Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Great 40 Days

Lent began yesterday with the imposition of he ashes on our foreheads. At the time of the homily, our priest surprised us all by stepping into the sacristy for a moment and coming out with a 6-iron golf club. Father demonstrated how to make a perfect shot, thankfully without a ball, by holding the club and taking dead aim. Dead aim and a relaxed, calm attitude are the ingredients-- he assured us--for a great golf game. And, he added for a great Lenten journey. The aim is to arrive at Easter, with the Risen Christ, and abandon ourselves into his care as we follow him more closely in these 40 days.
Blessed James Alberione was known for his positive approach to Lenten penances. He preferred that his followers would concentrate on one gifted aspect of their personality. He asked that we cultivate our gifts, be they intelligence, various skills, and interests so we would be the best we can be. Of course, the motivation for being the best is not a gold medal, applause or prestige, but the opportunity to be the best for God. I remember seeing a US Army recruiting center with the slogan: Army--Be the best you can be!
For Lent I know there are areas of my life which can be better from prayer life, to aqua fitness. I ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten me and you so that we can work on bettering at least one aspect of our lives so that on April 4, we may "be" at least a notch better than we are today.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Great woman Remembered

Mother Thecla with her first successor, M. Ignazia Balla. Mother Thecla at prayer.

Today, February 5 marks 46 years since the death of Mother Thecla Merlo. Mother Thecla who was baptized Teresa Merlo became the first Superior General of the newly founded congregation called the Daughters of St. Paul back in the early 1920's. Teresa had wanted to enter a religious order but was declined because of poor health. In 1915 when the priest Father James Alberione was looking for a good, prayerful and intelligent young woman to head up his newly formed band of young women dedicated to using the press to spread the Gospel, he chose Teresa to be one of the "older" members. In those early years, the senior members were in their early twenties!
Alberione envisioned a group of women united by the ideal of using the most modern means of communication to bring the Good News to as many as possible. Their life would be woven with prayer, meditation, study and total dedication to the work of what was then called "The Good Press." An expert seamstress, Teresa Merlo grasped Alberione's dream of consecrating the press and other modern media to God. She learned the basics of editing and printing parish bulletins, magazines and books. She and the first Sisters brought the printed materials to the doors of many parishes and to homes and factories. In Alba, the Sisters operated a small book shop where a statue of the Apostle Paul was displayed in the window. Soon the towns people named the young women "Daughters of St. Paul." When the first group of Daughters of St. Paul gathered to pronounce vows of chastity, poverty and obedience and to live together in charity for the "Good Press", Teresa was named Mother Thecla. (The name is pronounced like Tekla. The "h" is silent.)
Tradition tells us that St. Thecla was one of the first women converts of St. Paul. She became an indefatigable missionary in the early church. Like St. Paul, Father Alberione saw Teresa Merlo as a modern Thecla. In the footsteps of Paul and Thecla,
Mother Thecla traveled from Italy to North and South America, to India, Japan, the Philippines and Africa to visit and encourage her daughters. Blessed Alberione founded three other feminine religious orders. Mother Thecla helped each group as only a mother could. Many of the early members of the Society of St. Paul went to M. Thecla before they left for mission assignments. They knew they would not leave empty handed. She would provide them with what they needed in their new surroundings.
Mother Thecla lived to see the seed she sowed in Alba grow and spread like a vine to more than 50 countries.
The Church has declared Mother Thecla "Venerable." This is the last step before one is declared Blessed.
I was privileged to meet Mother Thecla when I was still in high school. I was impressed with her gentleness and evident holiness. She did not speak English, but she communicated with her smile and with the help of the Sisters who translated for her. After I entered the community, she came to Boston where she spent a month with us. Again I witnessed her gentleness and prayerfulness as well as her delightful playfulness. I also saw her speak with a contagious enthusiasm about our Pauline life and the need to do good for souls. I am grateful to God for having seen her and lived with her, if only for a short time. My hope is that you who read this blog will get to know Mother Thecla and experience her intercession with our heaven Father. One day we Pauline Sisters hope to see Mother Thecla Blessed along with our Founder, Blessed James Alberione.