Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ignatius and His Soldiers of Love

The 16th century was a mess. It was the first real "globalization" of history, but too often it was driven by pride, avarice, and the lust for power.

Still, in the turmoil of that time, God was at work. Among other things, He gave this man a charism, and through him a "company" arose, and the Great Commission was taken up with a new awareness. The followers of Ignatius of Loyola truly carried the gospel into the whole world.

They still do. Jesuits have had their problems, but the grace of the charism of Saint Ignatius is always stronger, always renewed.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Only Jesus Really Knows Us

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).

Do I really believe this? Do I really know what it means to trust in Him?

Jesus claims that He is the reason why I exist, that I was created so that I might be His brother, the brother of God the Son, the Word made flesh. In union with Him, I become a child of the Father in the Spirit.

This is why I exist; this is the foundation of my identity and destiny as a created person. God made me because He wanted to love me and to give me the power to love Him. I was created so that I might be raised up to share in the life of the Trinity. I was created by Eternal Love, so as to rejoice forever in Eternal Love.

And this is true for absolutely every human being without exception. It is at the very core of the humanity we all share. Every person is, by the mystery of God's mercy, on a path of life that leads ultimately to an encounter with the gift of God's love - and this means an encounter with Jesus, even though so many know nothing about Him right now. 

This is why our lives and words witness to Him, Jesus, always, even as we respect people of other religions, engage in dialogue with them, and learn many great and precious things from their stories of seeking truth and longing for goodness and beauty, from the genuine wisdom embodied in their cultures and traditions, and from the mysterious ways God has drawn them and worked in their lives. 

As we accompany others, collaborate with them, live in friendship with them, and witness to them, we are servants of the grace of God at work in them and in us.

Jesus wants to share His burning love with others, through us. Jesus wants everyone to meet Him and to discover that He is the only answer to the search for meaning and the yearning for love that God has fashioned in the depths of every human heart. 

Only Jesus really knows us; only He can answer for each one of us that unique, unfathomable question, “Who am I?”

Monday, July 29, 2019

Martha Said, "Yes, Lord. I Have Come to Believe..."

Today is the feast of Saint Martha.

Don't get down on Martha. Yeah, there was that time when she was so preoccupied with throwing a good dinner party that she didn't seem to recognize the uniqueness of the Guest.

But she also had that glorious moment when He revealed Himself to her and she responded with faith, and called Him by name.

It was a singularly difficult moment during the time of grief and mourning following the death of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived, Martha went out to meet Him. She was full of a wild expectation that she didn't understand, but it moved her to go to Him.

The result was one of the most beautiful accounts in the gospels, an encounter in which the drama of each of our lives is illuminated. The dialogue of Jesus and Martha sums up the history of our prayer - our seeking, asking, listening, responding to Him.

This text is worth the pondering of our hearts:
"Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said to him, 'I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world'" (Jn 11:21-27).
She believed. But what does it mean to "believe in Him"? It means to adhere to His Person with a faith vivified by hope and love, to trust in Him.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Burning of Grief and Love

This is a strange time of life.

Lately, as I go through the "usual day," I keep bumping into things that remind me of my Dad: a picture, an old book, some music, or even some things not directly connected to him - common things like ivy (because Dad always trimmed the ivy and kept it neat along the side of the house I grew up in).

When this happens, a whole line of memories gets tapped, and with them come a variety of emotions that I don't even understand, and the awareness of the deep presence of a person in the history of my life, and an apparently gaping absence of that person "here-and-now" ... though not entirely. Past and present seem almost to merge for an instant, and I feel a sense of melancholy, but also peace.

Is this "grief"?

It hasn't shaken my faith, though it has made me more aware that faith depends on God's grace and that it adheres to mysteries beyond my comprehension. Clearly, faith does not provide a cheap escape from the pain and the strangeness of grief. I am grateful for my faith, which is a gift that takes me beyond myself. It brings consolation, but it is also the adherence of a frail human being who lives within the fragility of the present, with the fluxuations of internal and external changes from one moment to the next.

It's a mysterious experience that, sooner or later, everyone passes through.

We miss the people we love so much! When people die, they seem to vanish from the realm of everything we know from our experience of life, all that we see and feel and touch, all that we can measure and analyze scientifically or engage with on an ordinary practical level.

But there is still love - a light and a fire greater than the sun and all the stars. Stars burn out, but love burns through to something more, something larger than this universe and its limits. When I say "I love you" to my Dad (I feel dizzy and lost in the fog of all this, but still "I love YOU, Dad!") and whenever we say "I love you" to those who have passed away from this life, our hearts "find them" in their very reality as persons; and our hearts know that they are living in a new way.

They live in the Universe of Love, which our eyes are not designed to see (at least, not yet) but our hearts know it.

Our hearts long for it!

Maybe the pain of grief is part of our own "burning through" (beyond the limits of what we now know and measure) to that definitive world, that definitive life that our hearts whisper about, that is the promise of all our efforts to grow as persons - that Universe where Love is everything, where the embrace is all-sustaining, all-fulfilling, and never ends.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Splashdown 50

FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY was "The Splashdown," i.e. the "returning them safely to earth" part of the historic journey of Apollo 11. 

And, once again, we all watched on TV.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mary Said, "I Have Seen the Lord"

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, called ἰσαπόστολος in the Byzantine tradition ("Equal-to-the-Apostles") for her original witness to Jesus's resurrection:

Jesus said to her, "go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'" (John 20:17-18).   .

Sunday, July 21, 2019

July 20, 1969 - A "Giant Leap" Indeed

Fifty years ago, three human beings traveled from a beach in southern Florida to the moon, a voyage of a quarter of a million miles. Before the end of the day on July 20, two men would walk the lunar surface.

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," said Neil Armstrong as he planted his boot firmly on the dusty, unearthly ground.

"Beautiful... Magnificent desolation," said Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, a few moments later as he stepped down from the lunar module to become the second human being to walk on the moon.

Sixty miles above the lunar surface, orbiting the moon (about once every two hours) was Michael Collins, pilot of the Command Service Module. Though he didn't get to walk on the moon, he had the essential task of carefully attending to the larger traveling spacecraft and the rockets, which were the only way any of them would get back home.

Meanwhile, a six year old me was on earth, fascinated, and - along with hundreds of millions of other people all over the world - watching it all happen on television. I remember it vividly, hearing the beeps and the crackles of earth-to-moon and moon-to-earth audio, and seeing a fuzzy but unmistakable image of an astronaut going down those steps. My parents, my brother and I watched it in our living room, on our black-&-white TV (we didn't have a color TV yet). People from my generation or older remember, and can tell you where they were and what time of night or day it was when they saw the "giant leap" on TV.
But even as we watched history being made on July 20, 1969, we all participated in another historic moment on earth, and most of us were unaware of its radical nature and fundamental importance for the coming decades: we were watching the first ever global live television broadcast.

Over the past fifty years, the communications technology that accompanied the Apollo mission has developed in ways no one could have imagined, so that now billions of people interact on a global level every day. People today develop and share multimedia content, and are able to "broadcast," "live" (in real time), in a manner accessible to the whole world, right from the palm of their hand.📲

This "giant leap" - for better and for worse - has transformed the global village into a global interactive network, a "global commons" with immense possibilities for discourse and learning, but also immense spaces for getting lost, and for the post-modern tribes to gather, define themselves, and wage war against one another.

...coming soon, more on this topic! 💻🔊📲📡🌐

Saturday, July 20, 2019

"Man on the Moon"

"Man on the moon! Whew... oh boy! Oh boy!"

~Walter Cronkite, CBS News television studio, 4:17 PM E.D.T., July 20, 1969

Friday, July 19, 2019

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Today was the funeral of Patrick Keats, Professor of English Literature at Christendom College, who recently died of cancer.

Christendom is the small American university with which I am affiliated, where I taught in the classroom for many years before my illness, and which my children now attend (John Paul recently graduated).

These are just a few words of farewell to Pat. It's all I can manage now. I'll write at greater length soon. I have more good memories of this superb man than I can begin to articulate at this time. 

I'm quite "behind" in the task of putting recent losses into writing. Another beloved colleague at our school, Kris Burns, passed away the day before my father. I have much to say in her honor too, when the storm-of-everything this year settles down a bit (I hope). Indeed, I haven't yet been able to write an adequate tribute to Dad. Perhaps it will all just come in bits and pieces. It's a lot easier to write theology or historical or biographical essays than it is to find the words to say "goodbye" to people one really cares about.

This difficulty remains even when one knows that the "goodbye" is not forever. It's not the last word.

Pat was my friend for over a quarter of a century. He was a great colleague, and a huge help to me personally in my own most difficult days. He was also a professor to the Janaro kids, and producer/director of theatrical productions in which they participated. 

In a small institution full of "large personalities," he was always focused on the students, the community, and his work, which he carried out cheerfully and - it seemed - tirelessly. He was also a loving husband and devoted father. He was a man of strong principle, balanced judgment, and discretion, with a fine sense of humor and - above all - abundant charity.

He was a pillar of our local community. It is not a formality to say that he will be greatly missed. 

Rest in peace, Pat. May God give you the unfading crown of glory. You served Him well. Our prayers remain with you always, and especially for your courageous wife Lily and the kids.

God's ways are mysterious. He Himself is the Infinite Mystery. But He is the Mystery of infinite goodness and love. He permits evil in the world, only so that the mystery of His love might work a greater good. This must be the truth; yet these are hard words for our small humanity. In the face of our own suffering, they leave us gasping for air. 

If all we had was an abstract theory, a metaphysical theodicy, we wouldn't even be able to begin to bear it. But we know that the love of God embraces us through the heart of Jesus Christ, who has taken all our sufferings upon Himself and made them His own. He goes before us, He accompanies us, He is with us in everything we endure; He is transforming us and calls us to the fullness of His love and joy.

To Him we entrust our friend and brother Pat Keats, in the hope of the resurrection.   

"The Lord is good to those who trust in Him, to the one that seeks Him" (Lamentations 3:25).

Thursday, July 18, 2019

To All Caregivers: THANK YOU!❤

I just want to shout out to those who care for the sick on this celebration of Saint Camillus. The care you provide is a blessing for the world. I have received a fair share of it, and I have watched you give care to people I love. My gratitude is beyond expression, but I extend it to all of you who dedicate yourselves to this merciful work. God bless you! #HealthcareWorkers #Nurses #Doctors #Caregivers #AllOfYou

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Worldliness" Fails to See the Goodness of Things

I have continued to ponder the distinction between the "attraction" for "worldly goods" which Saint Bonaventure identifies as the root of avarice, and the personal understanding and engagement of the things of space and time that largely constitutes the ordinary human vocation.

This is an important distinction that Bonaventure certainly recognizes. He articulates elsewhere his theology of material creation in terms of a highly original (Augustinian inspired) symbolic mystical realism. This unmistakably Catholic Christian realism about the goodness of all created things is a basic theme for Bonaventure (see e.g. Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum I:14-15, usually found in English translation as "The Journey of the Mind to God"). It is entirely different from pagan neoplatonism, gnostic spiritualism, and especially the dualism and vilification of material reality put forth by Bonaventure's contemporaries in the Albigensian sect.

Genuine Christian faith entails the conviction that created things are good. As humans, we are meant to be "attracted" by the good in creatures, drawn to desire and love them, and drawn toward God through them, drawn to love God preeminently, who is the source and fulfillment of the being and goodness of created things.

The problem is not "attraction" in itself. The problem is the mess that sin has made of our humanity. It is not that things themselves are evil; rather it is our sinful self-obsession, our drive to construct the foundation of our selves in things that we control by our own power, that skews our perception of their essential, gratuitous fullness.

We become "worldly" (and avaricious) insofar as we willingly blind ourselves to the reality of the world as the place where embodied persons give and receive love in a multitude of "incarnate" gestures and expressions. Our "worldly desire" perceives only "worldly goods," things only insofar as they are subject to our own grasping and manipulation.

Thus we do violence to the world God has created in the gift of His love. We covet, take, steal, hoard, violate, and destroy things because we refuse to receive them and give them. When we forget the gift of God, we cannot engage reality: we don't know how to "possess" things with freedom, to learn from them, deepen them by "collaborating" with their riches and marking them with the seal of our own personal creativity, and thus being able to give of ourselves through them. We are the ones who have brought evil and destruction into the world; we have made the world a deceitful, harmful, dangerous place.

But God loves the world. He loves us. The Father reveals the depths of this love by sending His Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh, who dwells among us, accompanies us, dies for us (and thus stays with us even through death) so He can raise us up, heal us, and transform us by joining us to Himself and drawing our hearts to Him.

In following Him we rediscover all the created things of the world in Him. We begin to see ourselves and all things as having their true meaning in Him and for Him. There is nothing reductive about this, because reality is ultimately personal and interpersonal. The encounter with the Person of Jesus is decisive because He fulfills and transcends (in infinite depth) every person and every thing.

In Him, our lives and everything on our earthly path is transfigured. Even though it doesn't often seem that way, as we trudge through the many difficult and lonely days in this life, we hold onto the truth in love and hope, through faith in Jesus who has gone before us in death to resurrection. Thus we learn to engage the world passionately, attentively, but with peace and joy in our hearts, because we know that Jesus Christ has saved the world.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Saint Bonaventure: "Follow the Poverty-Stricken Christ"

Every year, in the middle of July, when his feast day rolls around, I think, "Gosh, I haven't read Saint Bonaventure since... like... last year." So I look something up. I have some books - including a couple of those volumes in English that the Franciscans published years ago - on one of the few shelves in the house that actually stays organized.

The Seraphic Doctor, the great medieval Franciscan and contemporary of St Thomas Aquinas, can be appreciated in many theoretical ways, but we are missing something fundamental if we never get burned while reading him.

Bonaventure is a fire. He is like a burning bush. You wonder if you can look upon the flame in him and continue to live.

Maybe this is why I only read him once a year.

Here are words written seven and a half centuries ago that cut through the differences of history and context and speak directly to us today.

Below are some excerpts from chapter III of De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores, a short work written for the edification of the Poor Clares. I felt the heat from the fire of these words today. In their light I see what a hypocrite I am, what a mediocre half-hearted lukewarm Christian I really am. At the same time, they also awaken in me the desire to be changed. Bonaventure is emphasizing that defining accent of the Franciscan spirit: poverty. But he didn't use this sort of terminology; he simply preached about the poverty of Jesus.

Granted, his words are directed to cloistered nuns, but that doesn't mean that they have no relevance for people living in the world. Bonaventure is convinced that the example of Jesus should inspire not only consecrated persons, but all Christians to a love of poverty.

We argue and scheme and wring our hands about our society today, our social problems, and the "need for change." How often do we consider the possibility of cultivating in our own lives the simplicity, trust, and poverty of spirit that pervade the Gospel and the witness of the saints?

It is a possibility, because God makes it possible for us. We fall short because we fail to respond to His love for us. He wants to kindle a fire in us but we remain cold. And sad.

Bonaventure exhorts us to ponder the humanity of Jesus in meditative prayer. The more we remember this man who reveals and communicates the love of God, the more He will draw us to Himself, change us, set us aflame.

Excerpts below from chapter III of Bonaventure's small treatise for the Poor Clares - De Perfectione Vita ad Sorores - are given in bold type. My occasional comments are in regular (non-bold) type. Read his words carefully. Ponder what strikes you. Go to the Gospels themselves and meet the poor Christ, hear His calling, speak to Him from your heart, and let God have space to work within you.

"Christ was born poor, lived poor, and died poor. Realise and bear in mind that Christ gave you this wonderful example of poverty in order to induce you to become a friend of poverty. Our Lord Jesus Christ was so poor at birth that He had neither shelter, nor clothing, nor food. In lieu of a house He had to be content with a stable. A few wretched rags did duty for clothes. For food He had milk from the Virgin's breast. It was meditation on this poverty of Christ that roused the heart of St Paul and caused him to exclaim: 'You know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich He became poor for our sakes, that through His poverty we might be rich' (2 Corinthians 8:9).

"St Bernard, speaking of this same poverty, says: 'An eternal and copious abundance of riches existed in Heaven. Poverty, however, was not to be found there. It abounded and was superabundant on earth. Alas! Man did not know its worth. The Son of God, though, loved poverty, and desired it, and came down from Heaven and took it as His own possession in order to make it precious in our eyes' (Sermons I, 5).

[Bonaventure often cites Church Fathers from the first millennium such as Augustine and Gregory the Great, but he also draws deeply from the incomparable witness of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a relatively contemporary figure (12th century) who had a great influence on the evangelical renewal of the times, and who also has a lot to say to us. We will look at him next month; his feast is August 20.]

"All His life long, Jesus Christ Our Lord was an example of poverty... He was so poor that oftentimes He did not know which way to turn for a lodging. Frequently, He and His Apostles were compelled to wander out of the city and sleep where they could. It is with reference to such a happening that St Mark the Evangelist writes: 'Having viewed all things round about, when now the eventide was come, He went out to Bethany with the twelve' (Mark 11:7)... In similar strain St Matthew writes: "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head' (Matthew 8:20).

"Added to the poverty of His birth and life was the poverty of the death of the King of Angels... Look at His poverty as He dies. His executioners stripped and robbed Him of everything He possessed. He was robbed of His clothes, I repeat it, when the executioners 'divided His garments between them, and for His vesture cast lots' (cf Matthew 27:35, Psalm 22:19).

"He was robbed of body and soul, when as He succumbed to His most bitter sufferings His soul was separated from His body in the pangs of death. His persecutors deprived and robbed Him of His divine glory when they refused 'to glorify Him as God,' (cf Romans 1:21) and instead treated Him as a common criminal. 'They have stripped me of my glory,' complains holy Job in a moment of prophecy (cf Job 19:9).

"Drawing a lesson from the compelling example of Christ's poverty, St Bernard writes: 'Think of the poor man Christ! There is no house for Him at His birth, so they lay Him in a manger, between an ox and an ass. Look at Him wrapped in wretched swaddling clothes! Think of Him a fugitive on the rough road to Egypt! Think of Him riding on an ass! Think of His poverty as He hangs on the cross' (Sermons III, 1)."

Then the text invites us to consider our own anxiety over status and possessions, and how far removed this is from the poverty of Christ. We worry about temporal things. We are preoccupied with the concerns of this life. Our lives are so much taken up with grasping for worldly success and security, and fear of failure and deprivation. Why?

"Did you never read, did you never hear what Christ the Lord said of poverty to His Apostles? It occurs in the Gospel of St Matthew. 'Be not solicitous, therefore, saying, what shall we eat, or, what shall we drink. Your Father knows that you have need of all these things' (Mt 6:31-32)... [You are encouraged to be free of anxiety and to trust in God:] 'Cast, therefore, all your care upon Him, for He has care of you' (1 Peter 5:7).

"Since the fatherly care and solicitude of God for us is so intense, should not our anxious longing for temporal things cause us to marvel? Should it not astound us that we are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things? Why, when God occupies Himself with our welfare, do we trouble ourselves so about things of wealth and things of little concern?

"I can find no other explanation than that we have become avaricious. Avarice, avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation, has taken hold of us. We may assign no other reason than that we have turned away our affections from God, our Salvation. The fire of Divine Love has become extinguished in us. We have cooled. Love for God has frozen within us. If we were really fervent and had really stripped ourselves of earthly things we should follow the poverty-stricken Christ. Men when they become excessively hot are accustomed to strip themselves of their clothes. The proof of our want of love and of our great coldness is the attraction which worldly goods possess for us."

Obviously, those of us who live in the world might be perplexed about how to "manage" the "attraction to worldly goods" that seems inseparable from living a robust and serious human life, and fulfilling our responsibilities not only to ourselves but also to temporal history - to our families, our communities, our societies. Indeed, being a Christian in the world is complicated and "divided" and calls for the seemingly paradoxical posture of being in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world. 

I can't resolve that paradox. Part of the special grace of the calling of Bonaventure's Poor Clare nuns (and all those in consecrated life) is the radical simplicity of its form of life. Yet he feels the need to preach to them about worldliness and the dangers of "avarice, the mother of confusion and damnation."

Clearly, we are all called to cultivate self-discipline and the virtues. There is no place for mediocrity, for trying to "play it safe." We lay people are called to engage the realities of the world. Asceticism is necessary. Virtue is necessary.

But Bonaventure wants to remind all of us of the essential focus of every vocation: the love of God. We are made for God, and the things of this world are good and beautiful because they reflect God's glory. When we forget God, we lose the basic dynamic that guides the journey of life with all its achievements and sufferings. We fall into desperation and "are eaten up with desire for vain and empty things." 

We all struggle with this forgetfulness. The good news is that the Word who is God has become flesh so that He might dwell among us.

Jesus came to be with us, to accompany us through life and to die for us so that He could stay with us even in death. He frees us from sin and brings healing through His life and above all His sacrificial death on the Cross. His resurrection is our hope. In Jesus we "find" God in our lives, and "remember" Him again and again.

Saint Bonaventure therefore exhorts us all to follow Jesus Christ, to follow in a spirit of poverty and humility the poor and humble Christ.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Christina Grimmie: A Companionship that Never Ends

Remembering Christina Grimmie this month, with words from her most recent posthumously released song, "Hold Your Head Up." It's an upbeat song with a special kind of positive message, one that strikes me as founded on the hope for a companionship that never ends.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 11: Saint Benedict's Universal Feast Day

Happy Feast of Saint Benedict to all Benedictines, oblates, and the whole Benedictine spiritual family throughout the world!

Today commemorates the translation of St. Benedict's tomb and relics to the Abbey of Fleury in France in the year 660 (to protect them from Lombard invasions of Italy). The Abbey of Fleury was an important pilgrimage site for over a thousand years. Its monastic community was dispersed by the French Revolution but the monastery remained in existence throughout the 19th c. period of French anticlericalism. The community of monks was restored in the 20th century. The current Roman calendar marks this day as Benedict's feast to insure that it can be celebrated by the whole Church. The date of his death (March 21) always falls during Lent; nevertheless it remains a Solemnity on the Benedictine calendar and is a III class feast on the 1962 calendar followed by the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. Don't be confused. Just have a blessed and happy day!

We are well instructed by these words preached 11 years ago on this day by then-Pope Benedict XVI. On this feast, we pray for an abundance of grace to vivify his current "monastic" life of contemplation and hidden service of love: 

"St. Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs... In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ, whose love he must put before all else, and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace" (Pope Benedict XVI, feast of St. Benedict, 2008).

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Sun Sky"

Here is "Sun Sky," - abstract piece in digital medium. By JJ.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Long Live the Queens! (U.S. Women Rule the World Cup)

They did it!

Dang, this team is a great team.

When it comes to the world stage, the United States Women's National Team is, arguably, the "team of the decade," not only in the beautiful game of soccer, not only out of all U.S.A. teams, but just THE Team of the Decade. Period.

It's just my opinion. It's a little bit of what fans do, in sports, when they humorously put on a just-for-fun show of "smack talk." (So take it easy, Italian friends; this is all in the spirit of nice American fun. Capito?😉)

And, yes, I'm biased. Of course!

Note also that I said "the world stage" - which means international play, so don't be talkin' 'bout your New England Patriots here. (😉)

I'm also referring to exclusively team sports, not sports that have "team" and "individual" events (e.g. track, swimming, gymnastics - where we have seen some awesome individual and team performances).

Have I made sufficient qualifications? Probably not. Or perhaps too much? It's the occupational hazard of the philosopher: we can't say anything without a mountain of qualifications.

So I'll say it simply: FC United States Women's National Team is the Team of the Decade. They are the great team of international competition in the 2010-2019 era.

What makes a team "great"? Well, winning is certainly a big part of it. Skill is a big part of it. But, let me speak personally - as a fan, who was a hapless player of every team sport in my youth but who nevertheless kept trying, who had better luck with golf and distance running but didn't stick with those sports, whose best sport through the years has been fishing, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s (the significance of this should be obvious ... #SteelCurtain #Franco #MeanJoeGreene #FourSuperBowls #LetsGoBucs #Clemente #Stargell #WeAreFamily), who is now a happy fan of the sporting efforts and accomplishments of my children from basketball to volleyball to karate and - I'm happy to say - girls' soccer.

What makes a team "great"? Intangibles (all the little clutch plays that no one even notices). Dedication. Hard work. Cohesion.

And also, personalities (some inspiring, others peculiar or "colorful" - a great team is not the same thing as a choir of angels and saints). Their personalities are "on the table," but they know how to pull together. Between games and seasons, there can be friction even to the point of drama, as long as they are able to rise above it on the playing field (or "the pitch," as it's known in soccer).

Then there's a kind of indescribable magic that sparkles when they play together and that catches fire sometimes, unpredictably, often enough in the big moments of games, so that you're always on the edge of your seats. You know that anything can happen. Over the course of a decade, you find that you have collected a whole bunch of memories of epic, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments when beautiful, wonderful things happened.

A great team is exciting. They win big, but even when they lose, they pour their hearts out so that you can't help loving them even more. You also know that they'll be back.

Team of the Decade. Players come and go over the course of ten years, though there are usually a few who remain to carry the banner of continuity. Individual players have their various problems, opinions, situations, attitudes, whatever. But this is strictly about the game. It's about how they run and and pass and kick, how they play together, how they make things happen on the pitch.

The Janaro family enjoys watching sports, and we have had a lot of fun being fans. Not everybody likes every sport, but we do appreciate "the big stages," especially the Olympics and the World Cup.

In recent years, the women's soccer team has been consistently amazing and inspiring, from the dazzling comebacks and heartbreaking loss in the final of World Cup 2011 to Olympic gold in 2012 and then to back-to-back World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019. This year's team was a juggernaut. They were on the level of the 1927 New York Yankees, and they made sure their opponents knew it. I didn't think they were being cocky. They were confident and they enjoyed playing the game. They took their opponents seriously, so that even if they didn't play their best game, they found what it took to win.

Of course, the Washington Capitals' championship run in 2018 was our all-time sports high point as a family (even though not everyone likes hockey). Mom, John Paul, and Teresa even went to the victory celebration on the Mall. But over the course of the decade, the Caps (and the Nationals in baseball) have given us plenty of disappointments too.

The Women's soccer team has rocked the whole decade. We want to shout out a huge "thank you!" to all the champions past and present, to Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Christine Rampone, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo (hush! - she was an incredible, insanely good goalkeeper!), Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Kelley O'Hara, and to so many others (this is just a select list) including 24 year old Rose Lavelle who danced with the ball and then pounded it home with a brilliant left footer in the 69th minute of this year's final match.

We can look forward to seeing her, along with many other talented young players, in the future.

Congratulations to our United States Women's National Team. We don't have royalty in the U.S. government, but we (we the people!😉) are certainly free to bestow noble titles on those who have reminded us of the nobility and beauty of our humanity, of the richness of life even when we play.

With this in mind, only one thing remains to be said. This team rules; they have earned the honor of being called "Queens of Soccer."

Long live the Queens!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Friday, July 5, 2019

United to Jesus

In difficult times, 
even more than in times of peace, 
the priority for believers 
is to be united 
to Jesus, our hope.

~Pope Francis

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Birthday USA

Happy Independence Day 2019 🎉📯🍻 (#DigitalArt with original photo from Yosemite National Park by me, taken seven years ago - the last time I was there). #IndependenceDay #July4th #Grateful

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Facebook Causes Us to "Lose Face"!

Today, July 3, 2019, will be forever remembered as The Day Facebook Failed. I'm just kidding... the younger generation would say it "failed" sometime around the year 2013! They all use Instagram. But here's the thing: Instagram also failed today.

Millions of people spent hours deprived of the endless roll of digital images and videos. Oh the humanity...!

It looked like THIS:

Shocking! Just shocking! Where are my pictures? Where are any of the pictures?

We were still able to post words, however, on Facebook. Instagram was toast, but I don't think that was much of a problem for my kids or anyone else from the Smart(Phone)-Generation. They can survive, as long as they still have texting... rotfl ppl srsly.😜📱

Twitter was fine. Now that it has become a platform for international diplomacy, that's just as well... I think... (?)

They (whoever "they" are) fixed the glitch not long ago, but during the downtime I posted on Facebook about my perplexity (along with about a billion other people).

What happened to all the "faces" on the "facebook"? 😉 Okay, this could be funny, ... if it doesn't last too long. 😐

After a couple of hours, it was getting serious:

This is a real crisis ... I mean, I might actually have to DO SOME WORK today! 😮 😉  #FacebookFail #InstagramFail

But all is well in the end. The world's favorite distraction and perpetual cocktail party (byob) is rolling once again. Everybody calm down and just LOL.😄

Needless to say:"Hashtag-Just-Trying-To-Be-Humorous-About-The-Whole-Thing" #ImJoking #ItWasTheRussians #ImStillJoking

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Trust God in the Midst of Every Storm

In the Gospel reading for July 2, we hear the story of the storm that arose on the sea while Jesus was sleeping below the deck of the boat. His disciples "came and woke him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!' He said to them, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?' Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, 'What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?'" (Matthew 8:25-27).

One of the key themes of this text is that the Lord is trustworthy. If we could penetrate the fullness of the mystery of our lives, we would see that everything really is "grace," that God is indeed good, all the time.

Everything in our lives unfolds according to our Father's loving plan for each one of us. If God allows something bad to happen to us, He permits it because He wants to bring a greater good out of it; He wants to lead us through these struggles to a deeper and more mature life.

In affirming this, we don't want to trivialize the tremendous pain and apparently inexplicable sufferings that we face in different times and ways in our lives. Rather, we need to recognize that the purpose of our lives is hidden in the mystery of God's goodness.

And He is good. He loves us. When He permits us to suffer, He also gives us the strength to endure and grow through it. God doesn't always give us things that feel good, but He always gives us what we really need. That includes the grace that enables us to ask Him for help, to recognize that we need Him and are totally dependent on Him.

We don't ultimately know ourselves, or the mystery of the whole person God wills each of us to become. And when bad things happen, God doesn't usually show us (at least, not at the time) the purpose of these events in our journey to our destiny. We have to trust Him.

Trust is a decision; it is a position of the heart in the midst of the storm. It does not depend on how we feel, and it may not make us feel any better. It usually doesn't make the bad circumstance disappear. But trust makes our hearts grow. We must trust God and never give up, even if we feel like we can only do it through gritted teeth.

Years later, we can sometimes catch a reflection from the light of this mysterious growth. As we get older and look back on life, we can say, "I'm so grateful for that whole experience. I wouldn't be the person I am today if all of that had not happened."

Such memories encourage us to continue to trust. But even when we feel that our whole life has been nothing but a series of storms, we must hold onto Him. He will not leave us. He has come to stay with us.

He stays with us. Even when life is a deluge, even when we're soaked so much we can't remember what it's like to be dry and on solid ground, even when we're submerged beneath the churning waves, when we don't know up from down, right from left, when everything is underwater - even then, He is still holding on to us!

Trust in Jesus, and never give up.

Lord Jesus, give me the grace to trust in You. Make this trust the foundation and the shape of my heart, the position of my heart in the midst of every storm.