Monday, May 18, 2015

Facing the Death Penalty

Saturday's Boston Globe (full page treatment)

I grew up in the Deep South at a time when the death penalty was taken for granted pretty much across the board. The explanations were simple enough for a child to understand: if you take a life, you forfeit your own; society had to defend itself; the threat of capital punishment was a deterrent to violent crime. The same explanations might have been given to a child 500 years ago, or 2000, or 5000.

Catholic tradition has long upheld the approach to criminal justice that the Old Testament presumed even while introducing moderating guidelines like "an eye [one eye only] for an eye." These teachings were incorporated into the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2266, 1992 ed) , although the very next entry urges public authorities to limit their action to "bloodless means". But just five years later, the entire treatment of protecting the common good was rewritten. Recourse to the death penalty is still "not excluded" (#2267), but only tolerated as a last resort when the public authority simply has no other way to keep the person from doing harm.

All that was going through my mind Friday afternoon when the jury here in Boston rendered its verdict on a case that has been on the front page (and in full-page spreads) every day for weeks on end. I had really thought that, even though the jury selection process had screened out anyone with principled objections to the death penalty, this would be a watershed moment, and the salvageability of a very damaged soul would be recognized.

Instead, we are still on the level of transitional justice. It's a very American viewpoint, seeing society as a collection of more or less undifferentiated individuals, the loss of any number of whom, while unfortunate, does not really affect the whole in an essential way. "An eye for an eye" works out well enough in this sort of system. When something goes wrong with a part of the body, though, be it a cell, an organ or a limb, we are not quite so cavalier. Nobody says, "an eye for an eye" when it is a matter of their eyesight. Heck, we are not even comfortable with Jesus' own words, "If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out!" (although a few people in history have gone that far).

The trouble I see with transactional justice, especially when it goes as far as the death penalty, is that it keeps society on the level of transactional violence: it is just that society is authorized to carry out the violent act and random citizens are not. When it comes to ideologically motivated crime, such as the terrorism in Boston, there is no deterrent effect; there is not even the acknowledgement of legitimate authority. (The Tsarnaev brothers, having immersed themselves in an extremist culture of transactional violence, felt justified in taking lives in retribution for lives lost in the far-off Caucasus.)

Capital punishment is a distant reality for me (I don't know any Death Row prisoners; I have never met anyone affected by a capital crime), but I do understand the transactional approach to society. Indeed, I could probably limit myself to this one area and never run out of things to bring to the sacrament of Penance. I have a terrible tendency to treat people in a transactional way; to reduce them to the roles they carry out, or the function they occupy in society (or, God help us, in community). Since the Friday verdict, I have been more aware of the Church's appreciation of society as a body made up of unique and unrepeatable members. Even (as St Paul says of the Church) the members who outwardly seem to have little merit turn out to be indispensable. When one part suffers, all the parts suffer. When one part is honored, all the parts share the benefit.

Boston's sorrowful journey can still be a watershed moment.

- - - - - - 

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995 edition) (I highlighted the values it affirms: just because the criminal disregards or dismisses these values doesn't means society ought to lose sight of them.)

Capital Punishment
2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.67 
2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.' [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

Friday, May 15, 2015

World Communications Day links for You!

For World Communications Day, here's a chart with links to (frequently updated) lists of pertinent material concerning digital technology, culture and ministry:

Social Media for Beginners

Articles about Digital Culture

Social Media Starter Tools

Books about Media for Ministry

Important Studies on Digital Communications

Various Social Media Resources
US Bishops Documents on Communications
Vatican Documents on Communications

Social Media Guidelines
Social Networking in the UK
Porn Addiction Recovery and Accountability

JUST RELEASED: The prayerbook of the New Evangelizer! Prayers of Blessed James Alberione and by members of the Pauline Family:  prayers for media and those who work in the various media fields; the "Pauline offering" of reparation and petition for media; media spirituality and more!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension Thursday

The liturgy geek in me is doing a little happy dance: After many, many years, I am at last able to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on the 40th day of Easter. I remember bringing up with Cardinal
George the problems caused by moving Holy Days to Sunday. While telling me, quite bluntly, that the situation was not going to change, he agreed that the biggest negative aspect is that moving the feast to the nearest Sunday diminishes its importance in people's understanding. A feast that requires you interrupt your workday and go to Mass really makes an impression!

The usual depiction of the Ascension features a pair of feet
poking out of the clouds. I preferred to use an image that tells
the rest of the story. 
Anyway, here in the ecclesiastical province of Boston (that's an actual technical term), I'm enjoying not having the Easter season out of sync with itself.

What is impressing me the most this year about the Ascension of Our Lord is that from now on, the heavens are open to us. This probably couldn't be more important for us as we witness pivotal changes in Western civilization. People will follow whichever culture has formed their imagination. The words of T.S. Eliot (in "The Family Reunion") come to mind: "I feel happy for a moment, as if I had come home. It is quite irrational, but now I feel quite happy, as if happiness did not consist in getting what one wanted or in getting rid of what can't be got rid of but in a different vision. This is like an end."

The feast of the Ascension tells us that humanity is enthroned before the majesty of God (as in this detail of a fresco by Raphael). A victory has been won, and we can be part of it if we choose. The outcome is assured. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away."

From now on, we have a way of seeing things from the vantage point of how things work out. This is all over Paul: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" "Set your heart on things above, where Christ is... Your life is hidden now with Christ in God." Even the Lord's parting words in the Gospel of Matthew ("Go into the whole world...I am with you to the end of the age") are really saying, "You are with me, where I am."

Without the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, we cannot "live in a manner worthy of your calling"; thankfully, with the Pentecost novena beginning today, we are reminded of that, too!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Book Review: Tweeting with God

So I received a review copy of a book I had heard about, appropriately enough, on Twitter. From the tweets, I thought it was a book about social media. WRONG! It's a kind of coffee table catechism. Here's what I found:

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Guest Post: The "Tudor Scribe" writes about a lost world

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the TV series "Wolf Hall" and its inaccurate presentation of St Thomas More, recommending a series of novels set in the same time frame that offer a very different (and more true to life) perspective. Today NunBlog is honored to welcome author Nancy Bilyeau, Twitter's @TudorScribe, as a guest blogger:

When, ten years ago, I began to work on a series of novels set in Tudor England, I decided to create a Dominican novice as the protagonist. I wanted to write something different than the usual stories of kings and queens, princesses and ladies of the court. I was excited about writing a suspense story with a woman at the center of it all, and I thought that a nun living through the Dissolution of the Monasteries would be very dramatic.

I knew quite a bit about 16th century history but not a great deal about the ordinary nuns, or monks or friars or priests, who lived through the trauma of Henry VIII’s reign, when he broke with Rome. I soon discovered that there isn’t a great deal of information readily available. “History is written by the winners,” goes the saying, whether you attribute it to Winston Churchill or Niccolò Machiavelli.

But I didn’t give up. I found books, and contemporary documents, that helped me learn about the lost sisters of Dartford Priory, the sole Dominican house for women in England that I chose to set The Crown in.  I traveled to England to learn more. All that remains of the priory now are pieces of stone wall along a busy road. The handsome brick gatehouse that was raised on the rubble of the priory is today a popular setting for wedding receptions—which I find ironic. I did receive valuable assistance from the two men who run a small museum in Dartford, sharing the town’s rich religious history.

At the end of The Crown, the priory is demolished, despite everything my main character, Joanna Stafford, does to prevent it. In the second book, The Chalice, Joanna is drawn into a shadowy conspiracy against Henry VIII and must choose between fighting for her way of life and holding true to her values. In the third book, The Tapestry, published this spring, Joanna, who has a talent for tapestry weaving, reluctantly answers a summons to Whitehall from a tapestry-obsessed king, and is soon fighting for her life.

Thomas More's daughter Meg would have
been not that much older than the fictional
Joanna Stafford.
While my main character and some of the supporting characters are fictional, I worked hard to place them in a detailed world based on diligent research. The Historical Novel Society review said about The Tapestry, “Joanna is a force of nature. Smart, persevering, yet true to herself and her beliefs, she gets better in each incarnation. Up to her ears in court intrigues, religious persecutions, beheadings galore and Henry’s erratic and volatile nature, Joanna shines – remaining ever vigilant. Bilyeau’s rendering of the court and its diverse personalities, the palpable tension between Protestant and Catholic, and the very smells and sounds of the streets are intensely evoked. A lot of fun, and highly recommended.” My first novel, The Crown, made it on to the short list of the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, and The Chalice won the award for Best Historical Mystery from the RT Reviewers. These acknowledgements are very encouraging.
 This is why the TV series Wolf Hall on Masterpiece Theatre, based on the Hilary Mantel books, although it is well written and stars some fine actors, has me shaking my head. The protagonist of the series is Thomas Cromwell, who was the mastermind of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and many of the other religious upheavals of that era. His treatment of those who resisted the reformation was famously brutal. Yet in this series, Cromwell is humane and empathetic, a family man –literally cuddling kitten-- who is disgusted by torture. This would come as news to the group of Carthusian martyrs who died, horribly, after being starved and tormented on Cromwell’s watch. They refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy that meant acknowledging Henry VIII was the spiritual head of the kingdom.

The real Ambassador Chapuys (above)
also figures in Bilyeau's trilogy.
Instead, Wolf Hall creates an alternative reality. In Episode Five, Eustace Chapuys, ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor, says disapprovingly to Cromwell, “I heard you’re going to put all the monks and nuns out on the road.” This prompts a self-righteous response from Cromwell of “Wherever my commissioners go, they meet nuns and monks begging for their liberty and after the scandals I’ve heard, I’m not surprised.” 

But this is not what I learned in my research into the monastic world of the early 16th century. After the nuns were ejected from their homes with small pensions, they often banded together to live in community, trying to stay true to their vows. When Mary I ascended the throne, they joyfully returned to their priories, only to be thrown out a last time when she died and her half sister Elizabeth I succeeded. There were instances of fraud and corruption in the abbeys, but nowhere near the level that Wolf Hall assumes. A growing number of historians believe that the “corruption” found in Cromwell’s investigation was a foregone conclusion—and a pretext for the legal seizure of the vast amount of land owned by the abbeys. After all, most were endowed by pious kings going back centuries.

Wolf Hall is not alone. The C.J. Sansom Tudor mystery series also takes the position of Catholic decay and corruption, with a main character who is a Protestant lawyer (who initially works for Cromwell). When I attended the play Anne Boleyn at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2011, I felt uncomfortable when all around me, the audience laughed at a joke about debauched monks or nodded approvingly when a heroic Tyndale entered the story, to be opposed by dimwitted enemies.  

There are historians such as Eamon Duffy who’ve written brilliant books challenging the accepted wisdom that Protestantism replaced a dying and corrupt system, and thanks to them, perceptions are changing.  In the English media, there was a storm of protest—small but loud—over the distortions in the story of Sir Thomas More in Wolf Hall.

My hope is that my series of books will find readers who are open and willing to see this tumultuous time in English history with new eyes. And that the stories of the brave women and men who were indeed “put out on the road” in the 1530s will at last be heard.

To learn more, go to


Sister Anne here: I found Nancy's historical novels quite hard to put down. If you enjoy historical fiction (and romance so clean and normal a nun can read it without blushing), look them up!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Violence, Vengeance and Virtue

In his document announcing the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the "Works of Mercy," traditionally listed in two categories: the "Corporal Works of Mercy" (like feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned and so on--read Matthew 25) and the "Spiritual Works of Mercy" which include "instructing the ignorant" and the less popular "bear wrongs patiently."

That's what came to mind this morning in the light of yesterday's news from Baltimore. People have been wronged and some, seeing no resolution in sight, went on a rampage of destruction. Clearly, they've had enough of "bearing wrongs patiently." what does that really mean: to "bear wrongs patiently"? Is it a spiritual work of mercy to offer oneself as a doormat? Or does it simply mean to refrain from outwardly violent expressions of grievance? Aren't there sophisticated forms of destruction of property that make use of legal forms to achieve the same ends: presenting oneself as a victim of injustice by way of a lawsuit against another party that must pay the price even if it leads to their financial ruin? Is that really any less violent than what we saw in Baltimore last night?

What if "bearing wrongs patiently" is nothing other than the flip side of " 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Dt 32:35)? "Do not avenge yourselves; leave that to God's wrath," Paul advised (Rom 12:19). Is Paul saying "Let God hurl those thunderbolts for you"? Or rather, "allow things to play out to their naturally destructive conclusion; your adversaries will not be victorious in the end."

That takes faith! It also takes a long time. But that was the advice of the wise Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 5:34) when the Apostles were brought to trial for teaching the inflammatory message of the Risen Jesus: "Let them alone. If this cause is merely human in origin, it will destroy itself." God's "wrath" as God's non-intervention is decidedly harder to accept than God's thunderbolts.

"Bearing wrongs patiently" is the work of mercy proper to the meek, who, Jesus (quoting Psalm 37) assures us, "will inherit the earth"--an earth that will not be ravaged by retaliatory violence. It is also fundamentally connected to two of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: fortitude and fear of the Lord, neither of which come naturally to people who are accustomed to taking justice into their own capable hands.

I see the a deep connection between the outward violence in Baltimore and the subtle violence of so many litigations related to the cause that is today being argued before the Supreme Court. No matter how the Court decides, people will need the ability to bear wrongs patiently; they will need fortitude; they will need fear of the Lord. They will need the Spirit's gift of wisdom.

We are just four weeks away from Pentecost. Will you join me in praying a daily "Come Holy Spirit" for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to "fill the hearts of the faithful with the fire of divine love"? Here's a familiar enough version of the "Sequence" we will pray at Mass on Pentecost:

Holy Spirit, Lord of Light,
From the clear celestial height.
Thy pure beaming radiance give. 
Come, thou Father of the poor,
Come, with treasures which endure;
Come, thou Light of all that live! 
Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul's delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow. 
Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe. 
Light immortal, Light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill. 
If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill. 
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away. 
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray. 
Thou, on us who evermore
Thee confess and thee adore,
With thy sevenfold gifts descend. 
Give us comfort when we die;
Give us life with thee on high;
Give us joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Read All About It (in Today's @BostonGlobe)

For the benefit of NunBlog readers who are not on Twitter where I have posted copious links, today's Boston Globe features an article about my community and its mission. Remarkably (and providentially), the story was published on the anniversary of our Founder's beatification (12 years ago--and I was there!).
Sister Mary Frances watches as a truck backs
up to the shipping department's loading dock.
The story originated in Globe reporter Cristela Guerra's clever way of looking through online fundraisers for interesting leads. Remember our "audiobooks" campaign? She found it and thought, "I bet there's an interesting story behind that." The rest is history. (Except that now we are doing a different fundraiser: the sound studio needs a new shrink-wrap machine. Hopefully the Globe article will inspire someone to find that campaign!)

Cristela came to the motherhouse to see what we have going on here and to meet with the sisters, especially the sister-authors whose books were lined up to be transformed into audiobooks (thanks to that very successful fundraiser). She also called Boston native Sister Helena Burns up in Toronto--and it is Sr Helena who has the first and last words in the article, which also mentions our newly released documentary about the Founder, which Sr Helena wrote and produced.

The online article has my picture, standing here
at my desk (a bookstore display unit that I have repurposed), where the scarf we each received at the beatification is stretched across the top to hide all the drives and storage on the shelves below.

Sister Mary Paula, 88, was thrilled when the Globe photographer stationed herself in the aisle in chapel to get just the right angle of Sister praying. I was so glad for her sake that one of those pictures made the final cut in the print edition!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A book for the long journey home

One of the most beautiful aspects of community life is the way it becomes another family that includes one's family of origin. A sister's mom was here over the past three weeks, baking every sort of yummy deliciousness that any granny would provide for her children--although on a rather large scale, there being 70+ eager hands reaching for the brownies. When there is a family crisis, we're on it for prayers. Everybody in community followed my sister's 30-year search for a husband and rejoiced when Mr Right appeared in New Orleans. And when a loved one is dying, it matters to all of us.

It used to be a standard spiritual practice:
the prayer for a "happy death." Even better
when your son the priest is helping you pray.
And so today at lunch, a sister who was absent for several months while her mother was on hospice care shared some stories. In once sense, some of what Sister Regina said was anxiety-producing: Her mom lived close enough to the Oregon border that the availability and proximity of assisted suicide has already had an influence on people's attitudes. One nurse, hearing that Sister's mom was on hospice, spoke gushingly of the doctor upstairs who was all into "death with dignity," completely clueless that this might be not only offensive but even frightening to someone caring for a dying parent. Sister had to emphasize what wonderful and respectful care her mother (and all of the family) was receiving; how empowered she was every step of the way to make decisions about her care; how well-informed she and her children (especially the son with medical power of attorney) was kept. Sister also learned of some of the challenges (one might even say threats) the hospice model is facing from changes in the health care landscape.

But she also had some wonderful things to share. My favorite was when one of her sisters vanished for the better part of an afternoon. Her brothers and sisters started to get worried when they realized that none of them (and this is a very large family) had caught a glimpse of her for quite some time.

Suddenly she appeared. With a book.

"You have all got to read this!" she said emphatically.  "Everything we need to know is right here!" She was holding a Pauline classic, Midwife for Souls, by hospice nurse Kathy Kalina. Originally written and published twenty years ago to give hospice nurses extra formation in the spiritual dimensions of accompanying the dying, it has become a kind of vademecum also for families (especially Catholic families) as they walk a loved one toward the Gates of Paradise. Even a family that includes a priest and two nuns among the siblings needs extra help and guidance at a time like that. "That book affirmed everything we had already been doing," Sister Regina told us, "and it let us know the kind of things we would be experiencing--and in the end, did experience." One by one, the siblings poured over the book.

"There were things that happened that the book prepared us for. If we had not read it, we might have responded differently, but the book showed us that, 'See, this really does happen to people'." Pretty soon just about anyone who came within Sister Regina's orbit was holding their own copy. The hospice nurses (of course). The doctor. The family friend. The random person who got swept into the family galaxy's gravitational field. Word is beginning to spread around the whole town: there is a book that tells you everything you need to know about walking with someone on the last steps of the journey of life.

Quiet, peaceful deaths at home don't make it to the front pages of our newspapers (unless the deceased is someone of the stature of Chicago's Cardinal George). Sadly, deaths by assisted suicide (and the hard cases that are used to plead for tolerance of euthanasia) do get the headlines. That can make it seem as though there aren't the necessary tools for helping a person, much less a family, through the process of a natural death. A lethal cocktail just might look like an attractive option. That's why a book like Midwife is so important. As a Pauline sister, I was moved and encouraged that a book we first published years ago is not only relevant and effective, but essential (perhaps more now than ever).

How can we help get the word out to families that are right now struggling with a terminal diagnosis and do not know where to turn for day to day guidance?

Read a chapter:

Reviews of Midwife for Souls:
The Vocation of the Hospice Nurse: "A Midwife for Souls" in Humanum.
Midwife for Souls by Trish Borgdorff (former Hospice social worker)

Today's news and today's first reading

After I updated yesterday's brief post to include the information from Ethiopia relative to the tragedies in the Mediterranean, today's first reading from Mass seems almost prophetic. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke write about how the persecution of the Christians in one part of the world led to the spread of the Gospel to other parts. Today we hear about an Ethiopian official, a eunuch (who, for that reason could never be accepted as a convert to Judaism) who, as he was returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy City, was reading aloud (the norm in ancient times) from the prophet Isaiah.
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,so he opened not his mouth.In his humiliation justice was denied him.Who will tell of his posterity?For his life is taken from the earth.
The recent execution videos from the Middle East are in their own way a fulfillment of that prophecy.  But the Gospel tells us the rest of the story: "I will raise him on the last day.... Whoever believes has eternal life." 

Eternal life, in John's Gospel, is not just "interminable life" or "life with infinite duration," but a kind of "unlimited life," "life without boundaries." It is a participation in God's own life, something that cannot be seized or taken by force. The Easter season is all about this life. For 50 days we are being brought, step by step, in a contemplation of the life that Jesus intends for us to live "to the full." Pentecost is not the end of the Easter season, but the day that the fulness of that life becomes accessible to us. 

May it be so!!!

Saying Good-Bye (for now) to Cardinal George

I saw the news on Twitter, surely a sign of the times. The first archbishop-Emeritus in the history of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, had died, just months after seeing his successor take possession of the See. Now, as the images appear of the faithful waiting in lines that stretch down Chicago Avenue to pay their respects, I wish I could be back in Chicago for a day to offer mine there at the Cathedral.

I have many great memories of Cardinal George from my 13 years in the Windy City. He was as available as a Cardinal could be (when we invited him to Evening Prayer and supper with us, we had to schedule it six months in advance!), but despite being so busy, with back to back meetings, appointments, visits (and the occasional trip to Rome), he paid attention to the little things.

I had seen the Cardinal and shaken his hand at a few church-y events when, one evening, I ran into him in the lobby of the Union League Club after yet another church-y event. I re-introduced myself as "Sister Anne Flanagan of the Daughters of St Paul." "Yes," the Cardinal said, "I recognized you."

The same thing happened years down the road when I was appointed to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, a post that involved monthly day-long meetings (yuck!) with the Cardinal (wow!). At my first meeting, the Cardinal came over to welcome me to the Council. He asked a few questions about our Michigan Avenue bookstore's prospects (challenging!) and told me his hopes for retirement: "What I'd like to do when I retire is go down to the bookstore a couple of times a week and just sit there and be available for people's questions." "We're going to hold you to that, Your Eminence," I told him with a serious nod. When I brought a tiny video camera to one meeting, hoping to get a little input for NunBlog readers, the Cardinal stayed a few minutes extra for my sake. (Too bad the batteries didn't last longer than a few seconds.)

Signing those books for us.
I used to bring reams of paper to those APC meetings so that I could jot down the Cardinal's observations and his answers to Council member's questions, even though we were not free to make these public. Many of his comments later appeared in his article for the Catholic New World; for example, the observation that if the Church is supposed to catch up with the world, that means that something other than the Gospel is setting the criteria. He spoke of political matters affecting the life and freedom of the Church, presenting the issues in the light of American history and his own experiences (for example, of ministering in an area where the KKK is still a force to be reckoned with); he gave his own reactions to things in the news; he told us what it was like standing on the balcony of St Peter's after the conclaves of 2005 and 2013; he told us, in all frankness, that he prayed daily for a good death (a concept which some members of the Council had never encountered).

Right after the Cardinal's book "The Difference God Makes" was published, we were asked to make it available at an Archdiocesan event. The Cardinal arranged to come to our booth at a certain time to autograph copies for those who had purchased it. As the last eager buyer turned away, the Cardinal offered to sign some extra copies for the bookstore. Little did he know. The superior had already called. She wanted him to sign thirty copies. Francis Cardinal George looked at me under deeply, ironically arched eyebrows. "You're going to pay for this!" All I could do was plead holy obedience...

Gratifyingly, he even appreciated my cooking. (For that Evening Prayer and supper arrangement, we had asked his personal assistant if he had any dietary restrictions, and she said no, but he gets served chicken all the time; would it be possible to prepare something different?) The Cardinal had three helpings of my tangerine-rosemary salmon.

There were people who avoided Cardinal George, who felt he grated them the wrong way, who didn't appreciate that, as pastoral as his heart was, he was always a professor (with two PhD's how could he even help it?). Their loss, I'm afraid. I always left the Cardinal feeling challenged to think more broadly and more deeply, and to bring my perspective more and more in line with the Gospel.

You were a good pastor to me, Cardinal George. May you rest in the peace of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Immigrant or martyr: for some people those are real alternatives.

The deadliest migration route in the world. And yet people are desperate enough to risk their lives (and their families') to cross it.

A news item from Fides, a Catholic news agency that specializes in updates from mission territories, sheds more light on the phenomenon, and connects it with the latest series of beheadings of people whom ISIS identifies as members of  the "hostile Ethiopian Church". 
"According to government sources and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, most probably the victims [of beheading by ISIS] are poor Ethiopian immigrants belonging to the multitudes of men and women trying to reach Europe through Libya and then embark on the boats managed by the criminal network of smugglers."
The horrific loss of life at sea is forcing Europe to take action, not only to rescue the next threatened boatload of travelers, but to address some of the reasons these people are taking their lives in their hands. As the month of May peeks around the corner, would it be too much to ask to pray a daily Rosary, or at least a decade of the Rosary, for Our Lady's guidance?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Roll 'em! This is the day for Media Apostle: the Father James Alberione Story!

Yes, at long last you can watch the movie you have heard about, maybe even donated to: Media Apostle, the Father James Alberione Story. You can order the DVD if that works better for you (and it is nice to have a DVD to loan to your parish priest or adult faith coordinator), or just watch it here on NunBlog or on the Vimeo page.

Certainly you will want to watch the trailer, which is a fine piece of work on its own.

I am giving you the 90-minute version here, but you can click here for the 50-minute version. I recommend the 90-minute (and not only because I am in it!): I found that even the first five minutes of the full version are quite rich in communicating Alberione's spirit.

After you have enjoyed the film, PLEASE do us the favor of sharing the link far and wide, not just on your usual social media channels, but with Catholic media organizations and media professionals. They need to know of Blessed Alberione's promise that from heaven he would be especially attentive to those who use media for the good.

And visit the Media Apostle website to order the DVD, download the discussion guide, view the film clips and photos, and find media literacy links for parents, social media graphics with quotes by Blessed James, and more! 

- - - - - -

Technical details: This is streaming video. If you buy it, you can access the film anytime, anywhere, on any Internet-connected device (using the email address and password you assign at the time of purchase).  Or "rent" it for 72 hours and within that period of time view it as often as you like from any of your Internet-connected devices.