Thursday, September 03, 2020

On the air!

Last week I was on Ave Maria Radio, talking about the Sister Thea Bowman album, Songs of My People. The show included lots of songs from the album, along with some background about the recording and the role Sister Thea hoped her music would play in interracial harmony. Listen to the whole thing here:

This morning I am gearing up for a very different kind of interview: a live Internet video broadcast on The Backpack Show, a business program. I'll be one of two guests; the other is Tressa Smiley, whom I just "met" last evening via Twitter. She's a motivational speaker who helps her audience face life with a positive spirit (something we can't have too much of these days!). I'm looking forward to interacting with her in real time.

Watch it live here (10:00 EDST) or catch it after the fact:

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Talking about Sister Thea

Last week I was interviewed for Ave Maria Radio's music program, "Notes from Above." Deacon Tom and Sister Sarah played some of the very best of Sister Thea Bowman's spirituals from "Songs of My People" and I filled in with some stories. 

The music was going through my head for days afterwards. I think my favorite (this time around) was "Go Down, Moses." 

Take a listen, and tell me what your favorite is!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Praying for the Bad Shepherds

Today's first reading for Mass is a heavy-hitter from the prophet Ezekiel
. It starts out: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! (You have to read the whole thing.) Since we are still waiting for a report detailing who knew what when about one of the worst shepherds of our times, the ex-Cardinal "Ted" McCarrick, the reading is still painfully relevant. At the same time, the reading offers consolation for those who have a right to genuine shepherding. God swears an oath: "I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. ... I myself will look after and tend my sheep."

I can't wait.

But we must wait and not only that. We must pray for the "shepherds ... who have been pasturing themselves"--those who may have had corrupt intentions all along; those who have fallen into self-seeking through weakness or by the corrupting influence of others, and who feel trapped or no longer even see what is wrong; and those who have "lost their first love" (see Rev. 2:4) and function on auto-pilot, spiritually and pastorally lifeless. Whatever the cause, the Church needs them to be who they were called and ordained to be. And for that, our first recourse is prayer.

In the Pauline Family there is a special Institute focused on pastoral ministry, with unique prayers for our ordained shepherds. The prayers are so particular to the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd that we Daughters of St. Paul are mostly unfamiliar with them. They just don't match our life and mission, even though the basic spirituality and the goal is the same: to live Jesus Christ and bring him in his fullness to others. 

So today, in the light of the first reading and the many needs of the Church and its shepherds, I thought I would share with you the post-Communion prayer Blessed James Alberione wrote for the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the "Pastorelle" or "shepherdess" Sisters:

Lord, I offer you, in union with the priests who today celebrate the holy Mass: Jesus-Host and myself, a small victim:

* In reparation for all the offenses committed against Jesus Good Shepherd living in the person of the Pope, bishops and priests.

* To invoke your mercy on all the sheep who have strayed from the true fold, or are still scattered like a flock without a shepherd.

* For the conversion of false shepherds who distance people from Jesus the Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

* To honor, love and follow only Jesus Way, Truth and Life.

* That we may cooperate with our shepherds in enlightening, guiding and praying for the salvation of men.

* To ask you that all shepherds and their collaborators, especially parents and teachers, may be holy, full of wisdom and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men.

* That vocations may be multiplied and be effective in their words; that they may fulfill the apostolate of prayer and example, so that soon there will be only one flock under one Shepherd.

* That all of us may know our ignorance and misery and the need to remain always humbly before your tabernacle invoking light, piety and mercy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mary Magdalene and the Two Questions

There she was, at the tomb before sunrise. The tomb already empty, angels blathering about the living  one among the dead and asking (can you imagine, at a gravesite?) why she was weeping. Nothing was making any sense. Then the same question again: "Woman, why do you weep?"

Clearly, not an angel this time. It was a man's voice. He was standing somewhat behind her. And he wasn't finished talking.

"Who are you looking for?"

Mary Magdalene, Mary "the Tower," rose to her full height and turned a withering stare toward the gardener. "If you took him away, tell me where, and I will take him." It was an implicit question: "Where is the body?" In other words,  "Where is the 'one thing necessary' in life?"

How often the answer to our prayers is looking us right in the eye.

And then he said her name. "Mary!"

For Mary Magdalene, the resurrection took place at that moment: finding herself known and called by name in the most unlikely place, and then sent out with the unheard of message of death undone.

On this Feast (with a capital F) of Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, the Church gives us the option of reading from the exotic Song of Songs (rarely read outside of wedding liturgies!). In it, the Bride searches through the city, even in the pre-dawn darkness, for her Beloved. "Have you seen him?" she asks. It's a perfect match for the Gospel of Easter Sunday morning, when the Beloved himself quietly approaches, unseen, unrecognized until he pronounces her name.  But the question he had asked before revealing himself is an important one. It brings us back to the search in the first reading, and also to a passage at the beginning of John's Gospel (from which this Easter scene is taken).
John the Baptist
workshop of Botticelli
Walters Museum of Art

At the very beginning of the Gospel, while John the Baptist is still at work in the River Jordan, Jesus walked by. And John pointed him out. "Look, there is the Lamb of God!" Two of John's disciples (Andrew was one of them; the other may have been John the son of Zebedee) caught the significance of the expression and began following the man John had indicated. And that man turned to them and asked, "What are you looking for?" And they answered with a question of their own: "Rabbi, where do you abide?" ("Where is the 'one thing necessary'?")

The question that brackets the Gospel of John is:
What [or Who] are you looking for?

What drives you?
What wakes you up inside?
What do you pursue doggedly?
What do you keep going back to when all else fails?
What is there about it that keeps promising you something?

Within and behind it, what the 'one thing necessary'?

St Ignatius discovered the core of his "rules for the discernment of spirits" when, as a convalescent with little to do but read the same books over and over, he noticed the effect that his pleasant daydreams had once they had ended. Short-term goods (like Ignatius' early dreams of chivalric glory) have a very short shelf-life. Even when attained, once the experience was over, it was over. But when Ignatius envisioned something more, something greater than himself, the effect remained long after. In his mature years, he could recommend that people on retreat return again and again to the same themes of prayer, the same Scriptural scenes, drawing fresh treasures from them.

Sometimes we can get lost looking for entertainment, stimulation, approval, comfort. These are not bad things. At times they can be necessary.  Sometimes, though, we seek all these things on our phone! (No wonder we can't put them down.)

Mary Magdalene certainly didn't come to the tomb that morning expecting to actually meet Jesus: She just expected to find some consolation in carrying out the missing funeral rites. (She found much more than she was looking for! Rather, she herself was found.) And then she was sent off, carrying a message for the Apostles. Try to spend some time today with Mary Magdalene, letting her help you recognize which desires mark out a path of real life for you and for those you love: the path of the 'one thing necessary'; the grace that will never fail you in this life or the next.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Sister Thea: The Voice We Need Right Now

From the photo shoot for the
1998 album cover. 
"She's a saint. I hope you realize that," the visiting archbishop said as he left our convent. It was 1988, and he had come for a private visit with Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA. Sister Thea was staying in our infirmary; she had been diagnosed with cancer four years earlier. Her companion and caregiver, Sister Dorothy ("Dort") went everywhere with her, because cancer did not stand a chance against Thea Bowman's intention to fill every moment available to her. And with less than two years left on this earth, Sister Thea had come to create her first solo album of spirituals in our then-new recording studio.

The idea came from two of our sisters who met with Sister Thea while she was in town to give a talk. She listened to the proposal, and then grilled the sisters to make sure that the album would be directed toward sharing the sacred songs of her ancestors across the Catholic communities, and would not be a token project. She also wanted to name her own collaborators. They came to an agreement pretty quickly, and within months the microphones were being set up in the James Alberione studio.

Downstairs, Leon C. Roberts (founder of the Howard University Gospel Choir, and music director at St Augustine's Catholic Church in Washington DC) was the arranger and played keyboard for the recording. Sister Thea had also invited singers from Cincinnati, Washington DC and New Orleans (yay!). (Sr Thea taught preaching at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, which she had helped establish.) Jerry Barnes, producer of many of our choir albums, was in the control room; Boston musicians handled the drums and other instruments.

I was stationed in the motherhouse during that time, but the members of the community did not see much of Sister Thea and her entourage, who spent most of the day in the studio. I remember our being advised that Sister's health was very poor (the wheelchair was a pretty good indicator of that), and it was impressed upon us that we should not get in the way. There was a cot in the studio so Sister could rest between takes. (I understand that Mr. Roberts sometimes had to pressure Sister Thea to take advantage of it.)

Bertha Bowman two years before she
decided to become Catholic. She entered
the FSPA community in LaCrosse, WI at
age 15, having been impressed by the
sister's Christian charity among the
people of color in segregated
Mississippi. On making vows,
Bertha took the name
Sister Mary Thea.
Photo: FSPA
The superiors meant well, but now that I am learning more about Sister Thea and her ministry (it's been like she has been working with me!), I don't think she would have been pleased to know that's why we weren't hanging around. She wanted to bring people together. She wanted the opportunity to share the gifts of her Black Catholic culture with others. She wanted to meet people, one on one, and give them the gift of her complete attention. "When you were with Sister Thea, you felt that you were the only person in the world she was with. If she couldn't give you her full attention, she would physically move away," rather than treat you in a distracted manner, Father Maurice Nutt, a former student (and her biographer) told us the other day.

Just over a year after Songs of My People and 'Round the Glory Manger were released on stereo audiocassette, Sister Thea Bowman died of cancer. She was just 52 years old.

In 2018, the Diocese of Jackson, MS (where Sister Thea had led the Office of Intercultural Affairs) got the ball rolling to have the Church officially state what that visiting Archbishop (and thousands of ordinary Catholics) have been saying for years: that Sister Thea Bowman was (and is) a saint among us. She's now got a new title: "Servant of God" and a cadre of people doing the things that canonization processes require. Inspired by the process, our publishing house planned to re-release Sister Thea's songs in digital format for the 30th anniversary of her death (March 30). Then came a series of pandemic-related slowdowns.

The "complete collection" (comprised of songs from two cassettes) was still in the works when George Floyd was killed. The racial injustice against which Sister Thea spoke so forthrightly during her lifetime came roaring back into the headlines, making Sister Thea's ministry more necessary than ever, but there was nothing we could do to speed things up.

Finally, now, Sister Thea's voice is back.

Truthfully, even though the recording was done in 1988, I am convinced that God's providence intended it for our times. Sister Thea used song to bring people together. As I listen to that powerful voice, thinking of Sister Thea belting out those notes from a wheelchair (as a singer, I don't know how she did it), I hear not only the cries of her ancestors in the Mississippi fields, but also the unarticulated cries of mothers and fathers today who see their children taken from them by violence, by drugs, by pornography and other Internet addictions. When Sister Thea sings songs of joy, I find a voice that gives me permission to enter fully into the gifts of God without worrying for the future. When she sings longingly of crossing over Jordan, the built-up tensions in my brow (and even in my fingers!) releases: There is a "campground" of family reunion that awaits me, too. The anxieties of the present will not endure forever.

The songs of her people are meant to be a gift to all people. Of course, the songs represent the whole of the people's story, read in the light of God's wisdom. That makes the spirituals a much-needed form of evangelization, but also a form of prayer that can be used for personal prayer as well as for public worship. What I am learning from Sister Thea is not only to "weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice" (Rom 12:15), but not to be shy or hesitant in expressing my own pain or gladness or yearning before the Lord and his people. A stiff upper lip, Sister Thea teaches me, is not the sign of a Christian. Let it out (preferably in a heartfelt song). You may find that others will join in, and suddenly divisions and suspicions are transcended and we discover communion.

I really do feel that Sister Thea is saying, "Here I am. Here's my voice: Let my voice out among the people now."

You can get a taste of Sister Thea's prayerful voice and her longing to cross the Jordan, with this song from the Complete Collection. Download Songs of My People: The Complete Collection from your favorite digital music provider.

"In the days of slavery, separated from kin and country, my ancesters longed for home. Home is where love is, where you are nurtured and sheltered and challenged and comforted. For slaves who longed so passionately for home, home became a figure of heaven, the heavenly City, where there would be no separation, no death, no auction block, no moaning, no weeping or wailing, no sorrow, no loss....where all will know we are His because we love one another."

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Blind spots

Earlier this week a few of the sisters were chatting at breakfast about the work of a neuroscientist I had read about. He is working on an optical prosthesis: a kind of tiny camera and projector set-up that would replace a diseased retina. As long as the optic nerve is still healthy, there is a founded hope of recreating some kind of vision. Amazing! One of the sisters reminded us of the fact that we all have a natural blind spot where the optic nerve meets the retina and how it is possible to notice more or less where that spot falls.

The University of Washington “Neuroscience for Kids” feature offers this online technique for “seeing” your blind spot. (For these graphics to work you need to be using a full-screen browser, or download the images to your computer. Alternately, go to the University website and download their pdf!) Close your right eye, and from about 20 inches away, focus with your left on the cross. Continue to focus on the cross while drawing nearer to the image. At a certain distance, the dot will simply vanish.

Of course, we don't just have blind spots in our eyes. Our lives are full of them. Sometimes those blind spots are innocuous things we have learned to take for granted. Other times, they are hurtful things that we are protecting ourselves from. It could be an area of sin in our life that we are just not willing to repent of. (As the song goes, "[I] was blind, but now I see".) Sometimes whole cultures have blind spots, which may be both taken for granted (“just the way things are”) and hurtful things we are protecting ourselves from as a society (or being protected from: it depends where we are in that society).

An interesting thing about our visual blind spot is that our brains fill it in so that we do not “mind the gap.” See what happens in this image where there is an actual gap: Close your right eye, and with the left, from about 20 inches away, focus on the dot. Continue to focus on the dot as you draw nearer to the image. At a certain point, the two disconnected bars will seem to be joined.

The killing of George Floyd on May 25 was not an isolated incident. It was the third killing of a Black person in the name of law enforcement to reach national headlines in as many months. In a way, the three deaths merged into one huge, crushing event. Even for me, geographically and in a sense sociologically distant as I was, the experience was jolting. "What on earth is going on?" 

Mr. Floyd's death, and the killings that preceded and (sadly) followed it would not have unleashed the reactions they did if they had not revealed what was, for many Americans, the “blind spot” of racism. Of course, it was only a blind spot for “many,” since racism has been a fact of life for those who have been on the receiving end of it for generations. As a society, we can now no longer deny the disconnect, although there are still a surprising number of people who will preface an opinion about race issues with, "I'm not a racist." 

Dr Anthony Bradley, a professor, author, and theologian-in-residence at NYC's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, detailed in a Twitter thread the naive racism he experiences as a matter of course in New York City. Dr Bradley is neither a conservative nor a progressive. As a theologian, he is regularly assumed to be Anglican or Eastern Orthodox. He doesn't fit into the typical boxes or categories. So when Dr Bradley posts, I pay attention. Here are his observations about reform in policing, which I found very frank, balanced, and hope-filled. (No blind spot there.) After an attack on a Black man in the woods of Indiana, Bradley tweeted this:
White people, please be careful where you take your black friends. We literally cannot go everywhere you can. I've missed a lot of "retreats" because they were off in the woods somewhere. We just don't have the same mobility freedoms.
I didn't see that coming. It was in my blind spot. (The FBI is now investigating the assault as a possible hate crime.)

You know what to do: Close your right eye while focusing on the cross from 20 inches away. As you get closer, you will notice that the vertical bars fill in the empty hole on the left. 

Image from University of Washington "Neuroscience for Kids"
Our brains are so adept at protecting us from recognizing our blind spots that they can even fill in missing patterns! Maybe this fill-in the blanks quality is why people like me may have to be instructed in a rather step-by-step manner about what terms like "systemic racism" mean. (I had to go out of my way to learn about this, because with the many terms being used right now it can be hard to discern established sociological findings from agenda-driven language.) What I learned is that it can be easy for someone in a position of relative stability to look at the way things work (for me or for those "like me") and think that there is something natural about our system of streets, districts, licensing requirements and so forth. We can't see any place where the lines don't meet. But "systemic racism" means that people of a different race encounter those missing pieces continuously. And that they do is, as the geeks would say, a feature, not a bug of how our social systems work in their regard.

I found the following historical explanation of how we got to some of the most "systemic" of the racist systems in the US to be very helpful. It's a bit long, so I recommend just watching the first 8 or so minutes. (This video was produced and is narrated by Phil Vischer. Remember Veggie Tales? That was his, too.)

This clicked for me and showed me at least some of my blind spots. By the grace of God, I was willing not to put a defensive wall around my understanding. That's only a first step, of course, but a vitally important one. Jesus didn't have much patience for spiritually blind people who insisted that their vision was perfectly fine. "Your sin remains," he told them. (See John 9:41.)

The first 8 minutes of the video was enough to show me that much of what I had simply assumed was a natural way of functioning in our society had been coldly calculated with an eye to racial exclusion. The chaos in our streets, the suffering in our poorest neighborhoods (including the disproportionate numbers of deaths from COVID-10), the sense of hopelessness even among children, is the rotten fruit of blatant cruelty that was unwilling to see in persons of another race a brother or sister made in God's image.

And only God can cure that kind of blindness.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Corpus Christi: Present to the Presence

In honor of this Sunday's Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I thought I would share with you a few stories:

I'll start with a personal experience from a mission trip in the Virgin Islands back in 1987, when a young Sean O'Malley was the local bishop. Two of us were staying in a lovely home on the island of Frederickstead. It was a convent, with a large, split-level living room as the chapel. There was an altar, but no kneelers, just chairs and, oddly, no Tabernacle (maybe because the two sisters were not home for long periods of time?). My companion and I attempted to focus our attention on the altar, but the little lizards made that challenging. Plus, we had been traveling, packing and unpacking books, using borrowed cars and driving on the other side of the road under generally stressful conditions, and I just missed Jesus. That's when I felt, well... you know what it's like when you can tell someone is in the room even though you can't see anyone else around? I followed that feeling, which was coming from off of my right shoulder. First, just a glance. No one else had come in. (We had the convent to ourselves that day.) But Someone was there. I knew it. And I had a strange sense that I knew where to find Him. Getting up, I walked over to a small table, on which rested a ceramic planter. It was shaped like a castle, with thriving ivy spilling from the turret. Taking a chance, I lifted the whole planter off the table. There beneath it was a small golden vessel: a ciborium containing the Eucharist. 

This next one comes from a terrific book I read thirty years ago and never forgot. A Memory for Wonders is the spiritual autobiography of a Poor Clare nun with an extraordinary background. Raised by irreligious French parents who were so determined that their child not be "infected" with Catholicism that they raised her in Morocco, she (who had been baptized as an infant, I think just to please the grandparents) was nevertheless led to the faith in unexplainable ways. Even as a preschooler, she realized that her relationship with her mysterious interior Master was something she had to preserve from her parents' awareness. When she saw a golden crucifix in a jewelry catalog, she recognized him, and carefully tore the picture out and preserved it with her childish treasures. But she had no way of knowing the Gospels, or the Church. Until she was hiking in Northern Africa and came upon a Catholic chapel. And entered it. And knew. "He is here." And more: "He is here as food." Well, you see where it led!

Finally, a bookstore story. This happened a couple of years ago in Chicago when a couple of tourists (a devout Christian couple) came in from somewhere in the Midwest. The wife was the one who wanted to browse a bit, and the husband exchanged a few words with one of the sisters. As often happens, the husband needed a place to sit and wait for his wife (!), so sister invited him to the chapel, and he was happy to have some time for peaceful prayer in the middle of a busy shopping day. Truthfully, sister kind of forgot about him even being there, he spent such a long time in the chapel, and when he came to the desk, he had strange expression on his face. "Sister," he said, "There's something in there!" "Yes," she said, "that is Jesus."
Now it's your turn. Got a Blessed Sacrament story to share?

Perhaps after this spring's long and unanticipated Eucharistic fast, this year's Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) will be a turning point for many Catholics who had long taken the Eucharist, the Real Presence, and the fact of frequent Communion for granted.

Here in community we are learning a new Eucharistic hymn, using the melody by my favorite contemporary liturgical musician (Rome's inimitable Marco Frisina!) but with lyrics that I wrote, since I couldn't quite translate Frisina's text in a way that worked musically and grammatically. (Tell me what you think.) I have yet to get the permission of the publisher, but since it happens to be our Pauline music office in Rome, I hope for some indulgence in the matter. Especially since this will be for private use only. Anyway, here are my lyrics:

Jesus, Word of the Father,
You have promised to remain with us,
By your Spirit's gentle voice within,
We can recognize your presence.

Son of God and of Mary,
Show us what it means to follow you,
To become the one whom we receive,
Fruitful branches of the True Vine.

       Living Bread from Heaven,
       Chalice of Salvation!
       Led by God's own hand we learn to pray:
       Nourish your people on their journey.

Manna in the desert,
Loaves and fishes on the mountainside:
Needs are met with overflowing grace,
Love surpassing every measure.

Earthly food can't sustain us.
All our hunger is for you, O Lord.
You invite us to the wedding feast,
To the joy of full communion.


At the end of our days, Lord,
When we fin'lly see you face to face,
We'll discover how you've always been
Waiting for us to receive you.


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Theology of the Body Lessons for Racial (and other kinds of human) Justice

When he closed the book-length series of Wednesday talks that he had started early on in his papal ministry, Pope John Paul made sure to say, “...the term 'theology of the body' goes far beyond the content of the reflections presented here [technically, “the Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage”]...” [TOB 133:1]. In fact, Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body offers a biblical foundation for a theological vision of the human person as the image of God. As such, it can be applied to every aspect of human life.

Since my entire adult life has been enriched by the insights of the Theology of the Body (TOB), I found it natural to go to this source-text for help in processing the racial crises in which we are immersed. It was not hard to find basic principles that I can use to critique media messages, slogans, even feelings and gut reactions to the flood of images and stories I am encountering as we continue to process and attempt to address a situation that can no longer continue as before.

In TOB, Pope John Paul makes much of the Bible's insistence on the creation of human beings “in the image of God, male and female” (Gen 1:27). Unique in material creation, in the human being, the body expresses a person. In one of the most beautiful sections, the Pope presents the revelation of Eve: woman, whose presence is a revelation that humankind, created in the image of God, is a partnership of equals. Adam finds that Eve is, like himself, a body-person: a person who is a body—but a body that is not precisely like his own. That first, fundamental human difference is sexual. As a species, we can only be represented by male and female (not either/or).

The otherness of the equal human companion reflects that first Other who is God, the one who created us to be enriched by our communion with himself, and created us a human family so that we could enrich one another by imaging God together and to each other. There is no subordination here. Neither expression of human nature, male or female, is better or more divine than the other. All other differences are simply variations on a theme. But the differences themselves are a communication. They speak of mutual enrichment; that each person will have something of value to give and to receive.

Of course, the first humans didn't have much time to enjoy that gift before someone introduced the poison of doubt. In the case of the original sin, it was a suspicion against God's fatherhood [TOB 26:4]. And once that was breached, humans began to steel their hearts further. Did you ever notice how, after the original sin, the man and the woman hurried to protect themselves from each other instead of from their real (and mutual) enemy? In our generalized experience, don't we all experience a kind of built-in suspicion against human brotherhood and communion? A fear of not having all that we need for our flourishing? A doubt that we can all flourish together? This is not natural; it was introduced by an enemy. It is a lingering poison in the human mind.

The person who is encountered in a body that is like, and yet also unlike, one's own, is to be loved for his or her own sake, never looked upon, thought of, spoken about, dominated or exploited as a means to an end [TOB 31:3]. How many times in history has this principle been violated! Isn't that why the current national crisis is exploding? Isn't this also behind a great deal of the historical injustice in our nation's immigration laws, which were first formulated in the early 20th century with explicitly racial motivations?

The person is unique and unrepeatable, irreducible to any collective adjective or generalizations. He or she is “master of his/her own mystery” [TOB 110:9], with freedom and potential to surpass all expectations, limitations, and pessimistic prognostications that would doom him or her to a predetermined outcome based on demographic projections. Perhaps we suffer a kind of “social acedia,” an apathy of will and imagination that hesitates to propose greatness as a real goal, including the greatness of self-mastery (without which nothing worthwhile can be accomplished) [TOB 49]... Maybe the root of this social acedia is a personal acedia that is satisfied with the superficial, or with the entertainment I can enjoy right now on my phone.

This person before me is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23): We are members of the same family, available to one another to build each other up on this side of eternity.

This person before me, equal to me but different from me (whether in sex or age or ethnic background or number of chromosomes...), is a concrete invitation from God for me to enter into a truly human and humanizing relationship; to really become, with him or her, a sign of the “communion of Persons” in Whose Image we were made and in whom we will, if we live our vocations fully, live forever [TOB 9:3].

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Monday, June 08, 2020

Made in the Image: The Trinity is not just a Factoid

This Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. God is a Communion of Persons, and we are made in the image of this Communion. So whatever divides human society is contrary to God, and contrary to the human vocation to be God's living image in creation. Whenever words like “those people” or dehumanizing epithets like “swarm” or “pigs” are used to attribute a quality or behavior to an entire group without distinction, that is, quite literally, the work of the devil, “ὁ διάβολος”: the accuser. How conveniently this language puts the speaker on the side of humanity, reasonableness, justice, and all things right, without any hint of the need for conversion or change. It is all on "them" to change, or to go away, or to be forced out of sight.

But does it even make sense to think or speak of an “us” that is not the immediate group in which I currently find myself—literally the people I am with here and now? When “we” (“us”) remains undefined, amorphous: Isn't that when the probability of divisiveness rises? Who are “we” when the criteria of belonging are left to the imagination or to inference? The language itself contributes to division into ever-smaller units. Eventually, there is no more “we” but only individuals, fearful of one another.

I am concerned about the timing of the current social crisis, because Catholics have been (of necessity) away from the sacraments, and many have descended into quarrels and bickering over the forms of reception of the Eucharist. Weakened by this unaccustomed fasting, we have become all the more vulnerable to the suggestions to turn the stones of social media into bread. Anything that divides us serves the enemy of all humanity. As Bl. Joseph Toniolo urged at the beginning of the 20th century: “Unite! If the enemy finds us divided, he will pick up off one by one.”

This coming Sunday the Church marks the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the “Sacrament of Unity and the bond of Charity,” as Augustine wrote. It is the antidote to division. There is only one Body of Christ, and Paul reminded us 2,000 years ago that we are all baptized into it, whatever our race or social status. (Here's a witness story from a Black Catholic dad who wants to teach his bi-racial children precisely that.)

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The Friday after next will be the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (who so loved mankind and spared himself nothing for our sakes). A great theme of devotion to the Sacred Heart is making reparation for outrages and negligence against the Real Presence. Perhaps we have been denied the Eucharistic Real Presence in order to sharpen our senses to recognize the Real Presence of Jesus in our neighbor.

Monday, June 01, 2020

UPDATED: Pauline Bookstore Chicago looting update and how you can help

Oops. I went to correct a tiny detail and almost lost the whole post. We continue to keep in our prayers all those whose losses are incalculable. Black lives matter.

Last week, the sisters were getting our Michigan Avenue bookstore ready for a grand re-opening after over two months of lockdown. The First Communion and Confirmation displays were set up, they had a plan for one-way traffic and social distancing...the works. Then, with just a few days to go,  well-organized forces of destruction (supported by some bored and directionless young adults?) overwhelmed the peaceful protest marches and the vital message that Black Lives Matter.

Naturally, those organizers fixed their sights on downtown Chicago.

At 3:00 AM on Pentecost morning the sisters heard the glass break.

Both of the automatic doors were shattered, and the front plate-glass display window. Because the bookstore had been closed for so many weeks, the cash drawers were closed. Ordinarily they are left open so that opportunistic thieves can help themselves without causing further damage. This time they broke through the counter.

And then the looters left.
Worst of all, though we assumed they would have stolen at least a few items (Bibles are the most-stolen book there is!), a quick inventory shows that they seem to have left without taking a single saving Word. What a let down!

An early morning call brought some friends in to help begin the clean-up, and by mid-afternoon the sisters had found a safer place to spend the night.

We don't yet know if our insurance will cover damaged caused by insurrectionist movements (this is really new for us), but considering what so many others have suffered across the country, we are getting off lightly. My heart is breaking for the small business owners who watched their livelihoods go up in smoke, their losses incalculable, their pleas unheard by callous ideologues bent only on making a statement without regard for the cost that others (not they) would have to bear. If I had money, I would track down some of those business owners (maybe through the news reporters who told their stories) and send them what I could to help them rebuild or at least get through the next few weeks. But God is trying to convince me that my greater contribution will be to pray for the conversion of all those who have used media in this tragedy to provoke more tragedy; who have co-opted a man's death and people's justified sense of despair and outrage in order to gain ground in a political battle with no winners.

People have been asking how they can help. Well, we never refuse a donation (!), and if you are inclined to give toward replacing our doors, window, counter and equipment, please go to and indicate "Chicago" in the notes. Or call in a phone order for that First Communion, Confirmation or Ordination gift. (We also have gift cards; can I recommend that for a newly ordained priest or deacon? That way you are encouraging him to actually come to our store once it is open again, starting a wonderful collaboration!) Of course, we also (always) depend on your prayers in a very special way, particularly for the intention of vocations. How about a special prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church, for Chicago vocations to the Daughters of St Paul????

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My followers on Twitter may have seen my post from Sunday morning, when we only had the most basic news. We assumed that books had been taken (at least Bibles, which, as I said, are almost invariably stolen from bookstore shelves, including our own), and I posted accordingly. It's going to be hard correcting the notion, given that the tweet went totally viral, but I'll try!
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Corrections June 2: The Blessed Sacrament was NOT removed from the Book Center chapel. The sisters did not realize on time what was happening. Instead, the Eucharistic Master must have been blessing the oblivious looters, prompting them to focus only on finding cash and leaving without doing further damage. I also deleted some unhelpfully snarky remarks.