Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Rest in Peace, "Toodie"

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ + + 

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

Rest in peace, dear Toodie!

Pages from the Past: Ask and You Will Receive

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



"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Selling a Bad Idea: Censorship as Propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, August 28, 2017

Turning from Our Idols

In today's first reading, Paul congratulates the Thessalonians on their profound conversion from the worship of idols to the "living and true God." In the Gospel we find somewhat the reverse: Jesus castigates the religious experts and complains that when they do win a convert over, it is to the detriment of the community. In part, Jesus hints that this is because the scribes and Pharisees themselves are given over to idols. We get a glimpse of that in the examples Jesus cites: "If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated." The gold of the temple and the gift on the altar become the core value at stake, rather than "the living and true God" of the temple.

Unfortunately for us, the tendency to substitute idols for God did not end with the destruction of the temple.

A sad example of this was in last week's news. In fact, I can't quite get it out of my mind (or my prayers), it is so illustrative of the hold that our idols, any idol, can take on us. I'm referring to last week's news story about the New Jersey priest who got so involved in poker games and tournaments that his life began to revolve around them. Lost games began to seem like a nasty joke on God's part. (Shouldn't God have been helping a priest win--and win big?) Finally, the priest got fed up with all those losses. To get back at God, he came up with the foulest offense he could think of. He started a child porn collection on his computer. He wasn't even into porn--his idol was poker, and it became the center of his life, the value by which he measured every other good, even God. Now he's in jail, stripped of his ministry, and poker can do nothing to help him.

It can happen to anyone.

One of the benefits of a retreat is to distance us from our everyday idols so that with the light of the Holy Spirit we can begin to recognize the hold they have on us and cooperate with the liberating grace of God. The Lord helped me on my recent annual retreat to identify one of those miserable idols of mine; in these weeks since then I have been surprised at how many times (and in how many ways!) that idol has woven itself into my day.

Paul tells us, "You are the slaves of the one whom you obey" (Rom 6:16). We do not merely "worship" our idols, we serve them; we obey them. Little by little, our idols reset our center of gravity to the point that we enter into a worldview that, for all practical purposes, has been established by our idols.

Each time I become aware of my idol, I'm resolved to hand it over to Our Lady so that in this centennial year of her appearances at Fatima, I can begin to really "be transformed by the renewal of my mind" (Rom 12:2) and become more and more interiorly free.  "For freedom Christ has set us free!" (Gal 5:1).

Our idols can be material (like money, pleasure, or poker) or more subtle in nature (security, power, status--even spiritual status!). Has God freed you from an enslaving idol in your life? How has this changed the way you live?

Monday, August 21, 2017

From Retreat Silence to the Shouting in the Streets

After a week of retreat (eight days without Twitter or Facebook!), I find myself again immersed in a river of conversations, comments, epithets and headlines, this time mostly circulating around the provocatively racist and nativist actions of young, self-styled "neo Nazis."

It seems to me that I am seeing a new expansion of an important area of the Pauline mission and spirituality. Not that we can issue the definitive answer to the social problems or ideological errors behind the things we see in the news: no. Our mission is not only to publish and spread the truth of things, it also has a spiritual dimension of offering reparation for the ways media are put at the service of error and ideology. Because those racist ideologies are not springing full-grown from the tabula rasa of a naive human brain; they are being communicated (with a certain perverse effectiveness) through various forms of media.
A Berlin courtroom. 

Used to be, people spoke of the "loss of a sense of sin." Maybe that was only Stage One. Now we are witnessing the "loss of a sense of truth." These particular untruths would have nowhere to go if our society has a whole had not already lost its moorings in objective truth.  And with that loss of a sense of truth, are we not also witnessing the loss of a sense of community? Looking at those angry young men I have to wonder what motivates them to follow a standard dress code, or carry a shield, or wield a torch in the name of their ... skin color?

What a contrast with the young people whose writings I was reading while on retreat! A few weeks earlier, I had received a review copy of At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl. The Scholl siblings (Sophie was the subject of a recent biopic) were about the same age as many of the white supremacists we have seen on parade these past several weeks.

Immersed in Nazi Germany (the real thing, not the romanticized and mythical version that so enraptures our American Johnny-come-latelies), by all rights the Scholls should have completely bought into the system that surrounded them. They had been members of Hitler Youth. Hans was even in the German Army (as a medic). But somewhere along the way these two young people (at their execution, Hans was 24, Sophie 21) had discovered a point of reference outside of themselves. They discovered philosophy through wise mentors who had not yet been eliminated from society, and then they discovered the foundation of all truth, God.

And so instead of enthusiastic (or at least resigned) cooperation with the goals of the Third Reich, they became a unique part of the Resistance, boldly calling other young adults in the name of the "White Rose" to reject Nazi ideology and to resist it in any way they could. Members of the White Rose wrote and printed newsletters in secret, distributing them through a variety of channels to university students. Each issue included the invitation, "Make and distribute as many copies of this as you can."

While they were doing this, the Scholls continued a lively correspondence with friends and family, sometimes alluding in coded language to their illegal enterprise. There had been hints even earlier of the direction their lives would take. A few years before the first White Rose bulletin came out, Sophie had written to her boyfriend, Fritz (like Hans, on active duty, but unlike Hans, a firm believer in "my country, right or wrong"):
"...one constantly meets the view that, because we've been born into a world of contradictions, we must defer to it. ... If it were so, how could one expect fate to make a just cause prevail when so few people unwaveringly sacrifice themselves for a just cause?" 
Hans, similarly, had written to his sweetheart: "This war (like all major wars) is fundamentally spiritual. I sometimes feel as if my puny brain is the battle ground for all these battles. I can't remain aloof because there's no happiness for me in so doing, because there's no happiness without truth--and this war is essentially a war about truth."

The Scholls knew it wouldn't be long before the Gestapo traced the paper, the envelopes, perhaps the typewriters, to their little group of confederates, and that once discovered, they would be ruthlessly eliminated. And yet, in the middle of their doomed enterprise, Sophie wrote to a dear friend, "Isn't it mysterious--and frightening, too, when one doesn't know the reason--that everything should be so beautiful in spite of the terrible things that are happening? My sheer delight in all things beautiful has been invaded by a great unknown, an inkling of the creator whom his creatures glorify with their beauty. --That's why man alone can be ugly, because he has the free will to disassociate himself from this song of praise. Nowadays one is tempted to believe that he'll drown the song with gunfire and curses and blasphemy. But it dawned on me last spring that he can't, and I'll try to take the winning side."

Hans, too, noticed and delighted in beauty. At about the same time as the White Rose was about to blossom, he had written to a girlfriend:
"The sun's shining. The snowdrops are out, and white clouds are sailing across the sky. Dark earth and bright sky. I feel like saying yes to everything. I feel like saying, yes, I love you, yes, I know the way, oh, yes, it's bliss to be a human being."
These are not sentiments we would expect to find our American neo-Nazis expressing. I think that's significant.

Meanwhile, there's this:



Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission that can help me...get more books. In addition, I received a free copy of the book mentioned above. I am committed to giving as honest a review as possible, as part of my community's mission of putting media at the service of the truth. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, August 04, 2017

Coming Soon: a New NunBlog Feature

I process things in writing and still have a stack of old journals that I haven't been able to get rid of (despite having shredded up three garbage sacks' worth of journals when I packed up in Chicago!). Last week, I decided that having extra space on my shelves for books was worth more to me than hanging on to old notebooks, I started the process of pitching a stack of journals. I've been typing away, saving up anything I had bookmarked or underlined--from personal insights to quotes to entire passages from books I was reading--and the rest is going to the friendly neighborhood shredder.

I'll start with these...
Most of what I am keeping is for me, of course, but some of it is worth sharing. (You don't know how many earlier NunBlog posts or retreat talks already came out of my journaling!) So at the risk of oversharing, I will be offering a "Page from the Past" every other week here on NunBlog. I've regretted my infrequent posts since my stint in England, and this gives me a way to keep refreshing the content on the blog without getting overwhelmed. I hope that some of what will be appearing will be helpful to you. I can't be the only person facing some of these issues, or asking these questions!

I'm afraid that most of what I will be sharing are only the half-baked thoughts of an inconsistent disciple. Some are scraps that I jotted down, sometimes in the hope of developing them a bit more before sharing them. But since Bl. James Alberione once told the Daughters of St Paul, "the world is starving for the crumbs of what you know," I will offer these incomplete tidbits even knowing that they may reveal far more of my own brokenness than I really want out out there!

Your comments and sharing in response to the posts will also be very welcome. Look for "Pages from the Past" to begin in September.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage #NFPweek

A young couple, she a singer/songwriter/speaker on a worldwide Catholic circuit and he a campus minister and high school theology teacher, have put their professional and personal expertise together in providing a small, accessible version of (sound the trumpets!) Theology of the Body in Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage (release date September 1).

This slim volume offers couples (engaged or young-marrieds) six weeks' worth of daily devotions based on Pope John Paul's incredibly beautiful insights. The introduction sets the stage for any who are not quite sure just what Theology of the Body is or would look like in real life. The major content of the book is divided into six units, each addressing a single question that will be explored day by day through that week.

This little book by Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel would be a lovely something extra for a newly-engaged couple who are approaching their sacramental union with faith (and for whom a standard “pre-Cana” program might offer too little in the way of spiritual formation).

So many couples...ask us 
'Where was this teaching 20 years ago!'”

Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel are extremely knowledgeable about Theology of the Body (they first met at a TOB retreat!), but the book came out of their engaged experience: “We read several [TOB-related] books as an engaged couple that helped us to grow together intellectually and spiritually.... This is why we believe in the power of doing spiritual reading together as a couple.” (The introduction alone deserves to be covered in every Catholic marriage prep program in the country.) One take-away line: "What we do to our bodies, we do to our souls." 

Jackie and Bobby invite the couple to read the material prayerfully (together or each one on their own) but urge them, “be sure to talk about it afterward.... Communicate with one another about what moved or challenged you—it will be time well spent.” They also admit that, given the subject matter, it is possible for painful memories of failures or deep wounds to surface. These, too, can be content for prayer and for receiving God's tender mercy and ever-deeper healing.

They start with “Why Am I Here?” in Week One, praying through the week about our being created by the God of love for love, a love that expresses itself as a gift of self. This is followed by Week Two, “What Is Love?”; Week Three, “What Is Marriage?” (here Pope John Paul's “language/speech of the body” has much to communicate about the nature and characteristics of married love); Week Four, “How Can Our Love Last?”; Week Five, “What Endangers Our Love?” and Week Six, “What Is God's Plan for Our Family?”

Two short pages per day cover key areas of Theology of the Body as they relate to a young couple. The “Daily Challenge” suggests a practical way to deepen or apply the day's content. A short Prayer closes the devotions—and opens the day for those who make this book part of their morning routine.

The book closes with an encouraging Afterword on married holiness. There are two Appendices: the first a booklist of recommended reading, and the second a short explanation of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the most reliable NFP models (based on an ever-growing body of scientific research into fertility).




by Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel
163 pages, from Pauline Books and Media
Release date: September 1, 2017


*Trumpet fanfare by Alexander at orangefreesounds.com and used under the Creative Commons License.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back in catch-up mode!

I spent the last ten days at our retreat house near Lexington and Concord; it's a place with a lot of history of its own, originally a Colonial-era farm (the original house is still there, and still occupied), then a farm for the Boston seminary, then the novitiate and training ground for the Maryknoll missionaries and finally...our own place to "come apart with Me and rest a while." I have lots of memories of the place, since I made a weekend retreat here as part of my discernment many decades ago, when the retreat house properties were virtually unchanged from its days as a farm. The cattle and horse stalls had been converted into (very bare-bones) "cells" that provided a bit of privacy, but also the company of many, many of the Lord's crawling creatures. (That did nothing to foster my spirit of recollection.)

As novices, we made our first eight-day silent retreat in that setting, if you can imagine that, and when a shipment of peaches came in from donors in the New Jersey farmland, we were the ones called upon to prepare the fruits for canning. In silence (well, we prayed a couple of rosaries out loud). After an hour or two, my hands began to swell and smart from the acid in the peaches, and the whole situation struck me as preposterous. I tried to hold back my giggle (no, really I did!), but Sister Christine caught the smirk and it was all over.

Yes, precious memories.

After the retreat ended and we novices (joined by the incoming group of pre-novices) gathered around a bonfire for an evening of pious recreation, I composed a song in honor of the soon-to-be demolished retreat house, using the melody of our community's "Hymn to St Thecla."
We have a retreat house
in Billerica.
It's called St Thecla's,
We love it so-o-o-o.
We've had it for many years.
It's about
to
GO-O-O!
Refrain: 
Good old St Thecla's
--bugs and dead trees--
We'll be glad
when you get rid
of some of these...
Somehow they still let me make my vows two weeks later.

Anyway, this year I brought the drone over, to see if I could reproduce in some way the iconic photograph we have from about 1966. There was a bit too much glare for me to really see what was on the screen, but I got a video clip that almost gets it right:



This was the setting for the retreat reflections I offered on a Pauline theme, "Qualities of a Penitent Heart." (If you've ever been in a Pauline chapel, you've seen the words that so inspired our Founder, "Do not fear; I am with you; from here I want to enlighten; live with a penitent heart.") Here's something from the concluding talk, to give you an idea of what the sisters prayed with for eight silent days. Something must have clicked, because one of the sisters wrote me a little note: "In a strange way, I'm somehow looking forward to a penitent year ahead!"

Going Home with a Penitent Heart

From T.S. Eliot's "The Family Reunion"
Harry: 
I feel happy for a moment, as if I had come home.
It is quite irrational, but now
I feel quite happy, as if happiness
Did not consist in getting what one wanted 
Or in getting rid of what can't be got rid of
But in a different vision. This is like an end.

Gratitude, receptivity, virginity of heart (living from what Merton called “the virgin point”): these are the qualities that make a penitent heart possible; they are pre-requisites. Without this foundation, we cannot risk being "convicted." There's not enough foundation beneath our feet.

Then, to be poor, apostolic and confident: these qualities flow from the experience of being convicted--which holds a central position as "the" act of repentance, the "hinge" of conversion, so to speak.

"Cor poenitens tenete" ("Live with a penitent heart") is an abiding disposition, a readiness or alertness to make use of everything to turn more fully to God; ongoing readiness and availability for conversion. One thing is for sure: "Heavenward there are no limits" (Von Balthasar). Henri Nouwen wrote to Jim Forrest (but I'm sure he'd write the same to each of us), "Your heart is very deep and wide, and it cannot be just yours." I think that is a terrific way of saying, "Live with a penitent heart."

What is the "act" proper to the heart? It is love.

What is the act proper to a penitent heart? It is a particular kind of love. Repentance recognizes sin and the roots of sin and wills to renounce it all for the sake of love. And each of the qualities of the penitent heart can be seen as a different expression of love, and also as a different aspect of the love of Jesus. Jesus lived all these qualities, even taking our sins upon himself--"becoming sin"--so that they could be fully and knowingly repented of. 

Oscar Wilde ("Letter from Prison"?) writes about the penitent heart in a different way; a way I call the "transubstantiation of the past":
Of course the sinner must repent. But why? Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realise what he had done. The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation. More than that. It is the means by which one alters one's past. The Greeks thought that impossible. ... "Even the gods cannot alter the past." Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it. That it was the one thing he could do. Christ, had he be asked, would have said--I feel quite certain about it--that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept he really made his having wasted his substance with harlots, and then kept swine and hungered for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy incidents in his life. It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it. If so, it may be worth while going to prison.

Continual conversion, ongoing repentance means not being stuck, not locked in or frozen in time. Hopefully in these past eight days each of us has felt a loosening of that one "stuck" area that keeps all our interior gears from moving freely and smoothly.  

The penitent heart is unafraid:
  • of its own poverty, when it finds itself without the resources to succeed in life, because God is its one and supreme good: "I am confident and unafraid; my strength and my courage is the Lord" (Is 12).
  • of its failures or sin: because "God is greater than our hearts" (1 Jn 3:20)
  • of the future: because "all time belongs to him." The penitent heart has entrusted its whole past to the Lord's mercy, so it follows that the future is also held in God's mercy, his Providence.
The penitent heart is a disciple's heart: open, docile, available, flexible, responsive: not a fortress, steeled against any intrusion of grace.

The penitent heart is a mystic heart. Nouwen contrasts "mystic" with "moralism" in the sense of "what we can do humanly, by force of will, resolution, etc." And there seems to be a constant temptation to replace the fruits of the Spirit with some one or other "works of the law" whatever that law may be. Mystic means the "not I who live, but Christ"; the penitent heart knows deeply that "by myself, I can do nothing..."

The penitent heart is a "salty" heart: flavorful, pungent, penetrated with that certain something that alters the chemistry of whatever it touches--not "conformed to this world," then. When my actions, premises, choices, perspectives, interpretations, criteria of value or of esteem are indistinguishable from those of society (or of an offshoot of society), this is not salty. If I love, seek, admire and work toward the same things that the most worldly love, seek and strive form, I am failing to give society a new and Christian flavor, a new "imprint" as Alberione put it.

Bl. Columba Marmion said: 
"People are to be met with who...lose themselves in a multiplicity of details and often weary themselves in a joyless labor. ...
"... For years, their lives have been as it were cramped, they have been often depressed, hardly ever contented, for ever finding new difficulties in the spiritual life. Then one day God gives them the grace of understanding that Christ is our All, that he is the Alpha and Omega, that out of him we have nothing, that in him we have everything, for everything is summed up in him. From that moment all is, as it were, changed for these souls: their difficulties vanish like the shades of night before the rising sun. As soon as Our Lord...fully illumine these souls, they unfold, mount upward, and bear much fruit of holiness."

It is not too late for any of us. "Even if our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." The Founder, in a year-end retreat in 1950 told the community: "Be sorry for sin: this must not only be written on the wall, but must be written in the heart." That same year, he exhorted the Paulines of then and maybe even more of now: 


It is time that we aim for heroism, because we do not know what the times ahead of us hold in store for us.

Monday, July 03, 2017

The "Twin," the "Rock" and the "Tower": Nicknames in the Bible

The Incredulity of St Thomas, by Caravaggio
Today's feast of St Thomas the Apostle (first celebrated in Syria circa 250 AD!) brings us the fabulous story of "Doubting Thomas." Not that Thomas was ever called that by his fellow apostles. No, the Gospel of John tells us (twice) that Thomas was called "Didymus," "the Twin."

Until fairly recently I assumed that meant he was one of a pair; that somewhere in first century Palestine there was a brother or sister with whom Thomas had come into the world. Strange that he or she didn't get a mention in the Bible: was it that only Thomas was a disciple of Jesus and that he who would one day evangelize India had failed to win over his closest family member?

Or could it be that "Twin" was one of those nicknames that stick to someone like glue, especially in a close-knit group like that of Jesus and his disciples? Jesus himself bestowed nicknames, and at least in Peter's case that nickname effectively replaced his given name (which was, you will recall, "Simon"). I read a book about a year ago that suggested that Mary Magdalen was not Mary "of Magdala," but Mary, "the Tower" (migdal); perhaps a hint at the out-sized personality that made her such an effective "Apostle to the Apostles."

What if the disciples called Thomas "Twin" because he bore a striking physical resemblance to Jesus himself? What if Thomas was Jesus' look-alike, so close to the Lord in height and build and facial structure that it had taken a while before the others could tell them apart unless they were close enough for eye contact?

What if we're all called to become so much like Jesus that people who know us only from our words and deeds could "mistake" us for the Lord? I suspect that this is what our Baptism is meant to accomplish!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Countdown to Vow Day

On the banks of the Hudson with Sr Julia last week.
Things are moving at quite a clip for me lately!

Right after I got back from the Theology of the Body program at Franciscan University ("Steubie"), I was off again for two more weeks to see my family in New Orleans (and Texas!). The day after I returned, Sr Julia and I headed to Newburgh, NY, where I had promised to give a group of Carmelite men a workshop on social media and religious life. Their provincial gathering included the celebration of Jubilees (one priest was celebrating his 70th anniversary!) and the feasts of their patrons, the prophets Elijah and Elisha. I have been in religious life a long time, and have participated in many unique liturgies, but this was my very first experience of the Mass in honor of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Official holy card for the Cooperators' centenary.

Then it was back to Boston, right on time for our own sisters' Jubilees: nine sisters marked 60, 50 and 25 years of religious vows. I found it hard to believe that our dynamo Sister Mary Thecla is already at her 60th anniversary; we were stationed together in Chicago for her 50th (which she celebrated for an entire year--as she plans to do this time, too!). The day after the Jubilee celebration we had the opening Mass for the Centenary of the Pauline Cooperators' Association, the first of Father Alberione's institutes to be officially recognized by the Church. (I'll post the prayer below.)

In the two days I have had in my office since mid-May I have gotten back to work on the retreat I am scheduled to preach for the sisters starting July 10. Thankfully, I was asked to offer a series of reflections I had already prepared and delivered (twice, I think), but in the years since I have continued to find amazing and pertinent insights from the books I have read and the Gospel readings of the day--and besides, the sisters deserve more than a recycled sermon--so I am attempting to revisit, refresh and revise the original talks. It is a vast and intimidating enterprise, and I have enlisted several friends (including a cloistered sister) to pray for abundant fruits. (Please add your own prayers; it is pretty awkward for me to reprise these themes a third time!)

In between editing retreat talks, I have been taking the newly-repaired drone out for daily practice sessions. Weather permitting, I will get a bit of footage on Saturday when our novices make their first appearance in their habits as they head to chapel for first vows. That's right: this weekend is First Profession Day for our three novices, who will receive the habit Friday morning (our community feast of St Paul)--they receive the habit, but don't actually wear it until right before they make their vows. Family and friends are beginning to arrive now (from all over the world!), along with a group of young women in discernment who will be making a retreat in this context of consecration. (Pray for them all!) You can meet the soon-to-be professed sisters on their social media profiles: Sister Julie, Sister Danielle, Sister Putri.

Just hours after the celebration of the novices' first vows (with the much-anticipated revelation of their new names), our Sister Emily Beata will say "arrivederci" and take off for Italy and the beginning of her preparation for final vows.
July 2, 1978.

And the very next day is my 39th anniversary of profession.

I had better keep my running shoes on!











Wednesday, May 24, 2017

O-HI-O

A wonderful opportunity came up a few weeks ago, so here I am writing from the Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH (sometimes known in Catholic circles simply as "Steubie"). I'll be back in Boston on Pentecost, God willing, but in the meantime I am auditing a course in Theology of the Body with Dr Michael Waldstein, translator of the TOB talks of Pope John Paul.

Although I am one of the original fans of Theology of the Body, with my interest in the talks dating back to 1980 when the saintly pope had barely begun to deliver them, there are some big gaps in my understanding of the whole arc, especially the theological dense second section with its treatment of the sacrament of marriage and the connection with the relationship of Christ and the Church. I am very grateful to be able to focus for these three weeks on the entire series, going in depth into some of the key themes. It also gives me a chance to fill in the blanks on a TOB-related project that got its start when I wrote too much for the study guide for the video lecture series Discover Theology of the Body. Hopefully I will be able to complete a brief overview of TOB that can work as a kind of correspondence course or deeper companion to the video series. (Stay tuned.)

Besides the interesting mornings (class runs from 9:00 - 11:45 M-F), the campus setting itself has a lot to offer. Since I did not have a typical college experience, this is my first time in a college dorm situation. Not that Steubie is par for the course, I am sure: the building I am in has one wing for the men, one for the women, and a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament in between the two on the lower level. I think all their dorm buildings have chapels, and if they are like the one in this building, Jesus gets company there throughout the day. Then there's the larger campus chapel: daily Mass is held here at noon. There is always a music leader and vigorous singing. Actually, the singing is astounding (even if I don't really go for "How Great Thou Art" accompanied by solo guitar). It was also inspiring to see the Franciscan Fathers converging on the chapel last evening at sunset to make confession available for an hour. I keep wishing that the young people in my own family had had the opportunity to experience for two or three weeks this kind of intensely lived Catholic life adoration and confession and daily Mass are almost taken for granted, and where the culture supports and nourishes the expression of faith instead of suppressing (or ridiculing or misrepresenting) it.

The campus does honor to St Francis' reputation for the love of nature with its carefully tended gardens, abundant lawns and trees, Stations of the Cross set into the woods on a hillside, Lourdes grotto on the edge of the woods and to-scale Portiuncula chapel (also with the Blessed Sacrament: you find Jesus all over the place). There are immense youth events here every summer, but I can see making a retreat here, too. There is enough beauty to support a week's worth of silence.

Then there is the social dimension. For me that began when we were tipped off by an email that Dr Waldstein would be teaching the TOB course here. That notification came from a local MA student who had written an article for our Discover Hope newsletter. (She also picked me up at the airport and provided me with the linens and towels that the dorm does not offer.) At the first (mandatory) dorm meeting, I met a new friend, Pam (from Chicago!) and made the acquaintance of another Pauline: a member of the Holy Family Institute, Lisa. All three are taking the TOB class, though only Pam and Lisa are here in the dorm. It has been great having people to share TOB insights--and meals--with every day.

And the meals are good, too.

While I have been out of town, the Phantom drone has been in the "hospital" getting repairs for stress cracks. I just got notified that it is fully repaired and tested, so it should be back in Boston before I am. I need to get in some more practice air time so I will be ready and able to record a few scenes from the upcoming vow day events--unfortunately, I won't be able to get any chapel footage, for two reasons: my superior really does not trust my aviation skills indoors (with good reason) and the propellers are really, really loud. (No one would hear the vows!)

Actually, I will only have one day in Boston after Pentecost before I fly away again: to New Orleans, for some precious family time.

I have some lovely pictures to share with you, but it seems to be impossible right now to post them. Well, something to look forward to some other time!