Friday, October 21, 2016

Was Jesus talking about Election Day?

Yesterday's Gospel (Luke 12:49-53) is always a bit jarring. Jesus is speaking passionately about the fire he has come to set all over the world--and then he turns to his listeners and asks, almost as an aside: "Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?"

Considering that at his birth "peace on earth" is just what the angels were singing (see Luke 2:14), this question has got to give us pause. And yet the one born in a manger goes on to say he brings "not peace but division." (Matthew's Jesus says "not peace but a sword.")"From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three..."

Sounds like just about every household in America these days.

Yes, Jesus and his Gospel call for a decision, one that is thorough and firm: "Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Mt 10:37). Nowhere, though, does Jesus call for hostility, suspicion, accusation or rash judgment. Not even the very important issues in this electoral cycle (above all the issue of life) justify those sins against charity and justice. Indeed, to fall into them is to love "fatherland and mother country more" and to fail to really respond to the heart of the needs of the present. That seems to be what today's Gospel (Luke 12:54-59) is about. And then St Paul comes in (with the first reading) to interpret just what the "present times" call for: "humility, gentleness, patience, putting up with one another" (!!): revealing an underlying and essential "unity of the spirit through the bond of peace." (More in Ephesians 4:1-6.)

Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing-with: these are virtues society desperately needs in this election year. Paul calls us to live the Gospel in a way "worthy of the call" and that corresponds to the hunger, bewilderment and confusion manifest in the "present time." He invites us to become a new factor in society, kneaded into the culture like a lively leaven.

Just for today, how can we give election talk this new (and unexpected) flavor?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Webathon Update

O me of little faith.

I didn't think we could or would reach the goal for our annual online fundraiser. At $89K it was just too high, and coming right as a hurricane blasted through Haiti it couldn't have been worse timed. I should have read the Gospel and let Jesus have his say: "Your Father knows your needs before you ask..."

So, yes, with the generosity of many, many souls the new generator has been funded and should be in place right on time for the first snowstorm.

Along with the donations for the generator, we received many heartfelt prayer intentions. I was one of the sisters who received all the prayer requests and anonymized them for reading aloud during the Novena webcast: job searches, financial struggles, addictions and broken relationships; thanksgiving, too, and prayers to be a better follower of Jesus as well as ardent prayers for loved ones who have left the sacraments. Many people listed their beloved deceased, who will also be remembered in a novena of Masses during November (traditionally the "month of the Holy Souls").

This experience has been something of a tutorial in faith. Now I need to apply the lessons to the next great challenge: voting for the President of the United States (Lord, have mercy!).

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The convent marathon

The end is in sight for our convent marathon which is what some of the sisters are mistakenly (but accurately) calling our fund-raising webathon novena. This year's nine days of prayer and passing the hat is in view of the unexpected and urgent need to replace the motherhouse generator. Just over
My view of the Webathon novena.
halfway through the nine days, we are about halfway to the admittedly ambitious goal of $89,000. And I am ready to collapse. (It really is a marathon!)

Since I had done much of the preparation back in July, I thought actually doing the twice daily live video stream would be fairly easy, even though it would require a extra daily sacrifice on my part. I had no idea that a ten-to-twelve minute video stream would take so much mental energy! We have been, as our Founder recommended, learning a little something new every day and trying to implement those improvements as we go along, so I suppose that is part of the package. We are also getting prayer requests from all over the world, sometimes accompanied by a true "widow's mite" toward the generator. It is enough to keep me on my knees until the next webathon.

Noon and 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) a group of sisters (and sometimes our publishing house staff) come to the video studio in the basement here to lead the prayers, inspired by Pope Francis' special devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots. (Truth to tell, the devotion was inspired by 2nd century bishop and martyr St Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote that Mary's obedience to God untied the knot of Eve's disobedience.) There is a prayer handout you can download from the webathon site ( as well as links to send your prayer intentions (and donations!!!). The novena itself consists of prayer, a reading and meditation on scripture (contemplated through art), intercessions and the great prayer of Pope Francis to Our Lady. The meditations have all been different, created by the sister who is leading that prayer session. In all, I think about twenty sisters will have taken part in the novena, so this is a way for you to meet the community as well.

This evening we will stream the prayers for the 7th day of the novena, so if you haven't had a chance to join us yet, you can start today and make a Triduum to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots along with us. You can also take advantage of the archived videos from the first 6 days and make the novena on your own schedule.

See you at the finish line!!!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

St Therese: Virgin, Doctor and...#MediaNun?

Today's feast is a great one for us "media nuns." Therese of Lisieux, the unlikely co-patron of the missions, is also an honorary media nun despite her having died only two years after the very first motion-picture projector was debuted by the Lumiere brothers. Her runaway best-seller captivated the world, establishing new beachheads of spirituality everywhere a well-read copy of "Story of a Soul" reached, and the photographs of Therese, taken within the convent walls by her talented sister, Celine, make her one of the most recognizable faces of holiness in all of Church history.
Painting of Therese by her sister, Sr Celine
(at the Shrine of the Little Flower in Darien, IL).

But those are just the superficial reasons for calling Therese a media nun. According to Blessed James Alberione, a media apostle is someone who carries Jesus in his or her heart and radiates him to others through all available forms of communication. For Therese, the most accessible form of communication was the same one used so effectively by St. Paul: letter writing.

Therese's letters (1300 pages of them!) far outweigh the total output of Story of a Soul, those six notebooks of autobiographical reflection set in writing under obedience to her sister (and superior). In those letters, Therese applied her "little Way" to the varied situations of the receivers, communicating to them the treasure that God had so generously revealed to her.

But that is not all.

For Alberione, there are numerous ways to give Christ to souls. In his book, Mary, Queen of the Apostles, he outlines six basic "apostolates" that can be carried out by anyone, in any state in life (and that is before he even gets to the media apostolate):
  • The Apostolate of the Interior Life
  • The Apostolate of Desires
  • The Apostolate of Prayer
  • The Apostolate of Example
  • The Apostolate of Suffering
  • The Apostolate of Beneficence (which he describes in terms of love of neighbor)
Perhaps the reason the Story of a Soul was so powerful that it transcended and continues to transcend the bounds of culture, history and language is because in her own words, Therese carries out even today all of those apostolates. As a Doctor of the Church, she continues to teach, to encourage, to rouse the languid through her unique "little way" (accessible to anyone!), and through the ardor of her desires, the help of her prayers (that "shower of roses" she promised from heaven), the witness of her example (which anyone who takes her seriously realizes was a hard-won battle), the depths of suffering (not only her own intense agony at the end of her life, the the suffering she endured in witnessing her dear father's descent into madness), and the easily-overlooked fraternal charity she had so many opportunities to practice in the confines of Carmel.

Thanks be to God, we have this appealing witness, this extraordinary sister in Christ!

For your bookshelf:
Story of a Soul 
Letters of St Therese (vol. 1)
Letters of St Therese (vol. 2)
St. Therese of Lisiex: Her Last Conversations
Holy Daring: The Fearless Trust of St Therese of Lisieux
My Vocation is Love: St Therese's Way to Total Trust
Therese of Lisieux (Saints by Our Side series)

For children:
Search for the Hidden Garden: A Discovery with St Therese (story book)
St Therese of Lisieux: The Way of Love (chapter book)

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Irascible Saint

A typical image of Jerome portrays him as a naked hermit,
either in the desert or at his books.
If you were to go back in time and visit the eras in which some of our greatest saints were active, no doubt you would be impressed at how these men and women of God made a mark on their times. Many of them served the Lord and their neighbors in such a radiant way that they became symbols of virtue: St Vincent de Paul, "the" saint of charity; St Francis de Sales, "the meekest man since Christ"; St Francis Xavier, the evangelizer of Asia; St Martin de Porres, so merciful that the rats and cats of the city ate together peacefully from his hand; St Therese (whose feast day is tomorrow), the saint of childlike trust.

You would probably not find today's saint in that list.

Jerome as a venerable prelate with his famous
 women disciples (the wealthy Roman Paula
and her daughter Eustachium) who followed
Jerome to Palestine and founded a monastery
St Jerome was nobody's idea of a saint, even in the late 4th century when the concept of sanctity was presumably broader than ours is now. St Jerome was brilliant and heroic, but ... he was not very nice. In fact, in the Church of his day he was best known (aside from his brilliance) for his cantankerous and quarrelsome disposition, and for the eloquent sharpness with which he skewered erroneous doctrines (and, unfortunately, the people who taught them) or responded to criticism. Even St Augustine found himself on the receiving end of St Jerome's famous barbs.

Jerome was a man of great passion: he felt (and fought) the passions of the flesh intensely, but was just as passionate for the truth and for the Word of God (this is the man who single-handedly translated the entire Bible to put it within reach of ordinary people).

He is not a saint because he was a picture-perfect disciple of Jesus, but because he perseveringly struggled to be a disciple. This is a real encouragement for me, whether it is my own character flaws or those of the sisters around me that overwhelm me.

It is this very imperfection of Jerome that reminds me of something Blessed James Alberione once said: "When Jesus takes possession of a soul, its defects no longer count."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

UPDATED Deadline: tomorrow. Priority: urgent!

If you are following a link from yesterday, please be aware that the law in question was, thankfully, renewed--for another year only. This is how the non-minister religious immigrant law has been extended (one year at a time). This year, however, the full quota of visas have already been filled for a number of countries, including Mexico and India. You won't be surprised to learn that many seminarians, novices and vowed sisters from these two countries are in the US to study, prepare for vows or serve people in a variety of ways. Unfortunately (and this affects us Paulines directly, too), no sisters or novices (etc) from these two countries will be able to get into the US this coming year.

So read on. You can still call your Senator or Representative to urge that the law be made permanent so that ministries are not put on hold, or novices kept from progressing in their vocation, by the on-again, off-again way the "non minister religious immigration" law has been maintained.

- - - - - 

We just got this important information about a law that is about to expire: tomorrow. It is urgent for many religious congregations, including the Daughters of St Paul, that this law be renewed and in fact, made permanent. As it stands, tomorrow the sisters who are here with us, helping us in our mission, will be forced to return to their countries when their current visas expire: they will not even have the option of applying for a "green card" that will let them continue serving here. And yet their presence is urgently needed and extraordinarily valuable.

One of the sisters who would be
affected if the law expires.
While the numbers of young men in seminaries and young women in religious formation is solid and may even be growing, there are not sufficient numbers of ministry personnel to meet present needs, never mind "go out to the peripheries," as Pope Francis urges. Parishes and institutions benefit from the ministry of foreign sisters. Think of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity alone! All of these parishes, institutions and services will be affected if the law is allowed to expire.

Please call Congress NOW (info below) to extend the non-minister special immigrant religious worker laws.

Find Your Representative
Members of the Senate

- - - - - - -
Details here:

Thanks to our friends at the Resource Center for Religious Institutes (RCRI) for alerting us to the fact that an important law that allows religious brothers, sisters, and lay workers to become permanent residents will expire September. 30 -- unless Congress acts!

We have until September 30, 2016 to convince Congress to extend the non-minister special immigrant religious worker visa provisions. It is this provision that permits non-ordained religious workers to become legal permitted residents of the United States. If this provision doesn't get extended, thousands of religious brothers and sisters and non-consecrated lay workers will be forced to leave the U.S when their R-1 visas expire.  As you know, non-minister religious workers play an important role in the life of the Church and in ministry to those in need.

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows qualified "special immigrants" to come to the United States and work in their religious ministries. The religious worker section of the law was originally enacted in 1990 and has been renewed multiple times, but has never been made a permanent law. Rather, the law has a "sunset provision" meaning it must be renewed every few years by Congress. In 2015, a permanent solution was proposed. Unfortunately, that version failed and a one-year extension was granted.

In 1990, Congress enacted a law allowing non-clergy religious workers to obtain permanent residence (green cards) to work in their religious ministries in the United States.
Instead of enacting a permanent solution, Congress has just extended the law each time it is due to expire.
Last year, the law was extended for one year and expires September 30, 2016.
After September 30, religious workers will no longer be able to get green cards and will be forced to leave the U.S. when their R-1 visas expire.

Sign a petition asking Congress to extend the law allowing non-clergy workers to get permanent residence and continue their ministry in the United States.
Send a letter to your members of Congress. Please edit the letter to make it as personal as possible.
Call your members of Congress-Representative and Senators
o    US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121
o    Suggested Message:  Here again please edit the message to make your call as specific to your congregation as possible.

I'm a constituent.  I'm calling to ask Congress to enact a law allowing non-clergy religious workers to obtain permanent residence (green cards) to work in their religious ministry in the United States. We need a permanent solution-another extension is not enough.

After September 30, religious workers will no longer be able to obtain green cards and will be forced to leave the U.S. when their R-1 visas expire. This program has been of great benefit to our religious community and the vulnerable populations we serve. Without the Non-Minister Permanent Residence program, religious institutes like ours, will be unable to bring our own sisters to this country to staff our religious institutions and attend to the urgent needs of the people we serve.

Can I count on [the Senator/Representative] to support the enactment of a law allowing non-clergy religious workers to obtain permanent residence (green cards) to work in their religious ministries in the United States?

Remember, the deadline for the law is September 30, 2016, so time is of the essence. 

Thank you!

Ann Scholz, SSND, PhD
Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Padre Pio's Coming (and I'm going!)

The day Padre Pio died 
was also the first time I ever heard about him. We had walked home from school that afternoon--about half a mile--and had just gotten to the doorstep when Mom opened the door, sorrow written on her face. "Padre Pio died," she said with deep emotion. (Who was that? Some relative I had never heard of?) out that Mom was referring to an Italian priest who was known around the Catholic world: A Franciscan whose hands and feet bled as if he were crucified, who had been seen in two different places at the same time (documented incidents of bilocation), and who was said to be able to read the souls of those who came to him for confession, reminding people of sins they had forgotten to confess (or that they had deliberately withheld). He was also known to be quite severe at times, especially when dealing with the dishonest, while with people who were genuinely struggling to keep the Ten Commandments he was as tender as the father of the Prodigal Son. Suffering intensely from the mystical (but very real) wounds in his hands, feet, and side, he had a heart for the sick and used his growing fame to fund a "house for the relief of suffering" for the town near his Franciscan friary which had no hospital. (A state of the art hospital was inaugurated in 1956. Even the UN contributed toward its construction.) was a controversial figure during his life and still is. In 1923, the Holy Office could not confirm the supernatural origin of his stigmata, and ordered the faithful to "conform to this declaration." He was forbidden to write letters in answer to those who wrote for spiritual guidance. He was ordered to celebrate Mass in private without so much as an altar server, a restriction that stayed in place for ten years. When Pope John Paul was preparing to canonize him, I heard a venerable Franciscan comment with real outrage, "Padre Pio should not be canonized! I am not free to say why, but there are good reasons!" Here in Boston, more than one parish priest refused to inform parishioners about the upcoming three day "visit" by a major relic of Padre Pio. It's so...gauche.
Children's "chapter book" on St Pio.
As for me, though I'm not a big relic chaser (even though I have four first class relics in my office!),  but Padre Pio's heart is being brought to Boston this week and I have the possibility of participating, so I'm in. Why not do something out of the ordinary for one of the less-than-ordinary saints of my time? I already wrote out a list of prayer intentions (in 4 point handwriting), both sides. (Page two is coming soon.) So send me your intentions as well, and (God willing) on Thursday I will personally deliver them to Padre Pio (or at least to his heart). I will also be bringing with me the special intentions people have sent in with their donations for the generator that we need here at the motherhouse: they include loved ones on active duty in Afghanistan, medical emergencies or mysteries, family away from the sacraments... There's no end of things to pray about, and that's exactly what the saints want to do on our behalf!

If you are in the Boston area and hoping to join the fellowship, be sure to stop by the book table staffed by Sister Susan James and stocked with Padre Pio material for all ages--in English, Spanish and Portuguese. If you are not anywhere near, but interested in Padre Pio, you can still get a book or two: including a bio of Padre Pio for kids that's also available in e-book.

Not much of a Padre Pio fan? You'll enjoy John Allen's comments about what St Pio's canonization reveals about the Catholic not-as-top-down-as-people-think Church and the power of the people.

Post your prayer intentions in the comments, and if you don't want them actually "posted" in public, put "for your eyes only" in the first line. I will deliver them all on Thursday. (In 4 pt type.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Heads Up for Advent or (more likely) Lent

I've had Advent on my mind lately because I am working on an Advent series of articles for our Discover Hope Newsletter (don't subscribe yet?). And now I have news that could make a difference for your Advent. Or (given the general busyness of December) Lent.

When I was stationed in Chicago, we made great use of the wonderful group Bible study programs from Ascension Press, starting from their 20-week overview program The Great Adventure: The Bible Timeline (complete with color-coded bookmarks and bracelets). Saturday after Saturday, a group of about 30 came to our bookstore for the video series by Jeff Cavins. The year after that, they came for the 20-week program on the Gospel of Matthew, and after that, programs on the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Revelation and the Book of Psalms.
This summer I received a review copy of a new program from Ascension Press that follows the same format, but in a more compact way. Follow Me: Meeting Jesus in the Gospel ofJohn is an eight-session DVD series led by Dr Edward Sri. Each of the video lectures considers a section of the Gospel of John, and focuses on one person with whom Jesus enters into conversation. The words Jesus speaks with his interlocutors in the Gospel are also meant for us, and Dr Sri's warm approach allows us to hear them that way.

The 30-minute talks by Dr Sri presume no academic background in Scripture study. (The Leader's Guide contains information like “How do I find a Scripture Reference in my Bible?” and “Why are Catholic and Protestant Bibles different?”) Practical suggestions for conducting a group study are also included, and in detail. The Leader's Guide offers well-formulated content related to some of the study questions, and also suggests a variety of approaches for a study group's prayer: vocal prayers, imaginative prayer, hymns... As with the other programs from Ascension Press, there is also a participants' workbook with outlines, summaries, discussion and reflection questions, life application suggestions and ample room for notes.

Blessed James Alberione would have loved the approach: not simply “informational” but a real invitation to discipleship, to a relationship with Jesus through his Word. The inclusion of well-chosen full-color artwork in the handbooks adds the dimension of beauty, which is so pivotal for a fully human appreciation of Truth that includes the imagination. The eight-session structure means that this series can easily be used as a parish program for Lent (just start about two weeks early so you finish before Holy Week).

While I highly recommend that you bring this program to the attention of your pastor and parish adult faith coordinator, why not form your own study circle with a group from your neighborhood and extended family? Just so you know: These lectures are so good, I used them in chapel as part of my prayer. Maybe you will, too.

I received a free copy of the program mentioned above in view of my posting a review. I am committed to giving as honest a review as possible, as part of my community's mission of putting media at the service of the truth. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Buy a Nun a Book Day!

Yes, tomorrow is the feast of St Hildegard of Bingen, Benedictine nun and author, a Renaissance woman centuries before the Renaissance... and the annual observance beloved of consecrated women everywhere, Buy a Nun a Book Day.

Last Year, you generously revamped the Liturgy section of our novitiate library: THANKS!!!!!! The novices still need a few titles, especially for the Scripture shelf, in case you are so inclined. And, indeed, I myself have quite a lengthy "wish list" of books

But, as much as we love books, what we really need is a generator. Not your back-yard-in-case-the-lights-go-out kind of generator, but an industrial scale behemoth to replace the ancient one that gave up the ghost (along with some carbon monoxide) last winter. Naturally, we shut it down as soon as we figured out what that triple-beep alarm meant, but that means that when the power goes out (as it did very briefly this past Sunday) we have no backup power for the emergency lights, the Infirmary elevator and oxygen system, the walk-in freezer and refrigerator, and the server room. (You can read more about this on our newsletter.)

It's really not a good situation to be in. And generators that size are not cheap. We will be devoting our annual fund-raiser to this project, but I thought Why not give people an opportunity to turn a book into a generator this year, and donate toward the generator what they would have spent on a book for the sisters?

So if you were wondering about Buy a Nun a Book Day, and wishing you could buy a book for ALL your favorite media nuns, this might be one way to do it. Then when the new generator powers on those emergency lights during the next power failure, we can

If you still really, really want to send a book, ship to the novices' library at:

Daughters of St Paul
Novices Library
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

(That's my address, too, but I'm not hinting!!!)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

St Teresa of Calcutta: the Light is Shining Now!

I'm still reflecting on the great event that the Church celebrated on Sunday. The canonization of Mother Teresa has made it clear once again that we are living in an age of saints, great saints who depict the Gospel for us. No one enlightened the 20th century to the degree that this one stooped and wrinkled woman did, not even the brilliant and equally saintly John Paul II.  Mother Teresa's light shone brightest for those who find John Paul's writings (and even premises) impenetrable.  Seeing these saints in their variety helps us perceive "what the Spirit is saying to the Churches" of our day. I've been especially taken by a connection between two great Teresas of the modern era. Mother Teresa and St Therese are both saints of darkness, and they offer a gentle, nonthreatening light to the darkness in our time.

The Absinthe Drinkers
by Edgar Degas - Google Art Project
We don't usually associate the "Little Flower" with spiritual darkness, but the transcript of her Last Conversations shows that she underwent a torturous dark night of the soul that apparently lasted up to the moment of her death. Considering how short Therese's life was compared with that of Mother Teresa, it may even be that Therese's darkness lasted proportionately as long as the saint of Calcutta's. So in a way, the 20th century was bracketed by saints who walked in the darkness of sheer faith; two women who may be able to speak to our own faithless generation (growing more faithless by the day as younger and younger people turn away from religious teachings as if from magic and make-believe). These women did not experience a God of sweet fairy tales, but a consuming fire that burned away all natural light and left his presence completely imperceptible. Like Abraham, they had to "hope against hope" that God was really God, and that God was really there despite all evidence to the contrary.

In a way, Therese is the saint of urbane (or at least urban) darkness of the kind illustrated by Degas, while Teresa was called by Jesus to "be My light" in the dark hovels of material poverty and destitution.

That invitation of Jesus to the then-Loretto sister Teresa has an interesting quality. He called to her, "Come, be My light." Not "Go to the poor and be My light for them," but "Come" as if to say, "Come to Me where I am, in the dark hovels of the poor and you be My light." It is very similar to the invitation Blessed James Alberione received in "a time of particular darkness": "From here [the Tabernacle] I want to enlighten" in the sense that "I am your light, and I want to use you to enlighten others."
From our new comic book on St Teresa.

There is something very profound in this call to "be light." To "be light" is to be Jesus for the people we are with. I think this gives an answer to those pitiful critics who accuse Mother Teresa of betraying souls by not seeking the deathbed conversions of those she and her sisters cared for. (Yes, there really are people who think that Mother Teresa was effectively dispatching people to hell.) This is mistaking words for deeds, like the fundamentalists who buttonhole strangers to ask "Are you saved?" and are satisfied if their targets recite the sinner's prayer. Maybe Mother Teresa and her sisters know something that the anxious soul-savers do not know: that "whatever you do for the least, you do for Me" (Mt 25:40) is real, and that just as the Missionary of Charity serves Jesus in the poor, the poor are able to see Jesus in them: Jesus who is "in your midst as one who serves" (Lk 22:27). (If the poor are "meeting Jesus" are they not being evangelized?)

Mother Teresa is becoming for me a sign of what God can do with a single person who places herself fully at God's disposition. God can do the same amount of good in us, even if it is hidden from us and everyone else. Don't know how to place yourself at God's disposition? The Morning Offering is one place to start, and then there's always Offer it up!: practically a secret code for this mysterious grace that can expand and transform the world when just one person gives God free access to their life. 

Are you ready to be His light in the world?