Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's Lady Day!

Technically, today's feast is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. In English tradition, however, it was known as "Lady Day" (as in "Our Lady's Day"). I kind of like that. Everything hinged that day on Mary. St Bernard put it fabulously:
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the Desired of all Nations is at your door, knocking to enter....


Right on time, our Sister Laura Rosemarie completed the work on her Annunciation (part of a series she is doing of the Mysteries of the Rosary) and put the canvas on display outside of chapel. Mary is under a fig tree, a place of contemplation and peace, with a scroll in her hand and lilies of the valley just behind her. (For your listening pleasure, here is a fitting song with which you can reflect on today's Gospel of the Annunciation: https://play.spotify.com/track/2tRQcpXpIh0jz41lATxrsq)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Midway through Lent

We're at the halfway point today: three weeks from Ash Wednesday and three weeks before Spy Wednesday, the final day of Lent (Holy Thursday doesn't count). I am already looking forward to Laetare Sunday; how about you? 

Day keeping good company on my bookshelf.
One of my Lenten heroes is the sometimes crotchety, always honest Dorothy Day. There are some Catholic figures who impress me enough that I look up a book, maybe two, to learn more. Dorothy Day does not fit in that category. I first read her conversion story From Union Square to Rome years ago, following that with The Long Loneliness (a spiritual autobiography). Her Loaves and Fishes (the story of the Catholic Worker movement) led me to another book by the prolific writer, this one on Peter Maurin, the man Dorothy Day credits with being the father (and originator) of the Catholic Worker movement, a man given wholeheartedly to the Gospel and its demands (and, in his focus on the life of the mind and "the clarification of thought," a fine match for Blessed James Alberione).

At that point I found the biography by the excellent Robert Coles (who had spent some time with the Catholic Workers and knew Dorothy in person), and in the Chicago convent library there was a massive (and highly researched) biography of Day by William Miller.

Finally, more of her own writings were edited and released: Her diaries, from the mid-1930s through her last month of life, were released as The Duty of Delight (25 years after her death, as stipulated, I presume, by Dorothy herself). This book is as big as (maybe bigger than) Miller's biography. I couldn't put it down.  (Someone, maybe TH, got me a copy for the first Buy a Nun a Book Day!) And most recently, I read her collected letters in All the Way to Heaven (the title being from a saying of St Catherine of Siena: "All the way to Heaven is Heaven, because Jesus said, 'I am the Way'.")

You would think I had read enough, right?

But just this week Plough Publishing sent me a courtesy copy of The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus from the writings of Dorothy Day. Short selections from Day's biographical writings, from her diaries, from her articles in The Catholic Worker are distributed under several headings: A Way of Faith; A Way of Love; A Way of Prayer; A Way of Life; A Way of Community. It is now my guidebook for the second half of Lent (though I wish I had had this for Ash Wednesday!).

Good News! I have a copy of The Reckless Way of Love to give away.  I want to get it in the mail soon so the lucky recipient can finish Lent with Dorothy (and me). To be entered in for the random drawing, comment here about the Catholic personality who intrigues you the most and then (by Friday) share the link to this blog post on your favorite form of social media with the hashtag #nunblog




Thursday, March 09, 2017

What is Pope Francis up to now?

https://leserservice.zeit.de/angebote/papst/index.php?r=vorab&wt_zmc=disint.int.zabo.zeitde.ausgabe.n4.link.papst.x&utm_medium=Display&utm_source=zeitde_zabo&utm_campaign=ausgabe_Angebot&utm_content=n4_link_papst_x&icode=01w0014k0003Angdisint1703Yesterday the Catholic Internet was all a-Twitter with the news that Pope Francis, in an interview with a German newspaper, had signaled "openness" to ordaining people the Church refers to as viri probati ("proven" men, typically understood as married men).  Conveniently, the entire interview had not yet been published, only the tantalizing hints. (The full text was scheduled for release today, but since I (a) cannot read German and (b) will not pay to access the "exklusiv" interview in said language I cannot verify anything right now.)

Also conveniently, the Pope has just begun his annual silent retreat (at the Pauline retreat house overlooking Lake Albano) and cannot be reached for clarification.

According to yesterday's Crux summary of the papal interview, the context of the reference to viri probati concerned the diaconate, which seems a bit strange, since the permanent diaconate is already open to married men (even though the permanent diaconate is not as well established worldwide as it is in the US). With regard to the priesthood specifically, the Pope was more circumspect, remarking that a priority should be on helping young men discern the call to priesthood and saying (yet again) that making priestly celibacy optional is not the answer that many people seem to think it is.

The article in Crux and some of the online conversations I saw were quick to affirm that most of the Eastern Churches ordain married men. No one seems to be wondering what the priesthood asks of those married men (and their wives), but Byzantine Father Thomas Loya,  the son and grandson of Byzantine priests, explained in one of our Theology of the Body sessions years ago that in the Eastern Churches, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy involves much more than getting up early on Sunday to preside at a (very long) Liturgy. Following the recommendation of St Paul in 1 Cor 7:5, the priestly couple abstain from the marital embrace in anticipation of the Divine Liturgy, which is the earthly manifestation of the Wedding of the Lamb. Given the mutual sacrifice asked of a priest and his wife, it is easier to understand why daily Mass did not become a staple in the Eastern Churches! Father's own mother and grandmother had been the daughters of priests, so they also grew up with an appreciation of the role of the priest's wife in the life of the Church.

But I digress.

Pope Francis is becoming rather famous for throwing out zingers and then not being around to settle the matter once an uproar starts. I am beginning to think that there is a method here. Among the Pope's most cherished values is that of "dialogue." (Read my 5 Keys e-book; it has been there from the beginning.)

Pope Francis wants us to talk, discuss, respectfully debate. He doesn't mind a dust-up. He seems to believe that the wind of the Holy Spirit breathes among us more fully when the Church is grappling with the Gospel, when our expectations are suspended and our usual reference points temporarily set aside. It isn't comfortable, but maybe that is part of the Pope's method.

I strongly suspect that the Pope is trying to shake us all out of our stolid certainties to awaken us, no matter what "side" of a question we find ourselves on, to the greater grace God may be offering the Church in our day. Any insecurity we feel can be an invitation to trust even more that it is not the Pope, but the Holy Spirit, who is really in charge, and whom we can trust unconditionally.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jumping into Lent: Feet First?

When I was growing up, our family had a membership in the local swimming club. It was not a fancy place by any means, but it had a pool which opened in spring and closed at the end of September. (How we looked forward to the opening day!) My siblings (all six of them) were active members of the swim team and went to various meets and competitions (not my thing at all). But everything started on opening day.

I remember standing at the edge of the pool one year in my new Catalina bathing suit, smelling the chlorine and wondering: head first or feet first? Should I dive in, making a graceful but prolonged entry, or just spring off the edge holding my nose, feet first?

And here we are today, on the edge of the Lenten season. And many of us are wondering: What is the best way for me to start Lent? Head first or feet first? To be perfectly honest, I'm never quite sure. I have my Lenten books picked out (starting with St Thomas Aquinas' Meditations for Lent--Sister Lorraine will be so pleased!), but not my Lenten practices. (I am toying with the idea of fasting from the snooze button...)

Maybe I'm going about it the wrong way. Maybe I would start Lent with greater clarity if I thought about where Lent wants to take me. We get a hint about that in today's Gospel, in Peter's words: "We have left all things and followed you."

That sounds kind of intimidating, but the Orthodox Saint Paisios of Mount Athos said, "One person receives a gift and rejoices for that single thing. Another person gives everything away and rejoices for everything. The joy felt when one receives is a human joy. However, the joy felt when one gives is a divine joy. This divine joy comes from giving."

It is true: "Where we are going" in Lent is not the desert itself, but the joy of Easter. Lent is the road.

But not quite yet. It's still Mardi Gras.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Noble Saint with the Funny Name

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meister_von_San_Apollinare_Nuovo_in_Ravenna_001.jpg
I LOVE today's saint, but his name, so unfamiliar in our culture, has always been a bit of a stumbling block for me. Polycarp means "fruitful" and he certainly was, dying a martyr's death at age 86.

The bishop Polycarp was one of the last members of a generation that had actually known the Apostles and received the Gospel from them. Polycarp was a disciple of St John like his friend, the blessedly heroic St Ignatius of Antioch (traditionally identified with the little child whom Christ pointed to as an example for the Twelve). Polycarp's martyrdom took place decades after that of Ignatius. Martyred at an advanced age, he is more of a contemporary of St Justin, the Roman writer who gave us such a detailed description of Christian worship in his time, a description that in many ways still fits today.

Justin explained that in that Sunday worship, the presider offered a long prayer of thanksgiving over the gifts of bread and wine, "giving thanks to the best of his ability" for the grace that has been shown us in Jesus. There is something of an echo of this in the eyewitness account of the bishop Polycarp's martyrdom. In fact, the Christians of Smyrna (present day Izmir, Turkey) carefully wrote up a transcript of Polycarp's trial and then described his martyrdom, making multiple copies of this document so that it could be shared with the other Churches of Asia, the way the letters of Ignatius and of Paul had been distributed in the same areas. When the copies were wearing out, new copies were made and the scribes added their name and short note at the end. (Thanks, Gaius! Thanks, Pionius!)

As Polycarp was tied to the stake, he began to pray, summing up his whole life in God's presence in words that sound very much like the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. It only makes sense: in the Mass, we do offer ourselves along with the bread and wine, and we hope that we will be transformed, body and soul, into a living presence of Jesus. After a long life, leading prayers from the altar every Sunday for his community, Polycarp had no better words to use in commending his spirit to the Lord. Maybe Polycarp's last words can inspire your own prayer at the Offertory of the Mass:
O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, have revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled.
Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

This Lent: the Sanctification of the Mind

I promised a big reveal today, and here it comes. But first, a message from Blessed James Alberione (this is kind of a "condensed" version of one of his drum-beat themes):
Of all the faculties that God has blessed us with, the gift of the mind is the one that is the most often neglected or even compromised. How often we waste the precious gifts of intelligence and understanding, frittering our minds away in curiosity or in superficial use of the media when God calls us to "be transformed by the renewal of your minds" (Rom 12: 2), to have the very thoughts of God, so that not only is it Christ who lives in me (that is, in my words, choices and way of acting), it is Christ who thinks in me!
One of the spiritual disciplines that most fosters the sanctification of the mind is dedication to some form of study of the faith. It may be reading the Catechism over the course of a year, or setting aside a certain amount of time each day or week to devote to reading the lives or writings of the saints, or recent Church documents, or taking an updating course. Needless to say, Lent is a perfect time to begin a spiritual practice of this sort. That is why so many parishes will be offering weekly lectures or Scripture study programs. Now there is a brand-new program that is both an exploration of the Bible and a presentation of the teachings of the Church in some of the most perplexing issues of our day.

If you find it hard to really agree with Church teachings (or practice) concerning the human body and the meaning of natural marriage, the treatment of the body after death (for example, the prohibition of scattering cremated remains), the vocation to celibacy, and just why birth control is such an issue, or if you accept the Church's position in all these areas but struggle to reconcile them with your love for family members who find some of these teachings impossible to live by, why not dedicate the 6+ weeks  of Lent to a guided, reflective study of Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body? You will be devoting 6 weeks to a unique reading of Sacred Scripture, starting from the very beginning: the gift of creation and the creation of man and woman in the image of God.

Yes, this is the program that I have been working on, preparing the free downloadable study guide so that the video series (a total of 12 hours of content) can be easily and fruitfully used by individuals or groups (whether formal parish groups or informal gatherings and book clubs). Two hours a week will bring you to Holy Week with a deeper understanding of the Bible as a whole, and may help you approach the Easter sacraments personally renewed "in the spirit of your mind," better able to marvel at God's goodness in your own life. I think Blessed James Alberione would also suggest that the discipline itself of following a program of study is a very positive form of penance that can be offered in reparation for the ever-increasing number of offenses against the dignity of the human body: human trafficking, pornography (including films like the new 50 shades series), and the aggressive denial of the meaning and nature of masculinity and femininity, and of natural marriage itself.

Here is a sneak preview of the new program, a 25-minute introduction that is worth watching even on its own. The full series, Discover Theology of the Body, will be released on Ash Wednesday, March 1.  Get 40% off by using the code TOB4LENT before March 8. And...thanks for sharing this info on your social media channels!






Friday, February 10, 2017

The Saddest Day in History

The first readings at Mass this week have been from the Creation story in Genesis. Yesterday we heard about the creation of woman, and of Adam's amazement and finding someone like himself, able to stand beside him in God's presence with freedom and availability, making it "possible to exist in a relationship of reciprocal gift" (JP2). The biblical author remarked (in what seems to us an out of place aside) that "the man and his wife were both naked, but felt no shame."

Back in 1979 Pope John Paul based a number of his Theology of the Body talks on this seemingly random psychological observation ("naked without shame") which, he notes, isn't random at all. "Genesis 2:25 presents one of the key elements of the original revelation.... it is not something accidental."

http://art.thewalters.org/detail/35961/adam-and-eve/
Detail of a Della Robbia Adam and Eve; from the Walters Museum of Art
They were "naked without shame" because shame is not "natural" to us; it is not "original." In fact, the Pope will say, shame, while a consequence of the fall, is a healthy sign: it reveals that something very precious is present even while it is at risk.

When, as we heard in today's first reading, the man and woman decide to order their lives apart from the harmony and balance with which they were created, the first thing each one realizes is not a sense of empowerment (which the serpent had deceitfully assured them of) but a feeling of vulnerability. They make loincloths for themselves, protecting the very signs of masculinity and femininity that had earlier revealed their partnership, their being destined one for the other. They hide among the trees, suddenly finding the presence of God threatening. There has been "a radical change in the meaning of their original nakedness.... This change directly concerns the experience of the meaning of one's own body before the Creator and creatures." From being a sign of a gift to be lived in a communion of persons, the naked body is seen by sinful humans as a "thing" ready to be exploited (even, we see today, by oneself).

All this sprang from the first couple's surrender to the serpent's insinuation against the fatherhood of God. God, the serpent suggested, was not a provident and all-good Giver of Life "from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its name" (Eph. 3:15), but a jealous hoarder of divine prerogatives, an exploiter of the weak. Their only recourse against this powerful Other was to snatch at equality with God, claiming for themselves the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Once they do, they find themselves not in a garden of delights, but in a whole world of menace starting with the person at their side. For the rest of human history, people will be divided: man against God, "me" against "you",  "us" against "them."

Thankfully, "human" history is not all there is. When, "in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Gal. 4:4), he would reintroduce the communion he had intended for us all along. That is what the Church is meant to be: the presence, even in time, of communion with God and among people. When we fall into the old categories of "us" and "them" (no matter who "they" are, or why we are divided) we leapfrog backwards, away from grace and salvation; when we love one another, when "they will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another" (Jn. 13:35),  then we will show the world who God is, and the world will come to believe (see Jn 17:21).


- - - - 

Yes, I know. I can't resist referring to the brilliant insights of Pope John Paul in his Theology of the Body. I can't help it! I have been "under the influence" of Theology of the Body for almost 40 years. It is in the background of my prayer, it has guided me through difficulties, it offers me a kind of overall interpretive lens for everything in the Bible.

Doesn't our world need to rediscover the value and meaning of the human body, made in the image of God, male and female? Don't we all need to be redirected to a life in which the predominant note is not self-defense or hostility, but self-giving directed toward a communion that even on earth represents and makes present the Triune God who made us for Himself? If I could, I would share this treasure with everyone on the planet. Taken seriously at least by the billion+ Christians on earth, it could change history.

The good news is that soon (very soon!) my community will be making a program available that will introduce you to Pope John Paul's thought at a pace you can set for yourself and in a format that will allow for group study, too. If you feel that your understanding of the faith hasn't really been updated since Confirmation, or if you feel you have never really had a fully adult knowledge of the Bible, this could be just what you are looking for to renew your mind. (It could be ideal for Lent!)

Monday I will give you a sneak peak--and a chance to get an early bird discount on a project I personally put a lot of work into!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Theology of the Body resources (a random list)

I found a way to group all my TOB recommendations in one package of links from Amazon (so even the Pauline titles here are linked to Amazon); putting it here as a public service. Stay tuned for an important TOB announcement soon!!!


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Reading your way through Lent--updated!

What are you doing for Lent?  (Ash Wednesday is just one month away!)

This Lent my community will be revisiting the Gospel of John together, with the guidance of the genial professor Edward Sri. We will be using the "Follow Me" program from Ascension Press, which I reviewed some months back. We could just as easily have chosen a different approach to the same Gospel, one prepared by Thomas Garry, a third-order Dominican from New Jersey who sent me a review copy of his book Through Lent with John's People.

Garry published his book through the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary (Summit, NJ), and informed me that "all proceeds from its sale will go to fund the expansion of their monastery." (My first thought on reading that was, "what proceeds?" We could have told them that book publishing is no way to make money!) Well, hopefully the promotion of the book will raise awareness of the sisters' need for new space for the vocations the Lord is sending them, because book sales are not going to cut it.

Garry has mapped out almost the whole Gospel of John, spreading the passages out across Lent and clear through to Easter Sunday. The Church itself privileges the Gospel of John during Lent, particularly in Year A, but always in the Sacred Triduum and continuing on through the Easter Season, so praying with John is praying with the Church.

Each day's passage is given in full, followed by a reflection (about three pages' worth) and concluding with questions for personal application. Those questions are probably the most valuable part of the book (outside of the Gospel text itself) and could be very helpful in making an examination of conscience before confession. In fact, the person who  uses this book for Lent will probably be led to the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a rather regular basis, because the reflection and the questions themselves do not fail to challenge our all too easy accommodations with the spirit of comfort.

Through Lent with John's People is a worthwhile book for your Lenten prayer.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a tiny affiliate commission. In addition, I received a review copy of the book mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. I am committed to giving as honest a review as possible as part of my community's mission of putting media at the service of the truth. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Until we meet again--UPDATED (again)

One of my favorite lines in the new translation of the Creed is in that last paragraph where a number of seemingly random doctrines are affirmed: the Church (one, holy, catholic and apostolic), Baptism (one and one only, for the forgiveness of sins), and the "eschatological" part about the fulfillment of it all in eternity. How marvelous it is to say, "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead..."

A Christmas visit in the rehab center right down the street.
Here in the Pauline community, we are affirming that article of the Creed in a newly personal way as we prepare to lay our Sister Mary Veronica to rest. Sister Mary Veronica was the first Daughter of St Paul from Boston, a fact she took no little pride in. She was here, discerning her own call the day the Cardinal Cushing dedicated the cornerstone for our motherhouse, and once told me that St Paul's Avenue (then called "Mount Wally Road") was so overgrown with bushes and hanging branches that she was worried about the finish on her new car as she made her way up the hill that day!

I first made Sister Veronica's acquaintance the afternoon I entered the convent. She was the seamstress, and had already basted together my postulant's habit, going by the size indicated by Mother Paula's memory of me. (That fact alone made an impression. Mother Paula remembered me?) I stood in her tiny sewing room, obeying her "Turn, turn, turn" as she marked the hemline. The postulants' retreat started that night, and I left for the retreat house with my "Sunday" habit ready for the Feast of the Assumption. The habit had a ten-inch hem that would be let down when I made vestition. Those habits were made to last!

Sister Mary Veronica was an artist with a needle and thread. She didn't just make our practical habits, veils and aprons: she embroidered stoles for priests, and did phenomenal beadwork. Her Infant of Prague capes were in high demand with the intricate beading on the white satin under-tunic and the gold beaded highlights on the brocade exterior cape. The capes kept her busy, because many families would request a cape in each of the liturgical colors! I am hoping that someone will bring one of her capes here; Sister's eyesight forced her to put down her sewing needle about ten years ago. (I know she doesn't look it in the photo taken just last month, but she was in her late eighties!)

I know you will pray for the repose of Sister Mary Veronica's soul. Please also pray for the remaining members of our senior sisters' community, especially for those with dementia who are finding it difficult to process what is happening around them--and for Sr Mary Augusta, age 100, who seems to feel that someone cut ahead of her in line!

- - - -

Just to add a few tidbits... We had a lovely prayer service last night with many members of Sr M Veronica's family (for whom she was "Aunt Rosie"). At the almost-end of the service, there was a video of Sister telling her vocation story. On her first visit to the convent, what struck her the most was the happy noise coming from the kitchen where the sisters were washing the dishes; amid the clattering of pots and pans and silverware there was the cheerful banter of the sisters. Summing things up, she said, "It wasn't the habit. It wasn't the mission. I fell in love with the noise." She also filled in more details about that car--it was a blue, four-door Ford, and she loved it!

Last but not least, in a little display of photos and memorabilia set up in the reception hall there was Sister's craft box, and several Infant of Prague vestments with her signature beadwork.

- - - - -

Just a little more, I promise (maybe).

We just laid Sr Veronica to rest in our tiny burial chapel. There are only three spaces left (and the competition is, well, maybe not fierce...). Sister's relatives are lingering over cake and coffee in the dining room and we are telling stories. I was reminded about how every Sunday for 20 years she and a companion (sometimes a team of novices or postulants) headed downtown to the TV station for the 7 a.m. TV Mass, bringing a white box of vestments and altar linens, setting up the books and vessels and then carefully packing it all up again. The TV Mass was the beginning of CatholicTV, so it was a good fit for the media nuns circa 1970.

Because Sister was a native Bostonian, we all got to know her family, especially her mother, Mary who came here often as a volunteer. Mom Rizzitano died not too many long years ago, and Sr Mary Veronica faithfully visited her mother's grave, bringing fresh flowers as often as she could. When she was no longer able to drive, Sister would ask Sr Maria Ruth (the voice of Radio Paulinas) to bring her--and then she would user her allowance treat Sr Maria Ruth to Dunkin' Donuts (this is Boston, after all). One time, Sr Ruth mentioned at breakfast today, after they had their coffee and donut, Sister Mary Veronica went back to the counter and bought a dozen more donuts. Then they drove back to the cemetery to give the box to the cemetery workers. That box of donuts represented over 25% of Sister's monthly allowance: a sign of how grateful she was for the often forgotten people who make things happen for us.

The takeaway for me in all this is that Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 25; what John of the Cross said summing it up: "In the evening of life, we will be judged on love."