Friday, January 06, 2017

Book Review: Love, Henri

On this day when the Universal Church commemorates the Epiphany of the Lord (we in the US celebrate it on Sunday), it is fitting to highlight a really good book for spiritual seekers.
I haven't even finished the book yet, but it is so good I am doing a public service and writing a review of it anyway. Heck, this is a book so good that I recommended it to the Pauline book guru, Sister Julia Mary who this morning told me, “You know that Nouwen book? Well, I'm only on page 10 and it already has a bookmark on every page.” And then she went on to share a passage that had really impressed her (and me: it was the first page I bookmarked, too).

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1101906359/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=bescatboo-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1101906359&linkId=af3418ab21b5828aa2a39a57431a4689Love, Henri is a collection of letters from Henri J. M. Nouwen, a Dutch priest and author who won the world's accolades (as well as teaching posts at Yale and Harvard), but found his deepest fulfillment in living community life with the disabled. Along the way he published book after book of his (often deeply personal) spiritual reflections. His experiences and insights resonated with many. His correspondence was not limited to personal friends or collaborators or ministry professionals, but included generous and thoughtful letters to readers, many of whom entrusted him with their struggles (and some of them, it becomes clear, with sharp criticism).

The book is filled with warmth, with spiritual treasures—and with the name of Jesus, Jesus loved and doggedly sought. In one letter alone, the name of Jesus appears in every paragraph (6) in addition to references to “He/Him” and “the Lord.”

Jesus was his hope. In a time of deep interior pain, he wrote, “I am quite, quite aware that this pain is given to me to purify my heart, to deepen my love for Jesus and to give Him every inch of my being.”

Jesus was his message. “The desire to proclaim Jesus,” he wrote to someone who had asked about the value of evangelization, “belongs to the essence of knowing Him and loving Him.” To a friend about to begin theological studies: “The church, the world need you to speak about Jesus, loudly, clearly, intelligently and with great zeal. Whether you become a priest or... marry...you are clearly called to proclaim the love of Jesus.” To another professional contact: “Ministry is to point again and again to the Lord.” To the superior of a Benedictine community he wrote, “Speak often about the life of Jesus. That is where the spiritual life starts.”

Nouwen's letters are, to me, striking for their honesty and for a freedom that was unclouded by the need to conform to the expectations or values of an elite (despite being immersed in the class-conscious Ivy League environment). Seeking to follow Jesus, he spent long periods of service in Latin America (later realizing that he was not cut out for the particular kind of intensity that involved), but eventually found his way to L'Arche at the invitation of the founder, Jean Vanier. This was a discovery. “Precisely because they are so dependent on others, [profoundly disabled people] call us to live together, sharing our gifts. ...people from the most different cultures … have started to live in community”; “the call of the handicapped to form communities of love is truly a blessing from Heaven.”

I have read several of Nouwen's books, and enjoyed them. I found particular inspiration in his Road to Daybreak and In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. But these letters contain so much more. They remind me of something I experienced when meeting Pope John Paul in 1985: As the Pope greeted us one by one, gazing in each one's eyes as if entirely at our disposition. I felt flustered and a little embarrassed by the complete availability of such a great man. Nouwen, too, made himself completely available in these letters with their assurances of concern, awareness, of continued prayer for the recipient in whatever the situation at hand.

I might risk comparing the Nouwen of this book with several other important Catholic spiritual writers. Thomas Merton comes to mind first. Nouwen explicitly rejects this comparison in one of his letters, saying that Merton is too towering a figure for him to even consider himself in the same category. He was wrong. Merton had a very different temperament and vastly different life experience, but the two priests have something much deeper in common: a profound and explicit desire for communion with God and the ability to be honest with themselves and before God. I also hear echos of the letters of St Ignatius Loyola, another man who shared his spiritual journey deeply with any who might profit from it, and who carefully and thoughtfully responded to those who wrote to him with their spiritual struggles. Finally, the gentleness and practicality of Nouwen's counsels reminds me of the beautiful soul of Jean-Pierre de Caussade.

Love, Henri is a beautiful and worthwhile read.



Disclosure of Material Connection: 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. In addition, I received a review copy of the book mentioned above for free in the hope that I would publish a review of it. 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.”

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Community Night

New Year's Eve is a special night for Paulines, since it was during adoration at the dawn of the 20th century that our Founder received that special "light" that would mark not only his life, but that of the Church (and of yours truly!). This year we made our retreat all day Saturday and ended it with our community Holy Hour in the evening. We were joined by the women attending our Pauline Discipleship Week, an intensive discernment experience. (Please pray for them as they move toward the conclusion of this very enriching week.)

On the following night we (and the visitors) shared a community recreation that was especially well-planned by our "entertainment committee." The sisters had the inspiration to challenge us to coming up with 90-second skits on the theme "#MediaNuns: the Musical." I am proud to say that I was the first "act" booked for a slot (even if I was third in the lineup). The contributions were so spot-on I had to share them with you.

Sr Domenica was our conductor!
In addition to the mini-musicals, other songs of the season were sung: Sisters from our seniors community led us in a beloved Italian carol written by none other than St Alphonsus Liguori, Tu Scendi dalle Stelle ("You come down from the stars, O King of Heaven..."). When Sister Emily Beata (from Buffalo) and one of the discerners (also from Buffalo) announced that they were going to share a Polish carol, my ears perked up. It has been four years (or more) since I sang Dzisiaj W Betlejem with the choir at Our Lady of Mt Carmel--and it was just this carol that they had chosen! Naturally I jumped up to sing with them, despite my rusty Polish pronunciation! (My music in Chicago had my own carefully written pronunciation guides written below each word: Dzisiaj W Betlejem = Gee Shy Bet-lay-em.)

Now for the "originals" submitted to #MediaNuns: the Musical

Daughters We have Heard Online, presented by the Brazilian outreach team to the melody of Angels We have Heard on High (the audience was asked to provide the "Glo-r-i-a in Excelsis De-e-o.")

Daughters we have heard online
Sweetly sing in cyberspace,
and God's people in reply
Asking: Let us see His Face! (Gloria...)

People, why this jubilee?
Why this joy for all to see?
Word made flesh to set us free
Media showing how to be Gloria...

Daughters, give His holy Word
Making sure that all have heard,
Books and CDs, cyberspace
Bringing all to see His Face (Gloria...)

Human river flows along*
to eternal destiny
Our life, our total song
Jesus to the world to bring (Gloria...)

*This line is a reference to a powerful question our Founder raised in a sermon: "Mankind is like a river, flowing into eternity. But where is humanity going?"


My own contribution built on the holiday melody "Up on the Housetop."

Up at the crack of dawn we rise,
Eyes already on the prize.
Down to the chapel, quick, quick, quick--
A cup of coffee should do the trick.

First things first,
Hear the Word,
Then proclaim what we have heard
Through all the media every day,
Jesus the Master,
Truth, Life, Way!


And finally the classic "Twelve Days of Christmas" in which twelve sisters of very good will each represented a day:

On the first day of Christmas, the good Lord sent to me: Life as an FSP!
Then:
Two authors writing
Three concerts praising
Four important meetings
FIVE TWEETS OF JOY!
Six new book covers
Seven books a-printing
Eight parish book fairs
Nine packages shipping
Ten readers leaping
Eleven e-mails waiting
All the sisters praying

   

Monday, January 02, 2017

BFF: The Saints' Edition

Today is the Feast of Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church--and best friends. The witness of their friendship (as narrated in the first person by St Gregory) struck me profoundly as we read it this morning in chapel. They seem to have enjoyed a rare kind of friendship, one that human hearts yearn for in this "valley of tears."

Read Gregory's memorial to Basil (below) and see if you don't agree with me that Basil and Gregory deserve to be named the patron saints of friendship!

- - - - - 


Basil (left) and Gregory (right) with St John Chrystostom.
Icon found in Lipie, Historic Museum in SanokPoland.
Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.

I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.

What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honor than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.

Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.

The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.

We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.

Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.

Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.





Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Power and the Glory of "Silence" (revised)


On January 5, Martin Scorsese's film Silence opens in theaters across the country. (It had a limited release before Christmas so as to qualify for the awards season.) The film had been Scorsese's dream project for almost thirty years, ever since he read the novel by Shusaku Endo (“the Japanese Graham Greene”). 

I read the book around the same time as Scorsese, and while it did not grip me with the desire to make the definitive motion picture version, it did leave an indelible impression on me. When a line in a book stops you, stays with you and continues to prod, provoke and pursue you for twenty years, you know that you are dealing with something more than a “novel.” Come to think of it, Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory did the same thing to me (as it did to Bl. Paul VI, who remarked to the author that it was his favorite novel—despite its being on the Vatican's Index of Prohibited Books!).

I am not going to see the film, even though I suspect it will be Scorsese's masterpiece. I watched the trailer (you can see it at the bottom of this post), and that is quite enough for someone who gets sensory overload after an hour in a museum. And, like I said, I read the book and it has stayed with me. But I have also read reviews/commentaries by persons who have neither seen the film nor read the book, and are tied up in knots about it. This has led me to reflect a great deal. Today's anxious Catholic writers resemble the Japanese Catholics who rejected Endo's book when it was first released, and probably also the persons who had The Power and the Glory put on the Index. And I totally understand them, because I was also scandalized by Silence.

Endo's story of an apostate missionary and of the fervent young priests who set out to “seek and save what was lost” is not the story we typically tell about persecuted Christians. I myself wanted Endo's protagonist to be the Edmund Campion of Asia, triumphant in that gloriously paradoxical way we love about martyrs. Instead, like Graham Greene's whisky priest in The Power and the Glory, we get what looks for all the world like failure, but may nevertheless be a flawed faithfulness.

A critical point in Silence is the devil's choice presented to the surviving young missionary, when he is challenged to trample upon an image of Christ in return for the release of Christian villagers undergoing horrific tortures. Would it be an act of apostasy? Materially, yes. And yet from the pervading silence comes a voice that insists, “It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.” (Honestly, isn't that line alone enough for your meditation throughout the Christmas season?)

I remember how my heart sank when I first read this passage. I was disappointed with the outcome, because I had completely missed the point. Endo's protagonist had the human qualities to withstand what he was being put through, but his perseverance still “fell short of the glory of God” (cf. Rom 3:23) who chooses the weak, the “things that are not” (cf 1 Cor 1:27). Even if the young priest continued in ministry, in his own eyes both ruined and obedient, he would be unable to boast or take pride in an unbroken public confession of faith, knowing the ambiguity of publicly committing iconoclasm while convinced interiorly that God had inexplicably willed it. He would be in profound communion with his fallen parishioners. Would that it were so.

In Roman times, there were thousands, perhaps even a million martyrs whose stories we still read, whose anniversaries we still commemorate. But there were also many, probably more Christian holders of “libelli,” documents certifying that the bearer had offered due sacrifice to the gods—had, in other words, made a public act of apostasy or idolatry. (It should also be noted that the libellatici included priests.) In fact, there were so many of these libellatici that the Church actually made a step forward in sacramental theology, thanks to the controversies about what to do with them when they repented (ex opere operato, anyone?).

It didn't matter to the persecutors (then or now) whether the act was sincere or not: the outward conformity alone was sufficient. The Romans didn't care if you believed in Jupiter, as long as you brought incense to his altar. Bishop Barron writes, "the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion." Moreover, the story is incredibly relevant today. On Christmas Day I read a New York Times story about two women in Qaraqosh, Iraq forced by the Islamic State to spit on a cross and trample on an image of the Blessed Virgin. “ 'Sorry, Mary, that I did that,' [one] recalled thinking. 'Please forgive me'."

Most of us still do not know what martyrdom really is, or what it is like. We can only imagine it, and perhaps we imagine from within our own limited and comfortable perspective right now. We do not know what it would be like to be filled with terror at the prospect, or so filled with the Holy Spirit that, like the Japanese Jesuit martyr Paul Miki, we would continue to preach, exhort and encourage from the wood of an actual cross.

We can—and should—aspire to the heroic victory of a Paul Miki, of a Felicity or Agnes, an Edmund Campion or a Jean de Brebeuf, but history (if not hagiography) is full of also-rans, and Greene, Endo (and Flannery O'Connor, too) use their art to bring us face-to-face with them. It makes me squirm because it is too much like a mirror, pointing to the very real possibilities in my own life for failure, apostasy or just plain mediocrity. Endo (and Scorsese with him) will not allow me to bask in imaginary glory.

Another term for the “silence” of the title could be Dark Night of the Soul. In that darkness of God's seeming absence, we learn to distrust our own ways of thinking, seeing, interpreting in order to be open to God's mysterious, often painfully inscrutable ways, to surrender to a wisdom that makes no sense to us.

I am praying that Scorsese's Silence will be an invitation to faith for those to whom God is absent, silent; for the Simone Weils of the world who feel that they are on the doorstep of the Church, unable to enter until everyone else has at least read the world “Welcome” on the mat. Who knows? Maybe Silence will itself be that Welcome mat.





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Bishop Barron, a big Scorsese fan, writes about Silence: http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/scorseses-silence-and-the-seaside-martyrs/5360/

Dale M. Coulter (in First Things) offers a very beautiful and nuanced reflection on the book and history the movie is based on: https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2017/01/shsaku-ends-silence-and-faithfulness (added to this list on January 3, 2017).

Paul Elie in the New York Times on Scorsese's dream of producing Silence: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/magazine/the-passion-of-martin-scorsese.html


Friday, December 23, 2016

I had great plans for Christmas...

...I was going to share an image and reflection for each day of the Christmas season, while also keeping up with extra needs here in community AND making pecan pies for the Christmas feast AND organizing our community "schola" to sing a little something extra for the liturgy.

Well, the liturgy and the pies (!) are priority.
So are the needs of the community (to wit: somebody has to prepare lunch for 80 on Saturday!).

Since that is about all I can commit to, I leave you on this penultimate day of Advent with a promise of prayers and a lovely Nativity scene (from our incredibly artistic Sister Mary Lou Winters in the UK).

God bless you and yours! Merry Christmas!

There's a soundtrack to this image!


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Convent Confessions

Image by Dwayne (twostoutmonks) on Flickr.
I'm feeling all shriven and ready to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord. In fact, we had two opportunities yesterday for the Sacrament of Penance, and I was happy to avail myself even if it involved a bit of a wait. I positioned myself at the end of the line, since I was waiting for the confessor who really comes for our senior sisters, so I made sure that none of my elders would have to wait.

Confession can be intimidating for me, even after 40 years in the convent--despite Bishop Sheen's famous remark that hearing the confessions of nuns is like "being pelted with marshmallows." (Memo to Bishop Sheen: You don't have to live with those marshmallows 24/7.) I was once refused absolution by a priest who said that what I confessed weren't sins. It took a long time for me to get the courage to enter the confessional again, and I certainly avoided his. (If he had lived with me, I think he would have rethought his words.)

Still, my confessions these days usually focus less on "what I have done" and more on "what I have failed to do."  (So much easier to create a laundry list of sinful deeds and words!) And yet today's confession really was (mostly) about those elusive sins of omission. I am beginning to suspect that if regrets are possible in Heaven, what I might regret most is not loving, praising and thanking God enough during the relatively short span of my life on earth. (Prayers of praise are definitely going to factor into my New Year's Resolutions this year!)

As I prepared for the sacrament, I also reflected on the situation of some of our elderly sisters, particularly those with profound dementia. How can they confess anything, when they do not even remember if they went to Mass that morning (or if they ate)? And yet they do line up, week after week, outside the designated room on the Infirmary floor. It occurred to me this morning that the Sacrament of Penance is such that even those sisters can receive it fervently and fruitfully. They may not remember any particulars, but living so much in the present moment they only have to respond to the priest's invitation to bring "all the sins of your past life" to the Lord, and "make a good act of contrition". I would bet that the most profound acts of contrition in the house come from those sisters, who have nothing left to give but their hearts.

And that's gift enough for the Lord on the feast of his Nativity.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Suffering and the Grace of Community

Sometimes God has to take you by surprise.

At Mass this morning, he had to use some heavy ammo to get me out of a vortex of negative thinking about a situation I have to navigate. There I was at the "Lamb of God," analyzing the possible reactions of a difficult person--an exercise in futility if there ever was one--when I glimpsed a huge, feathery centipede right in front of me on the pew one row up. Jolted out of my negative reverie, I looked around for a weapon and SLAM! smashed the ugly creature with a hymnal before it could reach Sister Mary Martha. It was a double rescue: Sister Martha from the centipede and me from overthinking something that is better entrusted to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

Why was I so fixated on the problem? Because it causes me suffering, and promises to cause even more. Surely if I can land on the right strategy, I can avoid all that.

Silly me.

I've been thinking a lot about suffering lately. Not so much my suffering (I've got it pretty good right now, humanly speaking, except for that ugly matter that had so captivated me at Mass), but I have been witnessing a variety of sufferings--and there's no avoiding the pain of those who have been suffering atrocities in zones of conflict or sporadic terrorist activity. In community last week, three sisters were patients in medical facilities. (Thankfully, one is back home now.) We also have several sisters in our infirmary wing who need fairly constant assistance. In my family, we have been accompanying my dear godmother, who broke her hip just under two months ago. Sharp minded and fiercely independent (at 95!), she is enduring a loss of autonomy she was simply not prepared for. Her own home is not really "hers" anymore, with the succession of caring nieces, nephews and sitters who come and go throughout the day. Facebook, too, offers plenty of opportunities to accompany people in a time of suffering.

So during this Advent season I've been thinking about and praying over suffering. It is helping me, actually, to better appreciate community life. (There is no avoiding suffering when you live in community!) Yes, being in a community can be a consolation in suffering: you can be confident of
being thought of, looked after, prayed for. You can even count on being remembered after your death. (Each evening after prayers, we read the names of the departed whose anniversary is the next day, and we pray an Eternal Rest for them.)

But sometimes living in community makes you suffer. St John Berchmans, a young Jesuit scholastic who died at 22, rather famously remarked that community life was his biggest penance. As a novice, I thought that was a rather glum assessment, but forty years later I am more appreciative of what Berchmans meant. Appreciative not only in the sense of recognizing how right he was, but also in the sense of being gratefully aware of what a grace this trial-dimension of community life is. Suffering in community equips us for bearing unexpected burdens. Adapting to the preferences or habits or characters of sisters from very different backgrounds is a doctoral-level school of flexibility and of the capacity to deal with situations that do not go as hoped for. Witnessing the sufferings of our sisters (on so many levels, not the least psychological) encourages me to learn (or at least to will) to "offer it up" when my turn comes to bear with something painful or burdensome or just plain annoying.

It's not the lesson I expected Advent to bring, but it surely is consistent with the story that is now unfolding in the readings at Mass: the Child will know the insecurity of poverty and of danger; as a man, he will have "no place to lay his head";  "despised and rejected," he will beg the Father, "take this cup from me." He, of all who ever walked the earth, could have avoided suffering. He didn't. He made our suffering, all of it, a place of communion with himself.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review: Looking Good: A visual guide to the nun's habit

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0957238134/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=bescatboo-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0957238134&linkId=1dd378276656c65c9d5a7eb8f77c7fac
A few weeks ago I noticed a flurry of posts on Twitter about a new book on nuns' habits. Featuring very basic illustrations, it described the habits of some 43 communities from the perspective of graphic design. The Daughters of St Paul were among the communities, so naturally I was particularly interested in the book! When they contacted me by direct message, I asked for a review copy, even a digital one. In response, they sent me a print copy of Looking Good: A visual guide to the nun's habit, along with a sweet note from one of the authors: "The nuns who taught me were its inspiration and get a thank you at the back!"

I brought the book with me on our concert tour, figuring it would be fun to leaf through while waiting at airport gates. Of course, the other sisters were also intrigued: many of them had seen the posts on Twitter--or the article in Wired about "nun fashion." (Confession: we all turned to the Daughters of St Paul pages first!)

Sample two-page spread: us!
What I found was fascinating and surprisingly accurate. (It helps that they had a Cambridge theology grad do the ecclesial stuff, including a marvelous appendix and glossary.) The text explains not just the clothing of each community but its deeper identity. That great appendix answers basic questions about religious life and the Catholic Church. (The author gets extra points for properly distinguishing between "nuns" and "sisters.")

Looking Good is published by GraphicDesign&, a UK-based publishing house that focuses on the intersection of graphic design and some other key dimension of life. Looking Good comes under the rubric of GraphicDesign & Religion. (My apologies to the publisher, but I cannot get their name to come out properly in this blog: the ampersand part of their name keeps coming out in code!) The contributors (several of whom seem to have had religious sisters as their teachers) noted in the Introduction: "Religious institutes have been using colour, shape and symbol to communicate their identity for hundreds of years.... Looking Good ... uses graphic design to present a resilient visual identity at a time when it appears to be in demise--and women's dress more broadly is under renewed scrutiny."

The rest of our write-up. Note our cross-emblem.
Communities are listed in groups according to the Rule that structures their life, with the page background corresponding to a color chosen to represent the "family" that follows a particular Rule: Franciscan (blue background), Carmelite (grey), Augustinian (plum), Benedictine (red) and "other" (green--that's where you find us). I couldn't really figure out why this order was chosen, since it is not chronological and doesn't appear to be by current numbers of members.

The full Carmelite habit was presented at the very beginning, article by article, since it has just about all the features that can be found in any religious habit. The first image is of a coifed, sandaled female form in a white shift. Page by page, the faceless form gets dressed like a paper-doll. Each successive element of clothing is identified by a little graphic (looking for all the world like the items in the periodic table of elements!); that graphic with its abbreviation (Co for "coif," Ri for "ring") corresponds to a short explanation of the item and perhaps a bit of history or some other detail. The reader becomes familiar with terms like "scapular," "mantle" and "veil" along with meatier words like "charism."

The GraphicDesign & team got creative in how they presented the habits of the various orders and congregations (yes, there is a difference; check the glossary!): the habit of a cloistered community was presented back first, indicating the "hidden" life of the sisters, with the face-forward view on the second two-page spread. The communities that are in the public eye were presented face-first on the opening page.

Four pages were devoted to each habit/community, with the write-up presenting the details of the specific habit (including any distinctive emblems or sacramentals), something of the history of the community, and any interesting or quirky information that seemed to add a bit of "colour."  While they depicted the contemporary habit of almost all the communities and noted any variations (they missed ours*), the designers couldn't resist presenting the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in their famous "winged" cornet instead of the simple uniform designed for them by Christian Dior.

Guides to nuns' habits were once a staple for young women in discernment. I remember seeing one from the early 1960's in our late 1970's novitiate library. Each community had a full-page write-up about their life and mission, with a black-and-white photograph (when available) of a postulant, novice and professed sister. (Our novitiate group agreed that the Maryknoll Sisters had the nicest habit of them all.)

While Looking Good was conceived (at first jokingly as a "field guide" to nuns on the street) as a "visual guide" and not a discernment guide, it very well could serve discerners who would like an overview of a large and varied array of communities of women religious they might not otherwise know about.
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*Most of the Pauline sisters in Europe and Latin America wear the standard uniform (not necessarily with the veil), while in French-speaking parts of Africa the sisters wear a blue printed wrap-around skirt and the typical woman's headwrap (in a blue print); in India, the sisters wear a sand-colored sari, while in Pakistan the common dress is a long blue tunic worn over pants, with a long scarf draped across the shoulders or around the head. All of us wear the emblem (which got special mention--and an illustration in Looking Good), a cross we receive on making our first vows. Also, just a bit of nit-picking: our habit does not (thankfully!) have the back pleat shown in the illustration. (Front pleats are quite enough to keep orderly!)

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Disclosure of Material Connection: 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 (which can eventually enable me to get more books!). In addition, I received a free review copy of the book mentioned above, possibly in the hope that I would mention it on social media. 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.”

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pauline Africa Update

Our intrepid Pauline missionary in Kenya, Sister Mary Augustine, went home to Ohio for a family visit this past year. As always, she happily accepted donations for the media ministry in her adopted country where she has devoted her energy and initiative for close to 40 years. Sister Mary Augustine was a printer here in the US, and was first sent to Kenya to train the young African sisters in running the presses, and books continue to stream from "Paulines Africa" for every audience, from bishops and seminarians to pre-schoolers. Vocations are booming, and our ministry is expanding to new countries.

This week we got a wonderful newsy letter from Sister Mary Augustine and I just had to share it with you:
When I was home, many of you gave me  donations for our Sisters in South Sudan to lower the prices on the children’s books to enable them to be able to purchase the materials at a much lower cost. For those of you who are not aware of it, here is the story. Last May, South Sudan was in a terrible civil war and all the prices went up over 50%, but the wages did not. There are many schools near our Book Center in Juba and the children always came in to browse and buy some books. But then they were unable to buy anything because their parents were having a difficult time in just buying food for the family. The children came in just the same and would sit on the floor and read the books. One day, a little boy had the money to buy one and when Sister asked him where he got the money from, he replied, “This is my lunch money. I did not eat lunch today because I wanted to buy this book!”
 
This incident gave us the inspiration to ask for donations for the Sisters to be able to lower the prices very much. They could not give the books for free, because Africans do not like handouts. They are proud to be able to say, “I bought it with my own money” (even if it is very little.) Your donations really helped the children a lot and you can see from the pictures how eager they are to read and to learn.
 
In the attachment which I hope you can open, is a Thank You Letter from the Sisters in Juba, along with a few pictures of the different age groups of children in our Book Center. I also thank you for your generosity and love and ask you for your prayers that the situation in South Sudan will improve and that there will be peace again.
 While South Sudan is not one of our newest Pauline missions (we have had a community there since 2008), it is still a "baby house" for us--in a country with more than enough challenges even on a good day. Here is the "Thank you" from the South Sudan community:
This is a note to say thank you, from our hearts, for your big act of kindness and generosity. We, the Daughters of St Paul in Juba acknowledge with deep gratitude the gesture of supporting the education of the young generation of South Sudan.  
The children in this country have faced a very difficult reality of war and harsh economic crisis, which has made their basic needs inaccessible due to the poverty ravaging the entire country. Many of these kids express a great desire to grow in knowledge and widen their scope of values but are not always able to find the opportunity or relevant resources. Our collections of books for children are meant to develop these children into young responsible persons. We have been trying to find ways of making the books affordable for the kids. Therefore, your generous contribution towards this noble cause, which is very handy and providential, is going a long way in empowering at least some children for the good. These children are the hope of South Sudan. We strongly believe that if they receive good formation, it will enhance a transformation of the growing society towards peace, stability and development.  
Once again, we appreciate your kindness and sacrifices, and we ask God to abundantly bless you.
Daughters of St Paul
Juba, South Sudan

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Feast Day (to us!)

This last day of the liturgical year, this Saturday in honor of Mary and day before the start of Advent (yes, it really is) is also the anniversary of death and the Feast of Blessed James Alberione, our Founder. As he approached the end of his life, he had this to say: “Here is a half-blind man, who is being led, and in moving along he is enlightened from time to time so that he can proceed further: God is the light.”

“Before God and man, I feel the gravity of the mission entrusted to me by the Lord who, had he found a person more unworthy and unfit, would have preferred him. Nevertheless, for me and for everyone, this is the guarantee that the Lord has willed and has done everything himself; just like the artist who picks up a paintbrush worth a few coins and is unaware of the world to be executed, were it even a beautiful picture of the Divine Master, Jesus Christ.”

But he taught us that Baptism means that the portrait of Jesus Christ is meant to be painted in each of us. This
"Christification" (the term is more typical in the Eastern/Orthodox traditions, but Alberione used it all the time) is the work of the Holy Spirit, the "finger of God's right hand," holding that divine brush and palette to form Christ in us.

Pray with Alberione:

Holy Spirit, in a profound spirit of adoration
I ask you unite my heart, my will, and my mind with those of Jesus.
May the affections of Jesus be my affections.
May the desires of Jesus be my desire.
Made the thoughts of Jesus be my thoughts.
May Jesus himself live in my heart, my will, and my mind.
I give Jesus my heart, so that he may be the one who loves others in me and with me.
I give Jesus my will, so that he may be the one who lives in me and with me.
I give Jesus my mind, so that he may be the one who thinks in me and with me.
I want what he wants.
In me may he love.
In me may he decide.
In me may he act.
And may it be he himself who fulfills his mission through me.

At the very dawning of the 20th century, as a young Alberione remained in prayer through the night before the Blessed Sacrament, “Particular enlightenment came from the Host, a greater understanding of that invitation of Jesus, ‘Come to Me, all of you.’ He seemed to understand the heart of the great Pope, the Church's appeals and the true mission of the priest. What Toniolo said about the duties of being Apostles today and of using the means exploited by the opposition seemed clear to him. He felt deeply obliged to prepare himself to do something for the Lord and for the people of the new century with whom he would live. …Projecting himself mentally into the future he felt that in the new century generous souls would feel what he had felt.”

In our own day, "the opposition" is as multifaceted as the media themselves. Deceptive philosophies, terrorist ideologies, hedonism and downright heresy all make use of communications technologies to defend and diffuse their perspectives. And yet media are also being used in exquisitely artistic ways to communicate what is true, beautiful and good! In the spirit of Blessed James Alberione, let us pray today for all those who live and work in the sphere of communication:

St. Paul, traveler for the Gospel, proclaimer of the Good News, you ask your fellow Christians to pray “that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified.”
Today God's Word travels most swiftly through the media. Living in the era of global communication, we use these marvelous means not only for information and entertainment, but also as a way of connecting with others. We recognize their potential for all that is good and beautiful, as well as for the opposite.
St. Paul, pray for those creative persons who produce all forms of media and for those who use their productions.
May the men and women who shape media messages, and those who receive those messages, promote human dignity and foster respectful communication. In this way, both the message and the medium will be channels for what is good, true, and beautiful.
Pray also for those who, like you, seek to proclaim God's word in this new place of evangelization.
Through the sometimes blaring and relentless voices of the media, may we be attuned to God's voice coming through these means: that tiny, whispering sound, which is often the way God speaks to us. And when we hear the soft voice of God's word, maybe be filled with “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

“What marvelous things Jesus has in his Heart! Wonders of love and of grace, of vocations. The Lord wants to give us things that I don't think you can yet experience, just as Jesus told the Apostles that he had things that he was keeping to himself until the coming of the Holy Spirit, 'because you are not able to bear it'.” These words date to 1924, but the promise seems as new as ever. Join us today in praying for vocations who will allow Christ to be formed in them so completely that it will be He who makes use of new and developing technologies to communicate the Father and "draw everything to himself" (cf. John 12:32).

Today would be a good day to watch Media Apostle: the Father James Alberione Story!


Media Apostle (90 min): The Father James Alberione Story