Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Pioneers! O [Dearest] Pioneers!”

I’ve had reason this week to glance over my shoulder at the Daughters’ 80-year history in the U.S. A maestra of the unexpected, Sister Concetta Belleggia left us somewhat suddenly at the age of 95. Since her arrival from Italy in 1949, only seventeen years after our U.S. founding, she had been a teacher, sister, mentor, mother, and friend to generations of us. Mother Paula Cordero and our first sisters had set down roots in New York in 1932, but regardless of the progress that the community had made, Sr. Concetta found a lot of building and building up to do. She didn’t quit until last Friday.

On second thought, she didn’t really quit and probably never will:
Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
In his ringing poem about U.S. westward expansion, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”, Walt Whitman extols the courage and perseverance of those who forged ahead to the farthest reaches of the continent. Controversial to be sure, what with the agony and ecstasy of our nation’s imagined Manifest Destiny and the toll it took on everyone in the pioneers’ path. Even so he sees in them the model for all Americans’ march into the future.

I’m not using it in that way. If you’ll allow me a romantic moment, I’m thinking of Sr. Concetta and the other Paulines of the “elder races” from Italy who came here. There was plenty of agony and ecstasy among them, too. In her eulogy, Sr. Leonora Wilson recalled that Sr. Concetta was one of the original group of seven sisters prepared in theology for the writing apostolate by the founder, Blessed James Alberione. She filled many roles in her long religious life, each with its particular joys and challenges: dean of studies, director of the editorial department, translator, teacher, novice director, local superior, provincial superior, and more. But the need to write and make the faith known, in spite of genuine obstacles especially in the field of catechetics, seemed to be what she felt most passionately.

She also encouraged us to contribute to the mission by writing. How often she repeated that if we studied, we had to give back by writing. Today, “writing” has morphed into composing, singing, speaking, clicking, drawing, producing, and connecting in a myriad of media ways. The principle remains the same: “What you have received as a gift, give as a gift” (Mt. 10:38). So in Sr. Concetta, I also hear God’s call to us to “take up the task eternal” of the Church’s mission at the service of the Good News in this part of the world.

Sr. M. Joseph Peterson adjusts a sketch for a children's book.
Not an easy task. It certainly wasn’t for her. In starting new projects and establishing new structures, the risk of failure was always there. But she lived by Alberione’s words: “Those who do things make mistakes. But those who do nothing make the biggest mistake of all!” You had to be tough to do what she did; all of them were. In these days as we recalled her early years among us, we agreed that she had what it took, sometimes at our expense. She was strong and often exacting. “Good enough” just wasn’t in her lexicon.

Sr. Bernardine Sattler writes: “Anyone who worked with Sr. Concetta knows that every word [she wrote] was important [to her], and it pained her to have to condense an article. But a magazine was only so many pages. I remember going once up to Mother Paula's office to show Sr. Concetta a blueprint [of an issue]. Mother Paula was busy writing to the local communities and turned us out. Sr. Concetta reached for a pen to make corrections. My response was, ‘Oh, no you don’t! It's too late to make corrections now. We don't print on elastic paper, so you can’t add anything else.’ We started bantering back and forth. At one point Mother Paula looked over at me and scolded me for answering Sr. Concetta that way. Sr. Concetta piped up and said, ‘That's OK. It used to be that if I said anything to her, she would just start crying. Now, at least, we can have some good arguments!’”

She brooked no nonsense, but we also knew she loved us all to death! We were her “dearest,” as she always addressed us, and we believed her, especially as she mellowed in later years. Unlike Fagin’s “my dear,” it was sincere, even when she was none too pleased. She learned how to temper her perception of justice with mercy. To one of our sisters, distressed over a family situation, Sr. Concetta said, half-lightly, half-seriously: “There are not seven sacraments, but eight. The eighth is ignorance and it will save more than the other seven! Remember, God is mercy, and his heart is greater than ours. Let us make him known!”

Out with Sr. Catherine Bernadette Bennett
Sr. Concetta was very much a person “of the moment.” This gave her an unhurried, though far from laid back, approach to life. It often made her late for meals, meetings, or errands—much to Mother Paula’s consternation (and not just hers). Yet, it made her a willing listener especially in formation and community. So did her probing intellect and her openness to learn from those she trusted inside or outside the congregation—lay, clerical, or religious.

While she did not have a broad cultural background in the arts or physical sciences, she enjoyed beautiful things, especially nature, and she often chose nature scenes for the covers of our editions. When it came to what hung on our walls, though, she had little interest in anything that had no direct bearing on the spiritual life or the Pauline mission. I remember her tearing apart pictures of nature that my father had artistically framed, to insert a photo of the founders or one of our devotions, whether colors and sizes matched or not. Her lack of appreciation for music and her unfamiliarity with literature outside of Italian classics was proverbial, a source of amazement and sometimes amusement to those who were passionate about art. She simply could not sing. Whenever she tried, those around her predicted that it would rain. This past Sunday and Monday we faced not just April showers, but a real Nor’easter. Somebody quipped that she had sung up the storm.

A sister asked me if she had mastered English well enough to work successfully in editorial. Yes, definitely, and she worked with a team of capable authors and editors. Conversation was a different story. She usually understood expressions, but in using them herself, didn’t always put the words in the right order. One sister tells how Sr. Concetta one day turned around “What on earth are you doing?” to “What are you doing on this earth?” Once she saw the reaction, she continued to say it that way—on purpose!

At lunch after the funeral, some of us were talking about the spirituality she shared with most of us in one way or another. Her natural bent toward detail made her connect moral “perfection” with doing even small things well. What saved her, literally, was her faith in Jesus, her model, the Truth she lived for, the Life she longed for. Instead of insisting on these small matters out of sheer natural motives, she focused on him. In this way, while she didn’t equate holiness with doing all the right things, she was convinced that attentiveness to them, mindful living, could lead her there, if with her mind, will, and heart she remained patterned on Jesus and motivated by love for him. Like many of us, she had to learn how not to sweat the small stuff.
O to die advancing on!...
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Reverence for the magisterium, or teaching office, of the Church played a major role in that spirituality of hers, as it did in what Bl. Alberione handed on to us through her. That magisterium, by the way, was not just that of the pope, but of the bishops, as well. One Christ, one Church, one unbroken line of pastors that stretches back to the Apostles, our connection in faith with Christ. If today the Daughters in the U.S. are passionate about our place and role within the whole Church, it’s due in no small part to Sr. Concetta. At this polarizing moment in the history of religious life in the U.S., it’s worth recalling her witness to the unity of the Church with its pastors, that bore itself out time and again in who she was and what she did. Through her legacy and her prayers, Sr. Concetta is still building up the body of Christ and the community she loves.
For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Field Trip for the School of the Master

When people other than the cynics of the world hear “trade show,” they usually don’t think “Catholic Church.”

Now, if they’re Daughters of St. Paul, the religious venue is pretty much all they think of. The Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (RBTE) and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN) yearly see Pauline participation. Secular/religious shows like the centuries-old Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany draw Pauline women and men internationally. Add to them Catholic conferences that host exhibitions on the scale of trade shows, like the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA, with its 40,000 participants from all over the world, plus scores of smaller diocesan or regional gatherings that include exhibitors, and it’s no wonder “trade show” means something to us other than the usual commercial enterprise.

Sister Martha offers a
PBM giveaway.
So last year in New Orleans, when we heard the National Catholic Educators Association (NCEA) announce its plans to grace Boston with its presence this year, we were delighted. According to its mission statement, NCEA exists to provide “leadership, direction and service to fulfill the evangelizing, catechizing and teaching mission of the Church.” Exhibitors assist them in doing that, and, as always, the Daughters were happy to lend a hand. At the same time, holding the conference in the town where Pauline Books & Media’s main offices are located afforded an opportunity at least to some in our publishing house to glean information and ideas from participants, workshop presenters, and other exhibitors alike.

Sr. Mary Joseph Peterson, a PBM artist and designer, grins as she describes her expedition through the three exhibit halls: “Company reps would start talking to me as if I were a teacher. When I told them I was a book designer and was studying their books, they’d leave me alone. Some would walk away laughing to themselves.”

Sr. Christina Miriam Wegendt, PBM children’s editor, spent most of her workshop time on the librarian’s track. “One presenter reviewed about a hundred Y/A (young adult) titles,” she said. “It was great to see what’s out there. I spend a good part of my time reading what’s available, what people are writing about for teens and how they’re writing it. So I found this workshop very helpful and exciting.”

Sr. Mary Martha Moss, director of our PBM centers, comments on her experience at our booth: “We really showcased PBM; we have a lot to offer people. I got pulled into the display at the last minute; I was never supposed to go. It was fun to be there! We have a lot of great teachers in this area. It was good to mingle with them, to hear their concerns and their needs for their students.”

Those teachers represent a cross section of grade levels. They and others from various parts of the country are ready to give feedback on manuscripts to PBM’s editorial department. They agreed to review books for possible publication, and some are willing to write endorsements. Their geographic perspectives, plus their professional blessing, will give titles additional credibility and ensure that we’re meeting the needs of students and educators alike.

Sr. Margaret Timothy Sato and Sr. Bridget Ellis from our Pauline Studios roamed the exhibition halls, too. Besides picking up useful information, they made some promising contacts.

While consultation makes good business sense, the Daughters have another reason for plunging into an opportunity like this: a strong element of our spirituality and charismatic tradition. Our founder, Blessed James Alberione, called it studiosit√†. Translated from his native Italian, it literally means “studiosity,” not a word you or I probably ever use. In our sense, it means the ability to learn from everything and everyone, an openness to what’s new, and a proclivity for absorbing whatever will improve the effectiveness of our mission, because Jesus Christ, our Master (or Teacher), uses these means to lead us in discipleship and apostleship.

One of the most striking examples of studiosit√† I ever came across was in the testimony of Sr. Timothea Jovine, the Daughter of St. Paul who in the 1950’s served as costume director for San Paolo Film, which even then was a credible pioneer in media evangelization. Already a good seamstress, she was assigned to her position without formal training. (In the days before film schools, even the great names in cinema, like Federico Fellini, learned on the job.) In post-war Italy, money was even more scarce than it was before. Yet, our co-foundress, Sr. Thecla Merlo, managed to buy her a thirty-volume set of books on costumes and costume design. Sr. Timothea picked up another twelve-volume collection in Spanish, then, besides haunting the National Library, set about learning from everything in sight, including the mosaics and frescoes adorning Rome’s churches.

Sisters Emily, Maria Kim, and Christina
ready to serve at the J-Club booth

The legacy left by mentors like this trickles out into the way we carry out our mission, into what we produce, and how we offer it. At NCEA, both Sr. Christina and Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, assistant children’s editor, also helped marketer Sr. Maria Kim-Ngan Bui at our J-Club booth (“J” for “Jesus”). They noted how many of the 8,000 educators in attendance stopped by to thank them for inaugurating the only Catholic school and religious education book fair in the country. Sr. Martha, who also helped out there, recalls one librarian complaining that she has to defang the inventories of other book fair suppliers: “You don’t know how many boxes I’ve had to put under the table, because the books are not suitable for our children.” Then came her PBM endorsement: “I don’t have to worry with yours.”

About half of those who signed up for a J-Club Introductory Kit were drawn to it because they recognized our materials: “I’m familiar with your books. Where do I sign up?” was the refrain Sr. Maria Kim heard over the course of the conference’s three days. A total of 170 schools applied for an Introductory Kit. Two scheduled a book fair on the spot—decidedly not the norm for schools, which usually funnel new project ideas through a complex network of educators, librarians, and administrators. By contrast, two weeks ago at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA, which attracts a wide array of Church ministers, especially parish DREs and catechists, seventeen religious education programs booked a J-Club fair.

The sisters offered NCEA educators a J-Club sticker to attach to their lapels, and many complied good-naturedly: “Oh, sure, I’ll wear your sticker!” “I just love J-Club!”

On the PBM side of the booth, Bible-oriented titles, lives of saints, Rosary resources, posters, and kids’ music were the materials most in demand. Favorite CDs were God, Butterflies, and Miracles, Volume 1, as well as Volume 2. One teacher has a unique use for one of the songs: She teaches pronouns with it!

Our outreach wasn’t limited to a booth space, either. FSP vocation director Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis led the presentation, “God Calling in Cyberspace: A Media Workshop on Vocations.” Even among the laity, religious life has its cult following, and the twelve “apostles” who attended were definitely devoted. Lay teachers generally feel uncomfortable explaining a vocational choice to their students that they’re unfamiliar with, and this session was designed to put them more at ease with introducing it to the digital natives in their classrooms.

One of PBM’s authors, Kimberly Schuler, borrowing from her children’s book, I Will Remember You: My Catholic Guide Through Grief,  conducted a workshop about children and loss. Attendance was more than expected—85 educators, counselors, and principals—and attested to an often unrecognized need. Of course her book sold.

Next year, NCEA flies south once again, this time to Houston. When I asked Sr. Martha about her hopes for PBM there, she exclaimed in the south Louisiana accent she never completely shed—or wanted to: “I hope I’m goin’!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Love's Second Name

Last Easter the six-year-old son of one of our friends asked him, “Why did Jesus die on the cross, Daddy? Couldn't he save himself?” Eduardo answered that, yes, he could have, but he wanted to sacrifice himself so that we would be forgiven all our sins. Ruben pondered this a minute, then exclaimed, “Wow, Daddy, Jesus was brave! He was like a soldier who dives on top of a grenade to save his buddies!”

Neither mystics nor theologians ever plumb the depths of this mystery of mercy. Like Ruben, they come by some of their best insights through analogy. Sometimes, though, one of those insights, with help from on high, strikes humankind’s inner eye and causes us all to see the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in a new way. St. Faustina Kowalska’s visions and messages revealing Christ once again as Divine Mercy are one of those helps.

See pamphlet here.
Too often “divine mercy” is reduced to popular practice: Divine Mercy Sunday—April 15 this year. (Wouldn’t that be a switch for tax day?) with the corresponding novena and chaplet. How many of us have read John Paul II’s letter on The Mercy of God? How many of us think each day of ways we can pour out on others the mercy we ourselves have received? How often is a lack of mercy and justice the subject of personal confession, either at the end of the day, or in a family setting, or in a celebration of the sacrament of Penance? Is there ever anyone or any group of people from whom we withhold compassionate understanding or forgiveness? How can we be blessed into becoming merciful people who are then capable of once again obtaining mercy? (Mt. 5:7) In her blog this week, NCR columnist Isabella R. Moyer invites us to ask ourselves if we are persons and a people of mercy.

Numbers 7 and 8 of The Mercy of God (Dives in misericordia) touch especially on the aspects of mercy that rise to the top of the churn at this time of year: mercy revealed in the cross and resurrection. In connecting it with Christian faith and charity, John Paul II calls mercy “love’s second name.” He boldly asserts that “believing in the crucified Son means…believing that “love is more powerful than any kind of evil….[It] means believing in mercy…an indispensible dimension of love….”

Love’s second name may be mercy, but Christian mercy, also has a name: Jesus, Way, Truth, and Life.

Let’s start with Way. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). What does that mean? Jesus, the God-Man, is the way to rebuilding our right relationship with God. How do we enter into this relationship? By wishing it? By believing that it happens? Paul would answer: “Don’t you know that those of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried with him through our baptism into his death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory we too might be able to lead a new life” (Rom. 6:3). We walk in Christ, who is our Way to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Thus, grace—God living in us, a gift won for us on the cross and from the empty tomb—is our justification through God’s mercy.

Prodigal Son tile. Church of Santa Maria dei Popoli, Rome.
Truth. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), this is identified with God, who is always faithful to the covenant he made with his People. More: In his fidelity, he is actually being faithful to himself: God does not go back on his word. Again Paul: “God’s gift and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Paul casts this in terms of our disobedience and God’s mercy to Jew and Gentile alike. In this he echoes what Israel understood in Hebrew: hesed, “faithful mercy.” Jesus, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), is the incarnation of this hesed, this Truth, this mercy.

Life. God gives and nurtures life, just like a mother (Is. 49:15), sheltering and forgiving us and tenderly showing us compassion: rahamim, as the ancients would have called it. This life giving mercy springs from God’s heart and fiercely protects us, even to death, from what destroys his life in us. Sound like Anyone we know? Peter confessed to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).

The heart is what gives life, and in biblical language, the inner heart is the center of a person’s being, where decisions are made for or against God and neighbor, for life or death. Sanctified, blessed, made holy by grace, the heart makes us dear to God. The sacraments are reservoirs of this grace for the heart; prayer in faith gives us what we need to tap into it.

I spent Holy Week reading a portion of a book I’ve been meditating on for months—The Promise,* by the Church’s first Jewish cardinal, Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris. Like St. Paul, he makes it clear that mercy is made available to us all, Jews and Gentiles, but that we have to be able to accept it. The only way we can do that is by facing our sin. Where do we do that? In the same place where we are forgiven—at the cross. “God has consigned all to disobedience so that he may show mercy to all” (Rom. 11: 32). Lustiger writes:
“Sin is a kind of war, a case of man setting himself up against God. The innocence and righteousness of the Son—Word made flesh, Son of God made man—bring to light the homicidal tendency which dwells in the heart of every man….

“In Christ’s wounds, man can see himself as he is: not in another sinner, but in the Innocent One whom he disfigures. Adam, Man, can contemplate himself in Christ, for in the wounds he inflicts on the Innocent, the Righteous One, he sees his own portrait. In the derision he heaps upon Jesus, he sees his own cruelty. In the apostles’ betrayal, he sees his own cowardice. In Jesus abandoned, he sees his own abandonment of God.

“Paul will say: ‘For our sake he made him to be sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)….Only the holiness of the obedient Son reveals the refusal that dwells in every man’s heart; and if he permits sin to be thus revealed, it is in order to make universal forgiveness possible.

Renewal of baptismal promises, Easter liturgy
“…All [human beings] see their own sin revealed, so that all can be forgiven by God and all can receive mercy.”
John Paul points out that justice, or restoration of our relationship with God, is not an evening of the score, but a complete overhaul of the human tendencies that Cardinal Lustiger writes about. Because this justice “springs completely from love,” it recreates us. This is why, in his homily for Holy Saturday, Pope Benedict could describe the Easter sacrament of baptism and our profession of faith in the Risen One, through which this re-creation happens, as a “bridge” connecting us with the light of Jesus, who is “God’s new day.” Jesus, his paschal mystery, and his gift of baptism are the sequel to the creation story we read about in Genesis at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. If you and I still sin, if sin still plagues our societies, it’s not because grace has failed, but because grace in us and in our world is still writing the end of that sequel.

This justice is effected, brought about, by mercy. You can probably guess what I’m going to say next. By going this route of justice-through-mercy, God has given us a template for social justice, as well. Briefly, John Paul says that contrary to prevailing opinion, mercy is not unilateral. Did you ever teach someone, or do good to someone, maybe participating in a project for a non-profit organization? At the end of the day, did you ever wonder who benefitted more from the experience—the people you set out to help, or you? Jesus experiences the same thing. He considers our acts of mercy, personal or societal, as done to himself (Mt. 25:31ff.). If we can get past the notion that real mercy somehow tips the balance in favor of the one who “receives” it to the detriment of the one who “gives” it, our world might have a shot at restorative justice after all. (See “Weekly PauLine” in the right sidebar.)

If we’ve never made this our prayer before, then now, with the world as it is, would be as good a time as any to start. We can begin by acknowledging to our good God that we don’t know how to pray for ourselves or our world as we should (cf. Rom. 8:26). We can even admit to him, if not to anyone else, that we’re not all too sure that mercy can lead us to justice. But we don’t want to stop there. Whether we decide to pray with the chaplet to Divine Mercy, or from our hearts to pray in some other way, we can ask God to enlighten and guide us and turn our hearts toward his vision for us, since “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk. 1:36).

* Jean-Marie Lustiger, The Promise (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p. 86.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Media Redeemed

It’s a statement of the obvious that we’re now on the threshold of remembering, in a life giving way, the sacrificial moment and mystery that redeemed the world. Liturgically, Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday is one uninterrupted moment. It grace-fully reminds us that, though won for us centuries ago, salvation redeems every ecstatic or tragic moment of our lives until we give each one back to God at the end, ready for it to burst open in the full flowering of that salvation.

Literature and drama also speak of redemption. Think of any great book, movie, poem, or play. Through a chain of events and choices, their flawed heroes even half-heartedly live the story of personal—and universal—redemption. In a talk at the City of Angels Film Festival in L.A. five years ago, screenwriter, producer, and director Randall Wallace (“Braveheart,” “The Rookie”) applied this literary device to the sphere of revelation when he said, “God redefines our identity; that’s what redemption is.” God doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin, sweep it under the carpet, or cover it over, but buys back, recreates, starts over.

Not just spiritually either. Everything human, including social structures and culture, is redeemed too. That’s why in the Pauline Family our hope for media is irrepressible. How that redemption is played out is the great drama of life.

On March 11, the Pauline Family in New York held a Lenten retreat for friends and acquaintances that was also meant to reintroduce them to this hope as we Paulines envision it. (See blog post of March 14.) Brother Aloysius Milella, SSP, gave the following talk, linking sanctity and media in the way the Church witnesses to the Gospel:

“One of the constants in the talks, audiences and writings of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, is his oft repeated recommendation that as believers and Christians, we develop a relationship with Jesus, a communion with him, one-on-one in prayer. We know and learn about him in reading the Gospels and Scripture, but there is no substitute for relating to him as the companion of our journeying through the space we give him in prayer. Throughout his long and extraordinarily active life, our founder, Father James Alberione, was a singular example of this.

“I begin sharing this quotation:
‘What have we to gain from meeting the saints?  Two things: relief from monotony, and contact with vitality. Relief from monotony: people in their essential personalities can be very different, but sin blots out the distinctions and reduces the diversity. Sin drains out the color of the person (which is his or her own and inimitable) and replaces it with the color of sin which is common property.
All sinners look less like themselves and more like one another. Saints instead, are intensely themselves. Second: contact with vitality. Sin, being a following of the line of least resistance inevitably lessens vitality. It takes no more vitality to go with the stream of inclination than with any other stream. But to go against, as the saint does, demands immense vitality. If by chance you think saints are saints because they lack the energy for wrongdoing...try to know some of them and the incredible energetic accomplishments of human caring they achieved in Jesus’ name in their lifetimes.’

“That is an excerpt from the introductory remarks of Frank Sheed in Saints Are Not Sad, his classic collection of forty essays about the saints, published this year by Ignatius Press.

“Over the centuries in the history of our faith, we have  come to learn so much about God and of his Son come to live among us—perhaps not as much through theological studies as through the remarkable ways the saints incorporated the life and teachings of Jesus into their deeper selves.  This would often translate into an array of marvelous applications of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for the benefit and service of the Lord’s people whenever and wherever. Apart from unique nudges of grace, their charisms nearly always grew out of intuitions and inspirations matured through a perceptive grasp of the Scriptures. It happened more often than not that their lives appeared as something akin to new, walking translations of the Word of God.

“All of this is by way of introducing some reflection on the founder of the Pauline Family, Father James Alberione—Blessed James Alberione.*  His Family is made up of five religious congregations:
and four secular institutes:
   JESUS THE PRIEST (diocesan priests)
   THE HOLY FAMILY (married couples),
plus the PAULINE COOPERATORS (lay associates and sharers in Pauline spirituality and mission).  

“As mentioned, every one of the saints shadows a linkage with Scripture, for example, Francis of Assisi with ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ Faustina with Jesus’ ministry of mercy in the Gospels, etc. If we were asked to locate Father Alberione in a particular area of the Scriptures, asking which part he fits into, it would likely be in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in its second half, which recounts everything about St. Paul. Paul was his huge hero. His relentless apostolic outreach and total dedication, in tandem with ‘the whole Christ that ever grew within him’ grabbed profoundly at the founder’s soul. 

“The Christ who never stayed static would influence Fr. Alberione all his life long. The same for Paul’s sense of romanit√†—thinking always in the broader scope of the ‘empire’ rather than in confined geographical zones.

“Until St. Paul’s entry on the apostolic scene, the preaching of the Gospel was in great part carried out in the area of Jerusalem. There was valid reason for this. But it is St. Paul who, under the impetus of the Spirit, launched the nascent Church into its missionary dimension, opening the saving message of the Gospel to the peoples of the then-known world. For him, the Gospel had to be brought to every culture and find its home in it. The Gentiles, the outsiders, those with no standing, no citizenship, were to know of it, especially those without any identity of faith, like the Athenians whom Paul evangelized (Acts 17:16ff.).

“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. It was for this reason that Pope Paul VI publicly commended him for giving ‘the Church new ways and instruments for expressing itself.’ For this reason also, in his homily during the Mass of Father Alberione’s beatification, John Paul II authoritatively referred to him as the ‘First Apostle of the New Evangelization.’

“From the very beginning, at its earliest stage, Father Alberione placed a fundamental emphasis on living and interiorly integrating the Gospel on all who aspired to join the Pauline Family’s consecration to the Gospel. This would effectively complement the substance and urgency of its enterprising media use. ‘There is no apostolate without an apostle,’ was an early axiom of his.    

“Now as all of us are aware, our world has not felt the full, exhilarating impact of the Gospel’s Good News. When it hopefully does, it will be transformed. For the present, it goes about dazed and somewhat confused by its own hunger for the something it cannot define: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Love. And the secular media, as we know it, is largely its blatant platform. 

 In her Eucharistic, liturgical, and priestly service,
Sr. Ann, a Sister Disciple, works and prays
for the redemption of the media.
 “Along with a concern for the times we live in, and the way to best confront the world’s groping and widespread hurting, the Pauline Family—with our mission of principally serving through the media and reaching out in faith, hope, and healing—is to pray and encourage the media’s broader redemption. In our Family tradition, this has always been a special dimension of the spirituality attached to the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master as well as to the Brothers of the Society of St. Paul.

“To effect this redemption, that is, to realize the potential and right use of today’s ingenious media forms, Father Alberione ever insisted that we join prayers to the sacrifices and self-spending inherent in living our vocational charism. There is an enormous responsibility and enormous urgency in making of the information instruments in this digital age a service in truth to humanity.

“Some years ago during a community retreat, I remember a veteran confrere observe that like St. Paul, the Founder had also known a Damascus-type experience (Acts 9:1-22). The observation drew halting ‘how’s that?’ skepticism. But as he began to elaborate and place it in perspective, what seemed altogether obscure proved insightful. He situated the Alberionian ‘Damascus’ within the well known lengthy Eucharistic adoration that a young James Alberione was effecting in the Cathedral of Alba during the critical night separating the nineteenth century from the twentieth. As his nocturnal adoration went on, surges of light and purpose impelled and stirred him profoundly. Beyond himself, the young seminarian’s response became an overriding commitment ‘to do something for the men and women who would people the new century.’ Not unlike the piercing beam that so transformed Paul, this nighttime illumination in the presence of the living Eucharistic Christ would—as  he verified time and again—impact all of Fr. Alberione’s remarkable and prolifically graced Pauline life.”

* Today would have been Fr. Alberione's 128th birthday.
Photo credits: Sr. Roberta Christine Hummel, FSP, Br. Xavier Lee, SSP, Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP. Alberione: file photo.