Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Farewell Jean Vanier, A New Intercessor

Today in Paris at a L'Arche Community facility, a lanky 90 year old son of a Canadian statesman, Jean Vanier, died. As a young man, Vanier studied in Canada, England and France.  He earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris in the mid-1960's. He could have been an outstanding professor in Europe or North America. Vanier's  experience from Paris of 1945, where he and his mother had to interview Holocaust victims, gave him a taste of raw suffering firsthand. Vanier had presented his doctoral thesis on happiness in the philosopher Aristotle. He could have carved out a successful career as a University professor in Europe or in North America.  A priest friend made Jean aware of a sector of people who are often by-passed in today's society, people who suffer from developmental and intellectual disabilities. A priest friend invited Vanier to meet a small group of people with disabilities who lived together in Paris. Touched by their isolation Vainer recruited a few of his friends to come with him and live side-by-side together--the well and the not-so-well; the mentally sharp and those not endowed intellectually.
Vanier's love gave him the vision to see each person as a child of God, someone loved by God and therefore loved by Vanier. Jean focused his efforts and influence on establishing L'Arche communities in over 37 countries. Vanier also started a movement called Faith and Light now active in about 80 nations. Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest and spiritual writer met Vanier and spent the last several years of his life living and working with a L'Arche Community in the Richmond Hill suburb of Toronto.
There are several on-line information sources about L'Arche which is the French word for The Ark, like Noah's Ark which was a refuge for all who fled to it. 
Here is one information-laden paragraph about L'Arche taken from the Internet:
Although L'Arche communities are found in many different cultures and reflect the ethnic and religious composition of the locales in which they exist, they share a common philosophy and approach. People with developmental disabilities and those who assist them live and work together to create homes. The L'Arche Charter says, "In a divided world, L'Arche wants to be a sign of hope. Its communities, founded on covenant relationships between people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion and culture, seek to be signs of unity, faithfulness and reconciliation."[11] The charter further outlines the objectives, the principles and the identity of L'Arche.
We pray for the soul of Jean Vanier. May the "Angels lead him into Paradise." From Heaven may he intercede for us, especially for our mentally handicapped or mentally ill relatives or friends.
It is significant that today, Pope Francis visited the place where Saintly Mother Teresa was born in North Macedonia. Both Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier went to the fringes of society and saw Jesus in each person: those mentally gifted and those mentally disabled. We have been blessed in our lifetimes to have been exposed to such determined followers of the Risen Lord Jesus. All you Saints of God, pray for us!


Thursday, November 01, 2018

The Dead Have Their Day!

Happy Friday, the First Friday of November! And, Happy All Souls Day! The souls we are referring to are the souls of the Faithful Departed, our deceased family members, and all who have died. In the Apostles' Creed we say, "I believe in the holy, Catholic church, the Communion of Saints, and life everlasting. Amen. We believe that these souls are living in the "life to come," the after-life. Actually this life is the eternal life that will never be interrupted by death. This Communion of Saints which we mention in the Apostles Creed prayer connects us with all our family who have gone before us. We are not really alone, even if we are on a remote island not only God sees us, but we believe that the Angels and Saints see us and can help us. Have you seen the movie, "Coco"? It's about the Dia de Los Muertos celebrated in Spanish-speaking cultures in many parts of the world, including our neighbors South of the Border in Mexico. The film treats the Day of the Dead as a very important feast, and it depicts the after-life in a rather up-beat fashion. I do not want to describe it at length, because it is better to see it and enjoy it. It is a Pixar and Disney film, with engaging animation and a mystery being unraveled at the very end! For us of another culture, November 2 is a more somber day. From the joyful celebration of the Saints, we descend to the dead, those who may be in Purgatory, not ready yet to be fully in the presence of God. The Saints believed that it is a healthy custom for the soul to meditate on death, so we will live ready to die peacefully any time. In our palms we each have an "M" inscribed to remind us of "Memento Mori", remember your death. We all know that we could die at any moment from innumerable causes. If we paused once a day to look at those "M's" in our hands, and pray for a holy death, we would have less fear of judgement and the after life. A new book from Pauline Books & Media, is actually a prayer journal titled "Memento Mori" Remember Death. To get it, just dial their 800 number: 1-800-876-4463. My best regards for a beautiful month of November. May you have the chance to pray for the loved ones who have lef this life. I promise my prayers for all who read and meditate with this blog. God bless you!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Feast of All Saints

Happy Feast of All Saints and Happy Month of November--Month of the "Poor Souls!"
(These stained glass windows from Holy Martyrs Church show Saints of every stripe: men and women, adults and children, clergy and lay.) This year the Boston baseball team, the Red Socks, won the World Series. For the first time in my life, I was able to watch at least a part of each game in the play offs and in the World Series itself. When the game ended, a veritable explosion of players in red socks piled out onto the field with hugs, tears of joy, and smiles all around. Today the players were the main attraction as a parade of Duck Boats carried the players and their bosses, as well as their family members through the main streets of Boston for a crowd of at least a million.
It was a joyful event as spectators waved to their team and reveled in yet another Boston victory. A few days ago Sister Maureen reminisced about witnessing the Chicago Cubs fans hailing their team's win in the 2016 World Series after a drought of 106 years! She said, "It reminded me of what heaven's going to be like when new arrivals come. There was a sense of true happiness and contentment as the Cubs fans waited for their team to pass by in their parade." The Feast of All Saints, November 1st, reminds us that we are headed for an unending victory celebration once we pass into the halls of heaven. I may seem a bit biased, however, I was truly impressed by our hometown players who persevered even when they faced formidable opponents. In New York the roar of the Yankee's fans turned to silence when Boston's players moved ahead. It was a moment of silent awe when Boston's players, then considered the underdogs, amazed everyone with their victory. The Mass readings for these days have featured St. Paul's advice to the Ephesians about respecting and loving one another, being humble and kind to one another. When the Red Sox began winning often, their manager reminded them that pride comes before a fall. "Stay humble," he was reported to have said, and to add, "Don't be arrogant!" Each team member praised his fellow players. Many of the players remembered that their far-off goal as Little Leaguers was to one day play in the World Series. In this game of life, we are all in the Little League! However, we are meant to be in our own version of the World Series! Reading the Lives of the Saints, watching films about them and trying to imitate some of their virtues will help us to win or final victory. One day we'll grow-up to be real Saints, crowned on the home plate of heaven. It may sound corny, or trivial, yet there is so much to learn from sports, specifically baseball. When the Red Socks started practice in Florida, they had already aimed to make it to the World Series. They certainly aimed high! We are called to aim high, to take part in spiritual exercise so as to build up the muscle of our spiritual lives. As St. Paul says, "We are to put on Christ." Sometimes we round the bases, other days we slide in the mud and get messy because we fell into a rut of distraction or routine. That is a form of spiritual "auto pilot!" Every day is a gift. Every day is a challenge to be our best and to do our best for God, in union with our Mother Mary, and together with Jesus who wants to live in us. Happy Feast of All Saints, our own Patrons and our Family's Patrons. Have a Blessed Feast Day and a grace-filled Month of the Holy souls!

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.