Saturday, March 17, 2018

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

Happy St Patrick's Day!

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pages from the Past: Where is Love?

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 02, 2018

Pages from the Past: the Woman at the Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Unexpectedly Lenten Lent

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Pages from the Past: Driven into the Desert

Grateful today that the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert to be tempted; grateful for Psalm 91 and how the devil unwittingly reminded him of his Sonship “at the Father’s side” and of his faithfulness, both strongly affirmed there.

Psalm 91
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shade of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
from the destroying plague,
He will shelter you with his pinions,
and under his wings you may take refuge;
his faithfulness is a protecting shield.

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness,
nor the plague that ravages at noon.

Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
near you it shall not come.
You need simply watch;
the punishment of the wicked you will see.

Because you have the LORD for your refuge
and have made the Most High your stronghold,
No evil shall befall you,
no affliction come near your tent.

For he commands his angels with regard to you,
to guard you wherever you go.
With their hands they shall support you,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You can tread upon the asp and the viper,
trample the lion and the dragon.

Because he clings to me I will deliver him;
because he knows my name I will set him on high.
He will call upon me and I will answer;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and give him honor.
With length of days I will satisfy him,
and fill him with my saving power.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pages from the Past: Tarzan and Jane

Me Tarzan. Film detail from wiki commons.
Was thinking of the old Tarzan movie. Tarzan and Jane are just Adam and Eve. If there was a Tarzan, there would have to be a Jane. 

The animals…they can live without love. Maybe not elephants or porpoises…they seem to edge a little closer to being social in a distinct way. But a dog can live just fine without love (i.e., a relationship). He/she will be feral, but will still be a full and complete dog with nothing essential lacking. 

But a human being will fail to thrive at all without love. 

Jesus does not want that for anybody. In fact, he wants to share with us the love of his own life: “I can never be alone: the Father is with me”; “the one who sent me is with me, he does not abandon me since I always do what pleases him.”

"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. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Last Alleluia

We didn't sing it yet. That's because it's my turn to lead the community's prayers today and I am making sure that the day is filled with that untranslated, untranslatable acclamation of joy and praise and triumph that by tradition falls silent tonight.
One of Sr Tracey's doodles.
Truth to tell, we won't miss the Allelluia much if our lives don't have a lot of Alleluia! in them to start with. If joy and praise aren't part of the framework of our interpreting life, if turning to God in amazement over his sheer goodness isn't woven into the fabric of my day, I'm not exactly going to be tongue-tied at the loss of one word from my vocabulary.

If this is the sad case, then maybe my Lenten practice needs to focus more on joy and praise,  even to the point where I find myself babbling longingly for an "Alleluia!" to give expression to it all.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Have you met MY SISTERS? you follow me on other forms of social media, then you already know what we've been up to: the launch (as of a week ago today) of a new forms of media ministry, MY SISTERS. Already we have members from around the world!

MY SISTERS is a private membership group on Facebook which makes it possible for us to offer more in-depth presentations on aspects of faith and spiritual life, including weekly accompaniment sessions in real time, via Facebook video. There are four sisters who are the mentors for the group, taking turns by rotation to provide a weekly spiritual "planner" with suggestions for prayer and reflection, and who will facilitate the group online video chat, starting Monday with follow-up on Thursday (then continuing every Monday and Thursday).

Just a screenshot of what's inside!
Other features currently available include audio and video conferences by our sisters on topics related to spiritual growth, including Sr Kathryn Hermes' entire "HeartWork" video library (in my opinion, worth the monthly fee by itself--and even more when she starts her bi-weekly video conferences); guided prayer videos (we'll be making Holy Hour prayer guides available on a regular basis); the Rosary; guided retreats; an archive of movie reviews and an entire selection of conferences and prayers in Spanish. Coming soon: an on-line retreat house. (The first retreat will be offered on March 10.)

We went with a kind of subscription model on this so that we would be making a real commitment to "be there" to be met, to answer questions and to be a listening ear. And, truth to tell, we realized that asking a modest monthly fee also invites the members to make a commitment to their own spiritual growth. The introductory rate is $8.95 per month, but the first month's fee is just $1 so people can try it out at little risk. And I have secured a "Nunblogger" rate for my readers: even when the introductory offer has ended, people who sign up with the Nunblogger link will get the original $8.95/month offer. (The price you sign up with will never go up; it is a constant rate.)

Naturally, we will still make abundant material available for free, as we have been for years, through our Discover Hope newsletter and other channels. This is something we are taking on in addition to all that.

I have been working behind the scenes on this, mostly with Sister Margaret Joseph Obrovac, a Daughter of St Paul in Rome, to prepare the Lenten feature for MY SISTERS: a pilgrimage to the station churches of Rome via a daily e-magazine (see sample pages).  Actually, I'm still working on this; so far only 24 of the magazines are ready for a feature that runs from Ash Wednesday to Divine Mercy Sunday. (You can sign up for the Lenten series by itself, but it is included in the MY SISTERS membership.)

Both MY SISTERS and the Lenten series are Facebook-based, which is what makes this possible for us to do with so few sisters. We just could not manage the infrastructure of anything so complex on our own! This allows us to focus on the message, and on being available to people without being lost in the technological details (even though there are still lots of technological details that have us pulling our hair out underneath our veils!).

I have many exciting ideas of things I hope to contribute to MY SISTERS in the future (once this Lenten project is done!!!), so I look forward to meeting you in that new community space on Facebook. And I (and my sisters) are grateful for your prayers for this new initiative of ours.

Please consider joining MY SISTERS. With Lent starting on Wednesday, what could be a more fitting time to do something new for your spiritual life?

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Yours for a Limited Time Only! [Edited]

Yesterday we said our last earthly farewells to Sr Charitas, who died on the morning of February 1, as quietly as she had lived. My family, too, experienced a bereavement this week, and an unexpected one: my eldest cousin, just short of 71, suffered a heart attack Monday night. Rene is the first of my generation to complete the journey of life. Naturally, the coinciding of a death in my family of origin with one in my religious family got me thinking!

Sr Charitas' vigil service was held in our chapel, and took place in several parts: visitation and Rosary Monday afternoon; a memorial service Monday evening; Tuesday morning, in our morning prayer, we also had a time for the sharing of memories, with the novices carrying portable microphones to anyone who wished to offer a reflection. Several of the sisters who were on the nursing team had something to say, and I suppose that is what drew my thoughts toward the gift of service.

Sister Charitas herself had written in her personal notes, "When I am there with people who are in need, I feel happy." She was glad to be present, to be of service. (And from all the testimonies we have received of her, it was clear that this was characteristic of her.) But in the last years of her life, it was she who was the one in need--in need of everything. She could no longer offer the active service of assistance or help or comfort or support. She could only offer the "receptive" kind of service, and we saw for ourselves that it took her a great deal of effort to begin to "let it be done" in this new way; to receive, rather than to do for others. I look at our Sister Augusta, 5 weeks shy of 102: how willingly she would serve, if she were able! But with no short term memory at her disposition, she is perpetually bewildered. Active service is no longer possible; she can only receive. Then there is Sr MP, age 90, still fairly strong and able to serve--but her memory and judgment are so compromised that her generous acts of service often have to be followed after and redone (!).

And then there is Jesus. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God from all eternity, when he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary to spend 33 short years on this planet, "the Son of Man came to serve" (Mt 20:28). As for us, we are only on earth for a limited time, and of that limited time an even shorter, more limited time--the time we call our "prime"--is available in which we are able to serve others. Why hold back?

It is true: there are people who demand that others serve them and even submit to their basest desires. The whole horrible #MeToo phenomenon [that led to #MeToo*] testifies to that. And there are some souls with so little sense of self, they let others walk all over them. They see that Jesus "took the form of a slave" (Phil 2: 7), but they don't see that he took it on with the freedom of self-possession: "You address me as Teacher and Lord, and rightly: So I am" (Jn 13:13). We can't make a gift of self in service if we don't have a self to give.

As Lent draws near (one week from today!!!!!), are there false convictions in your mind (or damaging self-assessments in your heart) that hold you back from opportunities of service? Are you perhaps like St Martha "burdened with much serving" because you haven't found a way to spend sufficient time in interior peace at the Lord's feet like Mary? How can Lent begin to create a workaround for you? After all, this offer of time to serve is yours for a limited time only!

*The strikethrough text is original; the bracketed text was edited in after someone noted that the original phrasing seems to say that the #MeToo phenomenon is what is horrible, when in fact it is a long-overdue expression of outrage against unspeakable offenses to human dignity. Sorry about that lazy writing.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Preparing for Death #mementomori

Today's Gospel is a rather poignant one for our community in Boston. A woman whose life had been ebbing away with a hidden hemorrhage (which made her ritually unclean) grasps at Jesus' cloak--as close to him as she dares to come. And a desperate father leaves his dying daughter's bedside to beg for a miracle that no one has ever seen or imagined.
Like the long-suffering woman making her way toward Jesus through the crowd, we wait as Sr Charitas continues her long, slow-dance with the Lord, none of us knowing the day or the hour.

Meanwhile, a family close to our community who had long hoped to hear the healing words "Little girl, arise," are today laying their little girl, the same age as Jairus' daughter, to rest.

The flu epidemic, which hit our community last week, has so diminished our numbers that there are fewer of us to keep watch with Sr Charitas and to accompany the sorrowing family in their grief. Even in the grief, though, there are small points of consolation: little Christina, though consumed with cancer, was pain-free (without any pain medication) for her last two days. And her mom texted on Sunday, "Christina is waiting in Heaven for Sr Charitas."

When Sr Charitas first came home, the hospice nurse told us, "Now we wait on Sr Charitas' body to
tell us what to do." Truth to tell, none of us really expected the vigil to last twelve days or more. The nervous energy of the first week has subsided and we are trying to settle into a "new normal" for however long it lasts. Sr Charitas is often conscious and responsive to those who know her best. She has communicated that she is comfortable and needs nothing. The hospice nurse, who came to check on her during my last watch, pronounced our care "perfect." (Good to hear!) Meanwhile, the experience has me taking notes for the days of my own diminishment, if I should be granted that kind of time.

Even though many people today wish for a quick death, a wise tradition recommends that we pray for just the opposite: "From sudden death, deliver us, O Lord!" The idea behind this prayer is that we have time to repent of any serious sins and to receive the sacraments and all the blessings the Church bestows upon the dying, and even that we should surrender our lives into God's hands in a final act of freedom. When I was a girl, it was quite common for Catholics to carry a wallet card opposite one's driver's license that announced, "I am a Catholic. Please call a priest." The same is still often impressed on four-way medals. (A sudden death doesn't give you time for absolution and anointing, although I think priests generally give a conditional absolution in case the soul has not yet departed this life.)

Anyway, just as we are urged to have a "Medical Power of Attorney" document (and for Catholics, that document ought to specify our desire for end-of-life care that is consistent with Catholic moral values), I am preparing some last wishes for those who may have to care for me for a short or extended period of disability in my life. That way the sisters will not have to wonder what might be comforting to me. (Granted, I have no idea what might actually comfort me in a hypothetical future situation!)

So far my list includes the kind of prayers I hope to have offered around my bedside (Liturgical Morning, Evening and Night Prayer), my favorite Psalms (so far, 92, 138, 16, 139, 84), and a special request to have the Gospels and Letters of St Paul read (not proclaimed, just read aloud) consecutively. I hope the sisters will frequently renew the "Pauline Offertory" with me; that is our prayer of self-offering in union with Jesus in which the first intention is "in reparation for error and scandal spread throughout the world through the media." This is what drew me into the convent in the first place, so it would be lovely to go home to God in that spirit. I hope there won't be a lot of chatte in the room--though maybe I will change my mind on this. I have musical preferences, too.  If I have dementia and am uncooperative, set the necessary task to music and I will be putty in your hands.  But please don't put on a piano sonata CD. It will only set my nerves on edge!
  • What have  you learned about yourself from caring for a loved one? 
  • Do you have a Medical Power of Attorney document? 
  • Do your health care proxies know and understand the nuanced Catholic position on end-of-life care?
  • Are you drawing up "pastoral care instructions" so your loved ones know what things might bring you spiritual comfort if you are incapacitated?
More resources on end of life issues are listed on the US Catholic Bishops' site.