Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cheers to Poverty!

Three years ago, as the entire Church prepared to observe a “Pauline Year” in honor of the Apostle, we received the following letter:
“…The coming year of St. Paul….should be a powerful year for his daughters. Expect special blessing, even more vocations and more than adequate provision for your ministry….The greatest blessing will be deeper intimacy with Jesus as you “gladly spend yourselves and are spent” for him.”
Dr. John B., Ellicott City, MD
God so graces our lives every day, that it’s hard to know whether that year was more blessed than others. It was certainly marked by a fresh impetus in spirituality and mission, new publications on Paul, communal reflection on the heritage we’ve received from him, and a month-long seminar in Italy for representatives of all the congregations and institutes of the Pauline Family. This was convoked by Fr. Silvio Sassi, superior general of the Society of St. Paul, with the express intention of jumpstarting a renewed outlook on study, spiritual life, mission, and our “lifestyle” at the service of the Gospel.

That “lifestyle,” shaped by our vowed life in community, is part of the patrimony from our founders, James Alberione and Thecla Merlo. As they meditated on the lives of Jesus and Paul, their lives were gradually marked by poverty, which they understood not as destitution, but as simplicity and a strong work ethic that’s meant to give life to individual Paulines, Pauline communities, and those we evangelize.

In fact, as they “digested” (Alberione’s word) the example and teaching of the Apostle, they ended up describing Pauline poverty as life that renounces the superfluous, preserves the goods of creation that are given to us, provides for our needs, produces for the mission, and builds up (“edifies”) the Church.

Fr. Alberione was accustomed to hard work all his life, first out in the fields of Piedmont, and later, in the religious houses he founded. So, linking his own experience with Christ, he wrote that Jesus’ sweat in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth was no less redemptive than his bloody sweat in the Garden of Olives, since it was the world’s Redeemer who underwent both. Paul was another model for him, too, since he had labored both as an Apostle and as a tentmaker, providing for his own needs and those of his companions (cf. Acts 20:34).

Neither of them ever said no to a donation, though! Time and again, in his letters to the communities he had formed, Paul thanked those whose generosity made it possible for him to live and not be a burden on those in whose city he was currently evangelizing. He boldly labeled their donation a “spiritual offering,” given in exchange for the chance they had received to share in the blessings of the Gospel he had preached to them. Jesus and his disciples, too, benefitted from the gratitude of women Jesus had healed and “who provided for them out of their means” (Lk. 8:3).

There’s the catch. Those who followed Jesus and Paul were not priests or religious. They were regular working people, family men and women with several mouths to feed, a number of them—at least in Paul’s company—slaves to unrelenting masters, adherents of a scorned religion. Relatively few were sophisticated, powerful, or born with a silver spoon in their mouths (cf. 1Cor. 1:26). Yet the Pauline poverty that renounced, preserved, provided, produced, and built up the Church was their call as much as it was Paul’s. It characterized their lives as much as it did his.

So it is with us and those who come to share in the blessings of the Gospel through our mission. While the Daughters’ ordinary way of providing for our needs is remuneration for our products and services, we also appeal to others’ generosity…in Paul’s spirit. They, in turn, gradually, maybe even imperceptibly, absorb his “style,” not in the radical way we do by a vowed life, but by integrating it into their lives. It changes them.

Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and today remembers his closest collaborators, Sts. Timothy and Titus. May they give all of us something of their mission-mindedness…and a little of their poverty!
“Our first encounter [with the Daughters of St. Paul] was when some sisters visited my home when I was first married. My wife was so impressed that she chose St. Paul as her patron saint. Then in 1978 when I was broke and out of work with a second child on the way, you fed us. I have never experienced the love of God in such a powerful way. The Church and the world are in such great need of the truth which you spread through your apostolate. You are in my daily prayers, and I unite my sufferings for the success of that ministry.”
 Gerald G., Bridgeport, CT

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Feet of Those Who Publish Salvation (Is. 52:7)

People confuse us with the Paulists all the time: St. Paul, publishing, book stores, evangelization, that sort of thing. If I myself didn’t have a problem keeping religious communities straight—what with all the Charities and Mercies, and St. Josephs—it could get maddening. After all, we’ve both been around a century each, longer in their case. What makes it even harder for people is that there’s a masculine branch of the Paulines, too, who have the same mission we have: The Society of St. Paul, with their own publishing, once known as Alba House, now “St. Paul’s,” like their—our—brothers worldwide.

The Paulists’ mission “gives the Gospel a voice today” in several keys ways. Naturally, it makes sense to do it through media, but they’re not bound to that. The Pauline Family, on the other hand, is: evangelizing specifically through media and evangelizing the media culture, as St. Paul would have done were he walking the earth today.

Same Church, different pew.

Copy editor Sr. Linda S. Boccia hugs "Goliath,"
proofs of John Paul II's monumental work,
Man and Woman He Created Them. 

With our 40 publishing houses around the world, it explains why Pauline Books & Media (PBM) gets serious about the craft. From marketing and editorial, to order fulfillment and customer service, the books and other printed materials, CDs, and DVDs we put out in either digital or hard copy are the premier way we carry out our mission. PBM covers not only our products, but our services, as well: our Web site and store, the J-Club (a school book fair program with a corresponding Web site in the works), workshops and media literacy courses, plus the array of emerging social media we engage in: Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. It doesn’t stop there, either. Whatever is coming down the technological pike falls within the scope of our mission.

Thus the need for continual discernment. PBM doesn’t exist for itself, but for the world it evangelizes. As times change, how is Christ the Master, the Teacher, calling PBM to change so he can respond to the needs, the cries, of his People?

Pauline Books & Media Mission Statement
As apostles of Jesus Christ, evangelizing today’s world:
We are CALLED to holiness by God’s living Word and Eucharist.
We COMMUNICATE the Gospel message through our lives
and through all available forms of media.
We SERVE the Church by responding to the hopes and needs
of all people with the Word of God, in the spirit of St. Paul.

You’ve told us some of what you value in Pauline Books & Media. Following are excerpts from your notes to us:

My mother passed away in May. During Mom’s final days, we played your beautiful Adoration/Eucharistic Hymns CD over and over again. The presence of the Holy Spirit is evident in your music. The CD was the last thing my Mother heard on this earth. The atmosphere it provided her was a gentle transition into Our Lord’s arms. We will be forever grateful to all of you!
Frances M., Tacoma, WA

[PBM] means a constant source of nourishment in my daily routine of spreading the Gospel always.
John, MA

Pauline Books & Media definitely is a way of evangelization, introducing Jesus to those who do not know Him yet.
Audra T., MA

I was moved [to send this contribution for your] important work in furthering the spread of the Gospel because of my personal relationships with your sisters in Pakistan over a period of 33 years while I served in Karachi and Lahore. They are a wonderful group and helped me very much in many ways.
Rev. J. M. C., OP, Hawthorne, NY

As I understand it, your mission is to bring the Word of God to the world.
Your publications and stores are one strategy to do so. These are great resources, and one particular “business model.” As a “brand” your products and recommendations, i.e., what you publish, and what you carry in your stores, provide a “guarantee” for those of us struggling to make good choices.
Robert S., Milton MA

I wish to thank you for all the beautiful tapes and books which I purchased from you. It has been a wonderful experience and I am grateful for all the joys I have received from you. May God continue to shine on all your endeavors.
Rosalind L., Long Island, NY

Clicking on will help you keep up with the latest
at Pauline Books & Media. By the way, last week I forgot to tell you that you can connect with the Pauline Books & Media Centers in the U.S. and Toronto on Facebook. Become a fan and you can stay connected.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Centers Where the Word Is Made Flesh

This Nativity set filled the window display at the Pauline Books & Media (PBM) Center in Chicago this past Advent and Christmas. A favorite seasonal tradition in Chicago is to go window shopping in the city, so stores, large and small, oblige by decorating to the nines. Sr. Frances A. Obrovac (yes, we’re related; she’s my sister) is assigned to our community there and told me how our staff caught glimpses of the ways this arresting display evangelized people on Michigan Avenue.

Apparently it was common to see people stop in their tracks in front of it and smile wide in sheer joy or wonder. Some panned the scene with video cameras, or had their pictures taken next to it. Parents especially grabbed this made-to-order, teachable moment: while the kids gazed at the figures, parents pointed and talked, no doubt reminding them of the story. One family of six paused, and a girl, maybe nine-years-old, spontaneously held her hands up in prayer.

A display of faith in a business area like the Loop is striking. We North Americans have so departmentalized and even privatized religion that placing it within a commercial setting seems incongruous. Yet, “missionaries to Main Street” is precisely how Blessed James Alberione and Sr. Thecla Merlo envisioned the Daughters of St. Paul and all our co-workers in each PBM Center. People who frequent these Centers get that. Following are eleven of the many comments we’ve received from our guests within the past few years:

Pauline Books and Media is a respite and niche where I find comfort and peace. It is a pool of knowledge where I gain access to the wisdom of God.
Easter A., Hawaii

It is an extension of home, the sisters are welcoming, I know them by name, and they are extremely helpful answering questions and recommending books.
Lucia M., Florida 

Juan Villegas, PBM Chicago,
serves a guest.
 The store you operate in New York City is a great blessing to me. I know that I can get away from my troubles (whether a frustrating day at the office, need for encouragement or spiritual renewal). There is always calming, uplifting music being played, and the staff (the sisters and lay people) are always so helpful!! The store contains items not always obtainable elsewhere. Please pray for me and my intentions, and thanks for all you do to bring the WORD to the world!!
Robert G., New York

A heart doctor from Sweden just came into the book center here. He wanted me to let the sisters know how much he appreciates our mission in Manhattan. He said this is his favorite stop whenever he comes to New York.
Sr. Susan J. Kraus, FSP, New York

It is both an expansive oasis and a barren desert where I can find God in print—a fuel and water station of sorts!  Here the Word of God comes alive and penetrates the heart when one is fully and prayerfully engaged. And the Sisters, heralds of zeal and faithfulness to many!
Isabel G., Florida

Was over at the store today [Redwood City, CA] 09.03.09. No words to describe it. Like a Black Hole, something draws people from the public sidewalk, and once inside, good luck if one can ever escape....The center of this Black Hole is definitely the chapel: one's inner-light is absorbed into this core, one experiences a sort of time warp, that is, we planned to stay only 15 minutes, but when we came out it was really an hour!!!...It's a vortex; one's appetite for physical food disappears. One feels content, satisfied, and full....If one is lucky enough to escape this phenomenon, one feels rejuvenated, young, happy, content, can't stop smiling...a very, very strange and unnatural experience indeed. Please share this feedback with others. I hope I am not the only one to report this mystery.
Paul M., California

A stylish lady in her 40’s came up to the counter, and I rang out her purchases. At the end I invited her to stop in to our beautiful little chapel for a visit with Jesus.
     She said: “Sister, I really can’t stop in today, but I just want to tell you that I was in your chapel another time. At that time, although I tried not to show it, I was having a very bad day. I went in with a terrible problem for which I could see no solution. I got my answer there. Imagine my surprise when I saw it written right on the wall: ‘Do not be afraid! I am with you’” [the words of Jesus to our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, found in many Pauline chapels worldwide].
     The lady patted my hands and whispered, “That made all the difference. Everything worked out.”
Sr. Susan H. Wallace, FSP, Massachusetts, July 15, 2008

When I think of Pauline Books and Media, I think of the centers. I don't think of it as a “brand” like Coca-Cola. I was struck by Sr. Margaret [Obrovac’s] discussion of how the centers are at a point where they need to change, because retail stores no longer function as the primary places where people purchase media. What will a PBM center in the future look like? I ask myself this question as I think about the proposal I want to write for a [Pauline] Cooperator-run PBM center in Wilmington. This question gets to the core of what “Pauline Books and Media means.” It means primarily a mission to evangelize along the lines that Blessed Alberione envisioned. It means a mission to bring to the world the truths, way, and life of the gospel using modern media. How? The “good press” has been a primary means in the Centers, along with a decent collection of music and video. And the future?
Rae S., Delaware

Sr. Anna and a guest in the
PBM Center, Dedham (Boston).
 It is where I can get good books on my faith and to increase my understanding of my Lord and lay ministries duties.
Howard, Hawaii

Pauline Books and Media store is a place where Catholic faith and culture is promoted and nurtured in an increasing secular society. The Daughters of St. Paul have been visible signs of our Catholic faith and help to nurture vocations to the religious life. 
Melissa C., Hawaii

Entering a Pauline Bookstore is like coming to a welcoming home that is my home, also.  Inspiring and instructive books on many topics for all ages, religious articles that enrich our lives, as well as the presence of the Sisters make the Pauline bookstore a special place—a great source of evangelization in this most needy world.  I think that untold lives have been touched by this presence in the midst of the cities where there is a Pauline Bookstore.  
Louise H., Alabama

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Making a New Year's Transition

One of the few things I remember from high school biology is that all living things change. In fact, change is a sign that an organism is alive; if it doesn’t change it’s dead.

The most consequential changes in the human spirit come in the form of transitions, those life-altering periods that catch us off-balance for a time, cause us to question what we thought we knew, then nudge us to look for more meaningful markers on the journey and begin a new phase of life’s adventure. Without a doubt, they keep us guessing, but they can also get us trusting God and others in a new way.

With the digital revolution, the book and music industries, from creation to completion, are morphing at a dizzying pace. More than ever before, this flux defies us to anchor the direction of our mission on any permanent ministry—or form of carrying out our mission—a fact that challenges us on every level. Actually, if you’ve been involved in ministry for any extended period of time, you’ve noticed that the entire Church is experiencing much the same thing, to one degree or another. We are all in transition.
As a result, we’re working with our Mission Strategy Team to determine the direction God is leading us in and the steps needed to take us there. Our Pauline Books & Media (PBM) Centers are a major player in this process. We’re currently studying ways to rejuvenate or reinvent our PBM Centers to make them even more pastoral, to meet the new needs of people, so that these centers can continue the tradition set by Fr. Alberione, to be “centers of light and warmth,” where the Gospel can be preached in new ways.

This has meant closing some of our locations in recent years, always a painful decision—for us as much as for the people we serve. We’ve received some touching letters from these men and women. I’d like to share excerpts of a few from Edison, NJ, which we closed a little over a year ago. They demonstrate how gracefully people can enter into the rocky process of transition, making way for something new:

“It is with joy that I every day I remember in prayer each of you sisters, your families and all with whom you minister. Mary and I were privileged to be the first Cooperators in Edison. Perhaps you remember that an abortion clinic was attempting to open in the Wick Plaza around the same time; the township didn't grant them a permit. I find it most interesting that people were planning to take life in the Wick Plaza and you sisters brought the Author of Life Himself to take up residence.

“The French have a saying, ‘When two people separate, each takes a part of the other and they are united forever.’ Dear sisters, you can be certain that Mary and I will take good care of the parts of each of you as gift and blessing that remain with us. God bless each of you and may your community be blessed with many new vocations.”
Mary & Jim Varick

A letter from one of our sisters reads:

“One woman told how years ago she was helped so much by our staff while she was being received into the Church. ‘Ever since then, my friends & I always get each others’ presents from here.’ One of the children who used to come for all our children’s events is now thinking about religious life. In the 1990s, Deacon Sam did much of his preparation for the diaconate using resources from our Center. Now he’s in charge of the diaconate program, and 29 new deacons will be ordained this year! The seeds of the Gospel planted through our service will indeed bear fruit for years to come!”
Sr. Karen Marie Anderson, FSP, former manager

The following person ritualized a farewell in the form of a prayer:
“Dear Lord,
Thank you for this Pauline Book & Media Store. Eleven years ago I came here with many questions and wandering in a desert – not knowing where to go. Through your guidance, early Church Fathers, and Sister Laura’s patience & encouragement – your grace led me to the Catholic Church. Bless the sisters in their new journey. Amen!
Thanksgiving – The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away – You, dear friends of St. Paul, will be so missed. God bless you.”

A new year is a natural moment to step back and reassess our life’s direction. Pray for the Daughters of St. Paul during these transitions--we'll pray for you in yours--and let us hear your ideas.