Wednesday, September 02, 2015

When the Pope hits the Headlines

So it happened again between yesterday and today. The Pope made the headlines, and that means...a lot of people got the story wrong (or at least mixed up). Here's the official statement.

Many reliable sources clarified just what yesterday's announcement concerning the Jubilee of Mercy, the Sacrament of Penance (confession) and the sin of abortion:

Here in Boston, the Globe gave full-page coverage to the story, but bewilderingly chose to quote a Planned Parenthood representative (really?! Now?!) in two of the three articles. As much as we are told by the dominant culture that we must always respect other people's feelings, even to the point of using opposite-sex pronouns when referring to a person who doesn't "feel" like their biological sex, there is one feeling that is verboten, forbidden, the never-to-be-named Voldemort of feelings:
While calling the pontiff’s announcement “a step in the right direction,” Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said abortion is not something a woman should be ashamed of or have to seek forgiveness for. (The Boston Globe)
This denying of women their right to their own sacred feelings  makes the Pope's invitation to confession all the more pastoral. He didn't deny women's feelings, he affirmed them, and refers to his own personal encounters with women as his reason for making a dramatic (if, strictly speaking, unnecessary) overture:
[There are women who] believe that they have no other option.... I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. 
If large numbers of women (and men) did not feel regret or remorse over abortion, groups like Silent No More and ministries like Project Rachel and Rachel's Vineyard would not have survived or spread the way they have. No, Pope Francis recognizes a pain that women are not allowed to express publicly. By making this pastoral announcement, effectively advertising a forgiveness that has long been available (most, if not all, US bishops gave priests full authorization to absolve the sin of abortion), Pope Francis is letting women know that they don't have to deny their own experience. But they don't have to keep reliving it in secret, either.

Come to think about it, isn't that a helpful invitation for all of us, no matter what our secret, buried-down-deep, unacknowledged area of sinfulness is?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Katrina and me (ten years later)

So much can happen in ten years.

Usually, we mark our decades by the birthdays ending in zero. But ever since August 29, 2005, I have found myself marking the years New Orleans style, as K+. This year marks K+10.

In these ten years, both of my parents have gone home to God, as have four of their siblings; two of my sisters got married; a new niece was born, another niece married and gave birth to two precious children; I gained a niece and a nephew when my sister married their dad. My brothers started their own law firm, and a niece is one of the lawyers there. A Pope retired, and his successor is still full of surprises. I went to Italy (twice!) and lived in England. But through it all, Hurricane Katrina remained my temporal reference point. Everything that happened took place "so many years after Katrina." But for me, it didn't exactly start with the hurricane. It started with Mom and Dad's Golden Anniversary.
Two weeks before the storm; Dad is singing
"Yo te quiero mucho, mucho, mucho..."
It was the first time I ever heard him sing.

The timing of my parent's 50th anniversary meant that my home visit was ending just as an ominously rotating storm was getting teasingly close to the Gulf of Mexico. Even as I got on the plane back to Chicago that Friday, I was telling my parents, "If that thing comes anywhere near New Orleans, please just evacuate!" They smiled indulgently, having never evacuated for a hurricane in their lives. Besides, Monday morning they were heading to Europe: Dad was finally going to show Mom the places where he served in the Army. He had always dreamed of taking his wife to Germany.

By Saturday, New Orleans was in the cross-hairs, but Mom and Dad weren't budging.

Sunday morning I woke up frantic. Why weren't they picking up the phone? I kept getting the answering machine. (At least there was still electricity.) I left a message in a strained and nervous voice: "I sure hope the reason you didn't pick up is because you evacuated!!!" Hours later I got the call. They were in north Louisiana, staying in a cabin my brother's in-laws used as a hunting lodge.

Just about everyone was there: My brother and his family, of course. Mom and Dad (my brother swept by the house at midnight to pick them up; they each had an overnight bag). My sister and her dogs (she even adopted a puppy on Saturday, knowing that the rescue shelters were not going to be evacuating the animals). Another sister and her cats (and dog). A third sister would come later; she was on duty at the only hospital that continued operating through the storm. A niece would be evacuated to Baton Rouge later; she couldn't get off work. A brother took his family to Houston where his teenagers were welcomed to the classes at the Jesuit and Dominican high schools; my brother-in-law brought his two teens to his sister's house in Mississippi (the other two members of the family are the sister and niece who stayed at work).

Little by little, I found out where other family members had ended up. Dad was worried about his widowed sister, but she didn't have a cell phone and no one knew her children's phone numbers. I Googled her eldest son's name and found a lead. When the receptionist at his Michigan workplace asked who was calling, I just said, "His cousin from New Orleans" and got put right through. (Dad was happy to hear that Aunt Shirley was in Houston with her daughter and grandchildren, staying with a son there.) My godmother, an aunt and a whole lot of cousins were staying in a couple of towns over from my parents; a cousin had just set her son up in an apartment for his first semester of college. (These were not the roommates he had anticipated.)

I kept checking Google Earth to see if there were pictures of Mom and Dad's house. Not yet. No way to know. I just kept watching TV (not the best thing), hypnotized by the transformation of a city I had just left days earlier. Biblical passages related to exile became painfully meaningful. I felt as uprooted as my family.  "How can I sing a song of the Lord in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my tongue cleave to my palate!" "There's no place like home" isn't very comforting when you're watching the flood waters spread and don't know if there even is a hometown there anymore.
If you have to either laugh or
cry, choose laughing.

Wretchedly in need of something to do, I stuffed a "care package" for my family with Bibles, rosaries, recipe clippings (there was one for trout meuniere, something Dad had ordered on their first date), a Calvin and Hobbes book. (Filling that box brought me immense relief, but I wish they had brought Calvin back when they came back home!)

After a week at the hospital (sleeping on the floor in halls in between shifts and eating sandwiches and fresh tomatoes from the Salvation Army), my sister drove around to check out the family's dwellings. (A hospital ID got her past the military at the various roadblocks.) Her house, miraculously, was "high and dry," with only the refrigerator and freezer ruined by food that rotted when the power went out. At Mom and Dad's she entered the front door and felt the squishy carpet underfoot. "You got water," she told them by phone. Ditto for two more sisters.  (For a year after, when New Orleanians would encounter someone they hadn't seen since before Katrina, that became the standard greeting: "Did you get water?") One poor neighbor made the mistake of testing the lights in a still-sodden house. The place blew up.

My godmother had three feet of water in her uptown home. But the old house had been built for hurricanes, with an artificial terrace: the living quarters were untouched, but everything in the ground-level "basement" was soaked. Miraculously, her father's memoirs (which she hadn't even known existed) were salvageable, and later published. Another aunt's home was deluged. Six to eight feet of mud and water ruined the one-of-a-kind home designed by her long-since deceased architect husband. Somewhere in the mud was the diamond ring he had given her; in the rush to evacuate, it hadn't occurred to her to get it. (Believe it or not, the ring was found in the muck some months later.)

Mom and Dad's house during the gutting. The fence
had collapsed, too.

By October, Dad couldn't take living in the woods any more. He and Mom moved back home, living on the second floor while the first floor was gutted and renovated. Dad was still working most days, and on coming home would trudge painfully up the stairs hauling bags of ice (they had a tiny dorm-style fridge, too). In January, I went down to help them empty the living room of moldy books and videos, staying at the Daughters of St Paul convent which had suffered some roof damage, but no flooding. I could just walk between the convent and my parents' home. (I had to get a tetanus shot for the nail that went through my shoe on one of those trips.) Dinner was whatever could be prepared in a microwave or between two slices of bread. Eventually the fast-food places began reopening, and the grocery stores started to restock. The house was well-along by July, but the first year of recovery from Katrina ended up being the last year of my Dad's life.

An abandoned house I pass every time I go to visit my godmother.
The dumpster hints that it's finally getting some attention.
I've been to New Orleans every year since Katrina, twice for a painfully extended periods while we kept vigil with Dad (the year after the storm), and then Mom. For the first few years, the city was visibly picking up: every time I went home I saw more blue tarps  replaced by roofs;  lights began going on in different neighborhoods; businesses re-opened. Now the pace has slowed. There are still areas that are blighted or unevenly restored. Housing is still limited and expensive. One neighborhood that I drive through on the way to my godmother's house has beautifully restored shotgun houses next door to collapsing homes with trees growing out of the roof. Many people started fresh elsewhere, bringing unexpected pockets of New Orleans culture to other parts of the country. In Atlanta recently, I met one of those transplants. She loves New Orleans, but has no intention of moving back: she's raising her family in Atlanta now. The need for labor drew in many immigrants, especially Latinos. You don't see them so much any more, but for many years post-Katrina, day laborers could be hired right in front of the home improvement stores. Now these new New Orleanians are settling down and raising families in a city that, for a significant part of its history, was under Spanish dominion. 
The week of the wedding, Dad
kept saying, "No matter 
what happens, go ahead with the
plans. I'll be there one way or the 
other." (The wedding was the 
day after his funeral.)

Hurricane Katrina brought my family a lot of misery, but it did not bring death or permanent loss. In fact, it led to one huge blessing (answering 30+ years of prayer): My sister Jane, required to be on duty in the hospital lab one month after the storm, was living in a trailer in her front yard. The trailer had all kinds of plumbing problems and, being a microbiologist, Jane was not too keen on the organisms that were being incubated in those pipes. The trailer repairman had to make numerous service calls.

His name is Jim. He had come in from Michigan, knowing that there would be work in New Orleans.

They celebrate their 9th wedding anniversary in November.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Singing Nuns at Fenway Park

Wally (the Big Green Monster) and the choir. (Original Big
Green Monster in the background.)
In case you weren't watching KC@BOS yesterday, the Red Sox lost. But it was a good game, even better (at least for half an inning) after the seventh-inning stretch when the Daughters of St Paul choir came onto the rain-drenched field to sing "God Bless America" with the 30,000+ fans in the packed stadium!

Waiting in "Canvas Alley"
It was a lot of fun for us, arriving in the morning for a quick sound check, then returning to Fenway Park after lunch to find that we had tickets in the Grandstand behind home plate! We cheered and we jeered with the Boston fans until, in the 6th inning, we were escorted to "Canvas Alley" to await the middle of the 7th inning.

A soaking rain was falling steadily and the Royals managed to stretch their turn at bat for a very long time, while we stood away from the drops, repeating our opening note and practicing a few times. Then: "Okay, Sisters: follow me!" And onto the field we strode to get into formation around the two mics that had been hastily set up for us. The Man with the Baseball Stadium Voice introduced us, and minute and a half later, it was done--and the crowd went wild!!! (Watch it here!)

We had prayed that people's hearts would, in some mysterious way, be touched. (As Sr Tracey said, "God will respond to any invitation he gets.") As we left the stadium, people greeted us enthusastically.  "Great job, Sisters!" "Can we take a picture with you?" Every nun they had ever seen, learned from or encountered was made present to them that day through us. "I work with the Sisters of Notre Dame! Can I get a picture of my little girl with you sisters to show them?" "Sister Mary Euphrasia was my math teacher! I never forgot her!" You could see the tremendous influence of the many orders of sisters who served in the Boston area (and way beyond). Even people who hadn't been in the stadium were greeting us on the street as they came out of the sports bars, since our two minutes of fame had been broadcast on the New England Sports Network.

Enjoy the pictures! You can find more (and additional video links) on our choir's Facebook page. (Like us if you don't already!)

Our view of the game.
How about that World Series ring?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Holy Hour of Reparation for Sins against Life (Updated link)

Today across the country, thousands are gathering to protest the horrors that have been revealed over this summer; crimes (even if they are technically "legal") against the human person and the human body, which has been reduced to a source of spare parts for experimentation even without the consent (never fully "informed") of the mother.

I am unable to attend the local protest. (In fact, as soon as I post this I will be taking another migraine pill and turning the lights out.) But I figured there are many others who would be willing to join in, but for whatever reason cannot. So I have put together an outline for a Holy Hour of Reparation that can be our contribution to today's pro-life efforts. Perhaps through our quiet presence before the Lord today, we can obtain and "channel" the graces most needed by the people whose hands are so stained with blood or greed.

Please feel free to share this outline with as many people as possible. "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give you," Jesus said. Let us ask the grace of interior conversion for everyone involved in the abortion industry, for our politicians and for the media who protect the status quo, and for the medical researchers who are driving the marketplace demand for fetal organs.

Holy Hour of Reparation

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Community Update: Late Summer Edition

I am back in my office (presumably for a stretch of time) after retreat, community "encounter" (updating seminar), a concert practice week and the profession celebration for two of the novices. It has been a packed few weeks, made all the more interesting (and packed) for me by the return of back
pain so severe that I offered it up for people who were being tortured. Speaking of which, please pray for my Middle Eastern friend "Samir" (not his real name) who has now broken all contact with me and the other Christians he had been communicating with. It seems that his cell phone was found by a family member, who saw Samir's illegal declaration of intent to become a Christian. We have no idea if the family will turn him in to the religious authorities, or protect him but keep him in isolation so that he does not endanger himself (and them) by his desire. (Samir had earlier written to me of his fear of being killed or taken to the "no mercy place.")

Our summer updating seminar was on the vow of obedience, and was led by Sister Sara Butler, MSBT, a former member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission (kind of a theological think-tank at the service of the Pope). Sister Sara is also a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology, a fairly new organization of high-level scholars. I was happy to learn about it! It was fascinating to hear from a scholar of her rank about the origins of a great deal of confusion in religious life during and after Vatican II. I think her findings are going to be released soon in a book form, so I will not break any implicit embargo by trying to express them here, other than to say I was surprised to learn that the upheaval in religious life that I witnessed as a child and young person was not at all inspired by the document on religious life ("Perfectae Caritatis"), but was from a proposed set of interpretive notes on "Lumen Gentium" in a phrase that had been "voted off the island" by the bishops!

My retreat started the second day after the seminar, and that's when the back trouble also roared to life, causing me to spend approximately half of my retreat week in the chiropractor's office. I even found a doctor in the neighborhood of the retreat house to cut down on the time I had to suffer the Boston traffic in my search for relief. Since the time not spent in the chiropractor's office was spent with an ice pack, my retreat was characterized by the recitation of many,  many rosaries and a lot of reflection on the mystery of suffering. I am in much, much better shape now, thanks be to God and the good doctors, whose caring spirit was so obvious.

Singing before the Vow Day Mass.
I had to leave the retreat house as soon as the retreat ended, so as to be in the sound studio the next morning to begin working with the other choir members on our Christmas concert program. We spent all last week revisiting songs, learning parts and sketching out our places "on stage." We have until Thanksgiving to learn the music (and hopefully those stage spots) by heart, and then we'll practice together in earnest. Meanwhile, Sister Julia has been learning to play the harp (would you believe she received a harp as a gift?????), so we hope to include that celestial instrument in the program, too.

I had to miss choir practice a couple of times in order to share with our junior professed sisters a study I did years ago on a contribution of our Founder to our manual of prayers, a 30-station "way of humanity" (like the way of the Cross, but covering the entirety of Salvation History; the Founder's favorite word was "tutto: everything!"). It was good revisiting the notes and beginning to update them. Sister Donna thought there was something in there worth publishing; we'll see--eventually!

Sister Charitas (left) gets her first glimpse of Sister Carly Paula
wearing the habit. Sister Chelsea Bethany is just behind the two.
Saturday was the Mass of Religious Profession for our novices, who have now taken their new names and their new assignments as Daughters of St. Paul. Sister Chelsea Bethany is headed for Chicago, and Sister Carly Paula to New Orleans, so I have lots of contacts for them to connect with. At the celebratory meal, I sat next to Sister Chelsea Bethany's grandmother and learned that one of her "grands" just started his freshman year at NC State, where my nephew is also a freshman. Both young men plan to major in engineering. I hope they can get to know each other! After the meal, all the guests were invited outside for a fun video shoot. It took four attempts, but now it's (as they say) in the can.

Sunday the choir members (with a few ad hoc members!) head to historic Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals will play ball. And where the sisters will sing "God Bless America" for the 7th inning stretch. (Special thanks to Dreux Montegut, Music Director of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, for the arrangement!)

Over the past two weeks, six of our sisters were visited by bereavements. I knew only one of the deceased, the father of the sister who runs our IT works. He was a delightful, genuinely loveable man, a father of seven married 68 years. I remember him telling me the role his then-girlfriend had in his conversion to Catholicism. He had jokingly (and confidently) asked which she would choose, if it came to that: him or her Catholic faith. "Why, my faith of course!" That's when he realized that if he wanted her hand, he had better take a look at her Church. He became a daily communicant and, as the old poem goes, "the Daddy of a nun." May he and the loved ones of all of our mourning sisters, rest in peace!

As I shift back into "ordinary time" in the Lord's service, my first task is to pull together our autumn fund-raising "webathon." I'll also be preparing a talk for a quick trip to Cleveland in early October: more details when I get them. And get ready for those Christmas concerts if you live in the areas of Staten Island, Piscataway, Rahway, Philadelphia (St Katharine's), Marshfield or...Jamaica Plain!

Monday, August 03, 2015

Asking Prayers (and promising them) during retreat

As you read this, I will have begun the annual eight days of silence. (I'm writing this pre-retreat, but scheduling the post for when NunBlog readers are more likely to see it.) The spiritual exercises (mandated by Canon Law!) put a halt to all outwardly "productive" work, allowing the interior space to hear the Word of God in a more focused manner, letting that Word cast its own light on the past
We had some bats visiting from the belfry this
past week, but the hatch was closed and we hope
 to be undistracted by further visits!
and issue its (sometimes unexpected) invitations for the future. The retreat schedule also provides more time for that sublime human activity, rest. (When I was a novice, I used to joke that my favorite Catholic prayer was the "Eternal Rest.") An extra, somewhat unexpected challenge for me right now is that I will attempt the extra, hopefully focused prayer with the decided distraction of back pain. (After two years without an incident, I thought I was home free. Alas, not so!)

My last annual retreat was made under somewhat unusual conditions last November, about two weeks after I returned from the UK. I was in my new Boston community, keeping the basic community schedule as far as community prayer and meals went, but outside of that it was Jesus, me and a set of audio conferences by an Italian theologian. I didn't even finish the whole set of conferences, the content was so rich: I kept listening to talk 3 over and over. (I think I may revisit it again this week.) This year, I am at the retreat house with almost 40 other sisters. I am scheduled for daily meetings with a spiritual director (who was himself just named Superior General of his own religious congregation), and so far the weather promises to be particularly indulgent, promising me lots of rosaries prayed while walking down the country lane. Best of all, the second reading of this Sunday's Mass is practically a retreat in itself, guided by none other than St Paul!
"You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth."

As I formulate my intentions for this week of prayer, I am including in a special way all the readers who have entrusted their special prayer requests to me throughout the year. I ask you to also remember a person I have "met" online this year, whom I will call "Samir" (not his real name). Samir desires to know more about Jesus and to become a Christian. The very desires he has expressed openly to me on social media put him at risk in his country. He has already been detained for hours to explain to the religious police why he has not attended the weekly services of the official religion into which he was born. Although the US has military installations in the country, Christian ministry is limited to the military installation and personnel.  In his honor-based society, should Samir be accused of changing religion (already against the law in itself), his being sentenced would bring great shame upon his whole family, and break his mother's heart. I have not heard from him in a week, a fact which concerns me greatly. So please pray for "Samir" and others like him who desire to come to Jesus, but are effectively prevented. And let us pray for our own "free" world, that the social, political and financial pressures may not tempt our federal lawmakers to (once again) choose the status quo rather than free up for actual women's health care the half-billion dollars given annual to abortion giant (and lucrative fetal organ supplier) Planned Parenthood...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Moment of Grace for...Planned Parenthood?

Today the Center for Medical Progress released a third undercover video of Planned Parenthood staff talking nonchalantly about "procuring" intact organs after an abortion. Typically, the Center (a pro-life fact-finding organization which presented itself to Planned Parenthood as a "tissue procurement" middleman) provides an edited video for sharing on social media, with the unedited or complete footage available on line as well.

There has been a bit of an escalation as we have gone from one video to the next, with the tone becoming (as if that were even possible) more callous and matter of fact about the challenges of modifying a procedure (the abortion) in order to harvest the greatest number of usable organs, and the best approach to handling the "fees" the organization expects for this service to science. Today's video, we are warned, is extremely graphic. I have decided to stick with transcriptions rather than subject my memory to the images of an unspeakable horror.

In this continuing public relations nightmare, Planned Parenthood has attempted several different approaches, typically describing the video producers as violent lawbreakers while apologizing for the insenstive "tone" of the doctors whose frankness about dollars and cents doesn't square with the "caring" image the organization has spent so much money fostering. The reactions to the revelations has also left PP official sputtering that the videographers failed to get signed releases for the filming, and used "deception" to spread "false tissue donation rumors". Since the video released today shows the actual remains of aborted babies, Planned Parenthood even has the gall to accuse the videographers of violating patient privacy (since the mothers did not sign a consent form for their child to appear on camera?). (A press release warned the news media not to make the mistake of putting any of this content on the air, lest they, too, fall afoul of the law.)

Yet I pray that this a "moment of grace" for Planned Parenthood, the way "hitting bottom" is a mysterious moment of grace for an addict. These videos (and those to come) are holding a harsh mirror to an organization that, for decades, has promoted itself as the best friend of modern woman. Hopefully, many of the women who have trusted Planned Parenthood to look out for their best interest are now seeing what the organization really looks out for, and will go elsewhere. Hopefully, many of the women who work for or volunteer at Planned Parenthood will find that their desire to help women in need has been manipulated in favor of the bottom line, and will look for more positive ways to accompany women in need. Hopefully, even the well-compensated hierarchy of Planned Parenthood will feel the first healthy waves of shame that can invite them to re-evaluate the time and mental energy they have devoted to a destructive cause.

Abby Johnson (former director of Planned Parenthood and author of unPlanned) remembers when she was involved in harvesting fetal organs for Planned Parenthood. She helped establish "And Then There Were None," an organization that helps abortion industry personnel transition out of the sickening business. (It's not as easy as saying "I quit!"; people need jobs, but they also need healing.)

Pray also that in some way known only to God, these horrible revelations will provoke a moment of grace in women who, having had abortions at Planned Parenthood, signed forms donating the "tissue" for research. Many of them might have thought that the good of  medical research could offset the harm and loss of the abortion itself. The fact that Planned Parenthood coldly calculated just what "fees" it could gain for process and handling their babies' body parts may traumatize these women; it is important that we not only pray for them in this delicate hour, but be very careful of what we say (and how we say it) with regard to women who have had recourse to abortion out of fear, desperation, force or ignorance (an ignorance Planned Parenthood has worked hard to foster).

Read about the mission of "And Then There Were None" in their newsletter archives, and you'll see grace at work. We could be witnessing a moment of grace even now.

Update: Here's a first-hand description of an unlikely moment of grace for one former abortion clinic counselor:

Monday, July 27, 2015

An out-of-the-way New Orleans Must-See for Catholics

Like most New Orleans Catholics, I grew up at least slightly aware of "Father Seelos," a kind Redemptorist who had spent just over a year in the city--almost a hundred years before I was born. Those months happened to coincide with a yellow fever epidemic which claimed the 48-year-old priest's life. In his all-too-brief ministry, the saintly Bavarian made a huge impression, and the city claimed him as one of its own, despite the much better claims of Baltimore (where he was ordained) and Pittsburgh (where he followed St John Neumann as pastor of St Philomena's parish).

Holy cards of "Servant of God Francis X. Seelos" were as common as
images of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. When my Dad's cousin Thomas was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, we didn't just visit him: we pinned a relic of Father Seelos on his hospital gown. (Tommy lived another ten years, caring for his wife through her ordeal with Alzheimer's, and, mission accomplished, followed her in death three weeks later.) When Mom was dying, I held a first class relic of Father (now Blessed) Seelos in her hand, counting on him and Our Lady to escort her to God's presence.

So why is it that until this summer I had never visited the Assumption Church where Father Seelos was parish priest, and where he was buried? Maybe because it was in an unfamiliar, out-of-the-way part of the city. All I can really say is that the opportunity never really came up, and I never actually pursued it. Until Sister Julia Mary (on her "good bye tour" of the city) posted pictures from the Seelos Shrine on Facebook and I saw what I had been missing. The GPS app on my phone showed that Assumption Church was not all that far from the Quarter, and we really could find our way there without too much trouble. I convinced my sisters to make a visit part of our "French Quarter Day" on a sweltering Saturday.

Now in my office.
For some reason, I wasn't all that keen on beginning at the clearly marked Visitor's Center. (I preferred to be more discreet!) But that is the only way in: the Church doors facing the street are bolted shut. (I tried them. Both.) Happily, when we rang the bell, it was my sister Jane's best friend who was on volunteer duty that day. She was thrilled to see us (and even admitted praying that we would be able to connect that weekend, somehow). She showed us the well-prepared one-minute "tour" presenting the Blessed's life and artifacts (none of us felt called to imitate the "Cheerful Ascetic" in his penitential practices, though seeing his "cilicium" really made me question my own expectations of comfort and pain-free living). There was even a wax museum-style depiction of his
last pastoral act: visiting and anointing a man who was dying of yellow fever. (After leaving the man's bedside, Father Seelos returned to the parish and collapsed, stricken with his own final illness.) The gift shop was well-stocked and comfortable (so much for penances!): I even got a small statue for my office shrine, and bonus holy cards for anyone who hasn't yet heard of the good Father.

Finally, a group of us were escorted to the Shrine itself, its entry facing a lawn where once Father
Seelos' rectory had stood. (The approximate spot of his room was marked.) There is a long foyer with a winning statue of Father Seelos, and several paintings of his life and ministry (including the time he spent with St John Neumann, his novice director), as well as the narrow old casket in which he was first buried. In a chapel, a large and ornate reliquary, modeled on Bavarian architecture, holds the Blessed's mortal remains. Overlooking it is a Bavarian statue of Our Lady which first arrived at the parish during Father Seelos' tenure, and which he himself had blessed. A shrine volunteer held a  Crucifix (it is connected to the miracle which led to Seelos' beatification in 2000) and invited each us us in turn to bless ourselves with the Crucifix and to entrust our intentions to Seelos' intercession. She then led us in a spontaneous prayer. ("I have a learning disability," she explained, "and I just haven't been able to memorize the official prayer.") We also had time to visit the fabulous Church with its hand-carved high altar and the soaring pulpit (hand-carved) from which Father Seelos preached.

It was too hot (the heat index was well over 100ยบ) to spend much time outside, but the area between the Visitor Center and the Church seemed ideal for a day of retreat; the life-sized statue of Jesus in Gethsemane really inspired the desire to "stay with Me."

So, if you find yourself in need of some spiritual refreshment while in New Orleans, the Seelos shrine is definitely one landmark you won't want to miss!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Robert E. Lee and the dignity of defeat

While I was visiting my family in the Deep South, verbal battles raged on social media and in the
local newspapers about the desirability of removing all monuments to Confederate leaders, and renaming streets and squares. The murders in Charleston, inspired by (or at least blamed on) a romantic notion of the Confederacy as some sort of lost glory for the white race, rendered every one of those tributes questionable. Ideas were floated in New Orleans to rename avenues like the Jeff Davis Parkway after notable African-American contributors to the city (Xavier University President Norman Francis was one of the suggested honorees). The mayor recently proposed dismantling the monument in Lee Circle, but this is one monument that was not a belated attempt on the part of the KKK to create a past in its own image, having first been dedicated in 1877, less than twelve years after Lee's surrender.

I think Robert E. Lee is the one Confederate leader we ought to recognize with honor. Not because he led an army. Not because he fought for slavery or under the more palatable (and universally acceptable) banner of "states rights." We need Robert E. Lee as an example of dignity in defeat, just as we need to recognize Ulysses S. Grant not only as a President, but as a general who did not demean his adversary or place a crippling burden on the surrendering army. Lee and Grant saw a greater good at stake than the victory of one or the other army: their war correspondence acknowledges the desire to stem the loss of blood and property on both sides. That was what the surrender at Appomattox sought; that was the only motivation Lee had to put pen to paper.

So many times in social media, the climate really does resemble a battle in which the favored weapon is the ad hominem comment, with the lawsuit running a close second. It is not enough that florists and bakers be ordered to provide a product or service; they must receive crippling fines and sentences to re-education programs, and forever bear, in references on social media by the victorious party, the scarlet letter (H for "hater"). They are the losers. They aren't allowed anything but scorn.

That is why I would prefer to see New Orleans' Lee Circle remain as it is: not as a monument to the supposed glories of the Old South (New Orleans never did really fit in to that "Gone with the Wind" image), but as a reminder of the immense dignity even of the defeated, and an exhortation not to crow over the loser, or heap punishments upon them (history proves that this only creates resentment and leads to new wars). The stature of Robert E. Lee testifies that, even when someone is "on the wrong side of history," there can still be much about them that deserves honor.

Convent update

The summer season in our Pauline community is generally the time for the celebrations of vows and jubilees, as well as entrance into novitiate. This centenary summer has than the usual number of celebrations: we already marked our centenary in a solemn way with Cardinal O'Malley, and shortly after that witnessed Sr Emi Magnificat's perpetual profession of vows.

This Saturday we will celebrate our sisters' Jubilees: Sister Mary Jerome and Sister Hosea mark 25 years of vowed life; Sister Mary Agnes, 60 years, and 99-year-old Sister Mary Augusta, 75 years. The next day, the novitiate will expand to welcome three young women who have completed the two-year postulancy in St. Louis. And then on Monday, we will witness (as far as possible in this life) the completion of that journey, laying to rest Sister Mary Gabriella, who slipped away from this life while I was home visiting my family. The death notice sent to all the communities noted that Sister Mary Gabriella (who had been declining visibly all year, but was still mostly mobile) did not finish her journey here without first finishing dessert: thin as a rail, she had a prodigious sweet tooth and her local superior had brought a last, welcome treat up to her room just hours before she died.

Some years back, I asked Sister Mary Gabriella a bit of her vocation story, and a few anecdotes about her life as a Pauline, including her experience as a missionary in Pakistan.

May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Blessed Alberione's Travel Prayer

I'm off! Time for me to visit family, sleep in and read, read, read! That's right: vacation! I was happy to find a direct flight to New Orleans (they're sure not easy to come by), but I will still be praying Blessed James Alberione's safe driving prayer, which seems to cover all the angles, especially that wherever I go, I spread the "good perfume of Christ" to all I encounter.

Enlighten me to travel only and always in charity and with my gaze fixed on Heaven, my ultimate destination.

Be my guide, that I may have complete self-control, a sure eye and constant moderation.

Whever I go, be for me and for those whom I accompany or meet, joy of spirit and salvation of soul and body.

My Guardian Angel, kindly precede me and guard me.