Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Upturning in the Economic Downturn

Last week another Daughter of St. Paul and I were chatting about the challenges we face in raising funds for the mission, especially in helping people we meet to understand why we’re even asking. Because the community she’s assigned to sits on prime real estate, it’s even harder. People don’t realize we bought it under, let’s say, very favorable circumstances. Plus, it didn’t need major maintenance (which we hadn’t budgeted for) until it was renovated two decades ago. A lot can go wrong in twenty years, and now it’s aging—with all that accompanies that process. She said, “People think we must have some money tucked away just to survive there. They’re surprised when I tell them that we get no funding from the diocese, and that whatever money we live on comes from the sale of religious books!” (Remember Borders?) “They’re so impressed when I tell them that we can’t just go into a grocery store when we need food and buy whatever we want; we have a modest budget to work with, and if we don’t have the money to get something, we wait until next time.” Just like the real world.

I can vouch for that. The community is not starving by any means, but their lifestyle would astound any of their next door neighbors who might bother to inquire. We’re not salaried. We don’t get a commission on how many media products we sell. Each of us is given an allowance of $20 a month. Fortunately we’re set up in such a way that none of us ever goes permanently without what she really needs: We pool our income from the work we do—whether it’s from the cash drawer at the end of the day, or stipends for talks we give, or monetary gifts we receive communally or personally. Then out of that common fund we pay expenses for the house, insurance, medical care, and other personal or community necessities, as well as for the development of the mission.

I can tell you, even though virtually all of us have tried to live frugally in the past, these times have sensitized our hearts even more to the plight of the vanishing middle class. Besides individually and communally trying to live more “creatively,” we’re putting everything we can into our evangelizing mission that, while it empathizes with suffering, offers Christian hope to those who suffer if their priorities have put God and spiritual values toward the bottom of their life-list.

In the comedy Last Holiday, middle class New Orleanian Georgia Byrd, is presumed to be terminally ill and decides to finally turn her dreams into reality. Her personal growth prompts even strangers to change; everyone is touched by her life. In one revealing scene, she flies to the defense of a masseuse who was being verbally abused by a client. Years of demanding routine work in retail had given Georgia a heart for the working woman especially, and in the process, her compassion reached out even to the abuser in justice, humor, and forgiveness.

Karen Sterling, our Boston receptionist, commented on the news about the euro today, and in particular about the greed, carelessness, and debt mentality in human beings worldwide, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. In her estimation—and I couldn’t agree more—this is what has driven economies wild. She distilled the attitude of many in a few words: “I need just one more thing to make me happier than I am now.” I would add: And if I can’t pay for it now, I’ll worry about it later. In Last Holiday, Matthew Kragen, the egotistical owner of a profitable department store chain, put it this way: “Enough is never enough.” To the degree we live like this, we are all both perpetrators and victims of our situation.

The Pauline mission can pull us and everybody else out of this quagmire. Whether we’re publishing a book on a spiritual approach to time management, singing in concert about the incarnational meaning of the Christmas season, highlighting the Church’s social teaching though our workshops on media literacy, or being present to people who walk into our PBM centers looking for a little solace, understanding, or direction in their faith life, we can say through our mission, “Yes, one more thing will make you happier, and that’s a real relationship with God.”

The Advent letter of Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, our superior general, describes the season’s call to us this year. It echoes the call that, through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus issues to us all in the Gospel:
“Among the attitudes it suggests that we cultivate individually and communally are silence, ‘understood as listening to God through the various ways he reveals himself,’ and sobriety of life, which means balance and moderation, detachment and freedom, a focus on essentials, and a sense of responsibility.
     “In the unique conjunction of historical and economic events that we are experiencing on a global level today, we ourselves should be the first to decisively witness to sobriety of life, renunciation and sharing.”
She concludes by inviting us to answer this call joyfully in “the company of the expectant Virgin, the disciple who, imbued with the Word, gave him flesh for the life of the world.”

I invite you to join your prayers to ours in these days as we make a special novena to St. Joseph, another favorite Advent figure:
Click here to order.
St. Joseph, we bless you as protector and provider of the Holy Family, friend of the poor and of those struggling financially, and the saint of divine Providence. On earth you represented the universal goodness and concern of the heavenly Father. Your own life was one of hard work and poverty. Intercede for us today as we bring our own financial difficulties to you; present them to the Father and to your foster Son. We trust in your certain intercession.
     May we learn from you, blessed Joseph, to live in the Gospel spirit of poverty serenely and joyfully:
—to produce, taking advantage of every opportunity to proclaim God’s Word “in season and out of season,” with all the media of communication available to us, fruitful branches on the vine;
—to provide for the needs of our mission and our community through just recompense for our work, as well as by seeking and encouraging trust in the blessings of divine Providence, and by sharing even in our want;
—to preserve what we have, attentive not to waste, damage, or neglect the goods of the Congregation, thus avoiding the pitfalls of our consumer society;
—to renounce: what is superfluous, the self-centered use of goods, obsession with comfort, and insistence on personal preferences—living simply and frugally in imitation of Jesus the Master;
—to build up the kingdom of God inside and outside our house, letting poverty blossom into charity, certain that then “all else will be given besides.”
     Blessed Joseph, we trust that if we strive to live in the spirit of poverty, the Father will not fail to provide for our needs and the growth of the mission. Strengthen us in our good resolutions, do not let us be overcome by anxiety, inspire us with workable solutions for our difficulties, and bless our apostolic endeavors. Amen.
                                —prayer by Sr. Mary Leonora Wilson, provincial superior
Photo credits: M. Emmanuel Alves, FSP; Staten Island Advance

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks-giving Recipe

Back when the Avon Lady and the Fuller Brush Man plied their trade door-to-door, the Daughters of St. Paul adopted this model as a form of evangelizing outreach. We brought our books and audio materials with us (cassettes and records at that time), which people often bought. We didn’t skip anyone, regardless of religious affiliation. If someone didn’t choose a title for whatever reason, we offered to leave inspirational leaflets or pamphlets with them. Almost everyone accepted these, especially when we promised to pray for them.

From an evangelizing perspective, this accomplished at least two things: What we left behind reminded people of the grace that God gave them through our brief visit, which continued to bless their lives even after we had left; and it was far less confrontational than: “Do you believe in Jesus?” More times than I can remember, the books and magazines we showed served as a forum for their own personal sharing and growth.

Just like one man we met about 25 years ago. Another sister and I were visiting the showroom owners and operators at the Merchandise Mart downtown Chicago. The man was standing in the doorway of his business as we walked down the hall toward him. We sensed he wasn’t Catholic as we explained who we were and what we were about. Cordially he refused, but as he took the few prayer cards and leaflets we offered, he exclaimed, “But I don’t know how to pray!”
“These will get you started,” I answered.
“But I don’t need anything.”
“Prayer isn’t just about asking. Do you have something you can thank God for?”
He looked startled. “It’s been so long since I’ve prayed,” he said mulling it over, “but yes, I do.”
He smiled slightly and, totally oblivious to the fact that we were leaving, he started murmuring, “A lot to be thankful for: my family, my business, my health….”

You would think that appreciation would come spontaneously to anyone who receives something good. As any parent of a toddler knows, though, “say thank you” is a prompt even we adults need more often than we get. A thankful heart is itself a gift, and when God is blessed in our thanks, God, not to be outdone, blesses us back.

Thanksgiving Day has been the last spiritual bastion in the yearly confederation of American holidays. Christmas caved into commercialism decades ago, and Easter followed suit. Let’s not even talk about St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Until recently, even in spite of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the traditional shopping the day after, Thanksgiving Day itself remained hallowed. Now with big box stores opening in the middle of Thursday night, “Black Friday” and its mad scrambles invade the whole week, including the sacrosanct holiday. I read last week that a woman was glad one store was opening before midnight, so she wouldn’t be “forced” to wait out in the parking lot until morning. We don’t need to take to the streets in protest of this desensitizing process, but we can resolve not to jump in and to help others keep from losing their sanity.

Gratitude springs from a humble heart that tempers our spirit of entitlement and competition. It enables us to recognize the giftedness in everything, even in the things where the blessing is disguised. Suffering has a way of mellowing us into gratitude for the good days we have, and hope keeps us on the lookout both for more reasons to rejoice and ways to share joy with others. I was in New York yesterday and watched a man cheerfully help a blind woman—a complete stranger—cross 34th St. near Madison Square Garden. Then he turned around and crossed back to the corner where he had been standing. He wasn’t even going her way.

This is the spirit I heard in Sr. Mary Frances’s story in Staten Island. Sunday she and some volunteers held a book and media display, or fair, at a New York church. A man originally from Italy stopped to tell her that he had been orphaned very young. Relatives took him in, and when he was old enough, he entered the Society of St. Paul, thinking he might have a vocation as a son of Fr. Alberione. It seemed that God was calling him to the U.S., though, as a layman. He settled in New York City, married, and got a job as a printer on Wall Street, thanks to the training in lithography he had received with the Paulines. He was visibly moved as he told Sr. Mary Frances that he would “always be grateful to the Society of St. Paul” for everything he had gained during his life with the brothers. Though it’s not always so poignant, we often hear the same from young women who have shared in our life during their initial years of discernment and formation and have heard God’s call elsewhere. We and the young women who remain are blessed to have them among us, and they develop skills, faith values, and self-discipline for life, which grow their love into eternity.

We often tell our donors and benefactors that, in appreciation for them, we pray for all their needs, but especially for the one thing necessary: a saving relationship with Jesus here and hereafter: “We ask you, O Lord, for your name’s sake, to reward our benefactors with eternal life. Amen.” One friend claimed not to be satisfied with the spiritual help and used to threaten that he and his family would turn to the Franciscans if our prayers didn’t work! Now that he’s in eternity with God (I think that’s a safe assumption), I bet he’s grateful for the “eternal life” part of those prayers!

We may not go door-to-door as we once did, but as our communal testimony and our media products and services enter hands, cars, businesses, churches, schools, and homes, the Gospel values we communicate and our prayer of gratitude and hope is the same. May you always share the reason for our joy—a grateful heart!

Sr. Tracey gets the message across
at the Staten Island concert, 2010.

Next week begins the 2011 concert season of the Daughters of St. Paul Choir—Our Christmas Hope. Eight fun and inspiring performances in four states bring these days to life in the truest sense of the word! Proceeds from any fundraising concerts benefit the Daughters of St. Paul infirmary and the construction of our sisters’ assisted living center. Click here for a schedule and music video.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Advent Light

Each year, with all the Christmas hype in stores and in the media, Advent, quiet and unobtrusive, seems to just sneak in the back door. For the most part, only the liturgically attuned notice its presence. Of course, the back door is often where friends come in, and Advent, the coming, never arrives empty-handed.

This year, its gift is sure to shine. For those of us who attend Mass regularly, the changes we’ve revved up for are finally taking off, precisely on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. Included are the Order of the Mass—the parts that don’t change—as well as all the prayers that do from Sunday to Sunday. In community we've been learning the chant to match. I have neither the desire nor the competence to expound in this blog on the pros or cons of the changes (aren’t you blessed!) but I will say that, in spite of my only average enthusiasm for yet another change, I like a lot of what I’m seeing and hearing. More importantly, I’m seizing this opportunity to renew my insight into, and love for, the Eucharist celebrated, received and adored.

I’m finding some great helps along the way. Even before the changes were announced over a year ago, Sister Anne Flanagan,* one of our sisters in Chicago, was making an in-depth, personal study of the Liturgy. So it was natural that she would then layer on a detailed study of the texts, once it became clear what exactly was coming down the pike. Sister Leonora Wilson, our provincial superior, welcomed her to Boston to give us an overview of her findings. Much of what she shared with us is now available on our Web site at Liturgy Essentials/Explain It to Me at This free content explores the changes, including the history behind them, and connects us all with resources for adults and children, especially the new St. Paul Missals.

There, I also discovered From the Pews, a blog by Jamie Stuart Wolfe, assistant children’s editor at Pauline Books & Media. It features “Mass Minutes,” one-minute forays into the liturgy, like “Chant Anxiety,” “Translating ‘And with your spirit,’” and more. In addition, Pews offers suggestions on how to make the Mass parts intelligible for kids.

Lastly, It’s a Part of Life summarizes each prayer and part of the Eucharistic Celebration in a few sentences each, often connecting it with daily life. Memorized, they make good sound bite answers to spontaneous questions that don’t require intricate theological reasoning.

The jewel, though, is the iMassExplained app for the iPhone or iPad, just released on Monday. It’s much more than a workshop on the changes. Besides putting the new words at our fingertips, with a click, it offers explanations of those highlighted words. Additional information deepens understanding of what we do at Mass and why. Finally, we hear from the Popes as they reflect on the importance of the Mass and what it can mean for everyday life.

At the princely sum of 99¢, I would download it—if I had an iPhone. Some people already have done just that. Maggie Palmer from Marble Falls, TX, writes, “It is so easy to follow. The explanations that are available when you click on the highlighted text are very helpful.” How many places can you get so much for so little?

Besides the St. Paul Missals, the runaway title has been The Mass Explained for Kids. It was published just six weeks ago and with 20,000 copies sold, it’s already in its fourth printing. A fax blast advertising the book to parishes will go out soon. I helped out at a parish PBM book and media exhibit last weekend at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Quincy, MA—home of John and Abigail Adams. Interest was lively, to say the least, as it has been in the other venues where we’ve held similar displays over the past few weeks. Juan Villegas, sales associate at our Chicago PBM Center, reports that, especially after a review of the title appeared in the Catholic New World, response also from schools has been phenomenal. His comment—“It’s for kids, but it’s really good for adults, too”—is echoed across the country.

And we’re not done. We’re privileged to offer another Web series, that will have a longer shelf life than those made for the moment, invaluable as they are. And this is where we’re going to need a little help from you. Msgr. Steven Lopes, an American teaching at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and working at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has prepared with us five webinars of five minutes each on the Trinitarian dimension of the Eucharist in several parts of the revised liturgy. As esoteric as that sounds, his pastoral approach is made both for the non-theologians among us and the more seasoned. He wants to reach people in the pews who come to Mass on Sunday and want a good reason to come back next week.

His presentations will be interwoven with liturgical footage and photos, then followed by a three- or four-minute PowerPoint meditation, to make the experience both instructive and prayerful. As you can imagine, this will take extensive editing, so we foresee being able to release one per month until March 2012. Freely accessible at, it will be able to continue being used indefinitely by RCIA leaders, pastors, catechists, and anyone who wants to grow.

Since it will be free content on our site, there will be no source of income for us to recoup expenses. So if you would like to contribute securely online toward the $1,789.00 production cost, click on the red Donate Now button at top right, and in the comment section on the donation page, type “webinar.”

As we gather around the “table of the Word and of Christ’s body” in these weeks and months of transition, you will be very much a part of our community. We know you take us there, too, and we’re grateful.
*Sr. Anne is the techie behind FSP-Chicago’s Theology of the Body online study group, a guest blogger for the Chicago Tribune and a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Photo credits: Phivan Ngoc Nguyen, Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Living Stones

Sr. Domenica and Sr. Susan map out their market visit
for the next day.
Sister Susan John Kraus and Sister Domenica Sabia have a much-loved gift in our Boston community: They have a knack for getting food donated. About two dozen meat, fish, and produce suppliers generously donate from their warehouses weekly or monthly to help keep body and soul together. In a house of nearly 70 sisters, all of whom are in formation, or work in Pauline Books & Media publishing, or occupy our infirmary, or govern the province of the U.S. and English-speaking Canada, that’s one gift that keeps on giving.

Especially in the dessert department. The two sisters are always ready to bring out the ice cream at the slightest provocation. Like today. It took the community by surprise, since gelato is usually reserved for Sundays and celebrations. “So what’s the occasion?” we asked each other at lunch. “What’s today?” Oh yes, St John Lateran.

Say what? The Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome is one of those few feast days on the Church’s calendar that require some digging before its value is even minimally appreciated. When we do invest the time, the yield is rich. So let’s take out our shovels….

To do that, I’m going to cheat a little. Several of us wrote two-page reflections on the liturgy’s daily Gospel readings, which we published in book form over the past two years as a “Grace” series: Advent Grace, Easter Grace, etc. Following is the excerpt I wrote on today’s feast, from Ordinary Grace: Weeks 18-34, published last year. It takes its inspiration from John 2:13-22, Jesus cleansing the Temple. Since it follows a lectio divina-style format, it’s divided into a meditation, a prayer, and a thought to carry us through the day:
Why on earth do we celebrate a building? Granted, as the pope’s cathedral on Lateran Hill, it’s “the first church in Christendom.” Not even iconic St. Peter’s Basilica claims as much. But it’s still just stone and bronze. Today isn’t even a saint’s day: there is no St. John Lateran. The church is named after John the Baptist, whose feast is June 24.

Not long ago, a language student in Rome managed to make it to St. John Lateran for the evening high Mass on this very day. Afterward, she exited the central door, which had been opened for the occasion. Since the crowd had dissipated, she turned back for a last glance. The lights in the apse had remained on—another rarity. The high altar throbbed with the glow, and the blaze coursed down the nave and spilled out onto the darkened piazza, into the world and its ways.

Suddenly that basilica, like every church, symbolized for her the pulsing life of Christ’s risen body, that John alludes to in today’s Gospel. Jesus stands prophetically in his Father’s purified Temple and dares his challengers, aghast at his affront, to keep him down. Their ripening hatred would only provide the way for God to unleash the Spirit onto the world, and humankind would once again become a living being (cf. Gn. 2:7)—only this time it would be Christ’s body, extended far beyond their wildest dreams.

It is this body, represented by the liturgical assembly, that gives life to a church. The Church, the body of Christ, can exist without buildings, but it can never exist without this assembly. Conceived on the cross and in the empty tomb, it is born in Baptism and takes shape in the Eucharist. “…we were all baptized into one body” (1Cor. 12:13); “…we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1Cor. 10:17). Now that’s something to celebrate.

Jesus, Paul reminds us that your Spirit dwells in us as in a temple (cf. 1Cor. 3:16). Like St. Augustine, who urged us to be what we are, Paul speaks to us not as islands, but as Christians together, your body. Your risen body is glorified. Let that Spirit-filled body be the way for our faith, our conversations, our decisions, and our mutual love and care, as together we make our way to glory. May those who see our “body” see yours, be blessed with your presence, and come to share fully in this unity.

“You are the temple of God” (1Cor. 3:16).
I’ve often heard people say, “I’ve been so hurt by the Church, I don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore.” Hurt is real, and it takes courage and time to journey through the healing process. Anyone who is daily involved in the life of the Church can tell you: The more intimately you live with and work with the rest of the Church, the more you’re going to get wounded by her--and the greater are the chances that you'll wound others. Anyone who’s been in a relationship will tell you that that’s what happens when you love and trust; you get hurt. Whether you stay hurt, that is, whether or not you deliberately nurse that anger and alienation, depends on generosity of heart and the willingness to renew faith and pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Loving the Church doesn’t require warm and fuzzy feelings, but determination to stay with her, support her, and share in her mission in the world. Hopefully the warm-and-fuzzies come often enough to make that commitment a little more tender.

Main door at the Church of the Divine Master, Rome.
It's the church of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master,
one of the ten branches of the Pauline Family.

Whether they recognize it or not, the men and women at “the market” collaborate with us in the same mission—building up the body of Christ. This is the Church; this is the mission of the Church. Each with our different gifts and resources, receives from God and gives back to God, then receives again and again. As St. Peter put it, we are, “living stones” being built up into the temple of God and so, we “taste that the Lord is kind and merciful” (1Peter 2:3ff.). St. Paul experienced that, too. In leaning on the Corinthians’ generosity for a collection, he made a firm declaration of trust when he told them that God, who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also provide your seed, cause it to multiply, and increase the yield of your righteousness” (2Cor. 9:10).

We pray daily for our friends, donors, and “benefactors”—those who “do good” to us and with us, which is what benefactor literally means. Who are those people in your life? May they be blessed with even more goodness, a mirror of the Father’s kindness, and taste God’s mercy here and in eternity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Poetry of Purgatory

Sisters and friends process to our burial chapel in Boston
at Sr. Cecilia Livingston's funeral last spring.
Given the firestorms that the doctrine on purgatory has sparked, it’s a good thing that today’s liturgical solemnity commemorating All Souls is not an optional memorial. Yet ritually remembering our ancestors, whether in family or faith, and praying them through their journey answers such a universally felt need, that it has come spontaneously to us humans as long as history has recorded it.

The Christian practice of praying for those who’ve gone before us dates back to antiquity. The earliest evidence of private prayer for the dead appears in the middle of the second century in Asia Minor, or what is western Turkey today. A generation later, a liturgy celebrated in north Africa in remembrance of the deceased is mentioned in the writings first of Tertullian and then of St. Cyprian in the early third century.

In the centuries that followed, this communal prayer was coupled with distribution of food among the poor. This seems to be a throwback to the pagan Roman practice of the refrigerium—a kind of ritual picnic that family members held at the graves of their loved ones. As perennial geniuses in “baptizing” cultural expressions, Christians offered the Eucharist on the graves of the martyrs, praying also by association, for the deceased buried nearby. Instead of pouring out libations to honor and supplicate the gods on behalf of the deceased, they shared the body and blood of the Lord and then extended that love to the poor in their memory. That kind of almsgiving has always been one of the suffrages we’ve been encouraged to offer for the deceased. The outreach that springs from the social dimension of our faith is one of the most important crossroads where belief and life intersect.*

First Martyrs of the
Church of Rome
I’ve been to Rome a few times now, most often to study or work. Depressing as it may sound, what draws me each time, probably more than the churches, are the catacombs. Sixty-three of these underground burial networks circle the city, nine of them Jewish and the others either Christian, or pagan and Christian. Relatively few are open to us, the public, but those that are, are treasure houses of Christian identity and history. I feel so connected with those who were, or still are, buried there, my ancestors in faith. Even as I thank them, I can’t help praying for them as I visit. If they can’t use my prayers, somebody can.

What kind of understanding fuels this current of devotion? Despite the likelihood that the vast majority of us human beings make a pit stop in purgatory on the speedway to the kingdom, the Church’s teaching on the topic that’s outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is surprisingly sparing. I remember my father’s disappointment that the section consisted of just three paragraphs and two quotes (nn. 1030-1032). That alone told him exactly what the Church intended to say—that the mystery, which is hardly central to her teaching and can easily spin out of control, is best expressed plainly. What’s clearly intended, too, is that to avoid reducing it to a caricature, it’s supposed to be understood in connection with a host of other teachings that are central, like redemption, resurrection, love, sin, faith, and human destiny. But for a man like my dad, who referred to the people there as his “friends,” such a dearth of devotion called for strenuous objection. It was personal.

If brevity is the soul of wit, there’s a deliberate pedagogy in that short text. After you reread it a few times, certain words jump out. A key concept is purification. Not once is it described as punishment, even though it’s implied when it states that this “purification of the elect” is “entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (n. 1031). Words like “cleansing” and “deliverance” highlight the healing, restorative nature of this purging experience.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri’s poetic imagination hunts for words to express this purifying process of the discovery and growth in love. Discussions about the work’s political scope aside, the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso are awash with an array of images that acclaim love vindicated, love purified, and love celebrated. Both in hell and in purgatory, the action of the Comedy is driven by Dante’s contrapasso, the type of suffering that the characters undergo according to the type of their sin or vice. The monumental difference between the two conditions is that the suffering in hell punishes, while that in purgatory refines and redirects.

R to L: Aurelia, Sr. Frances, my
sister, and Sr. Bernardine (a friend
of our parents--and ours, too!)
It was hard for my sister, my father, and me to watch my mother live with Alzheimer’s Disease for over ten years. If we hadn’t known her, we wouldn’t have understood anything of how hard it was for her, too, since the disease gradually robbed her of her ability to speak. We struggled with the seeming senselessness of it all. Just as we shared the sorrow, though, we also shared our faith in Christ. One day, my dad said, “You know, I think Mama is doing her purgatory here on earth.” Dante must have been in the room. “Yes,” I agreed, “if her love is being purified, she is ‘doing her purgatory’ here.” And she was being refined like that. A sweet person to the end, with expressive eyes and a ready giggle, she was also independent and very firm in her convictions and preferences. She expended every effort she could, even in her condition, to make life better for us and to peacefully rest in God and in our love for her. A parishioner told us that she was “no longer afraid of Alzheimer’s Disease, because I’ve known your mother.” God made Aurelia bigger than her disease.

I think that the more we trust this God, the more surely we will be awakened to hope in the face of whatever comes our way. A life like that, a day like this, draws us back to the way in which we live. There is certainty in that hope, not just wishful thinking. Regardless of the circumstances of our last days, we are in the hand of God, as the optional reading from the book of Wisdom in today’s liturgy reminds us, a hand that is always ready to receive us. 

This was brought home to me by a book that Pauline Books & Media recently published—Wisdom for Living the Final Season, by Kathy Kalina, a hospice nurse from Fort Worth, Texas. She’s already known to PBM readers as the author of one of our constant best sellers, Midwife for Souls. Refreshingly readable, Final Season’s short chapters are dotted with stories from her twenty-two years of experience. The spiritual dimension we’ve been talking about is woven in convincingly and sensitively. Although the last few pages treat the topic of purgatory, it’s the introduction that expresses it best for me:
“Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, it’s the ability to put one foot in front of the other and to do whatever needs to be done with our eyes fixed on the goal. Somewhere on that journey toward the goal, each of us will die, but only on one day. All the rest is living.”
* Production on the film about Blessed James Alberione “the first apostle of the new evangelization” (John Paul II) is still in the works (See the video bar at right.). So is its fundraising. If you would like to make a contribution in memory of a loved one, contact me, Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, either by e-mail at, or by phone at 617-676-4423.