Thursday, June 07, 2018

Pages from the Past: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!

Invitatory Psalm: Come, let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the rock who saves us. 

Tintoretto: Moses drawing water from the rock (Wiki Commons)
Just about every day, the Church begins prayer with Psalm 95 and this invitation.

This is exactly what the Lord is hinting that I should make the foundation of my whole attitude; this needs to be my default position, my typical status, my “return to zero” as it were. And the theme of “rock” struck me (!) in the book I am reading on the Psalms.

Jerusalem is the rock.
The Temple is the rock.
God is the rock. 
"They drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ" (1 Cor 10:4).

The same rock, and the same one that brought forth water in the desert and continued to do so as Jerusalem, where water from the Temple rock filled the pool of Siloam. Was it the same water Ezekiel saw mystically flowing from the "right side of the Temple," that symbol of the pierced Heart of Jesus, from which "blood and water flood, and an eye witness has testified...that you might believe"?

"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, May 31, 2018

Blessed she who believed!

Today is the Feast of the Second Joyful Mystery: the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to St Elizabeth. It is the day we received the second phrase of the Hail Mary, in Elizabeth's inspired words to Mary: "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; in a loud voice she cried, 'Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!' " (Lk 1:41-42).

Elizabeth does more than praise Mary; she explains what Mary's blessedness consists of: "Blessed is she who trusted that the things promised her by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:45). Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Spirit of prophecy, recognized that, as remarkable as Mary's divine maternity was, it rested on her faith in the Word of God. Jesus would say later, with his eye on us: "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it"  (Lk 11:28).

If you subscribe to my community's Discover Hope newsletter, you may have read the post I wrote a few weeks ago on just this theme of Mary and the Word of God. If not, today would be a fitting day to reflect on your relationship with the Word of God.

As summer begins in earnest in the northern hemisphere, it can be tempting to lighten up on our spiritual commitments. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to renew those commitments! (If you are not yet a member of our MY SISTERS community, this might be the time to give it a try; you might find that receiving a weekly spiritual guide--and having regular online accompaniment in real time--can keep you from slacking off. Use the link to get the Nunblogger discount:

Image: Detail from the Aussem Book of Hours (16th century Cologne); Walters Museum of Art.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Pages from the Past: Brother and Sister and Mother to Jesus

James Tissot, Jesus' Exhortation to the Apostles
courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum via Wikimedia Commons

“Whoever does the will of my Father is brother and sister and mother to me.” 

In my meditation, I noticed these words in particular: “will of my Father”; Jesus “stretched out his hand” and also—he did not say “brother or sister or mother” as if, “pick one”—but “and,” as if speaking of the sum of all family relations; a single relationship more intense and encompassing than any one alone; a new kind of degree of relationship. 

St Paul picked up on that idea, I suspect, when he said we were members of Christ’s very body, and he our Head. Because the relationship is not only one way; if we are Jesus’ “everything” (except, of course, his origin), we are “everything” to Jesus, and he is everything—the sum of all relationships—to us.

"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, May 21, 2018

Mother of the Church: the Church's Newest Feast!

Blessed James Alberione used to say that Mary received two Annunciations: one from the Archangel Gabriel, bringing "who told her of her Divine Motherhood as regards Jesus Christ, and one from the crucified Jesus Christ, who told her of her Universal motherhood as regards his Mystical Body the Church." We celebrate Mary, Mother of God, on January 1 (the Octave of Christmas), but until this year, there was no feast to honor Mary, Mother of the Church.

In a decree dated February 11 (Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes) but announced in early Lent, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments announced the insertion of a new memorial into the Roman calendar. Although the title "Mother of the Church" had been recognized at Vatican II (where it stirred up a bit of controversy at first), added to the litany, and provided with a Votive Mass, there was no set day for the universal Church to honor Mary by this title; it was left  up to the devotion of the various local communities, one option among very, very many. 
A medieval image can still be seen on
a column in St Albans Cathedral.

Now, thanks to Pope Francis, that has changed. The Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church will now appear on the liturgical calendar every year on the Monday following Pentecost.

The Collect (what we used to call the "Opening Prayer") for this feast is not what you might expect on the day after Pentecost, the "birthday of the Church." Instead of seeing Mary among the Apostles and disciples in the Upper Room surrounded by tongues of fire, the Collect (along with the Gospel for the feast) takes us back to the scene the Apostle John sees as the real "birthday of the Church": the Crucifixion. The dying Jesus, choking out every word as he suffocates on the Cross, turns Mary's attention to John as he says, "Woman, behold your son." And then to the Beloved Disciple (that's you! that's me!), "Behold, your mother" (Jn 19:26-27). Moments later, he "bowed his head and handed over the Spirit" (Jn 19:30b). Old Simeon's prediction had come true: "Your own soul will be pierced with a sword, that the thoughts of many hearts [our hearts!] may be revealed" (Lk 2:34-35).
Download a powerful reflection on this important Gospel from the forthcoming book, Mary, Mother of Apostles:

Late this summer we will be releasing this new book about Mary's role in the Church. Written by Father Giuseppe Forlai, a member of the Pauline Institute of Jesus the Priest (and translated by your favorite Nunblogger), it draws from the great Marian writings of the influential "French School" (people like St Louis Grignion de Montfort) as well as from Blessed James Alberione.
This is not light reading, but substantial enough to bring to your time of adoration because it really sheds light on Mary's place in our relationship with Jesus. (I highly recommend it also for people involved in ministry, for whom it can be hard to find suitable books about Our Lady.)

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Perfect Storm of Novenas (Including Mary, Mother of the Church)

Here we are, the day after Ascension Thursday. (Yes, it was. Even if you are in a diocese that will celebrate Ascension on Sunday.)
  • It is the first day of the novena of Pentecost. (The original nine days of prayer were those days from the 40th day after Easter to the Jewish feast of Pentecost.)
  • It is the second day of the Pauline novena of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. (We celebrate her feast on the day before Pentecost.)
  • It is the day before the start of the novena of Mary, Mother of the Church. That feast will be celebrated for the first time this year on the Monday after Pentecost, thanks to Pope Francis.
What's a Catholic to do?

Well, here in the convent, we offered prayers to the Holy Spirit at morning prayer, and will sing our Marian novena in the evening. That will pretty much be our thing until next Saturday. You might consider something along the same lines. For example, you could pray a Chaplet of the Holy Spirit on the way to work, and a Rosary or other Marian prayer on the way home. Or you could pray with our sung Chaplet to the Holy Spirit* during one leg of your commute, and pray with our sung Marian novena (see video below) on your lunch break.

This is a sung Marian novena which is very suitable for preparing both for Pentecost and for the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church. Confession: it is a section of our Pauline novena of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. You can find the novena texts we are singing here, along with supplemental Scripture citations and the official prayer for the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

Download the Chaplet to the Holy Spirit from your favorite online music store; an online music purchase supports your favorite Media Nuns!
iTunes: Chaplet to the Holy Spirit
Amazon music: Chaplet to the Holy Spirit

*This Spotify streaming link will probably work on a desktop, but on mobile devices, only paid Spotify subscribers can listen to a specific song. The same seems to go for Google Play, where the Chaplet is accessible only as part of a "radio" playlist. Sorry!

Pages from the Past: "No place to lay His head"

How did Mary feel to hear Jesus make that comment about having “no place to lay his head”? 

She had been that resting place; she had welcomed him in from the Father’s side! She laid him in the manger and raised him at Nazareth...but he left that home (and her) for the sake of the Gospel.

That is why he blesses those who leave home and father and mother and brother and sisters…for himself and for the Gospel.

"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, May 09, 2018

The Drone Pilot's Guide to Eucharistic Adoration

I didn't want you to miss this article I wrote for the MY SISTERS blog.  Here's the first part, and you can continue on over at MY SISTERS. (Don't forget, using this link>> you can join MY SISTERS<< a private Facebook community, for the special Nunblogger discount of $8.95/month--but the first month is only $1 so you can see if this form of spiritual accompaniment is for you.)

If you can fly a drone, you already have a basic outline for a fruitful period of adoration.
Not all aspects of drone piloting lend themselves to the life of prayer, of course. (For example, we kid ourselves if we think we are the pilot when it comes to prayer.) But there a few of the key elements to flying that really can offer some guidance when it comes to how we might approach Eucharistic adoration (or other regular practices of prayer).
  1. Establish a home point.
This part is automatic for the convent drone. The tablet or phone is GPS-enabled and so calculates just where the craft is positioned before take-off. It even announces it: “Home point established.” After take-off, no matter how convoluted the journey, the drone can always return to home point and land there, even if I’ve completely lost it from view (been known to happen).
In prayer, I have found that having a personal “pattern” or rhythm establishes a home point for my heart. Nothing elaborate: just one or two set prayers or psalms that set the stage for all that will follow.  Just as the drone doesn’t take off from the same home point every single time, my first formal prayers of the Hour of Adoration aren’t absolutely invariable. I might use the same set of prayers for several months or in alternation with another set. But I don’t come up with something new every morning. I have a home point.
This is what the Church does, too, in the Liturgy of the Hours: the “Invitatory Psalm,” the first psalm of the day, is almost always Psalm 95, although Psalms 100, 67, and 24 may also be used. If in the course of your Holy Hour you find yourself mightily distracted, you can “return to home point” to renew your recollection and focus. Good news: a meaningful song or image can be a great “home point” for your prayer, too!
* * * * *
Read the rest (there are four more points!) on the MY SISTERS blog.  I need your input: I'm thinking of formatting the article as a printable PDF that can be distributed in adoration chapels. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Paul's prison song and the "convicting of sin"

Today we have the memorable reading from the Acts of the Apostles where Paul and his missionary partner Silas, like him a Roman citizen, are summarily arrested, beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. In the middle of the night, while the two apostles are praying and singing hymns to God, a well-timed earthquake sets them and everyone else free (temporarily, at least). The upshot is that the jailer and his family are baptized that night, and the next day the two unjustly imprisoned citizens get a public apology before leaving town.
The responsorial psalm, Psalm 138, highlights the prayer of Paul and Silas in that dungeon: "In the presence of the angels I will sing your praise." Then in the Gospel, as we continue to listen to Jesus' "Farewell Discourse" with the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us that when the Spirit comes, that Divine Spirit will "convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation."
Pope John Paul dedicated no little space in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit to that passage, parsing out what it means for the Spirit to convict the world concerning (a) sin, (b) righteousness, and (c) condemnation, but...I confess I have yet to understand what he meant. I did, however, come across some years ago a passage by one of my favorite authors, the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, who wrote on this very subject in a way that ties together all three of the Scripture texts from today's Mass:

The Church convicts sin through her thanksgiving. Through which she recognizes the vital lessons of evil, the source of sin as unthankfulness, as man's falling away from the 'hymning, blessing, praising, giving thanks and worshiping' through which he lives—for man, and in him all creation, knows God and has communion with him. Not giving thanks is the root and the driving force of ... pride ….
(He says much more, but it will have to wait for another occasion.)
Paul and Silas, "hymning, blessing, praising, giving thanks and worshiping" in the Philippi jail were "convicting sin" through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit manifested that through the sign of an earthquake. That "hymning" in the midst of our own everyday activities, or even our daily sufferings, confesses that Jesus has already won the victory: we are not deceived in giving thanks and praise before the full experience of that victory has been bestowed on us.

Is the great sin of omission of our time a lack of praise? Can Jesus say of our generation what he told the Pharisees on that first Palm Sunday: "If these fall silent, the rocks and stones will cry out?"

Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Friday, April 20, 2018

Paul, the "Vessel of Election"

Parmigianino's rendition of today's reading.
The dramatic road to Damascus story is today's first reading at Mass, but you won't hear Saul (Paul) referred to in the classic words as a "vessel of election." Instead, the lectionary goes with the more prosaic "chosen instrument."

For years, I was all right with that. Our Pauline prayerbook continued to say, "You are a vessel of election, O St Paul the Apostle; preacher of truth to the whole world" and things like that, reflecting the older usage. It was kind of a best of both worlds scenario until this morning when it struck me that a "vessel" is a container. If Paul is "a vessel of election to carry My Name..." that hints that he is filled with the Name, the Person of Jesus. And this vessel does not just transport the Name, the Person of Jesus: it makes him available everywhere. There is a hint here of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (cf. Col 1:27) that just doesn't come through if Paul is an "instrument."

I did a little homework on this, and, yes, it is true that the Greek used in Acts 9 (σκεῦος) is translated in Wiktionary as "vessel, implement." So the "instrument" thing is perfectly legitimate. It just strikes me as reductive and detatched, whereas the word "vessel" offers much richer possibilities, more consistent with a genuinely apostolic spirituality in which the message and the messenger are profoundly united.

By our Baptism, we are more than "instruments" to bring Jesus to the world: we are vessels, to contain him and pour him into the waiting hearts of "Gentiles and Kings and the children of Israel." Just like Paul.

You are a vessel of election, O St Paul the Apostle:
—Preacher of truth to the whole world.

Pages from the Past: the Spirit of Sacrifice

From a book of Carryl Houselander (emphases mine): 

“If Christ is growing in you, you are growing towards sacrifice. If the spirit of sacrifice is not growing in you, Christ is not growing in you, no matter how ardently you may think of him or how eloquently you may speak of him… A sacrifice is not, as so many people imagine, a mortification; it is not something that is meritorious according to its degree of unpleasantness; on the contrary, in real sacrifice, there is joy which surpasses all other joys, it is the crescendo and culmination of love…. When we make a sacrifice it is always thus, we have to give something up, not because it is a bad thing—for more often it is a good thing—but the offering of ourselves is a complete offering, it means a whole attention, a whole concentration, a whole donation.” 

"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, April 12, 2018

Called to Sanctity [[UPDATED May 5]]

Among the letters and photos saved among the boxes on top of my armoire is one from a priest who had been involved with the parish Holy Name Society during the years of my father's leadership on the national level. It is a letter of condolence to my mom upon Dad's death, and it includes the line, "I am convinced that Jim was a real saint!"
Pope Francis this week is telling all of us that "real saints" is what we are all meant to be, and in his new document, "Gaudete et Exsultate" (Rejoice and Be Glad), he takes the time to show us what this entails. He also points out some of the major obstacles, both time-tested and more novel (the danger of "verbal violence through the internet," for example), and the fruits of genuine holiness: those works of mercy we spent a year meditating on.

I can't say much more than this, because I haven't had a chance to actually read the whole document myself. But I did want to give you a timely link.

Our Sister Lorraine is right now preparing a downloadable study guide; as soon as that is available I will add the link to this post, so keep checking back (or checking Twitter @nunblogger for the link). 

May 5 UPDATE: Here's the link for the free study guide for Gaudete et Exsultate by our own Sr. Lorraine!

Saturday, April 07, 2018

"First to Mary Magdalene"

Mark's Gospel ends with a brief summary of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, starting with the very first: "to Mary Magdalene." It has become popular of late to make much of the fact that this flies in the face of patriarchy, and what are we to make of it, given that the Apostles were not the first ones privileged with the news of the Resurrection, but had to receive it from a woman, and so on.

It is true that for much of history, at least in the West, Mary has not received her due as "Apostle to the Apostles," and first evangelizer of the Resurrection. Thankfully that is beginning to change, as especially manifest in Pope Francis' raising her liturgical observance to the level of a Feast, on a par with that of the Apostles. This highlights the importance not only of Mary Magdalene, but of the lay apostolate in the Church which by its very nature ought to be more extensive than that of the hierarchy (which is at the service of the lay apostolate).

But today another thought came to me about the priority of Mary Magdalene in the order of Resurrection witnesses and the fact that the Apostles at first had to depend on her word for the news before the Risen One appeared to them and commissioned them explicitly to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel.

"Noli me tangere" from the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens.
What if Mary Magdalene is "first" yes, because she is a woman, not that this has anything to do with patriarchy or roles of men and women in the Church, but because this makes her a type or living symbol of the Church itself, the Bride of Christ who receives everything from the Bridegroom and "delivers" it to the world? Indeed I think John goes out of his way in hinting at this: the setting of the appearance in the garden evokes the Song of Songs, and when the Risen Christ appears, he does not first address his disciple by name, but as "Woman." Three other times in the Gospel of John a woman was addressed this way, and always in a context that can be seen as spousal: at Cana, at the well in Samaria (in the Old Testament the well was often a place where marriage partners met for the first time) and at the Cross, when the "Woman" was given a son. Now, in the Garden of a new creation, the Woman is entrusted with the Gospel: to be given to the Apostles, but meant for the world.

That the Apostles receive the Gospel from the Woman-Church demonstrates that they are not in charge of the message. They have received it; they are its stewards, docile to the Church in receiving the Gospel and, we can say, also in receiving the tradition which interprets the Gospel.

If that is the case for the Apostles, much more for ourselves! We close the Easter Octave tomorrow, continuing for 40 more days to celebrate the Resurrection in anticipation of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the one who equipped the Apostles to "go out into the whole creation" with the message they received "first from Mary Magdalene."