Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Reading: Dead Wake

As I mentioned last week, my summer reading wasn't all churchy stuff. I read one and a half history books and two biographies. And summer, need I remind you, has only just begun.

Besides the surprising Church of Spies (which is a history book, too, but I'm counting it as "churchy stuff" since it demonstrates the participation of Pope Pius XII in the efforts to remove Hitler from power by whatever means necessary), I read Erik Larson's Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

Larson positions us well to witness the sinking of the Lusitania. We are first introduced to Captain Turner, a dedicated and professional seaman, and to the duties of a passenger ship captain at the beginning of the 20th century. We learn the back stories of a number of passengers; why they booked passage on the luxurious liner for that May voyage in a time of hostilities in Europe. (It was 1915.) Indeed, the German embassy had placed a warning in the New York papers that vessels sailing under the British flag were at risk.

We are taken behind the scenes in Washington DC where there was little enthusiasm for getting involved in what was seen as a European conflict, and where the President was crushed with personal grief (and later, unexpected personal consolation). We read over the shoulders of German submarine captains as they slip through the seas, taking note of threats and tallying the tonnage sunk by their torpedos. And we also enter the Admiralty's War Room in London where British intelligence is gathered and acted upon. Recently the German's submarine communications had been intercepted and decoded. While this was a decided advantage for the British, they were reluctant to act too quickly on what they learned for fear that the enemy would recognize the breach and change tactics.

At sea some civilians (including a small number of Americans) had already perished because of German attacks, and British military craft rushing to the scene of a torpedo incident had been lost, too, to the waiting submarine. New policy forbade military vessels from going to the site of any future incidents. Then, too, there was the political value of a ship like the Lusitania. Setting out from New York, it carried almost two thousand souls, many of them Americans. Loss of a significant number of American lives would surely, English strategists predicted, bring the US into the war as an ally against Germany.

And so it was. Through a series of incidents that well could have remained innocuous, the grand ocean liner found itself in the path of a submarine that was already heading back to Germany. An immense but dull explosion got everyone's attention and the ship began to lean to one side. As the force traveled through the ship, other explosions followed. A single torpedo had struck an unexpectedly vulnerable part of the ship (the Admiralty would later insist that there were two torpedos, but the German captain's log lists only one).

As passengers attempted to secure a spot in the lifeboats and strap on their newly designed life vests, the radio man repeatedly sent out distress calls. The starboard list of the stricken ship left ranks of lifeboats unavailable, while other boats got tangled in their own ropes and dangled vertically, uselessly toward the sea. The only crew who had trained for the launching of lifeboats were already dead or trapped below. Only six lifeboats would actually set off. In addition, few people could figure out how to put the life vests on properly. (Bodies would be found wearing the vest in a way that forced the head below the surface of the water.) The sinking of the Lusitania was witnessed on shore (just ten miles away) and available craft in the port towns began setting out. The warship Juno  was among them. It was ordered back.

1,198 people died.

Late in the day on which I finished this riveting and meticulously researched read (57 pages of notes!), I saw the posts on social media about the Orlando shooting. It crossed my mind that the two events, a hundred years apart, had something very sad in common. Old school warfare took place on actual battlefields, with ranks of militiamen. Civilians were kept as much as possible out of harm's way. But the sinking of the Lusitania set a new precedent. It was an act of war in which civilians were treated as fair game. I'm no historian, but it seems to me that this may have been the beginning of the kind of warfare that has become almost commonplace; a war not limited to the military (whether the armed forces of a nation or those new self-appointed groups like Boko Haram or IS); a war where anyone, in any public place, may suddenly find him or herself a sudden and unwilling participant.

German submarine policy does not bear all the responsibility for the enormous number of lives lost in the sinking of the Lusitania. It seems that the political advantage of securing US involvement in the war played at least some part in the drama, particularly as Lusitania approached the war zone and received only vague warnings about submarine activity across an immense stretch of sea. (The British government unsuccessfully tried to blame the loss on Captain Turner, who survived despite being on deck as the ship went down. He was exonerated.)

Does this still happen? It would be naive to deny that ordinary people are often recruits in a war they know nothing about, and have nothing at stake in. It can take real faith to believe that beyond all the human and political machinations, God is still in charge of this world, somehow "making all things work together for good" (Rom 8:28).

Novena of Reparation, Day 4

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of motion pictures; reparation for way media are used in "ideological colonization*" which, by manipulation and social, political, or financial pressure imposes false values on other culturess.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (2 Cor 11:23):
Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person.) I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:7-9).

The development and spread of social media puts people of many different cultures in contact with each other. It can be tempting to look down on people whose cultural background does not match our own. Instead, we are called to become like Paul, making ourselves "all things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22) for the sake of witnessing to Jesus, who made himself "like us in all things but sin" (Heb 4:15).

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus to acknowledge and to make known that Jesus alone, the Word Incarnate, is the perfect Teacher and trustworthy Way who leads to knowledge of you, Father, and to participation in your life.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

*The term "ideological colonization" is frequently used by Pope Francis with reference to pressures on non-Western peoples to conform to "First World" expectations in areas such as marriage, contraception, abortion ("reproductive freedom"), gay rights, etc.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 3

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of printing; reparation for uncontrolled media consumption (especially when it harms family life) and for the failure of some parents to guide their children in the discerning use of media.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (Gal 2:8):
[T]he one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised worked also in me for the Gentiles.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).

Paul realized early on that he and Peter had different audiences. It seems to have been a major problem (even in his own lifetime!) that Paul's words would be taken out of context. Paul's message frequently unsettled Jewish believers because it was not tailored to them; it did not answer their questions or respond to their needs.
How do I ensure that I interpret posts and other media messages "in context," aware of the author's aim and primary audience? How can I address my own media messages to the audience that is best disposed to dialogue with me?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus that we may follow him alone whom you, Father, sent to the world in your boundless love, saying, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 2

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of written language, the first of all communications technologies; reparation for the organized use of communications to marginalize, ridicule, threaten or divide people.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (Acts 9:4-5):

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

Saul had an agenda. There was never any doubt: he would do whatever it took to achieve his goal. Many times we find the same dynamic in social media. The more noble the stated cause, the greater the risk of misusing the powerful means of communication through manipulation, ridicule, false representation of differing viewpoints, suppression of the truth, even veiled (or overt) threats. It can be maddening to see the deception behind many stock formulas in social media; sincere people seem to be taken in by slogans that subtly undermine the Gospel.
How can I avoid the temptation to adopt similarly dehumanizing ways of communicating? How can I engage in conversation about important Christian truths and values, without denigrating persons who may have been led astray or deceived by slickly packaged ideologies?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus to call down your mercy upon those who have been deceived or manipulated by the misuse of the media, and led away from your fatherly love.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 1

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the gifts of music and theater; reparation for the spread of violence, persecution and terrorism incited by means of communications media.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (Acts 8:3):
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practice mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.
As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. In a particular way, the Church’s words and actions are all meant to convey mercy, to touch people’s hearts and to sustain them on their journey to that fullness of life which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring to all. This means that we ourselves must be willing to accept the warmth of Mother Church and to share that warmth with others, so that Jesus may be known and loved. That warmth is what gives substance to the word of faith; by our preaching and witness, it ignites the “spark” which gives them life.

Saul did not hesitate to recruit others to his campaign of persecution. He brandished official documentation, perhaps pulling it out for the wavering to convince them to cooperate with him. It is almost impossible today to be a passive "recipient" of media messages; at the least we might respond with a "like" or a brief comment. Social media especially encourage us almost by default to get involved in what we see or read.
How do I respond to media messages that I find unsettling or provocative? How my use of the media express the mercy that inspires others to openness and sharing?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus in reparation for errors and scandal spread throughout the world by the misuse of the media of communication.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Novena of Reparation: An Invitation

From our Provincial Superior, Sister Mary Leonora:

All of us have been affected by the horrific events that took place in Orlando last week and how this has been played out in the media. We are confronted with the misuse of the media on a regular basis and in many different areas and each time it is a reminder of our vocation to make reparation for the sins of the media. Information is certainly a good thing and we want to be informed by the media, but there are those who are using this event to incite hate and spread fear or promote personal agendas. Even the Orlando killer was not s "self" radicalized (as if in a social vacuum); instead, he was radicalized by means of media wrongly used.

As Daughters of St Paul, we are called to use the media for good, for the spread of the Gospel and Gospel values, but we are also called to pray for and make reparation for the misuse of the media. This is something we can all do, regardless of our state of health or our age. We can do it individually (and I know that many do), and we can do it as a community – and this year we invite you to join us in our community novena to St. Paul, whose feast day we celebrate on June 30. 

In an age where communication is defining our culture more than ever before, our mission of evangelization with the media and reparation for the misuse of the media is not optional, but essential. And we Daughters of St. Paul are called in a very particular way to embrace this world, accompany it, directing it to the Lord. But we need to help one another use these media as God intends us to use them: for His glory and the good of His people.

Thank you for praying with us for these nine days as we reflect on the gift of communications and intercede for those whose lives are profoundly affected by their own misuse of the media.

Summer Reading (UPDATED)

As my family visit wound down, I managed to fit in a few of the "must-do" New Orleans things. Before that, I was playing trucks and dinosaurs with my sister's three year old grandson. We had charbroiled oysters (and raw, for one of my sisters) for lunch: the haul included two grey pearls, one of them almost large enough to be strung. (I got another pearl in my gumbo!) At my sister's house her three-year-old grandchild kept asking to "kiss Jesus," meaning the crucifix at the end of my decade rosary. (Jesus got a lot of love from that little boy this week; I aimed to keep the kisses coming by giving the little guy a crucifix of his own.) My sisters and a couple of cousins scarfed down a beignet each before embarking on a French Quarter music tour with writer Chris Rose.

In between (and in the car), I was able to read the three books I had brought with me from Boston, plus part of one found at my Texan sister's house. I enjoyed all of them, and you might, too. Three of these books were gifts to me; I thank the donors again for all the enjoyment and inspiration I received through them.

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler (Mark Riebling) came to my attention by means of book reviews. This title dovetailed nicely with The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, which I read while in Rome last month, and with the books by or about people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Father Alfred Delp, and Dietrich Von Hildebrand that I had read over the past several years. Many of the protagonists of these books showed up in Church of Spies. However, during the first couple of chapters I was seriously doubtful I would actually enjoy the book or find it credible. I felt seriously betrayed by prominent reviewers whose recommendation I had based myself on in choosing the title. Author Riebling had opened the book by setting up a Da Vinci Code-esque environment with secret knowledge, secret chambers, secret codes and secret handshakes going all the way back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Thankfully, he let go of this conceit fairly soon and let history speak for itself. At that point, I couldn't put the book down. (Who needs fiction, anyway? You can't make this stuff up!)

According to Riebling's research, Pope Pius XII was himself the communications link between Germans plotting Hitler's overthrow and the governments of Great Britain and the US. The Pope was insistent that "the Vatican" as an institution not be involved, named or "credited" with this clearly non-neutral behavior; that it was something he was doing personally (through one or two of his aides). This is probably one of the reasons there is so little documentation (though there is a good bit, in the US and UK archives).  In fact, Riebling indicates that the Pope personally met with one of the German double agents on more than one occasion, and was moved to tears on seeing the man (an incredible Bavarian lawyer named Joseph Müller) after his release from the Nazi prison where he had been literally called away from the scaffold moments before his scheduled execution.  This amazing and creative lay Catholic is sometimes considered the "godfather of the Euro," because of his early (pre-WWII) conviction that a common European market would serve as a brake on dangerously nationalistic ideology.

My seven-year-old great niece kept looking incredulously at the page number I was on, comparing my progress through the book with hers (she's an avid reader). I think I convinced her that "epilogues" are worth reading.

Reading Church of Spies was like encountering heroes of indescribable stature and being challenged by their convictions--and their willingness to suffer and die (as many of them did) for truth and justice.  [Added June 23: Here's an interview with the author, Mark Riebling!]
Related titles:

Another book that challenged me to see truth and justice and act according to what I saw was Hope for the City: A Catholic Priest, a Suburban Housewife and Their Desperate Effort to Save Detroit. This book introduced me to Father Bill Cunningham, a real "Vatican II priest" (and I mean that in both the positive and less positive senses in which the term is used). Cunningham and his right-hand woman, Eleanor Josaitis, were the dynamic duo behind Focus:HOPE, which began as a small, grass-roots effort to get government-provided food aid to needy mothers and children and grew into a complex organization that aims to overcome the effects of racism in a thousand concrete, positive ways.

Starting shortly after he witnessed a destructive and deadly riot in Motor City, the visionary priest and the practical, steady-thinking housewife (with an incredibly generous husband!) started with food aid, but before long began putting together a series of educational and industrial projects that created "facts on the ground" to provide not just job training, but jobs--good, solid jobs in areas involving manufacturing and engineering so that families would not be dependent on the uncertain (and shrinking) free rations. They did it through a combination of fund-raising and grant-writing coupled with government and industry contracts (including work for GM and the Department of Defense). He answered critics like pacifist Bishop Thomas Gumbleton by saying that it was better for the DOD to put money toward training American workers than paying foreign factories to manufacture weapons, and that putting Americans to work was better than sending them off to war. (However, Cunningham's spun-off manufacturing company did manufacture weapons components.)

Recognizing that family needs led some of the parents in his program to quit their training and abandon the job prospects it offered, he launched a state of the art childcare and early education facility nearby. Parents could drop in an check on their children at any time. Cunningham worked with local, state and national politicians to achieve this and so many other projects, once commenting that it was easier for him to get grants from Republicans (who didn't know how to address social ills) than from Democrats (who thought they had the answers). As a sign of how bi-partisan his support was, Focus:HOPE received generous funding (and official visits) from Republican Vice-President George Bush and later from President Bill Clinton.

Cunningham was a post-Vatican II variety of what used to be called a "brick and mortar priest": a pastor who knew how to build--whether it was a church or school, or a high-tech training institute. He was also the kind of "Vatican II" priest who seems to have had a vague, even superficial understanding of the sacraments and sacramental regulations, exacerbated by the sort of clericalism that led him to take liberties with the liturgy. He tore the confessionals out of his parish church, rhetorically asking who was he to listen to and pardon people's sins (they could "do that for each other") and he officiated at a sacrilegious wedding service, using the sacramental ritual for a couple who were both divorced (one of them more than once), and giving the bride and groom the Eucharist. (His bishop publicly rebuked him and sent him for a two-week retreat for that.) Definitely not the sort of priest I appreciate for liturgy.

Despite his liturgical failings, Cunningham's commitment to the poor and his passion for racial justice called me to an examination of conscience. He was 100% given to and for his needy neighbors. He loved them with the love of a shepherd who cannot rest until all his sheep are adequately pastured. He was not content to meet the immediate needs he recognized, but sought to discover their root causes and address those. At the beginning of his Focus:HOPE work, he organized a thorough survey of food prices in and around Detroit, demonstrating that the higher prices being charged in the black communities contributed to the hunger and malnutrition that compromised children's ability to learn. He launched legal action against a major company that was moving its headquarters from Detroit to an all-white suburb--and proved from the company's own internal documents that the motive was racist. A lawsuit against the same company (again, launched by Cunningham) awarded damages and back pay to its black women employees for employment discrimination. Mostly, though, Cunningham was convinced that the most effective way to address the social breakdown he saw in the black communities in Detroit was to address their abysmal schooling (people were being given high school diplomas who were functionally illiterate) and the lack of job opportunities. Cunningham died in 1997, but the conditions in Detroit still give Focus:HOPE plenty to do.

- - - - - 

I didn't just read churchy books. I also managed to read Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania and a little over half of Stalag Luft III: The Secret Story(from my brother-in-law's library). After that it was Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (basis of the movie Unbroken) and now I am halfway through Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis (she finally gets a book of her own, and it is full very rewarding reading). More about these later.

For summer reading picks for kids and teens (and parents!), visit the Pauline summer reading page. One of the teen titles just won first place in the Teens and Young Adults category in the Catholic Press Association's book awards! If you haven't already read Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope, that's an award-winner, too (from the Association of Catholic Publishers). (Here's my review of it.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Little Texas Road Trip

I am still at home with my family; a full week of my time back home was spent on what has become an annual road trip to Texas. On our way to Austin where one of my sisters lives, we stopped at an enormous service station/store/rest stop with "world famous restrooms": Buccees. (The "world famous" designation may be exaggerated, but it is deserved!) I understand that a new location is under construction in Louisiana.

A few highlights of our time together included a visit to the "Living Caverns" near Georgetown, Waco Mammoth National Park (might be the nation's newest National Park, just added to the roster last year) and the charming town of Fredericksburg (in many ways, an architectural time capsule). We visited all these sites with my sister's seven-year-old granddaughter, who was especially fascinated by the caverns--discovered only 50 years ago during the construction of I-35.

I was most excited by the fossils "in situ" at Mammoth National Park. This is also a fairly recent discovery, and significant because it is the first known site of a mammoth "nursery community" where a number of juvenile mammoth bones were found in a creekbed. Those first-discovered bones were relocated, but a few yards away another site was excavated and surrounded with a climate-controlled building so that visitors can see the actual excavation, with mammoth bones and other fossils still embedded in their original resting place. Since paleontology was my first great scientific interest, this was a real thrill. I was surprised to learn that not only the Columbian mammoths (not the "woolly" kind) grazed in the ancient jungles of Texas, but that there were also native camels whose bones were found on the same stratum, indicating a possible symbiotic relationship between the two species. There was also a random saber tooth cat tooth on a different stratum, and near the exit, a woman was at work carefully cleaning (and reconstructing?) an ancient bone.

Fredericksburg is an old German town, especially noted for its peaches and wine. This was my second visit to Fredericksburg; we had come hear four or five years ago with Mom. That is when we discovered one of Texas' famous "painted churches." Fredericksburg's St Mary's is on the National Register of Historic Places and well worth the visit.

After a week at my sister's, we hit the road again, heading back to New Orleans. Along the way we stopped to see an aunt in Houston and a sister in Lafayette, all the while making plans for our last few days together back on our home turf.

Tomorrow we hope to meet a number of cousins in the French Quarter for a guided tour with New Orleans' writer Chris Rose. I return to Boston on Thursday.

As I write this, the news from Orlando is constantly on TV. While it is not helpful to hear the case-by-case medical details, it is a reminder to pray for all those who were impacted by the horrific shooting: the dead, the injured, the families of them all, as well as the medical personnel who are working so hard to meet the needs of survivors and the emergency crews who were first on the scene.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

An alternate proposal: Inner Peace Month

June as "Inner Peace Month"? It's probably a hard sell.

"Pride" is certainly easier to celebrate. It lends itself to the sound of a marching band, while "Inner Peace" calls for something more on the order of a babbling brook whose rippling can only be heard in stillness.

But pride is an ambiguous reality. It can make a person stand a little taller; it can also heighten tensions, leading to bullying or violence. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between pride and braggadocio.

Inner peace is less within our grasp, much less our control. It's harder to nail down. But it's also more universal: we can all enjoy inner peace; you don't have to belong to a special class of people. And it's hard to deny that the world might be better off with a little less pride and a little more peace.

What might characterize a celebration of Inner Peace Month?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day: Father LaFleur

I have posted about Father LaFleur before, but today is a fitting day to bring his story forward again. (Granted, I was inspired by the priest at Mass this morning, since his homily retold the stories of heroic military chaplains.) I first heard of Father La Fleur from his sister, Edna (my grandmother's neighbor). Several years ago, I also put a bit of the story on the blog. Here it is again, with a few additions:

Father Joseph Verbis LaFleur
Born in Ville Platte, Louisiana  Verbis LaFleur was drawn to the priesthood while still a boy. Now in Opelousas, he approached the pastor of St Landry parish (the church, not the Louisiana "county" by that name) and was able to enroll in the St Joseph's Seminary in St Benedict, LA. (My dad did his freshman year of high school at "St Ben's," where the seminary library was recently flooded.) From St Ben's, "Frenchy" (as he was called because of his Cajun accent) moved on to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He was ordained April 2, 1938 and assigned to St Mary Magdalen Church in Abbeville. He didn't stay long.
He volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1941 (before the US entered World War II) out of concern for draftees who didn't have a choice about military service, and when he was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group, it turned out that he was the first chaplain they had ever had. When their base (Clark Field in the Philippines) was hit (an attack connected to the bombing of Pearl Harbor), Col. E. L. Eubanks wrote, "he went among the wounded soldiers...never once did he take cover."
When the 19th Bombardment Group was ordered away from Clark Field, their ship was hit by machine gun fire from Japanese planes. Fr. LaFleur crawled on deck, somehow dodging the bullets to pull a wounded officer to safety. As the ship sank near a small island, Fr. LaFleur stayed on board helping the others shove off. He was the last man off, diving into the ocean and catching a ride on one of the small boats. It was on that island that he was eventually taken prisoner of war by the Japanese (he had earlier refused the chance to leave the island, saying that the men needed him there).

 As a parish priest, Fr. LaFleur had hocked his watch to buy sports equipment for his kids. As a P.O.W., he traded his glasses to get food and supplies for the sick and wounded. On Davao (Philippines) he built a chapel with his own hands. He called it "St. Peter in Chains." He used an eye dropper to measure out the wine for his daily Mass.
At a certain point, the prisoners were being transported when their Japanese ship, the Shinyo Maru, was torpedoed by US forces. Father LaFleur stood near the ladder, helping men escape the stifling hold. Of the 750 prisoners on board, only eighty survived, and it was they who told the story of their chaplain.
It was only in character for him to die as he did: helping men out of the hold of a burning ship. 
St Landry parish dedicated a monument to their heroic native son and every year celebrates a memorial Mass on the anniversary of his death. September 7.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

More from JP2

As I continue to type up the passages of Karol Wojtyla's Sign of Contradiction, I'm finding so much that needs to be said again in our day. (The book is a collection of retreat sermons from 1976.) I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to start posting a thought or two per week from this book as a small way of letting Saint John Paul speak to the issues we are facing.
[T]he incarnation of the Son of God emphasizes the great dignity of human nature; and the mystery of redemption not only reveals the value of every human being but also indicates the lengths to which the battle to save man’s dignity must go.
Sign of Contradiction, page 102.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sharing the Sufferings of Christ

Caravaggio's Crucifixion of St Peter
First Pope walked the talk.

I was struck by today's first reading from the First Letter of Peter. The first Pope takes for granted (and expects his readers to, as well) that Christian life involves an intimate sharing in the sufferings of Christ--as well as the confidence that this is the prelude to sharing in his glory. Passages from other parts of the New Testament kept popping into my head:
  • "Did not the Christ have to suffer and so enter into his glory?" the Risen One asks the disciples on the Emmaus Road (Lk 24).
  • "In my flesh I fill up what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church" (Col 1:24).
  • "For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow" (2 Cor 1:5).
  • "I want to know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death" (Phil 3:10).
  • "Son though he was, he learned obedience through suffering, and when perfected became the source of eternal salvation for all who believe in him" (Heb. 5:8).
I could go on, but you get the idea. The triad suffering–Christ–glory is practically a three-word summary of the Christian message, and therefore of the Christian life. And today Peter looks at us and asks, "Did you really think it was something else?"

It's a fitting enough message for a Friday, a day when the Church invites us to "fill up in our own flesh what is lacking" –whatever it is that Jesus offers as our own, irreplaceable participation in his passion: intimate communion with Jesus, even in our most intimate sufferings.

I'm currently typing up some of the particularly salient points from Pope John Paul's pre-papacy sermons "Sign of Contradiction" (the Lenten retreat meditations he offered at the Vatican in 1976). It's an amazing work; in many ways, key themes from his Theology are the Body can be found here (just as they can be found in his much earlier "Love and Responsibility"). Anyway, here is a Friday thought from St John Paul, very much in line with Peter's from today's first reading at Mass:

Scourged, mocked with a crown of thorns, he carried to Mount Calvary together with the weight of his cross the truth of human suffering, humiliation, scorn, torture, agony, death.…. On the day of his death Jesus entered into the fullest and deepest communion and solidarity with the entire human family, and especially with all those who throughout history have been the victims of injustice, cruelty and scornful abuse.
What is your prayer for this Friday afternoon?