Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Called To Be What We Are

In Jesus Paul saw the fulfillment of the invitation: “Be holy as I am holy” 
“When Paul was absent, he wrote you letters, and if you study them carefully, you will be able to be built up into the faith that has been given to you, ‘which is the mother of us all’ (Gal 4:26)....” 
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna to the Philippians 3:2-3 (60-159 A.D.)

Paul still encourages us after all these years. Each time we prayerfully read his letters we find them “alive and active” (Heb. 4:12); activating our holiness and alive with the graces we require. At the beginning of the fifth chapter of Ephesians, Paul invites us to “Be imitators of God” (5:1). Through his letter to the Corinthians he tells us we are holy and he addresses us as such: “To the holy ones…called to be holy” (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul knew that we are already created in God’s image and likeness (Gn. 26-27).  He also knew that we fall short of being the image of God (Rm. 3:23). In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asks us to “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:8). Fr. Norm Langenbrunner explains:
“The Greek word Matthew uses is teleios, often translated as perfect. Paul uses the same term in First Corinthians where it is translated as mature(2:6) and complete(13:10). Mature implies ‘full growth. Is this what Jesus is implying? The Hebrew word for teleios is ta’am ‘to be complete, be duplicated, to be a twin.’  Jesus is urging us to be a spitting image of the Father. God’s completeness far surpasses a human’s. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is saying ‘Grow up! Go for it! Be all you can be!’ We’ll never be as perfect as God but we can be complete.”
In Jesus Paul saw the fulfillment of the invitation: “Be holy as I am holy”  (Lev. 19:2). Paul remembered the promises God made through the prophets:  “I will pour out my spirit” (Ezek. 29:39; Zech. 12:1). All of God’s promises find their yes, their fulfillment, in Jesus. God is faithful, good, true, and beautiful and brings all to life; Jesus reveals God’s love and what it means to be fully human. “Yes” has always been in Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 1:18-22).  To become what God is calling us to become, we live in the manner Jesus did. When we are faithful we reflect God’s glory. To make that possible, God has established, anointed, and sealed us with the Spirit.

In Chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes this good news as the Spirit poured into our hearts. The nature of love is to spill over. The Spirit, according to Paul, is God within us speaking the language God understands. Our very identity is the temple of the Spirit where God dwells (Church). Benedict XVI writes: 
“If Christ Himself is inside me and I inside him, the two of us are not separate individuals. This is where the doctrine of the Body of Christ begins, because we are all incorporated...in Christ Himself.”
Live in us so that we may
overflow with you
 and radiate you.
We can know the truth about ourselves and the truth about others in Jesus’ attitudes and way of being (cf. Caritas in veritate). “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). This is an empowerment of the Spirit. Blessed Alberione's Invocations to Jesus Master contains this petition for holiness: “Jesus, Way of holiness, make me your perfect imitator. Jesus Way, render me perfect as our Father in heaven. Jesus Truth, may I be light for the world. Jesus Life grant that I may live eternally in the joy of your love.” 

Lectio Divina Praying with the Word of God

TRUTH. Read Eph. 4:11-13. Blessed Alberione tells us that without Christification there is no authentic proclamation: “Your own identity with Christ is the indispensable premise for being able to preach. The entire Pauline life and mission is an act of proclamation” (Fr. Silvio Sassi, S.S.P.).

WAY. Meditate:  The Vatican II document Lumen gentium confirms our call to reflect God’s holiness. Through each of us the Church makes Christ present. The same Spirit who anointed Jesus has anointed us – we have been “Christed” or christened at Baptism as priest, prophet, and shepherd-king. The word “anointed” (Greek: Christos “the anointed one”) appears six times in reference to Jesus in the New Testament. In Lk. 4:21 Jesus quotes Scripture saying that he is the awaited Christ: “God has anointed me…this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” In the letters of Paul the word “anointed” appears once and in reference to our anointing. “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1: 22).

LIFE. Pray: Christening, also known as Baptism, literally means “to bring to Christ.” Let us thank God for the gift of Baptism and the indwelling Spirit of God.

LIVE. Act:  The first work of the Pauline and the first task of the Pauline Family is to be an image of the Father in the Son, the image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15) through the Spirit. This conformity to the Master is our response of love to the love coming from the Father: “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Rom. 8:5).

Prayer
Jesus Master, we thank you for having made yourself our model. You left us examples of the highest perfection. You invite us to follow you on earth and in heaven. We contemplate you during your earthly life. We place ourselves in your school. Draw us to you. Fill all our powers with yourself. Spill your love into us. Live in us so that we may overflow with you and radiate you. (cf. Blessed James Alberione, Prayers of the Pauline Family).
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Sr. Margaret Kerry celebrates 40 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), Sr. Margaret is working on a young adult book. You can reach her at mkerry@paulinemedia.com.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenten Tune-Up

At this time of year our thoughts turn to how we will walk this 40-day Lenten journey with Christ toward Jerusalem, the cross and resurrection. People often ask “What are you giving up for Lent?” While the notion of self-mortification for purification of the body and spirit is useful, we find that it’s sometimes too easy to get trapped into viewing Lent through a negative lens of denial, when it has the potential to offer us so much more growth. Then there’s the perennial problem of what to give up? Unhealthy habits, a quick tongue, unedifying media use, a prayer life in a bit of a rut?  Of course, we all have areas where we can do better, but where to begin?

At the McMillan homestead his year, we’re approaching the Lenten season by tuning up our Pauline car. In Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae, Blessed Alberione summed up Pauline spirituality neatly by using the example of a car (actually, back then it was a “cart”) that runs on four well-balanced wheels:
“The whole person in Jesus Christ, in view of loving God completely by means of one’s intelligence, will, heart and physical strength. Nature, grace and vocation: everything for the apostolate. A cart that runs on the four wheels of sanctity, study, apostolate and poverty.” 
By focusing our spiritual, intellectual and physical energies to grow in these four aspects of our spirituality we follow God’s will for all Paulines to make Christ the Divine Master, Way, Truth and Life ever more visible in the world. This is an excellent way for us to grow in communion with Christ and in our Pauline vocation—an excellent touchstone for examining our progress and making resolutions to improve as faithful Paulines.

The first wheel, sanctity, refers to our prayer life, which includes any obligations or promises of prayer we may have made, the frequency with which we seek this intimate communication with God, and the quality of our prayer. By quality, we mean sincerity, openness, vulnerability…in essence, the love behind our prayer. Is there some aspect of our prayer life that could use some attention this Lent?

The second wheel, study, gets at what Blessed Alberione called the sanctification of the mind, seeking communion with “the mind of Christ”(1Cor 2:16). Study and meditation on the Gospels and the letters of St. Paul are important for all Paulines, but we might also consider other types of intellectual growth. This could be professional development in our careers, learning a new skill or even starting a formal academic program of study toward a degree. Whatever it is, its goal is sanctity and the apostolate.

The third wheel, apostolate, is the personal testimony we give to those we encounter. As Pauline Cooperators you have a very tangible apostolate of evangelization, but again, we can think more broadly: How well do we personify Christ in our apostolate of life, in the family, at work, in our parish, and to the strangers we meet? As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always, and, if necessary, use words.” How do our lives preach what we believe as living testimony of our faith?

The fourth wheel, poverty, has a particular Pauline meaning when used by the Founder. We lay Paulines cannot forego the burdens of financial obligations and money management, but we should always strive not to become overly attached to riches, lest we end up as the young man in Matthew 19:24 who walked away sad when our Lord told him that, to reach heaven, he needed to let go of all his wealth. For lay Paulines we should seek the proper administration of the blessings and talents we have been given, remembering to put them, along with our lives, at the service of God’s kingdom. We have to make provisions for the future, provide for our children, and make a decent home within the scope of our possibilities, but we must ensure we are not enslaved by what should be a means to an end and is too often an end in and of itself in this world. Do we show our gratitude by giving the Lord the first fruits of our labor?

Stations of the Cross, Lourdes, France
We’re making a special effort this Lent to return to a practice we found very helpful in the early days of our Pauline life: the joint evening examination of conscience. While we typically conduct our examinations individually during the day, as spouses we’ve found it incredibly enriching to come together for our evening prayers and voice our examinations of conscience before God and each other. Hearing each other place before the Lord all that we had attempted, and perhaps failed at doing during the day, as well as the joys and stumbles we had along the way, never fails to bring us closer to one another, and helps heal any discord that may have arisen between us during the day. (It’s hard to carry a grudge when God is present, while your spouse expresses remorse for an unkind word or action.) This practice helped us weather many storms in the early years of our marriage, and got us through many sorrows together over the years.

If you really want to step things up this Lent, we invite you to consider praying and meditating the Founder’s “Heroic Act of Love” in our prayer book. It is a wonderful example of the paradox of the wisdom of God and folly of man that so often trips us up. Can we truly mean what we ask for in this prayer? It’s a wonderful subject for a Eucharistic Visit during Lent or a reflection after the Stations of the Cross. Of course, the “Secret of Success,” also in the prayer book, turns to the Master Mechanic to keep the four wheels aligned.

May the Lord share the extraordinary riches of his grace (Eph 2:7) with you this Lent.

Credit: Images downloaded from Flickr and used under Creative Commons License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.
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Jim and Luisa McMillan are perpetually professed members of the Holy Family Institute, which they entered in Colombia in 2000. They reside in Colorado, where they work as translators and interpreters. They have three daughters ranging in age from 13 to 30 and are expecting their first granddaughter in April.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Movies for Lent

As I write this blog post, Lent is just around the corner, and by the time you read it, Lent will be here! Lent is a time for walking closely with Jesus. We are invited by the readings at Mass to look deep within to see where we could re-align our life so that it reflects more of his life.

Here at Pauline Books and Media in Culver City, we offer monthly Movie Bible Nights. During Lent we offer Lenten Film Retreats at local parishes. Just as we can learn from reading and reflecting on Scripture, a spiritual book, or a life of a saint, so too can we learn from watching a movie and reflecting on it with others.  Perhaps a Movie Bible Night or a Lenten Film Retreat could assist you on your Lenten journey.  Maybe you would like to lead a Movie Bible Night in your parish or with your family and friends.

Last year, one of our sisters stationed here in Culver City, Sr. Jennifer Tecla, prepared the monthly Movie Bible Nights by choosing a theme for the year – “The Social Teachings of the Catholic Church.”  She found Scripture passages to accompany each theme and chose a movie that showed the social teachings in action.  For example, in November she chose the Social Teaching about the “call to participation,” and the movie that paired with the teaching was The Butler.  She then selected the Scripture passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col. 3: 12-14). 

The format for a Movie Bible Night is as follows:
1. Open with a prayer and the reading of the Scripture passage;
2. Introduce the movie and invite the audience to watch closely for themes on the “Call to Participation” (or whatever theme is chosen for that week);
3. Watch the movie;
4. Take a 10 minute break;
5. Return as a group for a sharing on prepared discussion questions;
6. Close with a prayer.                                      

This year we were invited to lead a Lenten Film Retreat again at St. Augustine’s Church in Culver City. Two years ago we used the movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez.  It shows the journey of four pilgrims walking “the Way” to St. James in Campostela, Spain. On the first night of the Lenten Film Retreat, we watched the movie together as a group. We also provided a Lenten display of books, movies and music for sale during the retreat. The following four weeks, we returned to St. Augustine’s for group sharings about the film using clips from The Way and prepared discussion questions. The booklet of discussion questions was prepared by Sr. Rose Pacatte. Because these retreat times were in the evening, the parish provided soup and bread.  We called it a “Lenten Soup and Cinema Retreat.”  Throughout the retreat we provided symbolic items that tied in with the movie such as rosaries, Bibles, holy water, shells, etc. We were also able to offer the retreat in both English and Spanish by preparing the materials ahead of time and having a translator from the parish work with us.  This year we will be using the movie The 100 Foot Journey.

If any of you are interested in leading a Movie Bible Night or a Lenten Film Retreat, please contact me at srmjames@aol.com and we can assist you with details, suggestions, and prepared discussion questions. Don't worry if you don't have a formal media literacy background. A working knowledge of the Bible and of the faith are important. Most people have watched enough movies to offer a thought or two on how a film connects with the Word of God. What's important for you as an organizer is the ability to moderate a discussion or find someone to help you.

What are your favorite movies to see during Lent?  Here are some answers from local Southern California Pauline Cooperators:

Maria Siciliano recommends The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur.  She says:
“In Ben Hur, our protagonist, played by Charlton Heston, has a brief and amazing encounter with Jesus on the cross.  You can feel the powerful spiritual connection that takes place between them during those moments. Both movies show the power of God over man - even though Moses (in the Ten Commandments), initially a powerful Egyptian prince, is cast down when his Jewish identity is revealed.  He rises higher than any earthly prince because of the strength and power of God. It's interesting because both stories involve princes (both played by Charlton Heston) who lose their earthly powers, but come back with God's help to be princes in God's kingdom”.
                                                                             


Shellie DiSpirito likes to watch Philomena during Lent because it is a compelling story about a mother finding out the truth about her son who was given up for adoption.  It is a story of forgiveness and reconciliation. She also recommends The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Shellie says, “I like this story because the main character was able to travel back in time but also return to reality,  The movie demonstrates how life goes on in the midst of difficulties.”

Irene Inonog loves to watch Passion of the Christ during Holy Week each year.  She says that it helps her “enter into the experience of Holy Week in a deeper way by reminding [her] in image what Jesus suffered out of love for us.” She also enjoys watching Leonardo Defilippis’ production of John of the Cross, because he was a saint who longed to be with God and he endured the dark night of the soul with great faith, hope and love.




_____________________
Sr. Marie James Hunt entered the Daughters of St. Paul community in 1981 from Alexandria, VA. She received her M.A. in human resources from DePaul University in 2003 and served as provincial councilor of the Daughters' US/ESC province from 2008-2011. She is missioned in California, where she is the manager of the Pauline Books and Media Centers in Culver City and San Diego. Sr. Marie James is also the West Coast Coordinator of the Pauline Cooperators.



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Broken Bread That Ever Nourishes

Multiplication of the loaves and fish, Ambrosius Francken
When Jesus multiplied the famous loaves and fishes to feed the crowds who were in a lonely place, it wasn’t part of a campaign against world hunger.

Today, because our western world—for the most part—is so engrossed in itself, something like two-thirds of humankind are under nourished.  Sadly, the well-fed part of the world, the part technologically best equipped to provide food for all, is also the so-so Christian part.

But there are deeper and different kinds of hungers out there which can’t be met or glossed over by technology.   If casual attention is given to the physically starving, how much less is directed to lives hungering for meaning, for caring, for knowing the charity of God. When Jesus refused to send the people away without giving them something to eat, this somehow was to offer them the bread of love and to parallel the Eucharist—the sign of self-offered love.

Referring to the multiplication account, the Gospel of St. Luke tells that on this day...
“It was late in the afternoon when the twelve came to [Jesus] and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms nearby to find lodging and food, for we are in a lonely place. But He said to them, ‘You give them something to eat!’ And they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.’…Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people” (Lk. 9:12-13, 16).
Andrew had discovered a lad with five barley loaves and two little fishes. (Probably a boy out for the day whose mother had packed him a picnic lunch...but was attracted by the huge crowd. )   Barley bread was the bread of the poor.  The fishes wouldn’t have been bigger than sardines. (Pickled fish from Galilee was known throughout the Roman empire.)

This great miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes foreshadowed the Eucharist , which would become the never ending nourishment of Jesus’ followers, generation after generation, the dwelling of the Lord among his own until the end of time.

It’s interesting that Jesus orders the disciples to feed the crowd.  The over-sized crowd, whom Jesus had welcomed, taught and ministered to, were not to be dismissed.  Rather, the Apostles and disciples themselves were to find and give food to them, whatever their number.  In no way were they to pull back from what he expected them to do.

His persistence speaks to us.  It underlines how those who are called have an ongoing responsibility to nourish faith communities—as we are so often reminded by the lives of St. Paul and our own Father Alberione. Growth and development of mission are not grounds for hesitation or exasperation.  With Jesus’ help and guidance, they are problems to be faced and, with undaunted faith, responded to.

Some time ago, Pauline Books & Media came out with a splendid book by the extraordinary Vietnamese Archbishop Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope: The Spiritual Exercises of Pope John Paul II.  It told the story of his thirteen years’ imprisonment in solitary confinement soon after a Communist regime took over his country. It is a narrative that has done very much in promoting devotion and understanding the broken bread that is the Eucharist. The Pope at that time, now St. John Paul, was deeply impressed with Van Thuan’s faith and tenacity during his terrible ordeal. Once he was freed, the Holy Father invited him to lead the annual Lenten retreat held in the Vatican. Here is an excerpt from one of the sermons he gave during that retreat, with the Holy Father present:
“When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands.  The next day, I was permitted to write to my people in order to ask for the most necessary things: clothes, etc.   I wrote: ‘Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach ache.’  The faithful understood right away. They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, ‘Medicine for Stomach Aches’. They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity. The police asked me, ‘You have stomach aches?’  ‘Yes.’  ‘Here’s some medicine for you.’

“I will never be able to express my great joy!  Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass.  This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body, ‘Medicine of immortality, remedy so as not to die but to have life always in Jesus,’ as St Ignatius of Antioch says.

“Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the Cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice.  Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and myself through his blood mixed with mine.  Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life! 

“At 9:30 pm we had to turn off the lights and everyone had to go to sleep. It was then that I would bow over the bed to celebrate the Mass by heart. I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net.  Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst....

“Thus, in prison, the Eucharist became for me and for the other Christians a hidden and encouraging Presence in the midst of all our difficulties.  Jesus was adored secretly by the Christians who lived with me, just as happened so often in other prison camps of the twentieth century.”
_____________________________
Reminder: February 18 is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
_____________________________
Brother Aloysius Milella entered the Society of St. Paul as a candidate for the Brotherhood on the feast of St. Paul, June 30, 1946, and pronounced first vows in September 1948. Following his perpetual profession in 1953, he was assigned to the staff of the SSP family monthly, Catholic Home Messenger, published in Canfield, OH, where he would be engaged in its editorial and production sectors for 14 years. He worked briefly as the province’s vocation director, before serving as a member of the congregation’s governing body in Rome for the next 17 years.  After returning to the States in 1986, he was involved in book center ministry and then in administration, guiding its day-to-day apostolic fortunes in various communities. After a period in Dearborn, MI, he returned to Staten Island in 2012.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Whom Would You Give YOUR Life For?

The Sister (or Pious) Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM) continue to celebrate with joy the 90th anniversary of their congregation’s foundation (February 10, 1924). The first Pontifical Approval of the congregation was granted by Pope Pius XII on January 12, 1948. On the morning of that same day, Blessed Timothy Giaccardo, who had offered his life to God so that the PDDM would be recognized by the Church, thereby preserving the unity of the Pauline Family, celebrated his last Mass. The Lord accepted his oblation. Suffering from leukemia, Fr. Giaccardo died on Saturday, January 24.
 

Commemorating three events—his dies natalis, or the day of his birth into the fullness of eternal life, our 90th anniversary, and the Year of Consecrated Life, I am encouraged to share my vocation story – my call to belong to the PDDM.

In December 1966, a few days before Christmas, my father, Jose, underwent an exploratory operation at the North General Hospital in Manila. It was an “open and close” surgery. The doctors discovered that my father had cancer of the liver which had spread extensively. It was not possible for the medical team to take a biopsy for fear that my father would bleed to death. The surgeon advised my mother to call a priest and to give comfort care to my father who, at most, had three months to live. I cried all day and into night. And late in the night, I noticed that the light in my mother’s room was still on. I went to her room. I saw her kneeling and praying with her arms extended in the form of a cross. I told her that if God would heal my father, I would enter the convent.

Seven months after, my father was still alive. He had lost about 50 pounds and was skin and bones. He was itching from head to foot. His eyes were an ugly yellow, and his dark-yellowish skin was hanging loose. A friend suggested to my mother that she bring my father to the Manila Sanitarium Hospital, managed by the Seventh Day Adventists, and consult another cancer specialist. Before subjecting my father to another exploratory operation, the medical team prayed over my father. When they opened him up, they were amazed, for my father’s situation had completely changed. They were able to biopsy a piece of the liver. It revealed that my father had, not cancer, but tuberculosis of the liver! My father lived 30 more years.

In 1969 I was introduced to the PDDM congregation in Antipolo by our family friend Fr. Peter Barisoro, SSP, who was chaplain at the Divine Master convent. I entered the convent on May 3, 1970. The Divine Master chose me to belong to him completely and to serve him through the Eucharistic-priestly-liturgical apostolate. By divine grace, I responded to his call. The promise I made when I was a teenager certainly played an important part in my vocation story.

At present I am working as a missionary in the United States. It is beautiful and challenging to live a life of hiddenness, silence, prayer, and contemplation, to be a testimony of Christ’s kenosis, his self-emptying, and to confront the modern world with the truth that worship without sacrifice is self-destruction. Through the Lectio Divina apostolate, I break the “bread of the Word” and share it with the people of today through the Internet. I celebrated with my companions (Sr. Mary Claire, Sr. Mary Dorothy, Sr. Mary Jesusa, and Sr. Mary Joseph)  the 40 years of our religious consecration last December 8, 2014. I bless and thank the Lord for the gift of the PDDM vocation. I am grateful for the joy and peace that the Eucharistic Master gives me as I carry out my daily tasks with personal dedication and apostolic intention. May God give me the grace to participate intimately in the ultimate supper of the Lamb—in the awesome glory of the heavenly liturgy! May he grant the same stupendous grace to every Pauline.

Photo: Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP
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Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang, PDDM, finished her B.S. Pre-Medicine at the University of the Philippines and made her religious profession in the PDDM on December 8, 1984. She studied Liturgy at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute (St. Anselm) in Rome and was the Liturgy Coordinator (Program and Events Committee) during the World Youth Day ’95 in Manila. Now based in Fresno, she continues to prepare the Lectio Divina pastoral tools that could be accessed on their website: www.pddm.us. She is a recipient of the Pope’s award: Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our Conversion in the Power of the Word and Eucharist

"St. Paul Evangelizing" by
Sr. Elena Alvarez, PDDM
“Paul describes the work of the gospel in terms of the divine ‘word,’ referring to the powerful divine activity both in bringing people to faith and in transforming their lives” (N.T. Wright).

Each year our Pauline community sings a novena to St. Paul from January 16th to the 25th, honoring his transformation in Christ and praying for our own ongoing conversion.

Saul, persecutor of the Christian Church began calling himself Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, after his conversion. Born and raised in the city of Tarsus (Acts 21.39), a crossroads of the world, a great trade center on the Mediterranean, and a university town filled with young scholars and philosophers, Saul was a devout Jew (Phil. 3:5). He traveled to Jerusalem for his religious studies. As a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Phil. 3:5) his life’s dream was to “sit at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3) the most distinguished and revered living rabbi in his time.

This started Paul on the road to conversion. He alludes to it in Gal. 1:15-16: “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace....” At one point in his life, Saul resisted ongoing conversion. He became fundamentalist in his approach to followers of the Way of Jesus. He participated in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59) and persecuted the Church: “entering into every house, and hauling men and women out, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Even though Gamaliel taught him that God is the One who judges, Saul thought he alone heard the voice of God.

Paul attributes his striking religious conversion on the road to Damascus to God: “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 2:8). Religious conversion always results from a divine intervention. His initial conversion (Acts 9) sowed the seeds of his “continual conversion.” Paul became attentive to the need for conversion in every area of his life testifying that “the grace he has given me had not been without result” (1 Cor. 15:10).

The Word of God is also alive and active for our continual conversion. One of the key terms Paul uses is the Greek word energeō, “to be at work.” The Word, he says, is “at work” in you. N. T. Wright tells us that Paul “speaks of the powerful divine word as a transforming energy which, though unleashed through his own announcement of the Gospel, is much greater than the sum of his own words or his rhetorical skill. ‘We know,’ he says, ‘that God has chosen you, because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in full conviction’ (1:4-5).” In 1 Th 2:13 Paul develops the theme further. We always thank God, he says, “that when you received the word which you heard from us you received it, not as the word of human beings, but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you believers.”

Our Pauline chapel in the Los Angeles
Books & Media Center.
As testimony to this, we have written on the walls of all our Pauline chapels the words, “live in continual conversion,” sometimes translated “be sorry for sin.” Actually, the original Latin “Cors poenitens tenete” means “live with a penitent heart.” The exhortation to live in continual conversion is a core charismatic principle and belief of Pauline Christian living. This exhortation does not place emphasis on our efforts to avoid sin and live in conversion as it seems to do, but as a kind of covenant, or agreement between Jesus Christ and us. Our founder, Blessed Alberione received these words through revelation in a time of particular difficulty: “While examining all of his actions anew to see if there were impediments to the work of grace on his part, it seemed that the Divine Master wanted to assure the Institute, launched just a few years earlier…. In truth Jesus Master was saying: ‘Do not be afraid; I am with you; from here (pointing to the tabernacle with great emphasis) I want to enlighten. Live with a penitent heart’ (Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae: 151-152).”

St. Paul Celebrating Liturgy
So that the grace given us will not be without result, Alberione wrote, “[T]he secret of success is to model oneself on God by living in the Church and for the Church; of being wild olives grafted onto the olive tree, the Eucharistic Lord; of reflecting and nourishing oneself with every Word of the Gospel, in accord with the spirit of St. Paul” (Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae: 94-95). His prayer, “Jesus, live in our mind, will and heart, that we live in faith…unite us to you, incarnated sanctity, in whom is the divine life” (Until Christ Be Formed in You: 60) is one of trust that God’s Word and Eucharist, at work in us, transforms us into Christ (Gal. 2:20).
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Following is a suggested, 30-minute method for entering prayerfully into Paul's experience and allowing him to make it our own:

Lectio Divina 1 Corinthians 15:10

Lectio (Truth) Read 1 Corinthians 15:10, in which Paul presents us with a synopsis of his conversion and his correspondence to this grace. Pay careful attention to your inner response.

Meditatio (Way) Meditate on how St. Paul has captured the eternal struggle that we all go through in our call to conversion. “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15; 24-25). Blessed Alberione tells us of himself, “Here is a half-blind man, who is being led; and in moving along he is enlightened from time to time, so that he can proceed further: God is the light” (AD, 202).

Contemplatio (Life) Contemplate in the light of this passage. Christ’s redemptive death inaugurates the new creation: “By new creation, Paul means that God in Christ has created humanity anew, giving it newness of life” (Romans 6:4), a life in union with the risen Christ, “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), a life destined to share in the glory of God.  After encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus Paul uses the expression “to be,” or “to live in” Christ 164 times. Through baptism the resurrected, glorified Christ truly dwells within us (Galatians 2:20). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ brings about our ongoing conversion that we might live in him (Colossians 3:10).

Actio (Live) Act on God’s invitation. Paul admitted that he was still on the road to conversion: “I do not consider that I have made it my own, I strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Oratio (Pray) Live in us, Jesus, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that we may love you with our whole heart, love you with our whole mind, love you with our whole will, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Make us faithful witnesses to your Word.  May your grace in us be fruitful! (Cf. Blessed James Alberione)
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Sr. Margaret Kerry celebrates 40 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), Sr. Margaret is working on a young adult book. You can reach her at mkerry@paulinemedia.com.