in cute and creative costumes. After a tour of the neighborhood, they would return with bulging sacks of goodies and sit at the dining room table admiring them and begging to eat "one more piece" tonight.

In recent years, Teresa and Jojo are the only dedicated treat seekers. But they did some major dressing up this year.

Teresa has had a cardboard box folded up in the dining room for a couple of weeks now. Turns out it was for her costume.

Ideas changed during the course of the day today. I thought she was going to turn herself into a walking TARDIS (that's "the Doctor's" time machine in Doctor Who, just in case there's anybody who doesn't know that these days). But apparently that was too complicated, and so she went as...

With Josefina, on the other hand, there was never any doubt. She made it known to everyone that she wanted a Spiderman costume for her birthday. Uncle Walter provided the gift and Mommy made the alterations.

Just like that, Jojo became her favorite web slinging hero:

Who is that masked little girl?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chiara Luce Badano: "I Still Have My Heart..."

She was just a kid.

A contemporary kid, who liked to play tennis, and hike, and sing, and be with her friends. She wore jewelry. She had trouble in her math class.

She could have been anybody's kid. Your kid. My kid.

She was born on October 29, 1971 and died after more than a year of intense suffering from osteosarcoma on October 7, 1990.

Today would have been her 44th birthday.

Instead, her memory is observed today and her intercession invoked by the diocese of Acqui in Italy, by the Focolare movement around the world, and by many others in a personal way as she quietly reaches out to more and more people, giving them hope in the goodness and love of God.

She is Blessed Chiara Luce Badano. "Luce" they called her, even when she was still a child. "Chiara Luce" means "clear light" in Italian. She is a light in the deep darkness of so much mysterious suffering.

She has become my friend. I don't know how else to describe it. The past few days I've been writing about saints, as though they've been stepping up to help me in my need. Friends.

Chiara is an extraordinary friend. We all need to pray to her! There is a deluge of small, invisible miracles that she works -- giving courage, inspiring hope, reminding people that they are not alone, bringing inner healing. She is GREAT!

At the age of 12 she said, "I discovered that Jesus Abandoned [on the Cross] is the key to unity with
God.... I understood that I can find Him in the distant ones, the atheists, and that I must love them in a very special way, without interest!"

Once she said to her mother, "Don't judge the drug addicts. They are the lepers of our time." When she was in the hospital but still able to walk, she spent her days accompanying another patient who was an addict and had depression.

Her suffering from the cancer was enormous, but she was willing "to stay here with Jesus" for however long. She didn't write a lot, but she said enough for it to be clear that she is a great, great saint.

I pray to her and she helps me.

After she became sick, she said, "I offer everything, my failures, my pains and joys to Him, starting again every time the Cross makes me feel all its weight. The important thing is to do God’s will. I might have had plans about myself but God came up with this. The sickness came to me at the right time... [and] now I feel like I am wrapped into a wonderful design that is slowly unfolding itself to me."

And she said those striking and awesome words that I have quoted before, from the depths of her terrible pain, words that I beg her to help me to begin to want to understand, because they scare me in a way. I don't know how I could possibly say this in the face of suffering, and yet I know that this must be the truth. This is what my heart wants to be able to say, when the Lord calls me:

"I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Me and the Thousand Year Old Monk

Saint Anselm and JJ, eye to eye across a millennium.

There's nothing new under the sun. For a long time, people have experienced the "weight" of the Infinite Mystery who transcends everything and to whom we belong in the depths of our being. In Jesus, Christians know that the Mystery becomes our companion, but if we are paying attention we realize that there are no cheap answers in this companionship.

About a thousand years ago, Saint Anselm wrote down his prayers and his searching for God. He was a monk more than a philosopher, and he knew his own poverty. He knew that the road of staying with Jesus was full of an intensity of searching and sorrow, pain and longing, begging, and burning desire.

So not long after the previous post, I came across a selection from a prayer by Saint Anselm. It gave me some new words from a great pilgrim who has gone before me on the same road, long ago.

O my God
teach my heart where and how to seek You,
where and how to find You.
You are my God and You are my All
and I have never seen You.
You have made me and remade me,
You have bestowed on me
all the good things I possess,
Still I do not know You.
I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Teach me to seek You.
I cannot seek You unless You teach me
or find You unless You show Yourself to me.
Let me seek You in my desire,
let me desire You in my seeking.
Let me find You by loving You,
let me love You when I find You.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pleading With the "Unknown God"

Thank you, Edith Stein. You are a true friend.
"I have given you my advice: Become like a child and lay your life with all the searching and ruminating into the Father's hand. If that cannot yet be achieved, then plead; plead with the unknown and doubted God for help in reaching it."

My "on-this-day" feature revealed that I posted this quotation by Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) two years ago. It's from one of her letters. I don't have the citation, but it was clearly addressed personally to a friend and perhaps a colleague.

I feel like these words were addressed directly to me.

In fact, I have the first sentence of it printed and posted at my bedside. How very often -- when I am praying or searching or ruminating (or some combination of the three) -- these words remind me of who I really am and where I must place my hope:
"Become like a child, and lay your life with all the searching and ruminating into the Father's hand."
But I had forgotten about the second sentence. Right now, when I am feeling old and tired and proud and selfish, here is Edith Stein speaking to me again:
"If that cannot yet be achieved, then plead; plead with the unknown and doubted God for help in reaching it."
She encourages me to plead for help to "the unknown and doubted God." My "doubts" are not intellectual; rather this word signifies for me the struggle to trust in a Mystery that seems so immense and so incomprehensible.

All my years of searching and ruminating seem like playing games. All my words are just not enough.... The great question: "Why?" It is only more urgent and more poignant, more like a wound, vulnerable and broken and aching. This is a longing that runs through me and all the earth, and it exposes my total weakness.

I believe, I hope, I love, I trust in Jesus. I pray. But as Msgr. Giussani always reminds us, Jesus does not take away the Mystery. Rather, in Him the Mystery draws close to the heart of our lives.

Lord, I don't understand. I am overwhelmed! Help me! I am still trying to begin, still looking for the first step, still pleading and begging.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Nine Years of Josefina!

We have come to the end of the beginning of "the Josefina nine year old Birthday celebration." Elsewhere, I have told the story of the seven month odyssey in the NICU and PICU that began on this day in the year 2006 (see, for example, Chapter 22 in this BOOK).

This little girl didn't see the outside of a hospital until the middle of May 2007. Even though she still weighs only 38.5 pounds, Josefina has grown in so many ways. Here is one obvious way to see it:

I thought it would be fun to post a big collage of photos from Jojo's life (most of which have been posted before). In the first two rows we see her from birth and first surgery on to homecoming and first year. The next two rows cover Jojo from ages 2-4, and then the following two rows from ages 5-7 and the final row from age 8.

Thank you Lord, for her life and for all our children. Bring them all to the fulfillment of their vocations in this world, and may we all be happy forever with You and with one another in eternal life.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Maple Leaves and Cheeky Monkies

Autumn finally comes to the maples in the front yard!

Meanwhile, I found a fun and fine-tasting beer at the Apple House Deli, perfect for an autumn afternoon. It's called Cheeky Monkey.

Had lunch with another "Cheeky Monkey"!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Crushed in a World of Inner Poverty

We live in a world of poverty.

We can see the desperation of the materially poor. But we do not see the immense inner poverty that afflicts so many of us who live in what are supposed to be the "rich nations" of the world.

We live under so much ruthless pressure. The relentless demand to obtain "results," the constant changes and the resulting ruptures of place, routine, employment, and relationships, the enormous, unprecedented power that enables us to construct the material world but also to escape problems and isolate ourselves: an environment so intense, so stressful, so overwhelming has never existed before in the history of the human race.

And we wonder why so many people suffer from mental illness?

Some people succeed in managing all the power and possibilities placed in their hands, or they fail and get up and try again and again. But they sustain wounds and sometimes they try to hide them or ignore them. Being wounded and vulnerable are obstacles to success.

But many people are simply crushed.

Perhaps they can't be "fixed" by any of our techniques. But they still deserve to be loved. Indeed they, especially, remind us that every human person deserves to be loved simply because they are a human person.

When I say "Never Give Up," I mean never give up on the human person. And never give up on God, on Jesus.

Love people. Start with this love and maintain this love. In an environment of love we will be able to appreciate the real possibilities of a person. In this way our love can become many different kinds of "help" without becoming conditional or just another project measured by the criteria of power.

But people who are beyond any of this "help" -- people who have been crushed -- can still love, even if their love doesn't "produce" anything we can see, even if their love is hidden deep inside their brokenness.

Love awakens the possibility for love in others, but this is not something we can keep tabs on. We don't know the "success rate" for "producing love" because we don't produce it. We have to just throw away our measure, and replace it with hope and trust in the God who is Love.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Saint John Paul II: Remembering What Was Given to Us

"Be not afraid." Happy Feast Day of Saint John Paul II!

Thirty seven years ago today, the world changed.

What was given to us, what began on that day, has not disappeared just because it's not in the headlines right now. It remains and bears fruit, and will continue to bear fruit for decades, centuries, until the end.

We must remember and continue to live in patience and hope according to that extraordinary witness in all its richness.

Let us remember when our hearts awoke for the first time, when we realized: "I am a person. Every human being is a person, worthy of love. I have been loved and I am loved. Loved beyond all measure."

Let us remember the giant of a man who nourished this awareness in us, and who remains with us as a companion on this journey.

And whatever trials may come, whatever difficulties, whatever the confusion or obscurity of our present circumstances, let us remember the words of October 22, 1978: "Be not afraid!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October's Early Evenings

Josefina has her own story, linked together with all of us.
The memories of days and weeks in October and early November pour over me. They are memories of life and death and a promise of resurrection. There is a taste of redemption in sorrow, but I don't know how to speak of it.

So I go for a walk. And Eileen says she'll come with me. I bring my camera to catch something of the early evening that is still light in October. The girls are studying.

Well, not all of them.

"Can I come too, can I come too??!!" It's the piccolo voice that, like everything about her, is small but full of volume and energy. She is very much a part of the story of October, and in a few days we will all remember her.

"Of course you can come!"

So Josefina comes with us. We walk toward the old manor and the horse fields near Happy Creek. I may not have words, but I do have pictures of the evening, and I will share them here.

Waxing Harvest Moon

Janaro House: green leaves will change quickly and then disappear in a few weeks. Still feels like summer, but it's only 6:30.

Mommy let me take her picture with her "preemie baby" of almost nine years ago.

Fields and manor and the sunlight beyond. Still thick green trees except for one going bald. It has been a warm season.

It will be like fire when it finally comes.

The sun disappears behind the hills by 7:00 PM. The sky certainly has some color.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn....

This blog would not exist if I did not believe in the power of words. I have used many words to express what I have learned and what the Christian tradition has communicated about the meaning of life and death and hope.

I know and I believe that all these words come down to one word, a name, the name of a Person. Jesus. The name that is more than sound or signs. The name that expresses His Person. I believe in Him.

I know He brings healing and peace, that He has conquered death, and that He draws especially close to us through our own pain.

Ten years ago, on October 17, 2005, my friend died. Really, he was more like a brother than a friend. He died by his own hand. But he had been so terribly sick with mental illness that I don't believe he was able to understand or judge what he was doing. And I can entrust him with firm hope to the unfathomable and inexhaustible mercy of God.

So why won't I stop grieving?

Why can't I stop grieving? Why is there still so much dark pain, so many lacerations in the heart after so long? They're covered over and bandaged and dulled. But why do they still bleed?

I have no words to answer these questions. I have no words. Not now.

Jesus promises that we shall be consoled, but a large part of that may have to wait until we are all together, finally, with Him.

Until then, we won't stop bleeding. And we won't stop fighting this monster that they call "Depression." We won't stop speaking out, opening up about our own sufferings, and putting ourselves on the line for other people's lives.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

We Hope in His Immeasurable Goodness

The collects (i.e. "opening prayer") for the past two weeks (from 10/4 and 10/11) have been powerful and hopeful expressions of confidence in the all-encompassing and limitless power of God's mercy and grace. His mercy is poured out in a generosity beyond our asking, and His grace goes before us and follows after us, giving us the freedom to do good.

In these days I want especially to remember that God is good beyond all our imaginings.

Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Stay in Front of Jesus

Last Sunday we read the Gospel of Mark 10:17-27, the encounter between Jesus and the "rich young man." Mark's account is the only one of the three Synoptics that includes the detail that Jesus, "looking on him, loved him" (10:21). There is some speculation (fueled by other New Testament references which I won't go into here) that the "rich young man" was in fact Mark himself, the future evangelist.

Saint Mark, as we know, later became one of the first Christians and the companion of Saint Peter. Many of the details of his Gospel originate with Peter's testimony, but here he may have supplied one from his own experience.

I have been rereading an interesting BOOK (and I finally got the KINDLE EDITION downloaded on my own gadgets) that has some other things to say about this Gospel story. Here it is:

by John Janaro (also available in Kindle)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Finally, the Colors Begin to Come Out

Up in Shenandoah National Park we have finally started to see evidence of the Fall season. The leaves are changing in the recent sunny and more seasonable weather.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Living With Depression

I'm trying my best to be "cheerful." And, though it takes some energy, I have been succeeding. Sort of....

This is the thing: I am doing "fine" on a certain level. It has been a busy and fun weekend. It's good to be involved with different activities and see people. Really, I enjoy it. I don't need to put on some great act of deception.

Still, this is coping. This is "getting along." Sometimes we do this to hide from ourselves the fact that we need help. That's not good. Often, however, we find ways to "get along" because this is the best we can do in a situation.

This is coping. It does not mean that Depression has gone away. It means we are living with it. 

How strange it is to be a human being. We can stay on the surface of our own psychological awareness. We can even choose to do this, and sometimes we have to in order to survive... in order to live.

Living with Depression.

When you see us, we may be "fine," but we are "walking on the surface" and the surface is an eggshell already full of cracks and always in danger of breaking under our feet. We have developed our survival skills, however, so that we have our eyes on the nearest secure spots and we have learned how to jump to them before the next crack sucks us down.

You don't see any of this.

Often we're not conscious of it ourselves, especially if we've gotten good at it from years of practice. We notice it only in the "in-between times" when the fatigue comes and we try to rest (or sleep) but we feel like ghosts in a world of ghosts. Everything we've been doing with so much exhausting effort shrinks and dissolves. All the words are just noise that fades.

We look at the present moment and our loved ones and the tasks of the day, and everything is evanescent, beyond our reach, lacking solidity. Or perhaps we are the ones who are fading? In my book I described it as "like watching a video of the place where I used to be alive."

Standing sharp, cutting us, however, are all the memories of the things we've screwed up. We fear that this is what defines us. But this is not the same thing as a temptation in the moral sphere. It is more like the overwhelming nature of physical pain. It doesn't present itself as an option of free choice, but as a suffering to be endured.

It is possible, in Depression, to know--objectively--that the distortion of perception and emotion do not represent reality. They are a suffering caused by a complex disease, exacerbated by factors that are beyond our control. It is a great benefit to know this. But it doesn't make Depression go away.

Depression is not a sin. It is not our fault. Let us be clear: Depression, in itself, does not belong to the category of ethics; or perhaps I should say it is essentially no more of an ethical problem than heart disease or kidney disease or Parkinson's.

It is a problem of suffering.

Suffering, of course, presents moral challenges. It is inevitably accompanied by various temptations to discouragement, self-pity, resentment, denial, envy, and despair.

Depression appears to provide a conducive environment to moral temptations to choose discouragement, to choose to give up. The tempter, as we know, takes advantage of available opportunities, as do the inclinations of our broken humanity. Our freedom, however diminished our responsibility may be, does not always do well in the midst of these storms. But freedom, especially through the mysterious working of grace, can choose well, or rise up through sorrow and try again. We can choose to live for truth, goodness, and beauty in reality, to trust in God, to move foward in our journey, even when we are suffering from Depression.

But we cannot cure Depression or make it go away through an act of free choice. Let me repeat that: We cannot cure Depression or make it go away through an act of free choice.

It is not a freely chosen condition, nor is it the consequence of evil choices. It is an affliction. It is an impairment that we have not chosen. That means that we can choose well, even in the darkness, even seemingly against the pain.

It is possible to endure this affliction of darkness and remember that we have value, that we matter. It is possible to grow with understanding and solidarity, to cope through medication and therapy, and even to find healing (or some measure of healing) and to thrive through a mysterious patience and an enlarged compassion.

There is hope. Never give up.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Beyond All Reckoning

If we could count all the worlds
of faces veiled
in once-soft, long since stretched,
withered sun-worn skins,
strained by the pain
of flesh from flesh torn away
and taken,
vanishing distant, down,

We would find beyond all reckoning
the rounded drops that weep
from eyes open watching wounds,
watching wanting all,
drops of flood falling
and rising into vapor
out of hollowed hard earth's cracked thirst.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


My office area at the new John XXIII Center "campus" -- It's not cluttered but... just give me some time!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Make Me a Channel of Your Peace... And Give Me Stuff Too?

Let me love. Even though I ask to be loved.
Let me understand. Even though I ask to be understood.
Let me console. Even though I ask to be consoled.
Something inside me prays, "Let me give myself away." But then I don't want to let go.

I ask to be a channel of His Peace.
I ask to be an instrument of His Mercy.

But all I find inside of myself is poverty.
And I don't mean the Holy Poverty of St. Francis.

It is the emptiness of someone who loves his own life too much. Who loves himself too much. Who loves his own satisfaction too much. Who loves his own comfort too much. Who loves his own reputation too much. Who loves his own illusions too much. Who loves his own laziness too much. Who loves his own opinion too much. Who loves his own will too much.

I love my own will too much.
I would rather do things my own way.
I would rather rationalize.
I want God's will and my will.
want to serve two Masters and love them both.

I am a divided man.
I am not St. Francis.

So what is it within me that prays, nonetheless, to be His instrument, His love, His mercy in the lives of others, and especially in the lives of those who have been entrusted to me? In spite of all my foolishness, I call myself a teacher and a mentor and a father, and yet I do not think that I am a complete hypocrite. Why is this? Is it all, then, a delusion?

No! I know something that I must share.

I have been loved, and understood, and consoled.

And the beauty of this fact has wounded my heart. So I throw myself into a confused and troubled and complicated effort to communicate this fact, that I have been loved, that we all have been loved. And somewhere I am convinced that this Love is worthy of all my trust even as I struggle in so many ways to offer myself.

So here it is, Lord, the whole mess that is me.
It is far from a perfect offering.
But You can do the impossible, so make of me what You will.
Give me the will to change.
Change what needs changing in me.
Make me a channel of Your Peace.

Let others hear these words,
these words that express my struggle with You and Your changing of me,
Let them hear these words and see my wounded soul
and wonder at Your Mercy.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Nationals Go Home

When I saw this cover in March on Sports Illustrated's baseball season preview issue, I knew we were doomed.

I'm not superstitious. There are no "baseball gods." But if there were baseball gods, this would have been a sure sign that the Washington Nationals were going to lose their favor.

Ironically, Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper (the guys in the picture) both had spectacular seasons. Unfortunately, nobody else did.

I haven't said much about the Nationals this year. It was an eventful summer for the Janaros. We didn't even get to go to an actual game, though we tuned in to all or part of most of them on television during the season.

I also haven't said much because I've decided that if I can't say anything nice about my team, then I won't say anything at all.


Haha, but really, the baseball season is a strange thing. In April you think that this a great team "on paper." But things don't play out as expected on the field. You start out slow. There are some injuries. You hang around first place, then lose some key games in August, another team gets hot while you stay lukewarm and then... it's the end of September.

I don't want to get down on anybody. These guys are under a lot of pressure for six months -- much more pressure than I could handle. I'm not going to rip on anybody.

The Mets deserve credit along with several other surprise winners heading to the playoffs.

For us it has been a long, melancholy season.

But it won't stop us from coming back fresh and full of dreams next Spring.

Friday, October 2, 2015

God's Helpers: Thanks!

I want to give a shout out to my own Superhero, my celestial homeboy, my Guardian Angel and his frequently employed Backup Crew. 

Thank you for accepting the difficult assignment of trying to keep me out of trouble. Thanks for lifting me up so often, for inspiring me, for prompting me to remember love, and for pointing again and again to the Face of Love.

Thank you!

Detail of Ethiopian icon of the Risen Jesus with angels.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The "Sheer Suffering" of Therese

October begins with Saint Therese, who died of tuberculosis on September 30, 1897. She was only 24 years old. In her final days, several of her sisters recorded her words.

She once said, "Take heart, Jesus hears even the last echo of our pain."