Sunday, April 22, 2012


My generation in the Abbey grew up on the poems of Charles Peguy, not known to many Americans, at least not in the early 70s. But our Abbess was raised in France and  so brought many things French with her, including literature, such as François Mauriac and Paul Claudel.

Charles Péguy (1873-1914) was a noted French poet, essayist, and editor. His two main philosophies were socialism and nationalism, but, after years of uneasy agnosticism, he become a devout but non-practicing Roman Catholic in 1908. He seemed at times to be a "tortured"soul yet never lost his faith in the power of prayer. A year before he died one of his sons was ill with typhoid fever and there seemed to be no hope of saving him. But Charles prayed to the Virgin Mother:
                     You must do something for my children. I place them in your lap. I give them to you...

He died in battle, shot in the forehead, in Villeroy, Seine-et-Marne during World War I, on the day before the beginning of the Battle of the Marne.

Every year on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the Community makes a Commitment to “take on” a work for the year.  This year:  TO LIVING MORE DEEPLY INTO THE GIFT AND MYSTERY OF HOPE, HOPE IN ALL THAT IS UNSEEN, UNKNOWN.  Mother Prioress quoted Charles Peguy’s poem on hope:
              But hope, says God, that is some
              Thing that surprises even me...
              That these poor children see how
              Things are going and believe that
              Tomorrow things will go better.
              That is surprising and it’s by
              Far the greatest marvel of our
              Grace...My grace must indeed be
              An incredible force.

Charles Péguy wrote this poem on hope, which he saw symbolized by his nine-year old daughter.

             Faith is a faithful wife.
             Charity is an ardent mother,
             But hope is a tiny girl...

             But my little hope is she   
             who goes to sleep every night,
             in that child crib of hers,
             after having said her prayers properly
             and who every morning wakes up and rises
         and says her  prayers with a new look in her  eyes…


This simple but very long poem is a great meditation on the virtue of hope, which makes one ponder the word HOPE which we too often use without thought of its true meaning.

Hope answers our desire for happiness, a desire that God has implanted in every heart. It gives us strength so we will not become discouraged. It supports us when we feel deserted.

"Let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the HOPE of salvation." (1 Thess. 5:8)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Recently Mother Prioress handed me an article about St. Gianna Molla. It was about the movie made of her life- which I had just seen- so not much news there, but what did interest me was an article on the backside by Msgr. David Liptak (editor of the Catholic Transcript- Hartford, Ct.), about Flannery O'Connor titled  Our "Hillbilly" Thomist. Having this past year read The Abbess of Andalusia - Flannery O'Connor's Spiritual Journey by Lorraine V. Murray, (which made the best-seller list), I  found the article compelling. Flannery read St. Thomas every night for 20 minutes and referred to herself as a "hillbilly Thomist”.

Years ago our Mother Lucia, who has a PhD from Yale in Literature, gave us a fascinating course on Flannery and her writings. Since then I have been a great fan. Her writings are not for everyone, yet now her novels and short stories are seen as profoundly religious in their inspiration. As Msgr. Liptak writes in his article, T.S. Eliot was "horrified" by some of her writings. Msgr. thinks she may have answered him: "you have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.

Cook- A Baptism (Flannery O'Connor)
Her Southern Gothic stories often relate of things uncomfortable and grotesque, although she insisted that her stories always had a very Catholic core. Beneath the ugly, violent and shocking events, the deepest meaning of Christian life emerges with themes of evil, suffering, grace, and redemption, while she examined questions of morality and ethics.

She wrote allegorical fiction about seemingly backward Southern characters, usually fundamentalist Protestants, who undergo transformations of character that to her thinking brought them closer to the Catholic mind. This transformation is often accomplished through pain, violence, and ludicrous behavior in the pursuit of the holy. However grotesque the setting, she tried to portray her characters as they might be touched by divine grace.

In spite of being handicapped by the debilitating disease of lupus from which she died at age thirty-nine, Flannery lived a fully abundant life giving us (in her many letters) wonderful spiritual insights on such topics as the Communion of Saints and grace in suffering.

At Andalusia (her family’s ancestral farm), she raised over 100 peafowl. Fascinated by birds of all kinds, she raised ducks, hens, geese, and any sort of exotic bird she could obtain, while incorporating images of peacocks into her books. She describes her peacocks in an essay entitled "The King of Birds." These magnificent creatures (which we know from first-hand experience to be at times noisy, dirty, and generally a pest), have become a metaphor for the author herself and for her work.

Christine Marie Larsen, artist
“To the melancholy this sound is melancholy and to the hysterical it is hysterical. To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.”

Her fame has spread since her death. Her Complete Stories won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and was named the "Best of the National Book Awards" by internet visitors in 2009.

Flannery O'Connor in her writings, most especially her letters, show us a spiritual, brilliant woman, living her life to the fullest in relation to Christ. We can easily call her  SAINT!

Monday, April 9, 2012


When I was a child I can remember my Father contributing on a regular basis to Boy's Town. It was his favorite charity though he never told us why. Years later when I attended Creighton University in Omaha I had many occasion to visit the campus of this wondrous facility, just for a quiet green place to study. Of course we all saw the movie with Spencer Tracy & Mickey Rooney which only added to the greatness of this place.

Just this past March Father Flanagan’s process for canonization was opened.
SERVANT of GOD EDWARD JOSEPH FLANAGAN was born in 1886 at Leabeg, County Roscommon, Village of Ballymoe, Ireland. It is believed that  he was born prematurely, leading to his family's fear that he would not survive. Perhaps due to his condition at birth, Edward was frail and often struggled with illnesses throughout his entire life. In spite of this he had great determination to accomplish the Lord’s will. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "You also may not know that I was the little shepherd boy who took care of the cattle and sheep. That seemed to be my job as I was the delicate member of the family and good for nothing else, and with probably a poorer brain than most of the other members of the family." The family had a farm and sometimes he and his father would pray the Rosary in the rain and rosaries in hand go together looking for lost sheep.

He was clearly formed for his life long mission work during the days of his youth in Ireland. "The old-fashioned home with fireside companionship, its religious devotion and its closely-knit family ties is my idea of what a home should be. My Father would tell me many stories that were interesting to a child -stories of adventure, or the struggle of the Irish people for independence. It was from him I learned the great science of life and heard examples from the lives of saints, scholars and patriots. It was from his life I first learned the fundamental rule of life of the great Saint Benedict, 'pray and work.'"

He immigrated to America in 1904, with his sister Nellie staying with his mother's relatives until he began his studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He then entered Dunwoodie Seminary in Yonkers for the Archdiocese of New York. In the first year of his studies he contracted double pneumonia and because of his weak lungs was unable to fully recover. He had to leave the seminary for at least a year. He moved to Omaha, in 1907, to live with his brother, Father Patrick Flanagan, with Nellie nursing him back to health.
After studies and many set-backs, he was ordained in 1912. His first assignment was in O’Neill, Nebraska, where his brother had spent his first parish assignment after his arrival in Omaha in 1904. Six months later, in Holy Week Father Edward was transferred to St. Patrick’s Church in Omaha to assist the ailing pastor. On Easter Sunday, a violent tornado struck Omaha, destroying one third of the city and killing 155 leaving hundreds homeless, and many without work.

For the next two years, Fr. Flanagan ministered to the needs of those affected by the tornado, later founding a shelter for homeless men. During the first Great War he decided to make a study of the juvenile justice system. In the summer of 1917, he took seven boys from the courts, met with them three times a week establishing a routine for them. He now knew the course his life would take and with the permission of the Bishop Jeremiah Harty, moved five boys, ages eight to ten, into his first home. 6 months later he had 32 boys in a larger building and by Christmas, there were over 100 boys in the home and soon the capacity of 150 boys was reached. With help from the Mother-Superior of the Notre Dame Sisters, and many well-trained teachers, he began a school for the boys. In 1921, he received the deed to Overlook Farm, constructed five buildings for his boys, and was able to move them to their new home. Overlook Farm is now the incorporated Village of Boys Town.

While obviously quite busy with his life Father was a man of prayer and encouraged every boy to pray; his famous quote is, "Every boy should pray; how he prays is up to him."
More than 6,000 youth were under his direct care during his lifetime. U.S. Presidents and other world leaders sought his counsel. He advised, was studied and inspired other clergy and youth care workers throughout the world. Eighty-nine programs across the globe are directly inspired by his example. Boys Town is currently a national leader in caring for children and families through its treatment for behavioral, emotional and physical problems.

"He ain't heavy, Father, he's m' brother!"
 He prophesied before his passing in Berlin in 1948, "That the work will continue you see, whether I'm there or not, because it's God’s work, not mine."  He died at the age of 61 of a heart attack.

Father Flanagan believed that every child could be a productive citizen if given love, a home, an education and a trade, and accepted boys of every race and creed. He is quoted as saying, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.”