Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Plan of Life for 2019!

“Come to me all of you,” Jesus said to then 16-year-old James Alberione. It was December 31, 1900, that famous “Night Between the Centuries” when James was praying in the Cathedral of Alba. “Come to me all of you.” James, I want you to bring me all the people of this new century. I want them all, and I want you to bring them to me using the “new means” of communication. But first I want you to bring me yourself, James: “Come to me all of you!” I want all that you are; I want your mind, will and heart. I want everything, James!

Jesus says these same words to each one of us as we begin this New Year of 2019. “Come to me all of you Sr. Laura.” “Come to me all of you _______.” Jesus wants all of us! That’s you and that’s me! This task of bringing all of ourselves to Christ can be daunting, overwhelming but it is possible, “for all things are possible with God.” (cf. Lk. 1: 37). And a plan to help with this task can make it happen- a plan for our spiritual life.

Think of it- whenever we want to succeed at something important, we have a plan: a business plan, a financial plan, a game plan, a marketing plan. You name it- we have a plan! But what goal, what endeavor in life is more important than our growth in Christ, our transformation into Him, our “Christification” as Blessed Alberione would say?

Last Spring Pauline Books & Media released a great book that can help us with this- this task of “becoming Christ,” ie saints! It is called “Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God” by Fr. Roger Landry. This is a marvelous, practical, straight forward book that makes this often-overwhelming task of becoming a saint possible; it brings it within our reach. St. Paul encourages us when he says, “all things are possible for those who love the Lord” But it is still important to have a Plan of Life. And this is what Fr. Landry does. He shows how the Christian life comes alive and deepens when certain habits are regularly practiced.

What are some of these habits that are essential to our Plan? Morning offering, Sunday Mass, general examen, frequent confession, daily prayer and Sacred Scripture. Are you surprised with this list? Probably not and you might even say, “this is nothing new!” You are right- it is not new, but it is true! If we want to really grow in the Christian life and see ourselves gradually change into the “best-version-of-ourselves” as well-known writer and speaker Matthew Kelly says, then these elements need to be present in our lives on a regular basis….

The Morning Offering is a simple prayer that we say at the start of the day. We offer God all that we have, all that we are and will experience, our “prayers, actions, joys and sufferings” of our day. We offer it all to Him who has given it to us in the first place!

Sunday Mass is a given but this is certainly not clear for many of our Catholics. What ever happened to “remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day”? And many who do attend Sunday Mass regularly see it only as an obligation, something that they are required to do. The Second Vatican Council describes the Mass as, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” And this means that the Mass is what nourishes and feeds us; it gives us strength for the week. And don’t we all need that?!

General Examen is usually done at the end of the day reviewing all that has happened to us. (Alberione also encourages us to include it in our Hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.) With the examen we ask Jesus to show us where He has been present in our day and how we have responded to that presence. Socrates once said that an unexamined life is not worth living; we don’t want to fall into that category!

Frequent Confession flows right from the examen. When we seriously take stock of our lives each day we see that we are sinners. Yes, that is right! Each of us fall short, sin and need God’s mercy. And the best place to find that mercy is in Confession!

Daily Prayer is as necessary as air to breath and food to eat. It keeps us in communion with God. It gives us strength and guidance for what we will encounter during the day.

Sacred Scripture, God’s Word is also necessary if we want to grow in our relationship with Him. God speaks to us in and through His Word. He enlightens us through His Word...

Mother Thecla, the Co-Foundress of the Daughters of Saint Paul writes to each of us, "Let us live in intimacy with the Divine Master: mind, will, heart, and activities; our senses, hands, feet, eyes, ears- everything in him, for him, and with him. Let us strive for always greater union with him..."

And a Plan of Life will help put this within our reach. A blessed and happy 2019!


Sr. Laura Rhoderica Brown has been a Daughter of St. Paul since 1985. She has been assigned to many of our communities in the US and currently lives & ministers in St. Louis. Here she coordinates parish and school exhibits, plans Book Center events and conducts the formation program for the local Pauline Cooperators. Sr. Laura has an MA in theology and participated in the Pauline Charism Course in Rome from 2008-2009.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

God Is Good And In Control

Ralph is one of my all-time favorite patients. At every office visit, he shares news from the whole family. Over the years, some of the family news has not always been good. His wife Jenna has battled with breast cancer. Fortunately, she's in remission now. At the age of seven, their older daughter was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. His younger daughter was in a serious car accident when she was 17. And his son, who has wrestled with drug and alcohol abuse issues, is currently sober and in a 12-step program.

A week before Christmas, Ralph called to set up an appointment. He complained of food getting stuck in his throat. Ralph did not have any history of upper GI problems, so we decided to run some tests. In cases like Ralph’s, it would be typical to find benign strictures. They would be easy to treat, but that’s not how things turned out for Ralph.

As soon as we began the procedure, I saw a large tumor in Ralph’s esophagus. My heart sank. In thirty years of practicing medicine, I’ve never gotten used to telling patients and families about finding cancer.

Jenna was sitting beside Ralph’s bed holding his hand when I walked into the recovery area. Her smile faded quickly as she saw my expression. Of course, we would still need more data from biopsies and scans, but I informed them of the diagnosis, explaining the prognosis, and suggesting some likely next steps. As we talked, Jenna gripped Ralph’s hand reassuringly. Both nodded their understanding of what they were hearing.

Most people respond poorly to adversity. Generally, they feel sorry for themselves and ask questions like, “Why me?” But that’s not how Ralph or Jenna handle difficulties. Jenna leaned over to Ralph, her eyes wet with tears. She whispered, “It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this. God is good and in control.” Ralph smiled at Jenna.

This was not the first time I had heard, “God is good and in control” from them. Ralph and Jenna respond to both the good and the bad that comes their way from the same perspective: “God is good and in control.”

I first learned the depth of Ralph’s gratitude years ago during another office appointment. He told me that his son had begun serving a six-month sentence for selling drugs. I reacted sympathetically. I’m sure I commented on how challenging it must have been to deal with this. I even remarked how well Ralph seemed to be handling it. My reaction definitely bothered Ralph. I asked why.

Ralph told me that the surest way to be miserable in life is to compare yourself with others. He confided that we can always find another person whose life seems better or worse than ours. So to him, there was no real point in comparing. But then he said something that has stuck with me to this day:

“At my judgment," Ralph said, "I don’t want to thank God only for the good things. That would be like a child thanking a parent only for those gifts that were better than the gifts other children received from their parents. Of course, every child should be grateful for every gift a parent gives. And in the same way, we should be grateful for everything God gives us.”

In the years since that conversation, I’ve learned to understand that the life this couple shares is based on their value of profound gratitude. They are truly thankful for everything in their lives and believe they are incredibly fortunate for everything that has happened. To them, each situation is a blessing in some way, and life itself is an amazing gift from God.

Ralph’s great appreciation of life reminds me of a quote by Blessed Father James Alberione, the founder of the Pauline Family: “Gratitude is an act of humility; it acknowledges that what it has does not belong to it but is gratuitously given.” Nothing has been given to us more gratuitously than God’s gift of life!

I have seen Ralph, Jenna, and their three awesome children in a follow-up visit. Unfortunately, the tumor is aggressive. It’s already widespread, and he will be trying an aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy regimen. Though his prognosis is not good, Ralph’s greatest concern is not for himself. He is concerned that his wife and children will be able to handle this situation as well as possible.

While the family was in my office, I noticed Ralph looking tenderly at his children. Clearly, he saw them beyond the labels — a diabetic, a young woman scarred by a serious car accident, and a recovering addict. These were Ralph’s beloved children. He and Jenna had helped create them together and cherish them to this day. Ralph could see his children like God sees us.

As Ralph and his family left my office that day, each took time to smile and shake my hand. Then Jenna actually comforted me, the family doctor, by reminding me that, “God is good and in control.”

Ralph and Jenna are tremendous examples of how to live a life of thanksgiving. In their profound gratitude they’ve taught me that gratitude is the key to a happy life. In the eyes of God our Father, we are not just the sum of our faults and our failings. Each of us is a beloved child He created.


Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD, has been a Pauline Cooperator since October 11, 2009. He serves as President of the Daughters of St. Paul Advisory Board in St. Louis. He and his wife, Carolyn, are blessed with five awesome adult children. He would like to acknowledge that his daughter Elizabeth is getting married this July, and Elizabeth's future mother-in-law, Theresa Brotherton, is a great Catholic writer who has helped him with this and previous articles.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy Anniversary To Me

Wedding feast of Cana
photograph by Andreas F. Borchert [1]

How many married folks imagine on their wedding day that they will, someday, celebrate 50 years of marriage? I know I didn't. And yet on January 25 of this year, I will be celebrating my Golden Anniversary. What a long, strange trip it's been! And strangely enough, a Pauline one too, despite my initial inclinations to the contrary.

Bill Stabosz and I got married in January 1969, between fall and spring semesters of our sophomore year of college. Our small ceremony took place in the Episcopalian church where my mother was office manager. This religious ceremony was a compromise with my soon-to-be mother-in-law Helen. She told us she would not come from Chicago to Delaware to see her Catholic son marry his Catholic fiancée at the office of the Justice of the Peace, as we had proposed doing.

 Neither Bill nor I was practicing the Faith at the time. We were both a few months away from our twentieth birthday. We told Father Edward, my mom's boss, that we thought we might be atheists and that it would be hypocritical for us to marry in a Catholic church. We weren't theologically (or even logically) astute enough, however, to realize it was just as hypocritical to be married in an Episcopalian church. But Father Edward promised to marry us anyway, as long as we agreed to receiving pre-wedding instructions. He also cautioned us not to be surprised if, at some later date, we decided to get remarried in the Catholic church. According to Father Edward, this happened surprisingly often to young adults as they grew older. Six years later we wrote to him--retired now in Florida--confirming that his prediction had come true and to thank him for his prescience.  

Bill and I had gotten married at a low point in our three-year relationship. What had started out as two sixteen year olds falling in love on a magical summer night (Romeo and Juliet style) somehow had turned sour along the way. By the time we got married, it seemed miraculous that death had not intervened to leave its tragic sheen on our perfect romance. 

The truth is, we had already bumped up against relationship blocks that most Shakespearean lovers never experienced. Bill no longer adored every move I made. I did not worship every word he spoke either. We fought -- a lot! We yelled, we pouted, and we said cruel things to each other. We began to doubt our "forever love." Somehow, we thought that getting married might make things better.

When I had first called my mom to tell her we wanted to get married, I was sure she would object. Instead she said, "I thought this might happen. I'm not happy about it, but I guess it is about time." She told me later that she thought two young people who were as much in love as we were would either get married or break up badly; but we would not continue on as we were doing.

We quarreled in the car on the way to the church. I, who never wore make-up, decided that my wedding day called for it and had acquired some. Bill said I put it on badly. I wiped it off with a tissue furiously. What can I say? We were nineteen, and we were on edge.

I remember lying in bed late that night watching "Lady Godiva" on a tiny TV in the efficiency apartment of the Hollywood Motel three miles from my childhood home in Delaware.[2] I looked at my sleeping husband and wondered if we could make it to our first anniversary. Even if a young bride doesn't think 50 years ahead, she typically doesn't lie awake on her wedding night wondering if the marriage will last a single year either.

January 25 in the Roman rite is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Everyone in the Pauline Family knows how special this day is, but St. Paul was not on my radar back in 1969, when I married Bill. In fact, he wasn't part of my life when Bill and I came back to the Church in 1974. At that time, I bought into the feminist narrative that St. Paul was a misogynist. 

One of the ironies of my life as a Pauline is the great transformation that has taken place in me. These days, I am committed to reading about and emulating this saint -- the very St. Paul whom I had so disdained in my younger years. While it's true that St. Paul's writings on marriage seem to pose particular problems as we wrestle with women's evolving roles in society, this should never have been an obstacle to experiencing his spirituality. What a cultural loss it is to our wounded world that a small number of Pauline texts on marriage have so disproportionately marred our evaluation of this towering figure of the early Church!

Society today is drowning in polemics and snark while our federal government is deadlocked in partisan bickering. St. Paul's commentary to Christians on social behavior could be helpful to both situations. Surely some understanding of his approach to dysfunction in early church communities would help us in our national struggle to create a functioning, pluralistic society? No matter how stridently the different segments of 21st-century society disagree, nearly all of them agree about the value and primacy of love. St. Paul not only highlights the attributes of real love, but 
he also instructs us in the social behavior that manifests such love. 

Perhaps best known is St. Paul's discussion on the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)." 

In Colossians and elsewhere, he instructs us: "... rid yourselves of such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other ... Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free... clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. ... [Let] peace ... rule in your hearts... [Y]ou were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:8-19)"

A marriage and family is a microcosm of society. What works in the Areopagus and the marketplace also works for the family. Bill and I would never have reached our Golden Anniversary if we had not committed to pragmatic behaviors that smooth over and make straight the crooked paths of personal and social relationship. After all, we live in a fallen world. 

Pauline teaching expands on Jesus' parables and sermons to explore those nitty-gritty behaviors that glue a society together. They work regardless whether that society is a small social unit called a family or a complex series of interlocking units that collectively make up a nation.

Love never fails. But people do -- all the time! We need the bulwark of real LOVE which, if we are straight with ourselves, means we need a Love beyond ourselves to teach us how to love beyond our own strength. That Love is Jesus Christ.

St. Paul knew it, and so did Blessed Alberione. As Paulines, we pledge ourselves to its veracity and to the Power to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things. Even 50 years of marriage.

[1] Detail from stained glass window, Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Tullow, County Carlow, Ireland. The photographical reproduction of this work is covered under the article §93 of the Irish copyright law which states that it is permitted for photographers to take pictures of sculptures, buildings, and works of artistic craftsmanship that are permanently located in a public place or premises open to the public, and to publish such pictures in any way.

[2]As poor college students, we couldn't afford anything more than a cheap motel off Route 40 for our honeymoon. About 15 years ago, we nostalgically went back to see if the Hollywood Motel was still around. It was. The motel clerk asked, as we checked in at 5:00 pm or so on a Saturday afternoon, "Will you be wanting the room for the whole night?"


Rae Stabosz made her Promise as a Pauline Cooperator in 2003.  She and Bill Stabosz, her husband of 50 years, have six sons, three daughters, thirteen grandsons and eight granddaughters. She retired in 2007 from the University of Delaware, where she was a technology and media specialist for 27 years. Rae is co-founder and past president of The Society of Catholic Scholars of Delaware, and proprietor (since 2004) of the Pious Ladies Bookmobile.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Centenary Pilgrimage of the Worldwide Pauline Cooperators

What a blessed year this has been for the Pauline Cooperators!  We closed the 100th Anniversary Year in Italy in May 2018 and ten of us represented the Pauline Cooperators for the Daughters of St Paul in the United States and Canada.  Maria Siciliano and I traveled from Los Angeles to Rome, Margie and John Skeels attended from New York, Dave and Maria Stabosz were from Maryland, Patti Anderson was from St. Louis, Yolanda Azurdia was from Toronto, Donna Reuss was from Virginia, and Angela Frayna was from Chicago.  There were also six cooperators and a Sister Disciple of the Divine Master, Sr. Tiziana, in attendance from Los Angeles and Fresno, bringing the USA representatives to 17 in total.

There were 270 international cooperators on our Centenary Pilgrimage representing 25 countries.  Italian was the main language spoken, and there were Portuguese, Spanish, French and English translators provided for us.  We wore headsets for many events including Masses and sightseeing.  We were also given colorful scarves to help designate the language spoken.

The cooperators arrived on May 18 and this was the day to get settled at the Hotel Roma Aurelia Antica.  The next day we gathered for breakfast and saw what a nice big international group was in attendance.  Even if we could not communicate by language, it was as if our hearts could communicate the fact that we are all members of the same family – the Pauline Family!

Dining Room at the Hotal Roma Autelia Antica
After breakfast, we boarded tour buses that brought us to the Sanctuary of Mary, Queen of Apostles, where we celebrated her feast day with a beautiful Mass.  Fr Jose Valdir de Castro, the Superior General of the Society of St Paul, was the main celebrant. 

 Mass at the Queen of Apostles Temple

After Mass, we had a tour of the tombs of Blessed James Alberione and Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo.  It was quite moving to spend prayer time there and place the intentions for the Pauline Family around the world in that chapel.

Tomb of Blessed James Alberione

After a catered lunch, we toured the offices and bedroom where Blessed James Alberione took his last breath.  Then we walked to the Basilica of St Paul where we had a guided tour.  Another incredible moment was to witness the international gathering of Paulines praying fervently at the tomb of St. Paul beneath the main altar.

Pauline Cooperators at the Tomb of St. Paul

The spectacular day concluded with a concert by the band of the Vatican Gendarmes.  The concert was in the Sanctuary of Mary Queen of Apostles and the quality and musical selections reminded me of the Boston Pops!

Our third day was entitled “In the Footsteps of St. Paul.”  The buses brought us to Tre Fontani or Three Fountains which is the place of the Martyrdom of St. Paul.  There is a felt holiness in the atmosphere of Tre Fontani, and as we walked the way of St. Paul, we prayed silently to St. Paul asking him to show us how to live Christ as he lived and died for Christ.  We saw the prison where St. Paul was held before he was martyred, the marble pillar where St. Paul was beheaded, and the three fountains that legend says sprung up when St. Paul’s head bounced three times.

In the footsteps of St Paul at Three Fountains

After lunch, we left for the Church of the Divine Master which was designed and built by the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master.  Mother Scholastica, the foundress of the Sister Disciples, is laid to rest in a bronze tomb inside that magnificent Church.  It was the Feast of Pentecost and we celebrated a beautiful Mass there.

Pentecost Mass at the Church of the Divine Master

After Mass, we returned to the hotel, ate dinner and then celebrated the Feast of Pentecost with a musical presentation by each country.  Our small American group bravely sang God Bless America and we were well applauded and complimented.  Truly it was the Holy Spirit at work since we had no practice sessions!

Pentecost Entertainment Night

Days 4 and 5 were our Conference Days at the hotel.  Our United States cooperator group fit nicely at a round table and we welcomed the opportunity to spend these days together to get to know one another.  After Mass on the first day of the conferences, we were greeted by the Superior Generals of each of the branches of the Pauline Family.  Professor Nunzi Boccia gave us a presentation on The Meaning of Being a Cooperator in the Church Today.  It was a dynamic, enthusiastic presentation and I hope to share its English translation with all of you when it is available.  In the afternoon, Sr. Elena Bosetti from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd gave us a profound presentation on The Cooperators in St. Paul.  The second day of the conferences gave us the opportunity to have small group sharings by tables, followed by a panel presentation of select cooperators from a variety of nations.  It was compelling to hear how each of them lives out their call and mission as Pauline Cooperators in their countries.  There is a Pauline fire that ignites them and unites all of us.

Left to Right: Yolanda Azurdia, Angela Frayna, Patti Anderson, Sr. Marie James, Maria Siciliano, Margie Skeels, John Skeels, Dave Stabosz, Maria Stabosz, and Donna Reuss

Day 6 was our day to tour Rome.  It started with the General Audience of Pope Francis in Vatican Square.  One Pauline Cooperator from each Continent was chosen by lottery to meet Pope Francis up close and personal right after the Audience.  Part of the day, we were on our own to tour St. Peter’s Basilica, order Papal Blessings, and shop.  At the end of the day, the tour bus brought us near the Colosseum, and the Basilicas of Mary Major and St. John Lateran.

Papal Audience

On the 7th day, we once again boarded our tour buses for a long trip to Alba in Northern Italy.  We stopped for a lovely Mass in Sestri Levante where the Sisters of the Good Shepherd assist the Pastor. Then we stopped again for a fantastic lunch at the Vis a Vis hotel which is situated high on a hill with a magnificent view.  We arrived in Alba at night and arrangements were made for our large group to stay at two different hotels.

Lunch at Vis a Vis Hotel

Day 8 was dedicated to visiting the places of Blessed James Alberione.  After breakfast, we toured the Cathedral of Alba where the Founder received his first call to begin the Pauline Family.  We also had a tour of the Seminary Chapel in Alba.  We walked as pilgrims to the temple of St Paul and it was another moving moment when we broke into our Pauline song “I Know Him Whom I Believe.”  The bishop of Alba, Most Reverend Marco Brunetti, presided over our Mass at the Temple of St. Paul.  After Mass, we had a presentation by a Society of St. Paul priest on the rich meaning behind the fresco, floors and altars.

Mass with the Bishop of Alba at the St Paul Temple

After lunch, we went to the birthplace of Blessed James Alberione which is now a wonderful museum and place of prayer.  The bus then took us to St. Lawrence the Martyr Church where Bl. Alberione was baptized. The day concluded with Eucharistic Adoration in the Cathedral of Alba.

Outside of Blessed Alberione’s Birthplace

Day 9, our final, was a pilgrimage day in honor of Mother Thecla Merlo.  We went to Castagnito to see where she was born and grew up.  We had Mass there and it was bittersweet, as we knew that our pilgrimage was coming to an end. This would be the final Mass at which we all would be together, since some had early departure flights the next morning.  We departed by tour bus to Rome after Mass and stopped for lunch along the way.

Closing Mass at Mother Thecla’s Birthplace

I will always be grateful for the opportunity to accompany our Pauline Cooperators from the United States on this historic pilgrimage and gathering in honor of the closing of the Centenary Year.  The feeling of being members of the same Pauline Family on such a large international scale was very Spirit filled.  May the Spirit guide and inspire each of us to recruit new Pauline Cooperators as we begin the next chapter of Pauline history!