Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Book Review: In Memory of Bread, a Memoir

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

In the Our Father, “bread” becomes the representative not only of all nourishment on earth, but our surpassing nourishment in the Eucharist. Unless we eat this bread, we will not only go hungry, we will “not have life” (see John 6:53). For a while, 16th and 17th century missionaries in Asia translated this petition of the Lord's prayer as “give us this day our daily rice.” That didn't go over well with the authorities back in Rome. It may have communicated the aspect of earthly nourishment accurately enough, but it lost the Eucharistic connection with the Bread of Eternal Life. And so the Church still prays three times every day (Morning Prayer, Mass and Evening Prayer) for “daily bread.”

Yet by now all of us know someone for whom bread, whether the limp white sandwich bread of our childhood PBJs or the crusty artisanal loaves in a high-end bakery, is not nourishing at all. Bread, the simplest of culinary delights, is for persons with celiac disease, not food but life-sapping poison. Those who are “merely” gluten intolerant may not suffer the same degree of physical damage from eating grain-based foods, but they know there is a price to pay if they indulge in a bagel or a cupcake.

Paul Graham knows what that is like, and in In Memory of Bread: A Memoir he shares the experience of being cut off not only from bread as food, but from the culture of bread (and of beer!). There is a special poignancy to Graham's narrative of coming back, literally, from death's door only to discover that he had to give up two of his favorite hobbies, two crafts that had brought him immense pleasure not only in the eating (or imbibing, as the case may be) but in the fellowship built around the products of grain: home bread making and beer brewing.

With Graham's book those of us whose daily bread can be, in fact, bread learn what it is like to
suddenly be deprived of such a common and seemingly harmless food. Graham's struggle to find food that was (a) like bread and (b) still worth eating highlights an important dimension of culture: the common table. To lose bread is to be cut off from your fellows, as well as from a vital connection with 10,000 years of tradition.

When something as basic as bread (and in Graham's case, even the generally-tolerated oats) is off the table, relationships—and not just menus—have to be renegotiated, rediscovered, relearned. But the first of the relationships affected by Graham's sudden illness (and its almost equally drastic “cure”) was his relationship with his wife, Bec. From the very first, Bec decided that she and Paul would bear this burden together. Paul's inability to tolerate ordinary grains (and products made with grain) would not create a division at their common table with the “haves” (Bec) and the “have nots” (Paul). She would scrutinize labels and clear the house of anything unsafe for Paul to eat. She would experience the same loss, and the same, almost desperate search for bread that was at the same time gluten-free and real, as in real, identifiable bread. She would adopt a gluten-free diet with him.

Graham found that relearning his life after celiac disease included finding a tolerable gluten-free beer that he could drink with his softball buddies after a game. It meant neighbors and friends going out of their way to provide gluten-free canapes at cocktail parties, and the disappointment of many imitations of bread (the saddest of all: imitation pizza). The Grahams had long adopted a “locavore” ethos, supporting local farms and limiting their food choices to produce, meats and cheeses that had been raised in the vicinity. Until Paul's diagnosis, this included local wheat with which to bake the fragrant loaves that were now out of the picture. It became necessary to purchase items that could not be produced locally: psyllium, xantham gum, tapioca starch.

With so few restaurants in their rural New York town offering gluten-free options at the time, he had to rely more and more on the exotic. As wonderful as those Asian (hold the soy sauce, please) or African or Latino meals were, they were not the food he grew up with: they did not satisfy his human hunger. They were not bread.

Accompanying Graham and his wife on their search for satisfying bread, we learn about grain production and the culture that took root when grains were first domesticated. With him, we learn the forms of bread in various parts of the world. I had no idea that buckwheat blini  are a traditional (and gluten-free) French crepe (buckwheat is not really “wheat”), or that chickpea flatbread is a (gluten-free) tradition in Nice as well as in India.

Did the Grahams finally find a bread that was both safe to eat and a real connection to the memories and cultures that were woven into their lives? Would they ever be able to bake real bread at home again? Did Paul find a decent beer for his ballgames? No spoilers here.

In Memory of Bread was an engaging read from first to last, with some laugh-out-loud lines in just about every chapter. It disabuses the reader of any notion of a fashionable gluten-free “lifestyle” while giving us a little clue about just what we are asking for, simply on the level of this good earth, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free review copy of the book mentioned above with the expectation that I would mention it on my blog. 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. In addition, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. 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, July 15, 2016

Liberty (check), Equality (check-mostly), Fraternity (uh-oh)

So yesterday was Bastille Day, a French holiday which I have never been inclined to celebrate (I think my fellow New Orleanians are nuts for holding Bastille Day festivities). So many terrorist acts (of the 18th century sort) were justified in the name of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" that the whole era of the French Revolution (which came out into the open with the storming of the Bastille) was called "the Reign of Terror" or simply "the Terror." July 17 is the anniversary (and feast day) of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne, who had offered their lives "to quell the Terror." (Within two weeks after the sisters were guillotined the Reign of Terror was over.) Terrorism is not a brand-new phenomenon.
The martyred nuns of Orange also met death at the guillotine.

I found myself wondering, as the news from Nice began flashing across social media, whether in some way the ideals of "liberty, equality and fraternity" can flourish when they are stripped of their origins in the Gospel. After all, until Christianity began to influence cultures, nobody pretended (or even dreamed) that people were all equal, all brothers and sisters, all capable of participating fully in society as co-creators of public order.

Even in Christian cultural settings, transforming social structures to conform to the whole truth about the human person was (and remains) an excruciatingly slow process, but the Terror tried to do it by force while wiping away the entire Christian substructure that made those values conceivable. And now that just sort of seems normal.
Whether the pressure is subtle (vote this way or you will be ostracized as a "hater") or overt (bloody violence and terrorism), "fraternity" is the first value to crumble to dust.

It's not that I have a developed response to these events, but I can't help believing that what we really need to do to respond to "the Terror" of our times is return, personally, each one of us, to a profound encounter with Jesus in the Gospel. If our parishes were visibly havens of the liberty, equality and fraternity that St Paul wrote about in the first century, maybe we could begin again to transform the world around us.
- - - - -

In the meantime, here is a very interesting reflection on the phenomenon of terrorism and how it allows relatively powerless agents to provoke disproportionate anxiety and trigger imprudent government response that plays into the terrorists' hands (and increases the overall perception of violence and a society spiraling out of control): The Theatre of Terror

Here are a few tidbits:

"Terrorists undertake an impossible mission: to change the political balance of power when they have almost no military abilities. To achieve their aim, they present the state with an impossible challenge of its own: to prove that it can protect all its citizens from political violence, anywhere, anytime. The terrorists hope that when the state tries to fulfil this impossible mission, it will reshuffle the political cards, and hand them some unforeseen ace."

"The less political violence in a particular state, the greater the public shock at an act of terrorism. Killing 17 people in Paris draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq. Paradoxically, then, the very success of modern states in preventing political violence make them particularly vulnerable to terrorism....
"In order to assuage these fears, the state is driven to respond with its own theatre of security. The most efficient answer to terrorism might be good intelligence and clandestine action against the networks of money that feed terrorism. But this is not something citizens can see on television. Once its citizens have seen the terrorist drama of the World Trade Center collapsing, the state feels compelled to stage an equally spectacular counterdrama, with even more fire and smoke. So instead of acting quietly and efficiently, it unleashes a mighty storm, which fulfils the terrorists’ most cherished dreams."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Taken into Jesus' own prayer

For some reason, it still surprises me when the Gospel at Mass seems to say something I had never heard before. You'd think that after 43 years or so of daily Mass I would have heard everything by now. Perhaps it's just an indication of the depths of my distraction—or a hint of the impenetrable depths hidden in the Bible (maybe both!)—that there is still so much I haven't heard. It will be like that in Heaven, too: we will receive God's complete self-gift (in fact, we already do), but will always find more to discover and delight in.

Today's Gospel leads right in to tomorrow's, which awakened the mind and heart of a young James Alberione on a midnight long ago. He "heard" those words we will hear at Mass tomorrow ("Come to me, all of you!") and, like the prophet that he was, responded with his "Hear I am! Send me!" (Which we heard, as you recall, in the weekday Mass last Saturday.) The Gospels read today and tomorrow are part of one narrative and are ideally taken together, but I am going to share with you my meditation of the first part of that narrative:
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
"I give praise to you, Father, Lord..."
Matthew's Greek for "I give praise" (Ἐξομολογοῦμαί) can also be translated "I confess" or "I proclaim publicly" or (as it is in other common English versions) "I bless." It is the same verb Paul uses in Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." When we say the Creed on Sundays, we are making our "confession" that Father, Son and Spirit is the One Lord of heaven and earth who has acted in history, in real time. By reporting Jesus' public praise of the Father's saving works, Matthew extends the invitation to us to enter into Jesus' own prayer. This is exactly what is happening in the Mass, as well. We are entering into Jesus' eternal exclamation of praise and delight over the Father's plan.

"you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned"
Paul makes his own comment on God's way of turning the values of the world upside down. "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 20-21). The attitude Paul decries is demonstrated in today's first reading from the prophet Isaiah. God is complaining that he himself "handed over" to Assyria a certain degree of power over the nations, to deliver God's instructive chastisement for their wickedness, but Assyria attributed the results to his own national prowess and skill, and sings his own praise. "Claiming to be wise, they became fools instead," Paul might have observed of the Assyrians as he did of the pagan Romans of his own time (see Rom 1:22). "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor 1:21).

"you have revealed them to the childlike"
Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father, is the first of the "childlike" ones to whom the Father reveals himself, and he said that only those "who become like little children can enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 18:3). In the light of today's Gospel, I find myself asking, "What if the Kingdom of Heaven is this childlike state?" What if the Kingdom of God is this receiving the revelation of the Father like a little child, or like the Eternal Son, or like the Virgin Mary?

"Yes, Father" 
There is something about this affirmation (ναί, ὁ πατήρ) that has the ring of an "ipsissima verba" (a direct quote) of Jesus. St Paul also associates the word "yes" (nai) with Jesus: "Jesus Christ...was not 'yes' and 'no,' but 'yes' has been in him" (2 Cor 1:19). This "yes" (nai) is like a further delectation on the part of Jesus of the Father's action: "Taste and see how good the Lord is!" (Ps 34).

"All things have been handed over to me by my Father."
Jesus is no longer addressing the Father. He may be, as it were, reflecting aloud as if to let us in a little on what he is praising the Father for. And here we stand awe-struck before the innermost heart of the Trinitarian life. "All things...handed over." This is what "fatherhood" consists of in God: the complete gift of self, handed over to One who, in receiving them is "the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb 1:3).

"No one knows the Son except the Father"
 No one can know the Son except the Father who is equal to him and the source of all that the Son has and is, who has "handed all things over" to him. And clearly this means that "no one knows the Father except the Son" and, miracle of miracles, "anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him."

- - - - - - 

As I read and reflected on this Gospel, it occurred to me that the entire text makes an excellent "tag" to pray after each mystery of the Rosary. In each of those biblical events, we can praise the Father with Jesus for the way he "revealed to little ones" the secrets of his heart and invites us to participate in them from the inside, making his prayer our own.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Keeping the wrong kind of silence

Last week on Twitter, Dr Peter Kreeft remarked, "If I had to prescribe one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I'd start with silence." I quickly retweeted that, as did 218 others. We are, after all, on Twitter, where some 6,000 messages are posted every second of the day. It would seem that a little interior silence would do us all some good.

But in today's Gospel the silence is ominous. The pitiful demoniac lived by the maxim, "If you can't say anything good, don't say anything," and so he kept quiet, having only resentful, cynical, hateful or self-pitying things to say.  In fact, Matthew tells us that his silence had a demonic origin, and that people had brought the mute person to Jesus to be healed. That got me thinking, because over the weekend I had an encounter with someone whose silence was anything but golden. It was a grim, resentful silence; the kind that almost imposes silence on those around in that "how dare you intrude upon my mood" kind of way.  It was, to be honest, a scary silence.

Today's responsorial psalm (Ps 115) also refers to an unwholesome silence, that of the idols of silver and gold who "have mouths but speak not." Quite the opposite of what happens when the Lord God is around: "On the lips of children and of infants [literally "those who have no speech"] you have found praise to foil your enemy" (Ps. 8).

If we are "too" silent, it could be because something has been keeping us from seeing, sensing, feeling, recognizing what God is doing in our life (or the very fact that we have a life that is God's doing) and giving ourselves over to praise. We are like the idols that "have mouths but speak not; have eyes but see not; have ears but hear not; have noses but smell not; have hands but feel not; have feet but walk not." Without praise, we are not really alive with the life that God intends for us. Praise is the secret of life!

I have to ask myself today, in the light of the Gospel and responsorial psalm, what keeps me from acknowledging the good, from giving thanks and praise? Am I afraid that to recognize the good is to "settle" for less than I desire? (As if God were to say, "Oh, she's satisfied with this much; I don't have to send her the rest of the blessings she wanted.") Is it because my own expectations are too limited, not open to the surprising abundance that God may have hidden in the unpredictable things that come my way? Am I suspicious of the good that I do experience, as if there had to be a down side to it?

Today I want to learn from Mary to "magnify the Lord" who does "great things" even for me, and I want to grant myself permission to break the silence for the sake of praise.

Book Review: Joy: Poet, Seeker and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis

When I returned from Rome in May I received a surprise package of books (a great way to start the summer!). Among the titles was an ample biography of Joy Davidman, better known as Joy Gresham or (as the subtitle notes) “the Woman Who Capitivated C. S. Lewis.” My previous awareness of her was through the movie Shadowlands and through Lewis' heart-rending A Grief Observed written after her untimely death. My impression of her from these sources couldn't have been farther from the truth—but, as I learned from the biography, that impression had in some ways been carefully crafted by Joy herself.

The woman who would marry the presumedly confirmed bachelor would not have been on anyone's short list of prospects for Lewis. He was born into a Christian culture; her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, children who grew up in New York slums. He was a professor in the most established of establishments: the tradition-bound Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; she, though quite well-educated (able read Greek and deeply familiar with the ancient classics) was a radical sometime Communist Party member. He was a (presumably) contented bachelor; she was the mother of two, who, frustrated in her marriage, would set off for England with the express aim of making Lewis her husband. (It would take long enough that the pair enjoyed only a scant three—or four, if you count their civil ceremony—years of married life before Joy died of cancer.)

And yet Joy Davidman was truly a match for C. S. Lewis. Their correspondence began, in fact, after Joy and her first husband, Bill Gresham, became convinced of the truth of Christianity in part because of Lewis' books. (Joy and her sons were baptized sometime around 1948; she was 33.) The pair's first letter (in 1949) made an impression on Lewis and by January mention of Joy's letters show up in the diary of Lewis' brother and housemate Warnie: “she stood out … by her amusing and well-written letters.”

Lewis was delighted to meet an intellectual sparring partner equal to the role. After she had been in England for some time, he invited her (more likely she offered) to assist him in the editorial work of book-writing, and suddenly a stubborn case of writer's block was overcome . A new series of books came pouring out: Surprised by Joy (this "Joy" is not his newfound helpmate; the title is from Wordsworth); The Four Loves; Till We Have Faces. Lewis began bringing Joy to the gatherings of The Inklings, little noticing that the writers in his circle did not appreciate the brash American female as much as he himself did. I found myself wondering: was it Lewis' dawning infatuation with her that blinded him, or was he introducing Joy as a worthy “Inkling” in her own right? (Probably both!)

There is no need for me to tell you the whole story. Until she finally “Captivated the Heart of C. S. Lewis,” Joy seems to have lived an erratic search, compromised by a lack of self-restraint and of appreciation for virtue. She was calculating and could be abrasive, and put herself and her immediate needs or desires in first place. Yet she was also honest, unashamed to admit her mistakes — for example, about her blind enthusiasm for the Soviet Union or her adoption of Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics." She  followed the truth when she managed to recognize it. Suffice it to say that Joy Davidman was, as the subtitle of the book says, a “Seeker.”

Despite the uncomfortable incidents of "TMI" in some of the selections from Joy's letters concerning her personal life, I recommend this book to any who are interested in the life and writings of C. S. Lewis or American literary life in the first part of the 20th century.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. 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.”

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Holy "Innocents"

38 years ago today.
Today is the 38th anniversary of my first vows. It is also the day we are celebrating with our sister Jubilarians: ten sisters celebrating 25, 50 and even 60 years since their first profession of chastity, poverty and obedience. Last week, Sister Kelly Andrew Marie made her final vows in her home parish in Houston, and the week before that, Sister Neville Christine professed final vows in her home diocese in Cameroon. So it is a real time of looking back and looking forward.
Sr Kelly Andrew professing final vows on
Sunday in her home parish (in Houston).

None of us can guess what life will ask of us in terms of the concrete living-out of what we promise. This is as true for nuns as it is for married couples. It was horrifically true for at least one community of sisters in WWII-era Poland. After the German occupation came the Soviet army and soldiers who looked on the women as spoils of war. They broke into the convent, raping the sisters (and killing twenty of them), leaving five survivors pregnant. A French doctor who assisted the community as a Red Cross volunteer recorded in her diary the story that is behind the film The Innocents which opened in theaters yesterday.

In the film only the basic outlines of the historical narrative are preserved. The doctor is renamed; no sisters have been murdered; while most of the sisters in the film story were violated, there are seven who became pregnant, more than half of them novices. (Trigger warning: there is one attempted rape scene in the movie, as well as another invasion of the cloister by Russian troops.)

A doctor (or is she a nurse? medical assistant?) is summoned by a novice who had slipped away while the others were in chapel. The sisters struggle with letting Mathilde know what happened nine months earlier. For the Superior, utmost secrecy is a matter of survival: if word gets out about the sisters' predicament, the convent would, she believes, surely be shut down and all their life would be destroyed in "scandal and disorder." This was hard for me to grasp, but even today in war zones where rape is used as a weapon, its victims are shunned and disinherited, unable to bring their children up in security. People conceived in rape are still an endangered species even outside of war zones.

Sister Maria (in foreground)
In the film's violated cloister, with all the members still reeling from the assault, Mother's concern for secrecy and her inability to share the burden of office with Sister Maria (who seems to be the Novice Director, but who may be the vice-superior) will have devastating consequences.

It was that same Sister Maria who seemed to be the central character of the movie. She is bi-lingual and so serves as translator between the Polish sisters and Mathilde. Sr Maria is also, in a sense, bi-cultural: Having entered the convent as a somewhat worldly (and "experienced") young woman, she is able to communicate openly with Mathidle  and compassionately with her fellow sisters. It is also Sister Maria who gives the most beautiful vocational testimony: Even after all she and the sisters have suffered and continue to suffer (not just from the physical consequences of the attack, but also through flashbacks--not to mention the sheer test of faith), she is happy with her life.

The film (in French and Polish with English subtitles) had opened by letting us know that it is Advent. The nuns are chanting the hymn Conditor Alme Siderum. (All of the chants were sung by the Polish actresses portraying the nuns.) Later I recognized another Advent text being sung: Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant Iustum ("Drop down dew from above, O Heavens, and let the clouds rain the Just One" from Isaiah 45:8). These two texts became for me a kind of interpretive key for the whole film.

As the infants are born, they are "wrapped in swaddling clothes" and in one case tucked into the crook of the young mother's arm in a scene that looks for all the world like a Christmas card. Maybe that is why we never see the feast of Christmas. Even the film's name, The Innocents, evokes the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, their lives and their mothers' upended by brutal soldiers. Mothers and children are "the innocents" of the title. Despite the physical violation they suffered, the young women are virgin mothers: consecrated virginity is not something that can be "lost" through force.

Several of the characters in the movie are well developed, especially Sister Maria and one of the novices who freely admits that she was forced into the convent by her family.  We see the tragic ways different sisters dealt (or tried to) with the trauma and its repercussions (real or feared). However, I found it hard to keep track of the particular novices and their unique stories. After all, they are all Polish women, about the same age, and dressed identically! There is also the reality of following the story through subtitles, so that vocal timbre was lost as another clue to each woman's identity. I think the director recognized this problem and tried to solve it by keeping most shots very close to the women's faces, but it was not enough for me.

The Beatitude "Blessed are the merciful, or mercy shall
be shown them" is painted above the door in the background.
While there is much talk of faith in the film (and just about every character —including the young medic —is in the midst of a severe crisis of faith), it is really, it seems to me, about hope.  At the close of the film we are catapulted three months forward. It is one year since the original act of violence. Not everyone has come through unscathed, but for the most part there is hope. And at the end of a film characterized by dimly lit interiors, we, like Mathilde, see the sisters in an arc of light.

The Innocents won a lot of praise at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it was screened under the title Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). J. Ryan Parker wrote that it "should be a front runner for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars. It’s a near perfect film." It is also a tough movie to watch. Not explicit, just intense. (I got a migraine by the halfway point. You have been warned.)

To find a showing near you, click "Theaters" on the official film website.

The Innocents honestly portrays a real risk in any kind of institution: that people may be sacrificed to structures. This is demonstrated not only in the convent situation, but also at the Red Cross clinic where Mathilde, the doctor, is a mere functionary. The movie also accurately conveys some of the best aspects of a healthy community. The "community recreation" was accurately portrayed, and the loving sisterly relationships in a time of trauma were just what I find in my own community when anyone is faced with unexpected and unexplainable suffering.

Although the film most explicitly explores the dimension of faith, a second (and not secondary) theme can be that of vocation. Three of the characters discover or express their personal vocation in the course of the film. One, sadly, appears to betray it.

Petty Gripes:
Just as lawyers will nitpick a legal drama and members of the military will point out the discrepancies in a war movie (and I have both types in my family!), I have a few bones to pick with the script team for The Innocents. Not that they didn't do an overall fantastic job of presenting life in a community, it's just that there are a few tedious elements that seem to always show up in movies or other artistic representations of convent life and that reflect some extreme misinterpretations. Here are the two that irked me the most:

The novice who ran without permission to bring a doctor to the community is severely reprimanded by the Superior and her punishment includes "a vow of silence for one week." What is it with the fixation about vows? Vows are made for a lifetime, not for a week. And they are made for the sake of something good in itself, not as a punishment. Besides, silence was a given at the time; monastic communities had specific times not for silence, but for speech. (Typically, the silence could be broken for necessary communications, although there are famous exceptions such as the Carthusians' elaborate system of sign language.) If Mother Superior wanted to give the novice a penance involving silence, she simply would have told her to maintain silence and not take advantage of the moments when it was relaxed for the community.

Then, when the (woman) doctor begins medical examinations, one of the novices refuses to submit. She is hysterical, screaming that she doesn't want to go to hell. (What?!) Sister Maria, cultural mediator between the convent and the doctor, explains, "We are not allowed to show our bodies, and even less to be touched. It's a sin." Please: don't go making up sins; there are enough of them already! (By the way, even 19th century convents had provisions for medical necessities.)

One more (small) thing. In one scene of a community meal, in accordance with monastic custom, a sister read a text aloud while the others ate in silence (of course). The text was from the Gospel of Matthew, but it was not translated (from the Polish?) for those of us dependent on subtitles. I would have appreciated knowing which Gospel text was chosen for this scene. It had to have been significant.

Read more:
Interview with the Director (Anne Fontaine): http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/a-movie-is-a-vocation-anne-fontaine-on-the-innocents

Other reviews:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 9

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the development of social media; reparation for lost or compromised vocations to the consecrated life due to excessive or inappropriate use of media.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (2 Cor 4:15 ):
Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

The Letter to the Romans lists dozens of men and women who crossed Paul's path or collaborated with him. Paul used the media available to him to stay in touch with the people he had met during his missionary journeys, and to put them in contact with each other.
While media can help us meet people around the world, we can also use communications technologies to keep people at a distance. One way of doing this is overindulgence in entertainment media. This creates a simple circuit between myself and the screen, effectively sealing me off from the inconvenience of noticing and responding to others.
Do I escape into technology to avoid uncomfortable (but necessary) personal communication? How can I monitor my use of media so that people never take second place to technology?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus, invoking light, love and mercy for all men and women, to be communicated in my life and through all the ways in which I use media today. Through the intercession of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I invoke heavenly grace upon all those who today will create new media productions: artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, editors, producers, advertisers. May their work uplift people and society by highlighting truth, beauty and goodness. And may I not fail to support and encourage media professionals who are committed to the good.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 8

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of mobile phones; reparation for the divisive use of communications media in the name of religion.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (Rom 1:11-12):
I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2014:
Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013). We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert. To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute. 
May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbors” to those wounded and left on the side of the road.

The Letter to the Romans is Paul's masterpiece. In it, he carefully (and prudently!) engages with questions he knew were vital to that community with so many Jewish believers who had already suffered exile for the sake of Christ. He spoke respectfully of the patriarchs, of the rite of circumcision, and of the Exodus, and even said that he would willingly be "anathema" himself if it helped more of his "kinsmen" come to faith in Christ.
What are the signs that a person is genuinely communicating through media? Have I ever felt that someone had all the words right, but failed to reach me in a meaningful way? What can I learn from this?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus, that, nourished with your Word, I might live Christ and give Christ to the world through genuine communication by means of media.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 7

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of television; reparation for the failure to evangelize, or for leaving evangelization to others.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (2 Tim 4:7-8):
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Paul sought to bring the Gospel especially to those places where the name of Christ had never before been spoken. He knew that his message sounded like "foolishness to the Greeks" (1 Cor 1:23), but even so he went to the great Areopagus, the marketplace of ideas, so that Christ would be proclaimed to those who counted themselves wise. Although the majority scoffed, several of his hearers were touched to the heart and entered into a "meaningful discussion" about what they had heard. Paul did not establish a Christian community in Athens, but by his preaching he left disciples there who would continue the rough work of preparing that stubborn field for those who would come later to sow the seeds.
What expectations do I bring to social media that sometimes compromise the good outcome I hope for? What temptations do I face when engaging with others online? What do I need to do to increase my ability to listen to others and respond to them where they are?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus that the undertakings of Catholics in all forms of media may increase, so that by more effectively promoting genuine human and Christian values, they will silence the voices that spread error and evil.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 6

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of radio; reparation for Internet bullying in all its forms, including threats of retribution organized through social media against persons who post  messages unwelcome to special interest groups.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (1 Cor 15:10):
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.
For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Peter and Paul had very different perspectives on an important matter for the early Church: the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers. Seeking to calm those who were unsettled at seeing Jewish and Gentile Christians eat together (possibly this refers also to celebrating a common Eucharistic offering), Peter joined the Jewish believers and pulled away from fellowship with the Gentiles. Paul had the courage to confront him honestly on what this did to the Church, that it divided Jewish and Gentile believers. And Peter listened. An ancient tradition holds that Peter and Paul remained so united in their love for Christ and their devotion to the Gospel that they died as martyrs on the same day, exchanging a final kiss of peace on the Ostian Way in Rome.
How do I respond on social media to opinions or posts that I believe erroneous or harmful? Is there an attractive way to present the truth, without resorting to harshness or pressure tactics?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus that Christian media professionals may grow in wisdom and  uprightness. living and spreading worthy human and Christian values.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Novena of Reparation, Day 5

I invite you to join in our community novena to St Paul (we celebrate a special feast in his honor on June 30). This year's theme is reparation for misuse of the media.

Intentions for the Day: Thanksgiving for the invention of audio recording; reparation for pornography (in all its many forms) and for all the harm done to its victims, from the addicted users and their families, to the abused children and women who appear in it, to the young people who are growing up in a porn-saturated environment.

Opening Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.

Scripture (2 Cor 12:9):
[Christ] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

From Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day 2016:
How I wish that our own way of communicating, as well as our service as pastors of the Church, may never suggest a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded. Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen. The Gospel of John tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice. Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love (cf. Eph 4:15). Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.

Pope Francis warns us against looking down on those whose sins may not be as subtle as our own; whose weakness and failure are manifest. With pornography so easily available (an American child's first exposure to porn usually takes place age age 11 or younger), many fall almost unawares into this dehumanizing trap. Pornography takes a beautiful and holy reality, the human body designed for self-giving love, and twists it into an object for use and disposal. When children are its victims, it is a crime that calls to Heaven for vengeance.
Do I indulge in pornography, including exaggeratedly steamy novels? What steps can I take to consecrate my eyes and my mind to Christ, refusing to make Jesus a partner in my sin (see 1 Cor 6:5)?
If I have avoided or been delivered from exposure to porn, how can I personally use communications technology to promote "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, excellent and praiseworthy" (Phil 4:8)?

Daily Offering:
In union with all those who today celebrate the Eucharistic memorial of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, I offer myself with Jesus for the conversion of those who have spread error, violence, or disregard for the dignity of the person by using wrongly media and rejecting the teaching of Christ and his Church.

Closing Antiphon:
O St Paul the Apostle, Preacher of Truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God.