Friday, November 17, 2017

Pages from the Past: "Beautiful in its Time"

From 2011? While on Retreat.

Look for the beautiful; for what is “fitting in its time”: it reveals God, it shows his fingerprints, his presence, his “it is good” from the Creation account spoken right there in my day. It can teach me to discern his messages, his directives, his desires.

John Paul II seems to have said somewhere words to the effect that people, the real people I encounter an live with, are the “place” God relates to me. They communicate his will for me, moment by moment.

The direction of this retreat seems to be on learning (practicing) to receive and appreciate beauty in whatever its form (loveliness, an act of service or goodness, mercy, creativity, generosity, good news…) as a way of coming to learn God’s language.

"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. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hollywood Headlines

The headlines from Hollywood and New York say all anyone really needs to know about the situation. I learned quickly enough not to read the articles: TMI does not begin to express it. Of all the conversations that have since sprung up, some only appeal to the issue of consent (essential, of course, but not at all sufficient contain a problem of abuse of power). Emphasis on consent presumes parity among the parties, but equality is precisely what molesters effectively deny. Yet without a transcendent reference point what else is there to appeal to?

Then this morning while attempting to put the papers in my office into some kind of order (well, to get them out of sight is more like it), I came across a slip on which I had written this, probably from the personal journals of Alexander Schmemann, one of my favorite writers:
Back in 1973, Schmemann commented on two books he had recently read:
"Both authors describe the strength of lust for power--a never-ceasing, wild struggle for power, for success. While reading, I felt really frightened by the force, the energy that struggle, even in the smallest worlds--a force that can move mountains and be quite poisonous. The struggle for power is the quintessence of our world. ..."
In another place, Schmemann remarked that often we fail to recognize just how fallen this world is, because we think that what we are witnessing is just "natural" when it, in fact, is seriously broken.

Meanwhile on Twitter, over 200,000 people signaled this post:
I was surprised by the number of negative responses it provoked. Some of those who objected did no on the grounds that even within marriage there can be abuse of power, domestic violence and rape. It seems to me that these sad and sinful realities highlight even more what Schmemann had to say, while also inviting insights from Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body: The most sacred relationship of man and woman can only be lived in its fullness when it is lived "in a complete gift of self" that seeks not one's own pleasure or purpose, but the good of the beloved. And yet this kind of love and respect cannot be mandated by law or social pressure; it is the work of grace, a participation in the way God loves.

Stories of love and the gift of self don't make as many headlines as do sordid tales of lechery, so we need to use all our resources to broadcast them ourselves. Do you have a beautiful story of love to share?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

All Souls--Day of Consolation

All Souls' Day is one of my favorite Catholic observances, and only the other day did I realize why. It goes back. Way back.

Me in fourth grade, the year
I started at that new school (and
the year of my Confirmation).
See, my godfather, Burke Weber, died six months after my baptism. And yet the way my parents referred to their dear friend established a relationship with this "Uncle Burke" whom I never knew in this life. (A chain smoker, he died of lung cancer in his 30's, before the link between smoking and cancer was common knowledge.) When I started a new school at age 8 and found myself for the first time without any friends, Mom suggested that I pray to Uncle Burke. For a week of lonely recesses, I tearfully asked Uncle Burke to find me a good friend. Preferably someone who liked to read. (Deborah and I are still friends.)

Having that connection to the next life from such an early age meant that my devotion to the Holy Souls predated even my devotion to the saints! It gave me a strong sense of the Church as a vast family whose members know and care for each other; a family in which I had a place of my own, and the ability to help even grown-ups who had gone before me.

When Dad died, our family experienced his presence in a variety of ways--especially through the appearance of paperclips in seriously unlikely places. (He was always asking someone for a paperclip to adjust his hearing aids!) Later, a couple of years after Mom's death, I was consoled to witness how that same sense of having relationships that transcend this life had been communicated to the next generation: My sister was taking a walk with her granddaughter when they came across a paperclip on the sidewalk. "Look!" my sister said, "Pepaw says 'hi'!" "No," the little girl said, "It's Memaw. I was just asking her if she was happy to be in Heaven with Jesus."

Devotion to the Holy Souls is one of the central devotions we have in the Pauline Family. We
dedicate the first Tuesday of every month to prayers for the Souls in Purgatory, and have a very special responsibility (and a prayer to go with it) for those who are undergoing purification because of their misuse of the media--whether they were primarily consumers or audience members or, more particularly, the writers, editors, producers, and marketing specialists whose work led others, even by the thousands, down unwholesome paths. Considering the exponential growth of communications technologies, it would seem that in our day we need all the more to pray for those souls, so that for their part, now finally and fully aware of the power of the media, they will take our part in promoting "all that is true...noble...right...pure and lovely" through the marvelous means of communication.

On this All Souls Day, pray that special prayer with us!

Jesus, divine Master, I thank you for having come down from heaven to free us from so many evils by your teaching, holiness, and death. 
I plead with you on behalf of the souls who are in purgatory because of the press, motion pictures, radio and television.  
I have confidence that these souls, once freed from their sufferings and admitted into eternal joy, will supplicate you on behalf of the modern world, so that the many means you have granted us for elevating this earthly life may also be used as a means of apostolate and life everlasting.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.May the rest in peace.Amen.

Pages from the Past: On the Poor Souls

From 2013?

Today I identify with the powerlessness of the Poor Souls. They can do nothing to change their situation, but they can do something “in” the situation, which is love God from where they are; love God because he is lovable and beautiful and not because they get any satisfaction for themselves.

I can acknowledge God here, too. But mostly I need to discover God as loving—as loving me. And maybe that is his desire, too, for this “fallow” time.

"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, 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.