Friday, April 20, 2018

Paul, the "Vessel of Election"

Parmigianino's rendition of today's reading.
The dramatic road to Damascus story is today's first reading at Mass, but you won't hear Saul (Paul) referred to in the classic words as a "vessel of election." Instead, the lectionary goes with the more prosaic "chosen instrument."

For years, I was all right with that. Our Pauline prayerbook continued to say, "You are a vessel of election, O St Paul the Apostle; preacher of truth to the whole world" and things like that, reflecting the older usage. It was kind of a best of both worlds scenario until this morning when it struck me that a "vessel" is a container. If Paul is "a vessel of election to carry My Name..." that hints that he is filled with the Name, the Person of Jesus. And this vessel does not just transport the Name, the Person of Jesus: it makes him available everywhere. There is a hint here of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (cf. Col 1:27) that just doesn't come through if Paul is an "instrument."

I did a little homework on this, and, yes, it is true that the Greek used in Acts 9 (σκεῦος) is translated in Wiktionary as "vessel, implement." So the "instrument" thing is perfectly legitimate. It just strikes me as reductive and detatched, whereas the word "vessel" offers much richer possibilities, more consistent with a genuinely apostolic spirituality in which the message and the messenger are profoundly united.

By our Baptism, we are more than "instruments" to bring Jesus to the world: we are vessels, to contain him and pour him into the waiting hearts of "Gentiles and Kings and the children of Israel." Just like Paul.

You are a vessel of election, O St Paul the Apostle:
—Preacher of truth to the whole world.

Pages from the Past: the Spirit of Sacrifice

From a book of Carryl Houselander (emphases mine): 

“If Christ is growing in you, you are growing towards sacrifice. If the spirit of sacrifice is not growing in you, Christ is not growing in you, no matter how ardently you may think of him or how eloquently you may speak of him… A sacrifice is not, as so many people imagine, a mortification; it is not something that is meritorious according to its degree of unpleasantness; on the contrary, in real sacrifice, there is joy which surpasses all other joys, it is the crescendo and culmination of love…. When we make a sacrifice it is always thus, we have to give something up, not because it is a bad thing—for more often it is a good thing—but the offering of ourselves is a complete offering, it means a whole attention, a whole concentration, a whole donation.” 

"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, April 12, 2018

Called to Sanctity

Among the letters and photos saved among the boxes on top of my armoire is one from a priest who had been involved with the parish Holy Name Society during the years of my father's leadership on the national level. It is a letter of condolence to my mom upon Dad's death, and it includes the line, "I am convinced that Jim was a real saint!"
Pope Francis this week is telling all of us that "real saints" is what we are all meant to be, and in his new document, "Gaudete et Exsultate" (Rejoice and Be Glad), he takes the time to show us what this entails. He also points out some of the major obstacles, both time-tested and more novel (the danger of "verbal violence through the internet," for example), and the fruits of genuine holiness: those works of mercy we spent a year meditating on.

I can't say much more than this, because I haven't had a chance to actually read the whole document myself. But I did want to give you a timely link: if you pre-order the handy "chapel size" paperback by Friday, you can save $1 per copy.

Our Sister Lorraine is right now preparing a downloadable study guide; as soon as that is available I will add the link to this post, so keep checking back (or checking Twitter @nunblogger for the link). 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

"First to Mary Magdalene"

Mark's Gospel ends with a brief summary of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, starting with the very first: "to Mary Magdalene." It has become popular of late to make much of the fact that this flies in the face of patriarchy, and what are we to make of it, given that the Apostles were not the first ones privileged with the news of the Resurrection, but had to receive it from a woman, and so on.

It is true that for much of history, at least in the West, Mary has not received her due as "Apostle to the Apostles," and first evangelizer of the Resurrection. Thankfully that is beginning to change, as especially manifest in Pope Francis' raising her liturgical observance to the level of a Feast, on a par with that of the Apostles. This highlights the importance not only of Mary Magdalene, but of the lay apostolate in the Church which by its very nature ought to be more extensive than that of the hierarchy (which is at the service of the lay apostolate).

But today another thought came to me about the priority of Mary Magdalene in the order of Resurrection witnesses and the fact that the Apostles at first had to depend on her word for the news before the Risen One appeared to them and commissioned them explicitly to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel.

"Noli me tangere" from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens.
What if Mary Magdalene is "first" yes, because she is a woman, not that this has anything to do with patriarchy or roles of men and women in the Church, but because this makes her a type or living symbol of the Church itself, the Bride of Christ who receives everything from the Bridegroom and "delivers" it to the world? Indeed I think John goes out of his way in hinting at this: the setting of the appearance in the garden evokes the Song of Songs, and when the Risen Christ appears, he does not first address his disciple by name, but as "Woman." Three other times in the Gospel of John a woman was addressed this way, and always in a context that can be seen as spousal: at Cana, at the well in Samaria (in the Old Testament the well was often a place where marriage partners met for the first time) and at the Cross, when the "Woman" was given a son. Now, in the Garden of a new creation, the Woman is entrusted with the Gospel: to be given to the Apostles, but meant for the world.

That the Apostles receive the Gospel from the Woman-Church demonstrates that they are not in charge of the message. They have received it; they are its stewards, docile to the Church in receiving the Gospel and, we can say, also in receiving the tradition which interprets the Gospel.

If that is the case for the Apostles, much more for ourselves! We close the Easter Octave tomorrow, continuing for 40 more days to celebrate the Resurrection in anticipation of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the one who equipped the Apostles to "go out into the whole creation" with the message they received "first from Mary Magdalene."

Friday, April 06, 2018

Pages from the Past: "Come to Me"

“Come to me, all of you… 
I will give you rest.” 

Jesus is saying, “Come home to me.” 

We rest when we are at home.
Home is our resting place, a secure place.

"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, March 30, 2018

Pages from the Past: Good Friday

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me to drink?” There is a whole revelation in that question, above all how it shows that in the “cup” Jesus saw the Father; in drinking it, as if from the Father’s own hand, he was commending his spirit to the Father. It was his trust in the Father that enabled him to drink it at all.

So it is my hope to receive this disposition (and the “mind of Christ”) and to acquire that spirit of trust and faith that does not focus on the external circumstance, but on the present One behind the externals, that he will live that trust “to the end” in me.

"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, March 28, 2018

Time to Say Goodbye(s)

We are about to enter the Paschal Triduum, revisiting the final hours of Our Lord's earthly life and the beginning of that mysterious new risen life that was announced at the empty tomb. John's Gospel uses this as the stage for Jesus' "Farewell Discourse," a three-chapter long summation of the Gospel, rich with promises (promises that are mysterious as the empty tomb,  until the Spirit comes). And just as in these days, Jesus is saying "Farewell," so is our community.

Last year, we experienced two deaths within two months, one anticipated and prepared for with vigils kept in turn, and one that, while not entirely unexpected, came rapidly, in a decline that lasted only a matter of hours. And likewise this year, within about the same time frame, we kept watch with Sr Charitas for weeks until the Master came, while on the Feast of St Joseph, he came at night for Sr Mary Philomena shortly after the initial signs of any distress. The especially beautiful thing about the "order" of these departures is that Sr Charitas and Sr M Philomena had been roommates on the
infirmary floor and sat next to each other in the dining room. When Sr Charitas seemed unresponsive to invitations to eat, it was Sr M Philomena who, perceiving her distress through the deep fog of dementia that had marked her final years, would pat Sr Charitas' hand and encourage her. Sometimes she would just stroke Sr Charitas' hand and say to her, "You are my friend." How lovely that Sr Charitas would precede Sr M Philomena in death, but that her friend would be the next sister called to eternal life!

Sr Mary Philomena was another of our intrepid missionary sisters, from a family in northern Italy that had already produced a Franciscan missionary priest. Another sibling also became a Daughter of St Paul, assigned for many years to our hospital community outside of Rome. (You can imagine how close the two sisters were!) Both of these siblings predeceased Sr M Philomena (and in recent years, it was heartbreaking when she again realized that her sister had died); she still has many relatives in the Verona area. She was a simple, straightforward person. "Without guile," Jesus would say. Like Sr Charitas, Sr M Philomena loved life and she loved people. She also loved flowers, and as long as she was able she tended the garden plots (or plants) where she was stationed.

We said our final goodbyes this morning at her funeral Mass. And just after the provincial superior had offered her own words of remembrance, as we were preparing to sing the last invocations, word came from the infirmary: at 102, Sr Mary Augusta (the oldest Daughter of St Paul in the world) had taken her last breath.

You might remember that we did a small fundraiser before Sr M Augusta's 100th birthday to help equip the infirmary floor with a TV room. In these last months (but really, only since turning 101), Sr M Augusta had been slowing down; it was the flu that hurried her to the gates of Heaven. A beautiful soul with a winning smile and a willingness to cooperate in any way she could: we are going to put her to work full time, especially for her dearest intention of vocations!

So here at the motherhouse we are quite immersed in the Paschal mystery of death and resurrection (as am I as my recovery with Ramsey-Hunt Syndrome continues one nanometer at a time). May that grace truly fill our minds and transform us inside and out, mind, will and heart!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Apostle of Ireland (with a wink of the Irish eye)

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Last year the History Channel released an accurate (if tongue-in-cheek) video short about one of my favorite saints (I call him "the Saint Paul of Ireland"). Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pages from the Past: Where is Love?

Written halfway into Pope Francis' first year on the Chair of Peter. (His anniversary date is March 13.)
Photo of Pope Francis by Fr Michael Makri, SDB

Not to self: God wants his love to be real to people; he wants people to “know” his love “in the biblical sense.” Truths about that love, truths about God, etc., are a second step. The truths have no context apart from the reality of a love that is known first of all as something personal. 

This is what makes Pope Francis’ magisterium so unique; it is also what characterized Good Pope John. People can tell that they are “recognized” by him in a personal sort of way, in a real relationship, even if the Pope only has a second to touch or shake their hand. They know they are more than a “hand” to him, and that, given more time, the Pope cares enough that he would listen to all they had to say. Everybody is looking for that. (Isn’t that why I check to see if anyone responded to my Facebook posts?)

"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, March 02, 2018

Pages from the Past: the Woman at the Well

Where there are catechumens, the story of the woman at the well of Samaria is the Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent. That may have been when I wrote this.

John 4: “Jesus had to pass through Samaria.” When I am in “Samaria” (where the fulness of the faith has been compromised), I tend to be super on my guard, defensive, worried. But Jesus was completely unguarded, even vulnerable. No sense of his eternal superiority or authority. But he did not hide the Gift of God, either—he allowed the woman herself to come to desire and ask for it.. in her own time, after he had allowed her to investigate further.

What I don’t get is that he was there at the well with the same…need: thirst. And yet he is the source of all we need. Anyway, it was through is thirst that he was there to be met. But just as his food is to do the will of the Heavenly Father, his thirst is not quite the one we know, either. His thirst was only partly for H2O.

So there he was at the well, with an analogous, if not identical, thirst to that which drew the Samaritan there; that is the commonality that allowed her to feel safe enough to enter into conversation. This is also what we need in terms of the New Evangelization: to meet people where they are, because we are in touch with that aspect of our own vulnerability, not from a perspective of self-assured superiority. In this new cultural situation, we need to be convinced of and comfortable with (or at least at peace with) what Jesus and Paul taught: “Power is made perfect in weakness.”

We, too, are or “have to” “pass through Samaria”—a landscape that used to be “ours” as a Christian culture, but which is now overrun with every form of error and unbelief. Jesus teaches us how to relate to the human beings who are under the sway of those false or inadequate or dehumanizing ideologies. But we are strangers in the land that was once “home.” Anyway, Jesus shows us how to conduct ourselves in relating with those who dwell in the territory, starting with the human weakness, experience of vulnerability.

At the well, Jesus put himself at the woman’s mercy, so to speak. He put her in charge of the conversation. She opened it up; he did not really initiate a conversation.

What if Jesus had been there at the well, dying of thirst, and the woman had studiously avoided him? Resisted any eye contact, etc? Didn’t “get” what he was saying? Would he then have pantomimed, “I’m dying of thirst! Water, please! For the love of God, water!” But the Preface says, “You had already prepared for her the gift of Faith.” So that “give me a drink” was a come-on; it was a “line” meant to start a conversation with her. (Jesus! I’m shocked! You resort to such devices?!)

John 4 is pretty close to John 2 (the miracle at Cana) and the well narrative is closely followed by a second Cana miracle, so John seems to be deliberately drawing our attention to the wedding “where he had made the water [subject of the first part of John 4] wine.” All that water/wine, and he was asking for a drink at the well? 

Was he offering to turn that water into wine as well? In a way, yes: “If you only knew the gift of God, you would ask…”

"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, February 26, 2018

Unexpectedly Lenten Lent

So my First Week of Lent was, I think it safe to say, the first real Lenten week I have ever experienced. It had, and continues to offer, a kind of "total" Lenten package (especially in the "mortification of the senses" area) and has me marveling at the Lord's providence and humor.

I had been fighting a nasty cold that seemed to cycle back every time I had it conquered. Oh, no. It was only saving the best for last.... After Ash Wednesday, things moved into my middle ear. A consult with Dr Google indicated that, alas, this could be normal. Ditto for other bothersome symptoms. But by Monday of the First Week of Lent, a call to my primary had me spending several hours in the sunny waiting room of a Boston ER. I was surprised at how rapidly my case was handled, and happy to be home relatively soon. But then, I would be back in the ER again soon, too. More than once. I ended up being admitted to the hospital for an overnight, but by then it was clear that a certain window of opportunity had passed and the virus in the ear had found a way to attack the one nerve that controls all the movement on the left side of my face. So now my face is partially paralyzed, I look like a zombie, and four of my five senses are compromised on a rather consistent basis. (So far, the only one of the five senses left unaffected is my sense of smell.)

The good news, they tell me, is that this "Bells Palsy" is a temporary affliction. How temporary? That's as unique as the individual. So, your guess is as good as mine. (I'm thinking--actually hoping is more like it--40 days and 40 nights?)

It seems ironic that just as the Second Sunday of Lent was dawning, with the Father's voice booming across the sky, "This is my Beloved Son; Listen to Him," my sense of hearing was also being smothered (more intensely in my left ear, but also in the right). Problems with eye control pretty much take reading off the table for a while, too. This will truly be a silent retreat, where I will only be able to listen to the interior Jesus, who is sharing with me some unexpected dimensions of his own Passion, fitted to my smallness. One of my earliest thoughts and intentions was to offer this experience in reparation for sins of vanity, my own and, well, why not, all sins of vanity in this media-driven age of vanities? Then as I realized that my sense of taste has acquired a new an quasi-permanent unpleasant guest, I added gluttony to the reparation offering. Jesus, in his own body, won mankind's victory over each of the capital sins. He is giving me a chance to participate more closely, and maybe even in a more targeted way, with him, to offset the magnifying power the media give these deranged inclinations.

I will need to rest a lot more (not complaining!) to give the nerve a chance to heal and regenerate, so  I will have to learn to pace myself better: less indulgence in stimulating enterprise in my office. Your prayers are appreciated as I enter this delayed but necessary time of personal training. Hopefully it will be an intense period of communion with Jesus, inside and out, that will allow me to be more fully at his disposal however things turn out.