Thursday, April 10, 2014

Getting Ready for Holy Week: Unleavened Bread Family activity

A week before Holy Thursday, here's a recipe for the unleavened bread that plays such a pivotal role in the Exodus story--and in the Last Supper. I found this (originally prepared for our children's magazine) as I was packing up...

At the preparation of the gifts at Mass, the priest prays: “Through your goodness, we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.” Our shared work transforms the gifts of creation (wheat, water and grapes) into “the work of human hands.” So when we bring bread and wine for the Mass, we are really bringing ourselves. Through the prayer of consecration, our humble gifts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of the Risen Lord Jesus. All that is left of the bread and wine are the sense-perceptible aspects: color, size, taste.

At the Last Supper, Jesus used the unleavened bread and pure wine of the Passover celebration to institute the sacrament of his Body and Blood. You and your child can experience something of the sign language of unleavened bread by making some yourselves. As you collaborate in making unleavened bread, consider the mercy and miracle of God: we bring our ordinary food and drink to the Mass, but God feeds us with the Body and Blood of his Son.

You will need
a cookie sheet, well dusted with flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 to 5 tablespoons water
(No salt!)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Put the flour in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water, and mix well. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly to form into a ball of dough, add some drops of water and mix well. Add water carefully, a little at a time, until you form a ball of dough that will not stick to your hands. (You should be able to knead it like modeling clay.) Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a rectangle about as thick as two quarters stacked up. Place on non-stick or lightly greased baking pan. Using a knife, score the dough, as in the drawing below. (Scoring it will make it easy to break it neatly.)

Bake about 10-12 minutes at 375°. Cool on cooling rack. Refrigerate when cool. (Whole wheat flour and bread keep best when refrigerated.)

Bread made according to this recipe is valid for the Eucharist. Whether or not it will actually be used for Mass is a pastoral question that will be addressed according to your parish’s needs and traditions. This bread, like the more familiar round wafers, is not the Body of Christ unless it is consecrated through the Eucharistic prayer and the words of the Jesus spoken by the priest at Mass.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Lessons in detachment

The process underway.

Books in the basement. (The stack is a bit
higher now...)
My immanent transfer, even if only for one year, is providing me with more lessons in detachment than I expected. Besides the big ones--my local and national community and its initiatives, the choir at OLMC, the marvelous city of Chicago itself--there are the little daily detachments that keep popping up as I pack. Between the things that will be stored in the Chicago basement until my next assignment (mostly books!) and the things I will need in England (which need to fit into two 5--pound suitcases), there are objects that I have acquired along the way that don't really belong in either category.

It is surprisingly difficult to put them where they need to go, which in most cases is the pile for the Salvation Army. There are items I had to part with that I never wanted, never knew what to do with, but held on to out of respect for the person who gave them to me. There are sacred images (including about 30 rosaries!) that I didn't need, but held onto out of respect for the Person or mystery they represented. Every item seems to have a story, and I had to tell myself the story as I moved the object closer to the Salvation Army pile.

Then there is the technology. This is the hardest of all. Not only does every piece of technology seem to have a story (this is the first laptop I got, in 1998, from Dad, at CompUSA, before going to Rome; this was Dad's pocket PC; this was Mom's iPhone...), but in most cases the equipment works just fine (except for the iPhone, which bit the dust this morning when I attempted to change the battery myself). I remember just how much was paid for each piece of technology, too, which makes it even harder to put on the give-away pile! Even though my phone can probably do more, faster, and with higher quality, there is something in me that protests getting rid of functional equipment, even if it is out of date (Zip Drive, anyone? You never know...). But with the grace of God, I will see this through. (Even now I am reformatting the hard drive of that first clunky laptop, and am almost consoled that the LCD screen is beginning to fade.)

I'm still keeping that bag of cables for now. (You never know...)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Friday with Francis

Part of a continuing series of reflections based on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

After spending some time dwelling on the poverty of Christ in his Incarnation, his identification with sinners in the Baptism in the Jordan, and his unfailing, childlike confidence in the Heavenly Father, Pope Francis considers our situation. As St Paul would say, "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth" (1 Cor. 1:26). Overall, the Church is not characterized by prosperity! St. Lawrence the Martyr was being perfectly honest when he brought the poor and needy to the Roman judge who had demanded "the treasures of the Church." A Church with any other treasure is to that degree unfaithful to grace.

And so Pope Francis invites us "to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it." But he goes beyond a simple identification of material want with poverty. Francis instead speaks of destitution, and he sees three forms of this dehumanizing poverty that cries out for remedy. "Destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types...material, moral and spiritual." 

The Holy Father not only calls on us to share our resources in order to relieve this suffering--although he clearly intends that we do, and at a cost ("I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt").  Like Dorothy Day or Dom Helder Câmara,  Francis challenges us to tackle the causes of destitution: the "violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world." He draws our attention back to Christ: "In the poor and outcast we see Christ's face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ." 

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George emphasizes the importance of Catholics really "meeting Christ" if they are to live the faith in a meaningful way. He has even said that if this aspect of formation is taken care of, even if our institutions are compromised, the Church will be strong.  There's a bit of a risk at Lent that for 40 days we can speak piously about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and even fill our CRS Rice Bowl with money saved by eating more simply, and then once Easter comes, go back to "normal." Pope Francis seems to be hinting that "going back to normal" is a sign that we didn't see Christ's face during Lent; for all our good will, we may have just gone through the motions. 

What steps are you taking that this Lent will be a genuinely life-changing season, when you break with habit (even just crusted-over, useless patterns you've developed) to enter a "new normal" in the Easter season?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Fridays with Francis--on a Monday

This was supposed to be posted last week! Oh, well. Now it's a Monday with Pope Francis...

Part of a continuing reflection on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

In the middle of his Lenten message, Pope Francis shifts gears. The first part was an extended meditation on the "Good News" poverty of Jesus: the revelation of God as Father, seen in the Incarnation, the Baptism of the Lord, and the image of the Good Samaritan. Now Pope Francis turns and looks at us.

"We might think that this 'way' of poverty [the way of "going out" from oneself to share the riches of being with the needy] was Jesus' way, whereas we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of human resources. This is not the case."

That one line pretty much nails it for me. The lack of "the right kind of human resources" will never be an impediment to God's work. Pope Francis comments further, "God's wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty enlivened by the Spirit of Christ."

Dorothy Day knew that. She wrote in her diary about a time when the Catholic Worker desperately
Dorothy Day, two years after
the founding of the Catholic
Worker (Library of Congress)
needed $200; it may have been for rent. Dorothy was determined that the Worker, placed under the protection of St Joseph, would live only of Divine Providence. She was very happy to receive a donation for $20, but when a needy person came seeking assistance (quite possibly for their rent!), she handed the money over. $20 wasn't going to cover what the Catholic Worker needed anyway. Sure enough, Divine Providence came through (perhaps at the last possible moment).

The saints rejoiced to find themselves (in the words of a prayer by Blessed James Alberione) "weak, ignorant, incapable and inadequate." Years ago my Dad found that line in my Pauline Manual of Prayers. "Boy," he remarked, "saying that every day will keep you humble!" But for Alberione and others of his spiritual stature, those words were not a form of self-humiliation but a source of deep joy. Having been called to a mission that surpasses our human resources, they knew that their poverty "in all things" (Alberione put that in the prayer, too) marked the place where God could fully and freely act. St. Paul's boast comes again to mind, "When I am weak, then I am strong!"

Can you name a place of "personal and communal poverty" where God was able to work apart from all the more likely human resources? Has this Lent opened your eyes to a new form of poverty that God is inviting you to place at his disposition?

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Friday with Francis

Part of a continuing series of reflections on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

A third image Pope Francis invokes in his message (after that of the Incarnation and of the Baptism of the Lord) is the Good Samaritan. In each of these images, there is on the one hand, a going-out (Francis' famously repeated "Uscire!"), and on the other, a movement towards needy humanity. This poverty of Christ's is founded in his true wealth: his Sonship. "Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves his parents without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant." Not for nothing did Jesus' final words begin, "Father." He is so rich in this Sonship that he can share it, without his own "inheritance" being diminished in the slightest.

This is the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, proclaimed the Sunday before the Lenten season began: The child of the Heavenly Father does not "worry about tomorrow" or about what to eat, or drink, or wear: "Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, and all other things will be given in addition."

"When Jesus asks us to take up his 'yoke which is easy,' he asks us to be enriched by his 'poverty which is rich' ... to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother." That spirit of adoption has its crowning glory in the Gift of the Holy Spirit that is Piety. It is Jesus living in us "to" the Father, with his trust, his joy, his unshakable confidence, his praise. This is, in fact, where the Lord wants to take us by Eastertime (or at least by its end at Pentecost!).

How has this Lent, so far, renewed you as an adopted child of God and strengthened your relationship with the Father of Jesus?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hail, Holy Joseph, Hail!

The post's title is the name of a hymn I learned when I entered the convent. During the novena to St Joseph (March 9-18), we would sing a hymn in his honor every day. One that got a lot of use was the sequence-like "Te Joseph Celebrent," written in 1700 (sung in English!); another was "Hail, Holy Joseph, Hail!" with a beautiful Josephite theology in warm lyrics: "To thee the Word made Flesh was subject as a Son! Hail, Holy Joseph!" "God's choice wert thou alone!"

Espousals of Mary and Joseph. 
In preparing a talk on St. Joseph last week (my last talk in Chicago!), I found myself taking the words of the Angelus prayer into a St. Joseph context. The result is the St. Joseph Angelus. I am sure the Blessed Mother wouldn't mind if for a day we turned our prayer marking her role in the Incarnation into a prayer honoring her spouse's role in the life of the Son of God! After all, the full name of today's solemn feast is "Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Finally, during Advent I had been pondering what seemed to be a kind of invitation to put the then-new liturgical year under St. Joseph's special patronage. This was confirmed for me when (still on tour for the Christmas concert series), I received a message from Sr Kathryn in the motherhouse Electronic Publishing division. She had found a comment from my Mom, posted last year about this time, on the site of a devotional video about St. Joseph. It turned out to be the week before Mom's final illness manifested itself. When she called me for prayers, just ten days after posting that comment, Mom's voice mail added, "I think you're supposed to pray to St. Joseph." We did, throughout that sorrowful ordeal. And I am continuing to do so throughout this year.

So here, for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, is the video that so inspired Mom.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The St Paul of Ireland

His "Confession" begins like this: "I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many." Except for the "most simple countryman" part, the self-description sounds much like Paul, "less than the least of the holy ones" (Eph. 3:8); "chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15); treated as the "scum of the earth" (1 Cor. 4:3). And it certainly doesn't end there! I wonder if the similarities between Paul and Patrick influenced the latter, in some small way, to quote so much of Paul's writings in his own.

On this much-abused feast of the Apostle of Ireland, take time to read a chapter or two of Patrick's spiritual autobiography, and pray to him to take up the New Evangelization with at least a portion of his spirit!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Happy Landings!

Go to my Pope Francis
book's landing page!
The sisters at the motherhouse prepared a "landing page" (a kind of mini-my Pope Francis book. It includes praise I never knew about, a link to get the Introduction free, and the audio segment of my Feb. 20 radio program in which I talk about the book. In case you, you know, want to know. (You can also share it all, too! Here's the short link:
website) for

Or right-click the QR code on the left to download it as an image to share for people's smartphones.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Afternoon Meditation: Lenten Friday with Francis

First of a continuing series of Friday reflections on Pope Francis Lenten Message for 2014: " He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9).

It isn't much of a surprise that a Pope who so clearly identifies with the poor, a Pope with a perpetual vow of poverty, would invite the Church as a whole to rediscover the "life of evangelical poverty," making it the theme of our Lenten observance. For some people, poverty is simply the theme of every day that dawns. And yet they are not exempt from the Pope's reflection, because it is about evangelical poverty: the "Good News" dimension of poverty, which is something very different from merely material destitution. Evangelical poverty reveals God; it is a life-giving manifestation of God; a saving proclamation and presence.

The first announcement of Good News in the message is that poverty "shows us how God works. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and wealth but rather in weakness and poverty." Power and wealth are not bad things, but in our experience of them, they are not "divine," either. They begin and end in this world. When God stepped into this world (to remedy the ills triggered by human grasping after power and wealth!) he did not take on the forms of this world in which power and wealth bring privilege. He "chose to be poor," becoming "like us in all things." Pope Francis' first Lenten reflection takes us back to Christmas! He invites us to meditate on the Incarnation.

True to Francis' own emphasis on "going out to the peripheries" and "walking alongside" the other, he turns our gaze toward the divine Love that "breaks down walls and eliminates distances." How can this Friday of Lenten fasting refocus your attention on the Christmas mystery, and the love that led Jesus to become poor for our sakes?

Share a Nun Story for National Catholic Sisters Week!

I was first introduced to the idea of March as Women's History Month when I lived in Italy, where "Women's Day" (March 8) is a very big deal--on the order of Mother's Day, but not just for moms. The yellow mimosa flower is considered the "official" flower of Women's Day.

Well, find me a yellow flower: 

The first National Catholic Sisters Week will take place March 8–14, 2014 as part of Women’s History Month. The purpose is to raise awareness of the mission and ministries of Catholic sisters. Women religious have made, and continue to make, vital contributions in education, health care, criminal justice, social justice, theology, the arts, and politics. The inaugural celebration will be held at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, MN, an institution belonging to the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet.
(The only thing they left out of that list was "media evangelization.")

So to mark National Catholic Sisters Week, share "your" nun story here on NunBlog!
First nun you ever met? First nun you ever really got to know as a real person? Something a nun did that remained with you ever since? Tell us--and then tell someone at the water cooler*! Best stories will be condensed to 140 characters and shared via Twitter.

You can get the Nuns paper doll magnet set on Etsy
for National Catholic Sisters Week.

*And don't forget to pray for vocations to the religious life!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Pre-Lenten update and a few interesting tidbits (UPDATED)

It's Mardi Gras! Sure wouldn't mind being home for the parades, even if the temperature is an unseasonably cold 36 right now. (Hope it doesn't kill all the flowers on the trees.)

As I look toward the beginning of Lent, I found a wonderful piece of advice in today's first reading from St Peter: "Live soberly and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you." This is Peter's general recommendation for Christian living: to live in hope, to live in expectation of a surpassing grace. It sounds like Advent, doesn't it? And this Lent is a kind of Advent for me. I will even have to travel to a new "Bethlehem" by the end of it!

To help me manage this Lenten season of transition more "soberly" and with my "hopes set completely on grace," I will be cutting back on blogging, limiting myself to occasional posts when something particularly interesting comes up, and to a new seasonal series for the Fridays of Lent, with reflections on Pope Francis' Lenten Message. Even though the NunBlog will see less activity, the Nunblogger herself will still be posting on Twitter (@nunblogger), which is a little more manageable, and less likely to compromise that "sobriety" and focus that Peter's letter urges on me. (How does Peter's exhortation apply to your Lenten plans?)

And speaking of Twitter, here are some particularly interesting tidbits that I just have to share!

In September, in Italy for our month-long international meeting, we were able to visit the exclusive Papal Gardens at Castel Gandolfo. Pope Francis has now opened those spectacular gardens to public visits so you can see them yourself! If you have the chance, do go. I have not seen the Vatican Gardens, but I am told that these, a day trip away some 30 miles outside of Rome, are far better.

And back on the home front, where the struggle for religious freedom continues against the intrusive demands of the HHS mandate, a passage from a 1959 science fiction novel is playing out before our very eyes. I read the book years ago; the article linked above is making me think it is time to re-read it. Have you ever read it? What are your thoughts?

People are still talking about the Oscars. I stayed up to watch most of them with Sr Gemma, who gave a rousing cheer every time "Gravity" got the golden statue. Here's an interesting observation on why "Gravity" was not only "the most Christian Film at the Oscars," but why it is so much better than most "Christian" films.

And, once again, with Ash Wednesday drawing ever nearer, you can sign up for some free e-books and daily Gospel reflections for Lent--from a book I contributed to!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Counting on an inheritance

Sometimes the liturgy goes overboard trying to get our attention. Or maybe it's just me.

Yesterday's powerful Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount coincided with our community Day of Recollection. (Religious are to make a monthly Day of Recollection. It's Canon Law!) Anyway, this being the week Lent begins, that Gospel about putting all our trust (really) in our Heavenly Father imposed itself as the theme for my Lent in this Year of Big Transitions. When I read today's Gospel (last night), I saw that story of the rich young man as a confirmation of that, even thought it offers the flip side of yesterday's Gospel: this is what happens when you shrink from putting your trust in God. You walk away sad. "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven!"

But then today's Saint shows us that it is, in fact, possible: Katharine Drexel was nothing if not rich. And she was rich to the day of her death, the owner and administrator of a mind-blowingly huge inheritance from her banker father. But, like Christ, though she was rich, she made herself poor, so that by her poverty others might become rich. (This passage from St. Paul, by the way, is the verse before today's Gospel--not from the Mass of today's Saint. This, in other words, is God trying really hard to get our attention.)

My interest piqued by the fittingness of the Gospel falling on Katharine's feast day, I suddenly realized that the word "inheritance" or "inherit" (which one naturally associates with Katharine Drexel) appears in all three readings of today's Mass, that is, the first reading, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Gospel. To "inherit" is to come into wealth that you did not work for. Peter, in the first reading, tells the early Christians that they have received a "new birth" to "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading." You live differently (or I assume you would!) if you were confident of an inheritance. You might even live "like the birds of the air...the lilies of the field," knowing that all you need has been provided for.

Yes, I do think I know what I need to focus on for Lent. How about you?