Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Heavenly Hope in the Summer Heat


In these warm summer days, our Gospels have become somewhat fierce.  As I have done liturgy planning at my parish, I find myself with thoughts of Lent and penance when I’d rather be thinking about the beach!  We have been taught to store up treasure in heaven, to be prepared for the unknown hour of the Lord’s coming, and this Sunday to enter by the narrow gate.

Throughout the Gospels some of Jesus’ most profound teachings come from someone having enough courage to ask the tough questions.  (Take note of this for your own prayer life: ask the tough questions!)  Someone asks, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  Jesus, in his usual and often frustrating fashion, does not answer directly but gives us more to ponder: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Luke 13:23-24 We find the master of the house saying to those to whom he preached, “Depart from me, all you evildoers!’  And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth…and you yourselves cast out.” Luke 13:27-28

The Lord is preaching to us; we eat and drink each week in his company and he is teaching in our streets.  We are meant to contemplate whether we are among those who might be left out of the master’s house.  The question should not leave us in despair however grim this Gospel appears to look.  It is a bitter pill that must be taken alongside the rest of the Gospel teachings: those of God’s great love and mercy.  The Gospel Acclamation verse, sung in anticipation of the Gospel’s proclamation reads: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father, except through me.”  John 14:6 This way, truth, and life is a loving and merciful God who underwent sufferings for our transgressions.  He gave all he had so that we might be saved.  He loves us with a perfect and supreme love.  To enter by the narrow gate means to respond to this love.

The virtues within us, the greatest of which is love, might not be of equal strength but they do grow in strength together.  Striving to respond to the love of God and growing in holiness assist the whole of our person in growing in strength.  We become more pure, more humble, and more joyful.  We become gentler, more faithful, and more hopeful.  Our entering through the narrow gate to avoid hell is not scurrying away from bad things and tallying all the rules we have followed.  It is a wholehearted response in love to the God who first loved us, created us, died for us, and wants us with him fully united in that love for all eternity.

“And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.  For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:29-30

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Kellen is 27 years old and is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings, MN. He is a Masters student in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and is a scholar of the Church.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A ‘Pauline’ World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland?


I know quite a few will think that’s a stretch, but cannot every pilgrimage a Pauline takes be infused with the ‘Pauline’ spirit? (After all, you and I are Pauline so whatever we do is ‘Pauline’!)
Let me begin by saying that I recently had the privilege of traveling to Krakow, Poland this summer to join what amounted to be over 1.5 million young people from around the world celebrating their Catholic faith in the presence of our Holy Father Pope Francis, hundreds of bishops, thousands of priests & religious, and even thousands more adult chaperones, who walked with them on this great pilgrimage! What was started some 30 years before by the late Pope John Paul II to gather the Catholic youth of the world, this 31st World Youth Day was a joy to walk with a dozen youth from a local Boston parish and to see them touched by the joy of the Holy Spirit blowing ‘where He will’, strengthened in their Catholic faith, and (soon) departing for their homes yearning for more true experiences of faith and opportunities to both grow in and share their Catholic faith in the world!

It all began with the official Tuesday evening Opening Mass of World Youth Day by the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.  During each of the three following days of World Youth Day leading up to the great weekend encounter with the Holy Father, there are three-hour morning catechetical events taking place in hundreds of locations and in different languages.  Thousands of (in our case, eighteen thousand) youth gathered for a teaching by a Bishop, several witness talks by peers, and a period of praise & worship, followed by the Holy Mass presided over by that Bishop. These three-hour mornings gave our youth a great infusion of Catholic life where they learned more about being Catholic, seeing the importance of the faith in their lives, and encountering Christ Jesus in the Sacraments, both Eucharist and Confession, which was held often and at every turn!

Stained glass windows of Pauline Saints in chapel of PDDM in Warsaw.

Their afternoons and evenings were filled with events hosted by larger movements or communities within the Universal Church, visits to numerous Catholic churches where they could see elements of the vibrant 1,000-year history of Catholicism in Poland, and encounters with the lives of two great contemporary Polish saints of our day: Pope John Paul II and Sr. Faustina Kowalska! After a long history of great Polish saints, these two great figures offered our youth vibrant witnesses to the mercy of God through Apostolic and Contemplative lives and a call to be witnesses themselves to the most necessary gift of our day for young and old alike: God’s Divine Mercy!

After the Thursday evening official welcome of Pope Francis and the Friday evening contemporary celebration of the Stations of Cross with the Pope, the high point of the week-long Catholic celebration is the long-awaited overnight when 1.5 million youth walked some 8 miles to Campus Misericordae (The Campus of the Mercy, near the world renown underground Wieliczka Salt Mine).  Here their day-long convergence brought them together from (almost) every nation and language on the cusp of the great Saturday evening Vigil: a prayer service of music, witness talks, a talk by Pope Francis, and silent Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, under a starry night of absolute silence and prayer - and when you could have heard a pin drop!  This powerful evening is followed up after a long night of sleeping out under the stars (without any cover and ‘side-by-side’) with the celebration of the Holy Mass on Sunday morning presided over by Pope Francis, hundreds of bishops, and a thousand priests!

With the Mass ending with Pope Francis’ announcement that the next international World Youth Day in 2019 will be in Panama City, our 1.5 million youth began the shortest part of the ‘rest of their lives’ with the 8 mile walk back to their temporary homes in Krakow, and the first leg of their becoming witnesses to the world of God’s great Mercy!


PDDM in Shrine of Częstochowa, Poland
So, what - you ask - made World Youth Day so ‘Pauline’? Well, each morning I began my day reciting prayers from ‘The Prayers of the Pauline Family’ prayer book when I joined a communion of Pauline brothers & sisters throughout the world praying as members of the ten Institutes of Pauline life. Each of our daily Masses in various churches throughout Krakow (and beyond) was an opportunity to be united with the thousands of Pauline priests, brothers, sisters, consecrated members, and Cooperators throughout the world who offer through the daily Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “their prayers, actions, joys and sufferings of (that) day in reparation for the sins and the salvation of men and women.” Each afternoon was a time for me to pause and celebrate the Examen Prayer and to pray the recitation of the Holy Rosary, staples of Pauline Life that conform Christ more perfectly within us. And each evening my daily Night Prayer recalled for me the many ‘Pauline saints & heroes’ who have gone before us and yet who urge us on still on our pilgrimage of life to bring Jesus Master, Way, Truth & Life to the world!

PDDM sister in Warsaw, Poland


Sr Mary Louise O'Rourke from Dublin, Ireland
Yes, everywhere we go - even pilgrimaging with 1.5 million young people from the four corners of the world - is a Pauline pilgrimage! And lest I forget, the surprise of meeting Pauline Pious Disciples of the Divine Master in the Shrine of Czestochowa;








‘Providentially’ meeting Sr. Mary Louise O'Rourke from Dublin, Ireland in the middle of a field of 1.5 million youth; and while out for an evening stroll on the streets of Warsaw, meeting Sisters of the Warsaw PDDM.  Paulines can indeed feel at home wherever we go!






So now, how about making World Youth Day in 2019 in Panama City a real Pauline Pilgrimage? It’s never too early to begin planning! (See you there!)



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Fr. Ed was ordained to the priesthood in May 2000 for the Archdiocese of Boston. He was assigned to three different parishes in the Archdiocese from 2000-2010, when he was appointed to the Faculty of Saint John's Seminary, Boston, where he is Dean of Men and Director of Pastoral Formation. He is also the Spiritual Director & Liaison in the Archdiocese to Homeschooling Families as well as the Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima (Boston Division). He recently made his First Profession in the Pauline Family Institute of Jesus the Priest.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What is the powerhouse secret for holiness? Enthrone, read, & love the Gospel!


Unknown writer/illuminator 11th or 12th c. Internet, Public Domain,
Jesus Master invites us to enter our room, close the door and pray in secret. This is a two-fold invitation (Mt. 6:6). First, Jesus encourages us to set apart a physical space for prayer. This may be a spare room, a walk-in closet, or a simple prayer corner. Second, every space you occupy becomes a sacred space be it the kitchen, the back porch, the laundry room while folding clothes, or when answering a child’s question. God sits where you sit and stands where you stand (Eph. 2:6; Psalm 139.2). For this reason we enhance our Christian home with icons, statues, sacred paintings, and candles. These sacred reminders become doorways to our inner-room of prayer.

The most important open “door” to our interior room is the Bible. Blessed James Alberione compares an open enthroned Bible in the home to the Eucharistic presence in Church.
Just as Jesus-Host, clothed in bread, comes to our hearts, so Jesus-Word clothed in paper comes into our home; let it be in the hands of every Christian. Holiness is and always consists in, living Jesus Christ as He is presented in the Gospel, the Way, Truth and Life. The entire Bible is a real presence of Christ…the Word assimilates us and we assimilate the Word. - Blessed James Alberione
The Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei echoes Alberione's thought:
The church has always venerated the divine scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord; since from the table of both the word of God and of the body of Christ, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life, especially in the sacred liturgy. Dei Verbum, 21
The early Christian theologian Origin (2nd century) observed that the Word of God transforms our daily life. Our every moment becomes the place where the Word speaks to us. We are called to rise to the pattern of Christ in all things and at all times. We find the pattern of Christ’s mind, will and heart in the Gospels and in the letters written by St. Paul and the first disciples. We need the Word to dwell within us, to take on flesh in us, so as to transfigure every reality with the Gospel. “The Bible, like the Blessed Sacrament, is a font of benediction and blessing,” says Sister Disciple Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang, “The divine Word is the Eucharistic Master. Our God dwells among us through the Word and the Eucharist.” During the day, allow yourself to be shaped by God’s Word. Rest in his Word so as to shape the world around you. “All the saints are the application and the incarnation of a verse of the Gospel,” writes Blessed James Alberione.

Sr. Elena Bosetti, a Pauline Pastorelle Sister, tells us that Alberione proposed a liturgical cult of the Bible, similar to that of the Eucharist.  He encouraged the faithful to express their adhesion by means of a formula following the baptismal promises: “We promise to read a part of your Gospel every day in our families, and to live according to your teachings." There is no doubt that for Fr. James Alberione the biblical apostolate was foremost in his thoughts and projects, she said. He was convinced that Paulines received a special call with regard to the Word, explaining that God is the First Editor. Alberione's dream was that every home would have the gospel enthroned in a prominent place and that each family would gather to read it.

In 1933, Alberione established the League for the daily reading of the Gospel. "This was a remarkable pastoral event at the time," says Sr. Elena, "when the proclamation of the Gospel in the liturgical area was done in Latin and the people knew more about devotions than listening to the Word." The Bible appeared suspect, observed Alberione, "it was almost the exclusive right of the non-Catholics" (Abundantes Divitiae, 139). As a true man of God in humility and silence he opened new pathways and widened horizons as he invited everyone to daily reading of sacred Scripture.

Gospel, Gospel, Gospel
Alberione found in the Bible all truth, the method and practice of teaching as way, and the fullness of life. In short he found Christ Way, Truth and Life. His passion to communicate Gospel, Gospel, Gospel encouraged everyone to pick up, read, pray on and meditate on the scriptures as light and compass for the journey of life. His approach to the Bible as Way, Truth and Life meant that it involves the whole person: mind, will and heart. The Bible, he tells Paulines, must permeate culture, art, ethics, cult, social and political life. The Bible can still lift up the dreams, hopes and history of the people of God.
"It is necessary to hold the Gospel in veneration...above all to live it in your mind, heart and works” Blessed Alberione (Abundantes Divitiae, 143).
Hold a Bible Enthronement Ceremony 

Plan a Pauline Bible Mission in your area.*



Sources:
Sr. Elena Bosetti Article
Blessed Alberione's Charismatic History of the Pauline Family


*For more information on holding a Bible Mission contact Sr. Margaret Charles Mkerry@paulinemedia.com

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Sr. Margaret Kerry, FSP, celebrates 42 years of life and mission as a Daughter of St. Paul. With a Masters from Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, she gives presentations on the vocation and mission of the laity, media literacy, and evangelization. She directed the Association of Pauline Cooperators for 15 years and was creative editor of The Pauline Cooperator magazine. An author (St. Anthony of Padua: Fire & Light; Strength in Darkness: John of the Cross), and Live Christ; Give Christ: Prayers for the New Evangelization. Sr. Margaret is working on two more books. You can reach her at mkerry@paulinemedia.com.



Wednesday, August 3, 2016

God's Beautiful, Inscrutable Paths

Sr. Neville Christine with her parents and Bishop Andrew Nkea of  Mamfe
 Diocese, Cameroon.
 Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission. 
People often ask me how my dear friend and I ever discovered our vocations to the Daughters of St. Paul when the Daughters of St. Paul are not even in Cameroon. I am sometimes tempted to answer, “I really do not know,” which in a way is true but not a very satisfactory response. But I can tell my part of the story, which reveals the mystery and majesty of God. 

I was born into a Catholic family in Cameroon, the second of five children who have always stayed close. My parents, who both attended Catholic school, wanted us to benefit from a good education and formation. I attended a Catholic secondary school run by an international congregation of religious Sisters.

At school we learned about the faith, about values, and about our freedom and responsibilities as young people. We weren't considered too young to study, understand, discuss, and live out the Church’s invitation to inculturation. Our prayers were not too insignificant to be offered for social, political and economic situations in our country, other African countries and the world. This widened my heart and prepared me to become a Pauline open to the needs of the world. 


Sr. Neville Christine and Sr. Beatrice Mary rejoicing with their secondary
school classmates after Sr. Neville's perpetual profession mass
.
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.
When I was about twelve, I found out 
about the Daughters of St. Paul through the excellent religion textbooks we used in school, which were published by Pauline Publications, Nairobi, and which I enjoyed reading. When I was fifteen, a friend from class shared a vocation magazine from the United States with me and our mutual friend and classmate, Beatrice. I prayed about the many options presented and decided to write to the Daughters of St. Paul. I liked that the sisters wrote and communicated the Gospel using the media. I was also drawn by St. Paul, who was the patron of the order, because I liked reading his letters.

The vocation director of the U.S. and English-speaking Canada province wrote back from Boston, sending brochures and the address of their sisters' community in Nigeria. I wrote to them and they invited me to visit. But I did not have the courage to ask my parents for permission to travel out of the country to visit the Sisters. I had not yet told them directly that I was even thinking of religious life. After high school I continued attending local vocation events and retreats, discovering more about different charisms and apostolates, and hoping to discover God’s will. 
Neville & Beatrice with schoolmates: friends seeking the will of God
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission


In 2001, I moved to Augusta, GA, to join some members of my family in the United States. Soon after, I contacted the Daughters of St. Paul in Boston. The Sisters not only remembered me, but invited me to visit their community in Charleston, SC—the closest community to Augusta. I eventually made it to Charleston and went back between school breaks. Then I visited Boston a couple of times for Pauline Discipleship Week. 

It made a difference to meet the Sisters in person. I was inspired and edified by their joy and love for Jesus and his people. I was drawn to the profound Pauline spirituality of their founder, Blessed James Alberione. The Daughters of St. Paul live the Pauline spirituality by striving to center every aspect and every moment of our life on Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life. We desire to be ever more rooted in Christ as we spend time with him daily at Mass and in Eucharist Adoration, meditating on his word. We are never complacent, but always striving; whether in our spiritual straining forward to live in Christ or in our apostolic efforts to bring his word in languages and formats accessible to people today. We are committed to ongoing conversion until Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19).

Sr. Neville Christine's first profession of vows in Boston.
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.
After a period of discernment and completing the application process, on September 8, 2005, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, I entered the postulancy of the Daughters of St. Paul. Postulancy was followed by novitiate, which I concluded with the profession of my first vows. 

At the same time that I had been discerning, Beatrice, my school friend and classmate who long ago had looked through the vocation magazine with me, had also written to the Daughters of St. Paul in Africa, and she joined our Sisters in Africa a couple of years before I entered in Boston. Sr. Beatrice Mary Iguem Efembele became the first Cameroonian Daughter of Saint Paul. When she made her perpetual profession in Cameroon three years ago, it was a joy for me to attend!
Visiting their alma mater in 2013. Sr. Neville Christine and Sr. Beatrice 
Mary with current principal, Sr. Ndidi Anozie, MSHR
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.

This past year—my final year of temporary vows—I went to Italy to attend the international course in preparation for perpetual profession of vows. We were 20 young Daughters of St. Paul from 15 different countries! It was a beautiful and enriching time of study, reflection and communion. Since we were founded in Italy a little over 100 years ago, we were able to sink our roots deeper into our Pauline history, spirituality and charism. 

Finally, this year on June 18, I professed perpetual vows as a Daughter of St. Paul in Cameroon. I thank the Lord for the grace of belonging to this wonderful Congregation forever. But this year the Lord granted me another special blessing. Not only did Sr. Beatrice attend my perpetual profession of vows, but she was asked to represent our Superior General on this occasion! As the Delegate of the Superior General, Sr. Beatrice received my vows, welcoming me to our congregation with the beautiful words, “Dear Sister Neville Christine, now you belong forever in this family of the Daughters of St. Paul; and from now on everything will be common among us.” 

Old friend and classmate Sr. Beatrice Mary welcomes Sr. Neville
Christine to the Congregation. 
Photo: Sr. Neville Forchap, FSP, with permission.
 With her sisterly embrace, my Sister and friend welcomed me home. What a powerful manifestation of grace in action in my life! And how beautifully the story of our lives and vocations continues to unfold!

So when people ask me, “How could two classmates and friends, who read the same vocation magazine, separately discover and discern a vocation to the same religious congregation—a congregation which is not even present in their country?", I really do not know how to answer. We both are in awe of the ways of the Lord.

All I know is that Someone who knows me better than I know myself and loves me unconditionally, guided me to the Daughters of St. Paul. And I thank the Lord for this gift every day.
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Sr. Neville Christine Forchap, FSP joined the Daughters of St. Paul in 2005. She professed perpetual vows in the Congregation this summer (2016) and is currently missioned in Metairie, Louisiana where she shares the love of Jesus and his message through the Pauline media and publications the Sisters offer to parishes and schools.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Century of Wisdom


At the sunset of our lives, what do we see?
One centenarian tells all.
This past Saturday evening, I attended a Great Gatsby-themed 100th birthday party for a childhood neighbor. I overheard a young woman asking the guest of honor if she had any regrets in her life, and so I leaned in closer to hear her response. Ellen answered, “I wish I would have enjoyed life more while it was happening instead of waiting to the end to relax and enjoy it. Now I can reminisce about how wonderful the great times were and what blessings the bad times turned out to be. I wish the fifty year-old me had known everything would turn out fine in the end and my children and grandchildren were going to be just fine.” By now, a growing group of women in flapper dresses and tiaras and men trying to look like Al Capone encircled the centenarian. As a young man (well, in his thirties, which is young to me) asked how to avoid worrying about the stresses in life, her answer shocked me. She advised the crowd to “Fake it, if you have to. Some days you are going to be worried, upset, or downright scared, but just smile and enjoy being alive, because God has given you a great gift with your life. He wants to see you live every day to the fullest and enjoy it.”

An older woman (well, she looked close to Ellen’s age) added that we should be grateful because so many people have it worse off than we do. Ellen continued to surprise me as she quickly retorted, “No, no, no!” The silence told me I was not the only one who was not expecting this response, and I know I was not alone in my desire to hear Ellen’s words of wisdom. This time Ellen broke into parable. “Imagine your children when they were teenagers on Christmas morning. One daughter opens her new laptop. She politely thanks both parents and consoles herself by telling her parents that it is not a great gift, but it is better than her friend Susie’s laptop. 

All life, all Creation is a gift from God.
Another daughter opens an iPod, and she jumps up and down and screams with joy and runs over and hugs her parents hard as she shares her plans of all the music she can download and listen to as she sits on the porch, jogs, or goes for walks. As parents, we don’t want to see our children joyless and pointing out the inadequacy of the gifts we give them, even if they try to convince themselves some have received even worse gifts than the ones we gave. We want our gifts to bring them joy and help them live their lives better.”

Everyone was sitting by now, and Ellen smiled as she described how incredibly and absolutely awesome every gift was that God had given her throughout her life. She reminded everyone that God’s greatest gift was His willingness to allow His only Son to suffer and die for our sins, because God loves us so much He wants us to be with Him for all eternity. She understands this, and she believes most Christians do. But for all her understanding, there are some things she just cannot understand. She cannot understand how some people are unable to view the beauty of nature and the dignity of fellow human beings around them, because if they did they would work harder to preserve our world for the generations to come and treat all men, women, and children with dignity – whether they live next door to us or crossed a border in search of a better life for their families.
The immigrant, coming in search of
a better life, is a gift.
And of all the things she cannot understand, she does not know if she will ever be able to fathom how some people cannot recognize the beauty and dignity of every human being from the moment of conception. She pointed out God’s lack of ambiguity when he told us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).




Enjoy the gifts of life.
Everything will turn out okay!
Ellen gave us roomful of party-goers a life lesson 100 years in the making. We need to look beyond politics and focus on God. His gifts in our lives include the good and bad episodes that Ellen tells us are a normal part of life and are almost always “going to be just fine.” We need to look beyond ourselves and focus on God’s gifts of creation, our natural world, our neighbor – including and especially our marginalized and immigrant neighbors. We need to appreciate the gift of life of every other person we share our life with – from the moment God gifts us with life in the womb to the moment He calls us back to Heaven, to give us the ultimate gift of life in Heaven with Him forever. Thank you, Ellen, for the gift of your life, your love, and your incredible wisdom.


All images property of Rae Stabosz, with permission.

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Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD, has been a Pauline Cooperator since October 11, 2009. He and his wife, Carolyn, live in St. Louis, MO, and are blessed with three sons and two daughters (two out of college, two in college, and one in high school). Dr. Mathews, a gastroenterologist, is trying really hard to improve his Spanish for his annual medical mission trip to Honduras.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Journeying to Damascus



Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.  On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;* so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.  For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.  -  Acts 9:1-9

I recently attended a Road to Damascus Women's retreat and was amazed by how much more clearly I could see that first, converting vision St Paul had of Christ's Light.  I am no stranger to blindness. I lost a lot of the sight in my left eye when I was nineteen, due to damage that happened to my optic nerve.  Sometimes, when I accidentally spend any length of time outside on a sunny day without sunglasses, I am literally blind for a few minutes upon entering the house or darker area. When it first happened, I was frustrated, afraid, upset, angry....pretty much every emotion simultaneously. But it was also at this time that God began to open my eyes to His vision of the world.  I think this weekend helped me to once again have the scales removed from my eyes and know how much alike we all really are.

We started the retreat by giving up our cell phones and watches-- and, more importantly, control.  As a nanny who constantly juggles schedules and sends millions of emails and texts, I was actually very eager for this part of the retreat. But it was a little scary too.  I have a hard time giving up control, i.e., not keeping track of what I am supposed to be doing next or where I am supposed to be. In the end, this little factor helped me more deeply understand what Saul was going through in those hours and days before Ananias showed up. It allowed me the freedom to let go and be led, while just enjoying every moment I had with our Lord. I am sure it did the same for Saul.
Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio. With permission
from the Caravaggio Foundation, under Creative Commons licensing..

Before the talks began, the image of Caravaggio's famous painting of Saul's conversion was displayed on the projector.  It depicts the moment when Saul was confronted by the Light of Jesus Truth, an experience too much for his eyes to behold. He was rendered blind. Now I have seen this painting of Saul knocked off of his horse before. In fact, I have read a discussion about it, to the effect that nowhere in scripture does it say that Saul was even on a horse. Read the scripture above again-- see, no horse! Yet often this is how Saul is portrayed.  I often get stuck or fixated on little details, but today that wasn't what came to mind.  When I sat there staring at that painting, the term "get off your high horse" came to mind.  Maybe the horse is a representation of Saul's perceived righteousness in his attempt to rid the world of Christians.  I began to think deeper, what is my vision of God?

Maybe I also needed to be knocked off of my 'high horse."  Where am I persecuting Christ? Do I do this by not loving and accepting my brothers and sisters?  Do I set up barriers, out of jealousy or fear, for others who are trying to make Christ known to a world in darkness?  Slowly, Jesus Truth began to open my eyes: to Who He really is and what that means to me and my life; to who I really am in His eyes and how much I mean to Him.
Once I had encountered Jesus Truth, and seen myself the way God sees me-- in Love, despite all of my faults and failings-- it was time to meet Jesus Way, Who calls us all to follow.  This is an area of my personal life where I often struggle.  Lack of self confidence can lead me to think you need to be "good enough" for God, or even make me afraid of what He might ask of me.  We listened to the song "Oceans" by Hillsong, a song I have heard many times before. But just as that painting was so very familiar yet seemed to be new, so was this song.  The song talks about God calling us out onto the water of life, just as Jesus called Peter.  I can really relate to Peter in this passage:


Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” - Matthew 14:28-31
I beg God to call me, and as soon as I hear Him I jump right in. But I soon take my eyes off of Him and begin to sink. I begin doubting that I really heard Him. After all, I am nobody special, there are many people more qualified, and I am going to fail Him....  Pride is what made Peter sink, and pride is what makes me sink too. When I start to focus on me, and begin thinking I can/need to do it on my own, that's when I fail. What jumped out at and amazed me about hearing the passage this time was the word "immediately." Immediately after Peter called out to Jesus, He stretched out His hand and caught him.  Immediately!  If I follow Jesus Way, am I called to do that as well?  Am I willing to "immediately" help my brother or sister up without casting judgment or counting the cost? Jesus could have waited a moment or two to teach Peter a lesson, or to get even with him, but He never does. Can I do the same?

16 Lorenzo Veneziano, Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning. 1370 Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning by Lorenzo Veneziano.
With permission, Staatliche Museen (Berlin) under Creative Commons licensing.
That evening we were led to adoration. It was a beautiful chance to spend time with our Lord and reflect on everything I had experienced thus far.  I thought of those hours Paul spent in darkness, conversing with our Lord. And I thought of the beauty God has shown us in Reconciliation, so that we might do that also.  In Reconciliation God gives us the chance to say, "Jesus, I know I messed up big time, and I struggle not to continue to do so.  I am so sorry, and I will keep trying to do what is right."  And then we hear His response, "Rise and sin no more." I felt so peaceful sitting there visiting with Him, pouring out my heart to Him in adoration. I shared my struggles and asked for His immediate help with them.  I heard Him tell me how much He loves me, and I wholeheartedly offered Him my own little, "I love You too."  Oh what a blessed way to end the evening!

The final talk was on Jesus Life and our call to go forth and share Christ with the world.

So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.”  Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. -Acts 9:17-19

Conversion of St Paul by Benjamin West.
With permission from Vanderbilt University
under Creative Commons licensing.
Again, "Immediately" comes out.  The moment the Holy Spirit fills Saul, Jesus immediately draws the scales from His eyes.  How difficult it must have been for Ananias to trust the Lord and help this man who had been persecuting Christians like himself.  Yet he listens, follows and shares, as we are all called to do.  The final presenter read us this quote from Pope Francis:

The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.—Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013

We are called to be "permeated by the love of Christ"-- permeated or spread throughout, thoroughly infused with the love of Christ.  Wow, now that is a powerful image.  I heard in my heart again the words, "You can't give what you don't have," which brings me back to why I went on this retreat to begin with.  I know that I need to schedule time to get away and be filled up before I can give out all that He calls me to.  As I said before, I am a nanny caring for three different families with a combination of  seven children, aging from seven months up to fifteen years old.  I consider it my calling to pour out every single ounce of love I can into each and every one of them at every opportunity I am given. The seven month old can be much much easier than the fifteen year old, but that doesn't mean I can just not bother trying. It means that I try even harder.  I also call out to Jesus to help me much more often. I ask Him to help me to not lose my patience, when the child in my care is frustrating me and getting me upset.  I don't ever want to be a voice telling any of them that they are bad, wrong, or too much to love.

Lord, Help me be a clear reflection of the Love you have for them, as if I am the only reflection they may ever see of You.  
Don't get me wrong, it is not like I hold back with the baby at all, he just makes it so much easier. But I am so thankful God doesn't just love us when it is easy.  It is in the struggles, when we may not see Him, that we are resting in His shadow.

The retreat concluded with a beautiful teaching Mass and the return of all of our cell phones and watches.  Unlike my physical eyesight, the vision of Christ only continues to get clearer and clearer the more I am exposed to the Light.  I truly treasure the taste of Heaven I was given by being able to step outside of time and schedules and be led on the Road to Damascus. I strongly suggest that you also make time to go "off the clock" and let yourself be led.

Please Lord, help me to be as my names says I am, a "Christ bearer", to the world in need of Him.  Amen
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Christine Dufresne has been a Pauline Cooperator since 2014. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 14 months before settling in Waltham, MA. In addition to being a former foster parent, she has been working with children in various ways for the past 20 years and is currently a nanny for several families. She serves as a Eucharistic minister in her home parish of St. Mary’s in Waltham as well as visiting the patients at Boston Children's Hospital at Waltham on both the eating disorder as well as behavior management wards once a month.