Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back in catch-up mode!

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

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

Yes, precious memories.

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

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

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

Going Home with a Penitent Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 03, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Countdown to Vow Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had better keep my running shoes on!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

And the meals are good, too.

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Our Lady of Fatima and the 5 Secrets of Peace

Thoughts may tend toward the apocalyptic on this 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Fatima--and with good reason. The Virgin came with an urgent plea. On the one side was a dire threat; on the other, an immense promise.

The plea was threefold: Prayer (especially the Rosary), Penance (with an emphasis on reparation), and Consecration (personal and social).

The threat was apparent to anyone with a newspaper there in World War I Europe. (Not that the illiterate shepherd children had access to news from the war front.) During her visits, Mary led the children to see that the destruction of earthly war was only a shadow of a war taking place on a different plane.

The promise echoed the angels' song at Bethlehem: "If people do what I tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace." In fact, the three little shepherds (two of whom are now canonized saints) were prepared for Our Lady's visit by an earlier apparition: that of the "Angel of Peace" who had invited the children "pray with me."
One hundred years have passed, and the threefold message seems as valid (if not more) than ever. Not that Mary's message has changed over time. We can go back to the Gospels and find Mary's secrets of peace: personal peace, world peace. We find those secrets in Mary's example and in her words.

Mary teaches us to think before we speak: At the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel, Mary "was troubled, and pondered what this greeting meant" (Lk 1:29). Mary did not react to Gabriel's inspired words calling her "full of grace"; she was not filled with euphoria or paralyzed with dread; she did not challenge the Angel with demands for signs. Instead, she took the words in and reflected on them. We see later in the Magnificat that she interpreted Gabriel's message in the light of God's earlier promises to Abraham, reading her own life in the story of what God had been doing for his people through the ages. She began to recognize that "the great things the Almighty worked" for her were meant for Abraham and all his descendants.

Mary teaches us to say fiat: be it done to me. Mary's actual words of surrender are given only once in the Gospels, but reading between the lines we can find several occasions when she must have repeated them; moments when God's plan was anything but obvious. "This child is...a sign of contradiction, and your own soul will be pierced with a sword," she heard in the Temple on the day of Jesus' presentation. Fiat to an unknown future of pain. "Why did you search for me?" the twelve-year-old asked after his unexpected absence. "I had to be about my Father's matters." Fiat to a mysterious and exalted sense of mission. "Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea..." Fiat to an empty house, a silent carpenter shop. All the way to Calvary, when the prophesied contradiction tore into her son's flesh and into her heart. Fiat: Into your hands I commend my spirit. Mary did not insist on knowing ahead of time just what she was saying "yes" to, but she knew to whom she was saying "yes" and that "he who made the promise is worthy of trust."

Mary teaches us to give priority to thanks and praise. After her "fiat," the next words we have from Mary's lips are "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord...the Almighty has done great things for me." Mary's eyes were on the Lord and what he was accomplishing, and her first response is like a hint of the life of Heaven, where thanks and praise will be unending, will be, in fact, our greatest joy. Mary invites us to begin now to live that heavenly life by establishing our prayer on a foundation of gratitude and wonder.

Mary teaches us to treasure God's action in our life. After finding Jesus in the Temple, as the Holy Family returned to Nazareth, Mary "treasured all these things" and (as seen at the Annunciation) "pondered" them. She lived her life as in an ongoing relationship with God, who was present not only in his Incarnate Son, but who was active and involved in every aspect of her life. Later, perhaps during those days in the Cenacle with the apostles and the few dozen disciples of the Lord, she opened her interior treasure chest to share with the early Church what she had experienced and learned in thirty-three years of life as Jesus' closest disciple.

Mary teaches us to point others to Jesus. "Do whatever he tells you." Mary's words at Cana highlight the relationship between her own Divine Son and each one of us. She points us toward Jesus and invites us to draw others toward him in a winning, unforced manner. Here we are back full circle, but now "fiat" becomes a sharing of what was begun when we first began to "hear the Word of God and keep it."  The children of Fatima offer a splendid example of this in the way they followed the directives of the Angel and then of Our Lady, first practicing themselves what they were being told, and then ardently communicating the same directives to others, even to the whole world, inviting us even today to "do whatever she tells us."

Which of Mary's lessons from the Gospel or from Fatima do you most need to take to heart?

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

100 Years Ago at Fatima: Looking toward next week's centenary

This Thursday we begin the novena for the 100th anniversary of Our Lady's appearances at Fatima. The Blessed Virgin chose three illiterate shepherd children to deliver her message to the world. "If people listen to my words, there will be peace." Did those children even realize that there was a war ("the Great War") going on? Mary predicted that if her message was disregarded, there would be many martyrs, war would spread, and the Holy Father would have much to suffer.

It doesn't take much to look at the 20th century (and the first decade and a half of the 21st) to suspect that Mary's plea for penance and prayer did not receive the response she had intended. But with confidence in Mary's motherly love, we can still hope that now, in these final days leading up to the centenary of her visits, we may yet return to God with our whole heart and see the promised triumph of the Immaculate Heart.

Here are some books and resources that can help you receive, live and spread Mary's message of repentance, prayer and peace, which is, after all, the heart of the Gospel her Son came to establish:

The Fatima story:
A straightforward telling for general readership.
Picture book for little ones.
Novelized biography for young readers.

The classic film.
Documentary on the children of Fatima.
Documentary with testimonials from Mary's shrines in the Americas.
Documentary pilgrimage around the world.


Practical Rosary guide.
Novena booklet with brief history. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Mary, by any other name...

We got an interesting query today after sending out the first installment of "A Minute a Day for the Month of May." A reader wondered if the Daughters of St Paul were really Catholic, since the daily message referred to Our Lady as "Mary" and not "the Blessed Virgin Mary." I was surprised, because as a lifelong Catholic I have always understood the name "Mary" to refer first of all to Our Lady, and only when that was patently not the case (for example, when my younger sister Mary was involved) anyone else by the name.

Have you ever found yourself noticing that someone phrased something in an unexpected way and wondering if everything was on the up-and-up? I have. And especially in Catholic circles in the  70's and 80's changes of phraseology sometimes did mean that the speaker or writer was attempting to reinterpret (or even replace) a concept that he or she didn't quite approve of. Maybe that was the writer's experience, too.

Thankfully, there is nothing like that going on with us (or with me since I prepared the series!).

In each "Minute a Day for the Month of May," Our Lady is most frequently called by her name, and by a few titles: Queen of Apostles, Mother of the Good Shepherd, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Fatima. It is not necessary to always speak of Our Lady in a comprehensive way. We can call out to her in many ways, because she is our mother. 

Most of the reflections for the month of May are drawn from the writings of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione. He refers to Our Lady most often by name or as "Queen of Apostles." Blessed James was one of the Blessed Mother's great devotees of the 20th century, and perhaps ranks with the greatest Marian devotees of all time, so we can be confident in following his example.

If you signed up for our daily May message, I hope you will find the reflections, prayers, music and art inspiring, even if they do not always refer to the Blessed Mother in the way that you yourself usually do. Thankfully, our Mother Mary knows the sound of her children's voices in whatever way we call upon her!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Something I've been up to...

April is on it's way out and here in Boston it finally looks like spring! Monday begins the lyrical month of Mary, and this year that brings with it the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima and the canonization of two of her tiny messengers.

Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, has yet to be canonized, but when that day comes, he will probably be numbered among the saints who were particularly noteworthy in their love for Our Lady. For Alberione, "devotion" to Mary isn't enough (if by "devotion" you understand a pious affection characterized by personal prayer to Mary). Alberione was convinced that love of Mary expresses itself in one's commitment to know Our Lady always better, to entrust oneself to her ever more deeply and trustingly and in imitating her: her virtues and her mission of giving Jesus to everyone. He loved the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, telling the Daughters of St Paul that it was practically an icon of the mission of evangelization. Evangelizers "carry" Jesus within them and communicate him even wordlessly wherever they go, as Mary did when she brought the just-conceived Christ into the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. That is why Alberione's favorite title for Mary was "Queen of Apostles": exemplar of all those who bring Jesus to the world. (A second-favorite title for her was "Mother of the Divine Shepherd," and it is lovely that not only will Pope Francis canonize two little shepherds on May 13, this year that date falls within the 4th week of Easter, begun on Good Shepherd Sunday.)
Sneak peek of part of a May message!
With all this in mind, I undertook a special little project on for the month of May, and now it is ready to launch. You can sign up now for " A Minute a Day for the Month of May" to get a daily Marian message from the writings of Blessed James and of my friend and fellow-sister, Sister Marianne Lorraine. The message includes a gorgeous work of art, a prayer for the day and a link to a Marian song by your favorite choir of media nuns.

Take advantage of the Fatima centenary to advance in your understanding of Mary and her role in the Church and in our salvation, and to warm your heart with the beauty that has always surrounded the one Full of Grace.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day and the Incarnation

On this Saturday in the Octave of Easter, many people are also observing Earth Day. I like to think of this year's confluence as serendipitous. It reminds me that "God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son" to bring about a new heavens and a new earth, a newness that leapt into infinity with the resurrection, but that began with the Incarnation, God becoming one with the works of his hands.
Years (maybe even decades) ago, I was leafing through my Dad's scrapbook. In between his photos from Army days in Germany and newspaper clippings of his speeches as President of the Holy Name Society (local and then national) was a tiny, deeply yellowed bit of newsprint. The headline read: Poetess Edna St Vincent Millay dies in New York. A short obituary followed. It was 1950. (I just looked that up.)

The only poem I ever remember Dad reciting from memory was Robert Frost's famous one about the two roads. Whatever had possessed that shy young JAG officer to save the death notice of this poet? I should have asked him while I could. I myself came across a single line of Millay's just recently that impressed me deeply. Maybe this is what impressed him, too. Maybe it have a similar effect on you.

The first line of God's World speaks to me of the Incarnation, of the sudden and unexpected arrival of Gabriel with a message from the Most High to his tiny earth. It couldn't be more fitting for Earth Day 2017. Here it is, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation:
God's World

Related Poem Content Details

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough! 
   Thy winds, thy wide grey skies! 
   Thy mists, that roll and rise! 
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag 
And all but cry with colour!   That gaunt crag 
To crush!   To lift the lean of that black bluff! 
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough! 

Long have I known a glory in it all, 
         But never knew I this; 
         Here such a passion is 
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear 
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year; 
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall 
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review: People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World

Mike Foster

Every once in a while I get a book list with an offer to pick a free book to review. The listing typically features not just my preferred genres (religion, history, biography, cooking!) but business and management type books, celebrity tell-alls, the works. Once in a while a book looks like it will support something I am working on. Right now that would be a series of retreat talks for the sisters (please begin your prayers now). The theme of the retreat is taken right off the walls of our Pauline chapels the world over: Do not fear...Live with a Penitent Heart.
God's repeated call to “repent” means that not all is completely terrific with us. But it also says that we have a chance to get things set aright. We get a do-over. We get a second chance (and a third, and a four-hundredth). I figured that Mike Foster's book would offer me some insight into the practical side of living with a penitent heart, so when the book review freebie list came my way, I requested People of the SecondChance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World.

When the book came in, its very format told me that it was the kind of book that came from an experience of working with people, lots of people, who may have been tempted to throw in the towel when it comes to getting things right. It turns out, “People of the Second Chance” is a non-profit organization that uses tools of faith, common sense, and a healthy acceptance of imperfection to help people who feel like failures (and whose lives, in some cases, may seem to bear that out). The book's dedication page reads: “For every broken life becoming beautiful again.” The organization offers leadership training and programs for churches, and founder (and book author) Mike Foster is on the speaker circuit with the message, as well.

All that experience comes out in the pages of People of the Second Chance. Foster begins with his own story, the deep roots of his personal feelings of failure. He looks like a guy who has it all completely together, but his ministry draws continually on the kind of honesty that comes from facing unpleasant truths with the powerful help of grace and humor. “God's love gets in through our cracks and breaks.... I may not like the formula, but God sure doesn't seem to mind.” In the chapter “How to Be an Imperfectionist,” Foster assures the reader:
You will be a jerk. You will let others down. You will make lousy decisions. You will hurt others...mess up your children.... have moral failures [and]...horrible rejected...heartbroken. Imperfection is a part of this life. …
So if we're going to make life into God's party, we have to ditch this damaging desire to be flawless.

Foster does not limit himself to Second Chance “in-house” language. He draws from a variety of spiritual writers from different traditions (for example, Ranier Maria Rilke, Thomas Merton, Anne Lamott, and St Teresa of Calcutta).

A frank, conversational tone is consistent throughout the book, and it is a book suffused with hope, starting with the forward by Bob Goff: “see who God is turning us into, rather than overidentifying with who we were”; “Each week...we bring friends to talk about a time when they failed. In fact, experiencing failure has become almost a prerequisite.... people who have failed are more generous with their compassion, more extravagant with their love, and less inhibited in their expressions of both.”

Foster's book offers sound encouragement to anyone who is appalled by their own past or their propensity for failure--or who find it hard to accept the wayward past (or propensity for failure) of those they live or work with or minister to.

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.”