Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Blessed Alberione's Travel Prayer

I'm off! Time for me to visit family, sleep in and read, read, read! That's right: vacation! I was happy to find a direct flight to New Orleans (they're sure not easy to come by), but I will still be praying Blessed James Alberione's safe driving prayer, which seems to cover all the angles, especially that wherever I go, I spread the "good perfume of Christ" to all I encounter.

Enlighten me to travel only and always in charity and with my gaze fixed on Heaven, my ultimate destination.

Be my guide, that I may have complete self-control, a sure eye and constant moderation.

Whever I go, be for me and for those whom I accompany or meet, joy of spirit and salvation of soul and body.

My Guardian Angel, kindly precede me and guard me.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blessed Alberione's Prayer before Using Social Media

Granted, Alberione didn't compose the prayer with social media in mind (at least not our kinds of social media)! This is the prayer Blessed James kept on his desk, and which he prayed before opening the mail or receiving visitors. I think it is a perfect prayer to use before looking at Facebook or Twitter. (Is there any way to provide this prayer to the "Anonymous Commenters" of the world?)

Image from used under CC license.

Jesus Master,
Enlighten my mind to understand correctly what those who write or speak to me mean. Let me hear correctly; grant that I answer in you and according to you. Dispose their heart and my heart to seek only your glory and the peace of hearts.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Final Vows

Yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of my perpetual profession (final vows); today it is Sr Emi Magnificat's to "make the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience for all my life."
The community (along with Sr Emi's family and friends) began the celebration early, with an Hour of Adoration last night. The profession Mass and dinner involve the whole community at some level: music (that would include me), cooking, serving.... Your participation and prayers are most welcome, too, as Sr Emi confirms her commitment to Christ "among the Daughters of St Paul."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Self-Made Man (or Woman, whatever) of the Supreme Court


An image of humanity
as a whole, part of the
meaning of marriage.
Today's majority opinion included this gem: “The Constitution...includes specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.” This takes us far beyond the “born this way” plea that has characterized much of the rhetoric surrounding same-sex marriage. Now it is a matter of an identity that can be self-defined. Man has become his own maker. It's going to be really challenging to maintain a society in which the laws must conform to individual autonomy.

The provision for religious freedom in the matter of the definition of marriage is especially troubling. It seems as weak as the supporting arguments in the majority opinion. And yet the issue is crucial for the unhampered functioning of the Catholic Church's structures as they now exist, since marriage is a pivotal sacrament (Pope John Paul called natural marriage the “primordial” sacrament), and a revelation (that's part of what a sacrament is) of the relationship of God and humanity.

It's going to be interesting to see where this takes us, but here is perhaps a preview, from Bonhoeffer:

The limits and claims of the secular calling are fixed by our membership of the visible Church of Christ, and these limits are reached when the space which the body of Christ claims and occupies in the world for its worship, its offices and the civic life of its members clashes with the world's claim for space for its own activities. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Abraham, model of Laudato Si?

I have to admit it. Even though St Paul drew insights in abundance from the stories of the patriarch Abraham, I kind of groan inside when the liturgical readings hit the Abraham cycle (Genesis, chapters 11-25). Guess what? We hit the Abraham cycle as of yesterday. Today's reading told of how kinsman Lot settled in the beautiful green valley near Sodom (cue the subtle bass tones that signal impending doom). Guess what else? I was blown away with insights in, if not abundance, a certain clarity. In a way, Abraham is showing us in today's reading something that Pope Francis is telling us in his encyclical Laudato Si.

Photo by Sr Mary Lou Winters, FSP.
Led by God, Abraham and nephew Lot have left Haran and entered Canaan, the land God intends to bestow on Abraham and his descendents (of which not a one existed yet). Used to leading flocks and herds, both men quickly appraise the territory. But neither one makes a land grab. They try sharing the area, but conflict arises. They may be kinsmen, but their goatherds do not share the family loyalties. Or rather, the herdsmen are loyal to "their" chieftan. For the sake of peace, the two family groups must separate. And Abraham gives the younger man first pick.

Younger and brash, Lot sets his heart on the well-watered gardens of the Jordan Plain, near prosperous Sodom. Abraham (still called Abram at this point) watches him go and then moves his camp westward.

This is where I see "Laudato Si." God had not yet given the land to Abraham; it was still in the realm of promise. Abraham treated it as a "common home," not as his to exploit (as if that was even possible in those pre-industrial times). As the elder, Abraham could have assigned Lot his, well, lot. That would have introduced into the family the kind of rivalries that were already taking place at the level of the shepherds, and the civilization that would have sprung from those roots would have been poisoned from the start with suspicions, accusations, deceit, grasping, coveting...

But Abraham acted as someone who knew that his inheritance from the Lord was secure; he did not have to seize the best land for himself or strategize how to get and keep it. The God who had brought him from Haran was the Lord, the maker and owner of it all, and he who had made the promises was worthy of trust. Abraham did not grasp at what God gives. He did not act as a proprietor, but as a visitor (aren't we all?), "looking forward to the city with foundations whose designer and builder is God" (cf. Heb. 11:9-10).

I think this attitude is a good one with which to read the new encyclical "On Care for Our Common Home": to let Pope Francis show us the whole land, belonging not to the tribes that presently inhabit it, or mine it, or rule it, but belonging to God and entrusted to everyone.

Do you have the faith of Abraham?

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Pauline history of Papal Documents

My postulancy in the Daughters of St Paul was not just an introduction to religious life; it was like a master class in All Things Catholic, like the liturgy and papal documents. 

We did a special series of
reprints for Vatican II
documents, pushing the
tiara over to make room
for an image. But the yellow
continued on for years.
In the convent I learned how to use a missal and prayed my first Vespers; I read my first encyclicals, too—yellow pamphlets (some so old the staples had rusted) with the papal tiara embossed over the  Latin title and maybe the price (10¢; some as high as 20¢), published by (you guessed it) Daughters of St Paul or (depending on how long ago it had been printed) St Paul Editions. There was a long history to those single-serve documents. Our Founder's entire vocational journey hinged on Leo XIII's Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus, so he was gung-ho on getting people to read documents that previously had had an audience of "The Venerable Patriarchs, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops".

The sisters would do an initial print run of 10-25,000 copies of papal documents (in some cases, a 20 or 30-year supply; they didn't know about inventory management yet). There were a few of those booklets that underwent successive reprints (Humanae Vitae being one of them), but our stockroom had pretty much a lifetime supply of every major papal document ever issued, from Leo XIII through Blessed Pope Paul VI, then gloriously reigning, and judging from the rusty staples, most of them seemed to have been printed during the writer's reign and were thus older than I was. Since I worked in the shipping department, I quickly acquired a working knowledge of the major documents and their Latin and English titles, just from having to fill orders!
With Pope Benedict, we went
to a "New Pope, New Color"
cover policy.
The year I made first vows, the year of three Popes, things didn't really change. The Polish Pope issued his first encyclical and out came the yellow booklet, a bit chubbier than most of the earlier documents had been. (Redemptor Hominis was about the size of Gaudium et Spes or Communio et Progressio, our biggest document booklets up to then.) Pope John Paul continued cranking out the documents (mostly encyclicals and apostolic exhortations) and we started giving them unique covers, until the sisters in the publishing house decided to bring back the standard approach and popped most of the reprints into blue booklets or simple blue paperbacks (JP2's texts usually popped the staples on the booklets).

Late in John Paul's reign, he began publishing actual books. Suddenly the major publishers were interested: not just in his full-length books, but in the
Sneak peak at the new "Anniversary
edition" of a super important
document on the family.
documents as well, issuing them with amazing dust jackets and hard covers. Through it all, the Daughters kept publishing those “chapel sized” paperbacks, changing the color as the Popes succeeded one another: red for Benedict XVI, and now green for Francis. Recently we've introduced "anniversary editions" of major documents: On time for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia, we'll release the anniversary edition of powerful document from the last Synod on the Family: "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" with commentary by John and Claire Grabowski (members of the Pontifical Council for the Family). (Be on the lookout for it!)

Interest in papal writings sparked some abuses, too: a fake papal website; altered documents proffered as the real thing. The Vatican publishing office (which had long given the Pauline sisters open permission to print papal teachings) overhauled its rights and permissions. This means that although for now you can read “Laudato Si” online or download the pdf file from the Vatican website, you will have to wait for a print edition in English. The first copies will be coming from the US Bishops' Conference publishing arm, which administers Vatican copyrighted material. Other publishers (like Ignatius Press, OSV and Pauline) are preparing their editions, but cannot release them for another month. The Pauline edition will be the usual “chapel size,” and the most economical option. Naturally, I hope you will sign up now to reserve a copy as a way of supporting the community that made the paperback encyclical a standard item for the Catholic bookshelf!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

First Look at Laudato Si (the real one)

Soon enough we'll find out how accurate the leaked draft of the new encyclical was; we have the official version to look at now.

After the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, I remember expressing my distress that a company could be so cavalier about the potential for widespread environmental damage: Even if they had permission from all the neighboring nations to set up an off-shore oil drilling operation, didn't they have an ethical responsibility, one no government could waive, to protect the environment, which does not belong to any country or its government, nor even to the people whose livespans coincide with the operation, but an ethical responsibility toward the generations yet to come?

Photo by Les Stone, International Bird 
Rescue Research Center: washing 
oiled Gannet
“No,” I was told flatly. “By law, they are accountable solely to their shareholders and have no binding responsibility toward any other person or entity.”

I looked at the pictures of the dead workers, of their families (living in the same neighborhoods as my own family), of the oil-soaked pelicans and the workers pulling oil booms across the shoreline, at the shrimp fishermen whose livelihood was threatened for who knows how long. Nobody had to answer to them for anything. The government levied massive fines on BP (and its partners in the project, Transocean and Halliburton) for gross negligence and reckless conduct, but the company is still “accountable solely to shareholders,” and we can expect it and other massive corporations like it to continue to make decisions that put shareholders first, and the rest of us (and our planet) a few steps behind.

Pope Francis looks at a situation like this (and the many, many more that take place on a smaller scale and in settings where the media coverage is effectively dominated by special interests), and responds with an encyclical.

Unlike Rerum Novarum (the first-ever social encyclical, by Leo XIII), Laudato Si is not addressed to Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, nor (like Quadragesimo Anno, by Pius XII) to Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops “and all the faithful of the Catholic world”, nor even (like Centesimus Annus, by St John Paul II) to Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Communities of Men and Women Religious, all the Christian faithful, “and all men and women of good will,” Laudato Si is addressed (in N. 3 of the document) to “every person living on this planet.”

It would seem that not even “good will” is necessary any more. Francis is simply pleading: “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.”

By addressing himself to “every person on the planet,” Francis has put himself under some restrictions. He has to start with the concerns of “every person on the planet” and matters that “every person on the planet” can recognize and understand, not addressing as “Vicar of Christ” people who do not know or acknowledge Christ, but speaking as a elder brother to the whole world, and “every person living” in it.

As always, he presumes that Christians will read his words in a Christian manner, interpreting what he says in the light of all that the Bible brings to bear on the subject, even though strictly biblical reflections are developed explicitly toward the end of the document. He expects that Catholics will read his words in an even fuller context, not subjecting a papal document to an entirely secularist interpretive framework, but parsing it in the light of the Catechism and of the whole Catholic tradition, especially in the area of the common good. It would be a grave mistake, and even an injustice to the Pope and to one's fellow-Catholics, to read “Laudato Si” in a purely political light, whether that light is cast from the right or the left.

Catholics can be accustomed to taking Papal documents as “the end of the discussion”: Roma locutus est, causa finitus est, my Dad used to quote in sonorous Latin: Rome has spoken: case closed. At a press conference this morning, Cardinal Weurl said, “Francis is … offering a moral framework in which this discussion can take place … but he's not saying 'This is the conclusion of this discussion'.”

Do your part! Read the document (right-click to download and save to your computer):
Press Conference with Cardinal Weurl and Archbishop Kurtz:

Several Catholic publishers in the US (including the Daughters of St Paul's Pauline Books & Media) plan to release print editions of Laudato Si; to get a 20% discount on your first order from Pauline, sign up for our Discover Hopenewsletter. You'll be notified when the document is printed. (All the typical publishers in the US are under a one month embargo on this.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A few scenes from our Jubilee celebrations around the world

June 15 was the big day, but since that was a Monday it was only natural that most of the anniversary observances took place over the weekend. Here's a trip around the globe with the Daughters of St Paul as they begin their second century of media evangelization:

Alba, Italy (city of our foundation) 

Alba, Italy: Perpetual Vows of 17 Sisters from around the world

Rome: "Official" celebration at the Basilica of Mary, Qeen of Apostles; celebrant was Cardinal Joao Brazil de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation 
of Consecrated Life

Boston: Cardinal O'Malley preaching the homily
Boston: Nunblogger leading the assembly in the Sanctus

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Paschal's Wager and the Leaked Encyclical

So the Catholic world was breathless yesterday over the leak of an Italian "draft" ("not the final
version," insisted the Vatican spokesman) of the Pope's much-anticipated (and in some quarters much-dreaded) encyclical on the care of creation. ("The care of creation" is how the encyclical was mentioned by Cardinal O'Malley in his homily Sunday at our Centenary Jubilee Mass.) I have not been able to do much more than glance at the Italian (the leaked document is 172 pages long and I have not been well this week). If I am going to read 172 pages, it will be of the published version and not a leaked one.

The document (as it comes to us, unofficial) is a new expression of the social doctrine of the Church (see n. 15).  One horrified Catholic glumly reported, on the basis of a Google translation of the Italian draft, that the Pope had swallowed climate change "hook, line and sinker." By this, he meant not only that the climate is changing (that is a given), but that humans bear some (or most) of the responsibility for that change. This is something that politically conservative Catholics are especially wary of: The "climate change" mantra is often invoked as justifying drastic population control measures, and does seem quite often to accompany a particularly dismissive attitude toward the human species as a whole. Some go so far as to suggest that the earth would be better off without us: this rightly unnerves Catholics when climate change comes up as a subject.

Pope Francis appears (we are only looking at a draft--and in Italian) to take aim at the anti-human conclusions of those who make man the servant of the environment. He quotes St John Paul on "an authentic human ecology" (an expression that Pope Francis has used more than once in his talks). The draft goes on, "This concerns especially certain significant themes that criss-cross the whole Encyclical. For example: the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet." The Church is concerned not only for Planet Earth in and for itself, but is concerned with Planet Earth for the sake of the people who inhabit it, especially the most defenseless.
 The leaked document cites Benedict XVI on correcting "models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment" (my translations throughout). "Pope Benedict has recommended that we acknowledge that the natural environment is full of wounds caused by our irresponsible behavior." "Attitudes, even among believers, that obstruct the pathways to a solution go from denial of the problem to indifference, to comfortable resignation or blind trust in technical answers."
The draft addresses the "throwaway culture" and its relationship to pollution. (It is again the poor who bear the heaviest burdens when it comes to pollution: not just the problem of waste disposal and entire communities living on garbage heaps, but health risks associated with things like smoke from cooking over fire, and lack of access to clean water.) In wealthier parts of the world, pollution seems to be an old, largely-resolved story, but it is a still a daily health hazard for most of the children of Adam.

The draft spends dozens of paragraphs describing the problems the environment faces, in terms and with examples that generally coincide with those we find in the fund-raising literature of environmental organizations. The document acknowledges: "On many concrete matters, the Church has no reason to propose a definitive word, and understands that she must listen to and promote honest conversation among the experts, respecting the diversity of opinion." But the Church herself is, in the words of Benedict XVI (himself quoting Paul VI??) "an expert in humanity."

The draft warns against divinizing the earth, "leveling all living beings and taking from the human that unique value that at the same time implies a tremendous responsibility." In the fourth chapter, the document calls for an "integral ecology": environmental, economic and social. That last point becomes the most crucial. Everything is ordered to the human person. Lack of housing, inadequate public space, the dissolution of the natural family. "Human ecology also implies something very profound: the necessary relationship of the life of the human being with the moral law written his in very nature, a relationship that is indispensible for being able to create a more dignified environment."

Whether or to what extent human activity is responsible for some of the environmental changes that we are witnessing (things like the tree line of certain species climbing north as their former habitats become too hot or wet or dry, or changes in plumage and migration for certain birds), it is clear that human activity is to blame for the changes in amphibians and fish subjected to wastewater that retains estrogen from birth control pills. And there is always the warning "follow the money": who stands to gain financially if climate change can be ignored or blamed entirely on the planet itself? Who stands to gain financially (or politically) if the responsibility can be placed tout court on human influence?

Admittedly, I have a powerful personal motivation for desiring to see climate change slow down, if there is anything at all that can be done: my family's roots go back 300 years in one of the most threatened cities on the planet. Some estimates give New Orleans about twenty years before it becomes part of a growing Gulf of Mexico (and shrinking State of Louisiana, which loses a football field's worth of coastland every hour). If there is even a 5% chance that this could be slowed down, I would pray we would take it. Pope Francis writes from a similar point of view: the poor of the world live in the most threatened spots. My family has the resources to pick up and move elsewhere (but where?); that is not even a remote possibility for the poor in the south of the world.

I look at the question of human responsibility for climate change as a kind of Paschal's wager: If humans are responsible for some proportion of climate change, it behooves us to alter what we can in order to preserve the environment. If we are not, what do we lose by attempting to rein in those things that are clearly not good for the environment?

This is a long (draft) document, and one which merits to be read in its entirety--when the official version is released. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Woman behind the Pauline Mission

Being rejected as a candidate in one's local religious community would not seem the most auspicious beginning for a life of consecration, but for Teresa Merlo of tiny Castagnito, Italy, it proved to be pivotal.

Teresa's sewing machine, a gift from her
parents upon her completion of an
advanced needlework program in Turin.
She had already been told with almost merciless clarity that her health was too uncertain for any congregation of sisters to take a chance on her. So in 1915, the twenty-year-old, having benefited from a specialized course in needlework (and owning a sewing machine that was the envy of her village), started a sewing school for girls of the area.

One of the projects she was working on was a vestment for her brother Costanzo, a student in the diocesan seminary in Alba. A priest on the faculty there had been sharing his grand vision for a “new evangelization” that would take advantage of the “new media” that were becoming more and more widespread and accessible. Father James Alberione thought this an ideal mission field for women, but being a full-time seminary professor and spiritual director didn't afford him many opportunities for recruiting young women for this work. Besides, the women most likely to understand his dream had probably already joined one of the local communities of sisters and would not be free for the kind of adventure Alberione wanted to propose: a worldwide family of religious (priests, brothers and sisters) working alongside the laity to penetrate and transform society with the leaven of the Gospel.
Teresa (above, age 21)
became Maestra Thecla.
Costanzo Merlo found a way to speak privately with the young priest. “I have a sister...”

The meeting of Blessed James Alberione with Teresa Merlo (100 years ago today) has gone down in Pauline history as a turning point. We have Teresa's own account of it, narrated decades later when she was known to all as “Prima Maestra”—this being the Daughters of St Paul version of “Mother General”, using the title “Teacher” (Maestra) to point to the Divine Master (Maestro) as the real authority and center of the community:
When I met the Theologian [Alberione] for the first time, he told me about a new Institute for women who would live as Sisters ... and my enthusiasm was immediately enkindled. He spoke with my mother who had accompanied me, and it was decided to let me stay for fifteen days. The fifteen days have not yet ended...
From that June day onward, Teresa took Blessed James Alberione as her spiritual director. (It was he who would later give her the name "Thecla" after a prominent woman disciple of St Paul.) Sister Anna Maria Parenzan, Maestra Thecla's successor as superior General of the Daughters of St Paul was to write:
Maestra Thecla was literally captivated by the Founder’s insistent invitation to attain union with the Master, to reach the highest degree of prayer–the point of "it is no longer I who live but Jesus who lives in me".
Her spiritual notes allow us to glimpse significant features of her journey of conformity to Christ: 'To live in union with God as St. Paul did: "My life is Christ."To do everything for him, with him and in him' (June 1963)...."To remain united to the Divine Master. To learn internal and external silence from the Holy Family. To live in intimacy with the Divine Master: mind, will, heart, works, senses, hands, feet, eyes, hearing–everything for him and with him" (Jan. 1963). Maestra Thecla’s longing for unity with Jesus led her to experience his same feelings and compassion and to yearn that the Gospel might reach everyone "with the most rapid and fruitful means," that is, through all the languages and forms of communication.
As for the precarious health that had so frightened the local sisters, Teresa led the Daughters of St Paul with a motherly hand for 50 years, living through the trials of World War II and undertaking strenuous international travels to vist her sisters the world over.
There were moments when everything seemed so dark that we understood nothing. For my part, I was never afraid, despite all the talk and the crosses to bear.
51 years after the death of the woman they acknowledge as co-foundress, the Daughters of St Paul mark this centenary year with gratitude, with amazement, and with the prayer that we may perceive in our own century the vision Teresa Merlo received from Blessed James: that we become apostles, agents of a new evangelization, when it is Jesus, the Divine Master, who lives in every dimension of our being, so that it is “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

For more about the Centenary of the Daughters of St Paul, including an online magazine complete with interviews and videos, visit