Wednesday, October 19, 2016


My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife, I hear it's music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
-Robert Wadsworth Lowry              

It’s mid-October and I already find myself humming Christmas carols.  I know, let’s not rush the Christmas season, but how can I keep from singing?  The Daughters of St. Paul Choir Christmas concerts are about six weeks away!  The early December concerts have become a tradition for me. The beauty and simplicity of Christmas can easily get lost in our fast-paced and materialistic world. Listening to the sisters sing, if you are fortunate enough, at one of their concerts or through a CD brings a sense of calm, spirituality and peace to what can easily become a stress-filled, hectic holiday. As new family members are introduced to the concerts, they all comment, “It is not what I expected!” Although filled with holiday classics, the sisters may also include a fun dance or two!

A favorite song during every concert is “Angels Among Us,” which the sisters refer to as their signature song.  A favorite verse from this song:  “When life held troubled times and had me down on my knees, there’s always been someone to come along and comfort me. A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand, a phone call from a friend, just to say I understand.”  While we all have angels who help us in our times of need, the Daughters of St. Paul are truly angels among us – helping us find our way and awakening the hearts of people in a contemporary way to the love of God, not only at Christmas but all through the year.

While the Christmas concerts are popular, the Choir has songs for every season and prayer need -- instrumental music for quiet meditation, CDs to guide us in prayer while saying the Rosary, praise and worship songs and Marian hymns during feasts celebrating our Blessed Mother. To view all of their albums, learn more about them and even meet the choir, check out their website: Music is one of the ways the sisters evangelize; it is a ministry of prayer for them.

As the saying goes, “music makes the world go round.”  From the womb to the end of life, singing is both therapeutic and spiritual.  It engages our hearts as well as our minds.  It can address the physical, emotional and social needs of people, put babies to sleep and calm the anxious.  It provides avenues of communication for individuals who find it difficult to express themselves in words.

As lay Paulines, we too can evangelize through music.  Share your favorite inspirational song or verse with someone who may need a “pick me up.”  For personal use, choose a favorite and write it down; put it in your cell phone, pocket or purse.  During anxious moments of the day, go back and pray with it.

Why not try to make a practice of singing in your prayer time? Choose hymns and songs whose words reflect and express to the Lord what is in your heart. Can’t carry a tune? Don’t worry. God can hear what is coming from your heart. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. Sing and dance along with a favorite praise and worship CD.

Let’s look at the Psalms which are part of our liturgy.  It’s easy to forget that they were originally songs and can express whatever our need might be.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.  Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.  Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts.  (Psalm 33: 1 – 3)

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.  Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.  (Psalm 96: 1 – 2)

Make a joyful noise to the lord; all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.  (Psalm 100: 1-2)

Our beloved St. Paul reminds us:  Speak to each other in psalms, songs, and spiritual songs; sing praise to the Lord in your hearts.  (Ephesians 5: 19)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish each other with all wisdom; sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God with thanks in your hearts.  (Colossians 3:16)

In Acts 16:25:  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  St. Paul was singing in a prison cell!  How do we react when in a difficult situation?  Do we turn our heart and voice to God?

While hymns and other spiritual songs are beautiful aids to prayer, secular music can also speak to our hearts.  A song by Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind,” recently touched me.  In today’s world of political strife, overuse use of cell phones, misuse of social media, etc., the song spoke of simple but important values we want to possess and pass on to our family:  “Hold the door, say please, say thank you.  Don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie. I know you’ve got mountains to climb, but always stay humble and kind.  When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you, when the work you put in is realized, let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind.”  Sounds like wisdom from Saint Mother Teresa.

For the complete list of the 2016 season's concerts click here
Thinking again about the concerts, maybe this year I will just have to plan a road trip from New Jersey to Boston to attend every one! If you can attend one, do so.  You won’t be disappointed!


Maryann Toth has been a Pauline Cooperator for eight years. Semi-retired as a credit/AR manager in NJ, she is a wife, a mother of two daughters, and a grandmother of four. She serves as a Eucharistic minister and belongs to a Divine Mercy Cenacle group. Maryann assists at Pauline book fairs and J-Club events, schedules meetings and prayer times for local Cooperators and friends of the Pauline Family, and accompanied a candidate in the Cooperator formation program. She participated in a Pauline Cooperator pilgrimage to Italy in 2010.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Privilege of Being Co-Workers in the Gospel

As members of the Association of Pauline Cooperators, we are looking forward to and planning for the 2017 Centenary celebration of our founding as a member of the Pauline Family of Congregations and Institutes. Last week, a number of us had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Cooperator Conference in Paoli, Pennsylvania. If you were unable to attend the Conference, please see the various links on this page to Conference items, including an excellent Power Point presentation by Sr. Margaret Charles.

It was a wonderful time to spend with fellow Cooperators as well as with other members of the Pauline apostolate. Upon arriving at the conference center, we were presented with the latest revised edition (2016) of the Handbook for Pauline Cooperators. It’s subtitle is, “Co-Workers in the Gospel”. With the Conference weekend ahead of us, what a perfect time it was to re-read the Handbook as part of a personal review of our individual participation in the Pauline mission!
It had been quite a while since I last read the Handbook from cover to cover, and I was happy to have the time to do so -- away from everyday responsibilities and distractions. I was particularly inspired by the words of Blessed James Alberione and by the excerpts from scripture which were included to illustrate and explain the vocation and apostolate of Pauline Cooperators.
The Handbook likens Cooperators to the seventy-two disciples described in the Gospels who were sent out by Jesus to travel far and wide to evangelize others. This flattering description of our vocation was a strong reminder of the importance of our evangelization work. Pauline Cooperators focus their media and communications activities on assisting Christian formation, promoting Eucharistic adoration, and offering liturgical animation. Just as is the case with today's Cooperators, Saint Paul chose his own collaborators from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds – men and women; free-born and slaves; married and single; priests, bishops, but mostly lay people. They each had their own special talents and abilities to contribute to the mission. (Handbook, pp. 10-11)
However, the underlying foundation must be personal holiness and fearless determination to discern and complete the mission to which we are each called. Blessed James reminds us that:
“The Pauline Family aspires to live integrally the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Way, Truth, and Life, in the spirit of Saint Paul, under the gaze of Mary, Queen of Apostles.… Life in Christ and in the Church is sought. The spirit of Saint Paul is revealed in his life, his letters, and his apostolic mission. He is always alive in the dogma, morals, worship, and organization of the Church. The secret of greatness is to model ourselves on God, living in Christ.” (Handbook, pp. 2-3)

In spite of such glorious images, living up to the Pauline calling can be very difficult to accomplish. Many of us struggle against putting our efforts on a back burner due to the demands of our personal responsibilities, cares, and fears. Reading the Scriptures tells us that Saint Paul’s own collaborators experienced such struggles, and a few even fell short to the point of giving up and abandoning Paul.
This past Sunday’s second reading offers assistance and encouragement in such struggles as we Cooperators labor in the Gospel field. The reading was from the beautiful second letter from Saint Paul to his disciple and protégé, Saint Timothy (2 Tm 2:8-13). It was written toward the end of Paul’s life. He emphasized that although he is a prisoner, in chains, the word of God which he shares is not chained. No matter the challenges we all meet in being faithful to the Pauline mission, we must have the faith and hope to break the bonds of these temporal restrictions to live this mission as fully as possible. In this letter our father, Saint Paul, speaks not only to Timothy, but also to each of us. These words are a gift to us, especially in those times when everyday distractions interfere with our work in the fields of spreading Gospel message.
Paul urges his followers to persevere, to never give up in bringing salvation in Christ Jesus to all who can hear the message of the Lord. Overt joy permeates these writings. Yet, this letter is reputed to be the last letter personally composed by Paul, in the shadow of those last days as he awaited what would be his likely execution by the Romans. How inspiring that there is no fear in this letter!

There is, rather, strong affirmation of Saint Paul's belief that if we die with Christ, we will surely rise to reign with him in Paradise. Even if we are unfaithful, Christ remains faithful to us, giving us every opportunity to redeem ourselves and, further, to allow our Lord Jesus Christ to live fully in each of us.
May we allow the Holy Spirit to live fully in us…
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5: 18-25)

Marie-Louise Handal has been a Pauline Cooperator based in Manhattan for over a decade. She has participated in organizing and hosting a number of Pauline Family special events, media presentations and educational programs in the New York Archdiocese and environs. Her education includes a Master’s Degree from St. Joseph's Seminary, the Master of Science in the Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and a B.A. in Mathematics & Science from Hunter College. In addition, she is currently a candidate for the S.T.L. from the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. She also holds a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the New York Archdiocesan Center for Spiritual Development. Her professional work experience encompasses 20 years in international banking and finance, followed by a second career as a mathematics educator. Marie-Louise is a native New Yorker, born and raised in New York City.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

God's Many Chapels

Make my heart a dwelling place, a Temple, just for You
A consecrated resting place, a vessel ever true
Set my heart afire, with the brightness of Your Son
Make my heart a dwelling place, for the Holy One
Artist Jim Cowan

Lori, Celeste, me, Cindy and Jarod in Springfield, Missouri

A recent road trip to the Midwest led me on somewhat of a spiritual journey as well.  Although the trip was not originally anything like a pilgrimage, it turned out we spent a good part of the week in various chapels along the way. To see the immense diversity in the beauty of God’s creation can, in its own right, be like a chapel as well.  When we started on our journey to Missouri and the neighboring states, we planned to visit many tourist spots, none of which were chapels.  Being open to new experiences and unplanned side trips, I learned much about what makes a true chapel, and how we are all called to be church or chapel in the world. Intertwined in this journey, between the experiences and stories of people trying to live their lives giving back to God for the blessings they had received, was a journey through my own past. I discovered that even in what I considered my darker years, God's Light was still shining brightly.

The first state we visited was Indiana, where my first spiritual director, Father David Mary, now lives.
Lori, me, Fr David Mary, Cindy and Jarod
Fort Wayne, Indiana
I first met Father David when he was still Brother Dave and I was only sixteen years old. The greatest impact he had on my life came when I was nineteen; he began a youth group at my home parish. With the encouragement of Father David, I later directed that youth group as well as became a foster mom-- along with my sister-- to three fifteen year-old girls and two little boys. These were some of the most basic years in my spiritual life. If I was measuring in human years, I would say I was in spiritual toddler-hood. I was just learning how to walk and talk my faith, learning the basics of what it means to have a friendship with God, and Father David was an important part of that time in my life. On my stop in Indiana, Father David and I got to see a friend, Sister Stella, a cloistered Poor Clare nun who was a member of the youth group when I was running it. She told me how much my actions during her years at youth group meant to her, and as I listened, I was in awe. Those were some of my darkest times of depression and even self-hatred, and the picture of me that she painted was quite beautiful.  It helped me to see that even in the darkest times in our lives, God can shine perhaps more brightly because we don't get in His way so much. It seems that my role in Sister Stella’s life during that time was that of “chapel.” I can't wait until Heaven someday where Sister Stella and I can really sit down and just talk.

The next stop was St. Louis, Missouri, where we briefly visited with Sister Lea, one of the
Me and Sr Lea
St Louis, Missouri
daughters of St. Paul. She was one of the Daughters in charge of my formation as a Cooperator, and I would say that she got me when I was a spiritual adolescent. During that time, I was trying to figure out how to integrate my spirituality with my personal life, and how to not be distracted with fits of giggles or getting off track-- something I still struggle with, although not quite as often. She probably even faced some “know it all” moments as I tried to embrace the fact that we are given so much control of where we go in life.  Sister Lea was my “chapel,” during this time, accepting me and all my “adolescent” tendencies, offering a safe place and a guiding light.

After visiting Sister Lea, we headed to see a few locations from the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I grew up on her stories, loving the idea of a more simple and family-centered lifestyle. I love all the images her writing creates-- everyone gathering around the fire, Pa playing the fiddle, walking to school with your lunch pail and slate.  I admit, I frequently Google things and love technology, but the idea of a time of simplicity has always appealed to me. I bought a bookmark with a quote from her that says, “The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  What a perfect description of the kind of chapel I want to become.

Thorncrown Chapel
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Precious Moments Chapel
Carthage, Missouri
The next two stops were physical chapels, Thorncrown Chapel and the
Precious Moments Chapel. Both chapels were made as a way of giving back to God for His blessings. They were both very different and very beautiful. Thorncrown Chapel is plain with large glass windows on all sides and even on the ceiling. The amount of natural light as well as the view of God's beauty in nature is breathtaking. Words don't even begin to capture it. Precious Moments is a chapel built by Sam Butcher, the creator of Precious Moments. The chapel features hand-painted murals and stained glass windows of different Bible stories as well as a large mural containing people Sam met or who wrote to him, painted as the childlike images for which he is known. I was struck by the fact that Sam Butcher left part of the mural unfinished to recognize that God is the only perfect artist. The symbolism and little details he incorporated are mesmerizing.

Each of these visits got me thinking about my chapel.  I want to become a beautiful chapel.  I want to always shine His Light brightly, as Sister Stella showed me I once did to her.  I want to be a safe place, a guiding light, like Sister Lea was for me.  I want to be simple, honest, truthful, and courageous, like Laura Ingalls Wilder described.  I don’t want to only let God in.  I want for him to consume me and for others to see His Light shining through. The song in the beginning of this post that has been written on my heart says it most perfectly.  What will your chapel look like to the world around you?

Christine Dufresne has been a Pauline Cooperator for almost 3 years. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 16 months before settling in Waltham, MA. In addition to being a 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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The End is Near --- Hooray!

Advice from Pope Francis for this year and beyond.
Photo Bobby Bullock, with permission. 
Hooray! The end is near ~ the end of the Year of Mercy, that is.

It is true, the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis will close on November 20, 2016, ‘the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and living face of the Father’s mercy.’ We may be tempted to think – those of us who were less recollected during this jubilee year – that it is time to move on to some other virtue. After all, we know that there are many, many virtues to pursue in a lifetime, so why concentrate so much on just one of them?
However, before we send the Year of Mercy packing, we might want to give a bit more thought to mercy which is actually more than just another virtue. We know that virtue, by definition, is something coming from our human nature. Hence, the word itself: virtue (vir = man; virtue = a characteristic of man, things like strength, righteousness, moral excellence, etc.). And, of course, we mean this in the sense of all human beings, male and female. There are natural virtues such as prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; these can be elevated by grace to Christian virtues. Then there are moral virtues such as obedience, patience, truthfulness, and piety, to name only a few. There are also supernatural virtues, also known as theological virtues; these are faith, hope, and love, particular gifts of God which direct us to God.

But, back to the virtue of mercy and why I said it is more than just another virtue. I was debating out loud with myself on whether grace and mercy are the same thing when Amber, one of our postulants, said that she heard it explained this way: grace comes as a gift we don’t deserve, and mercy comes instead of the punishment we do deserve. So, in this sense both grace and mercy are gifts of God.  Grace is from God because it is a sharing in divine life, while mercy can also come from us. Certainly, we are inspired and empowered to be merciful by God living within us, but we can “do” mercy to others by kind deeds, a good word, a helping hand. It is a very special virtue in that sense. We can imitate our merciful God by freely giving the gift of mercy to another person. What an amazing grace! We could say that God is bestowing mercy through us when we are being merciful to another.
Be merciful to one another.
Photo Rae Stabosz, with permission.

This sharing in God’s gift of mercy requires another very important virtue, and that is humility. Blessed James Alberione tells us that “humility is the virtue which inclines us to know and reflect upon ourselves and wish to be taken at our true value.” God is everything and I am in need of everything. Hearing Alberione speak these words brings to mind the “icon of mercy”, Mother Teresa – now Saint Teresa of Calcutta. What was her secret for living a lifetime of mercy, the daily collaboration with God as He bestowed his gift through her hands? Her secret was a profound and trusting humility. Teresa knew who she was before God and she knew His desire to use her emptiness as a vessel of mercy to fill the needs of His poorest children.

Following Pope Francis's lead.
Photo Bobby Bullock, with permission
We also know another extraordinary aspect of Mother Teresa’s humility and that was the extent of her own emptiness. Only after her death was it revealed through her diaries that Mother Teresa had humbly embraced darkness in her own spiritual life in order to convey God’s light to His needy ones. Those of us who have bouts of distraction or periods of loneliness in our prayer can only be in awe of Mother Teresa’s joyful, unreserved gift to God who hid from her, giving her no consolation in prayer while she was consolation personified for those she served. Mother Teresa knew her value before God. She was His to use as mercy to others.

So, let’s not be too eager to move on to another virtue, but instead let us take the challenge Pope Francis proposed to the young people who gathered this summer in Poland for World Youth Day. The Holy Father encouraged them to “pursue an adventure of mercy,” in other words, as he said, “put on walking shoes of mercy in order to make a mark on the world.” Let God be God and let us be His servants. Let us think humbly of ourselves and step out as instruments of God’s mercy in our own world.

Sister Mary Lea Hill, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul since 1964, has enjoyed communicating the faith through a variety of apostolic assignments. Her skills as a story teller were honed as director of audiovisual productions when Pauline Books & Media first produced animated features in the early 80s. An editor and author for many years, Sister Mary Lea has written several books, including Prayer and You, Blessed are the Stressed, Saints Alive: The Gospel Witnessed, Saints Alive: The Faith Proclaimed, and the best-selling Basic Catechism (co-authored with Sister Susan Helen Wallace).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Saint Mother Teresa Highlights the Pauline Mission

Mother Teresa with the author
Kentucky, 1988.
Back in 1995, I was reading the Chicago Tribune while eating lunch above our Pauline Book & Media center. I read the third of a series of articles titled “Saving our Children” describing how children in the inner-city were killed by stray bullets in gang-wars. Suddenly, with a bolt of awareness, I realized that we could go to be with them in mission.  Meeting Mother Teresa six years earlier, and receiving a letter from her in which she addressed the Pauline mission, had a lot to do with my response. In retrospect, even my sensitivity to these articles was because of her influence. The poverty I hoped to help alleviate with our Pauline mission was the poverty of resources that negated dreams for these children. It was the poverty that Blessed Alberione wrote about: “A good part of today’s world suffers from a shortage of bread. There is a far greater shortage of the spiritual bread brought by Jesus who said, ‘I am the Bread of Life.’"
"Reach out to the spiritually poor
to satisfy their hunger for God,
their thirst for peace, so they in turn
try to relive the hunger and homelessness
of the poor and needed of your place."

The year after I met Mother Teresa, the socialist regimes in Europe collapsed. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that there were expectations that the hour had come for the Christian message, “Should not Christianity try to very seriously rediscover its voice, so as to ‘introduce’ the new millennium to its message and to make it comprehensible as a general guide for the future?” This is what the Second Vatican Council had intended, he said. Following the Council, it was to become evident that Christians embrace all of life. The spirit of the age called for crossing boundaries, reaching out to the world and becoming involved in it.  Even before Vatican II, Blessed Alberione and Mother Teresa were forerunners in this movement. They already began to live as Pope Francis is now asking, to “go out to the margins with the Gospel.” Alberione's
response was to use the media to cross boundaries and bring the Gospel to the margins. Mother Teresa's response was to physically cross boundaries and be present to the poorest of the poor.

Pope Benedict XVI realized that in our technological age we are becoming a technological object while vanishing as a human subject. Progress makes all goals seem noble as a way to improve the quality of life. What will happen when we can no longer find the divine mystery in the Other but only what makes them useful, he asked? Mother Teresa modeled a presence that reflected the promise of God to be with us in every circumstance of our life – regardless of what we can make or produce.

Paulines initiated various programs in order to be 
present to the children at least once a week.
As I continued praying and reflecting on how these two holy people would respond to the spiritual poverty of the inner-city, it became obvious that a more permanent presence was necessary. In his writings, Blessed James Alberione had considered reaching many more people with the Gospel through libraries. Now, with the added impetus of Mother Teresa’s example of presence, our local Chicago community set about opening reading rooms in the inner-city. During our research, both gang members and Church personnel suggested that we open reading rooms inside the community. The children did not have the means or the safety to go to public libraries or churches to study. The Boys & Girls Club Extensions accepted our request for rooms in each location. In the early 1980's, we had visited apartments in these areas by going door-to-door with issues of The Family Magazine. Now we went door to door inviting families to the reading rooms where they could find many more titles.  After realizing that Planned Parenthood put on events inside the Boys & Girls Clubs, we created various programs for children and visited the reading rooms as often as we could.

Sr. Margaret helps someone pick out a book 
This Pauline outreach brought the Catholic Church into the inner-city. Priests, Sisters, and laity donated and assisted with the program. One volunteer joined the RCIA after reading the book St. Martin de Porres found in the reading room. A Catholic New World columnist wrote an unsolicited article that concluded with a request for books for the Pauline Reading Rooms. Donations began coming in. The Chicago Cubs and the White Sox became involved. Bookcenter customers purchased books for the children. Paint, shelves and rugs were donated. The stories that can be told about this form of evangelization are very many indeed, too many to blog about here. I want to highlight three things: the inspiration of Saint Mother Teresa, whose presence had the power of preaching; the inspiration of Blessed Alberione, whose insights into evangelization are extraordinary; the role of the Pauline Laity and Volunteers as they lived the mission and charism with us.

Brother Al Milella, SSP, calls the Pauline mission a “head-on collision with the Word either in Scripture, in a saintly life, or in the action of charity.”  Our zeal and passion to feed those hungering for God’s Word knows no boundaries. Alberione reminds us, “The congregation is not attached to the form; we are attached to the Gospel, the catechism, the Church. If records are more useful than books, then use records. And if filmstrips give the doctrine better than the catechism books, use the filmstrip.” (1964)  As I prepared to enter the Daughters of St. Paul in 1974, my mother asked why I had not considered the Missionaries of Charity. I asked, "how do you know about Mother Teresa?" My mother responded, "I read about her." "That is why I feel called to the Daughter of St. Paul," I answered. Little did I know that fourteen years later, I would kiss Mother Teresa and receive a letter from her highlighting our Pauline charism.

Here is a link to Blessed Alberione's vision for Libraries
General Association of Libraries 1921


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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Knitting Love


That was what she had that IT did not have.

But how could she use it? What was she meant to do?

If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.

But she could love Charles Wallace.

She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace.”

                                                         -  Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time.

Several years ago, one of my closest friends moved to Germany. I thought I would miss her terribly but I never thought I would need to worry about her safety. Now I worry. 

Eleanor* and her family live close to the Belgian border. With the influx of refugees into Europe, she has been teaching German as a Second Language classes to incoming refugees, serving and loving those who are fleeing from terror in their homelands. At the same time, threats are starting to hit closer and closer to home. Eleanor had been in Paris the week before the November 2015 attacks, staying just a few buildings away from one of the restaurants where people were gunned down. On New Year’s Eve, hundreds of women reported that they had been robbed and sexually assaulted near the main train station in Cologne. Before she got married, Eleanor lived in Cologne, within walking distance of that train station. During Holy Week, suicide bombers claiming allegiance to ISIS killed more than thirty people at the Brussels airport -- just a few hours before Eleanor’s mother had been scheduled to land there. Some suspects from this attack were arrested just a few miles away from the city where Eleanor and her family live now.

All of this is hitting much too close to home. Terrible things are terrible no matter where in the world they happen but I didn’t anticipate people I love to be quite so affected.

On a personal level, Eleanor and her husband were joyfully expecting the birth of their first child, due in February. When I was travelling in Italy this past October on the Pauline Pilgrimage, I was knitting a baby blanket as my travel project. Before we went to St. Peter’s Square for a general audience with Pope Francis, Sister Margaret Joseph said that we could bring things with us as there would be a general blessing of them. “Religious items,” she clarified.  “Not like your scarf or something.” I am a snarky sort and suggested that “maybe you should bring your scarf. See if it takes!” Then I had a better idea and brought along the baby blanket in progress. We all decided that it “took.” I told Eleanor about this and she was delighted.

A few weeks later, baby Marie was born thirteen weeks early, weighing less than two pounds and with a serious blood infection which had sparked the early labor. Her tiny body couldn’t handle the big blanket I had made, but another friend of mine whose son had been born premature suggested that if I could do something small and quick out of inexpensive yarn that could be a very good thing. As this was over Thanksgiving weekend, I could do it. The pope was busy, but I brought it with me to my Episcopal church on Sunday and asked my pastor to bless it before I mailed them both off. Several weeks later, the baby was growing healthy and strong and ready to come home.  I also knit a couple little baby sweaters for her. When I went to the reformed Evangelical church Eleanor had attended in Boston, I brought those with me and asked the senior pastor to pray over them before I mailed them off. This is not a common practice for him, but of course he was happy to do so.

I don’t know what I think these blessings do, exactly, but I do know this baby could use all the love and prayers she could get. It seems a wonderful thing to surround her with love and prayers in a tangible form. At this point Marie is doing very, very well, healthy and strong. And it seems so right that she has been surrounded by tangible love and blessings from people across the Christian traditions ranging from reformed evangelicals to the Pope! Everyone comes together to love baby Marie, and it is all the same God.

While Marie is growing healthier and stronger every day, the world we live in seems to be as frightening as I can ever remember seeing. Every day seems to bring another attack. I feel as if I absolutely have to be doing something, but there is nothing that I can do.

But I can love. In Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry’s little brother Charles Wallace has fallen under the evil control of IT. Meg returns to rescue him but has no idea how she can do this until she realizes she can just love him. In the face of love, IT’s power melts away and Charles Wallace is freed and returns home to his family. I don’t know how to defeat ISIS, but I can love my friend, and her husband, and their baby. I live across an ocean, but I can make things to make that love tangible.
And we all rest in Someone whose love is far more powerful than mine. After Marie came home from the hospital, her family gathered joyfully to celebrate her baptism. We live in a world with terrifying premature births and terrorist attacks, but we also live in the hands of the One who has overcome the world.  Eleanor and her husband chose these verses as the theme for Marie’s baptismal celebration:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)
*Names have been changed at the request of the family.


Kristen Filipic has been involved with the Pauline family since 2010 and completed the Cooperator Formation program in 2014.  She is a native Midwesterner but has lived in Boston for the last twelve years, where she works as a civil rights attorney.  She serves as a lector and a Bible study leader in her home church.