Because We Must Love One Another

At the end of our lives, what will matter? Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross tells us, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” But what is love?
When Christians talk about love, we’re not just talking about the thrill of an infatuation or the warm affection between spouses. “Love, first and foremost, demands commitment and sacrifice,” my parish priest reminded us on Sunday. God so loved the world . . . that what? He gave his only Son, knowing the man would be crucified for our sins, not His. God is that committed to us. God’s love never leaves us. And so we must pour out that love to others. It is a struggle to love my neighbors with the kind of effusive love God has for us.

One of the most stunning places I see this kind of love is with missionaries. Why would people, for example, forsake their home country and their families to tend to AIDS orphans in Phnom Penh? The picture here is of those children, who are cared for by Maryknoll Sisters, including Sister Mary Little. She says: There is something about these people that makes me not ever want to leave them. There is a text in the bible where God says, ‘You are engraved on the palm of my hand.’ Well, I feel the Khmer people are engraved on the palm of my hand, in my heart actually, and I can’t imagine being any place else.” 

But most of us are not called to the religious life and don’t work as missionaries. We have to walk the path of life God has set out for us, loving each person we encounter—in our families, in our neighborhoods, on a clogged freeway, or at the deli counter. As Christians, this is not optional. Sunday’s Gospel reading told us of Jesus’ Last Supper, when he gave his apostles a new commandment. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Loving as God loves us means loving our enemies, the people who have disappointed and betrayed us. It means understand that all the people we will ever encounter during our time on earth are redeemable and deeply loved by God. The Holy Eucharist, in particular, helps us to live out the memory of Christ on earth.We partake of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity. He becomes part of us. If we reflect on His sacrifice, we are compelled to act as Christ does. God, through His Church, helps to love as He does, and thus to follow the most difficult and radical of the ancient commandments.

“The Habit of Perfection” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Twice in the past week I said or wrote something deeply embarrassing—hurtful words about someone else that I have regretted with a stab in the heart. The first time was with someone very close to me. The second was in a recent post. In the first case, my embarrassment led to a reconciliation with the person involved: we have never been closer. It is too early to predict what will happen in the second case, but I’m praying about it. Meanwhile, I’ve taken a vow of silence.

Yeah, I know, you’ve probably heard that one before, especially if you know me personally or have hung around this virtual soapbox for any length of time. Like many people with a certain minor gift of eloquence, I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. I get too smart for my own britches, and my mouth runs all the same, and then I feel awful about it.

Which is why I’ve chosen another poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., for this week’s installment. I suppose it is about taking literal vows; but it has a lot to say to all of us, especially me, and right now.

The Habit of Perfection
Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shelled, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

Introducing the YIMCatholic Bookshelf

Back in January, I wrote a post named Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a title I borrowed from a book written by physicist Richard Feynman. The photo you see here accompanied that post. As I wrote then, finding things out about Catholicism is a pleasure for me.

It was probably late 2007 when I discovered Google Books.  There you will find previews of books, what they call “snippet views” or “limited previews” that have a clock running on them (I guess?) and missing pages. But there is also a category called “full view.” I really liked that because I could read the whole book for free! 

That and the fact that I’m frugal (cheap, broke, or stingy depending on who I’m dealing with). I hear Kindle is great and there is even an i-Phone Kindle application too.  But I have neither device, so they might as well not exist.  I also don’t have an unlimited budget for buying books either (stingy, er, frugal) whether hardbound, paperbound, or electronic.

To make a long story short, I noticed that I could “add” books to an electronic shelf over at Google Books. So I starting building it and promptly named it the YIM Catholic Bookshelf. I sent the link to Webster and in a split second, he put it in the sidebar as a “value-added” resource for those who happen to stop by our humble blog.

Here are a couple of things to share about the Bookshelf:

A) Only books available in “full view,” with every single page available for you to read, will ever rest on our shelf. So far there are over 300 volumes awaiting your perusal. And I am constantly adding to it as well (like just now during my lunch break).

B) The “library” is fully searchable. This is a handy feature that I used when I was doing the Divine Mercy Novena posts. Want to know about purgatory? Plug the word in the “search my library” box under the portrait of our patron, St. Joan of Arc, and instantly 60 books appear with a reference to “purgatory.” Within each book there may be as few as one citation or as many as 40 in any given volume. Give it a try!

C) You can search for a person, a place, or a thing in the entire library as well as individually in any single volume. Interested in converting to Catholicism? Search “Catholic converts” and thirty (count ‘em, 30!) volumes will pop up. Or maybe you are interested in the Rosary (40 volumes!), Augustine, Belloc, Baring, Benson, or Chesterton—all the way to Utopia. All points in between are at your disposal as well. Come and see! Just click on the portrait of Our Lord on the sidebar and find a comfy chair.

D) For the books that are no longer protected by copyright, you can click the “view plain text” button on any volume and cut and paste passages into your posts, e-mails, love letters, etc.  Just don’t forget your footnotes! You can also send a link to the the book, page, and even an exact paragraph of any book on the shelf to anyone with an e-mail address. Send it to someone around the world at the speed of light. Just fasten your seatbelt first!

Which leaves me wondering: What if there had been Google Books when I was going to college? Sheesh! And note this: I haven’t read every book that sits on the shelf. But I intend to spend a lifetime trying. And you can join me too, because at the YIM Catholic Bookshelf, the light is always on and we never charge “over-due” fees.

Now, if I could just figure out how to put a free Starbucks in here, it would almost be heaven.

It’s Only Rock and Roll II (Music for Mondays)

Happy Monday people! It’s raining in my neck of the woods, how about yours? I’ve come up with 5 religious (or near religious songs) that did well on the charts. They still sound good today too and always make me think of the divine. Some more than others for sure and maybe none of them for you. Either way, if nothing else, they may help you see that the divine is always at work and still breaks in upon the secular just to remind us of that fact.

Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, Crossroads. A cover of the classic written (and first performed by) Robert Johnson. Of course, the legend is that Robert Johnson, who rocketed to fame and then died at age 27, sold his soul to the Devil. I suppose we will all know the truth about that one day. In the meantime, these two have some good, clean,fun with the song that helped Cream make it into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy, save me if you please.

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The Police, Secret Journey. I always liked this tune by the Police. From their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine. The West frowns upon monks and figures they are wasting time and accomplishing nothing. Catholic Christians know better, right? Right!? A very unique sound that the Police (Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland) were known for.
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The Police again, and from the same album too. Spirits in the Material World. C.S. Lewis once said, “we are souls, we have bodies.” Forget theology for a few minutes and just enjoy the tune.
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George Harrison, My Sweet Lord. I know, I know, the chorus chants “hare Krishna” at the end. That doesn’t mean I have to! I just keep singing hallelujah instead.
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Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. If this doesn’t make you think of Our Lord, then I don’t know what will.

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

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Because of May Crownings

We Catholics dedicate the month of May to Mary, who is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Today at noon, for the first time in my 47 years, I participated in a May Crowning.

We Catholics do not worship Mary; we ask her to pray for us. To those who did not know her destiny, Mary probably seemed like an ordinary teenager when she became the Mother of God. And yet, Mary was the most extraordinary woman who ever lived. How wonderful that our Church cherishes the unique role she played in bearing and raising the Son of God and the Savior of our world. She kept her faith all the way to the foot of her son’s cross.

At the end of Mass, we choristers processed out of the church and into the humid spring air, singing “Immaculate Mary.” Ahead of us were the altar servers and our pastor. Following behind us were the children in the catechism program, their parents, and any parishioner who wanted to join in. C.J., a third-grade boy, carried the crowns of flowers on a lace pillow.

We left the church singing and were confronted with the sight of traffic moving along our town’s central avenue. We kept singing as we walked past the roar of the large air-conditioning unit on the side of the church and watched as some parishioners drove out of the parking lot. Finally, our troupe arrived at the parish prayer garden, which sits between the church and our parish center. The children laid flowers at the foot of the statue of Mary.

I couldn’t snap a photo of Emily, my friend’s daughter and designated coronator, putting the crowns of flowers on Mary and her infant Jesus because just then the choir had to sing “Regina Coeli,” an ancient Latin Marian hymn  But I did manage to snap a photo with my cell phone moments before the crowning.

I felt full of joy as I participated in this lovely devotion. The parish where I grew up abandoned it in the aftermath of Vatican II. In fact, I never even had heard of a May Crowning until I married my husband 17 years ago. Like me, Greg is a lifelong Catholic. Our current parish has revived this tradition, but for the last several years it has had to host it indoors because of rain. 

When the procession and the hymns and the crowning were over, our parish catechitecal leader lingered in the garden to readjust the crowns so they wouldn’t fall off. Such a simple act of devotion.

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To Keep My Mind Open, My Heart Too

There are Catholics and there are Catholics. I don’t mean conservatives and liberals, or Dominicans and Jesuits. I’m talking about Catholics who remain open to experience, because in that experience they may find beauty, they may even find Christ—and Catholics who are closed to experience, because they’re right enough as they are, thank you very much. I had a vivid demonstration of the difference yesterday, when our men’s group welcomed four members of Communion and Liberation (CL) from Boston and Cambridge.

They are four remarkable young Catholics: a doctor from the Massachusetts General Hospital; a Harvard Ph.D candidate and composer of music; his wife, a concert pianist; and a Ph.D candidate in philosophy from Boston College. Three are natives of Italy, one of Paraguay (though he moved to Kansas as a young child). Bright, articulate, and passionate about life—they are typical of the people I have met in CL. They are the kind of people you look at and think, I want to have that kind of passion for life!

What different responses they evoked from the 35 parishioners who came to hear them speak!

I won’t even talk about J. and M., who seemed so fascinated by what was said that they stayed after to learn more. Perhaps one or both will begin to take part in “The Movement.” Instead, I want to boast about my dear friend Carrie. (Yes, women were invited to this special session of our men’s group, a first. Next week the doors slam shut again! LOL) Carrie is in her mid-70s and does not exactly fit the CL demographic, where the average age is probably half hers, if that. Carrie is the sort of elder lady seen at daily Mass of whom an outsider might think, “What else can she do? She’s gone to Mass all her life, and she doesn’t know any other way. The poor dear probably doesn’t even think about it anymore.”

How wrong that outsider would be! After the hour-long discussion of CL, Carrie called me over. She had taken meticulous notes and there were a couple of points she wanted to clarify. She so desired to understand the particular charism of CL, that she asked me a couple of searching questions. When I had answered to her satisfaction, she twinkled a smile at me and said, “Thank you, I just wanted to understand. Thank you. God bless you. God bless you.” I was very touched.

Later in the day, I happened to be out walking when I ran into a friend whom I will call T. He is a good man, good husband, good father. T. was walking the dog with his wife, F. We stopped to talk and the first words out of T.’s mouth were, “I gotta tell you. I have no idea what that CL is about.” T. had sat through the same hour that Carrie and I had witnessed. He had all the same information, though not the same experience. When I rejoindered, “You could probably learn more from the CL web site. You know, there’s a great CL web site,” T. said, “I’m sure there is.” It was obvious that T. had no intention of checking out the CL web site.

I pondered this experience as I continued my walk home and later over dinner with Katie. T. is an admirable man and a devout, well-read Catholic. But it seemed to me that there was something a bit too certain about his point of view, almost as if he viewed the world from behind battlements: “I am a Catholic, I will defend Catholicism to the death, and I will not let pass anything that even smells of the unknown.”

There is a difference between the unknown and the unorthodox. If one took the time to study CL, one would discover that the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation was approved as a valid ecclesial movement within the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1982. (Founder Luigi Giussani began teaching in 1954. The photograph shows him with early students.) One would discover that the homilist at Don Giussani’s funeral was none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, our present Pope. One might even discover that our present Pope meets in weekly School of Community (the term for a CL meeting) with consecrated women of CL who manage the papal household.

But T. will probably never open his mind and heart far enough to appreciate the consequences of these facts, even if he is confronted with them. Which is why I saw little point in arguing with him, and when another dog came by to play with his dog, I used this opportunity to break off our brief conversation and wish T. and F. a pleasant evening.

The truly remarkable person in all this was my dear friend Ferde, because in Ferde I can see the tension between openness to experience and a limiting sense of rightness. To hear him speak sometimes, to exchange e-mails with him, you would think that Ferde must fall into the closed-minded camp. Ferde’s e-mail signature reads, “If the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be right.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt. Ferde is definitely in the “Catholic right or wrong” camp, but you see, that’s something else entirely. That’s upholding orthodoxy. An actor, a writer, and something of a free spirit for all his gruff righteousness, Ferde is orthodox and open.

Given that there are Catholics and there are Catholics, “Catholic right or wrong” necessarily has an expanded definition. Within the Catholic experience, within a full following of the Church and its doctrine, it is possible to be open- and closed-minded. Ferde’s mind is open, which is all the more remarkable because his eardrums are as good as closed.

I’m not telling any tales out of school here to write that Ferde has a congenital hearing deficit. So to sit for an hour listening to accented English, with his hearing aids turned up full, in a space with bad acoustics required an extraordinary effort. (Our upper church has the acoustics of an ear trumpet; our lower church is hushed like the catacombs.) Ferde made a concerted effort to understand, as difficult as that effort may have been for him, and when the hour was over, he was one of the few who asked a searching question of our four guests. As righteous as he may sound at times, Ferde’s desire for the truth is very much intact. This moved me. This impressed me. This showed me once again why Ferde has been such an important friend to me in the Church.

I thank my friends from The Movement for bringing this and many other insights to friends of mine in my home parish.

For All That is Seen and Unseen

I adore swimming in the ocean but I’m not fond of the beaches I must traverse to do so. I don’t like walking over the sand. And when I finish swimming, I don’t like the feeling of wet sand on my toes and legs. So maybe that’s why during a family vacation I hurried along the rocks and pebbles on Sunset Beach, New Jersey, to return to the family van. Thank God that Lucky, our then nine-year-old son, stopped me because he wanted to beach comb.

Something about this weekend’s crystalline sky evoked a memory of the vacation we took this time last year to Cape May County, New Jersey. As a child I spent my beach time in the northern reaches of that county in Stone Harbor and Avalon. With my own family last year we explored Cape May at the county’s southern end. We pretty much stumbled onto Sunset Beach after climbing to the top of both the Cape May Lighthouse and Fire Tower No. 23, a World War II lookout tower that once was part of the harbor defense of the Delaware Bay. We went to the beach to visit the submerged remains of  S.S. Atlantus, the most famous of twelve concrete boats the United States built during World War I. It sits submerged in the Delaware Bay off Sunset Beach. “It did not prove practical,” the historic sign on the beach says of the concrete ship.

Lucky wanted to linger. He was fascinated by the variety of translucent pebbles strewn across the beach in all shapes and colors, pebbles I scarcely had noticed. And so we squatted together in the sand, digging out and collecting black, white, and clear pebbles. It felt as if time had stopped just for us. He was so awed by the pebbles I was moved to talk to him about how God had designed and knew each one of them, the same way He had designed every person who ever had lived. I told my son how God loves all souls, in all our shapes, colors and sizes. We carried the pebbles back to the van and put them in a Mason jar found on the floor of the back seat. 
Only later did I discover that these pebbles are pure quartz and known as Cape May Diamonds. “The Kechemeche Indians were the first to find the fascinating and beautiful stones now known as Cape May Diamonds. The Indians came to believe that these curious stones possessed supernatural power bringing success and good fortune.” The strong bay currents against  the S.S. Atlantus throw thousands of these pebbles onto Sunset Beach. The pebbles’ origins lie thousands of years ago and 200 miles away in the upper reaches of the Delaware River.

That gift of  time suspended in time under a crystalline sky with my son makes me think of these opening lines from William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence”

To see a world in a grain of sand, 
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

For All the Saints: Joseph the Worker

Writing is not physically demanding, but try doing it every day for three or four hours. The first thing you have to accomplish is to put your body in the chair. (There are other saltier words for body.) Then you have to move your fingers, despite interference from your brain. One of my remedies for this laziness (which some glorify as “writer’s block”) is to read a prayer to St. Joseph each morning before I begin. It hangs over my writing desk.

The beautiful thing about the saints is, they are so connected to the practicalities of daily life. Lose something? Pray to St. Anthony. Have a particularly thorny problem? Think it’s hopeless? Call on St. Jude. Can’t write? Ring up St. Joseph the Worker, whose feast we celebrate today.

Many things link me to St. Joseph, beginning with my own father (long story). Two Catholic links are St. Teresa of Avila, who had a particular devotion to him; and Dorothy Day, who distributed the first edition of the Catholic Worker newspaper on May 1, 1933, just as the Communists were making their greatest inroads among a depressed working class in America. She intended to show workers that the Catholic Church has a program for them as well. Pope Pius XII followed suit by making this a feast day, beginning in 1955.

Here is the prayer to St. Joseph. I hope you find it as helpful as I do in getting over writer’s block or garden-variety laziness:

O glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace:
To work in a spirit of penance, for the expiation of my many sins;
To work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my inclinations;
To work with gratitude and joy, considering it an honour to employ and develop by means of labour, the gifts received from God;
To work with order, peace, moderation, and patience, never shrinking from weariness and trials;
To work, above all, with purity of intention, and with detachment from self, having ever before my eyes the hour of death and the account I must give of time poorly spent, talents unused, good omitted, and vain complacency in success.
All for Jesus, all through Mary; all after thy example, O Patriarch Joseph; such shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen.

Because the Vocation You Pray For May Be Your Own

A few days ago, I wrote a post where I said that as a father and husband, I can’t literally go “to the Desert.” I quipped “maybe in the future.” Sure you will, I thought to myself. And then I found this story of a saint who did just that. Her name is Marie of the Incarnation and her Feast Day is April 18th.

Allison wrote a post on the same day about praying for vocations. Keep this in mind as you pray, because it just might turn out that the prayer may well be answered by an opened door. Who is to say what lies ahead for us? God knows. Barbara Avrillot was a mother of six, but her babies grew up and her husband passed away, opening the door to a life she had always admired. Let’s take a look.

What follows in italics is from the citation on Marie found in the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.

Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation

Known also as Madame Acarie, foundress of the French Carmel, born in Paris, 1 February, 1566; died at Pontoise, April, 1618. By her family, Barbara Avrillot belonged to the higher bourgeois society in Paris. Her father, Nicholas Avrillot was accountant general in the Chamber of Paris, and chancellor of Marguerite of Navarre, first wife of Henri IV; while her mother, Marie Lhuillier was a descendant of Etienne Marcel, the famous prévôt des marchands (chief municipal magistrate). She was placed with the Poor Clares of Longchamp for her education, and acquired there a vocation for the cloister, which subsequent life in the world did not alter. In 1684, through obedience she married Pierre Acarie, a wealthy young man of high standing, who was a fervent Christian, to whom she bore six children. She was an exemplary wife and mother.

So she came from the upper crust of society and basically went to a boarding school (of sorts) with the Poor Clares. Sounds like something I’ve read before in a novel by Sigred Undstet. She married well and then had six children, which will definitely keep any mom busy for a while. Any dad too. Speaking of dads, he had his hands full at work. Take a look.

Pierre Acarie was one of the staunchest members of the League, which, after the death of Henry III, opposed the succession of the Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre, to the French throne. He was one of the sixteen who organized the resistance in Paris.

Tea party anyone? Being a rich and well placed gentleman, I daresay he thought he could change the world, and obviously win. This story is getting good. Stand-by for an act of God.

The cruel famine (!), which accompanied the siege of Paris (war!), gave Madame Acarie an occasion of displaying her charity. After the dissolution of the League, brought about by the abjuration of Henry IV, Acarie was exiled from Paris and his wife had to remain behind to contend with creditors and business men for her children’s fortune, which had been compromised by her husband’s want of foresight and prudence.

Ouch. Dad wound up on the wrong side in this fight and was sent away (in irons?!). The family fortune is compromised too? Uh-oh, now mom has to fight to save the estate and provide for her kids as well. I hope she is up to the challenge. Surely, it can’t get any worse than this.

In addition she was afflicted with physical sufferings, the consequences of a fall from her horse, and a very severe course of treatment left her an invalid for the rest of her life.

What the heck? And I thought Kristen Lavransdatter had it tough. But truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? And, ahem, “severe course of treatment” most likely means a broken leg didn’t heal well. Game over? Not with her network, nor with her example of charity and good works.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Madame Acarie was widely known for her virtue, her supernatural gifts, and especially her charity towards the poor and the sick in the hospitals. To her residence came all the distinguished and devout people of the day in Paris, among them Mme de Meignelay, née de Gondi, a model of Christian widows, Mme Jourdain and Mme de Bréauté, future Carmelites, the Chancellor de Merillac, Père Coton the Jesuit, St. Vincent of Paul, and St. Francis de Sales, who for six months was Mme Acarie’s director.

Yeah, you read that right, St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul were in her Rolodex and paid calls to her salon. Sheeeeesh. Wait a second. I thought the rich had as much chance of getting to heaven as a camel has to pass through the eye of a needle. What gives? I told you this was a great story. It gets better:

The pious woman had been living thus retired from the world, but sought by chosen souls, when, toward the end of 1601, there appeared a French translation of Ribera’s life of St. Teresa. The translator, Abbé de Brétigny, was known to her. She had some portions of the work read to her.

Another rich illiterate? Doubtful, because she went to school with the Poor Clares, remember? Maybe either Vincent or Francis was reading to her in the salon on a visit. Ready for a miracle? Read on—

A few days later St. Teresa, appeared to her and informed her that God wished to make use of her to found Carmelite convents in France. The apparitions continuing, Mme Acarie took counsel and began the work.

I mean, what the heck would you do? Keep shopping and go on cruises? Talk about your life-changing experiences! As Our Lord says, “knock and the door will be opened to you.” Sure, the French hated the Spanish, but when Our Lord sends Big Terry as an emissary in a vision, well, I’d obey the call too, no questions asked. But what about the wealth?

Mlle de Longueville, wishing to defray the cost of erecting the first monastery, in Rue St. Jacques, Henry IV granted letters patent, 18 July, 1602. A meeting in which Pierre de Bérulle, future founder of the Oratory, St. Francis of Sales, Abbé de Brétigny, and the Marillacs took part, decided on the foundation of the “Reformed Carmel in France,” 27 July, 1602. The Bishop of Geneva (Francis de Sales again) wrote to the pope to obtain the authorization, and Clement VIII granted the Bull of institution, 23 November, 1603.

That answers the wealth question. Put it to work for the Lord! Speaking of Clement, way back around 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote a lengthy exposition entitled Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? Basically it spells it out for us regular folks that when wealth is put in its proper place (read “way out in left field”), while Christ remains in the proper place (read “at the center of our being”), things work out just dandy. Especially when you give all your wealth away, as Marie eventually does. But not yet, I don’t think her husband would agree. Anyway. . .

The following year some Spanish Carmelites were received into the Carmel of Rue St. Jacques, which became celebrated. Mme de Longueville, Anne de Gonzague, Mlle de la Vallieres, withdrew to it; there also Bossuet and Fénelon were to preach. The Carmel spread rapidly and profoundly influenced French society of the day. In 1618, the year of Mme Acarie’s death, it numbered fourteen houses.

From zero to fourteen Carmelite houses in France due to the work of this fine soldier for Christ. Can she rest now? Go back on vacation? Why would she want to when there is still so much for this crippled mom to accomplish. Like to help fund, er, found the French Oratory and then the Ursulines.

Mme. Acarie also shared in two foundations of the day, that of the Oratory and that of the Ursulines. She urged De Bérulle to refuse the tutorship of Louis XIII, and on 11 November, 1611 she, with St. Vincent de Paul, assisted at the Mass of the installation of the Oratory of France. Among the many postulants whom Mme Acarie received for the Carmel, there were some who had no vocation, and she conceived the idea of getting them to undertake the education of young girls, and broached her plan to her holy cousin, Mme. de Sainte-Beuve.

The Ursalines were founded solely for the purpose of educating young girls. How progressive. Those wacky Catholics, always pushing the frontier of humanism and never getting credit for it. I’d like to get to know her “holy cousin” too. Marie was still married all this time but alas,

To establish the new order they brought Ursulines to Paris and adopted their rule and name. M. Acarie having died in 1613, his widow settled her affairs and begged leave to enter the Carmel, asking as a favour to be received as a lay sister in the poorest community.

OK, all the children raised? Check. No longer married? Check. Remember her life long dream of a “vocation to the cloister”? Check. Exit stage left!

In 1614 she withdrew to the monastery of Amiens, taking the name of Marie de l’Incarnation. Her three daughters had preceded her into the cloister, and one of them was sub-prioress at Amiens. In 1616, by order of her superiors, she went to the Carmelite convent at Pontoise, where she died. Her cause was introduced at Rome in 1627; she was beatified, 24 April, 1791; her feast is celebrated in Paris on 18 April.

Ever heard the expression “God writes straight with crooked lines”? What a life and what a marvelous ending! Maiden, wife, mother, wealthy patron of the Church, cloistered Carmelite, and then home with our Lord. May all our journeys end blessed as such.

Madame Acarie, please pray for vocations and also please pray for us.

You can read a full account of her life on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf in A Gracious Life by Emily Bowles.

Because of First Communions

 Over the course of three Saturday mornings this spring, nearly 250 second graders at Saint Patrick’s Parish in Yorktown Heights, NY, will be making their First Communion. A niece of mine is one of these blessed children and I was privileged to witness this special moment in her spiritual life. We Catholics make a big fuss over First Communions and this one was no exception.  Four priests celebrated the Mass and hundreds of family members and friends crowded the sanctuary. Wedged among my own extended family, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit move through the church and through me during the Mass.

First, a confession: I am partial to traditional church architecture. I like my churches shaped like a cross, with one center aisle. I like them vertical so that our prayers can rise to the heavens. Instead, St. Patrick’s is a barn-like church-in-the-round built in 1984. When I entered the church, I felt distracted. Irritated. I also was tired from my two-hour drive to get there. So I prayed that God would enable me to keep my focus where it belonged: on this First Communion Mass.

Virtually the only natural light coming into the sanctuary was from a long skylight extending from the back of the church to the altar. Because it was midmorning, the sun was bright and shining directly and exclusively onto the center aisle as the children processed in. The girls were decked out in white veils and poofy white dresses, the boys in dark suits with white boutonnières. The sunlight felt to me like the Holy Spirit, lighting the path of their lives.

During his homily, the pastor, Rev. Joseph F. Bisignano, addressed first the children and then their parents. He began by asking the children how many of them believed, without a doubt, that Jesus loves them. All the children but one raised their hands. Fr. Bisignano walked over to the young girl, leaned down and looked her in the eye. “I want you to know, without a doubt, that Jesus loves you,” he told her. He went on to talk to the children about their First Penance and about transubstantiation—the process by which the wheat and wine become Jesus’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. He talked about how Jesus becomes part of each of us every time we take Communion. He explained that this happens not because he and other priests are perfect men, but because they are ordained priests. 

Turning his remarks to the parents, Fr. Bisignano made some pointed remarks in the kindest of voices. He reminded them that this First Communion was a result of the solemn promises they had made when they baptized their children in the Catholic faith. He explained that this commitment extended long after the special First Communion day was over. Parents, he said, have promised God that they will take their children to church until the children are old enough to take themselves. “I implore you,” he said. “Don’t let this be their last communion.” 

As the mass progressed, the shaft of sunlight danced around the ceiling and walls of the church. By the end of Mass, it had settled on the first communicants themselves, bathing them in light while the rest of the congregation was in shadow. St. Basil the Great, a Doctor of the Church, tells us: “The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.”

I love First Communion Masses. They remind me that faith is simple. Jesus loves us. He loves us so much that he gave His life for us. Every time we go to Mass and take Communion, we are letting Jesus enter us and feed us spiritually. We need to be ready to receive Him by striving always to be better people and by confessing our sins. In “Bless My Child,” her Catholic mother’s prayer book, writer Julie Cragon tells us that St. Tarcisius died carrying the Blessed Sacrament to prisoners: Dear St. Tarcisius, Be here with all these children on this special day. Pray with them that they might always hold fast to their beliefs and that the Eucharist may give them the grace they need to join Christ’s banquet in heaven. Amen.

Driving back to New Jersey after the Mass and reception, I asked our 10-year-old son what he remembers about his own First Communion three years ago (left). He shook his head and said he didn’t remember it at all. “But I remember the after-party,” he said.

This remark made me smile for a couple of reasons. First, it told me he understood that his mom and dad had made a big deal of the day. He remembered the two ten-pound pizzas we bought at his request for his party. Second and more important was his reference to the party at our home as the “after-party.” This tells me he understands that the real party happened earlier, at the blessed banquet in which he participated for the first time. God bless every child who experiences a foretaste of heaven for the first time this Easter season.