Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Finding Memories of My Parents in the Blog


Dad and Mom were my two most faithful readers. I often thought of them when I wrote or posted pictures over the years. Even though I did not "succeed" in many of the ways I had aspired to in my life, they always encouraged me and appreciated whatever I managed to accomplish. It was a wonderful thing to have such affirmation from one's parents. It turned out to be something I really needed, in the circumstances I faced - but ultimately it was a gift for which I can only be grateful.

So they read the blog faithfully... but it wasn't just for my sake.πŸ˜‰

If you go back ten years in this blog, you'll find a lot more funny stories about "the kids." You'll also find plenty of "JJ-pondering-things" too. Themes and ideas in this latter regard were not much different than they are now. But the life of the Janaro family was totally different in 2011. 

The house was full of kids who really were kids (John Paul was getting ready to begin his Freshman year of High School), and my parents also came to visit us sometimes (as well as our making weekend visits to "Papa-and-Grandma's" place in Arlington). They were "only" in their 70s back then, and they were still pretty "vigorous" (well, my mother was never very vigorous physically but her mind was prodigiously active, and my Dad had just retired from his full time job two years earlier - he worked from age 18 to 74, but he seemed to be doing well with his new schedule - serving on the Condo board, helping my mother, and doing plenty of reading).

We say that "the years go by so quickly," and yet when we stop to think about all the life we have lived, it becomes clear that 2011 was a long time ago.

What a decade it has been! I never would have imagined the details of the way things would happen and how they would affect our lives. Yet we have passed through (in a inimitably particular and personal manner) a perennial "season of life" such as humans have experienced for countless generations prior to ours, and will continue to experience in future generations.

Clearly, I was aware a decade ago of the "basic form" of what awaited us "in the future." Recently, while updating my downloaded backup of this blog (in PDF form), I came across this article from April 2011, on the occasion of Dad's 76th birthday. (Back then, my posts often did not include pictures, which is hard for me to believe given my interest and involvement with photography and graphics and digital art now.)

It seems appropriate to conclude these eventful Summer months by reproducing below the article from April 8, 2011, in which I talk about my parents and wonder about the times to come:

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Lucia Turns 21 Years Old

August 28 was Lucia Janaro's 21st birthday, but we spread the celebration out all weekend. A happy time for the whole family!πŸŽ‰πŸΎπŸŽ‚πŸΌ We love you, Lucia!❤️πŸŒŸπŸ™‚

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Profoundly Personal Conversion of Saint Augustine

August 28 is the day on which we celebrate the feast of Saint Augustine, the fourth century bishop and greatest of the Latin Church Fathers. The story of Augustine’s conversion as a young man is one of the most famous in the history of Christianity, and indeed in the history of Western humanities and literature, thanks to the penetrating account of it that he gives in his epoch marking autobiographical work, the Confessions.

Augustine was born in Roman North Africa in 354, during a period of transition and religious instability that saw the rise of the recently legalized Christianity even as it struggled with the great heresy of the Arians, various gnostic groups and oriental mystery religions, and the prevailing decadence of the pagan social milieu.

As a young man, Augustine went to study at the cultural center of Carthage, where he was introduced to the "sophisticated" lifestyle of wealthy urban pagans in late antiquity - with all its self-indulgence, superstitions, and fanciful cosmological and religious speculations. He took a concubine and embraced the Manichean sect, while also sharpening his mental and rhetorical skills. Eventually he traveled to Rome and Milan, abandoned the intellectually weak Manichean system, and dedicated himself to a genuine pursuit of truth through philosophy. Soon he found himself grappling with the claims of Christianity as his aesthetic and intellectual objections to it were overcome. What remained was the need for a conversion of heart, which came finally in the famous reading of Romans 13 in the garden in Milan (Confessions VIII.12).

The story of Augustine could be understood as an intellectual and moral journey, and these are certainly crucial elements. But its important, also, to emphasize the personal communication that pervades his whole experience of conversion. The Confessions make this clear by their genre; they are written as a prayer to God, and this is clearly more than a literary device. Augustine makes it clear that God’s grace and mercy, given through the Church, is the profound source and focus of his conversion. He learns that philosophy is not enough; that truth and salvation are constituted by a personal relationship with Christ, the Truth in person.

We see this too in the crucial role that the companionship of particular Christians plays in Augustine’s life. They bring the Church close to him in a way that opens him up and enables him to overcome his objections of mind and heart. The key person, of course, is his mother Saint Monica. Her maternal love and her constant, ardent prayers for his conversion were a continual witness to him through all his wanderings. And she joyfully received the news moments after grace finally won over her son’s heart.

Also of great importance is Saint Ambrose, who received him with fatherly kindness when he first came to Milan, and by cultivating his friendship and trust, drew him to attend his sermons. Augustine’s admiration for the beauty of their style soon grew into an attraction to the radiance of the truth they imparted. He would eventually be baptized by Saint Ambrose on Easter 387. “To him was I unknowingly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to You“ (Confessions V.13).

The world honors Saint Augustine as a founder of Christian philosophy and the great prose writer of late antiquity. But Christians know that he was above all a Christian person, transformed by the love of God that reached him through human instruments: the prayers of Saint Monica, the guidance and friendship of Saint Ambrose. They helped him to discover that Truth has a human face.

Friday, August 27, 2021

August is Full of Heat, Greenery, and Thunderstorms

As I have recently noted, these days in August are just too hot-and-humid for me to spend much time outside. Every plant and tree is full of lavish growth, but if one looks around a bit, one can find some new beginnings or other idiosyncrasies of certain odd plants that have their own growing cycles.

Here are recent outside photos, some of which have artistic thematic development or graphic tools augmentation. Thunderstorms have been loud and frequent, but they have brought welcome cool air late in the afternoon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"How is JJ Doing These Days"?

If you ever read this blog, you might be wondering, "How is JJ doing these days?"

When it comes to my physical and mental health and my overall emotional state, I guess all I can say about myself in these times of so many personal and familial changes is: "I don't know."

"How am I 'doing' after this Summer, and indeed after a year and a half sharing with everyone else the common stresses and strangeness of the COVID pandemic?" Well, generally speaking, I'm no worse off than anyone else in the "First World." I have had my fair share of human uncertainties and worries about my own and my family's health and security in these months. We who live in the world's "rich countries" are being confronted - in a particularly persistent fashion - with the fact that no amount of wealth and power (nor even the now-abundant access to apparently effective preventive resources and treatments for this new disease) can solve the overarching "problem" of our own radical fragility, our susceptibility to suffering in ways beyond our control, and all the inevitable emotions entailed by this vulnerability that we have become accustomed to forgetting about while living lives of wildly unprecedented material prosperity.

I say "WE" here, not as a rhetorical contrivance, but because I too need to be shaken out of my own illusions of the "collective self-sufficiency" and omni-competence of the technologically advanced society I live in. I am grateful, of course, for the progress we are making in the fight against COVID, and I hope we will share our resources with the poorer places in the world, out of a sense of human solidarity, fraternal love, justice and equity, and respect for human dignity. This will draw us closer together as brothers and sisters who love and care for one another, who treat one another with mercy and compassion.

Nevertheless, even in the best case scenario, no medical advances will ever "overcome" the fundamental human drama (the mystery) of living within time, within limits, living with suffering, incapacity, loss, and death.

This may all seem like a tangent diverting far from your question ("How are you, JJ?"), but it's actually all tied together because this is how my brain works. I'm always thinking (over-thinking) about everything, finding the connections between my problems and the problems of the world, searching for the bigger context, trying to understand, and worrying because I can't figure out how to fix everything. (Well, I worry less than I used to....)

Nothing new about me living with my "beautiful mind" (and you can read more about that in my 2010 book - which can be ordered by clicking HERE - or in numerous previous posts about mental illness and mental health ranging over the past ten years of this blog - click HERE to see some of those).

My emotions are still all over the place. We are making the slow inventory of my parents' possessions. So many things - large and small - they had since the earliest days I can remember, from furniture (which they used all my life and in three different residences) to boxes and business cards and jewelry and all sorts of little accessories. The smallest object, such as a pin, can suddenly stir up a vivid - almost tangible - memory from over forty years ago. There are so many memories that I don't even know I still have, and even when they are "bittersweet" it seems that eventually the weight tips more to the "sweet" side, from which we receive an unexpected sustenance. This must be why people give useless gifts to one another, why things are cherished as souvenirs, "keepsakes," and - eventually - heirlooms.

What kind of people are we becoming, who consume or use-and-discard such huge quantities of material things without a thought? It's more than "wasteful." We lack memory. We are constantly distracted and afraid of commitment. But it's a hard world to live in, where our constantly increasing power pushes and pulls us relentlessly like a raging river flooding its banks, carrying us ever faster without our having any idea where we want to be or hope to go. Life is more disorienting and traumatic in many ways today. But it's still worth living in a human way, building fruitful, committed relationships with one another, and living with a sense of purpose that is worthy of our humanity even as we face new challenges, so as to pass on to the new generations a richness of awareness that will prepare them to meet the unprecedented challenges of the future.

That reminds me: Maria is sleeping in the same crib her father and his sisters slept in as babies. There are probably fancier cribs available today but this one is pretty good. It's safe, sturdy, useful enough... It certainly has gotten a lot of use, and it has a lot of memories attached to it. Now, with Maria, those memories stretch forth new branches, new hopes.

So, how am I? Do you think I'm trying to evade the question? I'm not; I'm just rambling about it a bit, because it's a question that intersects with many things. 

I am full of gratitude and hope (really), which coexist with lots of feelings of different kinds, some of which are part of a long-standing psycho-pathology that I will never entirely eradicate, and that I will always have to attend to "day-by-day" (again, see those links above to read more about these particular problems).

I also get anxious and depressed in more conventional ways about the things that trouble us all, and I wring my hands about "this-crazy-world-we-live-in" (and which Maria and [God willing] our other future grandchildren will have to grow up in and live in long after our time is complete😳).

It has been hard seeing my parents die in the last two years. I was very close to both of them, and they were with us for a long time. I'm so grateful we had them nearby, and that our kids grew up knowing them. My heart goes out to so many people who have lost their parents in tragic circumstances, or while they were still young.πŸ’” I cannot imagine how hard that must be. I feel a little silly referring to my own grief, which in any case is not complicated by any special trauma or catastrophe. 

Really, I don't understand grief. It's a strange experience, which I "notice" in different forms but can't really analyse in a coherent way. I miss Dad and Mom, but I also don't feel "too far removed" from them. In this regard, faith in Jesus and our continued common belonging to the communion of His Church are a true source of consolation and sustenance.

Meanwhile, Maria has burst into our lives and brought us lots of joy. I hope to write more about being a grandfather in future posts. (There will at least be pictures.)

I have aches and pains, but I manage. I get tired very easily, still. I miss my usual walks. July and August are just too humid for me to get around much outside. But I have plenty of books at home, and tools for creative expression. Regarding the latter: even if my rather undisciplined artistic explorations amount to nothing worthwhile, I feel the need to work in this aesthetic manner, like I used to feel it when I was a child. Though I find it to be absorbing and fascinating activity, I don't worry about it too much.

September is coming soon, with cooler weather. As I grow older, I find that I am more inspired and more at peace with the splendors of Autumn. They are awesome yet gentle, and in my part of the world they linger graciously and have time enough to tell us their own special secrets.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Recognizing God in the Humanity of Jesus

God is not found in dreams of grandeur and power, but in the humanity of Jesus, and in our brothers and sisters, especially those in need.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Everybody Wants Love. But What IS "Love"?


It's an amazing thing, this impetus and need we call "love" that boils so deep inside everyone of us and that provokes us so inescapably.

We want love, we long for love, we fight over love, we resent the lack of love, we try to render ourselves immune to the pain and the risk of love...

Love: it is engraved on the heart; it constitutes our identity, and yet we don't even know what it is.

We are fooled by so many cheap deceptions that pose as love. We are ready to run to anything that promises "love," only to be disappointed again and again. Too often we abuse one another and provoke violence and atrocities, all the while claiming that we are doing these things "for love." Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong in our perception of what "love" is all about.

Often we use the word "love" as a synonym for a phrase that indicates something-I-really-WANT or something-that-makes-me-feel-really-good. This is only part of the whole dynamic of love. The real goal of our "wanting" is far greater than the limits of objects we use or feelings we perceive (which are not enough to satisfy us and ultimately point beyond themselves). In our lives we experience a fundamental intuitive sense that we are "called to love" - that the meaning of our existence is realized in an ecstasy of self-giving and receiving, of reciprocal interpersonal belonging - which, moreover, is founded on something Greater, on an original and sustaining gratuitous Gift.

We want to love, because in the depths of our being we recognize the basic fact that we are already loved. We are radically given to ourselves and to one another by an original Someone who "holds us all" in a transcendent mysterious love: all-encompassing yet intimately personal to each of us; invisible, ungraspable, yet real - the Source of our own reality - and entirely worthy of our trust.

Therefore, we are made for love. But we fail to trust in the Mystery who makes us, we lose perspective on reality, and our efforts to love degenerate into grasping at the world and reducing persons and things to our own measure. Without radical trust in the One who loves us, we try to make ourselves into the "guarantee" of the value of our own existence by dominating others (and we fear the power of others to crush us and deprive us of our value and personal dignity). Our "love" does not know how to receive and give, and so it becomes a project to take and manipulate, to crave and covet what we think we want and to hoard and devour what we think we "possess." We're all messed up regarding what it means to love and how to realize this basic facet of our humanity. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in all the dangers and crises and dysfunctional relationships and social problems of the world we live in. 

Nevertheless, it remains possible to love and be loved in this life. It is necessary to our humanity. And by living in authentic relationships with commitment and fidelity to other people - wherein we receive and give love, sacrifice ourselves for one another, collaborate in common endeavors, and look at one another with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy - we can experience and grow in the reality of true love.

Even still, it remains a mystery.

Ultimately, it is a mystery because love is at the core of our being-in-the-image-of-God. The human person is made in the image of the Infinite Mystery that that transcends all things, that brings all things into existence, sustains them in the fragility of their finite being, and guides them sweetly to their fulfillment - with the unsearchably vast and at the same time attentive tenderness and intimacy of ultimate wisdom and love.

We are made in the Image of God! We have an ineradicable dignity, a sense of purpose and responsibility, and the freedom to affirm and live our true identity.

Don't get down on yourself, ever! You are not worthless! You are worthy of love. And you are capable of love. The experience of love and the practice of loving are possible in every circumstance: in the family, at school or work, in play and recreation, in the self-giving of creativity, in helping others in a multitude of ways, and even in all the "little, inconsequential things" - the apparently superficial interactions we have with people all the time.

Love is also possible in times of darkness, amidst life's great burdens: in difficulties patiently borne, in the midst of confusion and upheaval, in the loneliness that can be such a great invisible suffering, in every kind of sickness, incapacity, sorrow, or grief. These things reveal to us our fragility and poverty, and we may feel that we cannot love because we have nothing to give. But this not true, because in these times especially God loves us and is close to us. He is at work within us to transfigure our poverty into more profound ways of loving. 

Finally, and perhaps harder to believe than any of the others, love is possible even in the intolerable dullness, boredom, and frustration, the apparently paltry and flawed accomplishments, and all the undignified failures and mistakes of an ordinary day. Here, where so much of our life is lived, God is surely present. Here, He secretly invites us to embrace the mystery of His ineffable plan wherein He is accomplishing the all-encompassing victory of love.

We must be confident that "Love will 'win'." (I am certain that this triumph of God's love has already been radically achieved and is working in the depths of human history and the heart of every human person, because my own life - incoherent though it may be - has been taken hold of by the love of Jesus Christ, who is the definitive revelation and accomplishment of God's love not only for me but for everyone. That is why I am "compelled" to profess the name of Jesus. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-Begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:16]. Whether I mention Him explicitly or not, all my hope for any goodness in the world, any recognition of human dignity, any value to what I accomplish with my work, is rooted in the joy of knowing the love of Jesus and the promise of the fulfillment of all things in Him.)

Love is at the heart of all life. We must never give up and turn to cynicism or discouragement because of the strange ways and apparent absences of love, or because of our impatience with the arduous and seemingly distant fulfillment that the vocation to love often entails. We are destined to grow through this life in ways beyond our imagining. We must sacrifice and persevere, because the fulfillment of love is so much greater than our hearts and our own measure. But it's worth it. It's what we are made for!

Love is real. So do not let yourself be cheated. God created you in His image. And God is not a void of ultimate loneliness. God is Love. God is communion. In an infinite and transcendent way - yet in a way that wholly penetrates and constitutes our being, awakens our aspirations, and sustains our hope - God is the "eternal embrace" that we all long to give and receive in love.

God calls us to love Him and to love one another "in Him," to be His children, and to realize the purpose of our lives by sharing forever in His embrace - the inexhaustible gift and fulfillment of Infinite Love.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Saint Bernard and God’s Love

Happy Feast of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the great Cistercian monastic reformer, the counselor of kings and popes, the wise and prolific “mellifluous doctor” of biblical theology, and above all the mystic, the contemplative who waited on the Lord, the tireless lover of God. (Texts from Saint Bernard below are in bold font.)

"For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him."

God loved us in creating us, and when we went astray in our own sins and in the narrowness of our self-destructive will to dominate one another, He loved us immeasurably more by coming to dwell with us, die for us, and restore us to His love.

"In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. 

"God deserves exceeding love from us, a love that has no measure… The reason is that He was first to love. He who is so great loves us so much; He loves us freely, little and poor as we are. 

"That is why I said there should be no measure of our love for God. For since love given to God is given to the Infinite and Measureless, what measure or what limit could it have? He, the Unmeasured and Eternal God, He who is Love beyond all human knowledge, whose greatness knows no bounds, whose wisdom has no end, loves. [He loves us "first," giving us existence and giving Himself to us in Jesus Christ.]

"Shall we then set a limit to our love for Him? 

"I will love you, O Lord my strength, my rock, and my defense, my Savior, my one desire and love. My God, my helper, I will love you with all the power you have given me; not worthily, for that can never be, but to my full capacity. Do what I will, I never can discharge my debt to you, and I can love you only according to the power that you have given me. But l will love you more and more, as you see fit to give further power" (texts from the Treatise On The Love Of God).

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Using "Media" to Share Our Humanity

YouTube was (and remains) a pioneer in the new realm of accessible audiovisual communications media. Though the content varies greatly, it has long included the possibility of "everyone having their own T.V. station" or broadcasting platform.

I use my YouTube channel for the occasional "vlog" which can be posted elsewhere and conveniently linked here. I decided to use the video below to continue the theme of yesterday's blog post. Notwithstanding the "general" thematic title (Using Media to Share Our Humanity), the content is primarily personal, reflective, and - I hope - encouraging:

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Social Media: "Offering" it to Christ

What is the use of all these communications technologies that we call "social media"? Do they have a positive value for our lives as human beings, and more particularly for our vocation as Christians?

Certainly they provide many ways to bear witness the Gospel, and to perform "works of mercy." I want to focus in particular on the opportunities they provide for us to give of ourselves - through attentiveness, instruction, sympathy, and awareness of one another's needs - and in these ways to encourage and build up one another and pray for one another. Here we can share words, images, music, prayer, and solidarity in the Lord. It is all “offering,” to Christ, to be His instruments to build God’s Kingdom, and the Lord brings our offerings to fruition according to His measure, in His time. Much we do not see, and what we do glimpse - what touches our experience - is only the beginning. 

To encounter brothers and sisters all over the world, to pray for them (and with them - even in powerful and moving ways, such as many experienced during the live streams last year), to learn from them, to receive their gifts of expression, wisdom, and witness, and to offer my own encouragement and words (the two “small coins” of my poverty, which is not much but it's what I have; it's what I can give) - all of this is blessing, a cause for gratitude, a sign of the mystery of the Father’s love and the Lordship of Jesus who has won the victory and draws all things to Himself. 

Communications technology belongs to Christ, and through it He brings us to possibilities to experience our “being-together” person-to-person, and to live in greater solidarity in this moment. A heart emoji❤️ is only a shadow of the inexhaustible “Yes” that Jesus says to our whole humanity, to each person, through the gift of His pierced heart on the Cross. Through His Heart, we can express gratitude and fraternal charity even with these apparently superficial means of communication. Jesus gives them value on a whole new level, which we experience insofar as we remember our belonging to Him and to each other in Him.

We don't need to worry overmuch about how "effective" our interaction is here, or on how many people we "reach" in our efforts to communicate. The Spirit is at work, and His measure is infinite - beyond all the small limited unstable statistics, “likes,” followers, responses, or anything we can measure. Of course we make our best practical attempts to reach out in appropriate ways that media make possible. But our efforts for "success" have only a relative importance, and will be fruitful only if we “offer them” to the Lord and receive our own value from His love.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Jesus Embraces Us in Our Suffering

We live in a world of immense suffering.

We all know how hard it is to deal with acute, immediately perceptible instances of suffering—instances of physical, mental, and/or emotional pain. It's hard enough to hear the stories of other people. And usually we want at least to be distracted, as much as possible, from our own pains. What we feel intensely is the need for relief, and we are grateful for anyone and anything that can give us some real help.

But the whole reality of suffering is deeper than the external struggles that engage so many of us. People don't suffer "equally" (certainly not on every level or at any given time). But everyone suffers in this world, and everyone's suffering is uniquely their own.

At some point, everyone has distinct and profound experiences that can be at least partially articulated, that indicate the brokenness and incompleteness of their life: something that has disappointed or hurt them; someone who has betrayed them or manipulated them; something that does not measure up to a once-cherished hope; some kind of health issues; some catastrophic events or tragic losses; some family or friends who have let them down, abandoned them, misunderstood them; some limitation that inhibits their freedom; some burden that tires them; some hunger that is never satisfied....

People usually accommodate themselves to reduced expectations about life, especially as they get older. How else could one get through the day? Sometimes, however, one can still catch an echo of a cry of pain, that deep and mysterious pain at the heart of every human life. Life is, in some measure, always something that has to be endured.

Why is this? Most broadly, it's because we live in a radically broken universe. We suffer because of sin: original sin, our own personal sins, and the sins of the world. But why has God permitted so much sin and so much suffering?

God doesn't give a theoretical, intellectually satisfying answer to the depths of this agonizing question. He does something much greater. He comes to dwell with us in this broken world, and bears all our sufferings and sins out of love, thereby transforming the meaning of suffering.

Because of this, we do not suffer alone. We suffer in Jesus Christ, who is God’s love made personal and particular for each one of us.

Jesus is God drawn close to our wounded humanity, so close that He takes it upon Himself—not only in some “general” way, but in a way that encompasses each one of us. Jesus is the intimate companion of each and every human person, even those who do not know Him. He knows each one of us; He unites Himself (He—God the Eternal Son of the Father) to my humanity and to your humanity; He dwells with us and suffers with us in order to raise us up to a share in His life with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

He knows “who I am” and who He wills me to be. He knows the secret of why I was created. He knows my sins. He knows how to heal me of them, how to draw me to Himself, how to make me the “adopted son” that I am meant to be in Him for all eternity. He knows each one of us in this way; He knows the depths of every created person. We exist because we belong to Him—not as "slaves" or mere "things," but precisely in the freedom He has given to each of us so that we can recognize His love, respond to Him, and come to share in His life.

And so our joys and sufferings too (which He permits, because He has the power to bring forth greater good from them) are taken up into His infinitely wise, uniquely crafted, and tender love through which He shapes our lives and leads us to our destiny.

How little I really understand about mydestiny”! How little I understand about the “eternal life” which means belonging to Him in an all-fulfilling, inexhaustible communion of face-to-face vision and love, forever. We must remember every day that God is with us and that He draws us toward our true identity, which is to reflect His eternal glory in that unique way that corresponds to each of us as a person created in His image and likeness—a reflection that we do not yet understand but that He sees and knows.

We ought to dwell upon this and call it frequently to mind. Those little prayers throughout the day are worth so much: "Jesus, I love you." "Jesus, I trust in you." "Come, Holy Spirit." God, help me!" No matter the storms and the fury; the depths of our lives are not an empty solitary abyss. We are never alone.

At the heart of life, of every moment of life, the merciful God who is infinite, unconquerable love accompanies us, gives Himself to us, and asks us to open our hearts to receive Him.

Let us take courage from the profound and beautiful text of the Collect Prayer for this week:

Sunday, August 15, 2021

August 15: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From the Second Reading for today’s Solemnity:

Brothers and sisters: When that which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Maximilian Kolbe: Witness to Freedom

Today often takes me back to that crucial, dramatic Summer of 1989 (a time when so much was changing in the world and in my own life). There was a feeling in the air in those days (perhaps I felt it a little myself) that truth might actually have an impact on history, or that - in any case - it was worth suffering for, even dying for. It was a time when many people’s hearts were being stirred up (even if only in obscure and fragmented ways) by the truth, and they were moved to take risks for the truth, or to vindicate those who had long suffered for it: in Prague, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, in Poland, in Hungary, in the Baltics, along the prison gates that were the borders of “East Germany.” People were becoming aware of “freedom” as a truth that belongs intrinsically to the dignity of the human person. Nevertheless, it was a fragile intuition: people wanted freedom, but they didn’t know why; they didn’t know what human freedom is for. Sadly, the so-called “free world” was little help in educating them. Self-centered, humanly disconnected, dissipated restlessness is not true freedom. Nor is true freedom found by wandering aimlessly over the globe amidst an ever expanding market of vacuous possibilities for diversion and distraction. Though much good was achieved after the fall of Soviet Communism, the social chaos of liberal Western "free societies" also poured into the new nations, and the ensuing years have brought a lot of pain, confusion, and strange backlash among these peoples who were thirsting for true freedom in 1989.

The freedom of the human person is the capacity to love reality and other persons; it is the capacity to give one’s self in love, to choose that which is true and good and “make it one’s own” in a way that not only enriches the person’s own humanity, but also empowers the person to “become a gift” to others and to open up in longing for the Mystery that speaks to every heart.

This is human freedom. We have only begun to struggle to discover what this means for ourselves and for our societies. We need to carry on this difficult work, even if world events tend to indicate that no one is interested in it today.

The only way to find freedom, to live in self-giving love, and to begin to build something that resembles a personalistic and communitarian society is by the light of freedom revealed in its fullest sense, in the One who said “the truth will make you free” and who also said “I am the Truth.” Letting ourselves be loved by Him, we will become free, we will learn to love beyond all our limits. Thus we will attain our true destiny in the fullness of freedom, and also we will live in this world with greater freedom and greater solidarity and attentiveness to one another and to the dignity of every person.

Today, August 14, we commemorate the life and the ultimate self-giving love of a free man, who was a bright light in one of the last century’s darkest places. And it was 32 years ago today, in 1989, that I wrote this poem in honor of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe, a Polish Catholic priest, offered his own life in exchange for another prisoner in a reprisal execution in Auschwitz, and died in the "starvation bunker" on August 14, 1941.

Here I share once again (for whatever they’re worth) the words of poetry that his witness inspired in those hot and hopeful days of the Summer of 1989.

August 14th
I am the guardian
of the flesh and blood that I command.
I stand
from world's edge to windowless walls,
the quarry-block place markers 
around my becoming-all-things.
I am a mother's graceful, sweet breath
like fine, penetrating mist
against your broken, burned skin.
I am the witness
stepping out of place
beyond the trembling assembly 
of bony finger-clutched this-moment,
toward the timeless returning unto dust of you
and you
and you.
step forward...
                           ...out of place
for I am
your sacrifice.

—August 14, 1989

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Poverty and Riches of Saint Clare

Today we commemorate the great Saint Clare of Assisi, who left aside her wealth at age 18 to follow the path blazed by the extraordinary witness of her friend and compatriot, St Francis. She founded a contemplative order of religious sisters, often referred to as the "Poor Clares," and 800 years later young women continue to leave everything, join together in a life of poverty, and pray to God in the midst of our troubled and searching world.

You know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Saint Lawrence: Faithful in Service, Glorious in Martyrdom

Today we celebrated the Feast of another martyr, the courageous young deacon Saint Lawrence of Rome. He gave his life during the 3rd century, and remains one of the most popular saints among the people of Rome to this day.

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Conversion of Edith Stein


For the August 9 Memorial honoring the martyrdom (in Auschwitz on this day in 1942) of that renowned “Catholic member of the Jewish people” and Carmelite nun Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (a.k.a. Edith Stein), I thought it would be good to present the brief story of her journey to Christ and the Catholic Church.

I wrote this article over six years ago and it was published in my monthly column in Magnificat in November 2015:

Edith Stein traveled a path of conversion that included many encounters before she discovered Saint Teresa of Avila on a friend’s bookshelf. She was born in 1891 in Breslau, in what was then eastern Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), into a vibrant Jewish family.

As a child, Edith was close to her mother, whose faithful Jewish piety was her first experience of religion. Edith also grew to be a brilliant student, and intellectual aspirations led her away from the simple devotions of her mother, so that at the age of 13 she “stopped praying” inwardly. But she continued to respect her mother’s convictions and accompany her to the synagogue. Her mother singing the Psalms no doubt laid the foundations within Edith’s soul of the search for ultimate truth. Thus, even as she lost belief in God, she also dedicated herself to finding truth.

She studied prodigiously and with great success in school and university, but also became frustrated with the pervasive atmosphere of scientific materialism. Then, in 1911, she first met Edmund Husserl. Husserl’s philosophical method made a powerful case for the transcendence of the human person beyond the material observations of empirical science. Husserl’s “phenomenology” convinced Edith, and others, that it was possible toknow the truth of “things in themselves.”

Edith decided to write her dissertation under Husserl’s direction. Meanwhile, something remarkable was happening: phenomenology was opening Husserl’s followers to God and religion. Many became Christians. At this time Edith Stein met Max Scheler, a Catholic convert who convinced her that religion was necessary for the fulfillment of the human person. It was because of Scheler, Edith later said, that “the world of faith unfolded before me” for the first time.

As Edith’s search for truth was moving forward intellectually, another friendship was crucial to her personal growth. Professor Adolf Reinach and his wife Anna opened their hearts and their home to Edith while she completed her dissertation and then became Husserl’s personal assistant. When Adolf Reinach was drafted into the war in 1917, he and Anna were baptized Lutheran Christians. Soon after, Adolf was killed in battle. The tragic death of the brilliant young philosopher, however, brought Edith to see something new in her friendship with Anna. Edith knew the terrible grief brought by death, but what she saw in Anna was a strength and peace sustained by her relationship with Jesus. Anna was still Protestant (she would later also become Catholic) but she was a decisive witness at this time on Edith’s path to the Church. Anna embraced her suffering through the power of the Cross, and, Edith later wrote, “that was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth.”

After this, Edith read the New Testament and came to believe in Jesus. This hidden faith in the power of the cross was thus prepared to take its definitive form on the famous night in 1921 when she read Saint Teresa’s Autobiography and discovered the fullness of the Catholic faith and the beginning of her own Carmelite vocation.

Here we have recounted only a few details from the beginning of the story of this great woman who we now honor as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whose life, thought, and martyrdom have so profoundly enriched the Church. We all need to get to know her more.

My mother found in Edith Stein a great "spiritual friend" and heavenly intercessor, and now I pray that they have met in an unimaginably deeper way, and are rejoicing together in the presence of God.

The monastery was for Edith Stein the perfection of her faith through the grace of contemplative love. United with the heart of Jesus on the Cross, her hidden life was opened up by the freedom of God's love so that it might reach out in mysterious ways to accompany the suffering of countless people during the darkest days of Hitler's genocide (which claimed her own life) and beyond.

She saw clearly that "real life" meant living an inward participation in Christ's redeeming love for the world. Here above all was the continual "sharing in His death" that made her whole life an offering, and thus prepared her for the ultimate suffering of the concentration camp and the gas chamber. At the beginning of the year before she was taken to Auschwitz, surrounded already by the violence of the Nazi's stranglehold of Europe, Teresa Benedicta offered this reflection (January 6, 1941):

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Remembering Mom, Part 1

It has been a month since my mother died.

I thought that by now I would be able to write a grand tribute to the remarkable woman who gave birth to me and played such a central role in educating me as a human being, not only in childhood but throughout my 58 years of life. Intellectually brilliant, physically frail, spiritually magnanimous, a lover of truth, a born teacher and powerful communicator, a tenacious fighter against her own implacable illnesses and limitations, my mother had a greatness of human stature.

She was a great woman, for sure. If this was all I could say about her, however, then it would be difficult to see her life as anything other than an inspiring memory at best, with an ongoing influential legacy of good deeds, and a personality so defined that it "points toward" a continuing "immortality" of her spirit in some unreachable realm. (At worst, her life could seem like a tragedy of great desire and ultimate unfulfillment, now reduced to a body buried in a grave in Winchester, Virginia.)

Human nature - in its current, fractured condition - "hopes" for the best (and sometimes fears the worst) within the limits of its ordinary perceptions about death.

But this is my mother! I still love her. I still love my father. 

The death of parents (in particular) is a provoking experience at any age. It practically wrenches from your guts the aching question that is always within you but here becomes visceral and impossible to ignore or set aside: "Why are we alive on this earth? What is the ultimate meaning of all the things we say and do? What happens to it all at death?

In our most noble and profound moments, we spontaneously experience the connection between "love" and "forever." We have the ineradicable desire to "write forever" in big letters all over the people we love, all over their actions for the good, and all over our own selves, the goodness in our relationships, and our actions which are vivified by this search for meaning and the "hint" of forever that surprises us when we engage reality and experience gratuitous goodness and beauty and truth.

Where did we "learn" this inner attitude that says to finite things: "Please, don't end"? Where did we get the idea that we could love another person forever? Are we a cosmic joke; are we freaks of Evolution? Or does life aim toward a Mystery, where our questions are heard and our hopes take the shape of promises?

The most important thing about my mother was not her talents or her human greatness. The most important thing was an event that happened to her and began to transform her life. At the beginning, it was an event that happened to her in baptism, through Water and the Holy Spirit. 

That newly given supernatural life in Christ grew in her, and found direction in other encounters through childhood and growing up. At her university there was a Catholic priest at the Newman Center, and she went to him with her many questions and ideas and speculations. He encouraged her to use her reason, but he also gave her some books to read - not only for the wisdom they contained but also, I think, because their writings were a means to encounter them and recognize as reference points these great men of the Church in her time: Romano Guardini. Jacques Maritain. Henri de Lubac. And others. Our bookshelf at home was full of these names.

And of course, the uniquely significant encounter of my mother's life was my father. They were a consistent "help" to each other on their long path of growing in faith and in relationship to Jesus Christ in the Church. Along with a small group of friends, their faith deepened during the 1960s (even as the faith of so many others was shaken). In 1968 Pope Paul VI spoke the truth about "human ecology" and warned that the most celebrated technological invention of the decade was a recipe for disaster, for the destruction of human relationships, for new modes of fragmentation and rootlessness, and for new ways for the strong to impose their power on the poor and marginalized. By that time, my mother and my father were prepared to receive this message, this teaching that would attach them more intimately to Jesus in their marriage and in the home they built for me and my brother.

My parents encountered Jesus in a very powerful way through the great witness of Popes (and saints) John XXIII and Paul VI.

I remember vividly, when I was four years old, being in the laundry room of our apartment building with my mother while she spoke to me with great seriousness and passion about the Church and the problems in the world, about Pope John and Pope Paul and their sufferings, and about a French 'Peasant' who was a philosopher who had helped her understand many things. I imagined a farmer with a great mind, or something like that. (Meanwhile, I passed the bookshelf every day for years after that and saw old Maritain's face staring out at me from the spine of the English translation of The Peasant of the Garonne. In graduate school, I finally read the book ... and many others by this great philosopher and towering 20th century Christian witness.) But my mother conveyed to me in that laundry room the immense grandeur and mystery of life, and the crucial significance of seeking the truth and being faithful to it.

And, of course, my mother taught me to pray.


I will continue these reflections and reminiscences about my parents. It is good to recall that the ground they placed under my feet is still strong, and getting stronger, even though sometimes it feels like the roots have been cut out from under me. But grief is an experience that changes us on the road to our own destiny.

I miss them. Lord, I pray that you will embrace them forever in your Kingdom.

Monday, August 2, 2021

"Coffee Awesomeness" (Cartoon Version)

I had fun fooling around with this graphic, based on a recent photo. "COFFEE AWESOMENESS" was crafted with a cartoon filter, some artistic filters, and lots of manual alterations. #DigitalArt #DigitalGraphics #ArtByJJ