Friday, March 30, 2018

The Way of the Cross


Stations, St John the Baptist Church, Front Royal, Virginia
"Jesus on the Cross," by Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Hand carved olive wood, Assisi (photograph by John Janaro)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Hour of Glory Has Come

On_this Holy Thursday evening, we commemorate Jesus establishing the gift of himself in the Eucharist and embarking upon the final path leading to his redemptive suffering and death.

In the time leading up to these events, Jesus spoke prophetically to all the people about the mystery of what was to take place.

Jesus said:
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life" (John 12:23-25).

I don't want to take any edge off the impact of this dichotomy between "love" and "hate" in relation to our lives. But this is far from any kind of dismissal of the goodness of the present world and the responsibilities entrusted to us within it.

Rather, the saying of Jesus starts from the basic and inescapable perception of any human wisdom, namely that all things in this life pass away. We are made for an inexhaustible fulfillment, and nothing in this world is enough. We keep grasping at this life; we keep clamoring for the food that does not satisfy.

And I am much reminded in these days of the tremendous fragility of life. Sooner or later everything ends. Quickly or slowly, life slips away and we are all sown like grains of wheat in the earth.

But Jesus doesn't only speak about what passes away. Jesus speaks of something else, something new, good news.

The good news is not an evasion of death. It doesn't make death easy. It doesn't make suffering and dying easy. The good news is the promise of "abundant fruit," the promise of "eternal life" which surpasses all our measure because God himself comes to meet us.

He is with us in the ultimate humiliation of suffering and death. He has embraced and made his own every moment of the personal suffering and the personal death of each one of us. This is what he accomplishes in his "hour."

Knowing and embracing all that was to come, Jesus called it the hour of glory. This is the source and sustenance of our inexhaustible hope.

He is the source and sustenance of our hope.

Jesus Christ.

"'Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself.'
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die" (John 12:31-33).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Anonymous Power

Judas betrayed Jesus. The anonymous voices of the crowd betrayed Jesus. We all betray Jesus, abandoning him to follow our own whims, or the current fashions of the moment.

We betray Jesus and abandon him because we prefer our own mediocrity.

(Text of above graphic taken from today's Magnificat.)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Oscar Romero: Christ Has Loved All of Us

"Love must win out...."

Today is the commemoration of Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, and the 38th anniversary of his martyrdom.

Romero was killed while saying Mass (at the altar, during the offertory) by a paramilitary "death squad" on March 24, 1980. It was in the early stages of El Salvador's awful 12 year civil war.

In my own lifetime, there have been so many dramatic events, so much appalling evil, so much heroic goodness.

In a tumultuous era of massive and often disconcerting changes, Christ's love remains the same. He has taken the true measure of our lives and given them meaning.

In Jesus Christ we stand firm and live in hope, come what may!

Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us all, that we might be given the grace to always respond to violence with love.

Quotations from Archbishop Romero:

"How can the Church not be pained by a civilization of selfishness, this civilization of cruel inequalities where the poor, the helpless, the hungry, the naked, the homeless must exist as if they were not persons, were not our brothers and sisters.... But we are all one and the same flesh! We have the same origin and the same destiny! Christ has loved all of us and identified with all of us!"

"Let us not be discouraged even when the horizon of history appears dark and closed off, as if human realities made it impossible for God's plans to be accomplished. God can make use of human mistakes, even of people's sins, to overcome the darkness."

"Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Fields of Violence and the "Incomprehensible Silence" of God

Recent research has brought me, once again, to face the horrors of the twentieth century; atrocities that were just so evil, in so many ways, on so many levels. I shall address some of the particular incidents more another time. I'm not ready to say anything about them yet.

For the present, I can only draw together a few thoughts.

There is nothing like the ruthlessness of ideologically-driven violence to wake us up from our illusions and remind us that sin is an offense against God.

The trajectory of sin leads to a distortion of reality that aspires to be an inversion of goodness. Sin (which includes even our own seemingly pedestrian sins) radically aims to "make evil to be good" and to "make good evil." Not surprisingly, as sin proliferates, it becomes a driving force, a program of violence, an "organization" designed to inflict cruelty and suffering on the innocent, to deform consciences, to spread destruction, to brutally and ruthlessly attack human beings and eradicate the human heart's desire for transcendence.

In the midst of it all, those who are afflicted wonder, "Where is God?"

We Christians cannot evade the mysterious weight of this question.

We should listen to the compelling stories of those who have endured these awful evils. Some of these stories are very, very hard to bear, and no one should take them up with idle curiosity. We should help one another to engage the facts and personal testimonies regarding the atrocities of the recent era, seek guidance from those who are more experienced and mature in faith, and find ways to participate in the ongoing process of healing.

A war, a persecution, a genocide may be "in the past," but wounds and scars remain. There are people who still need help, materially and spiritually.

Hopefully, what we learn will spur us on to a more serious commitment to love God and love our neighbor in every aspect of our lives. We will also be "shaken up" in a way that might lead us to pray harder, read and meditate more attentively on the Scriptures, recall the teaching of the Church, and turn more ardently to the all-encompassing suffering of the crucified Jesus. And we will be reminded of the need to rededicate ourselves to opposing evil, and seeking to overcome evil with good.

Of course, none of our efforts in this regard will make all of the concreteness of human wickedness and the terrible affliction that results from it "go away."

But they will draw us into a deeper faith and hope in the One who is greater than all our understanding, who calls us to endure with him our own afflictions, to fight against injustice as best as we can in this world, and to suffer with others even when all seems lost and they are utterly broken and powerless.

The question remains: "Where was God in 'the killing fields'?" People experience the pain of this question even today, and it's important for us to feel the force of it in our guts.

This doesn't mean we should lose confidence in God and his love for every human person. But the truth about history will strip this confidence of much that is sentimental and root it more firmly in the actual reality of God's love, beyond our feelings, beyond our understanding. It can awaken in us the courage to follow God's love to the peripheries of this world and hold fast to it in the most desperate extremities of life.

"Often we cannot understand why God refrains from intervening. Yet he does not prevent us from crying out, like Jesus on the Cross: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Mt 27:46).
"We should continue asking this question in prayerful dialogue before his face: 'Lord, holy and true, how long will it be?' (Rev 6:10). It is Saint Augustine who gives us faith's answer to our sufferings: 'Si comprehendis, non est Deus'—'if you understand him, he is not God.'
"Our protest is not meant to challenge God, or to suggest that error, weakness or indifference can be found in him. For the believer, it is impossible to imagine that God is powerless or that 'perhaps he is asleep' (cf. 1 Kg 18:27). Instead, our crying out is, as it was for Jesus on the Cross, the deepest and most radical way of affirming our faith in his sovereign power.
"Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the 'goodness and loving kindness of God' (Tit 3:4). Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible."
~Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 38

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Haha, I Knew This Was Going to Happen!

HAPPY FIRST DAY OF ... uhhh ... ummm ... hmmm ....

Too crazy! Kids (and their mother) had a snow day today, and there's more snow coming tomorrow. The forsythia bush has applied for a transfer to another more stable climate.😜

Update—Wednesday March 21: The "Second Day of Spring" brought the real snowfall, which probably would have been the biggest snowfall of the Winter ... except for the fact that it's not Winter anymore.

The snow is still falling as of 3 PM this afternoon, and it looks pretty from the front porch. (I don't even have the heart to look at the forsythia today.😏) Here's one view of our vicinity:

Another fun thing to do on a day like today—after you've had your fill of being "outdoors" in the snow—is to use some photos as the basis for a digital graphic design.

With a fair bit of labor, I worked up something with a more "remote" feel to it, and a bit of evocative color:

Monday, March 19, 2018

Saint Joseph Understands the Difficulties of Ordinary Life

Happy Feast of Saint Joseph!

In some countries (including Italy), today is the traditional "Father's Day." I'm playing that up around here for all it's worth, haha!😊

But seriously, what would we do without this great friend of our souls, who took such courageous and tender care of the child Jesus and Mary, his mother.

Joseph knows the struggles of this life that we all live. He is very close to us. He accompanies us through the big upheavals that change everything in a short space of time. And he is also with us during the many more ordinary sorrows and joys, surprises, routines, work and rest, changes, expectations, disappointments.

No one understands better than Joseph the dramatic nature of life. Life is vocation. This means that life will not allow us to stand still. In every circumstance, we find ourselves called forth, summoned. Life points us toward a destination, and places us on the road.

As Christians we know that we are challenged every day to grow in the grace and love of God, to become the person that the Lord wills each of us to be. We are called to be His children, and ultimately to be fulfilled by sharing in His glory. The mercy of Jesus is there to sustain us--His mercy is moved especially by our frailty and poverty--and therefore hope must illuminate every step of the journey.

One beautiful feature of that hope is the companionship of those who have already arrived, who are with the Lord. We know that they remain accessible to us, that they participate in the mercy that Jesus gives us.

In giving us himself, Jesus gives us brothers and sisters from every time and place who live in him. Everything belongs to Jesus and comes from Jesus. But this does not eliminate the personalities of the saints. On the contrary, it establishes and gives eternal contour to each one of them.

Not surprisingly, Saint Joseph engages all of God's people in a very special way. He is the "patron of the Universal Church."

When we celebrate a "feast day," we open ourselves to a foretaste of the joy of eternal life with God and the saints in glory. We can even say, perhaps, that the particular saint "shares his or her own joy with us" on these days.

Every year, this day is a celebration of a very personal relationship for me. Saint Joseph has been my father-in-faith, my friend, my benefactor for many, many years. He has taken care of me from my student day to marriage, and thereafter, he has taken care of us, the Janaro family.

He is just like the Joseph of Sacred Scripture: silent, in the background, ready to take us up in the midst of change and even danger and quietly see to it that we have what we really need (which has so often been different from what we thought we needed at the time).

After our firstborn son John Paul, we were determined to name a child after Saint Joseph, as a way of acknowledging his great care for us in the communion of saints. But we kept having girls.

We finally got tired of Joseph's humble attempts to "hide," (πŸ˜‰) and thus our youngest became Josefina. He responded by taking very special care of her.

I talk to St. Joseph every day. I ask him to obtain for me the grace to be the person, the man, the husband, and the father that God wills me to be. I thank him for always being there for us. Ever since the angel came to assure him that he really did have a role in the mystery of the redemption, he has been there to protect and care for Jesus and Mary and the whole world of Mary's children, Jesus's brothers and sisters.

My own fatherly heart is full of gratitude to him. Of course this is truly and fundamentally gratitude to God who is the giver of every gift. But God doesn't just give some abstract or magical kind of help. God makes us "gifts" to one another. God's love generates relationships of persons who share in his love, a communion of persons, a real family.

What a tremendous family we have all been given as we share together this journey of life with Jesus and with those who have gone before us.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you Saint Joseph!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saint "Patryka" 😜

I woke up this morning and this was the first song that popped into my head!πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜‰ ...ah well, Zdrowie! πŸΊπŸŽ΅πŸ€

Well, here's some Irish soda bread! Always tastes better with lots of butter. And beer...πŸ˜œπŸ˜‹

Thursday, March 15, 2018


I will lead the blind on their journey;
by paths unknown I will guide them.
I will turn darkness into light before them,
and make crooked ways straight" (Isaiah 42:16).

"As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth" (John 9:1).

I am blind. Just pitch black blind. And what journey? Am I on a journey? Where am I going, and why would I want to go anywhere? I am perfectly satisfied where I am right now.

Really? Am I?

No, I must journey. I can't help it. I'm looking for something more, always. If I stayed "where I am right now," I would start digging a hole, searching. I want something. I always want something.

But I'm blind. I've been blind from birth. Whatever it is that draws me onward, that I search for and yearn for, I've never seen it. I should just forget about it.

But I have a sense in my heart that there is this mysterious reality called "light," as if something could fill the emptiness of my darkness.

Why are the blind not content with darkness?

If I were alone with my blindness and darkness, how could I possibly guess that there were anything to see? Why would I care? How would I even know that I'm blind?

I should just forget about it. There is nothing but darkness, surely....

But I want to see.

Here I am, blind, stumbling down my crooked ways, with the desperate, implacable desire to see. As long as I can remember, I've wanted something more than blindness. I can eat and drink and smell and touch and sleep and hear the sounds of birds. I know there is something more than darkness.

And so I journey along these unknown paths, these crooked ways, longing for the light.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Jesus REALLY IS in Charge of Our Lives

So, ultimately, even though he's made such a mess of his life, why is this man smiling?πŸ˜‰

I want to present for the blog readers my meditation for the day that appeared in Monday's selection from this month's  MAGNIFICAT  (click the link to learn more about this beautiful magazine).

It seemed to hit home for a lot of readers, especially those who—like me—have "seen many winters" (or quite a few, at leastπŸ˜‰). In any case, it's a lesson we spend our whole lives learning.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Happy Birthday Christina Grimmie, "With Love!"

Hey guys....

I know I often come up with the "deep thoughts" for these occasions. But I don't have any words right now.

It has been two years since our magnificent friend celebrated her last birthday on this earth.

As I remember her, I find again that same combination of tremendous sorrow, gratitude, so much laughter and fun, inspiration, tears, goofiness, and ... astonishment. But I don't have words to describe all that tonight.

Tonight, I'm just a Dad.

I have a son who will be 21 years old in a couple of months. I have four daughters, aged 19, 17, 15, and 11 years old. They're good kids.

When I see the world through their eyes—through my love for them—and consider their hopes, their future, the dangers they will face, and the choices they will have to make, I can only be grateful for the life of Christina Grimmie.

There is much darkness in this world, kids. But love is always brighter than the darkness, stronger than the hatred. Don't be afraid to go out and live great, beautiful lives!

Happy Birthday Christina Grimmie. Thank you for showing the way.πŸ’š

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Prompt Devotion and Eager Faith

On the "Sunday of Rejoicing" in the midst of Lent, we are prompted to "hasten toward" the celebration of the Pascal Mystery that is not far off.

And as always the prayer of the Church reminds us that it is the grace of God that gives us everything, even the very capacity to respond to Him in faith and love. God "grants" the "prompt devotion and eager faith" by which we hasten to approach to Him. God "illuminates our hearts" to ponder and love Him.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, God's definitive gift to us.


"O God, who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself 
in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray,
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come.
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."


"O God, who enlighten everyone
who comes into this world,
illuminate our hearts, we pray
with the splendor of your grace,
that we may always ponder
what is worthy and pleasing to your majesty
and love you in all sincerity.
Through Christ our Lord."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Two New Miracles of Human Dignity and Solidarity

Blessed Pope Paul VI speaks with Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero
I have waited many years, hoping for the events that are now being prepared and that will probably both take place in 2018 (or early 2019). Two great bishops, two great witnesses to the faith of my youth, will be canonized as saints in the Universal Church.

One of them towered over my childhood years; he was the bishop who presided over the tumultuous period of my growing up. He saw to its completion the initiative of reform and renewal that was the Second Vatican Council—which was above all an expansion of the heart of the Church to embrace the whole world with a "new evangelization."

During his own life, this great ecclesial aspiration sometimes seemed obscured or even defeated by so much confusion and even betrayal by others who should have helped lead the way. Nevertheless the seed fell upon good ground, and even now it grows in many places and in many (sometimes still hidden) ways.

First, however, it needed to sink deeply into the earth of this dramatic period of human history, and it began to grow only through the tremendous, inexpressible suffering of the man whom God had called to tend it: Paul, Bishop of Rome, Servant of the Servants of God.

Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Paul VI from 1963-1978: His suffering was palpable to those who loved the Church and were faithful to the Church. I was raised by people who felt that suffering and shared it with him, and through their solidarity with him my own faith was born.

The required post-beatification miracle has been approved for Blessed Paul VI, clearing the way for his canonization most likely at the end of the Synod of Bishops in October.

The other great bishop who will soon be named a saint was a true brother and faithful disciple of Paul VI, who carried out his ministry on my own continent, and consecrated its soil with his martyr's blood.

Under almost impossible conditions of political pressure and complexity, this bishop preached the gospel fully and in all its implications. He was not afraid to cry out for justice, to draw close to the poor, to challenge his people to heroic fidelity to their Christian vocation. At the same time, while insisting on the concrete implications of the gospel, he did not allow the Church to become a tool of any political agenda.

In the United States of America, some of us did not see his witness as clearly as we should have. But now everyone can be assured that his pastoral ministry was vital, lucid, and radically Catholic. The martyred Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero was not a bishop who cowered before the oppressive regime that killed him.

Neither was he an ideological revolutionary. He was not "the bishop of the left." He was the bishop of everyone.

He was a bishop of the Church.

The necessary miracle has been approved for Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador; Oscar Romero, Bishop and Martyr, a shining light in the Central American nation of El Salvador where there is still so much poverty and suffering, but also much great faith.

I look forward to the liturgical celebrations of these two heroes of the faith. Their suffering and their blood gives me joy in the present and hope for the future.

A couple of texts:
Concern for justice, the common good, and human dignity is a matter that concerns the whole world: "It is not just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not just a question of fighting wretched conditions, though this is an urgent and necessary task. It involves building a human community where men can live truly human lives, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality, free from servitude to other men or to natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily. It involves building a human community where liberty is not an idle word, where the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table" (Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio, 47).
"The Church is a lamp that has to give light, and therefore it must involve itself in tangible reality and thus be able to enlighten pilgrims who walk on this earth. This concern of the Church does not mean that it leaves its own sphere but that it perseveres in its difficult duty of shedding light on concrete affairs."
The Christian people in the world are called to give attention to the common good of society, to politics, and even to taking up political action. Nevertheless, "if both faith and political vocation have grown in a Christian, concerns of faith cannot be simply identified with a determined political concern.... One cannot insist that the Church or its ecclesial symbols become instruments of political activity. To be a good political activist one need not be a Christian, but Christians involved in political activity have an obligation to profess their faith in Christ and to use methods that are congruent with their faith." (Archbishop Oscar Romero, Homily, August 6, 1978).

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

God Has "Loved Us First"

One text that I find continually enriching is Pope Benedict XVI's beautiful and profound first encyclical Deus Caritas Est. For me, the year 2006 was not that long ago. In historical terms, it's hardly a blink.

This is still very much a "contemporary" document, as is the whole great contribution of Pope Benedict to the vision of the Church.

The excerpts cited here are pertinent to the themes of forgiveness and fraternal charity that I find myself meditating on in a particular way this Lenten season. It should go without saying that they also show the clear continuity between Benedict and Pope Francis, a continuity which is simply the Gospel witness that is so essential for us to receive and to share with others. It is the Gospel of the God who loves us, and whose love gives us the power to live as his children, to love him, to love one another, and to love every human person created in his image.
"The Lord...encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Church's Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.
"He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has 'loved us first,' love can also blossom as a response within us."
As this experience of God's love shapes our hearts, "love of neighbor is...shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know.
"This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern."
Thus "seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbor which 1 John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God.
"But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties,' then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper,' but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me."
From Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 17, 18

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Celebrating Eileen's Birthday

Yesterday was Eileen's birthday.

I have known this remarkable lady for more than half my lifetime. I am so grateful that, by the grace of God, she is my life's companion. I cannot possibly pretend that I deserve to have such an outstanding person at my side, day by day.

Last year was a "significant numerical birthday" (πŸ˜‰) for her (I'm still not saying what number). This year adds a "+1" but that's not so important in our time of life.

We're not getting any younger, but birthdays aren't really about counting years. They are about celebrating people's lives. They are about saying, "It is good that you exist." We remember the unique, unrepeatable and beautiful gift of a human person when we celebrate their birth.

I am glad for the chance to celebrate her. I don't want to take her for granted. Happy Birthday, my dear wife!πŸ’—

John Paul is in Rome this semester, but Agnese is home for Spring Break, so we had most of the family under our roof. This year, Teresa took charge of the dinner and baked that delicious, lovely cake pictured above.

I put a lot of labor and effort into my graphic-designed, hand-colored birthday presentation for her this year. Artistically I found the result frustrating. It looks too "simple" for something that took so much work. In the afternoon, Josefina and I were working on our gifts together, and I was flustered and she said, "Coloring is supposed to be fun, Daddy!" Well, it was fun, overall.

And if it really is "the thought that counts," then this should count for quite a bit. It took a lot more thought and time to draw one flower than it would have to buy a dozen at the grocery store. I'm glad I took the time, even if flowers from the store would have been prettier.

Marriage and raising a family are not easy. We have been given so many material advantages, but it's still been hard in more ways than I can count. I suppose we could say about our family life that it has taken a lot of thought and labor and effort (and suffering) to "put something together" that "looks pretty simple." And it's a work in progress.

I am so grateful to God for Eileen Janaro. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm so glad that whatever it is we will face it together.

Above all, in this very unique relationship that is marriage—that sees much change and much sacrifice and some sorrow and many joys—there is the bond that holds us together with a strength greater than anything of this world, the bond consecrated by a great sacrament. It is the power of Jesus Christ's love that holds us together and enables us to grow.

Pope Francis notes that, in marriage, "the common life of husband and wife, the entire network of relations that they build with their children and the world around them, [is] steeped in and strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. For the sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one with us. Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way. Both are called to respond to God’s gift with commitment, creativity, perseverance and daily effort. They can always invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit who consecrated their union, so that his grace may be felt in every new situation that they encounter" (Amoris Laetitia 74).

In the challenges and the daily effort and in the very simple joys, we are drawn by that love of God that we hope for, the eternal glory that is our destiny in Christ.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

March Comes Roaring In

March has come in like a roaring lion, blustery and chilly.

What happened to the tropical weather we were enjoying a week and a half ago? Oh well, Spring will be here soon and I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Bells of Takashi Nagai

Dr. Takashi Nagai (1908-1951) was a Japanese medical doctor, a scientist and pioneering researcher who specialized in radiology, a highly respected professor, a beloved husband and father, and a convert from atheism to Jesus Christ and his Church. My article about his conversion will appear in Magnificat this Fall.

But there is another story, the story of a more profound conversion, a radical change in Dr. Nagai's whole life that set him on the road to a greater faith, but also involved his passing through an almost unimaginable horror that began at 11:02 AM on August 8, 1945.

I can only say that the story of this great man, his wife, his family, his colleagues, and his community is one of the most intense and heart-wrenching and terrifying and beautiful stories I have ever come across in the twentieth century Church.

It is a story he lived long enough to tell, in a book called The Bells of Nagasaki. 

The Catholics of the Urakami district of Nagasaki, the disciples of Francis Xavier, the survivors of three centuries of persecution, were not specifically the intended target of the second atomic bomb. But because of various circumstances including weather conditions and wind, the very heart of Christianity in Japan--home to some 30,000 Catholics and their cathedral--became, literally, Ground Zero.

Many thousands of people were immediately reduced to ashes, including an estimated 8,000 Christians at the epicenter who were going about their morning routines, living, working, and praying. The cathedral was packed with worshippers praying for peace when the bomb exploded in the air above it. People in the vicinity of Ground Zero died where they were standing, sitting, or kneeling, in a flash.

The Nagai children were outside the city with their grandmother on that day. But their mother Midori Nagai was in the kitchen of their home in Urakami near the cathedral. The old home was built over a cowshed where her ancestors, the secret Christians, had gathered to pray and pass on their faith for seven generations without any priests, with only a basic catechism and the sacrament of baptism.

Days later her husband found remnants of her skeleton in the midst of the ruins, and some melted metal in the remains of the bones of her hand where he could barely make out the outline of a crucifix. Like so many of the Christians at Ground Zero, Takashi Nagai's wife had a deep devotion to Mary. When the awful fire fell, she had been praying the rosary.

Dr. Nagai was working at the Nagasaki University hospital on that morning. He was pinned under the wreckage of his laboratory, seriously injured but alive. Eventually the handful of doctors, nurses, and students who survived were able to reach him, stop the worst of his bleeding, and bring him to his feet. They formed a team that for several days worked heroically to treat whomever could be rescued from the flames and the scorched ground where there had once been a city.

As doctors, they did what they could to help the wounded, without medicines or supplies. As scientists, they discussed among themselves with horror and wonder the phenomenon that had occurred. They didn't know of the attack on Hiroshima, but they were able to see that this was a wholly new kind of bombing. Dr. Nagai and his colleagues were aware of the trajectory of atomic research, and had heard rumors that efforts were being made to use that research to make a horrible weapon, a nuclear bomb.

Their experience convinced them that these efforts had succeeded, and that they were living through a nuclear holocaust. And it wasn't over yet.

In the hours, then days, then weeks that followed, many people who had survived the blast developed strange and often fatal illnesses from radiation poisoning. Still others would succumb to their injuries. After a month of exhausting labor caring for the wounded and struggling to stay on his own feet, Dr. Nagai himself collapsed and was on the verge of death. His colleagues gave up hope of saving him as he moved in and out of a coma.

He recalled that he was prepared to die, but felt the desire and the need to live for the sake of his children (who had already lost their mother). Then he had a very unusual experience, which he reported to be something like a voice prompting him in a very specific way. In order to understand the significance of this prompting, we should note that Saint Maximilian Kolbe had lived in Nagasaki from 1930-1936 and was well known and much loved by the Catholic community. He had even been one of Dr. Nagai's patients. Fr. Kolbe had, of course, returned to Poland where the final act of his own drama awaited, and all news of him was blocked by the war.

But as Dr. Nagai lay dying, a voice seemed to urge him to "pray to Fr. Kolbe" for healing. No one in Japan knew that Fr. Kolbe was even dead, much less that he had died a martyr, but Takashi Nagai prayed for the intercession of the beloved friar. Soon after, he emerged from the coma, and the injury causing immediate danger to his life was inexplicably healed.

His fellow doctors said it was a miracle.

Unfortunately, his overall health was broken by radiation-induced leukemia, which eventually rendered him an invalid. From his bed, he turned to writing. In the light of his deepening faith, he wrote about the events he had experienced and their implications for the future. He wanted to record all he could for the sake of his native Japan and its reconstruction, for future scientific research, and as an advocate for peace in the world. He lived until 1951 and wrote 20 books, including The Bells of Nagasaki.

He is held in great esteem in Japan by Christians and non-Christians, and his story deserves to be more widely known. As I continue my literary (and film/video) "tour" of East Asia, you will hear more about him from me. His story is deeply Catholic, sorrowful, mysterious, and marked by the distinctively Japanese cultural character that we need to understand better.

But you don't have to wait for me. Fr Paul Glynn, an Australian priest who lived many years in Japan, wrote a very accessible biography that was recently reprinted by Ignatius Press, which you can get HERE. It is not an easy story, but it is one that needs to be heard, and that is very important for our troubled world today.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Thirst of a Parched Land

I have been praying recently with this penitential text (posted in large print below) from Psalm 143. There is much here that strikes me and draws me to meditation.

Conversion and repentance spring from the memory of the power and goodness of the Lord. However great our sin and misery, when we turn to him we will discover that he has been reaching out to us, sustaining us, calling us all the while. He never forgets us.

The Lord is faithful, righteous (holy), the One whose works are good, who is worthy of trust. The Lord saves; he is full of steadfast love; he is the teacher, the One whose "spirit" leads to good paths, the preserver who rescues me from distress, and who is my refuge. He is also the One who will "enter into judgment" with me and with all who have ever lived.

He is "my God."

I am not righteous or holy as the Lord would have me be, so that I might stand in his presence. I have kept my distance from him, trying to live by my own self-sufficiency.

I forgot the Lord, and tried to exalt myself by my own strength, by my own ideas and the force of my own will. But then I learned that reality doesn't work that way.

Wandering by myself without the Lord, I became the prey of my enemies. I had no way of escaping the brutal, relentless logic of power and domination. It crushed my life, threw me into darkness, numbed my heart. My spirit was failing within me.

I was left in a desert inside myself, a parched land.

It was then that I remembered the deeds of the Lord, the works of his hands. I remembered his love, the love that creates and saves and renews and always prevails. I too am his handiwork. He is everything that my heart longs for.

Lord, my soul thirsts for you.

And now I cry out to the Lord, I seek his face, I wait upon his word, I lift up my soul to him, I trust in him, I beg for him to save me.

I am like the child who runs away for a careless adventure and becomes lost, then suddenly remembers the warmth of home and the generous love of his parents. The child cries out for help, to find the way home in the dark. He remembers again the tenderness and attentive concern of his parents and he takes heart--he knows that they are not far off, and that they are already searching for him.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

"For the enemy has pursued me,
crushing my life to the ground,
making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit fails;
my heart is numb within me.

"I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.

"Answer me quickly, O Lord;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

"Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path.

"For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness save my soul from distress."

~Psalm 143:1-11