Monday, September 28, 2015

In the Afterglow of Pope Francis' US Visit: My Top Three plus links to all the talks

Confession: I have a talk to give in Cleveland Saturday evening, and it's on Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. You are the victims kindly audience of my inchoate reflections in view of putting that talk together. Some initial thoughts on this week with Pope Francis, starting with his first major talks; these are just things that stood out in particular for me. (I am still catching up on his talks and homily on Sunday.)

FIRST: This trip has been a media love-fest, hasn't it? Even if the headlines don't always do the Pope justice (headlines, after all, are not meant to communicate meaning, but to sell newspapers or generate clicks), the overall tenor has been incredibly positive and open to the Holy Father and his message. Pope Francis was not doing anything special. He was just being Pope Francis. He's the real deal, his words and outward behavior consistent with the Gospel he teaches. And that, I think, gave some "public Catholics" permission to witness to the faith in their own way. Three outstanding examples:
  • On Thursday night's Tonight Show, Stephen Colbert shared a conviction he received as a boy from his dad (who died in a plane crash when Stephen was only ten): "Apostles Creed and Follow Peter." Good advice! That, in a nutshell, is why Stephen Colbert is arguably the most high profile Catholic in popular culture.
  • In the same show, comedian Jim Gaffigan (who is becoming the second most high profile Catholic in popular culture) responded to a question from Colbert about the last time he went to confession. "About a month ago. No, maybe more than a month." In other words, the sacrament of Reconciliation is a normal part of his Catholic life.
  • And on CNN, anchor Poppy Harlow watched as the entire news crew ran toward the Popemobile, leaving her with the camera operator to carry on as she recounted her return to Sunday Mass because of the influence of Pope Francis. 
Three openly Catholic public figures, not doing or saying anything remarkably profound or making an awe-inspiring act of heroism in the name of Jesus (although maybe they really did): just being "openly Catholic" in the public eye. In their own way, these three show us what Pope Francis means when he tells us "Go out!" (as he did 16 times in the homily for St Junipero Serra's canonization).

SECOND: Pope Francis gave us an enormous "platform" for pro-life action, at the same time immensely broadening the field of action. He did this especially in his talks to Congress and to the UN General Assembly, knowing that we would listen and understand. He made the human person the fulcrum of every social policy. Even his UN talk, in which (after the usual greetings and acknowledgements) he launched first into the theme of the environment, was really about care for the human person, not as an abstraction, but "real men and women." If anything, this could be considered the central message of his entire US visit, treated in different ways according to the audience. In the UN talk alone, here are the ways he kept bringing attention back to this most important value:
  • "real men and women who live, struggle and suffer..."
  • "these real men and women"
  • "real human beings take precedence over partisan interests"
  • "individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die"
  • "human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists..."
  • "the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic"
The same concreteness was in his talk to Congress ("viewing them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories") and at the September 11 memorial ("they always have a face, a concrete story, names"). I was reminded of the words of St John Paul in his first encyclical, words that struck me back in 1979: "We are not dealing with the 'abstract' man, but the real, 'concrete', 'historical' man.... This man is the way ... the Church must walk" (Redemptor Hominis, 13-14). This coincides with Francis' understanding of mercy as something that is concrete, and best communicated one on one, person to person.

THIRD: In a couple of places, the Pope reminded us that his role as successor of Peter is at the service of unity. He told Congress that he was there as a "bridge-builder" (pontifex). He not only urged people of good will to work together for the common good, he warned against the oppressive imposition of uniformity and the flattening of differences. This was the most explicit in his address to Congress, with its repeated call to "dialogue" and to overcome polarization. In a favorite image, he urged the members of Congress, the US bishops, the faithful of every social class, to "walk together." God is a communion; we are created in that image and likeness, and the whole mission of the Church is to be a communion that draws people into communion with God. When we find ourselves falling into "us" and "them," Pope Francis invites us to make an examination of conscience.

Here in Boston, New England Cable News invited me on Thursday night to comment on the Pope's trip. I used themes from my e-book "Five Keys to Understanding Pope Francis" and found that the keys (I only got to three of them on the air!) are really very helpful for parsing the Pope's message. If you haven't read it, now would be a good time. Then you can read all the Pope's talks (see links below) and notice how those keys in action. And then you can read Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and do the same thing! (In a way, almost everything the Pope said in the US takes us back to that early document of his.)

More good stuff (the Pope's real words)
Even better: The Vatican's own collection of talks and videos from #PopeinUSA

and...catch up with other things Pope Francis has written!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Problem with Pope Francis (UPDATED)

Did you listen to (or read) the Pope's words to Congress yesterday? Good for you! There were several high profile Catholics who didn't bother. They had already made up their mind about what the Pope was going to say and how it didn't square with their views (or maybe with their platform). Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona even pre-announced his "boycott," based solely on media reports about what the Pope might say. Then three Supreme Court justices, Catholics all, skipped the historic address: Scalia, Thomas and Alito. I'm the most disappointed by Scalia, given that his son is a priest. Maybe we will find out today that the Senior Associate Justice had been rushed to the hospital. On second thought, perhaps he and the other absentee judges made the choice in order not to have to recuse themselves from future hearings on issues related to themes the Pope would bring up.

In any case, it might be safe for us to assume that the above-mentioned Catholic public figures have a problem with Pope Francis and the way he is carrying out his ministry. They wouldn't be alone. Francis makes a lot of people nervous. I came across a number of woebegone pro-lifers on social media yesterday, not only disappointed that the Pope did not harangue our fearless leaders (who had the day before failed to pass a motion that would allow the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act), but that his mention of the "defense of human life at every stage of its development" led into a somewhat more developed appeal for the end of the death penalty. For some people, this was tantamount to preferring "guilty criminals" over the millions of innocent unborn who continue to suffer the death penalty of abortion.

Phil Lawler wrote a helpful commentary, "Why does Pope Francis back liberal causes directly, conservative causes subtly?" that can explain a lot.

But maybe part of the problem is that Pope Francis (who has already said, in every major address, that he will speak forcefully on the issues of marriage and the family at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia) is calling everyone to some kind of conversion. He knows that the Kingdom of God is not fully manifest in any of our lives, any of our parishes, any of our movements or organizations; that there are still areas where the Gospel needs to be given permission to extend beyond our comfort zones. Those who boycotted the Pope's talk may be like the busy people in the parable who turned down an invitation that didn't promise to advance their personal interests (Lk 14:15-24).

Now that's a problem.

Worthwhile reading for those who wonder "Why didn't Pope Francis talk to Congress about abortion and gay marriage?"

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Today's Saint

No, not Padre Pio (even if it is his feast day), but today's saint: the missionary and "founder" of California who is being canonized today in a first-ever canonization on US soil: Junipero Serra.

The 18th century Majorcan Franciscan who founded a good many of those famous missions along the West Coast was (like every saint who ever lived) a man of his times, as conditioned by his cultural milieu as each of us is by ours. But there are ways in which he also transcended his culture and its expectations (as we are called to transcend our society's demands).

Today's Gospel is entirely fitting both as a background to Pope Francis' first pastoral visit to the US and for the canonization of a missionary saint: "Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He said to them, ''Take nothing for the journey'..."

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Pope and the Paulines in Philly!

Hall C, Booth 643 in the "Pauline Family" aisle at the WMF.
The first van of nuns (and books) arrived in Philly yesterday (and another van or two left this
morning) to set up our media in Hall C (Booth 643) at the World Meeting of Families which opens tomorrow in Philadelphia. Big thanks to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Philadelphia IHMs) for hosting us!
Sister Paulamarie sporting her new

At the convention center, there will be a whole aisle for the institutes of the Pauline Family, and
visitors will get a prayer card and a button (all the senior sisters here were solemnly invested with the button as a sign of their commitment to be the Official Prayer Warriors for the event; can I enlist you in the same effort? If there are any buttons left, I will send you one!). The novices will be holding iPads, inviting passers-by to sign up on the spot for our "Discover Hope" newsletter. Many of our Pauline authors will also be in attendance, either as presenters or participants, and we'll be posting insights from their books on our official social media channels.

The novices filmed the whole process of packing books and loading the vans; here you can watch them pack and go (don't forget to pray for them!):

#PAULINEFAMILY #WMOF2015 #medianuns
We are on our way! #PopeinPhilly Come to see us at booth #643 (song credit, Alanna-Marie Boudreau: buy her music; she's awesome!) #WMOF2015 #medianuns #PaulineFamily #PaulineAwesome #RealNovices #goodiswinnng Julie Turner Sr Margaret Michael Putri Mamesah Carmen Christi Pompei Mary Martha Moss SrElizabeth Borobia SisterLaura Fidelis Nolin #madeoniphone6
Posted by Danielle Lussier on Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Eucharistic Miracles: The Unlikely Intersection of Faith and Science

Thursdays have a kind of Eucharistic resonance in the Church: the sacrament was instituted at the Last Supper, assumed to have been on a Thursday (yes, scholars debate wholeheartedly about the date of the Last Supper), each year the Holy Thursday liturgies commemorate the simultaneous institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, and so the Feast of Corpus Christi is also on a Thursday (even though here in the US *sigh* it is celebrated on the following Sunday). You'll find references to the Eucharist here and there in the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours--on Thursdays.

So here among the Daughters of St. Paul, wherever possible, we have all-day exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and adoration by turns every Thursday.

What better day, then, to consider the most medieval and yet most modern of curiosities: the strange phenomenon of Eucharistic miracles?

The first of these I ever heard of was during a visit to Orvieto (Italy) with the Loyola University Chorale. Read about this 13th century event here. Centuries earlier, an even more remarkable sign had been given, in Lanciano (Italy). Back in the 700's, a doubting priest saw the consecrated host turn partially into flesh, while in the chalice, the Precious Blood congealed into five globules. Fast forward 1200 years, and Pope Paul VI gave permission for portions of these consecrated, but visibly transformed species, to be subjected to a scientific examination. The fleshy tissue, it was found, was heart tissue, and included the vagus nerve and part of the left ventricle. The globules are human blood, type AB. The percentage of proteins in the globules of blood match those of fresh blood.

But wait, there's more!

Even though the stories from Bolsena (Orvieto) and Lanciano were highly documented and there is a centuries-long historical record of the location of the miraculous signs, it is easy to be skeptical about something that happened in a pre-scientific age, despite the findings of 20th century science. A couple of years ago, I read of a modern-day Eucharistic miracle. Until yesterday, the information I could find was so sketchy I was not comfortable writing about it as a Eucharistic miracle. The video below presents a report in a way that is credible and documented. This miracle took place in 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The bishop who followed the proceedings (and authorized medical/scientific analysis) was none other than Jorge Bergoglio (better known now as Pope Francis). As it turns out, the 1996 event was the third Eucharistic miracle in a row in Argentina, but this is the only one I know about right now, so I will limit my post to this one.

It happened in a parish church in Buenos Aires. Someone had received the Host, but not consumed it in Holy Communion because it had fallen to the ground and was visibly dirty. The priest was informed and put the Host in water; after a few days it would dissolve. Instead, after a few days the Host had begun to visibly change. Fleshy tissue appeared in place of the thin white wafer. He notified the bishop (Bergoglio) who advised that professional photos be taken of the enlarged, fleshy mass. Since the tissue did not corrupt, it was kept in the tabernacle for several years before now-Cardinal Bergoglio ordered a scientific analysis. A sample was taken and sent to Dr. Frederic Zugiba († 2013), a cardiologist and medical examiner (i.e. coroner) in New York,  without any indication of the "patient" from whom this tissue sample had been taken.

Bloodstains on the Shroud of Turin
are type AB. So are the stains on the
Veil of Oviedo.
Dr. Zugiba easily recognized the tissue as heart tissue, coming from the left ventricle. There were details, though, that mystified him. The sample, which was inflamed, contained white blood cells. (These generally die within 15 minutes of a biopsy.) The tissue also seemed to still be pulsating, the way living heart cells do. And yet the presence of the white blood cells also testified that the patient from whom the sample was taken had suffered intense trauma, some kind of injury that would cause the body to flood a damaged area with healing leukocytes. Thrombi also indicated that the patient had struggled to breathe.

Oh, yes, and the blood type? It was AB.

So we have at least two scientifically examined Eucharistic miracles, one from the 13th century, and one from 20 years ago. In both, tissue from the left ventricle of a human heart has been preserved without any kind of intervention. Both samples feature the same blood type, rare enough in the general population, but statistically more likely in someone of Middle Eastern extraction. In one case, the tissue was still alive at the time of analysis.

According to basic human reason, these facts are irreconcilable with reality. At least with reality as we know it according to reason. Science cannot tell us that the Eucharist is the flesh and blood of the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth, Lord of Heaven and Earth. But it has come as close as science can, recognizing flesh and blood in tissue samples that derived from consecrated Hosts.

Just a technical theological detail: Our Lord's presence in the Eucharist is most properly called a "sacramental" (not "physical") presence, because it is perceived through the "sign" of bread and wine. I understand that when the narrator in the video says "physical" it is meant as "real and true," as in the hymn "Ave Verum Corpus": Hail, true Body of the Savior, born of the Virgin Mary! Still, it is important for us in this matter to be as accurate as language allows (in dealing with a matter that completely exceeds all possibility of expression), so... Real Presence = Sacramental Presence; Jesus is sacramentally present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2016 and a Witness from the Past

The 2016 Presidential elections are over a year away, but it seems that we have been in a new election cycle forever. Every day the newspaper devotes column after column to the last outrageous thing said by one vanity candidate or to the sputtering attempt of some other to get his or her own allotment of newsprint. And is it only me, or does each day seem to bring an increasingly polarized campaign message?

I was pretty shocked by how similar the political talk was in the El Salvador of the late 90's. (Thankfully, no "desaparecidos" here; it is all talk.) One of the biggest challenges faced by the archbishop of El Salvador was trying to preach the Gospel (with its demands of justice) to right and left at the same time. Toward the end of his life, Blessed Oscar Romero knew that he was going to die violently; he just didn't know whether it would be the right-wingers or the left-wingers who would pull the trigger. He traveled alone so no one else would be killed along with him, as happened with so many of his priests. His attempts to bring people together to discuss the country's urgent needs were dismissed by both sides as selling out. You had to be on one side or the other. Nuance was a betrayal of the cause.
Last night I finished reading the recently published biography of the martyred Archbishop, and I can't help but invoke his intercession for our polarized national conversation. Just think of any hot-button issue (immigration, for instance, or the right to life) and notice the demonization from either side of the aisle.

Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope, by an Italian professor of modern history, really helped me understand what was going on in Latin America and among the Salvadoran bishops (themselves highly polarized) that led to the murder of the most effective preacher in the country. (Romero's homilies could last two hours--and the ordinary people, the poor and powerless--hung on every word.) I finally understood why his beatification as a martyr had taken so long (35 years!): the very same polarization that had been the background for his assassination meant that both parties immediately crafted a Romero myth in order to claim justification for their continued violence. Even the famous phrase attributed to the archbishop ("If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people") turns out to have been the elegant phrasing of a journalist who could only claim to have spoken to Romero by phone (during a phone appointment that did not appear in the archbishop's records).

So now, whenever Election 2016 shows up in the news, I am going to invoke Blessed Oscar Romero for our politicians, our political parties and their puppet-masters, and especially for our bishops, that they will be guided by the Holy Spirit in teaching and preaching according to the wisdom of the Gospel.

Read a sample from the biography here:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Heads Up for Buy a Nun a Book Day (Updated) (Again)
Thursday update: The novices' library is being well-provided for, thanks to Nunblog readers and Twitter followers! Of the wish list of 35 titles, only 7 are left! I regret that, in an excess of concern that people not buy unnecessary duplicates, I carefully removed from the list each title that had been purchased. I say I regret this, because the wish list would have made a nice reference bibliography! Week, maybe I will reconstruct it in a future post. For now, all I can say (and the novices join me in this) is a wholehearted "God bless you!"
- - - original post follows- - -

That's right, Buy a Nun a Book Day is right around the corner (Thursday, in fact), but this year I am not even hinting for donations for myself. No, it is our novices who need the help.

The novitiate library is well stocked with books on Scripture and spirituality, but the liturgy section barely fills two shelves, and the books are so old the covers are almost too bleached out to read the titles. As a liturgy geek myself, I think it is critical for novices (who in our community handle all chapel matters) to have a broad and deep appreciation of matters liturgical.

So, if you are so inspired, please consider donating a book from the special "wish list" of titles hand-picked by me for the novices. Just click the linked words (or the image!).

Any gifts can be shipped to:
Daughters of St Paul
Novices Library
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Wednesday update: WOW! Between yesterday and today, a dozen books were donated to our novices via the online wishlist. God bless you all! (And there are still two dozen more titles on the list, so don't despair that Buy a Nun a Book Day will pass you by...)

Monday, September 14, 2015

When #MediaNuns discover Pope Emojis

In case you weren't aware of it, Pope Francis is coming to the US at the end of next week. It's kind of a big deal. He's meeting the President, speaking to Congress and the UN and (the original reason for the trip) going to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. It is also his very first time in the US (not just as Pope: this is his first visit ever to the US).

So some creative types came up with those little keyboard graphics that you might get on a Viber or Facebook message from the young people you know. They're called "emojis". Only this set is called Popemojis.

The development team sent a crew over to our convent last week to demo the Popemojis to our sisters. (Watch the video!)

How would nuns use the new #popemoji? Take a look
Posted by Pope Is Hope on Saturday, September 12, 2015

Download the Popemojis for your iPhone, iPad, etc here:
For your Android phone or tablet,

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A thought for Mary's birthday

Mother and child: The Blessed Virgin
learning Scripture from her mother,
St Anne.

Nine months ago, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today we celebrate her birthday. (Liturgy is like that. Christmas is exactly nine months after the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.)

Today's liturgical observance is a pretty important one; it is a "feast day" in every sense of the word (the priest's "Ordo" or Mass guide, marks it as a Feast with an uppercase F). If you go to Mass today (and I hope you will!), you will hear the Gloria, inspired by the song of the Angels on Christmas night. In fact, the Mass of this ancient feast, celebrated in East and West on the same date (that's how you can tell it's an ancient feast), is full of references to "dawn": Mary's birth is the "dawn" announcing the approach of the Sun, the true Light of the world.

Pope Benedict, in his first encyclical, wrote of Mary:
"The Magnificat—a portrait, so to speak, of her soul—is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate."
Pope Benedict XVI, "God is Love" (n. 41)

And the Eastern Church prays today:
Nativity of the Theotokos
Your Nativity, O Virgin,
Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe!
The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God,
Has shone from You, O Theotokos!
By annulling the curse,
He bestowed a blessing.
By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.

On this Feast, join me in praying in a particular way for Robert Barron, who today will be ordained to the fullness of Holy Orders as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. As a Daughter of St Paul, I have a special commitment to praying for those who use media to evangelize, so Father Barron has a kind of extra call on that. There is also a rather big sacrifice looming for me today; I already told the Lord to count it, in union with his own sacrifice, for Bishop-elect Barron and his ministry. Do you have a sacrifice you can offer, too?

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?