Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves

You can probably remember it as well as I: the scenes on the TV screen (or, perhaps on your computer screen—most of us were not using our phones for live video back then), the thousands upon thousands of pilgrims in Rome keeping vigil at the close of the Easter Octave of 2005. We couldn't keep a bedside vigil, but all of us stayed as close as we could, silent, praying as the great Pope John Paul, a man we knew was a saint—a man many of us felt we knew personally—rendered his noble soul to God. Days later, the banners started showing up: Santo Subito! Sainthood right away! It was a call for something the Church hadn't witnessed in centuries: canonization by popular acclaim.

John Paul's wise successor listened, and though he did not permit the spontaneous canonization, he dispensed with the usual five-year waiting period for opening the process (just as his predecessor had done for Mother Teresa). The rest would be up to God. Just nine years later, we see that God had been one of those holding a “Santo Subito!” banner.

In Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves (Totus Tuus Press, Lakewood CO, 2014) Jason Evert tells us who this great man was, both in terms of his life story and five of the great themes that marked his life and his pontificate. I found the biographical portion of the book (close to half of the content) both comprehensive and readable. If you were intimidated by George Wiegel's massive “Witness to Hope” (written at the invitation of, and with easy access to, Pope John Paul II himself), Evert's is much more approachable, and yet not at all dumbed down.

As interesting as the biographical section is, it is the second half of the book that really tells you who Pope John Paul II was and is for the Church. His “five great loves”—young people, human love, the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Cross—are his enduring testament. Of the five, I found Evert's treatment of Pope John Paul and human love (his wonderful “Theology of the Body,” of which Jason Evert is an internationally known presenter) and of the Cross to be the richest and possibly the most helpful to the everyday Catholic.

I recommend this book to anyone who ever wondered why the Catholic Church seems to have so much to say about marriage (when our culture is convinced that it is only about “two people who love each other”). Evert draws on Wojtyla's long experience in what we now call young adult ministry, in which he offered both teaching and counseling to couples through their engagement and marriage: not a single couple he guided ever suffered a divorce. Obviously, that celibate white male knew something that many couples today do not. Similarly, the presentation of the Cross as a mystery in which we are meant to participate was something very real for Saint John Paul. He learned early on that human suffering, whether slight or excrutiating, is something precious in the eyes of the Lord. He found his own life blessed by the offered-up sufferings of others, and when his turn came (the would-be assasin's bullet seems to have triggered an unending cascade of physical sufferings for the Pope), he willingly united his pain with “the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.”

Other books you might enjoy in the light of the historic canonization of two Popes this Divine Mercy Sunday:
Secret to Happiness: Wisdom from John XXIII(Pauline Books & Media, Boston, 2014): Excerpts from the writings of St. John XXIII (“There are three ways for a man to come to ruin: women, gambling and farming. My family chose the most boring way.”)
Be Not Afraid: Wisdom from John Paul II(Pauline Books & Media, Boston, 2014): a handbook of writings from Pope John Paul II
For children: ABoy Who Became Pope: The Story of Saint John Paul II (Pauline Books & Media, Boston, 2014), written and illustrated by Fabiola Garza. (Follow the link for instructions on a "Pope Party" to introduce kids to our new saints!)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Octave Update

Today is Mom's first anniversary in Heaven. She died on the 4th Sunday of Easter, but her final illness manifested itself that Good Friday (I had gotten a voicemail from her while on retreat at Mundelein--where we spent Good Friday this year, too), so this weekend has been pretty intense for me. Add to that the funeral I attended while visiting New Orleans in March (my Dad's cousin, who was "Aunt Rosie" to us) and the fact that "Uncle Tommy" (yes, Rosie's husband of almost 60 years) died on Palm Sunday, along with the deaths of my dear friend's Mom ("Miss Linda") in March, and my childhood neighbor "Miss Betty" just two weeks ago, and it seems as though the whole year was marked with reminders that we were not created for the limited life of earth. Easter puts the ultimate period at the end of that sentence.

When I was first making plans for my imminent transfer, April 22 seemed like a good date, because our bookstore is closed on Easter Monday, giving me a day after the feast day to finalize everything and have a real "good-bye" with the sisters. A bit after the fact, it occurred to me that I would be leaving the States the day after Mom's anniversary, marking a kind of double transition in life. Only it is not working out quite as planned. My visa application was delayed, and--as it turns out--will only appear on the desk in the British Consulate on Tuesday, since they are closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday! That leaves me in a kind of Holy Saturday sort of Limbo, not knowing the day or the hour of my departure. I talked about this and more on the Catholic Weekend podcast, in case you missed it during the live stream on Saturday. (Be sure to check the program page to find out how to get a random holy card from me from my two and a half pound box of holy card detachments.)

We're still hoping, as a community, to have a good-bye today (taking advantage of a restaurant gift card we were given so long ago we are praying the restaurant will honor it!), but after that it is "hurry up and wait" until my passport, and the hoped-for visa, are delivered.

Meanwhile, it's the Easter Season and time again for praying the "Regina Coeli" morning, noon and evening.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: The Son of God loved me...

"For each of us he gave his life, 

the life which was worth the whole universe,
and he requires us to do the same
for each other."

Clement of Alexandria

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Getting Ready for Holy Week: Unleavened Bread Family activity

A week before Holy Thursday, here's a recipe for the unleavened bread that plays such a pivotal role in the Exodus story--and in the Last Supper. I found this (originally prepared for our children's magazine) as I was packing up...

At the preparation of the gifts at Mass, the priest prays: “Through your goodness, we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” Our shared work transforms the gifts of creation (wheat, water and grapes) into “the work of human hands.” So when we bring bread and wine for the Mass, we are really bringing ourselves. Through the prayer of consecration, our humble gifts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of the Risen Lord Jesus. All that is left of the bread and wine are the sense-perceptible aspects: color, size, taste.

At the Last Supper, Jesus used the unleavened bread and pure wine of the Passover celebration to institute the sacrament of his Body and Blood. You and your child can experience something of the sign language of unleavened bread by making some yourselves. As you collaborate in making unleavened bread, consider the mercy and miracle of God: we bring our ordinary food and drink to the Mass, but God feeds us with the Body and Blood of his Son.

You will need
a cookie sheet, well dusted with flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 to 5 tablespoons water
(No salt!)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Put the flour in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water, and mix well. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly to form into a ball of dough, add some drops of water and mix well. Add water carefully, a little at a time, until you form a ball of dough that will not stick to your hands. (You should be able to knead it like modeling clay.) Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a rectangle about as thick as two quarters stacked up. Place on non-stick or lightly greased baking pan. Using a knife, score the dough, as in the drawing below. (Scoring it will make it easy to break it neatly.)

Bake about 10-12 minutes at 375°. Cool on cooling rack. Refrigerate when cool. (Whole wheat flour and bread keep best when refrigerated.)

Bread made according to this recipe is valid for the Eucharist. Whether or not it will actually be used for Mass is a pastoral question that will be addressed according to your parish’s needs and traditions. This bread, like the more familiar round wafers, is not the Body of Christ unless it is consecrated through the Eucharistic prayer and the words of the Jesus spoken by the priest at Mass.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Lessons in detachment

The process underway.

Books in the basement. (The stack is a bit
higher now...)
My immanent transfer, even if only for one year, is providing me with more lessons in detachment than I expected. Besides the big ones--my local and national community and its initiatives, the choir at OLMC, the marvelous city of Chicago itself--there are the little daily detachments that keep popping up as I pack. Between the things that will be stored in the Chicago basement until my next assignment (mostly books!) and the things I will need in England (which need to fit into two 5--pound suitcases), there are objects that I have acquired along the way that don't really belong in either category.

It is surprisingly difficult to put them where they need to go, which in most cases is the pile for the Salvation Army. There are items I had to part with that I never wanted, never knew what to do with, but held on to out of respect for the person who gave them to me. There are sacred images (including about 30 rosaries!) that I didn't need, but held onto out of respect for the Person or mystery they represented. Every item seems to have a story, and I had to tell myself the story as I moved the object closer to the Salvation Army pile.

Then there is the technology. This is the hardest of all. Not only does every piece of technology seem to have a story (this is the first laptop I got, in 1998, from Dad, at CompUSA, before going to Rome; this was Dad's pocket PC; this was Mom's iPhone...), but in most cases the equipment works just fine (except for the iPhone, which bit the dust this morning when I attempted to change the battery myself). I remember just how much was paid for each piece of technology, too, which makes it even harder to put on the give-away pile! Even though my phone can probably do more, faster, and with higher quality, there is something in me that protests getting rid of functional equipment, even if it is out of date (Zip Drive, anyone? You never know...). But with the grace of God, I will see this through. (Even now I am reformatting the hard drive of that first clunky laptop, and am almost consoled that the LCD screen is beginning to fade.)

I'm still keeping that bag of cables for now. (You never know...)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Friday with Francis

Part of a continuing series of reflections based on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

After spending some time dwelling on the poverty of Christ in his Incarnation, his identification with sinners in the Baptism in the Jordan, and his unfailing, childlike confidence in the Heavenly Father, Pope Francis considers our situation. As St Paul would say, "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth" (1 Cor. 1:26). Overall, the Church is not characterized by prosperity! St. Lawrence the Martyr was being perfectly honest when he brought the poor and needy to the Roman judge who had demanded "the treasures of the Church." A Church with any other treasure is to that degree unfaithful to grace.

And so Pope Francis invites us "to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it." But he goes beyond a simple identification of material want with poverty. Francis instead speaks of destitution, and he sees three forms of this dehumanizing poverty that cries out for remedy. "Destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types...material, moral and spiritual." 

The Holy Father not only calls on us to share our resources in order to relieve this suffering--although he clearly intends that we do, and at a cost ("I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt").  Like Dorothy Day or Dom Helder Câmara,  Francis challenges us to tackle the causes of destitution: the "violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world." He draws our attention back to Christ: "In the poor and outcast we see Christ's face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ." 

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George emphasizes the importance of Catholics really "meeting Christ" if they are to live the faith in a meaningful way. He has even said that if this aspect of formation is taken care of, even if our institutions are compromised, the Church will be strong.  There's a bit of a risk at Lent that for 40 days we can speak piously about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and even fill our CRS Rice Bowl with money saved by eating more simply, and then once Easter comes, go back to "normal." Pope Francis seems to be hinting that "going back to normal" is a sign that we didn't see Christ's face during Lent; for all our good will, we may have just gone through the motions. 

What steps are you taking that this Lent will be a genuinely life-changing season, when you break with habit (even just crusted-over, useless patterns you've developed) to enter a "new normal" in the Easter season?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Fridays with Francis--on a Monday

This was supposed to be posted last week! Oh, well. Now it's a Monday with Pope Francis...

Part of a continuing reflection on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

In the middle of his Lenten message, Pope Francis shifts gears. The first part was an extended meditation on the "Good News" poverty of Jesus: the revelation of God as Father, seen in the Incarnation, the Baptism of the Lord, and the image of the Good Samaritan. Now Pope Francis turns and looks at us.

"We might think that this 'way' of poverty [the way of "going out" from oneself to share the riches of being with the needy] was Jesus' way, whereas we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of human resources. This is not the case."

That one line pretty much nails it for me. The lack of "the right kind of human resources" will never be an impediment to God's work. Pope Francis comments further, "God's wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty enlivened by the Spirit of Christ."

Dorothy Day knew that. She wrote in her diary about a time when the Catholic Worker desperately
Dorothy Day, two years after
the founding of the Catholic
Worker (Library of Congress)
needed $200; it may have been for rent. Dorothy was determined that the Worker, placed under the protection of St Joseph, would live only of Divine Providence. She was very happy to receive a donation for $20, but when a needy person came seeking assistance (quite possibly for their rent!), she handed the money over. $20 wasn't going to cover what the Catholic Worker needed anyway. Sure enough, Divine Providence came through (perhaps at the last possible moment).

The saints rejoiced to find themselves (in the words of a prayer by Blessed James Alberione) "weak, ignorant, incapable and inadequate." Years ago my Dad found that line in my Pauline Manual of Prayers. "Boy," he remarked, "saying that every day will keep you humble!" But for Alberione and others of his spiritual stature, those words were not a form of self-humiliation but a source of deep joy. Having been called to a mission that surpasses our human resources, they knew that their poverty "in all things" (Alberione put that in the prayer, too) marked the place where God could fully and freely act. St. Paul's boast comes again to mind, "When I am weak, then I am strong!"

Can you name a place of "personal and communal poverty" where God was able to work apart from all the more likely human resources? Has this Lent opened your eyes to a new form of poverty that God is inviting you to place at his disposition?

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Friday with Francis

Part of a continuing series of reflections on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

A third image Pope Francis invokes in his message (after that of the Incarnation and of the Baptism of the Lord) is the Good Samaritan. In each of these images, there is on the one hand, a going-out (Francis' famously repeated "Uscire!"), and on the other, a movement towards needy humanity. This poverty of Christ's is founded in his true wealth: his Sonship. "Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves his parents without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant." Not for nothing did Jesus' final words begin, "Father." He is so rich in this Sonship that he can share it, without his own "inheritance" being diminished in the slightest.

This is the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, proclaimed the Sunday before the Lenten season began: The child of the Heavenly Father does not "worry about tomorrow" or about what to eat, or drink, or wear: "Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, and all other things will be given in addition."

"When Jesus asks us to take up his 'yoke which is easy,' he asks us to be enriched by his 'poverty which is rich' ... to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother." That spirit of adoption has its crowning glory in the Gift of the Holy Spirit that is Piety. It is Jesus living in us "to" the Father, with his trust, his joy, his unshakable confidence, his praise. This is, in fact, where the Lord wants to take us by Eastertime (or at least by its end at Pentecost!).

How has this Lent, so far, renewed you as an adopted child of God and strengthened your relationship with the Father of Jesus?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hail, Holy Joseph, Hail!

The post's title is the name of a hymn I learned when I entered the convent. During the novena to St Joseph (March 9-18), we would sing a hymn in his honor every day. One that got a lot of use was the sequence-like "Te Joseph Celebrent," written in 1700 (sung in English!); another was "Hail, Holy Joseph, Hail!" with a beautiful Josephite theology in warm lyrics: "To thee the Word made Flesh was subject as a Son! Hail, Holy Joseph!" "God's choice wert thou alone!"

Espousals of Mary and Joseph. 
In preparing a talk on St. Joseph last week (my last talk in Chicago!), I found myself taking the words of the Angelus prayer into a St. Joseph context. The result is the St. Joseph Angelus. I am sure the Blessed Mother wouldn't mind if for a day we turned our prayer marking her role in the Incarnation into a prayer honoring her spouse's role in the life of the Son of God! After all, the full name of today's solemn feast is "Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Finally, during Advent I had been pondering what seemed to be a kind of invitation to put the then-new liturgical year under St. Joseph's special patronage. This was confirmed for me when (still on tour for the Christmas concert series), I received a message from Sr Kathryn in the motherhouse Electronic Publishing division. She had found a comment from my Mom, posted last year about this time, on the site of a devotional video about St. Joseph. It turned out to be the week before Mom's final illness manifested itself. When she called me for prayers, just ten days after posting that comment, Mom's voice mail added, "I think you're supposed to pray to St. Joseph." We did, throughout that sorrowful ordeal. And I am continuing to do so throughout this year.

So here, for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, is the video that so inspired Mom.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The St Paul of Ireland

His "Confession" begins like this: "I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many." Except for the "most simple countryman" part, the self-description sounds much like Paul, "less than the least of the holy ones" (Eph. 3:8); "chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15); treated as the "scum of the earth" (1 Cor. 4:3). And it certainly doesn't end there! I wonder if the similarities between Paul and Patrick influenced the latter, in some small way, to quote so much of Paul's writings in his own.

On this much-abused feast of the Apostle of Ireland, take time to read a chapter or two of Patrick's spiritual autobiography, and pray to him to take up the New Evangelization with at least a portion of his spirit!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Happy Landings!

Go to my Pope Francis
book's landing page!
The sisters at the motherhouse prepared a "landing page" (a kind of mini-my Pope Francis book. It includes praise I never knew about, a link to get the Introduction free, and the audio segment of my Feb. 20 radio program in which I talk about the book. In case you, you know, want to know. (You can also share it all, too! Here's the short link: http://goo.gl/9Ms11t.)
website) for

Or right-click the QR code on the left to download it as an image to share for people's smartphones.