Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lifting High the Cross

One summer my sister and I decided to tour Washington National Cathedral in D.C., a stupendous Episcopal church and, as it happens, dedicated to the honor of Sts. Peter and Paul. We drove around, looking for a parking space. Finally spying one, I offered to stand guard over it while she inched up alongside the car in front, preparing to parallel park.

Good move. As I planted myself possessively over our precious find, a mini-van halted directly behind her and in front of me. The passenger window slid open, and the driver called out, “That’s our space; we got here first!” “I’m sorry,” I pointed out, “we are in front of you.” “But we had our blinker on,” she barked.” We did too. I shook my head and stood my ground. She sputtered, “And you call yourself a Christian!” That was low. I snapped back, “‘Christian’ does not equal ‘doormat’!” She left.

Jesus did not allow himself to be bested when the integrity of his message was at stake. A Temple, moneychangers, and a whip come to mind. There came a time, though, when losing himself out of love was his message. He had already “emptied himself” by becoming human; then he “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death” (Phil. 2:6-7). His faithfulness to the truth of his identity and his mission led him to choose death, on a cross no less, and by doing so, save the world.

I’m afraid to be vulnerable. It leaves me open to possible abuse and exploitation. Even with an infinitely good God, it makes me feel powerless. That’s why I need the cross of Christ. I need a reminder of where vulnerability will surely take me and of the fact that it was a God, my God, who went there before me…and lives to tell the tale. This is where the Good News becomes Great News. He didn’t stop being vulnerable when he rose from the dead (think Eucharist), but his openness became undying life.

As for Christ, so for Christians. If the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, that Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies, also (See Rom. 8:11). As we celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross a few days ago, we were reminded that the cross is triumphant because of the Resurrection, and it triumphs in those who believe: “This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith” (1Jn. 5:4).

Elizabeth Scalia ("The Anchoress") reports that one day she made a decision to pray the Apostles’ Creed “mindfully” every day. “A remarkable thing happened,” she wrote. “I could feel my connection to Christ Jesus and His church strengthening. With my every assent I realized I was connecting with, and conforming to, God’s giant and ongoing “YES,” which formed and sustains all of creation.” This kind of "yes" gave wings also to journalist James Foley. Commenting on his Libyan captivity in Tripoli, he wrote in the Marquette Magazine: “If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released….”

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily” (Jn. 10:18). This is said in a unique way about the God-Man, but also in an ordinary sort of way about each of us. Could my sister and I have relinquished that coveted parking spot? Of course. Did the other driver need to hear what Christianity is and is not? Yes. It was unjust for her to demand—and in the name of Christ—what we had a right to. Likewise, for us to give it up out of coercion, even in the name of Christ, would have been dysfunctional. Only freedom makes love possible. Paul wrote that Christ was his law (See 1Cor. 9:21). So, love leads me to imitate Jesus Christ, not just conform to a law. My course of action may be the same. My decision will be made, however, not out of indignation, but in love.

M. Thecla once encouraged the Daughters of St. Paul at the Queen of Apostles Clinic, saying:

M. Thecla with Fr. Alberione & FSP, Albano, 1959
“To love God is to do his will, and to do the will of God and love God is sanctity. In these days, at the end of the Divine Office, this antiphon is always sung: ‘The Lord Jesus was obedient unto death and to death on a cross’ (cf. Phil. 2:8). And for this obedience ‘God…gave him the name which is above all other names… (Phil. 2:9). Behold the obedience of Jesus! Let us follow Jesus!
“May we have this holy ambition of ascending high in heaven, right there where we hope they’ve written our names. We have sought only the Lord. And we continue to seek him, even if we sometimes deviate a little. Let’s go straight ahead, seeking the Lord, his will, sanctity and the love of God” (April 1, 1961).
How do you feel drawn to exalt the cross of Christ in your “ordinary sort of way”?
Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, originally from San Francisco, has been a Pauline evangelizer since 1973 and has worked in various phases of the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. Since attending the nine-month Charism Course in Rome in 2012-2013, she is now based in Boston, where she serves on the provincial Cooperator Team in the area of ongoing formation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Setting Off Fireworks

This article was first published earlier today on the Association of Pauline Cooperators blog (http://PaulineLaity.blogspot.com).

In Redwood City the Daughters were really avant-garde. We had to be. After all, this was California! In 2007 our media techie, Sr. Domenica, scraped together some funds to buy a screen for our Pauline Books & Media Center, so we could show promo videos we made locally about our titles. They weren’t spit and polish, but they were attention grabbing. And people responded. 

So, when Michael Waldstein completed a new translation of the Wednesday General Audiences that Pope John Paul had delivered on his Theology of the Body, on-screen promotion was a given. Author George Weigel had once called the Pope’s series a “theological time bomb.” We knew we had published a monumental work in Man and Woman He Created Them, and we wanted to set off fireworks.

Perched atop a stool next to an instore display of the book, I told the camera that this was a must-have—challenging, but well worth the effort. Spontaneously, enthusiastically, to the camera’s utter delight, I described the features and read a passage or two. This was John Paul’s masterpiece: his Christian approach to anthropology, with unique insights into relationships and human sexuality, especially in connection with marriage. Since the presentation was unscripted, I hesitated at times, looking for the words that could do it justice. It didn’t take long, though, for me to hit my stride, and the finished product was presentable, if not professional. The camera, of course, agreed.

Soon after, our provincial superior and another sister were visiting from Boston. As they looked around the new PBM Center, they became engrossed in shelving, layout, and lighting. Sr. Margaret’s papal eloquence was soon ignored as white noise.

“And, if you’re like me and you’re not married, don’t despair!” Startled by my intensity, our two visitors spun around to face the screen. What on earth is Margaret saying now? Is she starting a dating service?

“It’s not that this doesn’t have anything to do with us,” I continued. “It does. There are at least fifty pages on what John Paul II calls ‘Continence for the Kingdom of Heaven.’” If you know what I mean.

If you don’t, allow me: It means that not even celibates miss out on the Theology of the Body. To live a healthy, integrated, and holy life, we’d better not! True, Man and Woman He Created Them is mostly about sexuality in marriage. One of its benefits, though, is its invitation also to those of us vowed to celibate chastity to understand the physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of our sexuality in the light of God’s Word. As we do, we can esteem even more how it weaves into our relationships with God, our communities, our families and friends, and the people we serve…here and hereafter. This consecrated chastity then becomes the gift that not only God gives us, but that we give back to him and to the world in which we live. It’s a world that, even without realizing it, is waiting for just such a message.

This past July 9-11, seven hundred laity, clergy, and religious turned out to share that message at the annual Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia. Go to www.tobcongress.com for photos and news. Ascension Press is now selling CDs of the talks online. Paulines also lent a hand at the Congress, especially through the publications that first helped detonate such a “theological time bomb” over three decades ago.

Though a great event in its own right, the gathering served as a kind of dry run for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to be held in Philadelphia in September 2015. Archbishop Chaput has invited Pope Francis. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Whether you’re a Pauline Cooperator or a consecrated member of the Pauline Family, John Paul’s Theology of the Body can spark something new in the way you see yourself and your relationships. Set off a Roman candle of your own from Pauline Books & Media

OK, here it is—the nine-minute video now on YouTube. What ideas do you think John Paul might have for you or someone you know? 


Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, originally from San Francisco, has been a Pauline evangelizer since 1973 and has worked in various phases of the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. Since attending the nine-month Charism Course in Rome in 2012-2013, she is now based in Boston, where she serves on the provincial Cooperator Team in the area of ongoing formation. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Stuffing Our Jars

An “inventory” of sorts has recently been re-shared over 6,700 times on Facebook: “Fill an empty jar with notes about good things that happen. Then on New Year’s Eve…see what awesome stuff happened this year.” One of our sisters said that her cousin and husband did that in 2013 and accumulated a box worth.

As we begin 2014, we want to tell you that you’re in our box! Any particular reason? Well, for starters, in the past three months we held two fundraising campaigns: a Webathon in October for several development projects of our publishing house that had been on hold because of a lack of funds, plus a drive to support the outreach by our sisters in the Philippines in the wake of last month’s typhoon. The Webathon brought in $28,487.10, and the collection for the Philippines, $16,065. Neither would have succeeded without your generosity and commitment to the Church’s mission of evangelization that you and we all share. To you, hearing that you and your families are in our prayers may seem unnecessary, but to us, saying it is like emptying that jar (or box) in wonder.

Sr. Noemi Vinoya, FSP provincial superior of the Philippines, says that not even that suffices “to express the gratitude we feel in our hearts.” Sr. Carmel Galula is especially inspired by the young people “repacking the relief goods for Tacloban! The youth are our hope, and working with them makes the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit – the spirit of volunteerism that Filipinos exhibit…even in non-emergency situations that call for a sense of community – very much alive.”

Several of the sisters involved in the relief effort described the experience as a life-changer. “God has visited us through the strong winds and surge of water,” writes Sr. Rosalinda. “He allowed me to suffer with him in the midst of chaos and pain” that others were suffering. “It was indeed an experience of purification and conversion.” Sr. Antonietta agrees and adds: “I have realized that God is our Father, for he never abandons us in the midst of sufferings.”

Sr. Pinky (Purificación) Barrientos works in the media office of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and has been one of my principal contacts for accurate and timely information. Sunday she wrote to me:

    “We are truly grateful for the show of support that you and the sisters and the generous donors have given to our sisters in Tacloban and to the people who have been greatly affected by the typhoon. Indeed the show of solidarity from everyone all over the world is absolutely overwhelming, that it makes me choke with emotion. Every time I read anything that has to do with people affected by Yolanda and people who are helping them, emotions well up in me and tears just roll.

    “But the survivors’ strong spirit and determination to overcome is also a source of inspiration for all of us, especially when some petty difficulties sometimes tend to make us lose our bearings, and we grumble about life.

    “May we continue to pray for one another as we also remember all those whom the Lord has entrusted to us through our common Pauline vocation.”
As “luck” would have it, one of the Tacloban sisters was in Manila when the typhoon struck. She was able to funnel donations she received for Tacloban through the archdiocesan office of Palo, which is near the city. A few weeks ago, three other sisters began to clean and salvage what they could in the media center and convent, readying it for the replacement of the roof. Funds permitting, they plan to completely rebuild at a later date. They realize that renovating now would be insensitive to those who still don’t even have a roof over their heads. Since four Daughters of St. Paul and the Cooperators are the only Pauline presence in the Easter Visayas, they have every intention of regrouping and continuing their mission there.

Even though we closed the fundraising project Sunday, if you’d still like to donate, click here. Your donation will be dropped directly into a fund that our superior general has set up in Rome for the Filipino sisters to draw from for the people, the Cooperators, and, when possible, themselves. As you launch a new year, may your sacrifice pack your jar to overflowing, as Jesus promised.