Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Day the Lord Has Made

Every Easter I get a uniquely personal treat. I appreciate the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans as much as the next person. But this gift is special and doesn’t come in a basket.

This year it took the form of a startling insight into the liturgy, and of course, into life. In his Good Friday homily Fr. Art Coyle asked if we had ever noticed that the Holy Thursday liturgy has no definitive ending—we process with the Eucharist to the altar of repose, where everyone remains to pray privately. The Good Friday liturgy has no introduction or formal ending; the ministers process and recess in silence. The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday has no specific introduction; the blessing of the new fire and paschal candle ritual replace it. It’s as if the three days meld into one. Karen Sterling, our receptionist, commented that “it even feels like one day.” Historically and liturgically the paschal mystery is one event.

I’d gotten the historical and theological part; I’d just never connected it with the liturgical part. I never appreciated how, even in this, the language of liturgy expresses something so profound, that words could not do justice to the reality; it has to be acted out.
Sr. Irene's planter blooms at the
"right time."

Since antiquity, the Greeks have had two words to distinguish two meanings of time: chronos and kairos. The first indicates measured, chronological time, like “day” in the sense of 24 hours. The second is trickier. It’s not tied to the first, but means “the right time,” like “day” in the sense of the one, perfect moment, when something advantageous can happen.

Kairos testifies that life is not lived solely within the parameters of life’s structures or dynamics; much less is it defined by them. It points to another dimension. There God acts, inspires, directs, saves. It’s not that God doesn’t work through those structures. Just the opposite. Kairos IS salvation: God moves in time, without being constrained by it.

This is the deep meaning of Christ’s Resurrection for the here and now. Because he lives, there is never a chronos that is not also a kairos. Regardless of what my conscience charges me with, there is never a moment of my life when God cannot save me (1Jn. 3:20): “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (2Cor. 6:2). Hope. This is the gift wrapped in the “day” of salvation. It’s not for nothing that during Easter Week the Church sings Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

When our friend Patrick Hitchcock was in college, he stopped going to church for awhile. As he gradually felt the gnawing hunger for God in his life, he went back. Now, as an investment advisor in California, he’s making his own connection between the “day” of liturgy and the “day” of life. He told me that together with Easter Sunday, the symbolism in Good Friday’s Veneration of the Cross is always the high point in his observance of Holy Week. “It’s a physical thing to kiss the cross. It’s a stark reminder that [Christ’s] passion was such that he allowed himself to be crucified for us. What more can someone do than give his life for someone else? Mary washed his feet with her tears. What more can we do symbolically to say that through the cross and resurrection is salvation? It leaves me kind of breathless, really. It’s an acknowledgement of our utter helplessness without Christ.”

As you flip on the right sidebar through the photo slideshow of our Holy Week/Easter Week celebration in Boston, may you see your own faith and hope mirrored there. May they always be your life.                                                      
Sunday, May 1, is a moment of another kind: Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. During the Second World War, six million Jews and up to four million other unwanted and unvalued human beings were systematically eliminated, including political and religious prisoners. Dachau alone held 3,000 Catholic deacons, priests, and bishops, some of whom were ordained behind Nazi backs. That number does not include the vast number of laity and religious. I remember meeting a man in Cleveland, who had been a 16-year-old guard in one camp that had held 300 nuns at the time of his conscription. One has been canonized so far, Jewish Edith Stein, who also became Carmelite Sr. Benedicta of the Cross.

A holocaust of an even larger scale, a real global genocide, is the subject of yet another film from Spirit Juice Studios, to premiere in Chicago also on May 1. Sure to be controversial, To Be Born  communicates something about the uniqueness of each human life.

To Be Born is about a young woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy who seeks to have an abortion. In the midst of the procedure, she finds herself in a regrettable situation when she hears her unborn daughter begin to describe the chilling details of what is happening. Film and screening details: or!/tobeborn.
In the midst of this, a kairos moment. We love any excuse for a party: birthdays, anniversaries, beatifications, holidays….

Wait. Back up. Beatifications? As in Blessed John Paul II? That’s right. How could the U.S. publisher of his documents, audiences, and even a few biographies (including some for kids) not celebrate the day he’s held up internationally as a model to imitate and a Christian to venerate. As if most of us in the world didn’t recognize that already. But Sunday it’ll be official. With canonization sometime in the future, he’ll be listed on the Church’s honor roll, inducted in heaven’s hall of fame. But beatification is the word for now: He’s made the grade. And we intend to celebrate, first on Sunday as a community, and then Monday, with our 45 lay co-workers at Pauline Books & Media. Got any ideas for your own party?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Passion Then and Now

Rob Kaczmark and Danny Hidalgo from Spirit Juice Studios are the cinema artists behind our upcoming documentary on Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family. You know the one—the preview they made with screenwriter Sr. Helena Burns is a permanent fixture on the right side bar of this blog.

Well, they did it again, this time for the Paulists, in collaboration with Outside da Box. At just over five minutes, Palm Sunday is a quickie for teens, but packs such a punch that even adults are left reeling—or weeping, as safety coach and Facebook friend David Sarkus unabashedly admitted on my Wall.
From the Palm Sunday Web site: “Brothers Julio and Marvin become restless during the reading of the Passion, and begin playfully slapping one another with palms they received upon their visit to church. Unsurprisingly, their mother is not amused with their behavior. After a brief scolding, the two simmer down only for a moment before they agree to a wager with one another: who can shout ‘crucify him’ the loudest. Once arranged, the younger of the brothers gets overwhelmed by the experience.”

In just nine days, the flick on YouTube has received almost 9,000 views. What is it about his passion that, as Jesus predicted, would draw everyone to himself, when he would be “lifted up” from the earth? (cf. Jn. 12:32) It can’t just be a morbid fascination with torture or death. We can glut ourselves with such depictions anywhere. Neither is it the politics or intrigue, common enough in any thriller. It probably doesn’t even have much to do with the fact that it happened to God: even those who don’t completely share our convictions are often inexplicably attracted by something beyond simple curiosity.

The fact of the matter is, the paschal mystery is at the core of our faith and of who we are as redeemed persons. We pick up the Liturgy of the Word each day and read the texts through the prism of this, the greatest drama the world will ever know. In fact, how Mark’s Gospel has been described is true to some extent of each of the four: “a passion narrative with a long introduction.” The New Testament apostolic letters, as well as texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), take on their full richness of meaning in light of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

“All because of us. All because his Father asked him to love us to death,” says Jesuit Bob McMillan. “Not just to heal our ills—a wart, a backache, a foot problem—but to recreate us.” His obedience earned goodness for us and showed us goodness and does goodness in and through us. “We may look awkward at it. We may not make it look easy or flashy, but we can do it.” Like any little kid at a ballet recital or on the baseball diamond, we who are “imitators of God, as beloved children,” (Eph. 5:1), may stumble in the attempt, but God is busting buttons that we’re even trying.

This may surprise you, but there’s a huge chance that Christ is beckoning you to plunge with him into the passion this year as you never have. Why not ask him how? It might be to attend one of the services of Holy Thursday or Good Friday, or of the Easter Vigil, that you didn’t plan to attend. It might be to spend an extra fifteen minutes with the Word at a set time each of these next ten days during Holy Week and Easter Week and notice if there’s a recurring theme in the Word or the season’s symbols just for you—light in the darkness, the new life of spring, the empty tomb…. It might be to finally carry out that act of almsgiving you promised you’d do at the beginning of Lent, or to take the first steps toward a reconciliation with someone you know—and really do love. Whatever it is, it’s worth letting him take the lead and just attentively follow. Our community will pray in these days that you will let him surprise you with peace and joy. If you think of it, would you do the same for us?

Our sisters in Sendai, Japan, are beginning the process of recovery of their home and media center which were severely damaged in last month’s earthquakes. Thanks to your generosity, we’ve been able to raise $3,694.00 for them.

We will complete this fundraising project on Mother’s Day, May 8. So, if you haven’t yet donated as you had planned, the window of opportunity is still open for another two weeks. You can donate securely online here. Or if you prefer to send a check, you can make it out to the Daughters of St. Paul and mail it to my attention (Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP) at 50 St. Paul’s Ave. Boston, MA  02130.

Questions? E-mail me at or call 617-676-4423.

Regardless of what you may choose to do materially, we ask you to continue praying with us for the Japanese people. Prayer suggestions have been prepared by our sisters with audio and visual accompaniment also at, on the right side bar. The site also includes suggestions for talking with children about this natural disaster especially.

For additional Catholic information, including the initiatives of the Holy See and the current spiritual climate in Japan, refer to the Fides News Agency.

From (Daughters of St. Paul international site):

The Pakistani Christian Masihi Foundation has declared 20 April as a day of prayer and fasting for Asia Bibi.

On that day, every Christian in the world is invited to light a candle and say a prayer for this Pakistani woman who has been condemned to death for blasphemy and who is currently being held in the Sheikupura prison in Punjab. Informed about the initiative, Asia [said], “I am grateful to the Masihi Foundation for having organized this event, which gives me the hope that perhaps I will live. I feel loved by the Catholic Church and all the Christian communities throughout the world. I am proud to be the daughter of such a loving and merciful community. I want to send a message of peace and love to the whole world.”

Paul Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the recently-slain minister for religious minorities in Pakistan, has also lent his support to this event. Like his deceased brother, Paul Bhatti is Catholic and is a special councilor for the country’s religious minorities.
“I want to assure every-one that I am working with the [Pakistani] government and religious minorities to find a solution to this problem,” he said, “so as to prevent other innocent people from becoming victims of the current law concerning blasphemy.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Windex Index

Now that non-essential government jobs are once again secure, the pastor of Our Lady of Infinite Mercy Church fielded a call earlier this week from the IRS.
“Is this Msgr. Santoro?”
“It is.”
“Can you help us verify some financial information?”
“I can.”
“Do you have a parishioner named Matthew Conte?”
“We do.”
“Is it true he made a $10,000 contribution to your parish?”
“He will.”

As a civic virtue, fiscal honesty is as lauded as transgressions against it are despised, especially when done by someone else! At this time of year fudging a little on a tax return is a hard temptation to resist. Who would know, really? And if this becomes an annual gamble, the next question is: How long can I get away with it? I might justify it on any number of pretexts, but tax evasion is not something to wink at, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us in its section on economic activity and social justice.

Much is made these days of transparency, disclosure, and justice—rightly, I think. The interesting thing is that for it to “take” in us and in society, it can’t be imposed from without. It springs from within. It’s an attitude, a way of life. That’s not to say that laws are unnecessary: not everyone is equally devoted to the way of God. It means that to the degree that we are open, forthright, and in the case of us Christians, aware that our baptismal consecration has made us Christ’s, to that degree we are likely to live in truth without being forced to by law.

This is what Paul referred to in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians. He would not deny the goodness of the Torah and its Mosaic law, much less of law in general, but saw it as an outgrowth of a life lived in the Spirit. This Spirit makes us “living Words” of God, through the power of Christ shining in our lives. This power is ours through Baptism, by which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come and make their home within us (cf. Jn. 14:23; Mt. 28:19). If the Trinity lives in us, God makes us transparent witnesses to the risen Christ, who is himself the radiant light of the Gospel.

This transparency involves mind, will, heart, spirit, and even body. Blessed James Alberione, our founder, wrote: “Even if the sun is shining brilliantly, its light cannot pass through a grime-encrusted windowpane. The Gospel shines brilliantly—“I am the light of the world”—but if that light cannot shine through us because our heart and life are not in order, then what will happen?” He adds other words of Jesus from Mt. 5:14: “You are the light of the world,” then concludes: “[Jesus] means to say: ‘Think of it! I have been the light of the world, but now it is you who are the light of the world.’”

The Church’s pastors, teachers, and administrators—clergy, religious, and lay—are called to this transparency, too! It’s not just something mandated for others. Otherwise, where would be the credibility? How then could the Church as a whole be a transparent witness to the risen Christ to a world that rightly expects it of her?

The Constitutions, or rule, of the Daughters of St. Paul impress this upon us, especially where they describe what our chastity and poverty should be. It is imperative for us who are expressly called to mission, “to become a communication of Christ’s love even in the demanding field of social communications” growing in “a great respect for the human person and for authentic values,” and rejecting “the temptation to change the means of mission into instruments of power, profit, or ambition.” Justice and love for our sisters, our co-workers, and all those we serve has to govern our decisions, just as they inform our prayer and our message.

So, come June, when that tax refund is dropped into your bank account or mailbox, and the sun shines just a little brighter, may you accept it with a heart that’s more free, more at peace, and more ready, even practically speaking, to bless the One who lives there.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

True Blue

“Blue Bloods” might give a nod to NYPD Catholicism, but for a shout-out, you had to be in the City last Sunday. The New York Police Department Holy Name Society honored service in its ranks, past and present, at its  93rd annual Communion Breakfast. Cardinal Egan’s Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral opened the celebration, followed by awards and fellowship at the Hilton. Of course, a parade led by bagpipes and drums strutted down 5th Avenue the long way from church to hotel, to the delight of residents and tourists alike. We were blessed with early spring weather, nippy but sunny.

I say “we,” since the Pauline Family—Society of St. Paul, Daughters, Sister Disciples, and Cooperators of New York—joined in the celebration for the first time. Sgt. Brian Reilly, commanding officer of the chaplain’s unit, and HNS President Jason Maggio arranged for us to serve 1,200 officers and their families through Pauline exhibits and a ten-minute presentation on Blessed James Alberione, our founder and model/intercessor for the media. Partway through the talk, I paused long enough for the media technicians to project the preview of the upcoming film on the massive screen behind me. (Scroll down at right to watch the preview everyone watched.)

With police commissioner Raymond Kelly, HNS President
Jason Maggio, NY Daily News columnist Denis Hamill,
and MC Desmond Stokes
I’ve shown that clip several times in the past fifteen months, but only the NYPD burst into applause—sustained applause. In fact, I had to “break it up” by resuming my remarks. And Alberione isn’t even Irish! That presentation, an intro-duction to Fr. Alberione, was also an introduction to the Pauline Family, since most had never heard of us before, in spite of our 79-year history in the Big Apple. A handful of women and men religious in a city of eight million can get overlooked.

The city can be justly proud of the saints and “saintables” who walked its streets, truly New York’s Finest: Mother Seton, Mother Cabrini, St. John Neumann, Pierre Toussaint, Dorothy Day, her friend Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Isaac Hecker, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Walter Ciszek, S.J., Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II (to be beatified next month), Cardinal Terence Cooke, and now, Blessed James Alberione. In fact, he and Venerable Thecla Merlo, the Daughters’ co-foundress, who is also up for beatification, visited New York several times and prayed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for their Pauline communities and for the people they served.

 Sgt. Brian Reilly keeps stride with
retired assistant chief Thomas Sweeney.
As the preview says, Alberione has something to say to our digital age. New York media professionals, educators, parents, clergy, and all those who dedicate themselves to the protection and sanity of an information rich and media saturated society—can find in Alberione a model and patron saint. His story needs to be told. How else will our young people know that there is an intercessor and model for them, as they work to build a media culture on faith and values or to discern their own vocation in such a world? How else will people discover that someone has paved the way for them to grow as faith-filled human beings in an ever more wired—and wireless—world?
Edward Cardinal Egan greets officers
after Mass. Go to my Facebook Wall
(Margaret Obrovac FSP)
for more photos.

Br. Peter Lyne, our Pauline brother with a book display there that day, told me that the one title he sold out of (and he had brought several copies) was When You Hurt. People in any helping profession, law enforcement included, understand human pain. The Pauline Family, which carries on the work of Alberione, demonstrates what he lived for—the conviction that media can and should be used for the good of the human heart and human society. People who work for justice get that.

A Sister Disciple of the Divine Master from County Westmeath, Ireland, now serving on Staten Island, was taken with the warm fraternity of the NYPD that day and their interest in the signs and symbols of faith, especially among the young men and women. Sr. Ann Breen said that “with so many distractions they can get discouraged.” So in her mission as a Sister Disciple, she told me, she prays for the safety of the police force, for guidance and wisdom as they go out every day, and especially for perseverance in faith.

 If people make good on their pledges toward the production of the film over the next two or three weeks, we'll be able to look forward to having raised $4,600 from this event. Legendary talk show host Joe Franklin offered to announce the campaign on his program on Bloomberg Radio this weekend. After fifty-five years on the air, he still has a loyal following, even though he claims he goes “way back, back to when the Dead Sea was still sick.”

With a little help from our friends, we’ll be hearing from police-related consultants and organizations as possibilities open up. With only about twelve months left in the campaign and still almost $50,000 to raise, we hope those possibilities surface soon!

Do you feel you would like to be part of this moviemaking venture? Click here to get updates and to make a contribution. A little incentive: Anyone who donates $1,000 will be listed in the credits at the end of the film. Or you can do that in memory of someone who has died, and that person’s name will be listed. Consider adding this project to your prayer intentions, so that it can be finished on schedule and it might do the good it’s meant to do. A prayer like that, guaranteed, will be reciprocated!