Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Cinematic Classic

Yesterday I posted that I am making a Cinema Divina Retreat. One of the films we watched is a classic, "To Kill a Mocking Bird." The story takes place in a fictional Southern town called Maycomb. Played by the impeccable Gregory Peck, Atticus Finch is a widowed lawyer with two children, his son, nick-named Jem, and his young daughter, Scout. Scout narrates as a grown up Louise when there is no dialogue. Together with Jem, Scout is both carefree and curious about many things, especially the mentally challenged son of the next-door neighbor. From scary hear say, the children named the reclusive son Boo. Scout is the most talkative sibling whose innocent greeting of a poor farmer turns a dangerous situation into a non-event.
Produced in 1962, the story tells of the efforts of Atticus Finch to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a young woman. Her father is notorious as the town drunk whose temper becomes more violent the more he drinks. Atticus is a model of a Christian gentleman. He treats the black woman who serves as maid and full time nanny for the children with kindness and respect. He could even cheer up an elderly lady known for her cranky disposition.The film's title comes from a statement Atticus made at dinner one evening: "It is a sin to kill a Mocking Bird." When the children ask "Why," Atticus says that this bird never attacks anyone, it only sings for us, it gives us pleasure. With no medical records to prove the accusations against Mr. Robinson, Atticus hopes to win his case by showing the jury how flimsy is the case to prosecute Robinson. Viewers used to "forensic science facts" would be mystified to watch the way the trial proceeded without any real evidence. Filmed in black and white, the movie makes great use of light and dark, and facial expressions. When Atticus finally leaves the courthouse, everyone in the gallery stands up. When Scout ask why she should, the Reverend tells her, "Stand up, your father is passing by!" If you have seen this film, maybe you could view it again by seeing it through a "gospel lens." If you have never seen "To Kill a Mocking Bird," don't miss this classic which touches on events that happen even today. And, the film reminds me of Matthew, Chapter 25 verses 31 and following. Tomorrow will be the final day of my Cinema Divina Retreat. I promise my prayers for all of you who read my posts! God bless you!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Movie Retreat

I write this towards the end of my annual 8 day retreat. Usually I make this retreat at our congregation's lovely retreat house in Billerica, Massachusetts north of Boston.I think it is a privilege as well as an annual duty to spend this time on soul work. Our retreat house is graced with lots of walking space, tall trees, shade and a relatively quiet neighborhood. I chose to make a Cinema Divina retreat this year. Each morning at 9:00 AM we gather in one of the living rooms to view a movie. A Scripture selection that reflects the movie's theme is read before the film. Afterwards the Scripture is read again. For those who wish, those who want to comment or add a reflection can do so. This year's theme is Children--"And a child shall lead them." One of the films is "The Florida Project" depicting a small group of children most of whom live with a single parent. The main character Moonie is about 9 years old. She is the leader of the kids who make mischief with little or no parental guidance. This takes place in a motel along a strip of highway leading to Disney World, a fantastic place for children. Bobby, the motel manager, is a steady father figure for the children and for some of the parents who display adolescent life choices.The experienced actor, William Dafoe, portrays Bobby a compassionate heart, and the one truly adult figure for the purple motel's children. Lack of money, danger of eviction, flaunting of rules, profanity riddled vocabularies and other less than grown up behavior show especially in Moonie's mother. She appears to have no workplace skills to help support herself and her daughter. The young mother has frequent melt downs in front of her child who seems all too used to her Mom's behavior. Moonie is adept at panhandling, showing younger children how to beg for ice cream money. Parts of the film are light-hearted, especially the children's conversations as they try to figure out life as best they can on their own. Moonie takes her friend Jancey on a "safari" in a cow pasture as part of their discovery of the world near-by. "The Florida Project" portrays just a few motel situations where children grow up in less than savory environments. In Massachusetts, homeless families are often put up in motels. Motels usually feature one large room, often only one bed, a small refrigerator, and maybe a microwave. I couldn't help but think of families cramped into motel rooms, of trying to manage caring for a baby and other children, providing meals and getting children off to school when classes are in session. The end of the movie "The Florida Project" was certainly a surprise. I do not want to give you any spoilers. I couldn't help but reflect on how many children live in such cramped quarters without playgrounds, with no space for doing homework, and little or no adult mentoring. Religion seemed absent from the neighborhood. Most of the time, right or wrong seemed relative. No one is shown going to any church, or saying any prayers. The families shown had very little comfort. Most of all, they seemed to lack the assurance that God loves them, and that they are precious in his eyes. If you see "The Florida Project" you may be inspired to help the children of the motel population to know that they matter and they can become upright, beautiful citizens. The film might also inspire job trainers to pay visits to motels which have longer term residents. Whatever the outcome, from now on, I will pray for all those, especially single parents, who must reside in motels because they lack their own homes.
A scene from The Florida Project As you read this, may your faith increase, your hope be stronger and your love be deeper. God bless you! As part of your summer, watch a good movie!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Two Pillars to Remember

I once met an enthusiastic 6th grade religion teacher who prayed regularly to St. Paul. "Sister," she declared as she bought herself a new copy of her beloved Novena to St. Paul, "I taught religion to sixth graders for all my life. With St. Paul's help I was able to succeed!" I was delighted to see someone who was not in the Pauline Family so devoted to our Patron and spiritual Father.
On the devotional popularity list, I am afraid that St. Anthony and St. Jude seem to be top scorers! One day I hope to see many more people devoted to St. Paul. Blessed Alberione, our Founder, called his religious men and women and dedicated laity "Paulines," since he wanted us to be "St. Paul living today." We Daughters of St. Paul are in the midst of praying a solemn Novena in honor of St. Paul. We often sing much of it, recalling passages from the Letters of St. Paul and some from the Acts of the Apostles. One of the refrains in the Novena goes like this: "O St. Paul, the Apostle, preacher of truth and doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God who chose you." I promise you my faithful readers that I do ask St. Paul to intercede for you too. Friday is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. We continue our Novena on Friday the 29th of June. On Saturday, we members of the
Pauline Family will celebrate the Commemoration of St. Paul. Because Paul is our Patron Saint, and our spiritual inspiration, the Church grants this privilege to us to celebrate our own day in honor of St. Paul. For many of us, including myself, our anniversary of professing our vows falls on June 30th, So please rejoice we us as we celebrate here in Boston the anniversaries of three Sisters who are "golden" jubilarians; four who are celebrating 60 years of religious profession; and one Sister, Sister Lorenzina celebrates 70 years of vowed life!The Sister in the white veil is from Youngstown, Ohio. She is home from from Kenya, Africa where she has served for about 40 years. She is one of the 60th anniversary Sisters.
However, we cannot forget Saint Peter, head of the Apostles. It was he who on Pentecost Sunday began to speak boldly about Christ, and eventually made his way to Rome, the Capital city of the Roman Empire. It was a dangerous occupation: preaching that Jesus Christ is Lord in a world where a Roman Emperor took it upon himself to be "Lord" of his domain. In prison or out of it, Paul preached about this Lord and Savior who died and rose again to win salvation for all. When you travel to Rome and other parts of Europe, you will often see statues of Peter and Paul together, or one on each side of an altar. The pair of ardent apostles appear many times in Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the (ancient) walls of the city. Pray for Pope Francis on the 29th of June especially, since he is successor of St. Peter. Have a blessed rest of this week of joy!

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Good Shepherd

In the USA I have not seen very many sheep mainly because I have not been to "sheep country." A yearly event where I come from is called the Canfield Fair which features farm animals,including lots of sheep and goats. Once when traveling from a diocesan event in San Angelo, Texas we stopped the car to take a closer look at a large flock of sheep. Something about our appearance spooked the animals. All of them began a mass movement away from us except for one curious lamb. Several months ago I was gifted with a trip to Ireland. Sheep are everywhere in the countryside. Our tour included a visit to a sheep farm with a demonstration of how a shepherd dog on his own could round up a flock and move them up a steep hill, and then back to their original corral. It was amusing to see how there was always one sheep sticking its head out of the mass of wooly neighbors to see what was going on. We ended our sheep farm tour with a sheep hearing demonstration. With a strong shepherd brandishing an electric shaver, two sheep lost their thick wool in five minutes! The sheep put up little resistance, partly due to the size of the burly fellow who sheared them. Now when the gospel of John mentions Jesus as Shepherd, I can picture a large sheepfold with several gates to keep to the sheep safe from marauders. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, and the gate which protects his sheep. "I know my sheep and mine know me," Jesus tells us. When I was in Italy for a course of study in 2003--2004 every school day we would pass a real shepherd with real sheep. The road we took was one of the boundaries of Rome, large power lines bordered the western side of the road we traveled. Even though we were still in the city, there was plenty of grass available. The flock of about a dozen sheep gathered around their shepherd. Sometimes they would be to our right near the powerlines, or they would be on a little hillside, or grazing close to large super market. Although he was part of a profession dating back millenia, our shepherd carried a cell phone and on rainy days he sported rubber boots and toted a huge black umbrella. Even in the 21st Century shepherds still keep watch over their flocks, and their sheep know the voice of their shepherd. How do we know the voice of our Shepherd? We can "hear" his voice when we listen to his gospel proclaimed in church, or over the media. When our universal Shepherd, the Pope, speaks, we can hear the advice of Jesus being filtered for our 21st century ears. When we read the Scripture, the Shepherd is speaking.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Whole Season

Happy Easter!
You might say to me, "Easter was on April 1st. That was almost two weeks ago!" The actual Easter Day was April 1st for us Roman Catholics. For the Orthodox, their celebration of Easter was April 8th, just a week after ours. The Latin Rite, which the majority of Catholics belong to, celebrates 7 weeks of Easter.
This season, also called the Paschal Season, the first readings at each weekday Mass are from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts recounts for us the growth of the Church after the Resurrection, and especially from Pentecost up to the Paul's going to Rome.These readings show the strength and courage of Peter, John and Paul, as well as that of their companions. Where once they had abandoned and even denied Christ, now they are eloquent, Spirit-filled Apostles, fearless in the face of threats. Today's gospel reading tells of the gifts of God. These refer to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These seven gifts which we also call virtues are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (or Right Judgement), Fortitude (Courage), Knowledge, Piety (Reverence), and Fear of the Lord (which means a Wonder and Awe in God's Presence, see Isaiah 11:1--2). We Christians believe in One God in Three Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Symbols of the Holy Spirit are fire, flames, wind, light, a descending dove. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove over Jesus' head.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Just as the Jews celebrate Passover for a week or 8 days, so we can say "Happy Easter" for seven weeks! The resurrection of Jesus is the pivotal truth of the Christian faith, As Saint Paul attested, "Our faith is vain, if Christ is not risen!" Since he is risen, he was seen by many after his resurrection, we have reason to hope in life everlasting. In the new movie, "Paul, Apostle of Christ", the Saint Luke character played by Jim Caviezel, gathers a group of imprisoned Christians around him to calm them as they face death by wild beasts. "You will feel pain, but it will not last." He continues, "Then you will see Christ face-to-face." He begins the Lord's Prayer with them and all accept their martyrdom peacefully. Paul who saw the Risen Jesus on his way into Damascus was so convinced that from then on, Christ, Crucified and Risen, was the Center of his life. Try to see this movie to help relate the Letters of St. Paul to our everyday life. Another good movie for the Easter Season is called Risen. It should be on Netflicks and be available at Pauline Books 7 media Centers.
In the last 12 days two Sisters of our community died. On Wednesday, March 28th, we buried our Sister Mary Philomena, who had spent 57 years in the USA evangelizing with the media. One of our Sisters who has been caring for her blood sister, laid her sister to rest last Wednesday. On the same day the brother of another Sister was laid to rest not far away, in Staten Island, NY. Today one of the Auxiliary Bishops of Boston celebrated the funeral Mass for his mother, Mrs. O'Connell. The petite Mrs. O'Connell (Delaney) died at the age of 91. She had three sons and a daughter. The youngest, Mark, became a priest and now a bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston. On Thursday, Bishop Mark O'Connell will be the main celebrant at the Mass of Christian burial for Sister Mary Augusta Biolchini who died at the age of 102. She had been the oldest Sister of our congregation which is in 52 countries! Sister Augusta came from the town of Sestola in the Modena Region of Italy. Now it is famous for its ski slopes. When Sister Augusta was just a young teen, Sestola was crowded in the summer time by vacationers who escaped the sweltering summer heat of Italian cities. Known then as Lea, she and her mother had their own cottage industry of knitting. Lea's mother scrapped up the money to purchase a knitting machine. Lea and her mother kept busy making dresses, hats, scarfs and other items of wool clothing. When Lea entered the Daughters of St. Paul, then a very new religious Congregation, she was often asked to knit new clothing for the Sisters, or to repair sweaters and wool dresses. I still have a knit sweater which I almost threw away. Sister Augusta replaced all the buttons and re-sewed the front of the sweater giving it another ten years of good use! Sister entered the Daughters of St. Paul in 1936 in Alba, Northern Italy. The new Sister loved the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul, walking house-to-house in towns and villages in the hilly region of Gorizia. (Now Gorizia borders Slovenia.) In 1958 Sister was asked to be a missionary in the USA. She went willingly. Her brothers had immigrated to Michigan and had brought their mother with them. For the last approximately 20 years Sister Mary Augusta spent her time in sewing and knitting for the Sisters of our Boston Community. May Sister Mary Augusta rest in the arms of Jesus. She had been very devoted to praying for "the poor souls." May Sister Mary Augusta's friends in who passed before her present her with joy to the Divine Master. Blessing ti all for a grace-filled Easter Season.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Sacred Triduum--The Three High Holy Days

The Holy Week liturgies have been building a sort of momentum to the final days of Jesus' life. Today is called "Spy Wednesday", since the gospel of today tells of Judas' plan to literally "sell out" Jesus--the Master whom Judas has followed for three years. Why did Judas turn traitor? One indicator is the remark in John's gospel that Judas would steal from the common money bag. Another indicator was that he seemed to have sympathies for the Zealot Party, anarchists set on a violent overthrow of Rome's hold on Israel. Jesus had talked about a kingdom "not being of this world." Judas apparently wanted the Kingdom right here, right now! Matthew's gospel says, Judas left and it was night. Judas chose the dark side, the night to do his evil deed. He walked away from the Light which he had been delighting in for three years. How many times do we walk "into the night"?
Today we held the funeral Mass for one of our Italian born Sisters, Sister Mary Philomena Mattuzzi. Sister was in the USA for more than 50 years. She had become American with the Americans. The very thought of leaving her mission field was hard to even think about. Sister Philomena came from a very small town near Verona, which is famous for two inhabitants, Romeo and Juliet. Sister had a profound impact on all of us who lived with her, especially when she was enjoying relatively good health. She was a prayerful person, yet fun to be with, energetic and apostolic. Flowers were a passion for her. She cultivated them as long as her health permitted. She spent 13 years in Buffalo, New York when snowstorms were as frequent as could be! At that time (1970's and '80's) we never even considered hiring someone to clear the snow from our parking lot. She shoveled often and well! And, so did the Sisters who lived with her. The homilist at today's Mass had asked her at breakfast one day, "What are you planning to do today?" Sister answered immediately, "God's will" would be her agenda for the day. May God's will and the journey of Jesus to Calvary be our agenda as we begin the Sacred Triduum. I promise you my prayers.