Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's Christmastime in the Convent!

Monday I was talking with an acquaintance on the West Coast about how our Christmas celebrations, his and mine, had been. The holiday was fun for him, because his seven-year-old niece was still young enough to enjoy its magic. In the course of the conversation, Michael confessed that he hadn’t gone to church that day. “I haven’t been to church since I was about ten or eleven; my parents just stopped going. We observe the tradition: it’s something we’ve always done as a family, and it’s a good time for family to get together. But church just isn’t part of it.”

There was nothing hostile or defensive about Michael’s comments. He wasn’t avoiding religion and he didn’t rail against those of us who pray. It’s just that a relationship with God wasn’t on his toolbar.

It’s so hard to get through to the secular mindset these days, that many of us give up reaching out. Whether in Liturgy or school or family, we’re content to tell each other the story of Jesus, knowing it’ll receive a welcome there.

While it’s essential to remind one another of this Word and grow in our own friendship with God, we, the Church, are sent by this Word of God incarnate to proclaim him to those whose faith seems unresponsive. We need to find ways to reboot it, to click on the relationship with God that’s not absent from people’s toolbar—only hidden.

That’s the reason behind the photos below. I admitted to Michael that at Christmas, nuns go a little over the top spiritually, at least compared with most North Americans. But anyone who even glances in our direction can’t miss the authenticity of it all. It flows strong beneath the surface, so that both at prayer time and party time, it bubbles up clear and fresh. Not perfect, but life-giving, just the same.

Yes, it’s Christmastime in the convent—all 17 days of it this year. Flip through the album, offer a prayer for us, and pass both the album and a prayer on to the Michaels—or Michelles—in your world.

It's Christmastime in the Convent

Click here to view these pictures larger

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Honoring Christmas Traditions

Throughout the nearly hundred years of our existence, the Pauline Family has benefitted from the faith and generosity of others. According to various historical accounts, it’s clear that from the earliest days, these people knew they were doing more than simply helping a new foundation in need. They were carrying out a mission. This was due in no small part to the gift Founder Bl. James Alberione had of being able to explain and inspire, even as he turned to them for the special needs of “St. Paul” or simply “the house.” On his part, he promised his own prayers and those of the community. It’s a tradition we gratefully continue.

In his November/December 1952 letter to the Pauline Cooperators, who were among our first donors and benefactors, Fr. Alberione wrote of an ambitious project: to build a temple in honor of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Rome. This was the result of a vow he had made during the Second World War if she would keep every Pauline safe. Though money and materials were scarce, he kept his promise and lassoed friends and benefactors into the project with him. He wrote:
“Behold the Son of God who became man to save the human race.  We consider him as a gracious, beautiful baby in the crib. You are the Cooperators of this effable mission with prayer and good example, with the writing and the distribution of good books, with sacrifice, with your help, and with offerings to the Society of St Paul.

“Each year, in the name of this baby, Jesus, who begged a cave, a crib, and swaddling clothes, I come to ask charity and help from you.…the Cooperators and persons who will gather in this magnificent Temple to honor Jesus, the Master of humanity, and his and our Most Holy Mother, and to implore graces.

“See what great joy and value it is to give something to Jesus?…Jesus will say to you, dear and generous Cooperators: ‘I was naked and you covered me; I was thirsty and you offered me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in… Come therefore, O blessed, into the reign of my Father ….’ You have the wisdom of the Divine Spirit and the supernatural virtue of charity. Know that we have had many proofs of this in the past, in fact, every year.

“God willing, we will celebrate a special Mass for you on Christmas night.  Unite yourselves to us in spirit. I will make your intentions my own.

“Most fervent best wishes for the New Year: to you and your families, and for all the things which are close to your heart. Through your generosity we are opening a new house abroad, new vocations are coming, and new editions bring light and comfort to the human race.

“Let us always fix our gaze toward heaven. Children, society, and the interests of God have won you, who are courageous persons living their life of faith at home, in church, and in society.

“May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain always in you—in light and joy and in an increase of grace and merit, now and for eternity.
                                                                        Affectionately, Fr. Alberione"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Donors Share the Word With U.S. Bishops

Say “Sr. Sara Butler” to those who, like me, came of age shortly after Vatican II, and they’ll remember a very vocal and formidable proponent of women’s ordination. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, she made a 180 degree turn and is now an equally vocal and formidable opponent. More, in Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, a book recently published by Pauline Books & Media, she connects this exclusively insider topic to the global and controversial issues also covered. Any support for the fittingness of (different from the reason for) the Church’s tradition, she claims, must take into account that sexual complementarity is not “significant only for reproduction….Being a man or a woman is central, not simply incidental, to one’s identity and defines one’s capacity for relationships, that is, for ‘making a gift of self’.”

Editor Erika Bachiochi autographs a copy at the book
launch this Fall at Boston College.
This giftedness is at the heart of the contribution made by each of the book’s nine authors—all women except one, including the editor, Erika Bachiochi. Their readable insights can be easily grasped by anybody with a serious and lively interest in reproductive issues, or women’s role in the Church and public life, as well as the rapport between sexuality and social justice.

Don’t think Women, Sex, and the Church is “just for girls.” You know that e-reader you’re going to get for one of the men in your life this Christmas? For another $10, you can download the book, too. Parishioners, do you wonder what to buy for a priest? Look no further. Either our Web store or a Pauline Books & Media Center near you can help. Give someone this key that opens a door to the Church’s understanding of sexuality from the perspective of modern American women.

Insight into that perspective is what prompted us to send it for Christmas to each of the 424 bishops in the U. S. Most years, we send one of our new publications or productions to them, along with our thanks for their ministry in the Church and our promise of prayers. This year our gift was made possible by the donors on a direct mail list that’s managed by Sr. Anne Eileen Heffernan. They contributed the $6,360 we needed. As the bishops write us with their thanks, we’ll pass on some of their comments to you in future blog posts, since they’re really thanking our donors, too, for sharing the Word with them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Christmas Concerts and Pauline Cooperators

Staten Island Advance photo. Read all about it here!
Sad. I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. If I could, that would mean I could sing and clap, dance and act. And that would mean I could have jumped up and joined my Pauline sisters on stage at our Choir’s Benefit Dinner Concert in Staten Island last Thursday. Or at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland the following night. Princeton or Piscataway, NJ? How about Philadelphia? Or Brooklyn, NY or Marshfield, MA?

Not that they needed my help. They wowed the crowd plenty all by themselves. Even more, in both word and song, they reminded us of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas. Even as we, the audience—600 in Staten Island and 450 in Cleveland—sang along or pondered the lyrics or enjoyed the teamwork that pulled such a spectacular together, the Spirit of God too danced within us, bringing God’s Son to birth in our hearts and lives, planting seeds of the kingdom to come.

We heard the result: “I come to this concert every year, and it says something to me each time.” “It always starts the season for me.” “It reminds me of what’s important.” In Cleveland, several friends and donors we visited afterward were disappointed that they somehow missed the promo announcements. They know several Daughters and remember the mission that the sisters carried out in the diocese for thirty years, following a twenty-year mission in Youngstown. Now we’re in the process of reconnecting personally with people there through these concerts, as well as through school book fairs, parish displays, donor visits, and, possibly, media literacy workshops.

Some of this will be carried out by the Pauline Cooperators, who will formally begin their 18-month formation process in the new year. Many of these men and women start out as volunteers, but their association with the Pauline Family goes deeper than their work with us. As they gradually discern the Pauline charism within themselves, they resolve to live an intensely Christian life in the spirit of the Apostle Paul and commit themselves to evangelize, or share the Good News, in their contacts, undertakings, and liturgical or private prayer, in whatever way the Spirit leads them. Most do this through some form of media, even in simple, unassuming ways, such as giving an inspirational or educational book, CD, or DVD as a Christmas gift, or connecting the parish ministry they’re involved in with the Pauline Family.

One of the things I admired about the Cleveland group is the unity they express in the variety of their interests, ethnic origins, ages, and professions, which testifies to the universality of the Church, regardless of which parish they come from. It was a little hard to leave, but they give me reason to look toward the future in hope.

So it seems as if I missed my chance at multi-entertaining audiences this year. But I enjoyed being part of the Church’s story there in my own way, even if for just a few days.

There again, I could aim for one of the concerts at our Boston convent this weekend….

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The World Wide Web of the New Evangelization

Cyber Monday. We never heard the name until five years ago. If you’re an Internet immigrant like me, you only recently learned that it’s the Black Friday of online retail. As if we needed another day of consumer hype before Christmas. Two companies are even extending it into “Cyber Week.”

Online sales this past Monday set a nationwide record: a 19.4 percent increase over last year. While one research firm projects a 4.5 percent increase in holiday retail sales in general, others predict an 11 percent increase in online sales. If sales “history” means much, it may happen. This week some online retailers already reported as much as a 51 percent gain over Cyber Monday 2009.

Then there’s the Pauline Books & Media (PBM) Web store.

On Monday it filled 25 orders with a total of 115 items. Such an inventory turnover could make a major outlet despair, but Sr. Patricia Cora Shaules, the Web store manager,  is enthusiastic. “Our sales are increasing, our customer base is increasing, and on the average we’re meeting our projections,” she reports. “The important thing is that we’re reaching people we couldn’t reach otherwise and we’re reaching them where they are.”

True. In fact, since September 2009 when it was launched, PBM Web has sent out almost 14,000 books, CDs, and DVDs in English and Spanish to people in all fifty states. In addition to filling orders, the store is often a conduit for other services that support the Church’s missionary efforts. Just two weeks ago, a priest in Thailand inquired about having a PBM title translated into Standard Thai. The store was able to help him begin the process. A Pauline Web presence in the “neighborhood” enables us to minister more effectively to those who shop PBM online. Getting to know the “neighbors” is an ongoing project, as the demographic continues to diversify.

Even though she’s optimistic about an effective online outreach, Sr. Patricia keeps an eye trained on the numbers. She changes highlighted products regularly and collaborates with PBM’s digital publishing, not only to make more of a splash, but to build and sustain the tide.

An entire Web site upgrade, scheduled for 2011, will give the store a facelift. This initiative, more than two years in the making, will enable both services to be even more user-friendly. Products will soon be inserted in more than one category, and whenever a title is highlighted, three other related titles will appear below it. Kinks in the credit card payment process have already been ironed out, and the system will be able to handle larger orders, growing the current capacity to fill requests for multiple copies of products.

For Sr. Patricia, the new Web site will be about both pre-evangelization and direct evangelization. “We’ll be accompanying people throughout their spiritual odyssey, including people who have not grown up with the faith.”

It has been difficult to budget for this, and the venture promises to be costly. For now, prayers are needed. As we have more details, we’ll keep you informed…and invite you to be part of it!