Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pages from the Past: Tarzan and Jane

Me Tarzan. Film detail from wiki commons.
Was thinking of the old Tarzan movie. Tarzan and Jane are just Adam and Eve. If there was a Tarzan, there would have to be a Jane. 

The animals…they can live without love. Maybe not elephants or porpoises…they seem to edge a little closer to being social in a distinct way. But a dog can live just fine without love (i.e., a relationship). He/she will be feral, but will still be a full and complete dog with nothing essential lacking. 

But a human being will fail to thrive at all without love. 

Jesus does not want that for anybody. In fact, he wants to share with us the love of his own life: “I can never be alone: the Father is with me”; “the one who sent me is with me, he does not abandon me since I always do what pleases him.”

"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Last Alleluia

We didn't sing it yet. That's because it's my turn to lead the community's prayers today and I am making sure that the day is filled with that untranslated, untranslatable acclamation of joy and praise and triumph that by tradition falls silent tonight.
One of Sr Tracey's doodles.
Truth to tell, we won't miss the Allelluia much if our lives don't have a lot of Alleluia! in them to start with. If joy and praise aren't part of the framework of our interpreting life, if turning to God in amazement over his sheer goodness isn't woven into the fabric of my day, I'm not exactly going to be tongue-tied at the loss of one word from my vocabulary.

If this is the sad case, then maybe my Lenten practice needs to focus more on joy and praise,  even to the point where I find myself babbling longingly for an "Alleluia!" to give expression to it all.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Have you met MY SISTERS? you follow me on other forms of social media, then you already know what we've been up to: the launch (as of a week ago today) of a new forms of media ministry, MY SISTERS. Already we have members from around the world!

MY SISTERS is a private membership group on Facebook which makes it possible for us to offer more in-depth presentations on aspects of faith and spiritual life, including weekly accompaniment sessions in real time, via Facebook video. There are four sisters who are the mentors for the group, taking turns by rotation to provide a weekly spiritual "planner" with suggestions for prayer and reflection, and who will facilitate the group online video chat, starting Monday with follow-up on Thursday (then continuing every Monday and Thursday).

Just a screenshot of what's inside!
Other features currently available include audio and video conferences by our sisters on topics related to spiritual growth, including Sr Kathryn Hermes' entire "HeartWork" video library (in my opinion, worth the monthly fee by itself--and even more when she starts her bi-weekly video conferences); guided prayer videos (we'll be making Holy Hour prayer guides available on a regular basis); the Rosary; guided retreats; an archive of movie reviews and an entire selection of conferences and prayers in Spanish. Coming soon: an on-line retreat house. (The first retreat will be offered on March 10.)

We went with a kind of subscription model on this so that we would be making a real commitment to "be there" to be met, to answer questions and to be a listening ear. And, truth to tell, we realized that asking a modest monthly fee also invites the members to make a commitment to their own spiritual growth. The introductory rate is $8.95 per month, but the first month's fee is just $1 so people can try it out at little risk. And I have secured a "Nunblogger" rate for my readers: even when the introductory offer has ended, people who sign up with the Nunblogger link will get the original $8.95/month offer. (The price you sign up with will never go up; it is a constant rate.)

Naturally, we will still make abundant material available for free, as we have been for years, through our Discover Hope newsletter and other channels. This is something we are taking on in addition to all that.

I have been working behind the scenes on this, mostly with Sister Margaret Joseph Obrovac, a Daughter of St Paul in Rome, to prepare the Lenten feature for MY SISTERS: a pilgrimage to the station churches of Rome via a daily e-magazine (see sample pages).  Actually, I'm still working on this; so far only 24 of the magazines are ready for a feature that runs from Ash Wednesday to Divine Mercy Sunday. (You can sign up for the Lenten series by itself, but it is included in the MY SISTERS membership.)

Both MY SISTERS and the Lenten series are Facebook-based, which is what makes this possible for us to do with so few sisters. We just could not manage the infrastructure of anything so complex on our own! This allows us to focus on the message, and on being available to people without being lost in the technological details (even though there are still lots of technological details that have us pulling our hair out underneath our veils!).

I have many exciting ideas of things I hope to contribute to MY SISTERS in the future (once this Lenten project is done!!!), so I look forward to meeting you in that new community space on Facebook. And I (and my sisters) are grateful for your prayers for this new initiative of ours.

Please consider joining MY SISTERS. With Lent starting on Wednesday, what could be a more fitting time to do something new for your spiritual life?

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Yours for a Limited Time Only! [Edited]

Yesterday we said our last earthly farewells to Sr Charitas, who died on the morning of February 1, as quietly as she had lived. My family, too, experienced a bereavement this week, and an unexpected one: my eldest cousin, just short of 71, suffered a heart attack Monday night. Rene is the first of my generation to complete the journey of life. Naturally, the coinciding of a death in my family of origin with one in my religious family got me thinking!

Sr Charitas' vigil service was held in our chapel, and took place in several parts: visitation and Rosary Monday afternoon; a memorial service Monday evening; Tuesday morning, in our morning prayer, we also had a time for the sharing of memories, with the novices carrying portable microphones to anyone who wished to offer a reflection. Several of the sisters who were on the nursing team had something to say, and I suppose that is what drew my thoughts toward the gift of service.

Sister Charitas herself had written in her personal notes, "When I am there with people who are in need, I feel happy." She was glad to be present, to be of service. (And from all the testimonies we have received of her, it was clear that this was characteristic of her.) But in the last years of her life, it was she who was the one in need--in need of everything. She could no longer offer the active service of assistance or help or comfort or support. She could only offer the "receptive" kind of service, and we saw for ourselves that it took her a great deal of effort to begin to "let it be done" in this new way; to receive, rather than to do for others. I look at our Sister Augusta, 5 weeks shy of 102: how willingly she would serve, if she were able! But with no short term memory at her disposition, she is perpetually bewildered. Active service is no longer possible; she can only receive. Then there is Sr MP, age 90, still fairly strong and able to serve--but her memory and judgment are so compromised that her generous acts of service often have to be followed after and redone (!).

And then there is Jesus. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God from all eternity, when he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary to spend 33 short years on this planet, "the Son of Man came to serve" (Mt 20:28). As for us, we are only on earth for a limited time, and of that limited time an even shorter, more limited time--the time we call our "prime"--is available in which we are able to serve others. Why hold back?

It is true: there are people who demand that others serve them and even submit to their basest desires. The whole horrible #MeToo phenomenon [that led to #MeToo*] testifies to that. And there are some souls with so little sense of self, they let others walk all over them. They see that Jesus "took the form of a slave" (Phil 2: 7), but they don't see that he took it on with the freedom of self-possession: "You address me as Teacher and Lord, and rightly: So I am" (Jn 13:13). We can't make a gift of self in service if we don't have a self to give.

As Lent draws near (one week from today!!!!!), are there false convictions in your mind (or damaging self-assessments in your heart) that hold you back from opportunities of service? Are you perhaps like St Martha "burdened with much serving" because you haven't found a way to spend sufficient time in interior peace at the Lord's feet like Mary? How can Lent begin to create a workaround for you? After all, this offer of time to serve is yours for a limited time only!

*The strikethrough text is original; the bracketed text was edited in after someone noted that the original phrasing seems to say that the #MeToo phenomenon is what is horrible, when in fact it is a long-overdue expression of outrage against unspeakable offenses to human dignity. Sorry about that lazy writing.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Preparing for Death #mementomori

Today's Gospel is a rather poignant one for our community in Boston. A woman whose life had been ebbing away with a hidden hemorrhage (which made her ritually unclean) grasps at Jesus' cloak--as close to him as she dares to come. And a desperate father leaves his dying daughter's bedside to beg for a miracle that no one has ever seen or imagined.
Like the long-suffering woman making her way toward Jesus through the crowd, we wait as Sr Charitas continues her long, slow-dance with the Lord, none of us knowing the day or the hour.

Meanwhile, a family close to our community who had long hoped to hear the healing words "Little girl, arise," are today laying their little girl, the same age as Jairus' daughter, to rest.

The flu epidemic, which hit our community last week, has so diminished our numbers that there are fewer of us to keep watch with Sr Charitas and to accompany the sorrowing family in their grief. Even in the grief, though, there are small points of consolation: little Christina, though consumed with cancer, was pain-free (without any pain medication) for her last two days. And her mom texted on Sunday, "Christina is waiting in Heaven for Sr Charitas."

When Sr Charitas first came home, the hospice nurse told us, "Now we wait on Sr Charitas' body to
tell us what to do." Truth to tell, none of us really expected the vigil to last twelve days or more. The nervous energy of the first week has subsided and we are trying to settle into a "new normal" for however long it lasts. Sr Charitas is often conscious and responsive to those who know her best. She has communicated that she is comfortable and needs nothing. The hospice nurse, who came to check on her during my last watch, pronounced our care "perfect." (Good to hear!) Meanwhile, the experience has me taking notes for the days of my own diminishment, if I should be granted that kind of time.

Even though many people today wish for a quick death, a wise tradition recommends that we pray for just the opposite: "From sudden death, deliver us, O Lord!" The idea behind this prayer is that we have time to repent of any serious sins and to receive the sacraments and all the blessings the Church bestows upon the dying, and even that we should surrender our lives into God's hands in a final act of freedom. When I was a girl, it was quite common for Catholics to carry a wallet card opposite one's driver's license that announced, "I am a Catholic. Please call a priest." The same is still often impressed on four-way medals. (A sudden death doesn't give you time for absolution and anointing, although I think priests generally give a conditional absolution in case the soul has not yet departed this life.)

Anyway, just as we are urged to have a "Medical Power of Attorney" document (and for Catholics, that document ought to specify our desire for end-of-life care that is consistent with Catholic moral values), I am preparing some last wishes for those who may have to care for me for a short or extended period of disability in my life. That way the sisters will not have to wonder what might be comforting to me. (Granted, I have no idea what might actually comfort me in a hypothetical future situation!)

So far my list includes the kind of prayers I hope to have offered around my bedside (Liturgical Morning, Evening and Night Prayer), my favorite Psalms (so far, 92, 138, 16, 139, 84), and a special request to have the Gospels and Letters of St Paul read (not proclaimed, just read aloud) consecutively. I hope the sisters will frequently renew the "Pauline Offertory" with me; that is our prayer of self-offering in union with Jesus in which the first intention is "in reparation for error and scandal spread throughout the world through the media." This is what drew me into the convent in the first place, so it would be lovely to go home to God in that spirit. I hope there won't be a lot of chatte in the room--though maybe I will change my mind on this. I have musical preferences, too.  If I have dementia and am uncooperative, set the necessary task to music and I will be putty in your hands.  But please don't put on a piano sonata CD. It will only set my nerves on edge!
  • What have  you learned about yourself from caring for a loved one? 
  • Do you have a Medical Power of Attorney document? 
  • Do your health care proxies know and understand the nuanced Catholic position on end-of-life care?
  • Are you drawing up "pastoral care instructions" so your loved ones know what things might bring you spiritual comfort if you are incapacitated?
More resources on end of life issues are listed on the US Catholic Bishops' site.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Keeping Vigil with "Love"

Her name really is Love: Sister Charitas. A missionary for over 50 years, fluent in three languages, she is engaged in the most intense mission activity of her life, speaking a language that few of us learn on this earth: the language of a long, involuntary silence (particularly purgatorial for a sociable character like hers!).

Sister Charitas on her 75th birthday, with her sister and brothers.
Sister Charitas grew up in Sicily, with a character as strong and determined as her family name: Forte! That quality helped her when she found herself caring for her numerous younger siblings after the death of their mother. Only a teenager herself, she became a real mother to the youngest of them, but still found the strength to follow a vocation that took her far from home. As a young sister, she was sent to our newly founded community in Canada as a pioneer of the Pauline mission in a bi-lingual country. Several members of her family also relocated to Toronto where there is still a very close-knit Italian community.

On the floor in the St Louis bookstore!
In the mid-1980's, the Superior General of the Daughters of St Paul asked the Canadian community to focus on ministry in French-speaking Canada, and entrusted the Toronto bookstore and community (along with the rest of Canada) to the sisters of the United States province. At this point, Sister Charitas became part of the (newly baptized) United States-English Speaking Canada province of the Daughters of St Paul. She remained in Toronto for quite some time, helping the new administration understand the complexities of the system there and introducing the sisters to the many collaborators of the Pauline mission. In time, she was transferred to other communities, most notably St Louis, where she continued doing customer service but also helped welcome the new postulants; still, she was happy to be recalled to Toronto and her family connections.

Sr Charitas loves LIFE!
Several years ago, serious health concerns advised a transfer to the infirmary community where Sister Charitas could get extra support and care, but, true to her name, she insisted she was strong enough to handle things where she was. Until she wasn't. Parkinsons-like symptoms progressed with an incredible rapidity, but Sister Charitas refused to surrender to them. Sometimes she could only communicate with her eyes, but it was very clear what she wanted to say. "Posso: I can do it. Let me try." She hated the wheelchair and its footrest, always finding a way to get her feet comfortably on the ground as one of the sisters took her on a "walk" through our offices. I would pop out to bless her with one of the relics from my office shrine (usually St Therese). Now I bring the relic to her room, where we (and her brother and sister) take turns day and night to keep company with her.

We don't know how long her legendary strength will sustain her life on this earth. Certainly, every second that remains is precious to the Lord and to us. We are convinced that right now, no one is carrying out a more effective media ministry or offering a greater reparation for the misuse of communications technology than the little lady named "love" in our infirmary wing.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Pages from the Past: The Vow of Poverty

From 2013. Six months after Mom died, the family was dealing with the estate.

Statue of St Francis on a hilltop in Assisi.
I keep referring to the vows in an objective way, rather than seeing them above all in their relational nature, especially poverty, which I seem to have the hardest time understanding, appreciating and observing "richly." But see St Francis: his poverty; his understanding of poverty was above all relational: "to be poor with the poor Christ." This could be a helpful avenue to renew me in the observance of the evangelical counsels. 

If the vows do not conform me more to Jesus, constitute a communion with his own life, how can they really be evangelical—much less “evangelizing”?

(next day)
“The foxes have dens, the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place…” Now, neither do I, since Mom’s house has just been appraised with serious structural problems so that we can only hope to sell it “as is.” With that, I no longer have a “home” to go home to. I am invited, after 35 years of profession, to “leave home…and follow” Jesus in a new way. Rather, “home, father and mother” have all left me—left me bereft—but also left me free to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”

This sort of connects with yesterday’s reflection on the relational dimension of the vows, especially poverty. Suddenly poverty is revealed as very relational indeed. “My God and my all.”

It is a grace to have this earthly foothold taken away from me while I am on retreat and not while I am trying to accomplish something else. What this whole situation opens up to me (and threatens me with) is a new and more fruitful experience of poverty; what it means to follow a poor Christ.

Lord, help me to receive this instead as a chance to make my dwelling in you; for you to be my rock, my reference point, my place from which I “go in and out and find pasture.” My real home.

The lot marked out for me is my delight;
Welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me.

You are my inheritance, O Lord.
You are my portion from this estate.

I have definitely been given the best part.

"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share. 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Four Kings and a Baby

St Mary Major; 13th century mosaic: Adoration of the Magi, by Franciscan, Jacopo Torriti.
On this traditional day of Epiphany (we'll celebrate it liturgically tomorrow), a reminder that "this feast is not a quaint fairy tale from the past but a bold proclamation of the gospel that contrasts two starkly different worldviews": that of the three kings, "motivated by their love of nature and their search for the truth," and that of the fourth king, Herod "the Great," who "uses naked power to oppress and divide peoples." Read more here (by Donald Senior, CP).

Friday, January 05, 2018

Pages from the Past: Following the Star

The Magi’s great question: “Where is he?” 
I can imagine them approaching the house…Joseph outside, stacking wood or something:
Where is he?” 
And Joseph: “Come and see!”

The Magi (as well as the shepherds) are good examples of freedom. The "exceedingly great joy" they felt at the star’s reappearance shows that they were not acting out of a grim and determined sense of duty or obligation, but following the call of beauty that corresponded to their interior compass.

Then there's Herod. 

Herod’s unfreedom is manifest in his not even reflecting on his action. Crafty he was, but he did not consider the “why?” or “what” he was doing: his motivation was never examined; his ultimate goal not recognized. It is as if he acted only out of instinct—and Matthew notes that he acted while in a perturbed state of mind. He was “under the influence”; he was out of control even while he tried to control everything, Magi included. 

This is why we make—and need to make—an examen every day: to keep verifying our actual (not our stated) motivations for what we do during the day, the choices we make; the priorities we act by, the triggers that provoke automatic behaviors… to call them up, verify them, see them in the light of truth, especially of the Word of God that has most spoken to us for that period of time. It is vitally important not to dislodge the Word of God from the examen or we risk assuming a very different background/horizon by which to see and evaluate. 

Knee-jerk reactions call for the deepest examination: they are a sign of stuck, stolid unfreedom.

"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

An inside look at the LA concert!

In my last post, I mentioned Roma Downey's "LightWorkers" and the camera crew that was present for our Los Angeles shows; here's their two-minute version of our music ministry!

Pages from the Past: Hallowed Be Thy Name

Egyptian manuscript depiction of
the Visitation, from the Walters Museum

People should be able to come to know some real truth about God, come to know God for real, simply by our behavior, especially our behavior towards them. It should tell them who God is, so that God’s name is hallowed, sanctified, blessed on our account.

80 percent of communication is non-verbal, putting my concern for verbal orthodoxy into a different perspective. Does our way of living and expressing ourselves also display God's glory (doxa) rightly?  We could say all the right, correct things about God and say them with elegance, but still give God a bad name. “Because of you, the name of God is blasphemed among the nations."

Are we giving God a bad name, a bad reputation, a bad image not by what we say about him (it may be unimpeachably orthodox) but how we say it or how we live it out in the eyes of the world? God’s reputation suffers when we reduce God to our own size. It's the opposite, literally and figuratively, of “magnifying the Lord” as Mary did. 

"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share.