Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Community Update: Late Summer Edition

I am back in my office (presumably for a stretch of time) after retreat, community "encounter" (updating seminar), a concert practice week and the profession celebration for two of the novices. It has been a packed few weeks, made all the more interesting (and packed) for me by the return of back
pain so severe that I offered it up for people who were being tortured. Speaking of which, please pray for my Middle Eastern friend "Samir" (not his real name) who has now broken all contact with me and the other Christians he had been communicating with. It seems that his cell phone was found by a family member, who saw Samir's illegal declaration of intent to become a Christian. We have no idea if the family will turn him in to the religious authorities, or protect him but keep him in isolation so that he does not endanger himself (and them) by his desire. (Samir had earlier written to me of his fear of being killed or taken to the "no mercy place.")

Our summer updating seminar was on the vow of obedience, and was led by Sister Sara Butler, MSBT, a former member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission (kind of a theological think-tank at the service of the Pope). Sister Sara is also a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology, a fairly new organization of high-level scholars. I was happy to learn about it! It was fascinating to hear from a scholar of her rank about the origins of a great deal of confusion in religious life during and after Vatican II. I think her findings are going to be released soon in a book form, so I will not break any implicit embargo by trying to express them here, other than to say I was surprised to learn that the upheaval in religious life that I witnessed as a child and young person was not at all inspired by the document on religious life ("Perfectae Caritatis"), but was from a proposed set of interpretive notes on "Lumen Gentium" in a phrase that had been "voted off the island" by the bishops!

My retreat started the second day after the seminar, and that's when the back trouble also roared to life, causing me to spend approximately half of my retreat week in the chiropractor's office. I even found a doctor in the neighborhood of the retreat house to cut down on the time I had to suffer the Boston traffic in my search for relief. Since the time not spent in the chiropractor's office was spent with an ice pack, my retreat was characterized by the recitation of many,  many rosaries and a lot of reflection on the mystery of suffering. I am in much, much better shape now, thanks be to God and the good doctors, whose caring spirit was so obvious.

Singing before the Vow Day Mass.
I had to leave the retreat house as soon as the retreat ended, so as to be in the sound studio the next morning to begin working with the other choir members on our Christmas concert program. We spent all last week revisiting songs, learning parts and sketching out our places "on stage." We have until Thanksgiving to learn the music (and hopefully those stage spots) by heart, and then we'll practice together in earnest. Meanwhile, Sister Julia has been learning to play the harp (would you believe she received a harp as a gift?????), so we hope to include that celestial instrument in the program, too.

I had to miss choir practice a couple of times in order to share with our junior professed sisters a study I did years ago on a contribution of our Founder to our manual of prayers, a 30-station "way of humanity" (like the way of the Cross, but covering the entirety of Salvation History; the Founder's favorite word was "tutto: everything!"). It was good revisiting the notes and beginning to update them. Sister Donna thought there was something in there worth publishing; we'll see--eventually!

Sister Charitas (left) gets her first glimpse of Sister Carly Paula
wearing the habit. Sister Chelsea Bethany is just behind the two.
Saturday was the Mass of Religious Profession for our novices, who have now taken their new names and their new assignments as Daughters of St. Paul. Sister Chelsea Bethany is headed for Chicago, and Sister Carly Paula to New Orleans, so I have lots of contacts for them to connect with. At the celebratory meal, I sat next to Sister Chelsea Bethany's grandmother and learned that one of her "grands" just started his freshman year at NC State, where my nephew is also a freshman. Both young men plan to major in engineering. I hope they can get to know each other! After the meal, all the guests were invited outside for a fun video shoot. It took four attempts, but now it's (as they say) in the can.

Sunday the choir members (with a few ad hoc members!) head to historic Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals will play ball. And where the sisters will sing "God Bless America" for the 7th inning stretch. (Special thanks to Dreux Montegut, Music Director of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, for the arrangement!)

Over the past two weeks, six of our sisters were visited by bereavements. I knew only one of the deceased, the father of the sister who runs our IT works. He was a delightful, genuinely loveable man, a father of seven married 68 years. I remember him telling me the role his then-girlfriend had in his conversion to Catholicism. He had jokingly (and confidently) asked which she would choose, if it came to that: him or her Catholic faith. "Why, my faith of course!" That's when he realized that if he wanted her hand, he had better take a look at her Church. He became a daily communicant and, as the old poem goes, "the Daddy of a nun." May he and the loved ones of all of our mourning sisters, rest in peace!

As I shift back into "ordinary time" in the Lord's service, my first task is to pull together our autumn fund-raising "webathon." I'll also be preparing a talk for a quick trip to Cleveland in early October: more details when I get them. And get ready for those Christmas concerts if you live in the areas of Staten Island, Piscataway, Rahway, Philadelphia (St Katharine's), Marshfield or...Jamaica Plain!

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