Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Back (and Forward) to Basics

"[I urge you to] ...Love then, with a divine passion, with a blind and boundless trust and you will be saints." - Fr. Mateo Crawley Boevy. Jesus King of Love

I want to be a saint. This desire has been with me since I first read St. Thérèse of Lisieux's autobiography, The Story of a Soul. There I found an eerie time travel aspect to her story that blew me away. St. Thérèse lived from January, 1873 to September, 1897—a mere 24 years—dying of tuberculosis as a young nun in a cloistered monastery in France. She wrote explicitly, while she was alive, about her longing to become a great saint. She wrote pretty confidently that she expected it would happen. I lived a century later, and picked up her book in 1974, when I was 25 years old. I was a young wife and mother newly returned to the Church after living an impoverished half-life of God-is-dead agnosticism, faux intellectual sophistication, and Saturday Night Live-style sarcasm about all matters of seriousness. Delving into A Story of a Soul, I read what seemed to be just the girlish aspirations of a devout little nun, except for one thing: at the time I read her book, she had become a great saint of the Catholic Church, one of the most popular of my century. How could she know that this would happen? You can't just wave your hand and twist the Church's arm to canonize you! These things are rare. How did she know??

St Thérèse convinced me that if a nobody like a young nun in 19th century France could decide to become a saint, and attain it in death, then so could a nobody like myself, a young wife and mother in 20th century United States.

But how? St.
Thérèse, like all great saints, had her unique methodology. For St. Thérèse it was something she called "the little way."

I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. [...] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. [...] Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.  Saint Thérèse de Lisieux. The Story of a Soul

Those words fell like a balm on my world-weary soul when I first came back to the Church. This is what I was experiencing when I gave up my half-life of agnosticism: spiritual balm. And oddly enough, it was my agnostic mother who had sent me running back into the arms of Holy Mother the Church. My mom had been raised a southern Baptist but had become agnostic as an adult. She told me once that she "took Jesus for her personal savior" several times, as she was taught to do, but felt no change and still didn't understand how he was different from any other good man who had died horribly for his beliefs.

When she married my father in 1947, she agreed to raise their children as Catholics, as was the requirement at the time. She taught me my prayers and my catechism, and only once objected to what my Church taught. This was when she told me that despite what I had learned about St. Maria Goretti, if I were ever in a situation of rape I should not fight it but endure and survive[i].

My husband Bill and I had both stopped practicing the Faith in college. I was very unhappy, but certainly didn't connect it to my estrangement from the Catholic Church. I was speaking to my mother one time and told her how miserable I was. She asked me if I was going to Mass. I said no, surprised that she would even inquire. Then she laid on me the wisdom that propelled me back on the path of Faith.

"There is a lot about your religion that I don't understand, Rae," she said to me, "But I do know one thing. A Catholic is never really happy unless they are practicing their religion."

And so in 1973 I knocked on the door of the Visitation Monastery in Wilmington, DE and made the acquaintance of Sr. Mary Edmonda Farley. I told Sr. Edmonda how unhappy I was, and how my mother had suggested I return to the Church. She spoke very kindly and at great length to me, suggesting that I go to Confession and giving me the name and phone number of a priest she recommended.

That was all very cool. But the first hint of the spiritual balm to which I referred earlier came the very next day. It was twenty-four hours later, I was back in my normal world, wondering if I would ever call the priest, wondering if she had cast some kind of spell on me to make me feel drawn to take up the practice of religion again, when I wasn't even sure that God existed or that Jesus Christ was anything other than a man. The phone rang. It was Sr. Edmonda. She spoke so kindly to me again, and so seriously about what we had talked of the day before, that I could hardly believe it. In my world, feelings changed from day to day. You might get enthusiastic about something one day, and you might have a great talk with somebody about it
fueled perhaps by alcohol or potbut you certainly wouldn't make reference to it again the very next day. I was not in Kansas anymore!

Reading St.
Thérèse's words had the same effect on me. Here was somebody else, writing effusively about the supernatural world as if it were real, as if it were something that anybody could attain to. By 1974 I was fully back in the Church. I had experienced an encounter with Jesus Christ that to me was as shocking and unexpected as St. Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus. I had promised the Lord earlier that even though I didn't really believe in Him ,  I would act as if I did, and wait for Him to reveal himself to me. When he did, I was ALL IN.

So why am I writing about this now? Because I am looking now towards the end of my life. I will turn 70 in six months. Life expectancy was 70.7 years for women in North America in 1949, the year I was born.  We are healthier and living longer now than ever before, but life expectancy for a woman in North America in 2019 is still 78.7 years. (In 2018 it was 80 years, so for reasons that are still under debate life expectancy in North America has taken a turn for the worse.)

For the past 14 months, my adult children and I have been playing a game of trading houses, as various families took turns preparing their houses for sale and moving in to our home temporarily. Now at last, Bill and I are living in a beautiful in-law suite with one daughter and her family, while a son and his family prepare to buy our home. We have a small second home in Alabama three doors down from another daughter and her family. Our adult children and our 21 grandchildren have become the pinpoint focus of our lives.

And once again, I find myself excited by the idea of becoming a saint. Over the years, while I never forgot my initial excitement over St. Thérèse's example of setting and attaining a supernatural goal, my goals diffused into many different areas of spiritual life and activity, none of which I regret. The discovery of the Pauline charism at the turn of the millenium, almost 20 years ago, was another highlight of my spiritual journey. And the writings of Blessed Alberione and Mother Thecla manifest the same singularity of purpose as do St. Thérèse's and those of every saint.

The difference is that the future is scary, scarier than ever. My mind is not as sharp as it once was. My energy is easily tapped out. My health is fair, but my body betrays me like all aging bodies betray their owner-occupants. Death approaches. I can feel it all around me. I attend more funerals than ever. And Jesus seems content, to use a metaphor of St. Thérèse, to keep me as a ball tossed aside for awhile while he plays with other toys.

And out of all of this, the desire has arisen again. I want to be a saint. But how?? These days, I think about Christ crucified more than ever before. I watch my children go through the crucifixions of life and it hurts; I can't bear the thought of the same thing happening to my beautiful and innocent grandchildren. 

All I can do is put one foot after the other and trust in the Lord Jesus. He always comes through. It is a surety that I experience over and over again, no matter how many times I forget.

And I forget a lot. Come, Lord Jesus. I give up trying to figure it all out and I accept I am powerless except to scatter flowers where I can. It is back to basics for me. Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life, make me a saint.

[i] I suspect she didn't comprehend fully that Maria Goretti's previous piety, concern for the soul of her murderer, and forgiveness of him as she lay dying were all important factors in her canonization. I think she saw it as a glorification of virginity as if the Church thought that rape would "sully" a young girl.

Rae Stabosz made her Promise to be a Pauline Cooperator in 2003. She loves being a part of the Pauline Family. 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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Gospel of....

I was reading an article in The Atlantic the other day and was completely caught off guard. The first section of the article was entitled "The Gospel of Work". I had a hard time getting past that line, let alone past that section. It has gnawed at me, how could someone write about "The Gospel of Work"?

What does Gospel mean, after all? To me, it has always meant the Good News with the understood message of Good News from Christ. Even if you look it up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary the meaning is "the message concerning Christ, the kingdom of God, and salvation". Of course, if it is capitalized it means the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 

If we dig deeper, the term originated from the Greek "evangelion" which simply meant "good news". Even Bishop Barron reflected in his Easter homily that Ceasar sent messengers with "evangelion" about his conquests. As Bishop Barron continued to explain, the Apostles usurped these words for their Christian message.

Yet, how could someone possibly write about a "Gospel of Work"? Are they usurping the language all over again? When I calmed down enough to actually read the article, I realized that the author was suggesting that people worship different things these days; from beauty, to politics, to work. The author poses that everyone worships something, just what is that something? By referencing the "Gospel of Work", the author suggests that work, beyond just economic, is "…also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose".

Maybe I should not be surprised. Our culture is no longer Christian, let alone Catholic. Even for those who say they are Catholic, only 20% go to mass every week according to the 2018

CARA Report.

How have we, as society, gone so astray? How is it that people are worshipping beauty or work instead of God? The author offers all sorts of thoughts from economic pressures to government regulations. I wonder if it is not simpler than that. Perhaps it is that people have become so self-absorbed that they don’t take time for God. So, the "gospels" that our culture lives by now reflect people's individual desires, their "new religion".

We, those associated with the Daughters of St. Paul, know what the Gospel of Christ is, what it means and its centrality to our lives and purpose. This gift we have is meant to be shared, to help others learn that their Gospel is not in their work or their beauty or their power, but in the good news of Christ. That is our deep calling, to bring the light of Christ to the world. Perhaps that is why the article scared me so. It pointed out how much work we need to do. It is impossible to imagine that people live a "gospel" of work or of "beauty" or of "power". And yet, I know they do.

As we reflect during this Easter season on the mercy and love of God, I reflect too on how I found my way to the Daughters and a place where we can share the true Gospel with the world. The gift of Christ’s resurrection is that he opened the doors to salvation for all of us. In a world that is trying to reframe what Gospel means, we are called to inform, to awaken and to shine a light on the true Gospel. Blessed James Alberione understood this when he started the order and we are asked to continue this important work.

As if I didn’t realize before, I truly know now, that the road is steep; because in national, major magazines, articles are being written that are reinforcing the idea of gospel of other things such as work. But our charism is clear, it includes "communicating Christ to the world in the field of social communications in the spirit of St. Paul."

As that Atlantic article pointed out to me, a starting point for that work is making sure people understand what the gospel of our Lord truly is!


The once international corporate marketing executive is now an author and speaker who encourages people to live radiantly, letting God shine through them. Donna A. Heckler was blessed with a prominent career serving multi-billion dollar organizations with names you know. Recognized as a thought leader in brand and marketing strategy, she is co-author of the book The Truth About Creating Brands People Love.
Donna penned the acclaimed book Living Like A Lady When You Have Cancer after her stage 3 cancer diagnosis. She worked through her treatments but worked even more at trying to live radiantly every day.

Donna’s next book "Marketing God: Inspired Strategies for Building the Kingdom" is due out August 2019 by publisher OSV and is a crash course for those passionate about their faith and looking for ways to share it effectively.  God now takes a front seat in Donna’s life as she shares her journey, her beliefs, her faith in her writing and speaking. Donna reminds us to sit quietly with God and to live radiantly despite what is happening in our lives, with God shining through every day.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Evangelization, Work, and The Workplace

The spirituality of work is innate to man and continues to have a profound impact on society and culture today. The Bible gives us important information in the order that events occurred in creation.

FROM THE BIBLE … Mankind, made in the image and likeness of God, was assigned as stewards of creation. Humanity possesses the means to support and maintain God's creation and our society (Gen 1:26). (A Spirituality of Work: The World of Work Committee; Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. 2001.) Work opens the door for humanity to enter into God’s continuing work of creation through our ministry of stewardship (Gen 1:28-30).

For more than 100 years, the Catholic Church has served as the leading "thinker" on the spirituality of work. In May 1891, in response to the Industrial Revolution, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum (Of The New Things). This encyclical focused on "the rights and duties of capital and labor." It also shaped Christian thinking on working-class issues and the rights of workers thereby establishing Catholic thinking on the human person and human dignity.
Some 90 years later, in September 1981, Pope John Paul II gave us Laborem Exercens ("Through Work"), another encyclical on the spirituality of work. Pope JPII introduced the notion that work was more than an economic commodity and not just an essential activity for survival. Based on a scriptural argument, this encyclical validates work as truly essential to our human nature.

CAREER AND SPIRITUALITY …Today two ideas highlight the connection between spirituality and career. First, nearly everyone works somewhere. They do it almost everyday, and even those who don’t work outside the home enter the workplace of other people routinely. The workplace truly is an important part of contemporary culture and society.
Second, work was important to Jesus. Though He could have been anything, He was a carpenter. Furthermore, He chose His disciples from the working class. A surprisingly large number of passages from the Gospel and New Testament attest to the importance of the workplace in the salvific work of Jesus Christ.
Spirituality is woven into careers, jobs, work and employment in ways that cannot be ignored or denied.

In the academic world, there are a growing number of theories used to explain what "career" is and how people find (discern) their careers (vocations). These theories include ideas such as:

Life as Career — everything we do is part of our career leading to discussions about priorities and balance in life.
Competing Roles — people seek career satisfaction in work roles that enable them to express their identity and self-concept.
Trait-and-Skills — certain aptitudes and interests attract us to our life's work. 
Happenstance and Circumstance — "stuff happens." Career and life flow from that stuff.

While academia does not connect career in any obvious way to faith, it does point to the existence of something outside the human person (and often beyond our control) that influences career pathways and decisions.

CONCLUSION …The spirituality of work is rooted in creation. Our work connects us dynamically to a working God. As stewards of His creation, our work demonstrates the human person and our human dignity

Work was important to Jesus. It also played an important role in the rapid spread of the Gospel for the early church. As Paulines sharing the Gospel with the world, we should remain mindful of the impact work and the workplace have on people, society, and culture. The workplace was important for evangelization in the time of Jesus and St. Paul, and it has powerful potential today too.

In Christ!

After a career in the military, Frank and Beth Lengel started a business 30 years ago to train career advisers and help people discover their life’s purpose and work. Frank uses caricature as a way of encouraging others to think about their true identity. The couple is also active in the "Catholic Roads" apostolate where they enjoy traveling together, writing, drawing, and meeting lots of wonderful people. Beth and Frank are all about the “shrines, wines, and interesting people" of life and want the whole world to know that it's really cool to be Catholic! They have two sons and six wonderful grandchildren. Beth and Frank live in South Carolina and plan to make their first promise this June (2019).

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Meet Maria Siciliano, Pauline Cooperator from Culver City, CA

I, Sr. Marie James, have a new role in Boston as Publisher of Pauline Books and Media.  I flew to Boston for training just after New Year’s Day and left all of my packages in Metairie, Louisiana. One of our Pauline Cooperators in Los Angeles, Maria Siciliano, offered to accompany me on a road trip from Louisiana to Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.  It was a fun filled 1,700 plus miles through the South, and fortunately, I have family in the Atlanta, Georgia and the Raleigh, North Carolina areas and together with our Sisters in Alexandria, Virginia, we found hospitality and much-needed rest as we stopped!

Maria Siciliano, Pauline Cooperator
During our road trip, I decided to interview Maria and write this blog article about her experience as a Cooperator on the West Coast.  Maria made her promises as a Pauline Cooperator in the chapel of the Daughters of St. Paul in Culver City, California in November 2014.  She came to know of the mission of the Pauline Family when she started to frequent the Pauline Books and Media Center in Culver City around 2008.  I became the local superior and Cooperator formator in Culver City in 2011 and invited Maria to join the Cooperator formation group.  Maria said that the highlight of her period of Cooperator formation was sharing with the other lay members of the group and hearing how the Pauline charism was lived by them.  For example, Maria was inspired by Christin Jezak, a Pauline Cooperator and actress in Hollywood.  Christin has a prayer ministry with others in her profession, and Maria is always eager to hear Christin’s testimonies which show her dedication and commitment.

Pauline Cooperator Promises in the Culver City Chapel
I asked Maria about her experience with the Pauline spirituality and mission.  She said that she now has a deepened awareness of being Christ for others and living the Pauline Christian life as a lay woman in the world.  She brings her gifts as a writer and editor to the Pauline mission.  Maria is currently co-facilitating the Cooperator formation program with Sr Mary Jerome in Culver City.  Last summer, she attended the Media Literacy Certification Program offered by the Pauline Center for Media Studies. During this program, she was inspired by Sr. Nancy Usselmann, the program director, to begin an online master’s program in theological studies at Newman University in Kansas.  She decided to enroll in order to deepen her knowledge of the Catholic faith and be better prepared to teach incoming Cooperators.  She hopes to be an apologist in the world integrating her life more and more with her Catholic faith.

Maria with a group of international Pauline Cooperators in Rome, May 2018
Maria joined 17 U.S. representatives for the closing of the 100th anniversary year of Pauline Cooperators in Italy.  When I asked her about her overall impression of the experience, she said it was phenomenal to join 270 International Pauline Cooperators on pilgrimage to our Pauline sites and to be with them in conferences, meals, and prayer times together.  She said it was moving to hear their stories and see how they were making a difference as Pauline Cooperators in their respective countries. The Cooperators from Africa were especially inspiring because they have courage to be Catholic where Christianity is the minority religion.  Their witness encouraged Maria to step out in faith as a Cooperator. She also appreciated seeing Fr. Alberione and Mother Thecla’s simple beginnings and marveled at how much they did with their lives by saying “yes” to God!

Maria with the USA Pauline Cooperators in Italy
In Los Angeles, Maria enjoys the Pauline feast day Masses and dinners with the Society of St. Paul, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, the Daughters of St. Paul, the Annunciationists, and other Cooperators.  The fellowship is a source of grounding and support for Maria.  The annual Cooperator retreats deepen her spiritual life and Maria stated that being a Pauline Cooperator provides a framework for her life. 

      Sr. Marie James and Maria Siciliano

Maria’s hope for the future of the Pauline Cooperators is that they will grow in numbers and that more interaction with cooperators will take place on a regional level.  For example, perhaps the Pauline Cooperators in Culver City can find a way to get together with the Pauline Cooperators in Menlo Park.  Maria has a long-term goal to learn Italian well so that when there is another International meeting of Cooperators in Italy, she can participate more fully by communicating in Italian.

Sr. Marie James Hunt entered the Daughters of St Paul community in 1981. She is currently missioned in Boston, MA where she is the Publisher for Pauline Books and Media.  Sr. Marie James is also assisting Sr. Fay Pele, Provincial Councilor, with the National Office for Pauline Cooperators.