Wednesday, January 22, 2020

SAD Time Of Year

Winter in the higher latitudes can be brutal. Awareness of  seasonal affective disorder,’ also known by its acronym SAD, thankfully offers us helpful solutions like vitamin D supplements and sunlamps. Since moving to Minnesota over a decade ago, I still haven’t gotten used to the darker days and colder climate. Round about the time you’re reading this, I will have just taken down my Christmas tree, less because I’m a liturgy nerd and enjoy marking the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas), and more because I find I need the bright decorations more in January than in December. 

My job as music director always adds the stress of Christmas musical preparation on top of everything else December entails. Once the stress disappears (along with most of the Christmas decorations), the remainder and majority of my Minnesota winter looks bleak. Do kindly remember a late April or early May snowfall is not unusual. The first stanza of Christina Rosetti’s famous poem popularly set to music by Gustav Holst certainly speaks well to how I experience Christmas and January, emphasis on the snow on snow:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

SAD doesn’t affect just my physical or mental well-being. As Catholics, we believe in the connection between the physical and the spiritual within our human selves. My SAD creeps into my spiritual life and by the time I recognize this, I feel long gone. My acedia secretly and quietly creeps into my prayer until it’s February and I wish I had saved up for a tropical getaway. How coincidental that we finish celebrating the great feast of the Incarnation and the incarnational aspects of my own life fall apart in the darkest season.

Last summer, I listened to an episode of the podcast “Nocturne” called “The Blue Time.” The podcast talks about various aspects of the night. This episode dealt directly with the darkness of northern latitudes, especially in northern Scandinavia where they have two months of polar night around the winter solstice. The podcast relates that the northern most regions of Scandinavia have less incidence of seasonal affective disorder than more southern places like Minnesota. This intrigued me because two months of darkness sounds like my own personal hell. Scandinavians have a word for how they get through winter: hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh.) There is no direct translation into English; the closest we have is ‘cozy.’ Hygge conveys a comfort or coziness one feels when one does particularly simple and pleasurable things. You might picture that Christmas Eve feeling settled in front of the fireplace after a delicious meal, the Christmas tree twinkling and hot buttered rum warming you from head to toe. The Scandinavians have a way about them deeply embedded in their culture to not just survive winter but to make it pleasurable and blessed.

Inspired by this, I have endeavoured to approach winter differently this year. As the days grew shorter and colder I tried to catch myself complaining about the impending darkness and flip it around to look forward to the hygge winter can offer. An Advent reflection book certainly helped focus my prayer as I snuggled in at night with quiet music, my bible, and a warming drink; I began to look forward to this time with the Lord after dealing with the stress of the day. Each small consolation became a time to connect with Jesus in this joy of anticipation of Christmas.

Rosetti’s poem speaks in later stanzas to the quiet ways in which the animals, and even the Virgin Mary, offered their small but very meaningful worship of the Christ Child with the simple acts of gathering at the stable or even a kiss. The final stanza invites the reader (or singer) ‘give my heart’ to the Christ Child in the best act of worship imaginable. This is where ‘hygge’ meets our relationship with Christ. 

In these days after Christmas, it is incumbent upon us to remember the Gospel for Christmas Day: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (Jn 1:5) In each act of finding Christ in our everyday lives, we strengthen our relationship with him and truly bring the act of Christmas to the rest of the year.


Kellen O’Grady is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings, Minnesota.  He holds a Masters in Catholic Studies and chairs the Association of Liturgical Ministers for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  He has a reputation for enjoying the finer things in life from hipster cocktails to dance and yoga.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Pauline Domestic Church On The Move

Michelangelo's Doni Madonna
One year I planned my annual vacation in December. The drive from Charleston to Pensacola was rainy, chilly and dark. It took longer than the normal four hours to get to Jacksonville. Strong winds over troubled waters met shaking bridges. I tucked into the traffic but not too close. 

While I was praying for safe passage, a Roseate Spoonbill crane flew over the highway. In native American lore these birds are symbols of strength who sweep obstacles out of the way. God speaks in the most surprising ways to restore our hope. 

Pope Francis reminds us that the proclamation of the Gospel always passes through the cross. Even if it is just whispered, it always provides hope. Most of the time it is the simplest, whispered, intimate messages of God that give me occasion to share hope (1 Pt 3:5).

When I arrived at Mom’s house, I regretted that I had to unload the rental car and return it that evening. All I wanted to do was leave car, boxes, suitcases and briskly walk to the shelter of home. I took a deep breath to push open the door. Suddenly mom was there. Messy weather had not prevented her from listening closely for my arrival. She didn’t wait until I knocked on the door. She didn’t shout her welcome from the protection of a window. She didn’t text me to say, “I’ll see you when you get to the door.” There with an open umbrella she stood.  Mom, living out her Pauline Holy Family life. Mom, the epitome of “A Church  on the move,” one of the great themes of Pope Francis’ papacy. Home is my encounter with mom.  Church is our encounter with Christ, and we are called to facilitate this encounter.

Mom and I gathered up items from the car. On the sidewalk two of us under one umbrella walked with great care. Slightly pushing the door with my elbow, I was welcomed by a room filled with light and warmth, comfort and freshness. This, I thought, is what it is like to fulfill our call as tabernacles of God – to listen for others, to offer light and warmth in a sometimes cold and dark world – through love to “be servants of one another” (Gal 5:13). 

Some people are teetering on the edge of despair as Miriam Stulbert was. She said that among other things the love and joy of Catholic friends led her to the doors of the Church. She had read the Gospels, but it was through Christians that they began to take on real meaning for her. She writes that "It is precisely in everyday life that power lies, the transcendent power of love. Every act of love and every effort to serve the others is used by Christ, who alone can change the world."  

Within a few minutes my sister arrived with her youngest daughter and two of her grandchildren. My home visit officially became the mystery of the visitation. It was no small effort for my sister to drive out into the rain. She has lived with cancer for over eight years. Her joy on this occasion did not reveal any pain or fear. Swiftly the quiet house was filled with story, buzzing with life. We listened to music, shared revelations of God’s goodness, batted back errant toys to the kids, opened late birthday gifts and early Christmas gifts (in order to re-gift them). Soon food accompanied this gathering. The unwrapping of gifts, songs and a meal together were love made visible, sacramentals. This domestic church was united with the larger Church where Christ joins us to himself in and through the sacraments. A review of Gerhard Lohfink's Jesus and Community makes the case that in our day, "riddled with individualism, it has always been God’s intention to work through a visible, tangible, concrete community that lives as a contrast-society in the world, for the sake of the world." Our Catholic faith is also about encountering Christ in one another and becoming an open door to Jesus Christ.

The love and joy in mom’s house happened because of our journey toward the other, a domestic church on the move, the gospel lived. St. John Paul II invites us to put aside our feelings of inadequacy to walk toward the other in love. “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures,” he said, “we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”  We are asked to trust God and surrender our vision of success, of the right time and perfect opportunities. It is the faithfulness of Christ Jesus, not our own efforts, that allows us to be Christ for another. “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (2 Cor. 3:12)  Our domestic church on the move does not create a save haven, a private group of individuals. As Catholics we are universal in our approach. We practice hospitality and invitation. We open the doors for Christ in our midst and lead others to the door of his Church.

As I researched Blessed Alberione and the Domestic Church for this article I found the excerpt below in paper from an International Meeting of the Coordinators of Formation and Vocation Promotion of the Society of Saint Paul Ariccia.  [Rome, 14-21 September 2008: The Passion for the Pauline Mission: To communicate the Gospel in the present day culture of communication ]

“Bible, family and communication are today at the center of our mission. ...These three are very dear to Blessed James Alberione, and the three of them allow us to carry out today his desire 'not to speak only of religion, but to speak of everything in a Christian way' (AD 87). …[T]o give priority to the family concretely means to promote the dimension of the small, domestic Church, nourishing it spiritually, promoting life and true love in all its forms, giving attention to the problems which the families are facing. Therefore, to speak today of the Family is to speak also about living together, with its lights and its shadows; in other words, it is to speak about betrothal or engagement, of the child before birth and of abortion, of the education of the children, of the world of youth, of drugs, of divorce, of the unmarried couples who live together and of other forms of life together, of the enlarged family, of illegitimate children, of the world of the marginalized, of violence and of abuses, of the broad field of sexuality, of social relationships and of social services, of the world of work and of economy, of retirement pensions, of the house and of assistance, of the loneliness of elderly persons, of illness and of pain, of suffering and of death. Thinking about the future while keeping an eye on the present, we update ourselves concerning the problems which, in general, families have today, in order to be able to respond better to all the challenges and questions of today, finding a balance between the trends of current thought today and treating burning themes without fear, collaborating with the Church in the search for more just responses to the questions of our recipients.”

This prayer of Consecration to the Most Holy Trinity, written by Blessed James Alberione, helps us unite our intentions as"domestic church on the move" with that of the first and greatest community of love – the three Divine Persons.  

Beauty in Three by Smk

Divine Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
present and active in the Church
and in the depths of my soul, I adore you, I thank you, I love you!

And through the hands of Mary most holy, my Mother,
I offer, give and consecrate myself entirely to you
for life and for eternity.

To you, Heavenly Father, I offer,
give and consecrate myself as your son/daughter. 

To you, Jesus Master, I offer,
give and consecrate myself as your brother/sister and disciple.

To you, Holy Spirit,
I offer, give and consecrate myself as "a living temple"
to be consecrated and sanctified.  

Mary, Mother of the Church and my Mother,
who dwells in the presence of the Blessed Trinity,
teach me to live, through the liturgy and the sacraments,
in ever more intimate union with the three divine Persons,
so that my whole life may be a "glory to the Father, to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit.


Sr. Margaret Charles Kerry, FSP, celebrates 45 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. Sr Margaret is superior and manager of the Pauline Center in Charleston, SC.  She is also coordinating wonderful Pauline Cooperator groups in this region.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Cinema Review: The Two Popes

Fernando Meirelles’ newest film astounds in its composition, but most especially in moving the audience to feel with and understand two very different and yet similar men of God. The Two Popes leaves one changed. It is a film that cannot be seen without a spiritual transformation happening deep inside whether we are aware of it or not. Let’s be clear right off the bat—this is a fictionalized account based loosely on historical events, so we need to be aware of that when viewing this story. However, I believe it has much to teach us about how we treat one another in the Church. Why would a director who is a self-proclaimed nonbeliever want to do a film about the Catholic Church’s leaders of the 21st century? Meirelles says, “The idea of tolerance is the take-away. People really relate to this idea of listening and tolerance because it gives us the hope that we don’t have to keep fighting one another forever. The film has a warmth because it shows it is possible to connect to the other.” And, that’s what this film expresses—the beauty of communion. 

Anthony McCarten who also wrote the screenplay bases the film on the book of the same name. He said his inspiration came when he and his wife were visiting Rome and went to St Peter’s Basilica at the same time Pope Francis was celebrating Mass. His mind began to wander and curiosity took hold about how there could possibly be two popes at the same time. He said he did a lot of reading and so the story is inspired by true events with fictionalized dialogue. As he reflected that in the Church and in the world there is, “not enough silence and listening.” The film portrays the two popes because he says, “If the Church can take steps forward, then there’s hope for us.” It begins with Cardinal Bergolio (Jonathan Pryce) in an open square preaching during a Mass with his people in Buenos Aires. Pope John Paul II dies and all the Cardinals are called to Rome for the conclave to elect a new pope. There is a call for internal reforms and one sees the mumuratio take place as various groups of Cardinals share their thoughts about who could next lead the Church. At one point, Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) passes over Cardinal Bergolio while greeting other Cardinals. When the two meet while washing their hands Bergolio is hums a tune. Ratzinger says, “Nice tune. What are you humming?” Bergolio responds, “Dancing Queen by Abba.” As the audience roars, Ratzinger in a puzzled expression repeats, “Abba. That’s a good name.” 

One Cardinal tells Bergolio to be ready since many Cardinals are considering him for pope. He said, “Reform needs a politician. Vote for Martini.” We then hear Ratzinger tell other Cardinals, “The Church needs one unchanging, eternal truth…one point of reference.” Yes, even in the Church there are seemingly opposing sides: the traditionalists and the reformists. Yet, are they really so different? Or is it just how we express ourselves and what we emphasize? The conclave elects Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. As scandal after scandal hits the universal Church and, specifically, the Vatican, the elderly Pope Benedict summons Cardinal Bergolio to Rome. It occurs just after Bergolio sends in his early resignation letter. He has already booked his flight to Rome to meet with the Pope about it.

© 2019, Peter Mountain. Netflix. Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergolio. All rights reserved.

The next part of the film is just astounding dialogue and cinematography. They meet in Castel Gondolfo, the Pope’s summer residence, and share about life, theology, sin, and grace. At one point Benedict questions Bergolio’s passionate expressions about soccer, to which Bergolio says, “I’m Argentinian….tango and futbol are compulsory.” He tells Pope Benedict that Argentina and Germany can be in the World Cup finals, to which Benedict replies, “I’ve never understood the excitement,” drawing laughter from the audience. Benedict then invites Bergolio, “Please sit down and let’s just be quiet together.” It is a time they share as brothers and a very touching moment when they share about hearing and not hearing God’s voice. 

Benedict is called to Rome on urgent matters. He takes Bergolio with him. They meet the next day in the Sistine Chapel, which was re-created for this film, and a pithy, snarky, yet sincere dialogue ensues with some deeply touching and spiritual sayings that are applicable to everyone. Benedict shares that he wants to resign as Pope, to which Bergolio adamantly responds that he cannot. Benedict shares, “What damage will I do if I remain?...I know my intentions are pure…. I’m a scholar, not a manager…half blind…governance requires eyesight I do not have.” To which Bergolio responds, “It is our weakness that calls forth the grace of God.” But in a quick rebuttal Benedict says, “The Church needs to change and you could be that change.” It’s a lovely conversation of two people with different perspectives, different emphases, who share the common love of God and the Church and who grow in communion the more they share their views. 

While watching the film, I personally felt a well of desire surface in me wanting to shout out, “Yes! See, it can be done!” This film calls forth the reality that we can talk civilly together with respect and love even though our views are different. There can still be communion among those who emphasize different aspects of faith and spirituality or politics, for that matter. After all, we are all human beings seeking a God who is above and beyond our differences. When they confess to one another through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the beauty of communion is confirmed, to which Bergolio tells Benedict, “Truth may be vital but without love it’s unbearable.” 

© 2019, Peter Mountain. Netflix. Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis. All rights reserved.

At the beginning of the film I thought the dialogue and characterization of both Popes was somewhat stereotyped. But, as the film progressed I saw the purpose of the film and how the very public images of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis were used as a commentary on our world today. Meirelles says that he made the film feel intimate because, “It’s about human beings and how they can change. It’s about tolerance and forgiveness. Both Francis and Benedict made mistakes in their lives, and struggle to forgive themselves, and we explore that in the film…. It’s very human.” He also said, “The original image I had was a good pope and bad pope as the press described them. Then I watched some of Benedict’s homilies and I understood him and began to see grey areas where Benedict was described and interpreted. Then Tony Hopkins gets on board and he likes Benedict very much; his is a more intellectual approach. As I learned more about Pope Benedict I came to like him more.”

© 2019, Peter Mountain. Netflix. Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins put on such brilliant performances that you forget who they are and only see the characters they represent. The ending could not be more perfect. This film will touch all the right cords in society and hopefully in the Church opening all of us to consider each other with substantially more compassion, mercy, and kindness, as is beautifully portrayed in The Two Popes. I hope every Catholic person in a parish, organization, and institution will watch this film and learn. Only when we stop and consider each other as a human being will we be open to listen, reflect, share, and dialogue. It is an emotional and transforming experience that I pray touches our Church and our world. 

Originally published on

Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, CA and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She is a theologian, national speaker, film reviewer, and blogger for Her book A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics is a theology of popular culture published by Wipf & Stock. Sr. Nancy has degrees in Communications Arts, a Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and certification in Catechetics and Media Literacy. She is an adjunct professor of Theology and Film at John Paul the Great University in Escondido, CA. Sr. Nancy is a board member of CIMA (Catholics in Media Associates) and a member of NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Educators), SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communicators) and THEOCOM (Theology and Communications in Dialogue). 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Mary, Holy Mother of God

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God that concludes the Octave of Christmas and begins this New Year with the honor and glory due to Her, the Ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the Christ Child and Queen of the Apostles. As we hear in the Entrance Antiphon of the Solemn Mass today, “Today a Light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us.” (“Hoy brillará una Luz sobre nosotros, porque nos ha nacido el Señor.”).  We look to that light which continues to shine!

Every New Year reminds us that we were born of this Light when our own Founder, Blessed James Alberione, gazed upon the One who is Love and from Whom we were Born---the Eucharistic Light. During the early hours of that night between the centuries (1900-1901), birth was given to what would simply be known as the Pauline Family. It is by this same Light---the Light that will continue to shine upon us---that we will draw great strength in this time, times not unlike those of our foundations.

The great hope for the last century remains the great hope of this new century for all Paulines, that we will pursue the Christ Child as did the Shepherds of the 1st Century, who “went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” So incomprehensible was this event---the King of Peace would be found where animals lay---that only Divine Light could enlighten their minds and hearts so that they would come to believe and soon return “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” It is this joy that is so necessary in the world today!

So, how shall we begin this New Year? How might we let this Light shine through us even more and more in the days, weeks and months ahead? In a word, remain hopeful! Never allow the seed of the evil one to steal your joy, even in the light of difficult situations or ill health. Too often, we fall prey to believing in what we see and less in the things we cannot see. We become overwhelmed or complacent in the face of the bad news … the very bad news we were established to fight against!

Quite often, even our own personal circumstances become the discouragements that prevent us from ‘looking up’ and seeing the Light HE wills to cast into our hearts, into our minds, into our souls. Yet, the Good News we proclaim is forever the WORD that will bring us and the world out of all darkness, which will never overcome the one true Light. This New Year let us resolve to make greater strides in holiness, in our life as Paulines. Maybe taking up some reading of the Founder, more prayer from the Pauline Prayer Book, involvement in activities and events of other Pauline Congregations and Institutes, and … always helpful … more ardent prayers for vocations to all of ten institutes of the Pauline Family.

Most of all, spend time each day inviting the Holy Spirit, the Beloved Spouse of the Holy Mother of GOD, that each of us will persevere in the good works of spreading the Good News which will one day overcome the work of the Bad Press, that which will never overcome the Light!


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 before his appointment 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 for the Archdiocese to Catholic Homeschooling Families as well as the Spiritual Director to the World Apostolate of Fatima (Boston Division). He is temporary professed in the Institute of Jesus the Priest of the Pauline Family.