Friday, September 30, 2005

Mother Thecla Merlo

Mother Thecla prayer

Most Holy Trinity, we thank you for the singular gifts of light, grace, and virtue which you granted to Sister Thecla Merlo, and we thank you for having chosen and constituted her the wise mother and sure guide of the Daughters of St. Paul.
Through her intercession, grant that we may live of her great loves: Jesus Master in the Holy Eucharist, the Church, the Gospel and souls--souls sought and served through evangelization with the instruments of social communication--to the point of total sacrifice.
O Lord, if it be in the designs of your divine wisdom, carry out even on this earth, for this very devoted Daughter of St. Paul, your divine promise: "If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him."
Exalt this faithful Servant to the joy of the Church and the good of many souls, and grant us, through her intercession, the favor we ask of you. Amen.
Glory Be...Hail Mary...
With ecclesiastical approval

Mother Thecla comes through again!

The sisters from our convent in Metairie (right next to New Orleans in Jefferson parish) had to evacuate when Katrina hit. This week was the first time we were able to go back and inspect the convent. It was like a miracle because there was hardly any damage at all. In fact, the bookcenter was perfectly preserved and there was no flooding at all inside the building.
This was a big relief because we had feared the worst. However, the area surrounding it had a lot of damage and many stores had broken windows and torn roofs, etc.

Before the sisters left, they put pictures of Mother Thecla all over the place, especially on the windows. One lady whom the sisters just met while they were down there said, "Mother Thecla is better than Our Lady of Prompt Succor!" She said that because many of the Catholic schools and churches had damage. I'm sure that Our Blessed Mother won't mind if Mother Thecla takes some credit, although this is in no way to deny the powerful intercession of Mary.

Things like this always raise questions--why do some people get hurt and not others? In some mysterious reason it's all part of God's plan. It's not that those who got hurt were less good, not at all. After all, Jesus died on the cross. Perhaps God preserved us from major damage so that we would be able to do more good for the people who are there. Please pray right now as we discern the best course of action to take in this situation.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Feast of the Angels

Today is the feast of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
Jesus says, "You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (John 1:51). This rather cryptic saying seems to be linked to Jacob's ladder in Genesis. Jacob had a dream of a ladder that went from earth to heaven, and angels going up and down on it (Gen 7:16, 17). Then Jacob woke up and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!" So in some way the angels indicate the presence of God.

The French Jesuit Jean Galot says, "In the Gospels, this manifestation is no longer seen veiled ina dream but is conveyed through the development of a human life. Jesus fulfills in himself what Jacob's ladder had symbolized: the Son of Man stands on the earth as One who se head touches heaven. The angels going up and down enable us to understand the continuous exchange between heaven and earth that is fulfilled in the mystery of the Incarnation."

Today I've been praying to St. Michael for someone who is suffering from harassment and in some way there is evil involved. It's not pleasant to think of the existence of evil, but it is very real and causes a lot of suffering. This week Scott Peck died, and in his book "People of the Lie" he wrote about cases where some kind of evil influence was at work.
Thankfully Jesus has won the victory already and the power of his cross will overcome all!

The sign of the cross

At the Angelus on Sept. 11, Pope Benedict talked about how the Mass is linked to the sacrifice of the cross. "The Cross is the moving manifestation of the act of infinite love with which the Son of God saved humankind and the world from sin and death. For this reason, the sign of the Cross is the fundamental act of our prayer, of Christian prayer. Making the sign of the Cross...means saying a visible and public 'yes' to the One who died and rose for us."

I have to admit that sometimes I just make the sign of the cross in a hurried way, without really reflecting on it. Yet the pope calls it the fundamental act of Christian prayer. That's a good reminder for me!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Thomas Tuesday

Recently when I was out taking a walk, I met an older man I sometimes see. I think he's an atheist. Usually he doesn't say too much but that day he started to tell me why prayer is useless. He thinks that religious people think they should just pray for things and expect God to do everything for them instead of working.
In the past I usually just listened to him, but I felt that the time had come to respond in some way. After he finished, I tried to respond but he immediately cut me off and said I didn't understand (I don't know how he could say that since he didn't listen to my response). After going through this three times, I just bid him good day since he didn't want to discuss it, but just harangue me.
Anyway I went back to see what Thomas says about prayer. He says that Divine Providence disposes not only what effects will take place, but what causes will bring about those effects. In God's plan, our prayers are an important "cause" that God wills to use in order that certain other things should happen. (Summa, I, q. 83, a. 2).
Prayer doesn't mean that we just sit back and expect God to do everything without our efforts. Instead, prayer is something we need to do along with our own efforts. That saying which I think comes from St. Ignatius says it all: "Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you."

My visit with Sylvia

Over the weekend when I was in NY I happened to meet an older lady named Sylvia. She lives next door to the friend I was staying with.
Sylvia was a real character--very typically New York--and wanted to show me all around her house. It's like a museum--lots of interesting things! Just by observing some of the signs on her walls (like "Bush Lies," "I vote pro-choice," etc.) it was obvious what her political views are. She pointed to the pro-choice sign and just said, "I know you don't agree with that!" She didn't want to argue the subject, but I was happy that she knew I would be opposed to abortion just because I'm a nun.
After the tour she showed me a picture of her daughter who went to Asia to adopt a little girl. Sylvia then said that her daughter wanted to adopt an American child but it's too hard because there are so few available. She didn't seem to make a connection between all the abortions we have and how hard it is to adopt because there aren't enough children.
I was glad I met Sylvia because she is a charming old lady. It also gave me an insight into why some people support abortion. While I totally abhor their views, they are people too whom Jesus came to save. I don't understand how they could support abortion if they realized what it really is. Perhaps in some way God in time will touch their hearts to see the truth about life. In the meantime I can pray for Sylvia and everyone like her.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Going back to one's old neighborhood

Have you ever gone back to the old neighborhood where you grew up? Over the weekend I did. I had an opportunity to visit my hometown of Elmont, Long Island (NY). It's a strange experience because it's an odd combination of how life always changes and how time seems to stand still.
Some things are still the same--the church building, certain stores, street names, some landmarks--while others are very different: different people, new stores, new buildings, more cars (a lot more cars!) and other things. Those are only the surface things that are very visible. Underneath there's changing social relationships and dynamics and even cultural values. The world is very different and changing rapidly.
I saw a review of a book called Bowling Alone, which is about the fraying of social ties in American communities. I'd like to read it. If anyone has already read it, please let us know what you think of it. It sounds quite intriguing because the author uses bowling as a metaphor for what's happening in society. Whereas years ago many people enjoyed the social ties of bowling leagues, today people are more likely to bowl alone. That's one small example of how social ties have become less cohesive in the US today.

What's in a name?

This link is to a story about the popularity of certain baby names that come from celebrities.

Once at a talk on Mary, the speaker said we'll know that Marian devotion is really on the upswing when people start naming their girls "Mary" again. I checked the list of the 50 most popular names from 2004, and "Maria" is number 45.

Although this isn't a scientific study, the popularity of celebrity names as opposed to saints' names does give a sort of rough idea of where popular culture is trending. One interesting note is that the name John Paul jumped from 888 in 1978 to 647 in 1979 (Pope John Paul was elected in October, 1978).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Is my life worthwhile?

The other day I was looking at a biography of St. Dominic. Much to my surprise, I found out that he started the Dominican Order only 5 years before he died. He had been out preaching for 12 years before that. By today's standards he died young--about 51. But few people have left such an enduring legacy. For almost eight centuries the Dominicans have been a vital force in the Church, preaching, teaching and bringing people to God.

Who would have thought that a mere five years of effort would have borne so much fruit? It happened not so much because of Dominic's own efforts but the grace of God. Dominic spent most of his life growing in holiness, so that when the time came to start his order, he did it out of real love for God. He wasn't after personal advancement. His holiness bore fruit in his work. Like St Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thomas Tuesday

I just started reading a new book called "Holy Teaching." It's a collection of some articles of the Summa with a lot of good explanatory footnotes. It's meant to give an overview of Thomas' teaching in certain key areas.

The "holy teaching" comes from the very first question of the Summa, where Thomas explores the nature of this holy teaching or sacred doctrine. The interesting thing is that for Thomas, holy teaching was the same as the study of Sacred Scripture. Thankfully in recent years, before Vatican II and after, the importance of Scripture has been restored to its rightful place in Catholic theology. Not that it was ever absent, but there was a time when the focus was on a more abstract kind of theology that was more like a textbook approach.

The author of this book says that Thomas used the word "teaching" in a dynamic sense, like a verb, and not just as a noun indicating a body of teaching. In other words, in divine revelation God is our teacher. He comes into relationship with us. Revelation isn't just handing down a pre-printed book we just have to read. In this sense God as revealer is like a teacher who interacts with his or her students in a dynamic way, coaching them, encouraging them, inspiring them and leading them.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Parable of the good employer

The Sunday Gospel for this week was the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which could also be called the parable of the good employer. This is one of those puzzling parables that can strike us as being unfair. Based on this parable, no labor union would endorse Jesus if he were running for some office!
I was looking at Daniel Harrington's commentary on Matthew to help me understand it better. He pointed out that the story right before this--about the rich young man and how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom--ends with the line, "Thus the first shall be last, and the last shall be first." It's almost as if Jesus then went on to tell this story to illustrate that.
The point I took away from it is that I can't look on my service to God as something that "entitles" me to a reward. If I"m giving my life freely to God out of love, I'm doing it out of love, and I shouldn't be doing it in hopes of getting some reward. If God wants to give me something out of his generosity, great. But if not, and if other people seem to be getting just as much as me even though they came late to the vineyard, that's great too.
Entitlement is the key issue here. That's what goes against the grain for us Americans, because entitlements are woven into our whole way of life. But before God, we're not entitled to anything. If I think I am, I need to remind myself who's the Creator and who's the created.

Immediately after this parable, Jesus talks about the suffering that awaits him and the scandal of the cross. He ends by saying that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus' own attitude shows that he was more than willing to work all day in the vineyard, bearing the heat of the sun all day, and not expect a reward. He came to serve and to suffer.

What are your thoughts about this puzzling parable?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Stories from the World Trade Center

Last week on the anniversary of 9/11 I watched a TV program about the World Trade Center. The program focused on the recovery of some personal effects from the ruins that were later returned to the families of some of the victims.
These families had such an unbearable sorrow--and to make it worse in most cases they didn't even have the closure of getting back the bodies of their loved ones. Among the stories was that of Michelle Henrique, a 27-year-old who worked on the 97th floor of one of the towers. She was a Catholic who was involved with her parish church and had run some charity events sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Her fiancee was planning to propose to her on her birthday that December. Although her body was never found, amazingly her credit card survived and it was brought back to her parents. It was still intact although bent and damaged from the rubble. That credit card was the last link connecting her to her family in her last moments. It's something they will always cherish.
It got me thinking that that's what relics are all about. The Church has always revered the memories of its saints and heroes, and relics are a way of preserving that link. Something that belonged to that person, or a bit of bone preserved from a body, connects us to that person in some way. We don't honor the object itself for what it is, but because it became special in some way since it belonged to someone we love.
Modern-day relics: a credit card, a fireman's helmet salvaged from the rubble, a paper or photo. Some will get put in museums so people not yet born will one day look at them and feel some kind of connection with what happend on 9/11.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The virtue of chastity

This morning the news carried a story about the results of a new survey on young people and sexual activity. It showed what you might expect--that it's on the increase and certain types of activity that used to be considered on the fringe are getting more mainstream.
I remember once reading something by the English writer Ronald Knox who said that chastity, as a virtue, is something to be proud of. He said it should be like a parade going down the street. Today, instead, it's the other way around.
But it's worthwhile to think about chastity as a virtue, as something that ennobles human life. It's a way of valuing God's gift of sexuality by using it the way God intended--in marriage. Chastity brings an inner freedom and a joy that is never found in promiscuity and casual "hookups." Chastity values the dignity of each human person by acknowledging their value as persons, never as objects to be used.
The virtue of chastity--pray for it, value it, practice it, teach it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Our Lady of Sorrows

At the cross her station keeping
stood the mournful Mother weeping
close to Jesus to the last.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Welcome to the sisters from New Orleans

We have a convent in New Orleans and the sisters had to evacuate. Luckily they were able to get to Baton Rouge and stayed in the home of a kind woman who put them up. She had other people too so they slept on the couch and the floor, but were very grateful for it.
We don't know when they'll be able to get back to New Orleans (actually the convent is in Metairie, just west of Orleans Parish). So for now they were able to come back to our motherhouse in Boston and "rest awhile" after their ordeal. They arrived yesterday and have been telling us stories of things they saw and heard. Of course they were lucky in comparison to others who were stranded on roofs and attics. But just the emotional impact of the evacuation and seeing their city destroyed was quite a trial.
I was stationed in New Orleans for a year back in the late 80's, and I loved the place. It has such a unique flavor with its Cajun culture. We used to go down to the bayou and the people were very receptive to our mission. I once spent a week doing evangelization on Grand Isle with another sister, and it was a wonderful time. One kind older married couple invited us over to dinner one night for a fish dinner. The man said that the trout was so fresh "it slept in the Gulf last night." I feel so bad now to think of all those wonderful people who have been dealt such a harsh blow. May God be with them and may Mary obtain many graces for them.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Happy birthday, Mary!

September 8 is the feast of the birth of Mary. We don't know much about her early life that can be historically verified. But there's an interesting document called the Gospel of James that gives details about Mary's birth. This book is not one of the canonical Gospels, so it's not a source of faith and we can't rely on it for history. But it dates to around the early second century, and it shows that even then, people were interested in finding out about Mary. This book is where we get some of the details about Mary's life that have been part of tradition, such as the names of her parents (Joachim and Anne). This book also has a strong emphasis on Mary's virginity. Again, this shows how ancient this belief is.

In his homily on the recent feast of the Assumption, Pope Benedict said, "Mary lived on the Word of God, she was imbued with the Word of God. ... Whoever thinks with God thinks well, and whoever speaks to God speaks well."

Out of gas?

Everyone who's filled up on gas recently got a sticker shock on seeing how fast the price went up after Katrina. When the Gulf's production was shut down, there were 2 million less barrels available to the US every day.
The bigger problem is that the world's oil supply is stretched to its limit right now, with no excess production. Any disruption like a hurricane is enough to send prices zooming.
About a year ago I became interested in the problem of oil and did some reading about it. If you do a search for "Hubbert's peak" you'll find many websites about it. Many good geologists are saying that the world is almost at the point of peak oil--when we will have used half of all the world's easy-t0-get oil. There will still be a lot left, but the supply will be shrinking. Demand goes up all the time, so the price will, too.
Some of the out-of-oil scenarios are scary and perhaps too alarmist. But there is a real problem and the sooner we start to conserve oil and develop alternate energy sources, the better. Oil burned is gone forever and it takes the earth millions of years to produce it. In about 125 years we've used up half of all the oil--what about people in the centuries to come?

Katrina people finder

Rae Stabosz sent this link to one of the sisters--it's a way to help locate people after the hurricane and they can use some volunteers to enter data. It's a concrete and easy way to help in relief efforts without leaving your home.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

After Katrina

Check out the new blog (link above) from the editors at Pauline Books & Media. Sr Kathryn has posted a number of great posts on the hurricane.

I was on vacation last week and spent a lot of time watching the news coverage. It was so devastating, to see a city almost wiped out in such a short time. All I could do was pray.
It brought back that strange feeling I had on 9/11, when I watched the towers collapse. There we were in the comfort of our living room, watching the TV as the buildings fell and thousands of people died--and being completely powerless to stop it. Now we watched as thousands of people waited on rooftops to be rescued or were stranded in the cesspool of filth called the Superdome.

But I was also amazed at the resilience of the human spirit. There was the woman from Pass Christian, Ms, who walked back into town a day and a half after the hurricane to get back to her house. She found it sitting on another neighbor's lot, and someone else's house was on her property. But she was determined to rebuild and not let this devastation beat her down.
There was the woman in the wheelchair with a black dress, who looked about 80 but was actually 105! She seemed to be taking it all in stride. After living for more than a century, she certainly knows how to deal with the blows life has dealt her. How great it would be to talk to her and get her reactions to it all.