Posts Tagged ‘Franciscan Sisters of Rochester MN’

Did God Finally Get a Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert? Or Is It the Other Way Around?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Of the many fine essays that the late Roger Ebert wrote, three have interested me in particular.

The first was his 2013 post How I am a Roman Catholic, written only about a month prior to his death. The second was his 2009 post How I Believe in God. The third was his 2009 extended essay My Name is Roger and I’m an Alcoholic.

In all of these essays, Mr. Ebert refused to commit to belief in God, but he also refused to finalize his view. He as well rejected the label of atheist or agnostic. Despite Mr. Ebert’s lack of belief in God, he stated firmly instead that he was Catholic.

On several occasions, Mr. Ebert would mention how much he learned from his grade school nuns about trying to believe, and about asking God for help to do so. His recollections reminded me of the particularly striking statement by my seventh grade teacher, Sister M. Danile, OSF, then a Rochester Franciscan, who quoted Revelation 3:16 (not John 3:16) to us:

Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

Sr. Danile, who had tough love totally down, was also perhaps, retrospectively, among the most contemplative and deeply loving of my grade school teachers at St. Priscilla School in Chicago. [I have earlier written about my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte].

By these words I mean, having been a teacher myself, that I have reflected on Sr. Danile’s pedagogy many a time over the past decades, and have concluded that Sr. Danile could only have said the tough and yet humorous things she said to us–and she said them by design–because she loved us students very deeply and completely and had obviously thought and prayed about what she taught us. I am sure that she spiritually struggled for us. I remember her as a living Beatitude: as pure of heart. Often I pray for her, in thankfulness for her witness.

So one day Sr. Danile made a special point of letting us know that we were put on earth to decide about God, and to commit one way or another. We could not be lukewarm, because Jesus Himself, as meek and gentle as He could be, would spit us out.

What a hard saying! But Sr. Danile specialized in delivering the hard sayings.

Perhaps Roger Ebert did not have the benefit of a Sr. Danile. While on a day to day basis Mr. Ebert did not fail to quickly give movies either a thumbs up or down, until quite near his own end he appeared to keep giving God a thumbs sideways.

Mr. Ebert surprised many by his March, 2013 blog which upheld the rights of a child conceived in rape. This conclusion followed his deep sense of fairness.

His reviews (e.g., Of Gods and Men, For Greater Glory) indicated that he saw Christian martyrdom as a waste. There was something about the sacrificial in Catholicism that challenged him deeply.

Roger Ebert shared very honestly (and simply) that he didn’t believe in God. He tried. He looked up at the stars, and wondered. But he couldn’t commit, at least as of March, 2013.

Mr. Ebert tried to come to terms with God. We should pray for him, and none but God can judge him. All of us depend on God’s mercy.

Like some contemporary Christians, Mr. Ebert apparently had little use for Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or, more correctly, he only felt an affinity for Blessed John XXIII. In those places where Mr. Ebert very publicly rejected Catholic teaching, and there were several, I do differ with him.

But I have a theory that Roger Ebert didn’t want to give God a thumbs up until he had lived through the whole movie. Like St. Thomas the Apostle, another very visual man, Mr. Ebert may have had to see it all for himself first. This is in keeping with the famous line of St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

St. Thomas Aquinas posited that we have a natural desire for the Beatific Vision, a desire to see God, called by Aquinas the desire for aliqua contemplatio divinorum. [Please see a related in-depth reflection on this natural desire by the Epistole blog here.] Roger Ebert seemed to have this desire. He stated that often he loved the questions.

But Roger Ebert’s statements also came dangerously close to the parodies of diffident believers in C.S. Lewis’s masterful short fantasy, The Great Divorce, each of whom condemned themselves for eternity. Several of Lewis’s parodied spirits thought the decision about God was all about them, and not about them asking God instead to reach out to help them.

Another way of putting C.S. Lewis’s point in The Great Divorce is that we are called to accept that God is our judge, and that we are not God’s judge: more directly, to accept that God is God, and that we are not.

None of us, except his dear family and loved ones, are privy to the final weeks and days of Roger Ebert. None of us will know, unless revealed to us by God, what goes on in another’s soul in the final hour of death. One very nice thing about gradual death is that as our strength goes, so often we come closer to the point of surrender to the Divine. I’ve read that Mr. Ebert’s last gesture was a smile. This seems to be a very consoling sign.

But it also would be just like Roger Ebert to have the surprise, thriller ending. I hope he didn’t cut it too close. I hope that the Devil was not in the side view mirror, for as we all know, objects there are actually closer than they appear.

Sr. Danile taught me years ago that it is God, and not us, who gives the final thumbs up. The very next year, Sr. M. Martin, OSF, exhorted us not to be a “doubting Thomas.” Easier said than done! Lord, help my unbelief. . .

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

John 20:29, New American Bible, USCCB website, access 4/5/13

Some think there is no place in the Roman Catholic Church for those who, like Mr. Ebert, accept the Church in general, but openly do not accept God, or do not accept his or that Church teaching. But we might reflect that the Church is called Holy Mother Church for a reason: this Mother, wed to Christ, holds her arms ever open offering life, love, and salvation.

We, however, must ultimately–and thus for eternity–decide whether to accept the love of the Church and the love of God.

May Roger Ebert’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Dorothy Day’s Therese

Monday, October 17th, 2011

In recent years many faiths have educated their clergy and religious to be brilliant, well-educated, entertaining speakers and socially committed individuals. But these qualities do not in and of themselves earn trust.

Nothing inspires, and is so quickly recognized by believers, as is authentic holiness or godliness. Few have won as much trust in the years since her death as has the holy saint, the Little Flower, discussed in the following lines.

During the height of her active maturity in the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day made time over several years to research and to write a biography of the “Little Flower,” St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Happily, this book, originally published in 1960, reissued 1979, reprinted 1985, is still in print through Templegate Publishers. This book represents Dorothy Day’s decades-long education in the school of the Little Flower.

Therese is a book about a saint by a likely saint. Despite Dorothy Day’s occasional repetition of phrases due to Day’s busy life, Therese is one of the most thoughtful and inspiring books generated within American Catholic literature. Because its subject is the Little Flower, who has been declared one of the soon-to-be thirty-four Doctors of the Church, it is likely to remain known centuries longer than some of Day’s currently more popular books.

Almost half of Day’s Therese is about family love, whether that of the author, or that of the subject, christened Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873. But the whole book is about love, divine and human, for love was the means, the end, and the transcendent purpose of Thérèse’s life. Thérèse discovered in her final years that her vocation was to be love.

The arresting first two paragraphs of Therese display Dorothy Day at her spiritual journalist best:

“The first time I heard the name of St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face (to give her whole title), also known as Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, was when I lay in the maternity ward of Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue is the largest hospital in the world, and doctors from all over the world come there. If you are poor you can have free hospital care. At that time, if you could pay anything, there was a flat rate for having a baby–thirty dollars for a ten day’s stay, in a long ward with about sixty beds. I was so fortunate as to have a bed next to the window looking out over the East River so that I could see the sun rise in the morning and light up the turgid water and make gay the little tugs and the long tankers that went by the window. When there was fog it seemed as though the world ended outside my window, and the sound of fog horns haunted the day and the night.

As a matter of fact, my world did end at the window those ten days that I was in the hospital, because I was supremely happy. If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt more the exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms. To think that this thing of beauty, sighing gently in my arms, reaching her little mouth for my breast, clutching at me with her tiny beautiful hands, had come from my flesh, was my own child! Such a great feeling of happiness and joy filled me that I was hungry for Someone to thank, to love, even to worship, for so great a good that had been bestowed upon me. That tiny child was not enough to contain my love, nor could the father, though my heart was warm with love for both.”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. v.)

Thanks to the World Wide Web and the University of Toronto it is now possible to read the same English translation of Thérèse’s autobiographic A Little White Flower that Dorothy Day read in 1928, to retrace Dorothy Day’s steps in her discovery of Thérèse, and also to find the book that eluded Day’s grasp at the time of her writing Therese, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, by Fr. Charles Arminjon, which was an influence on the young Thérèse prior to entering the Carmel at Lisieux.

Dorothy Day’s initial rebuff and later embrace of Thérèse’s spirituality is a familiar story among Catholic intellectuals and men and women “of the world.” Thérèse inspired several twentieth-century generations to enter religious life, and whether in religious life or not, to adopt her “Little Way.” But as Day matured in her day-in day-out tasks of Christian love and charity seeking justice, she returned to Thérèse definitively. Day concluded:

“It was the ‘worker,’ the common man, who first spread her fame by word of mouth. It was the masses who proclaimed her a saint. It was the ‘people.'”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. 173.)

On first glance, Thérèse appears too pious, too simple. To this I respond, “Simple, all right. Simple like Mozart is simple.” A genius of the first rank makes the difficult appear straightforward and sublimely clear. Thérèse’s spiritual genius was recognized almost immediately after her death in 1897 with an intensity that spread as quickly as did the translations of her autobiography across dozens of languages and countries.

On the last page of her book, Day quotes Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, speaking on the occasion of the blessing of the Basilica of Lisieux in 1937:

“The dazzling genius of Augustine, the luminous wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, have shed forth upon souls the rays of an imperishable splendour: through them, Christ and His doctrine have become better known. The divine poem lived out by Francis of Assisi has given the world an imitation, as yet unequaled, of the life of God made man. Through him legions of men and women learned to love God more perfectly. But a little Carmelite who had hardly reached adult age has conquered in less than half a century innumerable hosts of disciples. Doctors of the law have become children at her school; the Supreme Shepherd has exalted her and prays to her with humble and assiduous supplications; and even at this moment from one end of the earth to the other, there are millions of souls whose interior life has received the beneficent influence of the little book, The Autobiography.”

(Ibid., p. 176.)

Thérèse promised “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.”

Day lists but a bit of the shower of love from Thérèse:

“So shortly after her death the rain of roses began: cures of cancer, tuberculosis, nephritis, and all manner of painful and mortal diseases. Nuns in need of money to pay off the mortgages on their schools, hospitals and orphanages found it appearing, sometimes in the form of gifts, sometimes carefully placed in a desk drawer. When Therese healed a little Irish child, she appeared to her as a little child in her First Communion frock, and shook hands with her as she left, and radiant little patient who had been unconscious and at the brink of death, sat up and told her mother to bring her her clothes, and food because she was starving. Soldiers saw Therese at the battlefield; she walked in Paris; she appeared to the sick. ‘After my death I will let fall a shower of roses,’ she had said, and sometimes the roses appeared literally, and sometimes just the fragrance of them.”

(Ibid., pp. 172-3)

The persistence of Thérèse’s appeal is surprising. In 2009, Thérèse’s relics were brought on a tour throughout Wales and England in the UK. To the surprise of a highly secularized society (and some of the secularized clergy), hundreds of thousands of people visited the relics, with many confessing their sins and returning to faith after decades.

Here are some of the pilgrims’ stories:

Over 100,000 faithful visited Thérèse’s relics in Westminster Cathedral, with ceremonies ending 10/15/09:

The Carmelite Sr. Patricia Mary of Jesus speaks about St. Thérèse of Lisieux:

Finally, a thoughtful homily by Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols:

In 1997, in a document called Divini Amoris Scientia, the Science of Divine Love, John Paul II proclaimed Thérèse a Doctor of the Church. I highly recommend close reading of this important document for those seeking for truth in the Spirit.

Although Thérèse, like John Paul II, had read and mastered the foundational Carmelite literature, the complete works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Thérèse read primarily the Gospels during her final illness, to listen directly the Word of the Lord Jesus whom she loved so dearly in a very direct, straightforward, and completely committed way. As a Carmelite, Thérèse wore a wedding gown at her “clothing” as a nun, focusing all her possible love on Jesus.

To the post-Christian imagination, this kind of spiritual commitment has a scary, terrifying aspect. But for Thérèse and her Carmelite sisters (among whom were three of her own sisters, and a cousin), nothing could have been more joyful.

Dorothy Day may be best known for her phrase, a “harsh and dreadful love,” but no one searches the life of Thérèse without searching for the source of joy, our Blessed Lord, to whom Thérèse is one of the supreme guides.

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As a boy, I was taught at St. Priscilla School in Chicago by several Franciscan Sisters (from Rochester, MN) who were inspired by Thérèse among others to enter religious life. Years later, I visited my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte, OSF, who past the age of 100 told me of the joy that was shared among contemporaries as they agreed together in college to enter the Franciscans as a group. Many of these Franciscan Sisters shared with us the tales of the Little Flower, and Sr. Catherine, to the end of her days, cultivated roses in Thérèse’s memory. She was a woman of high intelligence and wit, but joy and simplicity, and I might add, holiness. May she rest in peace!

Here is a 2010 post by blogger Kathy Riordan in thanks of the still-remembered witness of Sr. Catherine Cecile and her Franciscan sisters.

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A few very useful resources on St. Thérèse:

As usual, the Houston Catholic Worker can be relied upon for a thoughtful review, this one by James Allaire.

Here’s some information on the National Shrine of St. Therese, in Darien, Illinois.

EWTN put together a number of web pages during St. Thérèse centenary, here, and here.

Also, please see Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway, which mentions the recent visit of the relics of Thérèse to Peru.

Presently, I’m reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations. More on this when time permits!

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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