Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Live with a Penitent Heart

Best wishes and prayers for all my readers as we begin the Church's longest penitential period: Lent. A title out a number of years ago described Lent as "The Tough 40!" Sometimes I think Lent gets a bad rap, looked upon with dread and annoyance, a yearly time of spiritual and physical belt tightening. As Christians we aim to follow Jesus. He told us: "Come follow me...Take up your cross daily and follow after me....Learn of me, for I am gentle and humble of heart...". In a world that encourages us to say "yes" to every urge, and to retaliate every big or little challenge to our opinions or our preferences, Jesus' words offer us a challenge. He tells us, "Without me, you can do nothing." He metes out straight unadulterated truth. Anyone who has tried to imitate Christ in his meekness and self control, or who has tried to refrain from indulging in some favorite food may attest to what I have experienced. My will at times is as weak as a wet kitty! When we receive the ashes on our foreheads we will hear one of these two formulas spoken to us: "Repent and believe in the Gospel." Or, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Personally I think that the first word: Repent gives me a key to what to do and to be this Lent. Repent! I can remember hearing a street evangelist in Buffalo many years ago. In the heart of downtown on Main Street he shouted: "Repent! You are on the way to Hell if you don't repent right now!" A few blocks away, people who were ready to repent could slip into a confessional in St. Michael's Church and receive forgiveness and grace to do better. They could stay for the noon Mass and have a real encounter with Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. They would receive the spiritual nourishment that would fortify them against temptations. The church is not alwys standing on street corners and bellowing the Gospel to us. Yet the Church is appealing to us to take this precious season of Lent as a gift from God who loves us. It is an invitation to open our hearts to God who is knocking on our inner doors and asking to come in. If you ever visit a Pauline Family chapel you will see the words in the sanctuary: "Do not fear. I am with you. From here (the Tabernacle) I will cast light. Be sorry for sin." Or, "Live with a penitent heart." Back in 1924 Blessed James Alberione Founder of the Pauline Family experienced grave difficulties as he worked with his three new religious orders: the Society of St. Paul, the Daughters of St. Paul, and the Sisters, Disciples of the Divine Master. In a dream or a vision, Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life appeared to Alberione. The Master stood near the tabernacle in a Catholic Church. Pointing towards the tabernacle, Christ Jesus said: "Do not fear! I am with you! From here I will cast light. Live with a penitent heart." Some translations say "Be sorry for sin." Soon after the vision, Father James Alberione renewed his efforts to organize his new Pauline Family. Always tenacious in following his inspirations, Alberione found even more courage after that encounter with Jesus. Since the words Blessed Alberione heard were in Latin, there can be slight variations in their English translations. This is the way I like to see the final phrase, "Live with a penitent heart." As we begin Lent, I want to ask for the grace to live with a penitent heart. Does this mean going around all day saying "mea culpa", "I'm sorry," or wearing ashes on my forehead for all of 40 days of Lent? No. We can hold our head high because we trust in a God who promises help. A penitent heart is one aware of its weaknesses and tendencies to stray from our good resolutions. Our pentitent hearts know that our strength lies not in us, but in Jesus. He says in the 11th Chapter of Matthew: "Come to me all of you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) Besides burdens of a job, of family duties, of personal health issues, or financial worries, we can be carrying heavy burdens of sinful behavior, or bad habits that keep us from letting Christ shine through us. A penitent heart wants to truly be sorry for sin and desires wholeheartedly to be Christ-like. As one spiritual director told me: "We know well that the one thing that counts is always and everywhere to remember that it is Jesus who wants to live in you; he wants to think in you; he desires to will in you; he wants to love in you; and to give of himself through you." This advice echoes what St. Paul told the Galatians: "It is now no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)
Somebody might say, "All that sounds too goody goody, too "holy" for my place in life." Yet, if we strive to do our best in studies, work and at home, why not make the effort to do the same for God in our spiritual life? Father Ron Rolhiser in his book "The Holy Longing" tells us that there are certain non-negotiables in the spiritual life. One of these is the daily spiritual check-point, the examination of conscience. This practice is a sure fire way to acquire a "penitent heart." Father James Martin, SJ, has printed a handy post card size outline of what to do. He lists five steps to making an exam that could last as long as 20 minutes or less. First, the exam time usually begins with placing ourselves intentionally in the presence of God. Then we express gratitude for "two or three things for which you are especially grateful. Savor them....thank God for them." Then we look back or review our "day from start to finish, noticing where we experienced God's presence. Notice everything from large to small: from an enjoyable interaction with a friend to the feel of the sun on your face. When did you love? When were you loved?" As we look over the past day we can see that we "may have sinned today or done something you regret. Express your sorrow to God and ask for forgiveness. If it's a grave sin, pray about seeking forgiveness from the person offended, or (in) the sacrament of reconciliation." Grace is what we ask as we conclude the Daily Examen: "You may want to turn to a meaningful part of your prayer and speak to God about how you felt. At the close of the prayer, ask for God's grace for the following day."
It may be that your night hours are taken up with infant care, or other obligations. You may even use your daily commute to work as exam time. Or, you might do the exam while taking a coffee or tea break between laundry loads, or between clients at your office... Soon enough the daily exam becomes part and parcel of your spiritual life. After awhile you can recognize a pattern in your actions, your omissions, your habitual failings. Having a penitent heart is being very honest when it's time to make an examination of conscience. A good way to steer ourselves into a "Lenten State of Mind" is to do some daily spiritual reading. Pauline Books & Media offers a compact edition called "Lent with Pope Francis" for folks with limited time to read.
Another title from Pauline is "When the Lord Speaks to the Heart" by the French priest Father Courtois. Our website offers many other titles to help you follow Jesus in this season. The Lenten/Easter volume of "Everyday Grace" offers reflections on the Gospel of each day in the Lenten season. Check our website wwww.pauline.org for details on how to purchase these titles. Let us pray for one another that this time we are given to draw closer to Christ by having penitent hearts will be truly a Springtime for our spiritual lives! Happy Lent!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Happy St. Valentine's Day

I remember asking my mother to buy a stack of Valentine's cards, one for each of my second grade classmates. Every one of us headed home that Valentine's Day afternoon with a stack of cards asking us to "be someone's Valentine!" I certainly had one from my second grade crush, Jimmy K. Alas, Jimmy's dad was transferred to Cleveland for his job. My Jimmy K. "Valentine" disappeared, and my attention was focused on many other subjects, which in second grade, meant preparing for First Holy Communion. Eventually Jesus became my one and only true "Valentine." In fact, there are so many images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that it seems Jesus should be the King of this day for lovers!
Valentine's Day always reminds me of Mother Paula Cordero who came from Italy in 1932 to found the Daughters of St. Paul in the USA. Her anniversary of death is today, February 13th. Mother Paula's birthday was February 16th. She claimed Valentine's Day as one of her favorites not only because of its proximity to her birthday, but more because the love of Jesus for us is symbolized by the heart. Mother Paula was one of those pioneers in religious life who relied on prayer, faith and hard work to plant our Pauline congregation in this country. She arrived in New York on June 28th, 1932 in the heart of the Great Depression. Money was scarce, she and her companions still had to learn English, and the mission of media evangelization was a foreign, novel and to some, strange, concept to take in. With the stamina of St. Paul, Mother Paula persevered through difficult times. The first American Novitiate of the Daughters of St. Paul was established in Derby, New York in the Buffalo Diocese. The Sisters' printing apostolate literally began in what had been a stable, and a green house. Not long after, the Daughters of St. Paul had a small convent and a book center in Boston's downtown Washington Street.
Richard Cardinal Cushing invited the Sisters to move their novitiate to Boston. The Cardinal helped the Sisters find a site in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, close to the town of Brookline. With Mother Paula's enthusiasm and drive, the Sisters pursued their media apostolate with Pauline Books & Media publishing house; a sound and video studio and eventually established a reputation of having reliable and wholesome Catholic reading and listening. The Sisters' radio studio broadcasts Spanish language programs which reach more than 100 stations world wide. All of us Sisters celebrate St. Valentine's Day, now more than ever, because St. Valentine was a martyr for the sacrament of marriage. The Roman Emperor at the time (around 300 AD) decided that men should stay single, because he thought that marriage rendered men too weak to be good soldiers. The movie Braveheart has a similar event wheredeep in a forest a priest risked his life to marry the Mel Gibson character and his lovely bride. In that era too, according to the film, marriage was prohibited. Our Daughters of St. Paul publishing house has produced several books on the Theology of the Body, St. Pope John Paul's splendid teaching on marriage and the dignity of man and woman. Another Valentine themed book is "Transformed in Love" a thorough and practical Catholic guide to marriage preparation. This program with its leaders guide and couple's text was prepared by a 40 member team in the Archdiocese of Boston.
To find our more about Theology of the Body, books on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and more check out: www.pauline.org I wish all my readers a very Happy St. Valentine's Day!