Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February's Almost Over!

Someone sent me a card lately reminding me that I did not post anything for January! Ooops--was that an omen for this year? I hope not. A few people invited me to join Facebook, another web source of cyber relationships. After putting it off for months, I finally signed up with halting steps. I was surprised by the number of folks already there whom I know, or at least, I have met at one time or another. A (great) niece from Tennessee is there, a South Carolina niece, and lots of the Daughters of St. Paul from Great Britain to Singapore, Boston and beyond.
After being cold-free for more than two years, I had was attacked by cold germs this past weekend. I forgot how miserable one can feel. Having a cold now and then should make me more compassionate. My voice immediately goes an octave or two lower, breathing is impaired and sleep clamps me tight as I look with watery eyes at the alarm clock. My Sister Superior who is also our book centre manager invited me to go to bed around 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, even though we were our usual Saturday busy. I was happy to comply.
At Sunday Mass I tried to wave off folks who wanted to grasp my hand at the sign of peace. I wanted to keep my germs to myself. I think they got the message. The Mass on Sunday was a bit longer than usual, since a baby was baptized. The priest was gracious in that he explained each step of the baptismal ceremony. It was the first time I had witnessed a baptism in Italian. The 11:00 AM Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church here in Toronto is packed with Italian speaking folks as is the 8:00 AM Italian Mass. I was pleased to see a new generation in attendance. So the myth that all the Italo-Canadians are gray haired and past their prime is not true. I have found that many second generation Italian-Canadians are sending their children to learn Italian. Since I did not grow up in a bi-lingual household, I see how precious a gift this is to this children. That was a long digression on having a February cold.
Last Wednesday we held our monthly Italian Pauline Cooperators meeting. This group is very small, but faithful. When my Italian swerves to the grammatical left, they steer me on the right course! Once in a while I watch Italian news on television so I can keep up-to-date with this language. For Chinese New Year, a number of our patrons who speak Chinese have come in. With them I could at least give them greetings in Cantonese. For Lent, as a positive practice, I started once again to study French, the official second language of this country of Canada. I've only been to Montreal once. However, as soon as one crosses from the Province of Ontario into Quebec, all the signs are French. So it helps to know a thing or two to get around La Belle Province! In our book centre we find it useful to speak Spanish too, since a good number of Hispanic people frequent Pauline Books & Media on Saturdays in Toronto. A trusty employee from Ecuador orders our Spanish materials.
I hope you are all having a great Lent. This year I notice the Sunday readings more than I ever have before. They present a virtual feast for the soul. Last Sunday's story of the Woman at the Well and her blunt dialogue with Jesus has so many layers of meaning. At our baptismal Mass, Father reminded us of the waters of baptism. Years ago I heard a famous American homilist give a whole day's explanation of the fourth chapter of John. He compared the lady at the well to biblical Israel, and also to us.
Next Sunday's gospel is about the man born blind whom Jesus cured. The man who was cured had to testify about his blindness and his cure. Yet, he was not afraid to speak the truth, even though it was politically incorrect.
Have a good end to this leap year February. May the graces of Lent this year bring you to a deeper intimacy with Jesus. Ciao! And, better yet, as the deacon said today at the chapel I attended "Sia lodato Gesu' Cristo!" Praised be Jesus Christ! (The response is: May He always be praised! Or, in Italian, "Sempre sia lodato!")

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lent Begins

A friend of mine emailed me from Brazil last week. Noise from revelers enjoying Carneval kept her from getting a good night's sleep. It seems that some of her neighbors dreaded the idea of Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Lent signifies a springtime. Maybe those folks celebrating Carneval never heard that there are three main aspects of practicing Lent: prayer, fasting (refraining from some legtimate good, or from an addiction); and alsmgiving--which means to help those poorer than ourselves.

In our hemisphere Spring is coming, although the grass here in Toronto is again covered with lots of heavy snow. Experience tells us that one day the sun will shine, the grass will turn green, and we can enjoy the outdoors without donning boots, heavy jackets and hoods.
In our spiritual life, we are headed for the greatest feast of the Christian year--Easter--the celebration of Christ's Resurrection from the dead. One writer said that C. S. Lewis once commented that nothing that has not died can rise. Jesus said "unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies" it just remains a grain of wheat and never sprouts into a sheaf of wheat bearing much grain. We are made to live, and I for one, am not delighted at the prospect of death--naturally speaking. However in Lent we are not speaking of the purely "natural" but of the next level up--the life of grace, the spiritual life each one lives. Some persons have been working on their spiritual hygiene for a long time. Others are just beginning, and still others perhaps have not begun to address the health of their souls. For me Lent is a time to renew my purpose in life, to give more time to essentials which include prayer, reflection and deeper reading of the Word of God.
In our center here in Toronto, I was edified at how many people have come in to select reading to help them spend a better Lent. About a week ago a family of three, husband, wife and adolescent daughter, spent time browsing and choosing reading. Each one toted one of the baskets we provide for our customers. They were seriously preparing to spend the best Lent ever. Others came in for booklets on the Way of the Cross, or books for daily Lenten reading.
Yesterday I received an email with Lenten suggestions from a priest of the Society of St. Paul in Italy. Father spends much time in giving retreats and helping Paulines with spiritual direction. Father reminded us that Lent is a good time to renew the resolution to work on practicing the virtue that is the opposite of our outstanding vice--or to put it more gently--our "specialty." That is the one tendency in us which pulls us away from God--this could be inordinate pride, or a nasty quick temper, or selfishness, or addiction to eating too much. The list can become a litany. The seven capital sins are the roots of these specialties that each one may experience. Practicing their opposite is a real "hands on" way of living Lent. It is translating the teaching of spiritual masters to "die to yourself" so as to live more as Jesus would. It is making space in our egos for God to be in control. Since many of you may have watched the Super Bowl, Lent is a time to let God be the quarter back calling the shots and we the one who catches what he sends. As in football (American football), sometimes yards are gained slowly and painfully, so it can happen in our spiritual journey. We gain territory only after a lot of effort, sometimes we drop the ball, or we even get out of bounds. Lent calls us to direct our efforts toward God. It can mean fasting from food; fasting from outbursts of anger, or criticism; fasting from the Internet; or fasting from some media that is pulling us away from virtue. As one seven year old girl told me today what she is going to give up: "I guess I will give up being mean to my older sister." That was a good guess!
Whatever be your specialty and your remedy for it, I offer you my prayers that your Lenten journey will be a happy one. Lent is not something we "go alone" on. We travel it with millions of others, and Christ travels with us.