Thursday, April 28, 2016

Free time in Rome!

Sister Marie Paul and I arrived in Rome on Monday and had two free mornings (up to about 2 pm for me) and visited some amazing spots. Yesterday we got a private tour of a former temple complex adapted to be a Christian basilica in 526. The original altar is still in its place (actually on the floor below the current 15th century church floor), and under the altar is the tomb of Sts Cosmas and Damien, the doctor-twin saints (I offered a special prayer for all doctors, particularly our dear Pauline cooperator Dr Jeffrey Mathews).

We stood in front of the altar and noticed the mosaic floor. "When was the mosaic put in?"  we asked. The priest responded nonchalantly, "Oh, in the 500's." And we were just walking all over it so unceremoniously! Mind blowing. In the "upper" church, the original Byzantine-era mosaic apse is still visible (although the 24 elders from the Book of Revelation who once graced the triumphal arch were cut out by the poorly-thought-out Baroque addition of side altars which left visible only two outstretched pairs of arms, casting their golden crowns before the Lamb. Our guide, the Father General of the Franciscan TORs, pointed out that the mosaic Christ was a rare depiction of Our Lord with Semitic features. In fact, Peter and Paul (who were just as Jewish as Jesus) are portrayed like Roman gentlemen, while Jesus looks like the Jewish peasant that he was.
We also passed by St Peter's but it was a Wednesday (public audience with the Pope day) so there were tens of thousands of people in the square, and maybe 3000 in the security line to go through the Holy Doors. We didn't even try go in; just did some pictures. (The best time to go to St Peter's is first thing in the morning but I was too tired for that today. We're aiming for the 7:00 Mass (and the Holy Door) there once our meetings here are over.) (Our seminar includes passing through the Holy Door at the Basilica of St Paul: send me your intentions to pray for at both of these amazing spots.)

Yesterday we also paid the 12 euros to go into the Roman Forum and see the recently restored
frescoes from the ancient (8th century) church of Sancta Maria Antiqua (worth the price of admission on its own). It had been covered in icons (done in fresco), and though much of the painted surface was lost, they have done an incredible job of restoring what remained. There was a kind of light show with multiple projectors tracing the outlines of the original frescoes over the walls and then filling in the missing parts so we could see what the Church looked like circa 800. One large side chapel featured a graphic novel style presentation of a child-martyr and his mother. On the other side of the "Via dei Fori Imperiali" we noticed a Baroque-era facade of a Church dedicated to the same two saints.

The day before we had a guided tour under one of the churches where there was a Roman-era street and where supposedly St Luke had lived. It also had an ancient church and early medieval monastery (and frescos). From there, we wandered around visiting whatever churches were open (a surprising number have been open during the usual siesta hours--perhaps for the Jubilee of Mercy). So along our way we saw four Caravaggios, the tomb of St Monica and the skulls of St Agnes and St John the
Baptist, in addition to the desiccated heart of St Charles Borromeo. We passed the (closed-for-siesta) church where the head of St Peter Julian Eymard is kept, and visited the tomb of St Catherine of Siena (whose head is in Siena). (It was a day of weird relics.) I lit a candle at the tomb of St Catherine.

I have had two meetings already--for a commission I am on that is completely distinct from the work I came here to do. My "real" work begins tomorrow when the seminar on "apostolic mysticism" starts. I will be doing simultaneous translations for the English speakers (from India, Philippines, US, Malaysia, Singapore and for our Vietnamese-American sister who is stationed in Taiwan and who is also attending the seminar). It is a big group (around 50 participants) from every part of the world. We have sisters here from UK, France, Germany, Madagascar, Mozambique, Congo, Kenya, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and probably other places I have forgotten already. Oh, yes, Colombia--the sister from Colombia was in the spirituality course with me in 1998, and one of the Italians worked with me in the Vatican Internet Office during the Jubilee 2000. The seminar will keep us busy until May 8, and then Sr Paul and I have two completely free days. Our own Sr Margaret works in the Vatican and will get us into some not-open-to-the-public spots. God willing there will be one more day after that to wander among the art, history and holiness of the Eternal City. I hope to have more amazing pictures for you then!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Catholic Podcaster's Bible? I review; you decide.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0385348436/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0385348436&linkCode=as2&tag=bescatboo-20&linkId=P7LDPJ54BJFTLSQC
by Jessica Abel (Foreword by Ira Glass)


A visual book about an audio medium? Bizarrely, it works.

I jumped at the opportunity to get a review copy of this visual “textbook” on radio storytelling. First of all, it's about media (so it meshes perfectly with our Pauline vision of things)—and it's accessible. My Pauline sisters listen to lots of podcasts, and we're constantly talking about getting into podcasting, so I thought, “You know what? This book might make that happen.” (As soon as I finish writing this review, the book is going into Sister Marie Paul's open hands.)

Basically, Out on the Wire is a big fat comic book full of storytelling tips from the people who tell the stories that we love to listen to on This American Life, The Moth, Serial and even Planet Money. Author/illustrator Jessica Abel set out to learn how the producers of today's phenomenally successful narrative radio shows ply their craft.

As someone who grew up when the great Paul Harvey was on the air (I can still hear his rich, mellow voice and signature "Good Day!" emanating from my grandmother's back room), I was able to recognize the techniques that Ira Glass and his fellow broadcasters have rediscovered and mastered for the digital age. Good stories (and we're talking non-fiction here: real people's stories) don't just happen; they are pursued and they are crafted, and it's a team effort. Abel shows us how.

The book originated from a week Abel spent with the This American Life team back in 1999 when the show was broadcast with live introductions and the bulk of the story played from a tape machine. Through interviews, “you-are-there” retellings of some of the most outstanding stories, and illustrations (this is a comic book, I mean graphic-novel-style treatment, after all), the, er, “reader” learns, among other things:

  • Where the best stories come from
  • How to build a story (Glass compares the structure to that of a good sermon!)
  • How to build a show
  • The Art of the Interview (including preparing for an interview—Glass will go to an interview already knowing the two or three points he is looking for), or rescuing an interview.
  • Pacing, music and sound effects (this has a good bit of the technical in it; helpful sources for audio clips are given)
  • Editing (the pain and the value of taking away all that takes away from the heart of the story)

Most interesting (to me, at least!) was Glass' remark about the balance of music, voice and silence. “If there is music under a person speaking, and then it stops, whatever is said next is really powerful, it sounds more important. It's like shining a light on it.” In other words, radio is a peculiarly visual medium.
I highly recommend this book not only to would-be broadcasters, but to anyone who wants to become a more effective storyteller. In particular, this could be a kind of “Podcaster's Bible” for evangelization. That's how I see it being put to use in my community!










Media Apostle: the Canadian Catholic TV Magnate

"You could really tell he was Alberione's protege," Sister Donna just remarked. She was talking about Gaetano Gagliano, the humble but dynamic Italian immigrant behind Salt+Light (think: Canadian EWTN) who died this week.

I had known about Mr. Gagliano, but only in tidbits: that he had been an aspirant in the Society of St Paul as a youngster in Italy, but had to return home (twice!) because of ill health (yet he would live to 98). That years later he emigrated to Canada with his growing family and eventually started a printing company named after St Joseph (it became the largest communications company in the nation). And that he never forgot Father Alberione and his dreams of evangelizing the world through communications media.

Two weeks ago I was at a conference with Father Thomas Rosica of Salt+Light TV. He mentioned that he had had no background in media (in fact, he is a Scripture scholar) until shortly after the Toronto World Youth Day in 2002, and that Salt+Light came, in some way, from that event....

That's because just about then, Mr. Gagliano had a vision (maybe he spoke of it the way Alberione referred to such experiences, as a "dream"). His boyhood mentor, Father Alberione, gave the  successful (and by now elderly) businessman a job to do. So Gagliano met with the priest who had headed the World Youth Day event and proposed that he start a Catholic TV network. It was vintage Alberione: getting someone with absolutely no professional training to undertake a new initiative for the Gospel. Father Rosica tried to brush it off. He was a professor, not a producer. But when he went to the Vatican shortly afterward, a long, detailed fax (this was 2002) was there, waiting for him. And after his meeting with Pope John Paul II and the reports of the World Youth Day event, the priest mentioned the outlandish proposal about TV. (The Pope told him to go with it.)

Father Rosica, the scripture scholar with no TV background, is now the CEO of Salt+Light, Canada's first Catholic TV network (it now reaches 160 countries and broadcasts in five languages).  Six years after Mr. Gagliano's first conversation, the Vatican tapped Father Rosica as English language media laisan for the Synod of Bishops (fittingly, the topic was on the bible and the Church);  he performed the same service for the 2012, 2014 and 2015 Synods.  Meanwhile, he was appointed a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and later joined the Press Office for the Holy See. But it is Gaetano Gagliano, the "failed seminarian," who is acknowledged as the Founder of Salt+Light TV.

Just weeks after the death of Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN, another American media apostle has been called home. These pioneers recognized the power of media, not only for harm, but for good. They did not wait for others to lay the groundwork for them: they accepted the challenge of doing what they could to make what Alberione called "the most rapid and fruitful instruments" available for the spread of the Gospel. May they rest in peace, and may we not rest while time is still ours.



Biography of the Founder of Salt+Light TV.
Newspaper article with the whole story.
Father Rosica's homily for Gaetano Gagliano's funeral Mass this morning.

You haven't seen the Alberione documentary Media Apostle yet? No more excuses! Watch it online right here:

Media Apostle (90 min): The Father James Alberione Story from Pauline Books and Media.

Monday, April 18, 2016

New (and free!) from the Pauline choir

https://play.spotify.com/album/0i8DlDMocJsMMnUnXTgCuI

Well, this is a musical recording I didn't work on. In fact, it wasn't even recorded in our studio--that's part of the interesting story behind this newest release from the Daughters of St Paul--but I have been eager to see it released ever since I first heard it (over a year ago: this has required a lot of patience!). Thankfully, the day has come, and in plenty of time for the Pentecost Novena, too.  Introducing: a sung Chaplet to the Holy Spirit, written by our own Sister Julia Mary and sung by, yes, the Daughters of St Paul, but not the usual choir members--this recording was recorded "at home" and sung by the sisters in the community of New Orleans (admittedly, star soprano Sister Julia was still stationed there, along with the equally gifted Sister Tracey)!

I am sure this almost-20 minutes of prayer will transform your commute with its repeated and beautiful invocations for each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Who can't benefit from greater wisdom, knowledge, understanding, fortitude?)

Now for the story behind this lovely and prayerful recording:

During her own chapel time, Sister Julia began adapting the words of a traditional and well-known prayer (Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful...) to ask for each of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Piety, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord. For years she would pray these invocations chaplet style when there was a particularly urgent intention. I remember in 2013 when I was going to attend our congregation's General Chapter (the highest governing body in the congregation), she promised to pray the Holy Spirit Chaplet for our work.

Soprano section: Sisters Tracey and Julia.
Sister Julia makes stunning rosaries (she's a regular at bead shows!), so it wasn't long before she crafted a set of beads to go along with the prayers.  After some time, she created a leaflet with the prayers so she could share the chaplet with our New Orleans Pauline bookstore customers. One of the "regulars" there is New Orleans musician Jamie Diliberto. Sister Julia showed him the chaplet beads and gave him a leaflet. The very next day, he came to the bookstore. Feeling profoundly inspired, maybe even "pushed," he had set the prayer to music overnight. The sisters of the community got together, and under Diliberto's guidance recorded the entire prayer, adding harmonies to each repeated petition.

The result is a hauntingly beautiful contemplative prayer that you can share, too! (You can thank me later.)

Oh, since I am going to Rome next week to do some very intensive work for my congregation (two weeks of simultaneous translation for a seminar and two days of meetings--all in Italian), how about you pray the Holy Spirit chaplet for me???

Monday, April 11, 2016

Amoris Laetitiae: Responses (and Reactions!)

Photo by Michael Makri, sdb.
My social media feeds were filled over the weekend with all sorts of posts and comments about the new document on marriage and family life. Some, like Bishop Barron's post, were first-glance kind of summaries (also see this great interview and these follow-up questions). Others were harsh, resentful, even suspicious critiques of a document that didn't stress what the writer would have stressed, or say it the way the commenter thought it should be said. Some readers seemed to almost deliberately read the document looking for faults, and applying the Pope's words to extreme situations they were not meant to address, as if he were (for example) giving divorced-and-remarried persons permission to freely decide for themselves whether or not to receive the Eucharist. (I will probably not answer this myself, but here is one unimpeachably orthodox priest's response to issues related to the divorced-and-remarried.)

I have to admit, though, that there were things in the document that took me aback, too. Like this:
In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would “indoctrinate” that message, turning it into “dead stones to be hurled at others” (Amoris Laetitia, n. 49; the context is dire poverty).
Yowzers! Who is he talking about? I don't really know anybody who would do that! Come on, Francis, lighten up! 

And then this weekend I heard a story that gave me a very different perspective. It wasn't a marriage situation. It wasn't even within the past twenty or thirty or forty years. In this case, which took place over sixty years ago, an entire family and all their future generations was alienated from the Catholic Church because of the inflexibility of a single person, a Sister, in finding a way to accommodate an expectant mother in a life-or-death situation. That sister's undue attachment to rules and regulations took precedence over the desperate need of a family who was unable to pay for the prescribed treatment. (Their Jewish doctor paid from his own pocket, saving both lives.) The parents are now dead, but families' memories of harsh treatment or intemperate words can live on for decades.

This is the sort of thing Francis has to address: not just people currently in "irregular marriages," but all those couples and families and grandchildren from decades past, from a time when shunning was the accepted response to a situation of divorce and remarriage (or of single motherhood).

I think Francis also has to deal with an even more insidious set of beliefs: the "beliefs" people receive from the mass media when it attempts to put Catholic teachings into headline-length snippets or sound bytes:
The secular media are not the only ones to blame for the confusion. There are devoted Catholics who do not understand the Church's teachings as well as they think who add to the confusion by publishing some of the very same misconceptions listed above: but since they do so as banner-waving Catholics, it really does seem to confirm the secular narratives. This is getting to be a serious problem, because some of those poorly informed Catholics are really adept at using social media!

My two cents: I believe that it is because Catholic life has in our day been reduced to the once-a-week observance of the Sunday precept that exclusion from sacramental Communion seems to be exclusion from the Church itself. Pope Francis is, in Amoris Laetitiae, inviting all of us to expand our notion of what it means to be an active Catholic: it goes way beyond Sunday Mass, which is, as it were, the foundation or wellspring from which all the other expressions of faith come forth.

In Amoris Laetitiae, Francis is asking all of us to broaden our understanding of the life of the Church; to open our doors to the marginal members, or to those who still feel there is no room for them in the assembly of the presumedly perfect. One way we can begin to do that is to extend our parish life outside the hours of Mass and the property lines of the Church--to "go out" as Francis keeps insisting. And to go out together: those in the Communion line and those working on getting there through a profound journey of discernment, spiritual direction and prayer. He also (repeatedly) urges families to pray together daily; to develop a genuine family spirituality and make their homes real domestic churches where the one Church of Christ is present, manifest and active.

Just a reminder: You can read the whole lengthy document online so that you do not depend on others to tell you what Francis said; you can also sign up to reserve your copy of the paperback edition from Pauline Books & Media (it will cost $11.95 and ship--God willing--on May 2).

Friday, April 08, 2016

Here It Is: The Joy of Love #AmorisLaetitia

The long-awaited (in some quarters dreaded) post-synodal document on marriage and the family was released today. (My community will be publishing it, presumably in the familiar paperback edition: reserve your copy now!) I've only had a few hours to look at it (I am at Chapter 6 now), and I know that specialists will already be offering summaries that attempt to cut to the chase on the hot button questions that have been driving speculation and anticipation.

I do not generally read Church documents with a critical eye. I read them with two basic questions: "What does the Church want me to grasp here?" (i.e., what can I learn?) and "How am I called to put this into practice?" That said, I have to admit that I am a bit distracted with this document. Amoris Laetitiae does not read evenly. It does not have the consistent, objective voice I am used to in papal documents. The tone varies from chapter to chapter. While I found that disorienting, the variations of tone, along with the citations of poetry and other "secular" voices are just what one reader here at PBM appreciated the most about the document, saying that the many "voices" testify that this was not an ivory-tower work composed by someone far from the field, but draws from many people's experiences and reflections and presents a Church that is really listening. (In fact, Pope Francis tells us early on that he will be incorporating his own pastoral experience along with the input from the Synods and various Episcopal Conference documents from around the world.)

A few initial observances:

This is the only papal document I am aware of for which a "reading guide" was published beforehand and sent to all the bishops of the world. According to the report I read, the reading guide (from the Vatican's Office for the Synod of Bishops) was accompanied by a letter from Cardinal Baldiserri (head of said office) that refers to Pope John Paul's masterful Theology of the Body as "an important source" for Amoris Laetitiae. (That's my "YESSSSS!" you hear echoing from Boston, especially because I am working on the study guide for a TOB video series we will release soon.)

This is not a little booklet. The Vatican edition runs 264 pages. (For comparison, the Vatican edition of Pope John Paul's Mission of the Redeemer was 157 pages.) This is a tome, in terms of papal documents. (So expect a chunky paperback if we go with our usual hand-sized format.)

The document opens with a "reading guide" of its own, the Pope recalling the work of the two Synods on the Family, placing the document in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy and advising all of us not to attempt to speed read a work which treats, "in different ways, a wide variety of questions" (n. 7). There is also a bit of a warning: "not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it" (n. 3). In other words, we have been given notice: priests are going to have more, not less, work to do. But it will be the kind of work that gives life to their priesthood: not filing paperwork, but deeply listening and working with people on the things that matter most in their lives.

Chapter 1 echoes in many ways the "Genesis" texts of Pope John Paul's famous talks on human love. As he has already done in some of his Wednesday talks, Pope Francis highlights the creation of man and woman "in the image of God" as an icon of the Blessed Trinity. It is the capacity of their love to bring forth new life that makes the couple an image of God the Creator and Savior. The home, in which the children are "like olive plants around the table," becomes a domestic Church where the great works of the Lord are communicated from generation to generation, and the praises of God are sung. (That theme of the domestic Church and family spirituality is going to be developed toward the end--so the introduction promised--I haven't gotten there yet.)

But just as the biblical vision offers the ideal of family life, it also witnesses to suffering, betrayal and heartache in the family, including the problems that come with unemployment. Within this section, Pope Francis recalls "the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it ... [leading to] those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah" (n. 26).

Chapter 2 goes to The Experiences and Challenges of Families. This is the "you are here" of the Pope's map, and he cites documents on family life from various Bishops' Conferences, along with the Synod's "Final Report." Along with a picture of some of the more obviously problematic situations (especially couples living together without marriage; heightened, even crippling individualism and fear of commitment), there is a bit of an examination of conscience: Has excessive idealism on the part of the Church's spokespersons presented so exalted a picture of marriage that people hesitate to take on such a responsibility? Has the image of marriage been too abstract, artificial or theological? Have we failed to speak of the grace of God that always accompanies and assists those who seek it and pray for it? In other words, do we make sacramental marriage look like a burden? The theme of the special grace of the sacrament, and the infinite depths of charity will come up later in the document. It is here, too, that the Pope refers for the first time to the conscience of the married couple who "are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them" (n. 37).

Chapter 3, The Vocation of the Family, is Francis' "theology" section; it presents the model of the Holy Family and teachings related to the sacrament of Matrimony. There are more citations from Canon Law here than (it seems) in the other chapters. Preparing us for the pastoral approach to family problems that Francis will recommend, here he quotes John Paul II's post-synodal apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio where it reminds pastors of their responsibility for careful discernment, given the complexities not only of the issues themselves, but of people's greater and lesser degrees of responsibility.

Chapter 4, Love in Marriage, begins with a lengthy reflection on St Paul's famous hymn to charity, about two or three paragraphs following each line (in Greek!) of Paul's text. Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body makes its strongest appearance in this chapter, as well, beginning under the heading The Erotic Dimension of Love. I noticed that in citing the Theology of the Body texts, the English edition of Amoris Laetitiae has gone back to the earlier translation "nuptial meaning of the body," rather than the term "spousal meaning of the body." Either way, it is of fundamental importance. Chapter 4 starts with the value of erotic love, citing also the wonderful comment from Pope Benedict XVI in God Is Love: “Doesn’t the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn’t she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator’s gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?” In that very context, the Pope (much like John Paul II in TOB) says that the erotic dimension of love is protected (yes!) and fostered by the practice of self-mastery, a necessary means for preserving the freedom of human love.

The document here also considers the effect that increasing lifespans can have on marriage and the family: spouses who grow old together witness to the capacity of true love to change and grow in very different circumstances than those in which that love was born.  It is in this context that the vocation to celibate love is treated. "Virginity is a form of love" (n. 159), but celibate people can learn from marital fidelity and be moved "to a more concrete and generous availability to others" (n. 162).

I look forward to continuing to receive the Pope's insights and recommendations as I finish this first reading of Amoris Laetitiae, and as I pray for all those whose lives will be most touched by what the Pope has to say (especially the priests and other pastoral ministers who are being handed the great challenge of walking these paths with families!).


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The viral nun

Our Sister Mary Augusta, who turned 100 on March 13, has touched at least a million lives. We're sure her prayers go beyond even that!


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kindred Spirits: Mother Angelica and Mother Paula

This is how I remember Mother Angelica.
A media apostle was called to eternal life, fittingly enough on Easter Sunday. There have been some great tributes to Mother Angelica; my favorite was the one by John Allen, who acknowledges that the feisty nun (whom no one would consider "progressive") ought be be recognized by progressives as a woman who achieved what some of them consider impossible in a male dominated, "patriarchal" church. I have my own memories of Mother Angelica, especially from the time I was a guest on her show (in 1990). I am trying to get that VHS tape transferred into a digital format so I can share it with you, but it's going to be a challenge finding enough backward-compatible equipment (the extra proviso being "equipment I will know how to use").

As I have been praying for Mother Angelica's eternal repose, memories of another bold woman Mother Paula Cordero, kept coming to mind. There really are a number of remarkable similarities between the two women:
apostle of the media, our own
  • Both grew up in situations of poverty, albeit very different in kind: Mother Angelica knew the poverty of the Depression in urban America; Mother Paula was from a tiny hilltop village in rural Italy and ended her formal education at third grade. 
  • Both were missionaries to cultures vastly different than their own: Mother Angelica went from a Catholic stronghold to the Bible Belt; Mother Paula from rural Italy to New York City (arriving at the height of the Depression).
  • Both were foundresses, not as originators of a charism (the way St Francis or Blessed James Alberione were) but as "transplanters" of a religious community to a new terrain.  Mother Angelica established a new foundation of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration not once, but twice: first in her native Canton, OH, and then, famously, in Alabama. Mother Paula was in the first group of Pauline women sent by the Founder to establish the community in the United States. (She was only 23 and had not even made final vows yet.)
  • Both were visionary and creative women who left a legacy that no one could have anticipated. While I am very intimately acquainted with Mother Paula's legacy (starting with my own vocation!), it is clear that, from an external point of view, Mother Angelica has had a far broader impact. (Only God knows the supernatural impact of any mission, so I must leave that judgment to him.) This has long been a sore point for me. For years, I suspected that God must have raised up Mother Angelica because the Paulines, with their charismatic responsibility for media evangelization, had dropped the ball somewhere along the way. And that could be, even though while Mother Angelica was making her first steps in media, Mother Paula was behind the Pauline efforts to build a radio station here in Boston. (The office I am writing in is just yards from the studio*; the building itself was designed to hold the massive satellite uplink that was never installed.) In the mystery of Divine Providence, God chose, as usual (see 1 Cor 1:27!), the least likely instrument to succeed where the presumedly anointed ones would fail. 
  • Finally, both of these prophetic women spent their final years in silence as a result of a stroke. I was privileged to be among those who had a regular turn to provide care for Mother Paula for several years. Many times it was hard for Mother Paula to do more than accept the food I put to her lips. Sometimes she simply refused it. But when I would suggest that she "offer it up for the catechisms" or "offer it up for vocations," she was able to find the wherewithall to do whatever was necessary. Likewise, if her gaze was vacant, all I had to do was mention the latest vocational or catechetical initiative and her beautiful blue eyes would open wide, eagerly communicating her desire to participate in these vital aspects of our life and mission. I do not know what it was like for the sisters who cared for Mother Angelica in these many years but I suspect they had experiences like mine. 
Unable to communicate in their formerly crystal clear and forceful ways, these women of God remained completely at the service of evangelization until the Day of the Lord dawned for them: Mother Paula before dawn on Ash Wednesday, 1991 and Mother Angelica 25 years later on Easter Sunday.  May they rest in peace, and may we be able to count on their intercession that through the wise use of communications technology "the Word of the Lord may speed on and triumph!"






*While our dreamt-of station never materialized, we have been involved in radio for decades. Our Spanish radio programs are broadcast in over 100 stations worldwide. Listen here.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Paulines in Pakistan

Our sisters in Pakistan posted a few pictures from the scene of a peace demonstration by a number of Catholic sisters and religious brothers, as well as from their own visits with bombing victims in the local hospital. I will let you know if we find a way to send material aid to them.

An evening march for peace with a large number of Sisters.

Pauline sisters visiting the hospital. Bombing victims'
stretchers are barely two feet apart.


Behind this cot, you can see two other patients.
The paper says the child is "BLAST VICTIM P/N unknown,"
but penned below in red is "Jabina," a girl's name.
The flowers on the left are from the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
(No teddy bears in sight yet.)


Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Great Silence of Holy Saturday




Filippino Lippi, Pietà (The Dead Christ Mourned by Nicodemus and Two Angels) c. 1500 Painting 
Image courtesy of NGA.gov

Friday, March 18, 2016

Christological battles around "The Young Messiah"

Last week's opening of The Young Messiah in theaters opened a theological can of worms in some circles. The controversy centered on the self-awareness of Jesus. Did the film imply that the boy Jesus did not know his own divine identity?

I'm not sure that everyone who wrote about or commented on the human knowledge of the Christ Child actually saw the movie, or if they were going more on the quote (from "Joseph") used in some social media: "How do we explain God to His own Son?" To me, it was clear in the movie that the seven-year-old Jesus was more than just precocious in his knowledge of God. When his dying uncle Cleophas was muttering incoherently, it was Jesus, yards away, who informed Cleophas' wife "He is talking to God" as if he had been on the receiving end of that communication. In the subsequent healing of that same uncle, Jesus is portrayed praying to his "Father God." At the same time, Mary and Joseph have not told the little boy anything of his mysterious origin, despite his searching questions. (That is one of the questions that continues throughout the movie: When, and under what circumstances, should the young child learn about his conception?)

We know from the Gospels that Mary referred to Joseph as "your father" and the evangelist Luke speaks of Mary and Joseph as "the parents of Jesus." It is only at age twelve that we hear the boy claim God as his father in a unique way, referring to the Temple as "my Father's house." (The same striking expression comes up again--at the cleansing of the Temple by the adult Christ.) Personally, I suspect that (pace The Young Messiah) Mary and Joseph never referred to God as Jesus' "father"; that this was a revelation we received directly from Jesus himself. But I digress.

That Jesus possessed full divine knowledge, knowledge that was somehow accessible to him in his human nature, is part of the truth of our salvation. Pope Pius XII (in his encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 63) wrote: "The loving knowledge with which the divine Redeemer has pursued us from the first moment of his incarnation is such as completely to surpass all the searchings of the human mind; for by means of the beatific vision, which he enjoyed from the time when he was received into the womb of the Mother of God, he has for ever and continuously had present to him all the members of his mystical Body, and embraced them with his saving love." "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me," Paul asserts (Gal 2:20).

He knew who he was, he knew his mission, and he knew whom he was saving.

But how did that work itself out in a seven-year-old with two natures? How did the ongoing formation of synapses in a seven-year-old brain coordinate with the workings of a divine mind? The filmmakers take a legitimate look at one way this might have expressed itself in the life of Christ. Since we cannot refer to anyone else with two complete natures, all we can do is use our imagination to try to envision the real-life implications of the dogma, and I think the filmmakers did all they could to create a movie that respects the whole truth about Jesus (even though they may not have been aware of the finer points of doctrine on the human knowledge of Christ).

In theology there is an expression "That which was not assumed [that is, taken on personally by Christ] is not redeemed." Jesus "grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men" (Lk. 2:52).  It is not unfathomable that part of Christ's acceptance of a true and complete human nature might have been that he humbly submitted to the full natural process of personal development. (There is nothing in the Gospels to let us suspect that Christ's childhood was somehow remarkable; the incident in the Temple when he was twelve is narrated as an outlier in an otherwise ordinary home life.)

"That which was not assumed is not redeemed." Gregory Nazianzen coined this expression to teach that all of human nature was taken on and healed by Christ; could it not apply also to the entire process of growth and development?

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For more on Christ's human and divine knowledge, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 470-472.

Also available to accompany the film:
Study guide for Catholic youth groups
Catholic family discussion guide for the film





Abandoned.

It's a week from Good Friday, and I've been reflecting a lot lately on Jesus' sense of God as his Father. In part, this was sparked by seeing the movie The Young Messiah: the little boy Jesus has an intuitive sense of God as Father, even before Mary tells him about the Annunciation and reveals to him that God truly is his Father. Obviously, a major part of Jesus' mission was proclaiming God's trustworthy nearness and providence; his fatherhood. And Jesus himself had striking experiences of God affirming him as "my beloved Son."

Detail from El Greco, Christ Crucified
For St Paul, too, God's fatherhood was absolutely fundamental to the Gospel. Paul thought of the Holy Spirit as the one who prays in us with the same filial word Jesus used in his prayer, "Abba, Father!" (see Gal 4:6). Paul pointed to this same concept when writing about Baptism in his theological treatise letter to the Romans: "You have not received a spirit of slavery leading back into fear; you have received the spirit of adoption, by which we cry out 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom 8: 15).

Rewind now to Good Friday. Jesus spent an anguished hour or more the night before in Gethsemane, praying "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me; yet not what I will, but what you will" (see Mk 14:36, Mt 26:39, Lk 22:42 and even Jn 18:11). Now Jesus is nailed to a cross, and suddenly the source of his existence seems to go extinct. Jesus is caught between two impossibilities: that the Father should not be, and that he, Jesus, somehow exists without the Father. He had been ready to face the void of sin; he was steeled to do battle with evil. But this total eclipse? A choking gasp of horror stifles him.

And here I wonder if Jesus found even more motivation to give us life for us poor, "fatherless" creatures. He experienced the desperation of our situation; our need for the Gospel. His love for the Father and for us meant that he would do anything so that his Father could be our Father. And from this, the joy and victory in his voice on Easter morning when he would be able to say to Mary Magdalen and to "my brothers": "I am ascending to my Father and your Father; to my God and your God!" (Jn 20:17).