Friday, July 30, 2021

We Need Community, Now and Always

As the end of July 2021 approaches, we all still find ourselves engaged in complicated situations that no one anticipated when this decade began a year and a half ago. The COVID-19 Pandemic is still a concern, with the work of vaccinations continuing and questions arising regarding the dangers posed by new variants of the virus. At the present moment, ordinary daily interactions among people (in my country, at least) have opened up, and we all hope that the frightening experience of "lockdown" is behind us. The worst months of last year were a reminder to us of how difficult it is to live under isolating conditions (even as many people developed creative ways of sustaining some level of "interpersonal connection" via livestream media). Perhaps we have learned not to take one another so much for granted. While it remains to be seen how much we will remember from the hard lessons of these times, the fact remains that relationships and community are fundamental to being human — to living fully as human persons. Moreover, community and its organic expressions are fundamental to the vitality of society.

We need community. We need persons and families connected to one another by the common experience of life, the common struggle for life's needs and celebration of its joys. In community, human persons journey together through this world toward our transcendent destiny, helping one another to be faithful to the ultimate meaning and purpose of our lives and of all things. It should also be obvious that without community, we cannot hope to find adequate solutions to any of the practical social troubles we face today.

But how do we even begin to "build up" networks of trustworthy interpersonal relationships? Community, by its very nature, cannot be imposed by an ideological scheme. Rather, we build a vital community life from the ground up, person-to-person, and we can begin now concretely by living in solidarity with those who have been entrusted to us.

At the same time, we must remain open to growing by encountering new people with realism, generosity, and hospitality (being ready to reach out especially to those in need). We must never forget that the person we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a unique "someone," called and blessed and loved by God with an awesome and immense love.

Therefore, we must try to help one another as best we can and with the resources we have. We must love one another in the recognition that we are all sinners, we are all broken — and then listen to one another, help one another to recognize the truth about reality, and especially be ready to "suffer-with" one another. Since we are all selfish and make mistakes, we must above all forgive one another and bear with one another just as God forgives us and approaches us with such tenderness and patience.

Relying on His mercy, we must take up each day with the desire to grow in a sense of communal living — to grow in love — out of a humble awareness of our fragility and our inadequate ways of expressing mutual friendship. Let us desire to draw closer to, and to understand with greater compassion, the persons He has given to us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Translucent Wings

Back to NATURE?!😉 I can't resist this closeup of a bee working amongst the flowers. Look at those translucent wings!

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

We Want Our Lives "to Matter." Do They, Really?

These days of "sorrow and joy" seem to overcome my ability to say anything meaningful about them. Within the past month, my mother has died and my granddaughter has been born. Her baptism last weekend had a sense of "closing the circle" of generational transition.

I have had very little to say lately in this blog (though I have some good pictures). Perhaps it's just as well. There are too many words out there, "too much information," and it begins to sound like noise. I cannot analyze all that I feel right now, nor can I distract myself from the real experiences of these weeks. The "noise" in me and around me remains, but it's not loud enough to drown out the knowledge that has impressed itself upon me of the weakness and fragility of life, and at the same time its wonder, its beauty and goodness, and the responsibility it entails: its summons to our freedom.

Nothing really important in life "goes smoothly." It's always different from what we expected. It's messier, less coherent, more disproportionate to the energies of our small hearts. Its challenge to our generosity may indeed help us to grow in the courage of self-giving love, but it will also lay bare our selfishness, narrowness, indolence, resistence to change, and our meager resources of personal character that are so quickly exhausted in the face of the need to persevere, day after day, all the way to the end.

Earthly life might seem to be an anxious, ultimately insignificant ordeal: with all its grueling work, complicated relationships, changes, twists and turns, limitations, its birth and helplessness, growth and ambitions, vanities and empty attainments, shortness and rapid passage, and its sudden decline that ends in the silence and immobility of death.

Yet we continue to hope for ultimate meaning and happiness. Even with all our poverty, constraints, unworthiness, and exhaustion, we still seek a fullness of life. We ask for it. We beg for it. It's as if we have always heard a whisper in the depths of our hearts, a promise that the fulfillment of life is a gift (just as life itself is a gift); a promise that our earthly life is a journey, full of signs destined to be fulfilled, and that this journey is a mysterious preparation to receive this fulfillment.

And so we are called to live as people who are being led by the Mystery that has set the great hope of our hearts in motion and that continues to call us. In the face of disappointments and failure, we get up again and keep going, or even just cry out to be carried through overwhelming obstacles. Even when we stray from the path or betray it in malice, still the promise beckons us to return and be forgiven.

It is possible to freeze ourselves in a state of resentment or rebellion, but we can only have dissatisfaction and disappointment because our hearts began with expectation. We can only "give up" because first we were seeking something.

Why do we embark on the journey of life each day, hoping for something good, something better, something more? Who "told us" to expect anything out of life? Yet this expectation and seeking and longing are the deepest realities of our heart. We want meaning and fulfillment - we want our lives to matter - and even when we are lost, when the way seems impossible, there is a promise that speaks softly within the very foundation of our heart: "Don't give up. There is a way and you are being led along it. You are not alone or forgotten. If you are 'lost,' let yourself be found."

Monday, July 26, 2021

Joachim and Anne: "Grandparents of God"

The story of Saints Joachim and Anne is not recorded in Scripture but has an ancient and venerable history from the earliest days of Christianity. It is related in a format similar to the Old Testament accounts of miraculous conceptions and births: Anne is "barren" (this devout married couple were unable to have children), but both husband and wife prayed for a child, and God made fruitful their conjugal union and blessed them with a child who would play a crucial role in the history of salvation.

But as we know from our faith, there is so much more to this event than any comparable stories about the births of patriarchs and prophets. The child conceived in Saint Anne's womb is destined to be the mother of the Savior, the all-holy and immaculate Mother of God. Thus, these persons - Mary's parents - are precious, and their story is held in great esteem (even though its primary source that we know of is an Apocryphal Gospel). It was in the context of their conjugal self-giving love that God began His definitive "entrance" into history, not only by making the couple fruitful, but also by preserving their child Mary from original sin from the first moment of her conception. 

Mary's conception was "the beginning" of something radically new. Perhaps we might say it was in some sense the "beginning" of the New Creation. Mary was the Woman who was prepared entirely to receive - with complete and personal freedom - the incarnate Word, and accompany Him throughout His life, His ministry, His crucifixion and resurrection (the redeeming effects of which applied to her "in advance" - according to the way time unfolds for creatures in this present age), His Ascension, the Gift of the Spirit and the birth of the Church at Pentecost, and her own "Dormition"/Assumption into the fullness of her Son's bodily resurrected life. It is not surprising, therefore, that from the beginning of Christian history attention was given to human historical moment in which God created the All-Holy Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God. 

Mary's parents were clearly prepared by extraordinary graces to become - really, truly - her father and mother. Theirs were the first human faces that looked upon and loved the woman chosen to be the Theotokos. How awesome it must have been to be entrusted with so singular a gift (even if they were not yet aware of her unique vocation). Was there perhaps an inkling in their hearts, even when they held their little Mary as a baby? Such a special joy would be appropriate for Joachim and Anne, just as some echo of this joy is experienced in the sense of wonder that fills the hearts of every mother and father when they gaze upon the new human person that has been entrusted to their love and care.

 There is no tradition (that I'm aware of) of referring to these saints as the "Grandfather and Grandmother of God," nor what theological relevance that would have for us. But the Person who was their grandson was God, the only-begotten Son of the Father. I'm not certain they lived to see his birth. Scripture is entirely silent on any of these details. No matter what, however, their lives were greatly blessed, and the purity of their hearts was abundantly rewarded.

Saint John Damascene (8th century) has some helpful reflections for today's feast day in honor of Saints Joachim and Anne, from a sermon which is presented in part in today's Liturgy of the Hours, in the "Office of Readings":

"Anne was to be the mother of the Virgin Mother of God, and hence nature did not dare to anticipate the flowering of grace. Thus nature remained sterile, until grace produced its fruit. For she who was to be born had to be a first born daughter, since she would be the mother of the first-born of all creation, in whom all things are held together.

"Joachim and Anne, how blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts: a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him. 

"And so rejoice, Anne, that you were sterile and have not borne children; break forth into shouts, you who have not given birth. Rejoice, Joachim, because from your daughter a child is born for us, a son is given us, whose name is Messenger of great counsel and universal salvation, mighty God. For this child is God.

"Joachim and Anne, how blessed and spotless a couple! You will be known by the fruit you have borne, as the Lord says: By their fruits you will know them. The conduct of your life pleased God and was worthy of your daughter. For by the chaste and holy life you led together, you have fashioned a jewel of virginity: she who remained a virgin before, during and after giving birth. She alone for all time would maintain her virginity in mind and soul as well as in body.

"Joachim and Anne, how chaste a couple! While safeguarding the chastity prescribed by the law of nature, you achieved with God’s help something which transcends nature in giving the world the Virgin Mother of God as your daughter. While leading a devout and holy life in your human nature, you gave birth to a daughter nobler than the angels, whose queen she now is. 

"Girl of utter beauty and delight, daughter of Adam and mother of God, blessed the loins and blessed the womb from which you come! Blessed the arms that carried you, and blessed your parents’ lips, which you were allowed to cover with chaste kisses, ever maintaining your virginity. Rejoice in God, all the earth. Sing, exult and sing hymns. Raise your voice, raise it and do not be afraid."

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Baptism of Maria Therese

Maria Therese Janaro, baptized into Christ’s body.  July 24, 2021.

It is very beautiful how Jesus "touches" our lives through the sacraments from beginning to end. A few weeks ago we were at my mother's bedside while the priest anointed her and we prayed in the hope of the resurrection. Now my mother has gone to be with the Lord, and her great-granddaughter has received new life through baptism. Jesus is always with us, every step of the way - and one day we will see that clearly, and we will understand, and he will wipe away all our tears.

For our family, these days have been full of the mysterious closeness and tenderness of God's Fatherly love. As for me, I am not afraid, even if I have tears sometimes. These moments of life I am going through now fill me with awe.

Friday, July 23, 2021

The "Feast" of Saint Mary Magdalene

On July 22 we observed the recently "upgraded" celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene (from a memorial to a proper Feast Day, with the Gloria and proper readings and preface).

In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, the text expresses that the Lord Jesus "appeared in the garden and revealed himself to Mary Magdalene, who had loved him in life, witnessed him dying on the Cross, sought him as he lay in the tomb, and was the first to adore him, newly risen from the dead. He honored her with the office of being an apostle to the Apostles, so that the good news of new life might reach the ends of the earth."

The digital graphics below present the Collect for the Feast Day, and one of the antiphons from the Liturgy of the Hours which represents the "voice" of Mary Magdalene arriving at the tomb on that first Easter morning:

Monday, July 19, 2021

Trust in the Hidden Wisdom of God

Life is full of suffering, in more ways than we know. So many people are hurt, afraid, angry, offended, insecure, confused, grief-stricken, and full of questions that will never be answered in this world. 

Saint Edith Stein encourages us to trust in the hidden wisdom of God.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The New "Papa" and His Granddaughter

Here's "Papa" snuggling his little baby granddaughter Maria a week after her birth. She is even cuter than I expected her to be. She's certainly keeping her parents busy.

She has a sweet little voice, I think, but of course whenever she cries, her parents spring into concerned action. Ah, the first baby is such a wild crazy roller coaster ride. Mommy and Daddy are doing great ... exhausted, of course, but they have the rapidly renewed energy of their own youth, as well as plenty of helping hands nearby. 

At this point, however, grandfathers don't serve much "practical" purpose. Mostly, they just marvel at these new lives that are beginning their journey in this world. Grandfathers are full of tenderness and amazement.

What a mysterious and awesome thing it is to be human! What a gift it is to belong to the human family, to be entrusted to one another across the generations. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Carmel: The Protection and Shelter of Mary's Mantle

Today's feast is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as the special patroness of the Carmelite Order in all its various branches, as well as countless others associated with her through the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular. These latter people (myself included) wear a chord necklace with front-and-back brown cloth pieces that represent the brown mantle worn as part of the Carmelite's monastic garments since the Middle Ages.

Today's meditation in Magnificat was a selection from the letters of the 20th century Spanish Carmelite Saint Maria Maravillas of Jesus. Like all the great Carmelites, Mother Maria's expressiveness of intimacy and confidence in Jesus and His Mother is matched by her remarkable life of courage in the midst of great adversity (including the persecution of the Spanish Civil War), her apostolic ardor, and her heroic endurance of much suffering during her final illness of over a decade. She died in 1974 and was canonized in 2003.

If Saint Maria Maravillas learned, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to look at reality in this way every day, then there is hope that you and I might also grow in trust, simplicity, and perseverence: "I am no longer bothered at seeing myself as I am…[though] for my God I would love to be, and would love to have been, other than what I am. I see, however, that I don't achieve anything despite the length of my life. I decided long ago to entrust it all to Him and ask Him to prepare me - since I don't know how - for our encounter. 

"I have taken our Blessed Mother as my Mother in a very special way, and she is the one who is also responsible for preparing, protecting, and sheltering me. This sweet Mother is so good! Sweet Mother of Carmel, If I die loving you, how quickly I will reach heaven! How sweet death will be!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Buried in the Hope of the Resurrection

Today we brought our mother's body to its place of rest.

She was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, next to the body of our father (and her husband for 59 years). We entrust them to the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live..." (John 11:25).

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Welcome, Little Girl!

And here SHE IS! ☺️❤ Maria Therese Janaro, born on Friday evening, came home today. Maria, we are so happy to meet you.❗⭐

Congratulations to Emily and John Paul Janaro.🙂 

Thanks be to God, and Hooray for #GranddaughterNumberOne

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Parents and Children

The days are full of memories, as well as present events and promises for the future. Dad and Mom (“Papa and Grandma”) spent nearly all of their adult lives together, and now we prepare to entrust them both to the glory of God’s everlasting love.

Here are a few pictures from over the years. Dear beloved parents: we will always be grateful to you for who we are, who our son and daughters (a.k.a. Walter’s “nephew and nieces”) are becoming, and all they will give in turn to their children.

So much is happening, almost simultaneously, it seems. We move "from generation to generation" and it changes us. A new generation is beginning, which makes me want to honor all the more these precious people - my late parents and all our elders - without whom none of us would be here. They have educated us as persons, guided our freedom, contributed to the history of goodness in this world, and empowered us to be creative and - in turn - open new possibilities for those who are entrusted to us. 

Rest In Peace, Dad (+2019) and Mom (+2021). God bless our elders, those who have passed on and those who remain in this world. They deserve to be cherished, honored, and loved!

Thank you. We love you!❤❤

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Mom Goes Home to God

Our beloved mother, Joan Janaro, passed away peacefully on Saturday evening after a brief illness. She was 82 years old. My brother Walter and I were with her on Saturday, along with Eileen and two of the grandchildren. Father Donald Planty joined us, administered the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and led us in the prayers for the dying. Now, we pray that the Lord will grant her eternal rest in His infinite mercy and love, and reward her for her long and faithful life of service to Him.✝️

I will write about Mom at greater length when I am able to do so. She was an extraordinary human being. I don't think I can ever adequately express in words my own love for her and gratitude to her, but I will do my best to say something soon.

We will all miss her very much.

"Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself" (Philippians 3:20-21).

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Saint Junipero Serra: "A Church Which Goes Forth"

July 1 commemorates Saint Junipero Serra, who founded Misión San Diego on this date in 1769. Pope Francis offered these reflections on Serra's passion for bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to many indigenous peoples of Mexico and California:

"Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

"Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

"The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

"So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).

"We are here today, we can be here today, because many people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that 'life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort' (Aparecida Document, 360). We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be 'shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security… within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving' (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both 'good' and 'news'.

"Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of 'a Church which goes forth', a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.

"Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all a reality which shaped the way he lived: siempre adelante! 'Keep moving forward!' For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!"