Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Secret That Sister Assumpta Never Told Me!

I first met Sr. Assumpta Catalucci, FSP, at a “Birthday Party for Jesus” that she and the other Daughters of St. Paul had organized for their book and media center here in St. Louis.  She had never met my five children before, but she ushered them in from the blowing snow and warmed them instantly with her welcoming smile.  In what I would soon learn is her joyful, Energizer-Bunny-level energy, she led them to a life-size manger scene, where she helped Jeff Jr. dress as Joseph, Elizabeth as a Christmas Angel, John and Tom as shepherds, and Anne Marie as Mary.  All five gathered around Baby Jesus in the manger and had their picture taken.  Sr. Denise Cecilia brought out a huge sheet cake covered in thick, blue icing with the words, “Happy Birthday, Jesus” proclaimed boldly across the top.  The children all sat around Sr. Carmen Christi singing Christmas carols.  Finally, Sr. Assumpta pulled up a chair and read the Nativity story from Luke’s Gospel to us all.  The children were each given an individually wrapped present as they put their coats on to leave the warmth of the Pauline Books & Media Center.

I began to frequent the center more often to visit the chapel, talk with the awesome Sisters, and look for books for my wife and me and movies for the family.  Sr. Assumpta and the other Daughters of St. Paul seemed to know me well enough that they could always recommend a book that I needed at the time.  I talked about my family so often, that the Sisters frequently asked about each by name.  As my sons and daughters grew into adolescence and young adulthood, my paternal worries grew and multiplied.  I needed many more books from the psychology, self-help, spirituality, and I’m-so-confused-I-don’t-know-what-I-need sections of the bookstore.

I recall Sr. Assumpta one afternoon explaining to me that when she is not really sure where to find answers, she turns to Jesus in the Gospel and in the tabernacle.  She even shared with me a quote by Blessed Father James Alberione, the founder of the Pauline Family, which includes the Daughters of St. Paul and the Pauline Cooperators.  He advised, “When you are sad, open the Scriptures and you will find the passage that will console you. Do the same in times of doubt and fear. During every uncertainty or anxiety, the saints went to this font.”  My only serious voyages into the Gospel, other than hearing the readings at Mass, came from doing just that.  I was embarrassed to admit that I would just randomly pick a spot in the Bible, but if it was good enough for a beatified founder of a religious order, I was not as far off track as I thought.

After making longer visits to the chapel, praying more regularly, and becoming good friends with the blue nuns, I developed a true desire to not just know my Catholic faith better, but more specifically to know Jesus better.  The Sisters taught me that Pauline spirituality is not just knowing about Jesus, it’s simply knowing Jesus.  And when we know Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we cannot help but want to share him with the world.

One Advent, I discussed with Sr. Assumpta how I really wanted to read more to prepare for Christmas.  I asked her for recommendations about books, CDs, DVDs, or online Pauline blogs or podcasts that would help me to really know Christ better.  She recommended that instead of studying so much, I should set aside time during that Advent to sit quietly, in front of the Blessed Sacrament when possible, or even at home, and just listen to what the Divine Master has to teach me.  I was trying too hard to teach myself, when I simply needed to listen.  That was my best Advent ever.  And when Christmas arrived, Sr. Assumpta gave me the best Christmas present I have ever received – a beautiful black leather Bible to which she painstakingly and perfectly attached 73 index tabs, making it easy for me to find every book of the Bible.

We have several Bibles in our house, but Sr. Assumpta’s Bible sits on the table next to my chair in the family room.  The black leather cover is becoming well worn, as are many of the pages.  I read at least a little of it every day.  Sometimes I try to read an entire book through (from which I learned that St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is my favorite).  Sometimes I simply open to a random page and find myself amazed at how the words speak to my needs at the time.

Last Monday morning I sat in my chair, set my coffee on the coaster, and opened my Bible to begin reading John’s Gospel.  I was surprised not by the familiar words, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1), but rather by the realization of just how much I have come to love Sacred Scripture.  The Bible excites me and makes me want to share it with everyone.  I smiled as I wondered how Sr. Assumpta instilled in me such a love for the Gospel, and I immediately knew the answer.

Sr. Assumpta’s secret is that she never told me that I should read the Gospel.  Instead, she showed my family and me what it means to live the Gospel.  From sharing the Gospel message with preschoolers at a Birthday Party for Jesus to leading book studies and discussions for the octogenarians in the Senior Lecture Series, she loves the Word of God infectiously.  Her non-stop crazy-busy days, her inspirational advice, and her love of every neighbor are all ways she exemplifies a Gospel centered life to the world. So do all the Daughters of St. Paul.  They bring Jesus to each of us by living the Gospel every day of their lives and inviting us to share in their Gospel joy.

So in my prayer, I ask myself and Christ how I can do the same. That’s my secret. What’s yours?
Photos: Jeffrey E. Mathews

Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD, has been a Pauline Cooperator since October 11, 2009. He and his wife, Carolyn, live in St. Louis, MO, and consider themselves blessed to have three sons and two daughters, two of whom still live at home. Dr. Mathews, a gastroenterologist, has a love for languages. He has studied French and Chinese in the past and he is currently studying to become more fluent in Spanish.


Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

A great way to introduce the love of Scripture! Thanks for this "Pauline evangelization" piece of wisdom. Sr. Margaret Charles

Maryann Toth said...

Thank you, Jeff, for reminding us of the importance of listening and how our actions affect our evangelization efforts. Great article!