Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sr. Annette’s Life and Death With Dignity

Sr. Annette Margaret Boccabello, FSP
The Saturday before last, St. Patrick’s Day, Sr. Annette would have been 56 years old. People say that matastatic breast cancer claimed her, but how could a disease that they call “stupid” be victorious over such a human being? Jesus had claimed her for his own at Baptism, sacramentally marked her as his own throughout her journey, received her as his own over thirty years ago among the Daughters of St. Paul, and then “came for” her as his own just two months ago tomorrow.

I’m sitting in her room as I write. Whatever few belongings she had are gone, but I feel her here. Keenly intelligent, she had her finger on the pulse of the world as few others I know. She was gifted with a good sense of humor, indispensable in bearing with herself, with the rest of us, and with God! Sister Margaret Moran recalled that only two days before her death, Sr. Annette entered a near-death crisis. Addressing herself to Sr. Annette in her eulogy, Sr. Margaret said: “You whispered to me: ‘Jesus is coming.’ I responded: ‘That’s great, Annette, let him come.’ You softly requested: ‘Pray.’ So we began praying, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph I give you my heart and my soul….’ We continued praying this like a mantra. After about a half hour, you pulled through the crisis with your bright eyes and that little smirk.

“‘Wow,’ I said, ‘You really scared us!’
“‘I scared myself.’ Then after a few moments: ‘That was really funny. Don’t you think I should have a popsicle now?’” (Popsicles were the only food she could keep down.)
“Sr. Donald piped up: ‘Hey, Annette, did you see Jesus?’
‘No, he never showed up!’

“Well,” Sr. Margaret concluded, “he may have stood you up once but we know now that he didn’t play that trick on you a second time. Like Renoir’s masterpiece of the Promenade which hung in your room, he came and took you by the hand and said: ‘Come then, my beloved, my lovely one,’ and now he has led you down that bright path into eternal Light!”

Whether as marketing director, publisher of Pauline Books & Media (PBM), or director of the Spanish Distribution Center (Paulinas Distribuidora), her practical spirituality, broadmindedness, and love for our mission helped her grapple with the never-ending challenges of evangelizing through the communications media. It’s hard to lose somebody like that, whether we agreed with her at times or not. She was ours.

And still is. We were privileged to journey the Pauline road with her, which included more than six years with cancer and her decision to stop unproductive treatment. When she felt up to it, especially in the final years, she joined us for prayer and meals. One of the last conversations I had with her was at lunch after everyone else had left. I had things to do, but I stayed those extra fifteen minutes or so, not knowing when another opportunity like that might come. She talked about her family, about letting go of situations she knew she couldn’t fix, and about her trust in God. What stays with me is the memory of her peace and her witness to what matters most in life.

So it doesn’t surprise me that I would be contrasting her approach to life and death with what we’re facing between now and November here in Massachusetts. Voters are being prepped to decide a “Death With Dignity” referendum, that will enable physicians to administer a lethal injection to those judged terminally ill, who want to end it all to avoid pain, powerlessness, or the worry of being a burden to others.

“Our instincts so often tell us that facing death means facing fears about loss of control and dignity, increasing dependence on others, intractable pain, dying too soon (or not soon enough), increasing costs, being alone, and fear of the unknown,” writes bioethicist Fr. Tad Pacholczyk in “Facing Terminal Illness Realistically,” a syndicated column that appeared in the Catholic Herald of Madison, WI, on Oct. 27, 2011. Add to that our “I Did It My Way” approach to both life and death, and it’s no wonder that physician-assisted suicide legislation seems to be gaining traction even among people of faith.

A decision like Sr. Annette’s is different. Rather than take her own life or ask someone else to do it for her, she accepted the course that the disease was taking, as well as the ineffectiveness of treatment at that stage. She ran across Fr. Tad’s article and found it especially helpful in coming to the conclusion that God was telling her it was time to embrace the natural end of her life on earth. He had written:
“[I]n a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end….[A]pproaching our own mortality with a greater dose of realism helps us make better decisions about when to roll back the medical interventions and focus our energies on preparing for death.”
Understandable as it is, when people deliberately hasten their death, they run from the fight not against disease, but against their own fears. Besides, while accepting or refusing treatment truly is their decision, irrespective of what loved ones want (Sr. Annette said as much!), causing their own death deprives them and those closest to them of an important part of their lives and of their inner growth as well.

My sister and I cared for our parents for several years in difficult circumstances. There were times we wanted the problems to go away, even to be over. But we were gifts to each other, we and our parents, living and dying with grace, in the broad sense. Many people learn volumes from such an experience, just as we did and are still doing. Like Sr. Annette, our parents bowed gracefully out of this world, teaching us the final lesson of their lives—what it really means to die “with dignity.”

With niece, Suzanne
 Sr. Annette did live and die “her way” as she felt God was calling her to. She requested and received respect for her privacy from family and community. Her two sisters, plus a niece and nephew—all of whom she loved dearly—spent time with us and with her, but only as much as she felt she could handle. In her final days she was accompanied by only a few of us, as she had asked, so that she could prepare herself attentively and lovingly to meet the Lord. Mary Steele, the director of nursing for our infirmary, considers her a “pioneer” in her way of being present to this period of life. Each sister’s passing motivates us all to thoughtfully plan for our own care under one aspect or another; Sr. Annette’s gift to us is her discerning heart.

Sr. Donald Maria Lynch, who knew Sr. Annette for thirty years, was also her health care proxy. She and I conducted a kind of e-mail interview about what it was like to journey with Sr. Annette over the past six years:

What was Sr. Annette’s main concern as she approached death? What was her greatest consolation?
“One of her main concerns was that some of those who were close to her were not ready for her to die. Once Sr Annette made the decision to stop treatment, she was very much at peace because she felt she had done her best to discern God's will, but she did worry about others who were close to her who might not be ready for her to go.
“Regarding consolations, at least one of the most significant was having the time to focus on the end of her life. The hospice care she received kept her comfortable enough so that she was able to approach death consciously being present to God and focusing on the fact that eternity was ahead.”

How did she deal with the pain that accompanied the disease and the treatment?
“She didn't tend to speak or complain much about her pain. She was practical in dealing with the pain: she would follow the suggestions of her physicians, but also explain as best she could how effective or not the pain treatments were. Prayer and meditation were always a part of her journey, but at those times when pain wouldn’t allow her to concentrate, she would either gaze at a picture or image that meant something to her or would simply say occasionally that she put her intention to pray before the Lord.”

Did she ever feel like a burden to us?
“At times she did feel like a burden, but it wasn't something that was constant. It would usually come upon her after especially painful periods. But she was patient with herself. That is, when she was feeling a little better, she would reflect back on those times and express more a sense of gratitude because of the care and love given to her, whether through physical or spiritual care.”

Did she ever consider ending her life sooner than her actual death? What made her decide to keep going with treatment? What made her stop?
“The more time that passed, the more Sr. Annette asked the question of whether or not to continue treatment for the cancer. In the last two years she began to discuss it regularly every time her current chemotherapy stopped being effective because each treatment’s success lasted for shorter periods of time and the side effects began to require more frequent hospital stays. Finally it seemed the side effects were greater than the benefits of the chemotherapy. Sr. Annette wanted to be as ‘aware’ as possible as she entered the final period of her life. By stopping treatments and receiving hospice care, she was able to spend more quality time preparing for her death, and had the grace to be able to be at home rather than at the hospital.”

How did she keep her spirits up?
“Some of the ways she kept up her spirits were: prayer, the apostolic work she could help with, keeping abreast of news in the world, the Church, and the country and remembering all of that in prayer, doing her artwork (painting and drawing), staying in contact with an online cancer group, visiting with her sisters in community and family, sharing a special meal when she was feeling up to it, and even watching a favorite comedy show!”

How did her art or any other activity keep her focused on what was important to her?
“I think her art, her apostolic work, and her prayer for others helped give her journey context. She mentioned that these things gave her a sense of peace and also broadened her view, that is, they helped her focus on the needs of others, on caring for others.”

How did her family and her community support her?
“She relied especially on the prayers of her community and family; I think that meant a great deal to her and was an important source of strength. Sr. Annette wasn’t a person who spoke a lot about her illness, but she appreciated the small, everyday things that her family and community did for her: giving her apostolic work that she had the strength to do, having simple conversations with others, and providing special food she could enjoy.”

How did prayer sustain her?
“I’m sure Sr. Annette could say so much more, but prayer seemed to be the underlying current that carried her through each day: giving her the peace and strength to continue her journey, keeping her connected to the Lord and his love, to her family and community, and to the needs of others, of the world.”

We tend to connect hope with extending life. A person says, “There’s no hope” and means, “there’s no cure.” We often apply an all-purpose adage, “Where there’s life there’s hope,” not only to moral reform, but to physical progress as well. It betrays how we think about life and indicates the line we draw when we think that it doesn’t pay to hope anymore. Sr. Annette tells us something different. There is always hope, because hope is naturally human, and Christian hope, which trusts in the eternal love of God for us all, is supernaturally human: It brings us where we were created to be forever.

Click here if you would like to make a tax deductible contribution for the renovation of the Daughters of St. Paul infirmary. Or you may make a check payable to the Daughters of St. Paul in any amount and send it to:
Sr. Ann Eileen Heffernan, FSP
Health and Retirement Fund
50 St. Paul’s Ave.
Boston, MA  02130.

For further study and reflection:
Other articles by Fr. Tad Pacholczyk: “Making Sense Out of Bioethics”. See especially:
“Euthanasia: broken memories, bonds”.

Click here to see inside.
Archdiocese of Boston Web site on the Massachusetts Death With Dignity Act: Suicide Is Always a Tragedy.

"Palliative care alternative to physician-assisted suicide, speaker says"
By Christine M. WilliamsSpecial to The Pilot

Facing Illness, Finding Peace
Midwife for Souls: Spiritual Care for the Dying

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Changing for Good

One of our IT technicians told me that when people ask him where he works, he tells them tongue in cheek that he’s at a facility that “produces missals.” He never spells it for them, so he leaves them thinking we manufacture the kind that go “boom.” Since they know he used to be employed at Lockheed Martin, they’re usually unfazed.

Click here to see inside.
Anybody who knows a little about our publishing history also knows that we’ve always printed a missal, or “Mass book for the people in the pew.” Even when liturgists thumbed their noses at the notion, we kept at it, and not because the books were among our best sellers. (OK, so don’t believe me.) Growing awareness about various learning styles vindicated the use of an aid for visual learners, and society’s increased willingness to accommodate the hearing impaired made more people sensitive to their needs when shopping for a gift. Sure, the Sunday missalettes met that need, but they were never intended to be a permanent fixture at Eucharistic celebrations. Plus, without commenting on the usual condition of what most churches had available, we saw a real benefit in turning out an edition, at least for weekdays, that was worthy of what people went to church for. Besides, we knew from our contact with those we met in our book and media centers, or at parish displays, or on days of door-to-door evangelization that we weren’t the only ones who used the readings of the day to meditate with, or at least to prepare for Mass ahead of time.

Click here to see inside.
Both missals come in
black or burgundy.
The on-again, off-again pace in liturgical revisions over the past ten years kept our Mass book publishing in a holding pattern. We still met people’s needs with the Millennium Edition of our Vatican II Sunday and weekday missals, knowing that permanent changes were in the offing. Catholic Book Publishing in New Jersey did the same with its St. Joseph’s Missals, and Scepter Press came out with a pricey, but beautiful Daily Roman Missal. Suddenly two years ago, “air traffic control” at the Church’s liturgical offices approved the revised texts which would be implemented by Advent 2011, and three weeks ago Pauline Books & Media (PBM) came in for a landing with our new St. Paul Sunday Missal and St. Paul Daily Missal, which contains both Sundays and weekdays.

That’s good news. So is the reception they’re getting: they’re being distributed even faster than we anticipated. With their handy size, their imitation leather binding, and burnished gold edging, all at an affordable price, they’re irresistible! Our PBM centers and the other book stores we supply watch them roll in the back door, then roll out the front, sometimes in a matter of days. Three days after receiving its missals, PBM San Diego sold out of the “Dailies”—50 copies—and manager Josie Stanley had to reorder. “It’s worth waiting for,” she says. “[People] really like the look of the missal, especially the daily one. But the majority are just happy that they’re here.”
Josie Stanley

Chicago’s PBM sales associate Juan Villegas echoes Josie’s observations: “People were really anxious to get it since Advent. But they were very patient and they were really excited when we got them in.” Despite a few larger orders, Chicago still has “a pretty good stock.” A community of sisters ordered fifteen copies. Church groups have been requesting twelve or fifteen copies at a time—mostly Dailies. As in San Diego, those Daily missals are a favorite here too. Several people, though, apparently accustomed to the previous Sunday and weekday missal combo, are still buying both, even though they realize that now the Daily also contains Sundays. Juan explains, “They keep the Daily at home and take the Sunday to church because it’s lighter.” One person noticed that the calendar goes only to 2017, but was reassured that the missal would be just as serviceable even afterward. If history repeats itself, PBM will no doubt print a calendar insert for subsequent years.

In New Orleans (Metairie), Sr. Laura Rhoderica says that “people are extremely pleased. When the missals came in, Linda shipped them out to those who had them on back order. They were so pleased when they received them, that they called in a second order. They like how beautiful and lightweight they are. A lot of people go to daily Mass here, so the Daily has been a better seller than the Sunday. It’s economical too.”

As you can imagine, Boston has all it can do to keep these places supplied. We’ve already moved 84% of the Sundays and 96% of the Dailies out of our Boston warehouse. We’ve now begun the process to get in our second printing of 10,000 daily missals, hopefully due in late spring.

A man called Order Entry the day after receiving his Sunday missal. “It’s just beautiful! My wife saw it and now she wants one.” The PBM Web store was literally inundated with new orders, in addition to the scores of back orders it had already processed.

Three weeks ago in Hopkinton, famed as the starting point of the Boston Marathon, I assisted at a parish display, four days after the missals had arrived from the printer. Seventy-five copies flew off the tables. Of course it didn’t hurt that the pastor gave it a ringing endorsement. So did the permanent deacon. Not at all timid, he positioned himself with us behind our U-shaped table arrangement, held up his own copy of the Sunday Missal, and called out to parishioners, “Secret words and secret handshakes right here, people! Secret words and secret handshakes!” That’s it—Your Guide to the Catholic Underground. Papal Rites for the Uninitiated.... Good thing parishioners know him.

Sr. Margaret Tapang, PDDM
Underpinning all the activity, though, runs a deeply held conviction among us that this liturgical focus is connected to who we are as Paulines. As you may have read in last week’s Pauline Faithways post, “Meet St. Paul’s Family, Sr. Margaret Tapang, a Pious Disciple of the Divine Master (the second women’s branch of the Pauline Family), gave a presentation on Bl. James Alberione and the liturgy. Basing herself on the Gospel of the day about the Jesus cleansing the Temple, she made the following points:
“The new temple is the risen Body of Christ, and we are the ‘living stones’ built into that temple. Blessed James Alberione is a beautiful piece of ‘living stone’ in the Church-temple. He is what he is, because he had experienced the abundant riches of divine grace. The peak experiences of his life were before the Eucharist. We think right away of how the Pauline Family was born from his prayer before the Eucharist.

“Bl. Alberione is also an apostle of the liturgy. He wrote that the liturgy should be lived in its threefold reality: dogma, morals, and worship. The liturgy is the ‘book of truth, morals, and prayer.’ For example, in the liturgy, the Church lays out, in the course of the year, the basic truths of faith. It is a ‘book of morals’ because it reminds us of Christ’s holy commands, his virtues, and the means of salvation. Finally, it’s a ‘book of prayer,’ the most powerful prayer, because it is the prayer of the Church—the prayer of everyone. So, in the liturgy we have the total Christ, Way, Truth, and Life. In addition, the liturgy of the Church wants to bring the entire person to God: mind, will, and heart. There is to be no false and fragmented liturgy—praying with the Church, then living contrary to what we have just prayed. 
Pope examines new African FSP altar missal, Benin.
“Bl. Alberione believed that the continuous ‘de-Christianization’ of life, art, thinking, etc. comes from a lack of liturgical-biblical oxygen. Moreover, the separation of the Bible and liturgy gave way to painful consequences. He insisted on the necessity of the Bible for people. The people of today hunger for the Word of God. Without the Bible, the liturgy would not mean anything to people; much less could they give glory or make a conscious prayer. The Pauline Family’s tremendous response has come from the Society of St. Paul with its publications, the Daughters of St. Paul through its biblical-liturgical apostolate (Here I think of their edition of Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours—a masterpiece), the lectio divina of the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master on the Internet, Fr. Tom Fogarty’s Holy Family Institute Concord, and the Pauline Cooperators’ Sambuhay, or life in worship! 
“This lectio divina on the Internet is a pastoral tool. Aware that the Internet is a new forum for proclaiming the Gospel, the Pious Disciples inaugurated on their Web site the pastoral tool 'Breaking the Bread of the Word: A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy’ . The Pious Disciples also carry out a ministry of reparation and intercession for the mass media. Deeply aware of how radically the mass media shape the culture and mentality of the people today and how the correct use of the media can lead to a genuine inculturation of the Gospel, the Pious Disciples live more intensely their ministry of reparation, oblation, and intercession concerning this means.”
However and wherever we accept the invitation to celebrate the sacraments, we see in that action of ours and of the whole Church the font of our own life and the life of those we serve. Father Alberione used to tell us that our mission would not be complete until it brought people to the sacraments. More than anything else, that makes our missal news good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Meet St. Paul’s Family


Sunday, March 11, twenty Paulines from five institutes and from the association of Pauline Cooperators met together with 57 friends and acquaintances for a day of recollection at the Society of St. Paul’s new conference hall on Staten Island. Lent and prayer are a natural fit, but this was no ordinary retreat. It marked the first time in New York that six of the eight branches of the Pauline Family in North America gathered to introduce themselves to the world as a family in St. Paul the Apostle. So it also marked the first time that most of those attending had ever conceived of us in that way. They kept saying how amazed they were at the size and complexity of the ten organizations in the Pauline network; with 11,468 members worldwide, you’re bound to have a few dimensions to the project.

Days before, Brother Peter Lyne, SSP, and his crew transformed part of the former press room of St. Paul’s/Alba House publishing into a cheerful, respectable meeting area that accommodated everyone comfortably. They cleaned and painted, then bought beautiful drapes for the two sides of the room furnished with windows and sliding glass doors. The difference was astounding! Participants did give us some feedback regarding seats for future events. Chairs that are serviceable enough for short gatherings become downright torture when you perch on them all day. Some day when those drapes are paid for….
Priscilla Palad, IOLA, listens to a
fellow retreatant.

The idea for a retreat had been in gestation for the past two years. One day in early 2010, Br. Peter and I talked over pizza about sharing more with people about what makes us tick: our history, our charism (the grace that the Holy Spirit gives us to build up the Church), and our varied mission in a multi-faceted family. What came of it was the first annual St. Paul Friends & Family Fest (See “Partying With St. Paul,” August 10, 2011), which doubled as a modest fundraiser for the documentary about our founder. We still kept in mind, though, Br. Peter’s long cherished hope of leading people to a fuller understanding of that charism lived today, especially for those who had worked on the Fest and their organizations. He had in mind those who frequent the Alba House store without knowing what’s behind it, or who vaguely know “the sisters on the hill” (us FSPs) or the sisters who make vestments (the Sister Disciples of  the Divine Master).

Fr. Matthew Roehrig, SSP
Finally this past Sunday a “Lenten retreat with the family of St. Paul” joined them with our three communities, plus members of the Holy Family Institute for married couples, Our Lady of the Annunciation for single women, and the Cooperators, men and women who live the charism within their own situations. Only the Institute of Jesus the Priest for diocesan clergy and the Institute of St. Gabriel the Archangel for single men were missing from the American roster, though Fr. Matthew Roehrig, the new provincial superior of the Society of St. Paul, did a great job explaining something of how they fit in. Two feminine congregations, the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and the Sisters of Mary Queen of Apostles, are the only branches not yet living and serving in North America.
Sr. Margaret Tapang, PDDM

People were visibly touched when they heard that many religious and lay Paulines all over the continent had prayed a novena just for them and they agreed to return the favor that day.

Sr. Margaret Tapang, PDDM, and Br. Aloysius Milella, SSP, gave presentations on “Alberione and the Liturgy” and on “The Media Redeemed.” Sr. Margaret pointed out that Blessed James Alberione’s life, which integrated his experience of liturgy with his daily life, made him “an apostle of the liturgy.” Br. Al reminded us that “Father Alberione’s commitment and passion for transmitting the Gospel throughout our contemporary world in a linguistic variety of cultures, stands out in faithful imitation of the great Apostle, and as one of the admirable achievements of his religious family.” Br. Al’s talk will constitute the Pauline Faithways post of March 28, just before we enter into Holy Week. Don’t miss it!

Br. Peter Lyne, SSP, introduces the day, as Greg and
Kim Burke, HFI, and Sr. Margaret listen.
Br. Peter, Mr. Congeniality, led the welcome and orientation, and I introduced the day’s theme: “God First,” based on the readings from the day’s liturgy. Later on in the afternoon, we would revisit the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and tie it in with an abridged viewing of Man for All Seasons followed by shared prayer in small groups—what we Daughters call “Cinema divina.” I was holding my breath over the sharing part. Many of the retreatants were of the generation that just doesn’t pray like that. But typically versatile, they jumped right in; many commented on their evaluation sheets that they wanted even more opportunities like it.

Each of the institutes had its day in the sun, with a presentation by one of its members. That’s where the day’s momentum stalled somewhat: it took longer than we had planned, so that we had no time for the intended Q and A session. Retreatants weren’t shy about expressing their disappointment. So we’ll have to work that a little differently next time, in addition to giving people more time to pray. After all, it was a day of recollection!

Sr. Nieves Salinas, PDDM
A display table was heaped high with vocation literature on all the institutes. Plus, a book and media display by St. Paul’s/Alba House and Pauline Books & Media, as well as a sacred art and religious article display by the Sister Disciples’ Liturgical Apostolate Center provided everyone with a chance to shop, too.

It wouldn’t have come together without the planning and dedication of Sr. Nieves Salinas, the PDDM regional superior in the U.S., Sr. Raphael Mirabelli, PDDM, Br. Gus Condon, SSP, and all those who worked with Br. Peter or me.

And the food! Nick Avicolli from Mangia Buono in Bridgewater, NJ, generously donated meatballs, pasta salad, and heroes for us all and for anyone else who just might have shown up that day. Our own cook in Boston, D Ross, sent down some great snacks, including sugar chocolate chip cookies to pop in the oven. Priscilla Palad, who’s an Annunciationist and the SSP accountant, worked with me for the better part of two hours Saturday night baking…and good naturedly fending off self-appointed taste testers! We ended up stashing the cookies in her accounting office overnight under lock and key.

It’s safe to say we were all fed that day, especially in our spirits. There’s a tremendous longing among God’s People for union with him and for a living, meaningful faith in this world of ours. That longing is ours, too, and we were both humbled and nourished by the faith and love we witnessed. Many people, at great cost, put God first in their daily lives, and so testify to God’s faithful love for them, since he’s the one who graces them with that sense of commitment. Our Pauline prayer is that whatever we do may confirm them in their love and their life in the body of Christ.
“It was a blessed day. I experienced a renewed sense of hope through the Pauline presence in the world, and their endeavor to communicate the love of Christ in our world” (A.C., Brooklyn, NY).
Photo credit: Brother Xavier Lee, SSP

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Papal Stir

Have you ever prayed with anything that any pope has written? Most people I meet have never even read a papal document, let alone prayed with it. “Vaticanese” can be off-putting, to be sure. When I look, though, at something as recent as the fifty-year-old documents of the Second Vatican Council and then compare them with the talks or letters of Pope Benedict, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. For instance, when I first tackled the Vatican II Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, I had to hunt for the subject and predicate in most of the labyrinthine sentences. About ten years ago, I read an editorial in an Italian Catholic newspaper. It took me a few minutes just to find the period at the end of the opening 100-word sentence. And we wonder why young people are less than pumped by religious literature.

These days though, some of us could profit from papal prose writing classes—and not just in Italy. On Ash Wednesday, one of the sisters in our Boston community kindly made several photocopies of Pope Benedict’s Lenten message, then anonymously left them outside chapel for any of us who wanted one. Great placement. I found myself not only reading, but praying, through it. Seriously. Benedict’s style made me wonder if he was sharing with us some of what he’d been praying.

Want a try? He based his theme on a few verses from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, then drew some very practical conclusions from his reflections. As you might have noticed, I normally I don’t quote more than a paragraph or two from papal teaching in a blog article, but in this one I'm doing something different. I quoted that passage from Hebrews, then divided what I thought were the salient points of the pope's message into four days of prayer. You’ll notice that each day begins with a related Scripture text that Pope Benedict refers to in his comments, continues with an abridged version of his reflections, and concludes with another portion of his thought in prayer form. All in all, each day’s prayer could take as little as five minutes, or last as long as you’re fed. If you have the time, don’t stop with what I prepared; take in the whole banquet. Sometimes, though, a little fast food is enough to hit the spot until we can manage more.

“Let us approach [the sanctuary] with true hearts and the full assurance of our faith….Let us hold fast to the profession of our hope without wavering, for the One Who made the promise to us is faithful. Let us also consider how we can rouse one another to love and good works. Don’t neglect your assemblies, as some are in the habit of doing: encourage one another, especially because you can see the day of the Lord drawing nearer” (Heb. 10:22-25).

1.a. “Let us be concerned for each other” (“Let us also consider how we can rouse one another”): responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.

Scripture: “There was a certain rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and who feasted splendidly every day. A certain poor man named Lazarus used to [lie] at his gate, covered with sores, and he longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table…”(Luke 16:19-20, 21).

Benedict XVI: “This first aspect is an invitation to be ‘concerned’: the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. So the verb…tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy.’ God asks us to be ‘guardians’ of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to recognize in others our true alter egos, people whom you infinitely love. May we see them as our brothers and sisters, so that “solidarity, justice, mercy, and compassion will well up in our hearts” and we will acknowledge our responsibility toward them, who, like us, are your creatures and your children.

Benedict XVI: “Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of ‘spiritual anesthesia’ which numbs us to the suffering of others. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else.”

Prayer: Merciful God, may my heart never be so wrapped up in my affairs and problems that I fail to hear the cry of the poor. Jesus, bless me and save me: make me humble of heart like you, so that I “can understand the beatitude of ‘those who mourn’ (Mt. 5:5),” so that I can look beyond myself and feel compassion for the suffering of others, then reach out to them and open my heart to their needs.


1.b. “Being concerned for each other”: concern for their spiritual well-being.

Scripture: “If your brother should sin [against you], go show him his error between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you’ve won your brother back; but if he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you….If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church…” (Mt. 18: 15, 16, 17).

Benedict XVI: “I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other.”

Prayer: Lord, grant us the grace “to help others and to allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives, and walk more uprightly in your ways.” Let us welcome and share your “gaze that loves and admonishes, knows and understands, discerns and forgives,” as you have done and continue to do with each of us.


2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.

Scripture: “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).

Benedict XVI: “This ‘custody’ of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension….the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says…we all form one body.

Prayer: Lord, we belong to you as your People. So, together we offer you our Lenten acts of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. We praise you in the good that you are doing in others, and we thank you for the wonders of grace you accomplish in all your children. Like Jesus, who rejoiced  in the Holy Spirit at the good you did through his disciples (Luke 10:17ff.), we cannot but rejoice and give glory to you, heavenly Father!


3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness.

Scripture: “The gifts [God] gave were….for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12, 13).

Benedict XVI:  Heb. 10:24 urges us “to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life. Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.

“Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit. All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the ‘high standard of ordinary Christian living’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31).”

Prayer: Father, we praise you in your saints, who inspire us to imitate them. This is the best way we can “anticipate one another in showing honor” to them (Rom. 12:10). “In a world that demands of [us] a renewed witness of love and fidelity” to you, “may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service, and good works.” May the prayer of Mary Ever Virgin guide, strengthen, and comfort us.

See inside here.

There you have it. Actually, “papal prayer” is not beyond the reach of the Church’s younger members, either. The pope’s publisher, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, gave us the nod when we asked about paraphrasing the words of several recent popes and collecting them as prayers into a series of small prayer book size volumes for older kids. With an appealing layout, Praying With the Holy Father joins Adoring Jesus With the Holy Father, and Honoring Mary With the Holy Father in connecting young people with the pastor of their Church.

Sr. Giovanna Galaverna, one of the English-speaking Daughters who staffs our international Pauline Center in Rome, said that the books fly off the table. Last October she told me that Italian priests and bishops who stopped in were disappointed that they weren’t available in Italian. It did no good to tell them that they could use the books to practice their English! Maybe they, too, recognize that the time has come to limit “Vaticanese” only to heavy duty theology and make the life-giving words of the Church’s pastor accessible to more than the young.

Photo credits: Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP