Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Blind spots

Earlier this week a few of the sisters were chatting at breakfast about the work of a neuroscientist I had read about. He is working on an optical prosthesis: a kind of tiny camera and projector set-up that would replace a diseased retina. As long as the optic nerve is still healthy, there is a founded hope of recreating some kind of vision. Amazing! One of the sisters reminded us of the fact that we all have a natural blind spot where the optic nerve meets the retina and how it is possible to notice more or less where that spot falls.

The University of Washington “Neuroscience for Kids” feature offers this online technique for “seeing” your blind spot. (For these graphics to work you need to be using a full-screen browser, or download the images to your computer. Alternately, go to the University website and download their pdf!) Close your right eye, and from about 20 inches away, focus with your left on the cross. Continue to focus on the cross while drawing nearer to the image. At a certain distance, the dot will simply vanish.


Of course, we don't just have blind spots in our eyes. Our lives are full of them. Sometimes those blind spots are innocuous things we have learned to take for granted. Other times, they are hurtful things that we are protecting ourselves from. It could be an area of sin in our life that we are just not willing to repent of. (As the song goes, "[I] was blind, but now I see".) Sometimes whole cultures have blind spots, which may be both taken for granted (“just the way things are”) and hurtful things we are protecting ourselves from as a society (or being protected from: it depends where we are in that society).

An interesting thing about our visual blind spot is that our brains fill it in so that we do not “mind the gap.” See what happens in this image where there is an actual gap: Close your right eye, and with the left, from about 20 inches away, focus on the dot. Continue to focus on the dot as you draw nearer to the image. At a certain point, the two disconnected bars will seem to be joined.


The killing of George Floyd on May 25 was not an isolated incident. It was the third killing of a Black person in the name of law enforcement to reach national headlines in as many months. In a way, the three deaths merged into one huge, crushing event. Even for me, geographically and in a sense sociologically distant as I was, the experience was jolting. "What on earth is going on?" 

Mr. Floyd's death, and the killings that preceded and (sadly) followed it would not have unleashed the reactions they did if they had not revealed what was, for many Americans, the “blind spot” of racism. Of course, it was only a blind spot for “many,” since racism has been a fact of life for those who have been on the receiving end of it for generations. As a society, we can now no longer deny the disconnect, although there are still a surprising number of people who will preface an opinion about race issues with, "I'm not a racist." 

Dr Anthony Bradley, a professor, author, and theologian-in-residence at NYC's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, detailed in a Twitter thread the naive racism he experiences as a matter of course in New York City. Dr Bradley is neither a conservative nor a progressive. As a theologian, he is regularly assumed to be Anglican or Eastern Orthodox. He doesn't fit into the typical boxes or categories. So when Dr Bradley posts, I pay attention. Here are his observations about reform in policing, which I found very frank, balanced, and hope-filled. (No blind spot there.) After an attack on a Black man in the woods of Indiana, Bradley tweeted this:
White people, please be careful where you take your black friends. We literally cannot go everywhere you can. I've missed a lot of "retreats" because they were off in the woods somewhere. We just don't have the same mobility freedoms.
I didn't see that coming. It was in my blind spot. (The FBI is now investigating the assault as a possible hate crime.)

You know what to do: Close your right eye while focusing on the cross from 20 inches away. As you get closer, you will notice that the vertical bars fill in the empty hole on the left. 

Image from University of Washington "Neuroscience for Kids"
Our brains are so adept at protecting us from recognizing our blind spots that they can even fill in missing patterns! Maybe this fill-in the blanks quality is why people like me may have to be instructed in a rather step-by-step manner about what terms like "systemic racism" mean. (I had to go out of my way to learn about this, because with the many terms being used right now it can be hard to discern established sociological findings from agenda-driven language.) What I learned is that it can be easy for someone in a position of relative stability to look at the way things work (for me or for those "like me") and think that there is something natural about our system of streets, districts, licensing requirements and so forth. We can't see any place where the lines don't meet. But "systemic racism" means that people of a different race encounter those missing pieces continuously. And that they do is, as the geeks would say, a feature, not a bug of how our social systems work in their regard.

I found the following historical explanation of how we got to some of the most "systemic" of the racist systems in the US to be very helpful. It's a bit long, so I recommend just watching the first 8 or so minutes. (This video was produced and is narrated by Phil Vischer. Remember Veggie Tales? That was his, too.)



This clicked for me and showed me at least some of my blind spots. By the grace of God, I was willing not to put a defensive wall around my understanding. That's only a first step, of course, but a vitally important one. Jesus didn't have much patience for spiritually blind people who insisted that their vision was perfectly fine. "Your sin remains," he told them. (See John 9:41.)

The first 8 minutes of the video was enough to show me that much of what I had simply assumed was a natural way of functioning in our society had been coldly calculated with an eye to racial exclusion. The chaos in our streets, the suffering in our poorest neighborhoods (including the disproportionate numbers of deaths from COVID-10), the sense of hopelessness even among children, is the rotten fruit of blatant cruelty that was unwilling to see in persons of another race a brother or sister made in God's image.

And only God can cure that kind of blindness.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Corpus Christi: Present to the Presence

In honor of this Sunday's Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I thought I would share with you a few stories:

I'll start with a personal experience from a mission trip in the Virgin Islands back in 1987, when a young Sean O'Malley was the local bishop. Two of us were staying in a lovely home on the island of Frederickstead. It was a convent, with a large, split-level living room as the chapel. There was an altar, but no kneelers, just chairs and, oddly, no Tabernacle (maybe because the two sisters were not home for long periods of time?). My companion and I attempted to focus our attention on the altar, but the little lizards made that challenging. Plus, we had been traveling, packing and unpacking books, using borrowed cars and driving on the other side of the road under generally stressful conditions, and I just missed Jesus. That's when I felt, well... you know what it's like when you can tell someone is in the room even though you can't see anyone else around? I followed that feeling, which was coming from off of my right shoulder. First, just a glance. No one else had come in. (We had the convent to ourselves that day.) But Someone was there. I knew it. And I had a strange sense that I knew where to find Him. Getting up, I walked over to a small table, on which rested a ceramic planter. It was shaped like a castle, with thriving ivy spilling from the turret. Taking a chance, I lifted the whole planter off the table. There beneath it was a small golden vessel: a ciborium containing the Eucharist. 

This next one comes from a terrific book I read thirty years ago and never forgot. A Memory for Wonders is the spiritual autobiography of a Poor Clare nun with an extraordinary background. Raised by irreligious French parents who were so determined that their child not be "infected" with Catholicism that they raised her in Morocco, she (who had been baptized as an infant, I think just to please the grandparents) was nevertheless led to the faith in unexplainable ways. Even as a preschooler, she realized that her relationship with her mysterious interior Master was something she had to preserve from her parents' awareness. When she saw a golden crucifix in a jewelry catalog, she recognized him, and carefully tore the picture out and preserved it with her childish treasures. But she had no way of knowing the Gospels, or the Church. Until she was hiking in Northern Africa and came upon a Catholic chapel. And entered it. And knew. "He is here." And more: "He is here as food." Well, you see where it led!

Finally, a bookstore story. This happened a couple of years ago in Chicago when a couple of tourists (a devout Christian couple) came in from somewhere in the Midwest. The wife was the one who wanted to browse a bit, and the husband exchanged a few words with one of the sisters. As often happens, the husband needed a place to sit and wait for his wife (!), so sister invited him to the chapel, and he was happy to have some time for peaceful prayer in the middle of a busy shopping day. Truthfully, sister kind of forgot about him even being there, he spent such a long time in the chapel, and when he came to the desk, he had strange expression on his face. "Sister," he said, "There's something in there!" "Yes," she said, "that is Jesus."
Now it's your turn. Got a Blessed Sacrament story to share?

Perhaps after this spring's long and unanticipated Eucharistic fast, this year's Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) will be a turning point for many Catholics who had long taken the Eucharist, the Real Presence, and the fact of frequent Communion for granted.


Here in community we are learning a new Eucharistic hymn, using the melody by my favorite contemporary liturgical musician (Rome's inimitable Marco Frisina!) but with lyrics that I wrote, since I couldn't quite translate Frisina's text in a way that worked musically and grammatically. (Tell me what you think.) I have yet to get the permission of the publisher, but since it happens to be our Pauline music office in Rome, I hope for some indulgence in the matter. Especially since this will be for private use only. Anyway, here are my lyrics:

Jesus, Word of the Father,
You have promised to remain with us,
By your Spirit's gentle voice within,
We can recognize your presence.

Son of God and of Mary,
Show us what it means to follow you,
To become the one whom we receive,
Fruitful branches of the True Vine.

    Chorus:
       Living Bread from Heaven,
       Chalice of Salvation!
       Led by God's own hand we learn to pray:
       Nourish your people on their journey.

Manna in the desert,
Loaves and fishes on the mountainside:
Needs are met with overflowing grace,
Love surpassing every measure.

Earthly food can't sustain us.
All our hunger is for you, O Lord.
You invite us to the wedding feast,
To the joy of full communion.

    Chorus

At the end of our days, Lord,
When we fin'lly see you face to face,
We'll discover how you've always been
Waiting for us to receive you.

    Chorus

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Theology of the Body Lessons for Racial (and other kinds of human) Justice

When he closed the book-length series of Wednesday talks that he had started early on in his papal ministry, Pope John Paul made sure to say, “...the term 'theology of the body' goes far beyond the content of the reflections presented here [technically, “the Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage”]...” [TOB 133:1]. In fact, Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body offers a biblical foundation for a theological vision of the human person as the image of God. As such, it can be applied to every aspect of human life.

Since my entire adult life has been enriched by the insights of the Theology of the Body (TOB), I found it natural to go to this source-text for help in processing the racial crises in which we are immersed. It was not hard to find basic principles that I can use to critique media messages, slogans, even feelings and gut reactions to the flood of images and stories I am encountering as we continue to process and attempt to address a situation that can no longer continue as before.

In TOB, Pope John Paul makes much of the Bible's insistence on the creation of human beings “in the image of God, male and female” (Gen 1:27). Unique in material creation, in the human being, the body expresses a person. In one of the most beautiful sections, the Pope presents the revelation of Eve: woman, whose presence is a revelation that humankind, created in the image of God, is a partnership of equals. Adam finds that Eve is, like himself, a body-person: a person who is a body—but a body that is not precisely like his own. That first, fundamental human difference is sexual. As a species, we can only be represented by male and female (not either/or).

The otherness of the equal human companion reflects that first Other who is God, the one who created us to be enriched by our communion with himself, and created us a human family so that we could enrich one another by imaging God together and to each other. There is no subordination here. Neither expression of human nature, male or female, is better or more divine than the other. All other differences are simply variations on a theme. But the differences themselves are a communication. They speak of mutual enrichment; that each person will have something of value to give and to receive.

Of course, the first humans didn't have much time to enjoy that gift before someone introduced the poison of doubt. In the case of the original sin, it was a suspicion against God's fatherhood [TOB 26:4]. And once that was breached, humans began to steel their hearts further. Did you ever notice how, after the original sin, the man and the woman hurried to protect themselves from each other instead of from their real (and mutual) enemy? In our generalized experience, don't we all experience a kind of built-in suspicion against human brotherhood and communion? A fear of not having all that we need for our flourishing? A doubt that we can all flourish together? This is not natural; it was introduced by an enemy. It is a lingering poison in the human mind.

The person who is encountered in a body that is like, and yet also unlike, one's own, is to be loved for his or her own sake, never looked upon, thought of, spoken about, dominated or exploited as a means to an end [TOB 31:3]. How many times in history has this principle been violated! Isn't that why the current national crisis is exploding? Isn't this also behind a great deal of the historical injustice in our nation's immigration laws, which were first formulated in the early 20th century with explicitly racial motivations?

The person is unique and unrepeatable, irreducible to any collective adjective or generalizations. He or she is “master of his/her own mystery” [TOB 110:9], with freedom and potential to surpass all expectations, limitations, and pessimistic prognostications that would doom him or her to a predetermined outcome based on demographic projections. Perhaps we suffer a kind of “social acedia,” an apathy of will and imagination that hesitates to propose greatness as a real goal, including the greatness of self-mastery (without which nothing worthwhile can be accomplished) [TOB 49]... Maybe the root of this social acedia is a personal acedia that is satisfied with the superficial, or with the entertainment I can enjoy right now on my phone.

This person before me is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23): We are members of the same family, available to one another to build each other up on this side of eternity.

This person before me, equal to me but different from me (whether in sex or age or ethnic background or number of chromosomes...), is a concrete invitation from God for me to enter into a truly human and humanizing relationship; to really become, with him or her, a sign of the “communion of Persons” in Whose Image we were made and in whom we will, if we live our vocations fully, live forever [TOB 9:3].

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Monday, June 08, 2020

Made in the Image: The Trinity is not just a Factoid

This Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. God is a Communion of Persons, and we are made in the image of this Communion. So whatever divides human society is contrary to God, and contrary to the human vocation to be God's living image in creation. Whenever words like “those people” or dehumanizing epithets like “swarm” or “pigs” are used to attribute a quality or behavior to an entire group without distinction, that is, quite literally, the work of the devil, “ὁ διάβολος”: the accuser. How conveniently this language puts the speaker on the side of humanity, reasonableness, justice, and all things right, without any hint of the need for conversion or change. It is all on "them" to change, or to go away, or to be forced out of sight.

But does it even make sense to think or speak of an “us” that is not the immediate group in which I currently find myself—literally the people I am with here and now? When “we” (“us”) remains undefined, amorphous: Isn't that when the probability of divisiveness rises? Who are “we” when the criteria of belonging are left to the imagination or to inference? The language itself contributes to division into ever-smaller units. Eventually, there is no more “we” but only individuals, fearful of one another.

I am concerned about the timing of the current social crisis, because Catholics have been (of necessity) away from the sacraments, and many have descended into quarrels and bickering over the forms of reception of the Eucharist. Weakened by this unaccustomed fasting, we have become all the more vulnerable to the suggestions to turn the stones of social media into bread. Anything that divides us serves the enemy of all humanity. As Bl. Joseph Toniolo urged at the beginning of the 20th century: “Unite! If the enemy finds us divided, he will pick up off one by one.”

This coming Sunday the Church marks the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the “Sacrament of Unity and the bond of Charity,” as Augustine wrote. It is the antidote to division. There is only one Body of Christ, and Paul reminded us 2,000 years ago that we are all baptized into it, whatever our race or social status. (Here's a witness story from a Black Catholic dad who wants to teach his bi-racial children precisely that.)

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The Friday after next will be the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (who so loved mankind and spared himself nothing for our sakes). A great theme of devotion to the Sacred Heart is making reparation for outrages and negligence against the Real Presence. Perhaps we have been denied the Eucharistic Real Presence in order to sharpen our senses to recognize the Real Presence of Jesus in our neighbor.

Monday, June 01, 2020

UPDATED: Pauline Bookstore Chicago looting update and how you can help

Oops. I went to correct a tiny detail and almost lost the whole post. We continue to keep in our prayers all those whose losses are incalculable. Black lives matter.

Last week, the sisters were getting our Michigan Avenue bookstore ready for a grand re-opening after over two months of lockdown. The First Communion and Confirmation displays were set up, they had a plan for one-way traffic and social distancing...the works. Then, with just a few days to go,  well-organized forces of destruction (supported by some bored and directionless young adults?) overwhelmed the peaceful protest marches and the vital message that Black Lives Matter.

Naturally, those organizers fixed their sights on downtown Chicago.

At 3:00 AM on Pentecost morning the sisters heard the glass break.

Both of the automatic doors were shattered, and the front plate-glass display window. Because the bookstore had been closed for so many weeks, the cash drawers were closed. Ordinarily they are left open so that opportunistic thieves can help themselves without causing further damage. This time they broke through the counter.

And then the looters left.
Worst of all, though we assumed they would have stolen at least a few items (Bibles are the most-stolen book there is!), a quick inventory shows that they seem to have left without taking a single saving Word. What a let down!

An early morning call brought some friends in to help begin the clean-up, and by mid-afternoon the sisters had found a safer place to spend the night.

We don't yet know if our insurance will cover damaged caused by insurrectionist movements (this is really new for us), but considering what so many others have suffered across the country, we are getting off lightly. My heart is breaking for the small business owners who watched their livelihoods go up in smoke, their losses incalculable, their pleas unheard by callous ideologues bent only on making a statement without regard for the cost that others (not they) would have to bear. If I had money, I would track down some of those business owners (maybe through the news reporters who told their stories) and send them what I could to help them rebuild or at least get through the next few weeks. But God is trying to convince me that my greater contribution will be to pray for the conversion of all those who have used media in this tragedy to provoke more tragedy; who have co-opted a man's death and people's justified sense of despair and outrage in order to gain ground in a political battle with no winners.

People have been asking how they can help. Well, we never refuse a donation (!), and if you are inclined to give toward replacing our doors, window, counter and equipment, please go to donate.daughtersofstpaul.com and indicate "Chicago" in the notes. Or call in a phone order for that First Communion, Confirmation or Ordination gift. (We also have gift cards; can I recommend that for a newly ordained priest or deacon? That way you are encouraging him to actually come to our store once it is open again, starting a wonderful collaboration!) Of course, we also (always) depend on your prayers in a very special way, particularly for the intention of vocations. How about a special prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church, for Chicago vocations to the Daughters of St Paul????

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My followers on Twitter may have seen my post from Sunday morning, when we only had the most basic news. We assumed that books had been taken (at least Bibles, which, as I said, are almost invariably stolen from bookstore shelves, including our own), and I posted accordingly. It's going to be hard correcting the notion, given that the tweet went totally viral, but I'll try!
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Corrections June 2: The Blessed Sacrament was NOT removed from the Book Center chapel. The sisters did not realize on time what was happening. Instead, the Eucharistic Master must have been blessing the oblivious looters, prompting them to focus only on finding cash and leaving without doing further damage. I also deleted some unhelpfully snarky remarks.

Friday, May 22, 2020

God's Plan for Politics

All this fussing about masks and rights and policies and the jabs of politicians on either side trying to score points with their most radical believers. It makes me want to self-isolate.

A friend of mine wrote about the suffering she feels keeping her children "socially distanced" while neighbors spurn further calls for caution as politically suspect. In her diocese, the Mass is once again being offered in public and she is worried about the elderly priests who may be putting themselves in harm's way by their closeness to their (maskless) people for such extended periods of time. And those priests, in turn, can become vectors of illness themselves (as happened in Houston where an entire community of priests had to quarantine themselves after learning that three members who had been presiding at liturgies tested positive for the coronavirus).

Meanwhile on Twitter, intellectual types get lost in political theory, analyzing things under every sort of optic but one. I say this, because that "one" optic is the one Jesus has been trying to get across to me during these long weeks of cloistered life. Because I tend to think that things generally work best if we just go with logic. For me, logic implies order, predictability, reasonableness. (Small wonder that my TV hero in grade school was Spock!) But Jesus reminded me this week that there is already order in the universe. It is built in. The universe works just fine.
God is looking for more.

That is why humans are here. God's priority is for human life to reflect Trinitarian life. All our social structures are meant for this — but only the family is the real deal. (This is why, in Catholic social thought, civil society should serve the family constituted by a man and woman and their children.)

This is the missing optic on much of Catholic Twitter's political discourse. We get "right" and "left" but not "Trinitarian life." Every single policy and whole systems could ideally be seen under this lens: Does this system help human life to more readily engage in the Trinitarian style of self-giving love, or does it promote discord, isolation, competition (which is as anti-Trinitarian as you can get)?

Raising the question to the Trinitarian plane (our eternal destiny and our infinite model) would take certain Catholic conversations out of political discourse associated with a saint —who became a saint not because of intellectual achievements in speculating about divine topics, but by living the Trinitarian life in a human way.

As we were created to do.

This, by the way, is basic Theology of the Body applied to politics.

Thank you for listening to my TED talk!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Women's Retreat Your Worst Enemy Doesn't Want You to Know About Is This Saturday

So this Saturday our dynamic Sister Helena Burns is scheduled to give a day-long live, online Theology of the Body retreat for women. It was supposed to be a regular "in the body" retreat, but a pandemic intervened. And now that the retreat will be held online, opening it up to a potentially limitless audience, it seems that the infernal enemy has taken an interest in it. It must be destined to do an enormous amount of good.

At least, that's what we say in the Pauline world when a project meets unexpected and massive difficulties. Like a complete website crash during the registration period right before the retreat, throwing into question the very possibility of there even being a day long opportunity to interact with Sister Helena in real time about Theology of the Body and its meaning for women, women's issues and women's questions. (Oh, by the way, men can participate, too; just know that the content will be focused on women's questions, concerns and needs.)

At any rate, if despite my many years here of cheer-leading for the insights that have meant so much to me for the past 40 years, you have not yet really delved into Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body (the real stuff and not things marketed with that label), this is your golden opportunity. Sister Helena eats, breathes and sleeps TOB. She is constantly reworking her material, always engaging with the issues that come up in people's lives and in the media (remember, she's also a movie critic), and she's downright fun to listen to.

Plus, somebody who does not like you very much is trying super hard to keep you away from this stuff.

The retreat will be held Saturday, May 23 at the Palisades Retreat Center (in Seattle? Spokane? Out West, anyway, so times are all in the Pacific Time Zone.) 

To find out more (heck, go all the way and register), call 206-274-3130.
Pray to St Michael for the tech crew.
And keep checking the website. Eventually it will get back online:
palisadesretreatcenter.org/retreat-details/?retreat=1579

In case you were wondering if this was a joke (about things going wrong...), when I went to post this, the entire Pauline internet went down.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Quarantine Question Box

These days of imposed isolation have gotten a lot of people thinking about their faith, and that has led to many interesting questions coming our way. I thought I would share some of those questions and the more or less impromptu reflections they prompted.

The first of these comes from "Z" via Twitter.


A question has been bothering me for a bit now and I was wondering if you had any answers. The Church changed the Sabbath to Sunday as a day of rest. But isn't this contrary to the laws God gave Moses on Mt Sinai in the old covenant? I recognize Jesus as the New Covenant but don’t see anywhere in the Bible where Jesus states to change the sabbath. Was this change man's doing?

St John on Patmos (circa 1415!)
The observance of Sunday, the First Day of the week, as the "Lord's Day" is attested to in the letters of St Paul and the Acts of the Apostles (see 1 Co 16:2 and Acts 20:7). At the very beginning of the book of Revelation, John notes that he was praying in exile on Patmos "on the Lord's Day" when he had the great series of visions of the worship going on in Heaven (Rev 1:10). That was, clearly, the day the Christian communities were assembled for their worship. John was seeing that what was being done on earth “on the Lord's day” was what was being done in Heaven.

The book of Genesis connects the Sabbath rest with Creation, saying that when God completed the “work” of creation, “he rested on the Sabbath seventh] day” and so “God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (see Gen 2:2-3). The rules and regulations of the past had all been ordered toward preparing (and preserving!) the people for the coming of the Messiah. When he came, Jesus, the Messiah (Christ means “messiah, anointed”) started a new creation by rising from the dead on the first day of the week. The Apostles were the ones who seem to have recognized that this "reset" even the venerable order of the Sabbath rest (which, remember, was "made for man" according to the words of Jesus himself in Mark 2:27).

This Christian “reset” even entered into the languages we speak today. For the ancient Romans, the first day of the week was dies Solis, the day of the Sun (yes, that's right: literally Sun-day). For Greek-speakers at the time it was the same thing: ἡμέρᾱ Ἡλίου or in our alphabet, hēmérā Hēlíou, the day of the Sun. But the Christians very very very (crazily) early (within a couple of decades of the Resurrection!) began calling the first day of the week by a new name: in Greek, Κυριακή – Kiriaki; in Latin, Dominicus: the Lord's [day]. You can find this new word used as a commonplace in Acts 20:7, but it shows up more and more in later first and second century documents, from the Didache on. This has filtered down to the present in Romance languages as domenica (Italian), domingo (Spanish), dimanche (French), etc.

So we are now living in the time of the New Creation, in a whole different relationship with time itself, and the calendar has shifted as a result. Time, the week, the year, is fixed according to the Resurrection. That is what we observe every Sunday. Sunday, every Sunday, is an Easter Day. And when the Lord comes again, it will be our Easter, our resurrection.


Recommended reading: Pope John Paul's document Dies Domini (The Lord's Day): On Keeping the Lord's Day Holy.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

In Peace, Sister M Guadalupe (updated with new photo)

The strawberries were the worst.

That's what she told me that evening when I went to the massage chair in the infirmary living room in hope of some relief from a backache. Sister Mary Guadalupe was there in her wheelchair, watching Lidia Bastianich on TV.  A ripe strawberry from the dessert prep filled the screen and Sister Guadalupe sighed, remembering.

For the second time in a matter of weeks (and the third time since November), the Lord has visited our community somewhat unexpectedly to lead a sister away from this valley of tears. For Sister Guadalupe, many of those tears were shed in the strawberry fields of south Texas.
Image byjogiland24 from Pixabay.com
She had been born in the San Antonio region into a migrant worker family, and they traveled with the crops. But the strawberries were the worst. "We would finally finish the field, and it was so hot, the ones we passed over in the morning were ripe and we had to do it all over again!" she told me that evening. (With Spanish as her first language, she never lost her charming accent, though she spoke English and Italian fluently.)

I first met Sister Guadalupe when I was a new postulant, and she was the head mechanic in the publishing house bindery. With her quick, firm steps, and wearing that red plaid apron over her habit, she could fix anything (and the missing part of finger only went to prove that she wasn't afraid of trying to fix anything). She spent years in our bookstore communities, too, of course. I remember her especially as being in San Francisco—now moved to Menlo Park—and Charleston. In carrying out our media mission, it was a special joy for Sr Mary Guadalupe to bring our books to the families in migrant camps. (Truth to tell, when you listen to the sisters who did the migrant camp visits, it sounds like the most apostolically satisfying of all the forms of our mission.)

When age and health and, I'm sure, the wear and tear of migrant life in her own youth caught up with her, it was necessary for her to come to Boston where we have the nursing staff and facilities that make it possible for our sisters to carry on, as we say, "in life and in the apostolate," uniting prayer, action and suffering in one offering to the Lord.

Instead of fixing bindery equipment, Sister Guadalupe made rosaries. And when her fingers could no longer grip the pliers with enough force to close the wire securely, we got her a...machine! She was back in her element, but this time in the senior sisters' workshop rather than the book bindery.

One of my happiest recent memories of Sister Mary Guadalupe is from her 60th Jubilee. We celebrate jubilees in grand style, but for this one we went all out. As many sisters as could keep a secret were in on it: We were cutting back the flower budget and hiring a mariachi band to come in after Communion to play a traditional song.

The whole jubilee Mass went ahead as usual, with songs and preaching and the jubilarians renewing their vows in a group. And then a prayerful silence after the Communion hymn (while the musicians tip-toed up the side aisle and positioned themselves right in front of Sister Mary Guadalupe!). ...  Sister Guadalupe's reaction was priceless.

Last night she complained of feeling particularly weak, and pulled the cord on the infirmary alarm to signal for the nurse's assistance. As soon as the nurse had helped her to bed, Sister Mary Guadalupe breathed forth her soul in perfect peace. (It was a tender gift from the Heavenly Father; she would have hated to have been fussed over through a lingering debilitation.)

Please join us as we pray for our three recently departed sisters: Sister Mary Domenica, Sister Mary Bernadette, and Sister Mary Guadalupe, and also for five of our Pauline brothers in the US who have died in these same past months: Father Jeffrey, Brother Paschal, Brother Kevin, Brother Lawrence, and Brother Robert (the last three in New York, all presumably with the coronavirus). May they rest in peace, and may they join the ranks of the Pauline apostles in heaven who intercede for all users and producers of media!

Monday, April 20, 2020

A letter from our Provincial Superior

You might remember that last summer, in the time-before-time when there was yet no novel coronavirus upon the earth, a small group of American Daughters of St Paul went to Italy, heedlessly, for over a month. And in that fair land they partook of the goodly fruits of the soil and they spoke haltingly in the local tongue...and sat for many, yea, many a day in interminable meetings. And from that meeting one of their number was chosen to sit upon the Council. And she was, alas, the much-loved Provincial Superior from the United States. And so after their return, diminished now in number by one, it was necessary, as the Scriptures say, that another should take that place.

And so it was. The Holy Spirit indicated that the I.T. manager, Sister Donald Maria Lynch (formerly of Milwaukee), should take the office of Provincial Superior and assist the Daughters of St Paul in continuing to listen to the voice of the Spirit, announce the Gospel, and serve the Lord as...best they can.

Sister Donald Maria has asked us to share with all our friends and family the following letter:


Dear Friend,

Happy Easter to you!

I’m thinking of you who have been our friends for so many years. We sisters have met you in our centers, online, on the phone, on social media, through our newsletters, on YouTube—in so many ways and in so many places. In these days we are isolated in our homes, but still not far apart at all. The Word of God and the hope of Easter bring us together in spiritual communion. Dark days are punctuated by the Light of Christ who has conquered darkness and the grave.

We sisters have been so inspired by all of you. Every encounter we have with you makes it abundantly clear to us that our mission of witnessing to the Gospel in our media culture is so needed during these times. Even with social distancing, you are helping us to build a community of faith that is strong.

Over the years, crucial support from you our friends has helped us to reach out as effective missionaries for over 80 years, and made it possible to position our mission now to bring light, comfort and hope in times such as these. Thousands of people have joined our live-streamed Facebook videos called Surviving Depression in a Pandemic, prayed with us in live Eucharistic adoration, joined live-streamed #SpiritualCommunion prayer and conversation videos, and thousands of families have viewed our “Storytime with the Sisters” read-alouds. Hundreds of people are connecting through our Spiritual Adoption program.

In this time of uncertainty, people are seeking God more than ever. Your continued generosity allows us to adapt to these changing times and be always more creative in offering the Gospel to a world ready to hear it now as never before.

That is why I am asking for your help.


Like many of you, we have had to put our normal methods of outreach and sources of income on hold during this time. I need your help to provide for my sisters and to keep our mission growing and dynamic so the Word of God is available to people at this urgent moment.

We humbly ask that you prayerfully consider making a gift to the Daughters of St. Paul and our mission of communicating the Gospel through our consecrated lives and through the media. No gift is too small! Every donation is a seed of hope that plants the Gospel more firmly in human hearts.

Give now at: DaughtersofStPaul.org/gift

Everyone who gives a recurring gift becomes a member of Partners in the Gospel, a passionate group of monthly donors who give what they can to partner with us in advancing the Gospel in the world today. The generous women and men who are Partners in the Gospel make it possible for the Daughters of St. Paul to awaken hearts to a lived and felt relationship with God by witnessing to the Gospel in our media culture. Members of Partners in the Gospel have the opportunity of sharing in the weekly live-streamed digital meetings on spiritual growth and holiness in our My Sisters private Facebook Group, and will receive a monthly video message from Sr. Tracey Dugas, FSP, our Director of Pauline Mission Advancement.

All of the sisters and I are praying for each one of you. As St Paul said to the Philippians, “We hold you in our heart” (Phil 1:7). The suffering, the grief enveloping our world can imbue us with a sense of powerlessness, uncertainty, or fear. But in this darkness Christ calmly and securely carries us.

May the hope that Jesus has given us all through his Resurrection open us to his grace so that we can be, all together, Christ’s light for the world.

God bless you!

Sr. Donald Maria Lynch, FSP
Superior of the Daughters of St Paul
United States and English Speaking Canada Province

PS: Don't forget to check out how we are with you during this uncertain and challenging time of the pandemic.


“One love: Jesus Christ;
one burning desire to give him to souls.”

Blessed James Alberione