Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Pages from the Past: Blessed "discontent"

Selections from a book by Fr Giuseppe Forlai, IGS (probably Christ Lives in Me, the book on Pauline Spirituality pictured below). I did the translation here for myself. Fr Forlai is a member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest, a Pauline secular institute for diocesan clergy.

“Our condition becomes a blessing if we discover that nothing created can satisfy us through and through for the simple reason that the ‘interiority’ of each one is so rich and so great that it cannot be bound/limited within things, individuals, roles. Don Alberione writes: ‘My end cannot be pleasure or esteem or wealth or virtue or power or knowledge. All of those, all that is not infinite, while my heart has infinite aspirations.’ The spiritual person is therefore the one who lives this holy discontent with serenity.” 

“Truly, ‘holy’ [discontent] because it frees us from false expectations or from the slavery of saying to [anyone? anything?] ‘I cannot live without you.’ We are infinite in desiring because we bear the hereditary trait of divine infinity. Just as God cannot dwell in a house made by human hands, so man cannot live in a ‘house’ he himself built.”

St Paul put it more succinctly.
“That’s not all. A solid spiritual life must be able to dialogue between the basic sense of God and this interiority; in other words, the ‘amazement at reality’ must enter into a covenant with the ‘holy discontent.’ In isolation, the two experiences have no meaning; to recognize that there is a Living One [and not know] how to desire the infinite good only brings madness; vice-versa, to know that one is structurally incomplete and discontented and not be amazed at the gratuitousness of being keeps one simply frustrated. To bring these two ‘infinities’ (God and the interior self) together is a preliminary condition for faith and for a journey of ‘sequela’ that does not remain mere experimentalism or irrational fideism.”

"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, November 22, 2017

Review of the latest from Bishop Barron (with John Allen) #BishopBarron #WordOnFire #JohnLAllenJr

If you are only going to read one faith-centered book this year, please make it this one.  
You'll be doing yourself and the Church a favor.

In to Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age we get John Allen's experienced hand filling in the context to the backstory of Bishop Barron's Word on Fire ministry, in a collaborative work that depends greatly upon Barron's contributions. (That's why Bishop Barron is credited as the principal author: "Robert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr.") It's a twofer! Two phenomenal Catholic authors, teamed up to share a vision for the New Evangelization. Well, the vision is Barron's, and it is already being implemented with very positive fruits.

I received a review copy of the book a few days before its official release and thought to myself, "This is great! I will be able to publish my review on the actual release date!" I planned to zip through the text, sum up my thoughts and just put them out there for you. But this is not a text to be zipped through, as I realized in the first chapters. I gave up the idea of issuing a timely review and let myself enjoy the book, reflecting on the way Bishop Barron looks at our culture and its questions and makes himself available (with all his many gifts) to do what Bl James Alberione said is the essence of the media apostle's task: "to give Jesus to the world using all the inventions that human ingenuity produces and that the needs and conditions of the times require." For Bishop Barron the "means" are clear: social media, he says, is the greatest development in human communications since the printing press. (He knows he is skipping over TV; social media surpasses it in scope and effectiveness.)

We get Barron's analysis of the greatest challenges facing the Church in contemporary society ("scientism" is toward the top); the chief obstacles to evangelization (how not to evangelize!); his own personal pastoral priority for Word on Fire (as a bishop his pastoral priority is a given!); his dreams for the future.

But mostly we get what makes Robert Barron tick, and how his interior world is organized.

Unsurprisingly (especially for those who know that his chief academic publication is entitled "The Priority of Christ"), it is all centered on Jesus:
"Robert Barron is a man who believes that while Catholicism propounds a galaxy of truths to the world, its core truth, the claim that must never fade from view, is that Jesus Christ is the center of history and the answer to the meaning of human life."
It is a turn of phrase that sounds exactly like Bl. Alberione, who famously wrote: "At the center is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life." Alberione was driven by the desire that every aspect of human life and culture be established in and centered on Christ. Keeping an all-night vigil during the opening hours of the 20th century, he had prayed "that the new century might be born in the Eucharistic Christ; that new apostles would regenerate laws, schools, literature, the press, customs; that in the Church there would be a new missionary thrust; that the new means of apostolate would be used well..."  Barron puts it this way: "The idea is that everything revolves around and returns to Christ so that relationships, theology, politics, art, philosophy—all find their center in Christ.”

Like Alberione, who early in his life felt the need to work with others in order to launch new missionary enterprises, Barron, too, is gathering not just collaborators, but the first members of what he hopes will become a new ecclesial movement, a new foundation along the lines of the Focolare, Communion and Liberation, and Opus Dei movements in which priests and laity share a common spirituality grounded in the Bible and the Eucharist and a common commitment to media evangelization. In a way it has already been done. Alberione, after all, founded the Pauline Cooperators--priests and laity who share the Pauline spirituality and collaborate in the media apostolate--100 years ago this year. When the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish something in the Church, you can be sure that more than one seed will fall on good soil!

Every one of us faces, in one way or another, the exact challenges that Barron sees facing the Church as a whole. Our families, offices, and favorite coffee shops are populated with the people Robert Barron is reaching out to, but he is offering us an evangelizing style and some pointers on content that we can begin to implement right at home or in the workplace.

It seems to me that every active Catholic would do well to delve into this book and reflect deeply on Barron's insights and priorities.

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Good News about Judgment Day

First, if you're reading this, the good news is that Judgment Day has not yet arrived, so you have time to prepare for it! This spiritual readiness is something that Jesus was not embarrassed to call us to. In fact, if you have been paying attention to the daily Gospels for the last several weeks, you may have noticed that Jesus seems to have insisted a bit on being ready for Judgment Day. It's the theme of several of his punchiest parables —the wise and foolish bridesmaids, the servants on call for the master's return (from, significantly, a wedding)—and unusual images (the sudden onset of labor pains; the Son of Man as "thief in the night"). "Be ready, for you do not know the day or the hour when your Lord will come" (cf. Mt 25:13).

So we have time, at least today, to prepare to meet the Lord. And that is an enormous grace.

In the powerful parable that inspired Michelangelo's Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46), the Son of Man comes "in his glory" and "all the nations are gathered before him, and he will separate them from one another..." using the most simple criteria of all: How did each person treat "the least" of Christ's brothers and sisters? "You did it for me... you did not do it for me." Fortunately for most of us life itself offers plenty of opportunities serve Jesus in tiny, ingloriously daily ways.

In the words of the parable, "all the nations" will face the same test. There may be a hint here that the test of salvation is not credal faith but concrete love, and that this is the criterion for "the nations", in other words, the Gentiles, those outside the covenants. Souls will not be subjected to an exotic review of regulations or graded on ability to maintain a perfect score when it comes to Sunday Mass or nine First Fridays. These are genuinely worthwhile sacred commitments, and in the case of Sunday Mass a serious obligation for all Catholics, but if they do not stir us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, or care for the sick we will be told to take the last place (if that) and watch the procession of the charitable "enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy" (Is 55:11).

Thankfully, since Judgment Day has not yet dawned we have time to take the lesson to heart and let the grace of the sacraments we receive transform us into recognizable images of Jesus.
*Based on his early life, nobody could have predicted this.

But that is not the only "good news" I want to write about. The really good news about Judgment Day is that God only judges us when our story is complete. He does not halt us at random points on the journey of life to issue a "Pass/Fail." He knows that the one who at first vociferously rejected his message or mocked his commandments may turn out to be the most passionately devoted of all believers, maybe even martyrs. (History certainly offers many surprising examples.*)

That does not mean that any and all sorts of judgment are out of place. We cannot write anyone off (that would be judgmental indeed!), but that does not mean we cannot use good prudential judgment when it comes to how we deal with a person whose behavior can be problematic. It would be irresponsible, for example, to get in a car driven by a person who is habitually reckless or who often drinks to excess. In such a case, we are not judging the person, but the behavior. Personally, I would not have gone to a dinner party with the unconverted Charles de Foucauld; that might have been the 19th century version of a date with Harvey Weinstein. On the basis of the person's habitual behavior, I would make the prudential judgment that it would not be wise to stand too close. How he stands before God is known to God alone, who sees the whole arc of the person's life. Even for Harvey Weinstein and company, that is sacred ground upon which we dare not tread.

The Apostle Paul seems to have regularly found himself on the receiving end of negative judgments and downright cattiness, especially on the part of the Corinthians. Were they making acceptable prudential judgments?

In Paul's case, the Corinthians were evaluating his ministry on the basis of superficialities: his less-than-impressive physical presence, his unsophisticated rhetorical style, even his refusal to accept monetary compensation for his preaching... From these, they wrote Paul off as a non-accredited wanna-be apostle. Their propensity to judge on the basis of externals made the Corinthians gullible to all sorts of false teachings, as long as these were presented by persons with the right kind of style. (The debonair Charles de Foucauld would have found an enthusiastic welcome among them.)

Finally Paul had to remind the Corinthians, "Judge nothing before the appointed time, when the Lord comes"; "the one who judges me is the Lord" (1 Cor 4:5, 4). That means that any definitive sort of judgment issued during this life is ultimately "rash judgment," not only because we can never know another person's interior dispositions (degree of knowledge, freedom, etc.), but because God already sees how this particular moment of his, her or my life can work mysteriously for the good. Indeed, our belief in Providence is that God makes all things work out for his greater glory.

And that is Good News!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pages from the Past: "Beautiful in its Time"

From 2011? While on Retreat.

Look for the beautiful; for what is “fitting in its time”: it reveals God, it shows his fingerprints, his presence, his “it is good” from the Creation account spoken right there in my day. It can teach me to discern his messages, his directives, his desires.

John Paul II seems to have said somewhere words to the effect that people, the real people I encounter an live with, are the “place” God relates to me. They communicate his will for me, moment by moment.

The direction of this retreat seems to be on learning (practicing) to receive and appreciate beauty in whatever its form (loveliness, an act of service or goodness, mercy, creativity, generosity, good news…) as a way of coming to learn God’s language.

"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, November 13, 2017

Hollywood Headlines

The headlines from Hollywood and New York say all anyone really needs to know about the situation. I learned quickly enough not to read the articles: TMI does not begin to express it. Of all the conversations that have since sprung up, some only appeal to the issue of consent (essential, of course, but not at all sufficient contain a problem of abuse of power). Emphasis on consent presumes parity among the parties, but equality is precisely what molesters effectively deny. Yet without a transcendent reference point what else is there to appeal to?

Then this morning while attempting to put the papers in my office into some kind of order (well, to get them out of sight is more like it), I came across a slip on which I had written this, probably from the personal journals of Alexander Schmemann, one of my favorite writers:
Back in 1973, Schmemann commented on two books he had recently read:
"Both authors describe the strength of lust for power--a never-ceasing, wild struggle for power, for success. While reading, I felt really frightened by the force, the energy that struggle, even in the smallest worlds--a force that can move mountains and be quite poisonous. The struggle for power is the quintessence of our world. ..."
In another place, Schmemann remarked that often we fail to recognize just how fallen this world is, because we think that what we are witnessing is just "natural" when it, in fact, is seriously broken.

Meanwhile on Twitter, over 200,000 people signaled this post:
I was surprised by the number of negative responses it provoked. Some of those who objected did no on the grounds that even within marriage there can be abuse of power, domestic violence and rape. It seems to me that these sad and sinful realities highlight even more what Schmemann had to say, while also inviting insights from Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body: The most sacred relationship of man and woman can only be lived in its fullness when it is lived "in a complete gift of self" that seeks not one's own pleasure or purpose, but the good of the beloved. And yet this kind of love and respect cannot be mandated by law or social pressure; it is the work of grace, a participation in the way God loves.

Stories of love and the gift of self don't make as many headlines as do sordid tales of lechery, so we need to use all our resources to broadcast them ourselves. Do you have a beautiful story of love to share?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

All Souls--Day of Consolation

All Souls' Day is one of my favorite Catholic observances, and only the other day did I realize why. It goes back. Way back.

Me in fourth grade, the year
I started at that new school (and
the year of my Confirmation).
See, my godfather, Burke Weber, died six months after my baptism. And yet the way my parents referred to their dear friend established a relationship with this "Uncle Burke" whom I never knew in this life. (A chain smoker, he died of lung cancer in his 30's, before the link between smoking and cancer was common knowledge.) When I started a new school at age 8 and found myself for the first time without any friends, Mom suggested that I pray to Uncle Burke. For a week of lonely recesses, I tearfully asked Uncle Burke to find me a good friend. Preferably someone who liked to read. (Deborah and I are still friends.)

Having that connection to the next life from such an early age meant that my devotion to the Holy Souls predated even my devotion to the saints! It gave me a strong sense of the Church as a vast family whose members know and care for each other; a family in which I had a place of my own, and the ability to help even grown-ups who had gone before me.

When Dad died, our family experienced his presence in a variety of ways--especially through the appearance of paperclips in seriously unlikely places. (He was always asking someone for a paperclip to adjust his hearing aids!) Later, a couple of years after Mom's death, I was consoled to witness how that same sense of having relationships that transcend this life had been communicated to the next generation: My sister was taking a walk with her granddaughter when they came across a paperclip on the sidewalk. "Look!" my sister said, "Pepaw says 'hi'!" "No," the little girl said, "It's Memaw. I was just asking her if she was happy to be in Heaven with Jesus."

Devotion to the Holy Souls is one of the central devotions we have in the Pauline Family. We
dedicate the first Tuesday of every month to prayers for the Souls in Purgatory, and have a very special responsibility (and a prayer to go with it) for those who are undergoing purification because of their misuse of the media--whether they were primarily consumers or audience members or, more particularly, the writers, editors, producers, and marketing specialists whose work led others, even by the thousands, down unwholesome paths. Considering the exponential growth of communications technologies, it would seem that in our day we need all the more to pray for those souls, so that for their part, now finally and fully aware of the power of the media, they will take our part in promoting "all that is true...noble...right...pure and lovely" through the marvelous means of communication.

On this All Souls Day, pray that special prayer with us!

Jesus, divine Master, I thank you for having come down from heaven to free us from so many evils by your teaching, holiness, and death. 
I plead with you on behalf of the souls who are in purgatory because of the press, motion pictures, radio and television.  
I have confidence that these souls, once freed from their sufferings and admitted into eternal joy, will supplicate you on behalf of the modern world, so that the many means you have granted us for elevating this earthly life may also be used as a means of apostolate and life everlasting.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.May the rest in peace.Amen.

Pages from the Past: On the Poor Souls

From 2013?

Today I identify with the powerlessness of the Poor Souls. They can do nothing to change their situation, but they can do something “in” the situation, which is love God from where they are; love God because he is lovable and beautiful and not because they get any satisfaction for themselves.

I can acknowledge God here, too. But mostly I need to discover God as loving—as loving me. And maybe that is his desire, too, for this “fallow” time.

"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, October 20, 2017

Pages from the Past: the Eleventh Hour Workers

This parable highlights a shift from a contractual relationship (I’ll do this much; you’ll recompense me that much) to a relationship based on trust: I will trust you to pay what is fair; you pledge yourself to be merciful and generous. And the “equal recompense” is Jesus, whole and entire.

I have to admit that this connected with me on the level of “the worker is worth his wage” and the other passage about wages, “when one fulfills the Law he gets what is due… but when one trusts…” that trust is “credited as righteousness.” 

God considers his laborers to be worth their wage; he guarantees “what is fair.”

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Our Rosary Novena archive and a Nunblogger update

We completed our online Rosary novena last Friday, the 100th anniversary of Mary's final appearance to the three children of Fatima. It was an intense nine days for me and the sisters in the digital department here in Boston: we were the scriptwriters, the producers, and the on-screen talent twice a day. The "set" was the "office/studio/chapel" in our conference and break room. We liked it so much that we're keeping the curtain and lighting up for future, more impromptu video broadcasts. (Alas, the lovely statue of Our Lady of Fatima had to be returned to the community!)

Behind the scenes (mostly), I was thrilled to see the numbers of people who were joining us in real time for the prayer sessions. One evening there were 14,000 "views" (our video was seen, if only for a few seconds, by 14,000 people); by the next morning that number had soared to 30,000. A rapid succession of prayer intentions was monitored by Sr Mary Elizabeth in the next office. As I inserted images of Jesus and Mary into the video stream, little hearts and "likes" went flying across the screen, acts of love of God sent by the hundreds from those viewers. Images of Jesus in his sorrowful mysteries drew the greatest response of loving devotion. It was very moving for me to be a part of that.

Since we broadcast the Rosary on Facebook Live, the videos are all archived--which means that you can pray the Rosary with us whenever you want! As the days went on, I got better at using the "studio" software. At first I thought I was doing enough by putting a piece of art with each mystery, but by the final days I was adding music, too. (Sr Kathryn or Sr Marie Paul was at the next computer, monitoring the live feed to make sure all went well, and to let me know when the music was too soft--or too LOUD!)

The videos contain the whole of our Mission Appeal as well as the Rosary (we are nowhere near our fundraising goal, so the donation box remains open!), but you can always skip right to the chase and begin the prayers about 6 minutes in. In each Rosary, one mystery was singled out for special treatment with a personal reflection from one of the sisters on her favorite Rosary mystery.

One lasting fruit of this experience is that since the novena ended, Sister Kathryn or Sister Marie Paul now offer a reflective moment of prayer each evening on the Ask a Catholic Nun Facebook page. (Sister Martha has been offering a prayer each morning on the same page since about spring.) The morning prayer is usually around 9:00 Eastern Time; the evening reflection is at 8:00 Eastern Time. You can also scout around our video archives on Facebook to find other treatments of the mysteries of the Rosary; I selected for the blog those that featured music.

The next big thing on the Nunblogger calendar is our Christmas concert series, extended this year to New Orleans (home!) and Culver City, CA (Los Angeles). I hope that if you have been hearing about the concert for years and live in driving distance of any of the venues that we will have a chance to meet!

Pray the Rosary with Us!

The Joyful Mysteries

The Luminous Mysteries

The Sorrowful Mysteries

The Glorious Mysteries

Friday, October 06, 2017

Pages from the Past: Two Women of Great Faith

From 2013? Written as a prayer to Jesus.

Andreas Herrlein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today’s Gospel of the Syro-Phoenician woman absolutely delights me, as her faith delighted you, Jesus. I “heard” it today in a TOB context, in which she appears unexpectedly to you, as Eve did for Adam, suddenly revealed in her vulnerability and openness as a “helper fit” for you. Her faith corresponds in such a way to your gift of self in your ministry as to suddenly manifest the communion of persons that this life is all about. She was “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh” and your “O woman! Great is your faith!” was the cry of the new Adam on seeing—finally—someone who corresponded to his call.

Mary at Cana is exactly the same kind of “fit helper.” And probably every bit as spunky and wry, giving as good as she got.

The Wedding at Cana; Mosaic by Ivan Rupnik, SJ; 
Photo by Lawrence Lew, OP
Where you told the Syro-Phoenician that “the children’s food cannot be given to little dogs,” you told your own mother that the problem she was bringing up was not  your problem. And both women of great faith turned the tables on you. (It is also interesting that both stories involve the image of food—one of bread, the other of wine. And there is Jesus, the real food, in the middle.)

“Woman, great is your faith!” is like the cry of the woman sweeping her house and suddenly—there it is! the coin she had lost! “Rejoice with me; I have found the coin I lost!” Delight, surprise, dancing, celebration, acknowledgment to all others around.

I ask, on the basis of nothing more than the fact that you desire it and that it can be for your Father’s glory, that my faith might become such as to reveal me a “fit helper” at  your side, and will cause you to explode with amazement and joy and delight and acknowledgement. I’m not giving you much to work from, with my measly, nervous, cerebral faith. I guess you yourself will have to provide…the rib for my faith to be built on.

I asked for a kind of confirmation sign of this insight. Later that day I dumped onto my retreat house desk the contents of a little bag of adapters and a small silver coin with a Hebrew inscription rolled out; it turned out to be a shekel. (I have no idea how it ended up in my adapter pouch. It’s a keeper, for sure!)

Duly noted: “to be conformed to the image of the Son” hints that being made into “a helper like himself” is a process that extends through our life (and through time, for the “we” of the Church). It’s not simply a one by one, individual, atomized thing.

"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, October 04, 2017

On Icons, the Amish and Me

Relics, left to right: Bl. Francis X Seelos, St.
Peter Chanel (above globe), St. Therese,  St
Maria Goretti, St Ignatius of Loyola (at the 
feet of O.L. of Montserrat!). Bl Alberione's
relic is out visiting the sick.
Since I moved here to Boston (almost three years ago?!) and set up my little "altar" in the office, I have wanted to provide the saints' relics and statues a somewhat more dignified treatment than having them perennially posed upon a plastic spice rack. And so after a twenty year gap, I again picked up my embroidery thread and cross-stitch fabric to make an ecclesiastical style carpet for the office shrine. I determined on a motif of fleur-de-lis and crosses, in colors truly fitting the nobility of the persons represented on those plastic risers.

Part of the fun of cross-stitch for me is making my own pattern, even if it is cobbled together from bits I found online. So I found a basic fleur-de-lis pattern and enhanced it with some shading. (I'm still working on what kind of border to use, but I definitely want one!) I chose regal colors: gold and burgundy (you can't see it yet; that will be the background), and then I started stitching away.

The pattern I came up with calls for eight fleur-de-lis surrounded by randomly positioned Greek crosses. I finished the last of the fleurs last week, and I can assure you that no two are exactly alike.

That was not the plan.

My sister Mary tells me, "That's the charm of handmade items." The sisters here assure me, "The Amish always put an error in their quilting." Granted. And from time immemorial, iconographers have always left an incomplete patch on the image as a sign of human imperfection. I suppose I have surpassed them all, since I do not need to include a deliberate inconsistency in my needlework!

One day, when the burgundy has filled the background, and the fleurs-de-lis and crosses have been outlined and gold, and the blessed saints and martyrs have taken their place on it, not even I will see the manifold mistakes that will have been so carefully stitched on the Aida fabric. Even now, just seeing the crosses start to fill out the background gives me a little thrill. And as I look at it (with all the mistakes only I can see), I have to admit: God sees our life like this. He knows the original plan; he sees the misplaced stitches--and yet he still finds joy in having us as his children.

And we with all our fumbling, all our errors and even sins, are still giving him glory.