Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowbound!

Greetings from Boston, where a snow finer than table salt has been falling for 33 hours, and is still coming down. Here in our hilltop convent that meant no Mass this morning, though we did have a full-on Communion Service early this morning. (Why did it have to be so early? I'll never know.) The snow is so fine (and our stained glass windows so leaky), there were tiny snow drifts inside the chapel windows.

Throughout the night, two sisters had kept the snowplow at work, trying in vain to keep vital driveways passable. With the publishing house closed for a snow day, and the Infirmary staff unable to come in (roads are off-limits to all but emergency and public service vehicles), we all put on extra hats for the day.

One crew took up the snow shovels: back door, front door, nurses' door, dining room roof (yes, the roof: it is terribly prone to leaking after major snowfalls). Sisters are taking the place of the night nurse on the senior sisters' floor, and volunteers were needed to prepare the meals.

I spent the morning in kitchen, helping to get lunch on the table. (I'll give you my kale salad recipe if you like. It was a big hit.) At a certain point this morning, Sister Madonna found a supply of strawberry syrup. That gave me an idea. I took two dessert dishes and ran to a little-used exit to scoop up some of that pristine snow. Drizzled with syrup, it was a perfect New Orleans-style snowball. Except that, unlike any New Orleans snowball I've ever known, it stayed pretty well frozen for over five minutes--in the kitchen!

Tomorrow is shaping up to be more of the same, though the storm is supposed to be subsiding (and the traffic restrictions end at 1 a.m.). We are keeping all our city emergency personnel in our prayers, and remembering in a special way those families who have suffered catastrophic losses in the storm surges on the Cape.

Are you in an area affected by Winter Storm "Juno"? What has your experience been? Did you do anything fun with the enforced day off? What would you have done, those of you in warmer climes?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Closing today's day of remembrance and reparation


I just learned that the pro-life film 40 has just been released. Our own Sister Helena was very much involved in this project, which was produced by Spirit Juice Studios, the same Chicago production house that handled our soon-to-be-released documentary, Media Apostle. Watch the trailer below; buy the movie and let it start to do its work of reaching hearts.




In our community prayer this evening, we ended with a lovely prayer from Pope St John Paul's "The Gospel of Life." Notice how the Pope does not leave unborn life on its own, but includes other vulnerable persons, putting them all under Mary's mantle. It is indeed a fitting way to end a day of prayer focused on the dignity of all human life. 



O Mary,
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers
of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women
who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.

Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.

Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospel
as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.



Image of 2015 March for Life from @TheBostonPilot

The roads to Damascus

We all have 'em. Conversion moments pop up throughout life. Grand conversions like St Paul's get all the attention, but our little turn-arounds with God can be just as important. Indeed, there is a hint in the story of St. Paul's Damascus road encounter with Christ that God had been prompting "little" conversions for quite some time. It was just that Saul kept saying "no."

Dr. Jeff Mathews knows what that is like:
In the silence, I heard the word, “Evangelize!” Startled, I looked behind me at the Stations of the Cross and the snow falling heavily behind the stained glass windows, but I felt certain the voice had come from the tabernacle. Scared, I blurted aloud, “No!”  
Read the rest here! 

Have you ever said a big, loud "no" to God, only to do a turn-around that made all the difference in your life? What were the circumstances of the eventual "yes"?


The Daughters of St Paul are posting a Triduum in honor of the Conversion of St Paul; it starts today at iFollowLight.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pope Francis off-script: Is there a method to the madness?

Internet posts about Pope Francis's recent comments are proliferating like, well, rabbits as the secular media (as we'll as Catholic outlets) have fun with the image, and many faithful Catholics are tearing their hare hair out over Pope Francis' tendency to speak like an average Joe. Dr. Taylor Marshall sees that of two possible papal "styles" (one focused on Church members, the other a very different style that is more outward-facing), Pope Francis is taking the second:
An external approach would be to direct his teaching and speaking energies to the secular world which is either skeptical about the Church or downright opposed to it. The goal is bring about conversions from an unsuspecting society. An external approach crafts communicative missives to the skeptics, world leaders, and enemies of Christianity. Pope Francis is clearly of the second approach: external. 
Marshall is convinced that the needs of the Church are such that, for his part, he would advise Francis to give more attention to the "sheep in the fold and less attention on distracting the wolves outside."

I suppose that when Pope Emeritus Benedict stepped down (almost two years ago!), I would have easily assumed that the Pope was "our" Pope, and that what he said or did or wrote was primarily addressed to the immediate flock, who would be expected to mediate that, by word and example, to the rest of the world. But during the Pope's visit to Sri Lanka last week, I was struck by the openness of the largely Buddhist nation to Pope Francis, and especially the signs of honor shown him by the Buddhist communities. The words of the Gospel came to mind: "I have other sheep that are not of this flock. I must lead them, too." (John 10:16).  That could be the leit-motif of Francis' papacy.

Marshall is right: there are wolves out there. But mostly there are "sheep that are not of this flock" and Pope Francis, as Vicar of Christ, is their shepherd, too. A pastor who started his pontificate talking about the "smell of the sheep" can be expected to not just smell like the wandering flock, but speak their language. And that language is not Church lingo, not subtle, certainly not philosophically precise, but personal: meant to create a question, an opening in the heart of any (any at all) who hear; to start a real conversation, not a press conference; to break through complacence or to challenge assumptions. Certainly the rabbit remark went to the heart of many cultural assumptions, which is precisely why it stung faithful Catholics who are often on the receiving end of remarks like that. They are used to hearing such dismissive words on the part of critics; to hear the Pope himself use them must have been profoundly disconcerting, even if he was, in effect, quoting Church critics in order to affirm what the devout have been living (often heroically) all along.

As he goes out beyond the clear markers of the Catholic fold, Francis seems to be counting on the faithful to hold fast to the solid doctrine they have learned and taken to heart, interpreting his off-the-cuff remarks only and always in the light of the Catechism, the teachings of his predecessors, and (above all) the Gospel. It is abundantly clear that he is not going to repeat comforting messages for practicing Catholics when there are souls on the edge of a precipice. Francis is not speaking to the ages, as many Pontiffs before him, but to the person he is with, at the moment of the encounter, and he trusts that we are listening in with a "Catholic" ear.



The word "pontiff" means "bridge builder." How is Pope Francis' non-pontifical approachability actually an exercise of the pontifical ministry? How is he working to "gather into unity all the scattered children of God" (John 11:52)?


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

CORRECTED VERSION: Did the Pope really say that about "multiplying like rabbits"?

Did I hear that right?
Yard Bunny image by e_monk; used with permission.
UPDATED VERSION: My earlier post was in error in saying that the quotes from Pope Francis about people being "like rabbits" was a faulty translation. A video clip clearly shows him using that Italian expression. So here is my corrected post; updated phrases are in dark blue:

You may have seen the Holy Father quoted as saying that Catholics are not obliged "to multiply like rabbits." Finding that in the headlines yesterday, I was extremely disedified. The language gave the impression that the Pope thinks and speaks in the same crass terms as the dehumanizing culture. (Whenever you find non-human images applied to human beings, your antennae should go up.) After all his beautiful and encouraging words to the Filipino people about their family life, is that how the Pope really sees things?

Speaking in Italian during the Manila-to-Rome on-flight press conference, the Pope first said (in answer to a question about Paul VI's references to "particular cases") that Christians are not obliged to have children "one after the other" [fare figli in serie.] And as an example of this mistaken understanding of "openness to life" (which, he reminded us, is essential for a valid marriage), he spoke of a woman who was expecting her eighth child after having already had seven Caesarean deliveries. She risked leaving her family motherless, whereas what the church calls for is "responsible parenthood." 

It was brought to my attention that this was not the only place the Pope expressed himself on the theme of responsible parenthood. In an earlier post on this blog, I had missed that.  When a second journalist brought up the birth control question again, the Pope said the same thing, but in stronger language. This is where the "rabbits" came in. But Pope Francis did not use this expression blithely, as if reflecting a typical usage of his own. He first apologized for what he was about to say.  That apology ("pardon the expression") shows the Pope taking on the language of others to address their question head-on. No Church-speak here, for sure! Instead of speaking in delicate euphemisms, Francis answered the question in the terms very often used to deride Church teachings. That apology made all the difference for me. The comparison was not one that expresses the mind of Pope Francis, but one which reflects the minds of those who (often mockingly) are convinced that the Church's stance borders on the barbaric. 

I confess that the example of that woman left me wanting to write to the Holy Father (something I may in fact do). In cultures where women are still not fully respected as equal partners in a marriage (and some parts of Latin America do come to mind), a wife who asks her husband to practice periodic abstinence for the sake of the family's well being may fear losing him completely. "He will leave me for someone else," said one woman to the Catholic healthcare worker. Our pragmatic neighbors might use cases like this to "prove" the need for artificial contraception, but that does not address the deeper issue: men who do not love their wives, but see them as a personal prostitute who must be available at his call. All the contraception in the world won't change that situation; it will only cement it even more into the fallen culture of machismo. 

The Holy Father also stressed his appreciation of Blessed Pope Paul VI as a prophet in a world where people "in the know" were jumping on the population explosion bandwagon. His 1968 "refusal" (to approve artificial contraception) was not a matter of being close-minded, but was actually visionary. Francis went on to observe that a practical neo-Malthusianism is alive and well in Italy and Spain (where the birth rate is lower than 1%), but that it is predominantly a play for control of humanity on the part of those in power.

I think there is one conclusion we must all draw from the many, many misleading headlines where Pope Francis is concerned: we need to learn Italian!!!

Pope Francis explains "ideological colonization" in greater detail

During his talk to families last week in the Philippines, Pope Francis warned about "ideological colonization," and mentioned, in passing, a few examples. Naturally, the media jumped on only one of those examples, "redefining marriage" (which the Vatican spokesperson acknowledged referred to same-sex unions seeking the legal status of marriage).  I had posted on Twitter a link to an article about the talk, and all the engagement I received that day focused on the one example. No one seemed to notice that the Pope was taking aim not at a proposed law, or a way of life, but an "ideology," a way of thinking that is imposed "from on high," from a position of power, and that restricts true human freedom. Unfortunately, so many people have a personal investment in a change of law that the warning about the loss of real freedom completely passed them by.

On the plane ride home, the Pope took questions from the press, and a French reporter seized the occasion to ask for more detail about "ideological colonization." The Holy Father's answer is worth reading (emphases mine):

Ideological colonization. I'll give just one example that I saw myself. Twenty years ago, in 1995, a minister of education asked for a large loan to build schools for the poor. They gave it to her on the condition that in the schools there would be a book for the children of a certain level, no? It was a school book, a book prepared well, didactically, in which gender theory was taught.
This woman needed the money but that was the condition. Clever woman, she said yes and did it again and again and it went ahead like this and that's how it was achieved. This is ideological colonization.
They introduce to the people an idea that has nothing nothing to do with the nation. Yes, with groups of people, but not with the nation. And they colonize the people with an idea which changes, or wants to change, a mentality or a structure.
During the synod, the African bishops complained about this. Which was the same story, certain loans in exchange for certain conditions -- I say only these things that I have seen.
Why do I say ideological colonization? Because they take, they really take, they take the need of a people to seize an opportunity to enter and grow strong -- with the children. But it is not new, this. The same was done by the dictatorships of the last century. They entered with their own doctrine -- think of the Balilla (Mussolini’s fascist youth organization -- editor’s note), think of the Hitler Youth.
They colonized the people, but they wanted to do it. But how much suffering -- peoples must not lose their freedom. Each people has its own culture, its own history. Every people has its own culture.
But when conditions come imposed by imperial colonizers, they seek to make these peoples lose their own identity and make a uniformity. This is the globalization of the sphere -- all the points are equidistant from the center. And the true globalization -- I like to say this -- is not the sphere. It is important to globalize, but not like the sphere; rather, like the polyhedron. Namely that each people, every part, conserves its own identity without being ideologically colonized. These are the ideological colonizations.
There is a book, excuse me but I'll make a commercial, there is a book that maybe is a bit heavy at the beginning because it was written in 1903 in London. It is a book that at that time, the writer had seen this drama of ideological colonization and wrote in that book. It is called "The Lord of the Earth" or "The Lord of the World." One of those. The author is Benson, written in 1903. I advise you to read it. Reading it, you'll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Keeper of the Garments

The Feast of the Conversion of St Paul falls on Sunday this year, which means that it will be skipped over liturgically--but not ignored by us. The Daughters of St Paul pray an informal novena for the January feast (our solemn feast and novena fall in June), and it was during yesterday's prayer that the thought came to me to offer this novena in a special way for the conversion of the next St Paul.

Somewhere in this world of ours is a religiously motivated zealot (or two) with a pedigree like the
young Saul: an expert in his religion, an adherent of a particularly rigorist sect in that tradition, a person of profound convictions, frighteningly intelligent. Behind the scenes, this person brings all the resources of his or her education, social media skills and networks of influential people to the goal of defending the honor of God, perfectly justified in his or her own mind that the glorious and holy end justifies any means whatever. Like Saul at the killing of Stephen, he or she will "guard the garments" of the ruffians who dirty their hands with the stones that slowly beat the life out of those perceived as enemies of God.

Somewhere out there is a person who, flung from that self-appointed command post and confronted with the shattering Truth who announces "you are persecuting Me," will bring all those resources of native genius, knowledge of the misused religion, social media technologies and string of influential friends to the proclamation of the Gospel of a God who "emptied himself and took the form of a slave"; who was "crucified out of weakness but lives by the power of God'; who "learned obedience from what he suffered", and when perfected through resurrection became the source of eternal salvation for those who, like Saul, came to the "obedience of the truth."

Somewhere, today, there is a Saul of Tarsus who only has to encounter Jesus on the road to be transformed into an apostle of the New Evangelization. That is who I am praying for in this novena.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Facing Down the Culture of Death

Last year, I was blown away on an almost-daily basis by the way the Mass readings seemed to shed light on each other even though they run on two different tracks. (The first readings are a succession of passages taken in order from sets of books that seem to lurch from the Pentateuch to historical books to letters of Paul, and the Gospels taken from the sections dealing with the public ministry of Jesus, followed in order starting with Matthew, then Mark and finally Luke.) So far this year, I am stumbling over the sheer mystery in the readings. That may be because we are still in the Christmas season, so the readings are quite deliberate about contemplating the sheer mystery that is the Incarnation.

Take today's first reading, for example. When I read over it last night in preparation for today's meditation and Mass, I just glanced at the icon of Christ the Master on the other side of my room and told the Lord, "I have no idea what he [John] is talking about. Are you going to make it a bit clearer for me?" (That was pretty much the attitude I brought to chapel today, too.) And you know what? This morning I found myself looking at those mysterious words about "the Spirit, the water and the Blood" and they took my somewhere unexpected. Spirit, we know, is a translation which could just have validly be rendered "breath." Breath is LIFE. But so is water. And so, in the semitic mind, is blood. LIFE, LIFE, LIFE. And in case we don't get that, John tries (tries!) to make it clearer: "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life..."

That led me to think about the massacres we have witnessed on the world scene over the past days: a huge, fairly underreported one in Nigeria (2000 dead this week) and the front-page news stuff coming out of Paris (including the hostage situation going on as I write). Fruits of the "culture of death." Underneath them all (way, way underneath) is an insecurity about life, isn't there? If the murderers had any sense of themselves as already "given" a fullness of life, it would be pointless to take another's life. You only do that if you think you have something to gain by their death (even if that "gain" is a mere symbol of life, like honor or money or power). If you are established in life, if (to quote St Paul) "nothing in all creation can separate you" from the source of your life, then you are already, as John says, "victor over the world." The rug is pulled out from under the feet of every excuse for violence; there is no need, either, for rivalry, envy, one-upmanship. Having life (and "life to the full"), the person is no longer driven like a slave by the culture he or she is immersed in, telling each one to "grasp at equality with God" in whatever way the culture defines it (beauty, youth, success, prestige...) Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the freedom of lives marked by self-giving love. It probably isn't too much of a stress to say that self-giving love (the "complete gift of self" that Pope John Paul wrote so much about in Theology of the Body and that ultimately is simply the reflection of the Triune God) is only way you can "see" freedom: it is not the ability to dominate, but the capacity to give life from one's own fullness.

What if this is the vision Jesus had in mind all along for his disciples?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Violence and the Bible

Yesterday's barbaric shooting in the newsroom of a satirical French magazine cannot but raise the
question (again) about the supposed connection of religion and violence. The Bible itself seems guilty of promoting murder and mayhem at God's orders: just look at 1 Samuel 15:3 (although if you keep reading to verse 6, that pesky mercy finds its way in). Certainly, over the years I have fielded enough questions on that score! There are not a few places where similar commands are given, so one can be forgiven for assuming that war by obliteration is simply part of God's modus operandi.

And yet.

By the time we get to the prophetic books (800 BC), the people Israel are not Bronze Age warriors on the march to acquire territory. In fact, after a brief golden era (the reign of Solomon, whose very name means "peace"), they had been divided and conquered and are about to lose their land (if, as with the later prophets, they hadn't already been forced into exile). And yet the prophets still use the language of the "ban of destruction"! Sometimes, to encourage the disheartened people, the prophet speaking in God's name promises a ban of destruction against their oppressors, or says that God will strengthen the people so that they will be unconquerable. As much as the recipients of those prophecies may have desired the extermination of Assyria or Babylon it was clear that they were not being commanded to carry something out: it was so far beyond their abilities as to be unthinkable. By this point, the language of the ban was symbolic of complete deliverance--a deliverance brought about solely through God's power.

Somewhere between the Bronze Age and the prophet Isaiah, the people outgrew the old patterns of warfare that characterized their primitive, fundamentally tribal society. Their leaders were no longer rugged chieftains with battle scars, but hereditary kings, priests and scribes--roles that can only develop in a stable culture with the luxury to devote to planning and to books. Even when Jerusalem was conquered and subjected to a ban of destruction, the king, nobles and most of the population was not put to the sword, but taken to Babylon as exiles, while the poorest of the people were left to live off the land. Total extermination was no longer a tool of war. There is one late witness to a kind of "ban of destruction" shortly before the Roman period, when the now-Jewish people was being itself obliterated under the Seleucids and the Maccabees reverted to the tactic to defend the recently restored Temple. (As a sign that this was a reversion to primitive conditions, the early Maccabees and their sympathizers had fled the city to live in caves.)

The Bible itself witnesses that the "ban of destruction," the wholesale slaughter of populations within a settlement (along with the destruction of the houses and cattle) was not so much God's command as it was simple, untrammeled human violence projected onto God; a form of violence very much tied up with what could be called a developmental stage not only in human civilization, but also with the growing knowledge of God. The famous dictum "quidquid recipitur" (that which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver) applies here. "When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son" to make even more explicit what God's actual intentions for human society are: "Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you" (see Luke 6); "Bless those who curse you; do not repay evil for evil" (see Romans 12).

So, no: the Bible, read and interpreted as a whole (no cherry picking!) does not condone or sacralize violence. Given our fallen state, however, it may be a constant temptation even for Christians. Aren't shunning, dismissing people (or whole groups) on the basis of their leftist or rightist stance on a particular issue, scapegoating, labeling or calumny simply milder, perhaps more sophisticated forms of the ban?



For some insightful reading, I recommend the books of James Alison. Here's a sample. This is what I'm reading right now (second go-through, this time with a pencil!). This is what's waiting on my bookshelf.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Coming Soon!

If you are a long-time reader of NunBlog, you may recall the various promises of a documentary about our Founder...and that I was even part of the team, both reviewing the various versions of the script and then accompanying the film crew in Italy as a translator (and on-camera talent, too, though my footage remains in the archives). Well, at last we are within weeks of the premiere of Media Apostle! The debut will be January 25 (Feast of the Conversion of St Paul). While we had hoped to release the film last January, for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Pauline Family, it will be released instead during the centenary year of the Daughters of St Paul, and in the year of Consecrated Life, a twofold blessing. My understanding is that there are two versions of the film: a 50-minute version for broadcast (hopefully you'll see it on your favorite Catholic TV network) and a 90-minute DVD version that fills in more of the story. I haven't seen so much as a rough cut yet, myself, but those who have tell me that it is truly inspiring.

Another inspiring film to look forward to will be the documentary on poet Francis Thompson and his masterpiece, "The Hound of Heaven." The poem was a favorite of Mom's--she used to narrate its opening lines, unbidden, and toward the end of her life had me send her about ten copies of the booklet version so she could give it to people (likewise unbidden!) as her way of evangelizing. When she died, there were still four or five copies left (I have one in my office).




It looks like 2015 is shaping up as a great year for Catholic filmmaking!

Friday, January 02, 2015

the original Christian bromance

Today's saints, Basil of Caesarea (known as Basil the Great) and Gregory Nazianzen, have to be the first witnesses to that phenomenon (not so much talked about this past year) called the "bromance." Whereas the love of man and woman leads them to become "one flesh," Gregory testifies that he and Basil were two bodies with "one spirit."

Gregory says that he and Basil "felt mutual affection" that "grew daily warmer and deeper"; they shared a home, meals, goals. Taking up Gregory's homily about Basil (Gregory outlived him by about ten years), a 21st century reader who did not know their whole story might assume, at least from the first paragraphs, that this is an ancient (circa AD 380) witness to same-sex marriage. Instead it is a picture of Christian friendship: "We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if more people today were to share the stories of that kind of spiritual friendship? These are stories that demonstrate the breadth of love, a warm human love that is as fulfilling as it is chaste. We can broaden the discourse about love by telling such stories!

Here are Gregory's own words, taken from today's "Office of Readings":

Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.
I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay.
What was the outcome? Almost alone of those who had come to Athens to study he was exempted from the customary ceremonies of initiation for he was held in higher honor than his status as a first-year student seemed to warrant.
Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that “everything is contained in everything,” yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In Lieu of Flowers...

I was still in England when I met her. Of course, she had never left Northern Virginia--except for the
time she went to Lourdes as a guest of the Knights of Malta, her parents praying for a miracle. But in the few weeks that remained of her life, Courtney Elizabeth Lenaburg became my hero.

Thanks to her blogging mom, Mary, thousands came to know about the bouncing baby girl whose life changed drastically on the day of her baptism 22 years ago when she suffered the first of a lifetime's worth of debilitating seizures. Those merciless seizures stole Courtney's sight, compromised her ability to move and communicate freely, eventually took from her even the ability to take nourishment by mouth.

You can read (as I did) Mary's entire blog archives (lots of great recipes in there along with the stories of raising, in faith, a special needs child). What struck me in the reading was that Courtney was a person who had known and received only love, her whole life long. She was surrounded by love, formed by it: love, care and tenderness was the very air she breathed; it was her environment, her culture. I thought of St. Therese of Lisieux, another young person whose childhood was marked by an atmosphere of goodness. Having known only love, delivered from the sad and corrupting experiences of hostility, betrayal, exaggerated discipline or unhealthy competitiveness, these souls are able to radiate love without the usual impediments of self-protection or self-promotion that hamper the rest of us. These are the kind of people who are willing and able to put themselves in the breach for others.

Dependent on her family (including her protective older brother Jonathan) for all of her needs, Courtney still managed to demonstrate incredible willpower when it came to arduous tasks like propelling herself forward on a walker, and, permitted to receive her First Holy Communion (during that trip to Lourdes), I think she may have, at some deep level of the soul accessible only to God, accepted the vocation of an intimate share in the cross of Jesus--for us.

Having outlived numerous predictions of an early death, even when her final weeks came Courtney managed to outwit the doctors. Her final agony, expected to be a matter of hours, lasted five days. I prayed for her intensely during those days, knowing that the enemy of mankind would do his utmost to thwart the practically guaranteed entrance into heaven of someone who spent her entire life in an embrace of love.

Today and through the night her family and friends keep vigil in preparation for her funeral tomorrow. Her parents, realizing that the parish church will be decorated for the Eighth Day of Christmas, are begging well-wishers not to send flowers. Instead, they are inviting donations in Courtney's name for the building of the new parish church, a fully-accessible church with enough room for all the Mass-goers in that particularly active corner of the Catholic world. (They also welcome gifts that will help them retire Courtney's still-significant medical debt. And prayers that her Dad will find secure employment.)

I accompany the Lenaburgs from afar, grateful that the Lord has allowed me to accompany them online these past two months. They have offered me an incredible witness of faith. I only hope I can let Courtney's life continue to speak to me and challenge me to radiate love in the world.