Friday, October 20, 2017

Pages from the Past: the Eleventh Hour Workers

This parable highlights a shift from a contractual relationship (I’ll do this much; you’ll recompense me that much) to a relationship based on trust: I will trust you to pay what is fair; you pledge yourself to be merciful and generous. And the “equal recompense” is Jesus, whole and entire.

I have to admit that this connected with me on the level of “the worker is worth his wage” and the other passage about wages, “when one fulfills the Law he gets what is due… but when one trusts…” that trust is “credited as righteousness.” 

God considers his laborers to be worth their wage; he guarantees “what is fair.”

"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. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Our Rosary Novena archive and a Nunblogger update

We completed our online Rosary novena last Friday, the 100th anniversary of Mary's final appearance to the three children of Fatima. It was an intense nine days for me and the sisters in the digital department here in Boston: we were the scriptwriters, the producers, and the on-screen talent twice a day. The "set" was the "office/studio/chapel" in our conference and break room. We liked it so much that we're keeping the curtain and lighting up for future, more impromptu video broadcasts. (Alas, the lovely statue of Our Lady of Fatima had to be returned to the community!)

Behind the scenes (mostly), I was thrilled to see the numbers of people who were joining us in real time for the prayer sessions. One evening there were 14,000 "views" (our video was seen, if only for a few seconds, by 14,000 people); by the next morning that number had soared to 30,000. A rapid succession of prayer intentions was monitored by Sr Mary Elizabeth in the next office. As I inserted images of Jesus and Mary into the video stream, little hearts and "likes" went flying across the screen, acts of love of God sent by the hundreds from those viewers. Images of Jesus in his sorrowful mysteries drew the greatest response of loving devotion. It was very moving for me to be a part of that.

Since we broadcast the Rosary on Facebook Live, the videos are all archived--which means that you can pray the Rosary with us whenever you want! As the days went on, I got better at using the "studio" software. At first I thought I was doing enough by putting a piece of art with each mystery, but by the final days I was adding music, too. (Sr Kathryn or Sr Marie Paul was at the next computer, monitoring the live feed to make sure all went well, and to let me know when the music was too soft--or too LOUD!)

The videos contain the whole of our Mission Appeal as well as the Rosary (we are nowhere near our fundraising goal, so the donation box remains open!), but you can always skip right to the chase and begin the prayers about 6 minutes in. In each Rosary, one mystery was singled out for special treatment with a personal reflection from one of the sisters on her favorite Rosary mystery.

One lasting fruit of this experience is that since the novena ended, Sister Kathryn or Sister Marie Paul now offer a reflective moment of prayer each evening on the Ask a Catholic Nun Facebook page. (Sister Martha has been offering a prayer each morning on the same page since about spring.) The morning prayer is usually around 9:00 Eastern Time; the evening reflection is at 8:00 Eastern Time. You can also scout around our video archives on Facebook to find other treatments of the mysteries of the Rosary; I selected for the blog those that featured music.

The next big thing on the Nunblogger calendar is our Christmas concert series, extended this year to New Orleans (home!) and Culver City, CA (Los Angeles). I hope that if you have been hearing about the concert for years and live in driving distance of any of the venues that we will have a chance to meet!

Pray the Rosary with Us!

The Joyful Mysteries

The Luminous Mysteries

The Sorrowful Mysteries

The Glorious Mysteries

Friday, October 06, 2017

Pages from the Past: Two Women of Great Faith

From 2013? Written as a prayer to Jesus.

Andreas Herrlein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today’s Gospel of the Syro-Phoenician woman absolutely delights me, as her faith delighted you, Jesus. I “heard” it today in a TOB context, in which she appears unexpectedly to you, as Eve did for Adam, suddenly revealed in her vulnerability and openness as a “helper fit” for you. Her faith corresponds in such a way to your gift of self in your ministry as to suddenly manifest the communion of persons that this life is all about. She was “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh” and your “O woman! Great is your faith!” was the cry of the new Adam on seeing—finally—someone who corresponded to his call.

Mary at Cana is exactly the same kind of “fit helper.” And probably every bit as spunky and wry, giving as good as she got.

The Wedding at Cana; Mosaic by Ivan Rupnik, SJ; 
Photo by Lawrence Lew, OP
Where you told the Syro-Phoenician that “the children’s food cannot be given to little dogs,” you told your own mother that the problem she was bringing up was not  your problem. And both women of great faith turned the tables on you. (It is also interesting that both stories involve the image of food—one of bread, the other of wine. And there is Jesus, the real food, in the middle.)

“Woman, great is your faith!” is like the cry of the woman sweeping her house and suddenly—there it is! the coin she had lost! “Rejoice with me; I have found the coin I lost!” Delight, surprise, dancing, celebration, acknowledgment to all others around.

I ask, on the basis of nothing more than the fact that you desire it and that it can be for your Father’s glory, that my faith might become such as to reveal me a “fit helper” at  your side, and will cause you to explode with amazement and joy and delight and acknowledgement. I’m not giving you much to work from, with my measly, nervous, cerebral faith. I guess you yourself will have to provide…the rib for my faith to be built on.

I asked for a kind of confirmation sign of this insight. Later that day I dumped onto my retreat house desk the contents of a little bag of adapters and a small silver coin with a Hebrew inscription rolled out; it turned out to be a shekel. (I have no idea how it ended up in my adapter pouch. It’s a keeper, for sure!)

Duly noted: “to be conformed to the image of the Son” hints that being made into “a helper like himself” is a process that extends through our life (and through time, for the “we” of the Church). It’s not simply a one by one, individual, atomized thing.

"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.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

On Icons, the Amish and Me

Relics, left to right: Bl. Francis X Seelos, St.
Peter Chanel (above globe), St. Therese,  St
Maria Goretti, St Ignatius of Loyola (at the 
feet of O.L. of Montserrat!). Bl Alberione's
relic is out visiting the sick.
Since I moved here to Boston (almost three years ago?!) and set up my little "altar" in the office, I have wanted to provide the saints' relics and statues a somewhat more dignified treatment than having them perennially posed upon a plastic spice rack. And so after a twenty year gap, I again picked up my embroidery thread and cross-stitch fabric to make an ecclesiastical style carpet for the office shrine. I determined on a motif of fleur-de-lis and crosses, in colors truly fitting the nobility of the persons represented on those plastic risers.

Part of the fun of cross-stitch for me is making my own pattern, even if it is cobbled together from bits I found online. So I found a basic fleur-de-lis pattern and enhanced it with some shading. (I'm still working on what kind of border to use, but I definitely want one!) I chose regal colors: gold and burgundy (you can't see it yet; that will be the background), and then I started stitching away.

The pattern I came up with calls for eight fleur-de-lis surrounded by randomly positioned Greek crosses. I finished the last of the fleurs last week, and I can assure you that no two are exactly alike.

That was not the plan.

My sister Mary tells me, "That's the charm of handmade items." The sisters here assure me, "The Amish always put an error in their quilting." Granted. And from time immemorial, iconographers have always left an incomplete patch on the image as a sign of human imperfection. I suppose I have surpassed them all, since I do not need to include a deliberate inconsistency in my needlework!

One day, when the burgundy has filled the background, and the fleurs-de-lis and crosses have been outlined and gold, and the blessed saints and martyrs have taken their place on it, not even I will see the manifold mistakes that will have been so carefully stitched on the Aida fabric. Even now, just seeing the crosses start to fill out the background gives me a little thrill. And as I look at it (with all the mistakes only I can see), I have to admit: God sees our life like this. He knows the original plan; he sees the misplaced stitches--and yet he still finds joy in having us as his children.

And we with all our fumbling, all our errors and even sins, are still giving him glory.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Fatima Rosary Novena--and an Invitation

This week the community will kick off our 2017 mission campaign with a Rosary Novena that will conclude on the evening of October 13--the 100th anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady at Fatima (the day of the "Miracle of the Sun"). When we looked at Our Lady's exhortations from Fatima, and the headlines in our papers to this day, the mission campaign theme seems more sadly appropriate than we had planned: The Word Heals.

I was remembering what happened after Hurricane Katrina which largely spared the Pauline bookstore. (Our building sustained roof damage, and there was some wind-driven water damage in the chapel, but the flood waters never crossed the threshold.) As people moved back into the city and began stripping away the moldy drywall and putting soaked couches and cabinetry out for pickup, they started visiting our bookstore. People wanted to rebuild family libraries, starting from the most important books. There was a run on Bibles. One by one, the area's Adoration chapels reopened starting with a few hours each day. (It would be a year before perpetual adoration had fully resumed in New Orleans.)

With all the destruction that was before everyone's eyes, people knew it wasn't enough to rebuild homes. Hearts needed rebuilding, too. And the first place they looked was to the Word of God in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist.

Right now our country is desperate for healing in several places: Houston (remember that?) is still, yes, hauling moldy drywall and furniture out from millions of homes, while in Puerto Rico people are still without power, and in Las Vegas thousands are reeling from the shock of one man's murderous rage. And these are only the most obvious examples, from only one country in a world that is hurting all over.


The material needs are many, and they can be overwhelming. Invisible needs are even bigger, and
harder to identify.

You already know how far our mission can reach!
During our Rosary Novena, we will pray each day in a special way for people in need of a different kind of spiritual healing. You can send in your special intentions, too, and we will be praying three times a day for those needs. We'll also be sharing stories of how the Pauline mission has touched people in need of healing (sometimes in dramatic ways) and projects we are working on right now to reach still more people.

Often the projects that are meant to do the most good are precisely the ones we cannot expect will even cover the costs of producing them. So part of #thewordheals mission campaign will be inviting Catholics and other people of good will to help raise funds for the Pauline mission. We are using a really easy format that allows anyone to create a fundraising web page for sharing on social media. All they have to do is sign up and begin sharing daily updates, using the images that we have already created. Donations go straight to the Pauline mission; there is no hassle at all for collaborators.

Fundraising experts say that the number one reason people donate to a charity is because someone asked them. You may not be in a position to donate to #theWordHeals (you may be in Houston with a houseful of wet books, like my cousin) but you can be a part of bringing a healing word to others simply by creating one of those pages and sharing it with your social media circles or email contacts.  A Pauline lay cooperator who set up a page this morning has already inspired people to donate--and the campaign hasn't started yet! (It couldn't be easier; I just made a page myself in two clicks.)

So start this low-key fundraising with us, and then starting Thursday (Oct 5), go to #theWordHeals to pray with us three times a day: a short day-starter with Sr Mary Martha around 8 a.m. (Eastern Time); the noontime Angelus with me and the other sisters here in the Digital offices at the Pauline motherhouse; and an evening Rosary at 8 p.m. with sisters from the motherhouse. (You can also follow the prayers via Facebook at the Ask a Catholic Nun page.)

See you then!
And thanks.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sr Julia's Movie Recommendation for Therese's Feast Day

Over the summer, Sr Julia Mary made a phenomenal discovery: a movie version of St Therese's autobiographical Story of a Soul, with all the parts interpreted by the same actress. 

As far as I can tell, you can only get it digitally (by streaming it or buying a digital copy on Amazon; if you have Prime, you can stream it for free). And you have to be content with French audio and English footnotes. 

You'll be glad you did.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Michael the Defender; Satan the Accuser
Today's Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (the only three angels given personal names in the Bible) brings the optional first reading from Revelation 12: the story of the fall of the angels, led by "huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world."

It doesn't take much to imagine this mortal enemy of ours "prowling through the world, seeking the ruin of souls" in particular through ill-conceived media productions that continue to mislead, deceive and entrap the unwary or the careless. But there is another way that the enemy entraps us, and it is very, very clever.

Satan gets us to do his own work. He, "the accuser of the brethren," foments judgment, blame, accusation. This ploy works especially well with people who are concerned about doing good. It makes their own lives the measure of righteousness, so that whatever seems to diverge from that norm comes under suspicion. 

That "hermeneutic of suspicion" produces a trail of unlovely thoughts and resentful feelings. It may express itself in cool and cutting commentary or in sincere but ill-begotten fraternal correction. It doesn't matter where the truth lies: for Satan, what counts is keeping his victims looking outward, accusing one another. If this is done by means of social media with its capacity for exponential diffusion, all the better.

I assume that today many people will encounter the traditional Prayer to St Michael ("defend us in battle!"). Here's a prayer you may not have encountered before, to St Gabriel, the patron of audio-visual media. (It is, you may have guessed, by Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family!):

To St. Gabriel the Archangel

         Father in heaven, I thank you for having chosen St. Gabriel from among the angels to bear the message of the Incarnation and Redemption of humanity. Mary accepted the tidings with faith, and your Son became incarnate and, by dying on the cross, redeemed all people.
         But the majority of people still have not received the message of salvation.
         St. Gabriel, patron of audio-visual media, implore Jesus Master that the Church may use these powerful means to preach the divine truth to be believed, to indicate the way to be followed.
         May these gifts of God serve to uplift and save everyone.
         May they never be employed for the spread or error or the ruin of anyone!
         May everyone openly receive the message of Jesus Christ.
         St. Gabriel, pray for us and for the apostolate of communications. Amen.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pages from the Past: the Meaning of Life

From 2014?

Mystery: we are here to learn how to love. That’s all. All our “works” are really ordered to that end alone. Any other end is only a means to that, or it is a waste of time and energy at the least, besides being a detour or distraction.
Paul's “This will all work out for the spread of the Gospel” = “This can yield new occasions to make the love of Christ present and operative…” This also suggests that the scale by which I determine where to focus my energy is not one of mathematical efficiency, but of the sincere gift of self. It is the “complete gift of self” that makes “the surpassing love of Christ” present in the world in a new way.
This can make any eventuality meaningful.

"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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Rest in Peace, "Toodie"

It's pronounced "2-D" (accent on the 2), and when my godmother Toodie made little notecards, she drew a little 2-D logo on the back of each one. Toodie (her given name was Irma) was Mom's eldest sister and my godmother. Yesterday afternoon at her home in New Orleans Toodie died. At the time, all of my sisters (two of whom had been very involved in caring for Toodie over the past year) were in Boston's Logan Airport, waiting for their return flights after a long weekend visit with me. They received word of Toodie's death before their flights boarded. (Actually, one of the flights wouldn't even take off for another three hours, but that's a different story.)
As the eldest of seven children, Toodie was a take-charge sort of person. That quality served her well in her 50+ years at WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. I remember many visits to Toodie's workplace, then located in the French Quarter's Brulatour House (now being restored and renovated as a museum). That media connection in her professional life means that Toodie has an automatic claim to Pauline prayers until Jesus comes again.

For me, Toodie was an ideal godmother. Faith came first in her life, and daily Mass came first in her morning. When we kids would spend the night at our grandparents' house (which we called "Toodie's house" since she was the most kid-engaged person who lived there), we knew that the morning would bring an early Mass followed by breakfast with fluffy orange juice, a real favorite. (Recipe: in blender, combine frozen OJ concentrate and water. Run blender until foamy. Serve.) Evenings with Toodie involved Scrabble or card games (Old Maid was a favorite). Sometimes we went through her abundant stocks of remnant fabrics and trim, making doll clothes while Toodie made dresses for us. She made my eighth grade graduation dress as well as the blue velvet dress I wore to a winter prom in high school. (The prom dress had a matching choker, that being the 70's.) She served the men of the family with her barbering skills, and no special occasion ever ended without the family being documented in a photograph taken with her trusty Canon.

Toodie traveled the world, even bringing a niece or two along. She stayed in correspondence for years with the people she met in places like Paris, Rome, London, Munich. Sometimes our visits to Toodie's house found us pulling shoe boxes out of the antique armoire in her room, each box filled with souvenirs that we could beg for.

I didn't manage to go to any exotic destinations with her, but a month before I entered the convent, Toodie and her best friend ("Dimpsy") led me, my cousin Lynn and my sister Jane on a trip to the Smoky Mountains. We bought my convent trousseau linens in the factory stores of North Carolina's mills and prayed the rosary each day in the car. (See what I meant about her being a real godmother?)

This was taken in 1952, but
I remember that coat. It's
probably still in the closet.
Hurricane Katrina brought many material losses to Toodie's neighborhood (near Tulane University), but it also brought a big surprise. In my grandfather's soaked ground floor workshop, Toodie found a box of papers: her father's memoirs. Long since retired, she marshaled her secretarial experience in a labor of love and filial devotion, carefully typing and editing the papers and having them published in book form.

She remained active and on the run until last year when she (somewhat reluctantly) surrendered her car keys at age 95. "I knew this day would come," she said, "I just didn't think it would be so soon." Her loss of independence was magnified just two months later, when in October a broken hip led to her (first?) hospitalization. The ten months since that were a long Purgatory for a woman who had never had a major illness. That Purgatory ended yesterday. The convent Mass was offered for her (and the father one a novice) this morning, hopefully ending any other Purgatory she may have needed.

+ + + 

I think Toodie was in her eighties when Mom expressed concern about Jane's not having yet married (Hurricane Katrina later took care of that). Mom may have said something along the lines of "she might end up like Toodie." Which Toodie definitely heard. She looked up indignantly. "I've had a wonderful life!"

Rest in peace, dear Toodie!

Pages from the Past: Ask and You Will Receive

“Ask and you shall receive” is not a conditional phrase: It is a promise. 
Jesus doesn’t say we will get what we asked for, but what we will receive is what promote our full joy (and ultimately Heaven: to be God—pure joy—by participation, which we were made for).
“Ask and you will receive,” so be open to it.

"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.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Selling a Bad Idea: Censorship as Propaganda

I just finished reading a book recommended by my brother-in-law, a PR specialist. In Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, Dr Robert Cialdini unpacks the techniques used by a group he calls "compliance practitioners" (in other words, people engaged in marketing, advertising and public relations, etc.).  Cialdini explains the psychological processes and factors behind the effectiveness of strategies like free taste samples in the grocery aisle, celebrity testimonials, and Pampered Chef parties (or the Tupperware Parties my mother's generation put on). I was especially impressed with his treatment of "social proof," but that lies beyond the scope of this post. (You'll have to read the book!)

What I'm more interested in today is the technique of invoking scarcity: Limited Time Only! Limit: Two per Customer! 

Included in Cialdini's study of scarcity techniques is the concept of censorship. Censorship creates a kind of "scarcity" mentality with regard to the information or images that an authority seeks to restrict, making it seem all the more desirable. This is hardly news. What impressed me was a further elaboration of the scarcity-through-censorship strategy as a means for promoting or furthering an otherwise detestable point of viewbecause this has become an almost everyday occurrence in our civic news.

Here's what Cialdini writes (my emphasis added):

...When University of North Carolina students learned that a speech opposing coed dorms on campus would be banned, they became more opposed to the idea of coed dorms. Thus, ever hearing the [banned] speech, they became more sympathetic to its argument. This raises the worrisome possibility that especially clever individuals holding a weak or unpopular position can get us to agree with that position by arranging to have their message restricted. The irony is that for such people—members of fringe political groups, for example—the most effective strategy may not be to publicize their unpopular views, but to get those views officially censored and then to publicize the censorship.
Now look at your newspaper (or the social media you get your news from). Perhaps this struck me in a particular way because the day I read it my social media feeds had images of violence being unleashed by anarchists against a peaceful protest gathering. Are today's headliners instinctively taking a page from Cialdini's book?

In his Epilogue, Cialdini warns that the avalanche of information we now receive on a regular basis can compromise our judgment: "...when we are rushed, stressed, uncertain, indifferent, distracted, or fatigued,  we tend to focus on less of the information available to us." We revert to shortcuts. We leave ourselves vulnerable to manipulation. Human nature being what it is, we can find ourselves growing sympathetic toward causes that we perceive as suppressed. 

Just another reason we need to promote (and practice!) media literacy.