Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A timely thought from Merton

I have no idea where I found this (somewhere in Merton's last decade of journals), but here it is:
The great hope of our time is, it seems to me, not that the Church will become again a world power and dominant institution, but on the contrary that the power of faith and the spirit will shake the world when Christians have lost what they held on to and have ventured into the eschatological kingdom—where in fact they are!” 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lenten Recipe Collection

Here in the motherhouse, I can't exercise the culinary creativity and daring that is possible in a community of four or five, but I can still dream, can't I? Here is a collection of meatless recipes, along with a few inspiring articles, that may help you to do more than dream in the kitchen during Lent!
View my Flipboard Magazine.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Way of the Cross for Persecuted Christians

Fridays of Lent are days of special focus on the cross, making the Way of the Cross the Friday prayer par excellence.  I am posting this on Thursday so that you will have it at the ready no matter what time you choose to pray the Way of the Cross. These meditations come from the Maronite Bishop of Syria, where the way of the Cross is no pious exercise, but a daily sharing in the cup of suffering that even Jesus asked to be spared.

“Blessed Are They Who are Persecuted for justice, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” 
Matthew 5:10

Meditation for refugee and homeless families in the Middle East

Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified.” Matthew 15:12-13
An innocent man condemned to death. What injustice! Lord, our families feel their suffering with you, innocent victims in your image, through violence and persecution. They are forced to leave homes, schools, parishes, towns, neighbors, friends, and cemeteries, to live in refugee camps of misery and indifference.
Pilate is always there to feed injustice.

Lord, enlighten the minds of these “judges” and make us messengers of justice. Amen.

“ ..then they led him away to crucify him..” Mark 15:20
Jesus is taken to the soldiers, he “through whom all things were made and nothing was made without him,” (Jn. 1:3) lowers his head and walks humiliated, carrying the cross, defenseless.

Lord Jesus, the force of evil is still rampant and destroys. Lord you identified with the weak, look at our fragile families, humiliated and torn by violence. They are victims of injustice as you were. Give them the strength to carry the cross, to keep the faith, and to hope in you. Amen.

He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” Isaiah 53:5
He who brings peace to the world is wounded by our sins and falls under the burden of our sins.

Lord, we are crushed by the weight of the cross and the great desolation around us. Our selfishness and weakness pulls us down. Lord, lift us from our falls and direct our mind back to your truth. Amen.

And a sword will pierce your own soul.” Luke 2:35; Isaiah 53.5
Wounded and suffering, carrying the cross of humanity, Jesus meets his mother and the face of all humanity. In this mutual suffering between son and mother a new humanity is born.

O Mary, Mother of God, you saw your son suffer. Help our moms who are deprived of their children, whose children suffer and die alone away from them. In our daily life children and parents are hurting mutually. Help us Lord to transform our families and homelands into spaces of love and serenity in the image of the Holy Family. Amen.

“..they laid the cross on him and he carried it behind Jesus.” Luke 23:26
This silent encounter between Jesus and Simon of Cyrene is a life lesson. Two eyes met in a silent speech that says a lot. Suffering received in faith traces a path of salvation.

Lord, our families are left alone in their misery. They are waiting for a hand, a heart, a “Simon of Cyrene” that you send in the wilderness. Amen.

Your face, O Lord, I seek. Do not hide your face from me.” Psalm 27:8-9
Veronica makes a strong symbolic gesture. She wipes the pain of your face in a gesture of faith that expresses her love for you. In Christian tradition this face is still seen on Veronica’s veil. Who will wipe away the wounded faces of our brothers, our mothers who weep for their children, and their distress?

God grant that we see your face in that of the poor, persecuted, and innocent victims of violence and injustice. Amen.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” Psalm 22: 8-12
This second fall under the cross is a sign of loneliness in suffering. Injustice and violence pound the lowly people into the abyss. Your loneliness, Lord, joined the isolation of the poor victims of the world’s selfishness.

Come Holy Spirit to comfort, strengthen and sow hope in the hearts the oppressed so that, united to Christ, they may be witnesses of his universal love. Amen.

Daughters of Jerusalem weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Luke 23:27-28
These women saw in the cross a curse. The Lord saw redemption, the taking away of sins, and consolation for the oppressed. The eyes of the women were open to the truth of Easter.
Lord, our wounded moms who are suffering, need your consolation and comfort.

O suffering Christ, be peace and balm for their wounds. Amen.

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, 
and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should 
no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them 
and was raised again.” Cor. 5: 14-15
Jesus falls under the cross for the third time and, despite his exhaustion, he seeks to get up again. Lord this exhausted and weakened people gathers strength to get up in vain.
Our divisions are deep even in the Church as we work for Christian unity.

Lord, help us to get up and walk the path of forgiveness and unity that flows from your saving suffering. Amen.

“…they divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Psalm 22:19
Lord you carry our humanity. The many victims of indiscriminate violence are poor and can only join you in your liberating suffering and your infinite love.

Lord, to our poor refugees who encounter various difficulties, give strength to overcome fear and remain committed to this holy land which empties of Christian witnesses to your word. Lord, teach us to detach from material goods so as to live in your evangelical poverty. Amen.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” John 19:19
Lord Jesus, you were crucified for our sins. The blows of the hammer echo in our hearts.
Our children are martyred, killed with savagery, in aimless violence. These oppressed young people are close your cross.

Lord, may your liberating suffering release these young people and families from slavery so they may discover your divine face. Amen.

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
This cry of abandonment breaks the silence and opens the way to freedom. The whole meaning of the cross takes its value from this saving suffering. These innocent victims did not die for nothing. By your death Lord, you opened the door of the kingdom of eternal life. Death does not defeat us. Death introduces us to the Resurrection.

Lord, open the hearts of those who endanger the lives of others to discover the value of human life, a reflection of your divinity. Amen.

He said to the disciple, behold your mother.” John 19:26
Lord Jesus, the one who loves you stands beside you. Mary is the model of this love, the model of faith.

O Mary, our Mother, we place in your hands our martyrs, our refugees, those unjustly tortured, hated and excluded. We entrust to you, our dear Mother, children without schools, the sick who are untended, and our homeless refugees. Ask the Lord that the blood of innocent victims is made the seed of a new society, peaceful and just. Amen.

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen.” John 19:39
Nicodemus gratefully receives the body of Jesus, prepares it for burial and lays it in the tomb. Jesus crucified abandons himself completely into human hands, perfectly united with humanity in all things. Indeed, by his death we are buried with him so as to rise to new life with him.

These tombs of darkness await your spring Lord, the light of the Resurrection. Give us the grace to choose your redeeming cross, to keep faith and hope.

Lord, make us children of the light who no longer fear the darkness.
Make our cross lead to forgiveness, reconciliation and peace in the light of your Resurrection. Amen.

All Rights Reserved: Episcopal Commission for the Family in Syria.
Translation: Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp

Original French: Maronite Bishop Samir of Syria

Photo by Sr M. Emmanuel Alves, fsp

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Into the Desert

Even when I know Lent is on the horizon (and with Mardi Gras decorations all over my office for a month, it's a hard reality to avoid), Ash Wednesday can catch me a bit by surprise. This year, a little more than usual (three days of migraine kind of distracted me from the liturgical rhythms this time
Jesus at prayer in the wilderness.
Illumination by Simon Bening, circa
1530. Courtesy of 
around). But being responsible now for our official Pauline reflections on ifollowlight, I did have to spend an unusual amount of pre-Lenten time meditating on Christ's forty days in the desert, so I have a little something to share today, headaches notwithstanding.

This year in most parishes you will hear the Gospel of Mark's summary of the temptations in the desert. Here is the whole of that Gospel text:
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
If you are at a Mass where the candidates for Baptism are going through one of the final stages of the RCIA, you will probably hear the much more detailed Gospel of Matthew. This text (like the one in Luke's Gospel) spells out three rather specific temptations, usually beginning with the sneering goad, "If you are the Son of God..." and then starting off with the idea of turning the desert rocks into tasty loaves of bread--an idea that Jesus dismisses immediately with a quote from the book of Deuteronomy, "Man does not live on bread alone..."

After the three attempts, the devil seems to give up. Jesus wins. The end.

How can that be helpful for us who face daily struggles to follow the will of God when it is not always that hard to discern in the first place?

The clue is in the number of temptations Matthew and Luke present: three. In the Bible, a repetition in sets of three indicates intensity, a persistent, ongoing situation, taken to the very limits of possibility; it hints at a kind of crescendo. Jesus in Gethesemane prayed three times, "Not my will, but yours be done" (Mt 26:44). Peter will deny the Lord not once, not twice, but three times, underlining the vehemence of his denial (Mk 14:66-72). Paul, again, prayed three times to be delivered from his famously mysterious thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7). Paul's "third heaven" (2 Cor 12:2) was as high as one could go in the Jewish mystical tradition.

So that first encounter in the desert was only the beginning of an incessant battle, one that lasted the rest of Jesus' life. He will tell his apostles, as the end draws near, "You are the ones who have stood by me in my temptations" (Lk 22:28).

How did he do it?

I found a hint of it in the very words Satan used to inaugurate his attack, "If you are the Son of God." That was a serious miscalculation on the part of the tempter. His attempt to pit Son against Father, to put God's fatherhood to the test, had worked very well with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The insinuation that God was not really on their side was all it took to induce Eve to reach for the forbidden fruit, and for Adam to take his share. But for Jesus, those same words were a reminder of the foundation of his existence: The unfathomable love of God is the entire background of Jesus' awareness. All the way to the Cross, he was relying on the Father, and his last words on this earth are for all of us an exhortation to trust God with our life. "Into your hands I commend my spirit."

The temptation in the desert gives this year's candidates for Baptism a key for living their new identity as children of God: live every moment in reference to the Father. For those of us who have been in the pews for quite a while, it is a reminder and a recall: your life is cherished; every hair of your head is counted. Receive this gift of faith every day to live in the peace of Christ.

That is what I want to take through Lent this year: the image of Christ on the Cross, completely entrusted to the Father he could no longer "sense" in his human spirit. Surely the tempter was still at hand with his mocking "if you are the Son of God..." It didn't matter. There was only the Father, the beginning, the source, the foundation, the assurance, the guarantee of Easter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lent is coming: Time for prayer, fasting and (hint, hint) almsgiving

So Lent is about to begin! I assume that readers of NunBlog have already got their Lenten spiritual reading lined up (if not, start here for some Lenten ideas). In case you haven't settled on the "almsgiving" part, I have an idea...

It is a little embarrassing for me to do this (there are so many huge needs out there, so many incredibly worthy causes), but here goes: My community is attempting to start up a new aspect of our media ministry, one that can reach people who are starving not for food but for meaning. We are hoping to transform seven titles, dealing in a faith-filled and healthy way with forgiveness, depression, self-esteem, bearing the Cross... into audiobooks that will provide a means for even more people to discover and access a message of faith in times of suffering. After a lot of research, we have found a Catholic-run company that can do the job for only $500 per title.

Our mission can look like it's self-supporting. Actually, it has never worked out that way: help comes in many forms (donations "in kind" that help reduce our grocery bill; pro bono or discounted professional services; the occasional intern; our own relatives...). I suppose it is God's way of reminding us that "apart from Me, you can do nothing." So also for this new initiative for our mission.

If you know someone who is looking for a charity where their small gift can make a difference, here we are! We only need $3500 for the entire project, so it is very doable if enough people contribute even a little. Plus, we have a Mass offered every month for our benefactors (in addition to the prayers of the sisters on a regular basis).

We timed an online fundraiser to end at the feast of St Joseph, the provider of the Holy Family. Won't you join us in asking St Joseph to provide whatever resources are needed in bringing this new form of our mission to light?

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's Snowing (again) in Boston!

Just a few scenes from the motherhouse of the blizzard-du-jour. At one point this morning (they tell me it was around 4), we were getting four inches of snow per hour. The air conditioning unit outside the library provides a convenient yardstick; it had been completely cleared of snow as of noon Saturday. Sister Linda hopped into our little red pickup truck and started plowing under whiteout conditions; dangerous, but necessary: if she let the snow accumulate it would be impossible to move later on--the joystick that controls the plow has already been replaced once this winter. (That's a pickup truck, not a front loader!)

Quoth Sister Linda, "It's bad out there. It's really bad."

That's how much snow had fallen by
8:00 Sunday morning.

This is the view from my bedroom
window. Yes, it is over my head. I
brought some strawberry syrup up
and have begun serving snowcones.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

So this is love?

Ah, St Valentine, patron of romance and all things sweetness and light! The martyred priests whose pop culture attributes have become frilly pink hearts and licensed merchandise in various...shades of grey.

So there's a movie coming out this weekend that Nunblog readers are probably not lining up to see. But plenty of other people are, especially young women who have bought up the books by the millions (two copies a second) worldwide. And lots of bytes have already been dedicated to parsing out the unwholesomeness in the movie; if you want to learn more, follow the links below. I'd rather direct your attention to how the popularity of the books, and now the hype about the movie, points to the wisdom in Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body, even if from the opposite direction.

From what I have picked up in the Catholic press, the book's "Mr. Grey" is almost a caricature of the male archetype. From another film, American Sniper, Chris observes: "There are three kinds of men: wolves, sheep and sheepdogs who protect the sheep."  Grey is no sheep. He knows what he wants, has the means (intellectual and financial) to acquire it and the strength to exercise control of everything in his radius of influence. He is a provider, too: In today's Boston Globe, one interviewee said "the shame of watching 'Fifty Shades' comes in seeing Grey buy Steele a wardrobe of clothes and handing her her ideal job. 'The bondage isn’t what attracted me to the book. It was someone making life easy for you...and there was a housekeeper'." Unfortunately, the young woman, too, is a caricature of femininity in her receptivity of treatment that violates her dignity to such an extent that the actor who played Grey in the film admitted, "I had to do stuff to her that I would never choose to do to a woman."

Shame characterizes not only the actors, but even the audience. In that same Boston Globe article, one woman joked about wearing a wig and dark glasses to the theater. A 26-year-old confessed that she is going to drive to the next town to see the movie: "“You don’t want to see anyone in town you know.”

Contrast that with today's first reading from Mass:
The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man.... the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" .... The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
"Naked without shame" is one of the most important subsections of Pope John Paul's entire Theology of the Body. The comfortable nakedness of the sinless Adam and Eve reflected their perfect openness to one another in God's presence. Their "shamelessness" was from a sense of abundance: the abundant gift of God visible in each other's bodily form; the full gift of self to the other, holding nothing back. It was only after the fall that there came the felt and urgent need to protect themselves from the other's potentially possessive, objectifying gaze.  But the shame itself was and remains, Pope John Paul observed, the recognition that a tremendous good was at stake.

This is what our culture is on the verge of losing. Erotic novels and films are not the cause, but they are both a symptom and an accelerant of the loss of awareness of the dignity of the human body, reduced to a tool or a toy.

None of the above means you have to give up on romantic films this weekend, though! Sister Helena's review of "Old Fashioned" will be released tomorrow; the movie will be in theaters for Valentine's Day. Meanwhile, the trailer is pretty clever:

And here's a prayer by Blessed James Alberione that seeks to offer reparation, in union with the sacrifice of the Mass, for the infection that can be spread through the world when the power of media is used to exalt evil and demean truth, goodness and beauty. We prayed it this morning; I hope you will pray it this weekend, too!

Father in union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic banquet a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection, I offer my own self with our Lord:
  • To make amends for the error spread by the misuse of the media of social communications;
  • To beg your mercy for those persons who often allow themselves to be led astray by the indiscriminate use of the communications media;
  • For those who knowingly reject your Son and use the media of social communication with malice;
  • That men and women may hear and follow him alone whom you, heavenly Father, in your boundless love gave to the world, saying:  'This is my beloved Son, hear him.'
  • That the use of the media may help men and women learn and believe that Jesus alone is the perfect teacher;
  • That there may be a great increase in the number of priests, religious and lay persons who by prayer, example and professional work are devoted to the Christian apostolate of communications;
  • That all those who work with the media of social communications may strive to become holy, and proficient in their efforts, for the glory of God and the salvation of humankind;
  • That we may come to know our strengths and weaknesses, and your love which alone makes us worthy to call upon you as our Father, imploring your light, compassion and mercy.

 - - - - -

For some critical perspectives (from the standpoint of reason and faith) on the books/movie, whose title I am avoiding so as not to feed the Google machine:

Monday, February 09, 2015

Back to the "beginning."

Today's Mass readings almost gave me spiritual whiplash.

We started "in the beginning," with the very first words of the very first book of the Bible, and got through the account of creation--up to the fourth "day." It was all so calm and contemplative. Even God was contemplating each slow and steady step of creation: "And God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed...."

Then you get to the Gospel and it seems a bit like a return to the chaos over which the Spirit of God had hovered like a dove in Genesis: Jesus docks at Gennesaret, people recognize him and suddenly the whole district is buzzing. People "scurried about" to bring their sick and suffering to Jesus, wherever they heard he had been spotted. You can hear the clamor as they beg Jesus, "Just touch him! Or let him touch the tassel on your cloak--anything!" Mark tells us that the tassel itself became a kind of sacrament of healing: "as many as touched it were healed."

Gradually the noise I perceive grows silent. There is only Jesus and the people, sick and well, reaching out toward each other, connecting. Creation is being restored through the love of Jesus who came to bring "life to the full" and through the love of family and friends who, hearing that he was near, do whatever it takes to bring the sick close to him. See the love at work here? This is what creation is for. How good it is!

Images from The Getty Open Content program.

Friday, February 06, 2015

A Week of Martyrs

Today's Gospel is the martyrdom story we hear most often during the liturgical year: that of John the Baptist. (Interestingly, today it is paired with the near conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews, with its exhortation about the sanctity of marriage, the very cause for which John was put to death.) Today is also the feast of the martyrs of Nagasaki, 26 Christians crucified in 1597 who were only the first of many martyrs in Japan.

Yesterday's saint was another martyr: Agatha, the all-but-anonymous early Christian virgin martyr
whose name simply means "good." And before her, on the 3rd, we celebrated the feast of St. Blaise. That was also the day the Vatican officially bestowed the title "martyr" on Latin American bishop Oscar Romero. Romero's cause was held up for a l-o-n-g time as a kind of political hot potato. Could you say he was killed "in hatred for the faith" when his death (like so many others) was in the context of a civil war about which which he had become inconveniently outspoken? Not to mention that he was speaking out for "the people," a term long co-opted by socialists and communists. It was Pope Benedict XVI who, just a month before announcing his resignation, removed the last roadblock to Romero's cause.

It may well be (and here in the civilized North of the world we are seeing hints of it already) that we will be called to account for what we believe and teach; that speaking those truths in the public square will be declared criminal hate speech, with consequences of arrest. Death? Not so much. But all over the world, Christians are losing their jobs, flirting with jail time and even risking their lives for simply living uprightly. This is not just in ISIS-dominated parts of Iraq and Syria: One of those places is the very Catholic country of Mexico (remember the Cardinal who was shot to death for speaking out against drug trafficking?).

The recognition of Romero's martyrdom is another acknowledgement that "hatred of the faith" is not limited to "hatred of Christian teachings." Like Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi, martyred in 1993 (by the Mafia), Romero met his death because of the way he was living the faith. This not only opens the way for many more martyrs to be recognized, it makes the possibility of martyrdom a little bit more "real" for the rest of us.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

One for the Catholic trivia file (or for when you lock yourself out of your room)

No, I didn't lock myself out of my room (at least not this time); it was one of the other sisters on my floor. She had inadvertently pushed the lock in on her doorknob last night, and things did not look
"Here. Try this one."
good: not for her, and certainly not for the two convent cats she is caring for! Since sister never locks her door, she didn't even know where the keys were (probably in the desk). But since this is an older door, going back decades, not even the superior knew where the spare key was. She tried all the keys she had--but sister had to gather up some toiletries from the community closet and spend the night in a guest room.

This morning, as news got around (as news does in any community setting!), suggestions abounded. Up in the provincialate there was a stash of mystery keys: maybe one of those would fit. (No.) Sister Margaret has a mystery key! (Nope.) There was only one option left: John the handyman would have to drill the lock out. (What would the noise do to the cats?) On my way to the office, I nodded to the sister who stood out in the hall, waiting for John. "Pray to St Peter!" I said. That got her thinking. Sure, Peter has keys, but isn't there a patron saint of locksmiths or something?

Sure enough. As the local superior approached with yet another set of mystery keys (this is a big place), Sister was on her phone, learning about St Baldomerus and the Baldomeric oath (the locksmith equivalent of the Hippocratic oath). "You know," she said to the superior, "There's a patron saint of locksmiths! It's St Baldo--" a key turned in the lock "--merus."

Remember that for next time!