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Our Wonderful Religious Sisters

How blessed are we at St. Bridget’s parish to benefit by the presence and ministry of Sisters Pat, Dorothy, Margaret & Roseann?!  These wonderful Sisters of Saint Joseph are such an important part of the St. Bridget Parish Community.  We are very grateful to God that as a parish community we are graced with the presence and ministry of these sisters.

This weekend the Sisters are speaking on behalf of the National Retirement Collection for the benefit of Religious Men and Women.

Our SSJ’s speak on behalf of the thousands of Religious who because of age or infirmity are no longer able to actively serve the Church but who now carry out the ministry of prayer.  Praying for the Church – the same Church these dedicated priests, sisters and brothers have served so generously their whole lives.

Please show your gratitude for the dedicated lives of religious by supporting this important, annual appeal.  The collection will be taken up as a second collection next weekend, December 8 & 9, 2012.

Speaking of Sisters, did you know that St. Bridget’s has two other communities of Religious Sisters living in the parish?  There is another community of Sisters of St. Joseph and a community of Religious Sisters of Mercy renting homes in the East Falls neighborhood.  We are truly blessed.  Welcome to the parish, Sisters!

On a very sad note, one of the Sisters who had just moved into the home being rented on Ainslie St., Sister Alice Edward, SSJ, died suddenly this week.  A long time – and beloved – Chaplain at Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia, Sister Alice Edward was known by many parishioners because she grew up in Roxborough.  And because Sister Alice has been attending the 4 PM Vigil Mass at St. Bridget’s for many years now.

We are all so very sad and we mourn Sister’s sudden and untimely passing.  Sister Alice Edward was such a nice lady!  Kind, warm, friendly, supportive, encouraging, thoughtful, are just some of the words that come to mind to describe this dedicated Sister of St. Joseph.

I know Sister Alice was very much looking forward to beginning to reside in St. Bridget’s parish.  I’m sorry we won’t have Sister Alice with us.  We are all the poorer due to her passing.  She will be very sorely missed.  RIP Sister Alice Edward, SSJ.


Some thoughts on the Mad Dash-Black Friday- Frenzy

I’m reading The Spirituality of Imperfection, Storytelling & the Search For Meaning by Ernest Kurtz & Katherine Ketcham.  Watching footage of the annual, frenzied, “Black Friday” stampedes which now begin on Thanksgiving evening across the country, I then read the following.

I think the authors’ words begin to help me name the dynamic at work in this annual phenomenon.  Granted we’re all victims to the power of marketing and advertising, I think the consumer society really has convinced us that happiness can be acquired or bought.  If we take the time, step back & think about that advertising message, we know that that’s not true.  As a matter of fact, it can lead to “misery” as Kurtz and Ketcham point out:

“…greed is the vision that everything is to be ‘gotten.’  The vision that is spirituality warns that greed and misery go hand in hand.  Misery arises inevitability from the belief that we are in control, that we can control everything and that anything we have, we deserve.

Misery is the mind-set that we must get and get and get; it is the yearning for more, the push to acquire more, win more, own more, have more.  Misery is misery because it does not know the meaning of enough.

…As Eric Hoffer observed decades ago: ‘You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.’ “

Holy Communion Under Both Species For Advent

St. Bridget’s Parish will offer Holy Communion under both species at all the weekend Masses for the Season of Advent which begins this weekend, December 1 & 2, 2012.  As you may already know, we offer both species at each Daily Mass.  Both species refers to the Sacred Host & the Precious Blood of the Holy Eucharist.  While the whole Eucharist is present in the host, that is, the real presence of Christ under the appearance of bread, each time we receive the Holy Communion Host.  Offering the chalice so that the Precious Blood of the Lord may also be received by the Assembly adds to the fullness of the symbol of the Eucharist as the Body & Blood of the Lord.

To receive from the Chalice approach the Extra-ordinary Minister of Holy Communion once receiving the Host as you make your way back to your seat.  Those wishing to receive the Precious Blood will simply stop in front of the Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who will say, “The Blood of Christ.”  To which the communicant responds, “Amen.”

This practice was recommended by the Pastoral Council as a way to add to the specialness of the Advent Season.

Time Change for Daily Mass

I’ve decided to change the time Daily Mass is offered at St. Bridget’s from 8:30 AM to 8:00 AM effective Monday, December 3, 2012.

The reasons for making this change are two-fold.  Having Mass a half hour earlier makes it a little more feasible for both Fr. Flanagan and Fr. Flavin to offer Mass at this time and still be at their assigned place of ministry earlier.

Secondly, due to the ever increasing priest shortage it is more and more difficult to find a priest available to offer the Daily Mass when I’m away or on retreat.  Any priest that is “able-body” already has a daily Mass commitment somewhere.  So moving the Daily Mass to 8:00 assures that Mass will continue to be offered here at St. Bridget’s as much as that’s possible.

Father Devlin

Purgatory Seeing Fully For The First Time

Imagine being born blind and living into adulthood without ever having seen light and color. Then, through some miraculous operation, doctors are able to give you sight. What would you feel immediately upon opening your eyes? Wonder? Bewilderment? Ecstasy?  Pain? Some combination of all of these?

We now know the answer to that question.  This kind of sight-restoring operation has been done and is being done and we now have some indication of how a person reacts upon opening his or her eyes and seeing light and color for the first time. What happens might surprise us. Here is how J.Z. Young, an authority on brain function, describes what happens:

“The patient on opening his eyes gets little or no enjoyment; indeed, he finds the experience painful. He reports only a spinning mass of light and colors. He proves to be quite unable to pick up objects by sight, to recognize what they are, or to name them. He has no conception of space with objects in it, although he knows all about objects and their names by touch. ‘Of course,’ you will say, ‘he must take a little time to learn to recognize them by sight.’ Not a little time, but a very long time, in fact, years.  His brain has not been trained in the rules of seeing. We are not conscious that there are any such rules; we think we see, as we say naturally. But we have in fact learned a whole set of rules during childhood.” (See: Emilie Griffin, Souls in Full Flight, p. 143-144)

Might this be a helpful analogy for what happens to us in what Roman Catholics call purgatory? Could the purification we experience after death be understood in this very way, namely, as an opening of our vision and heart to a light and a love that are so full so as to force upon us the same kind of painful relearning and reconceptualization that have just been described? Might purgatory be understood precisely as being embraced by God in such a way that this warmth and light so dwarf our earthly concepts of love and knowledge that, like a person born blind who is given sight, we have to struggle painfully in the very ecstasy of that light to unlearn and relearn virtually our entire way of thinking and loving? Might purgatory be understood not as God’s absence or some kind of punishment or retribution for sin, but as what happens to us when we are fully embraced, in ecstasy, by God, perfect love and perfect truth?

Indeed isn’t this what faith, hope, and charity, the three theological virtues, are already trying to move us towards in this life? Isn’t faith a knowing beyond what we can conceptualize? Isn’t hope an anchoring of ourselves in something beyond what we can control and guarantee for ourselves? And isn’t charity a reaching out beyond what affectively feeds us?

St. Paul, in describing our condition on earth, tells us that here, in this life, we see only as “through a mirror, reflecting dimly” but that, after death, we will see “face to face”. Clearly in describing our present condition here on earth he is highlighting a certain blindness, an embryonic darkness, an inability to actually see things as they really are. It is significant to note too that he says this in a context within which he is pointing out that, already now in this life, faith, hope, and charity help lift that blindness.

These are of course only questions, perhaps equally upsetting to Protestants and Roman Catholics alike. Many Protestants and Evangelicals reject the very concept of purgatory on the grounds that, biblically, there are only two eternal places, heaven and hell. Many Roman Catholics, on the other hand, get anxious whenever purgatory seems to get stripped of its popular conception as a place or state apart from heaven. But purgatory conceived of in this way, as the full opening of our eyes and hearts so as to cause a painful reconceptualization of things, might help make the concept more palatable to Protestants and Evangelicals and help strip the concept of some of its false popular connotations within Roman Catholic piety.

True purgation happens only through love because it is only when we experience love’s true embrace that we can see our sin and drink in, for the first time, the power to move beyond it. Only light dispels darkness and only love casts out sin.

Therese of Lisieux would sometimes pray to God: “Punish me with a kiss!” The embrace of full love is the only true purification for sin because only when we are embraced by love do we actually understand what sin is and, only there, are we given the desire, the vision, and the strength to live in love and truth. But that inbreaking of love and light is, all at the same time, delightful and bewildering, ecstatic and unsettling, wonderful and excruciating, euphoric and painful. Indeed, it’s nothing less than purgatory.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

The Church & The Poor by Fr. Henri Nouwen

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption. As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear: by focusing on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness. Paul says, “God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). This is the true vision. The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace.

Pope B16 Canonized Marianne Cope last Sunday.

In his homily, the Pope said about St. Marianne Cope, known as the “Angel of the Lepers:”

“I now turn to Marianne Cope, born in 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany. Only one year old when taken to the United States, in 1862 she entered the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis at Syracuse, New York.

Later, as Superior General of her congregation, Mother Marianne willingly embraced a call to care for the lepers of Hawaii after many others had refused.  [“Initially, Mother Marianne only intended to help the six volunteer sisters to settle down in the mission.  Deeply touched by the plight of those with Hansen’s disease (then know as Leprosy), she chose instead to remain with them.”]*

She personally went, with six of her fellow sisters, to manage a hospital on Oahu, later founding Malulani Hospital on Maui and opening a home for girls whose parents were lepers.

Five years after that she accepted the invitation to open a home for women and girls on the island of Molokai itself, bravely going there herself and effectively ending her contact with the outside world. [“Mother Marianne served the lepers for 30 years; in her freely chosen exile, she provided a safe, loving home for the social outcasts.”]*

There she looked after Father Damien, already famous for his heroic work among the lepers, nursed him as he died and took over his work among male lepers. At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm.

She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved Saint Francis.” Pope Benedict XVI

*The canonization biography prepared by the Office for Papal Celebration for the canonization ceremony adds the following, “With deep maternal concern, Mother Marianne promised her sisters that none of them would contract leprosy from their patients – and none have to this day.”


“Brother” Joseph helper of Molokai

“A Servant of the Lepers”: Brother Joseph of Molokai

A Civil War veteran, a reformed drunkard, a rich man, a penitent: an inspiring story of love, hope, and joy.


By Pat McNamara

In late July 1886, a ship pulled into Molokai, Hawaii’s leper colony. Father Damien de Veuster always greeted the newcomers, usually lepers seeking refuge and comfort. But one passenger stood out, a tall man in a blue denim suit. He wasn’t a leper; he was Joseph Dutton, and at age 43 he came to help Father Damien. The priest warned he couldn’t pay anything, but Dutton didn’t care. He would spend forty-five years on Molokai, remaining long after the priest’s death of leprosy in 1889.

Joseph’s journey to Molokai was full of twists and turns. Born Ira Barnes Dutton in Vermont on April 27, 1843, he grew up in a thoroughly Protestant setting. By age 18, he was teaching Sunday school in Wisconsin and working in a bookstore, when the Civil War broke out. It was an exciting time, he recalled: “streets lined with cheering crowds, bands playing, flags flying.” He enlisted in September 1861, and for the next four years he served with the 13th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.

Although the regiment saw little fighting during the war, Ira showed leadership and administrative skills, reaching the rank of Captain. As quartermaster, one fellow officer remembered him as having “a rare gift for business.” He liked army life, and he considered it as a career, but military downsizing meant few commissions. Discharged in 1866, he spent the next two decades in a variety of jobs.

He married a woman he met during the war. It proved to be tragic, “one of those things I have tried to forget” (he never mentioned her name). Friends warned of her reputation for infidelity, but Ira had hoped to change her. A shopaholic who left him broke, she soon ran off with another man. Dutton seemed to hope she might return; he didn’t file divorce papers until 1881.

After the war, he worked in cemeteries. He then oversaw a distillery in Alabama before working in Memphis on the railroads. In 1875, he joined the War Department settling claims against the government.

Successful in every field, he was nevertheless a functioning alcoholic. In the day, he was a solid citizen, but he spent his evenings with “John Barleycorn,” although “I never injured anyone but myself.”

Increasingly ashamed of this double life, in 1876 he vowed never to drink again, remaining sober until his death. He also experienced a spiritual transformation. While he fell away from religion during the war, he became interested in Catholicism through the influence of Catholic friends. After studying the catechism for a month, he was received into the Catholic Church on April 27, 1883, his 40th birthday. He changed his name to Joseph, his favorite saint, retired from the government, and began a “new life.”

Wanting to do penance for his “wild years” and “sinful capers,” Joseph set out for Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery, Kentucky. Founded in 1848, he had earlier visited the place in connection with his government work. Now he resolved to do “penance for the rest of my years.” After twenty months, he concluded that his life should be one of penitent action rather than contemplation. Still, he wrote, it was “what I needed at the time.” (He remained lifelong friends with the Trappist monks, remembering them in his will.)

It was only after reading about Father Damien that he found his “real vocation”:

The work attracted me wonderfully. After weighing it for a while I became convinced that it would suit my wants—for labor, for a penitential life, and for seclusion as well as complete separation from scenes of all past experiences. It seems a mere accident that I ever heard of this place, and it might never have happened again.

His motive was not to hide from the world, but “to do some good for my neighbor and at the same time make it my penitentiary in doing penance for my sins and errors.” From San Francisco, he sailed for Molokai in the summer of 1886.

With two pensions, Joseph had saved a good deal of money. (At Molokai, he would donate some $10,000.) He served as administrator, carpenter, and repairman; he bandaged wounds; he coached baseball; he comforted the sick and the dying. “Every day,” one biographer writes, “he marveled more and more at the courage he saw around him—bravery, he often said, much greater than in the war he had been through.” He made a difference. Before his death in 1889, Father Damien said: “I can die now. Brother Joseph will take care of my orphans.”

Although he never took religious vows, Dutton was known as “Brother Joseph,” a “brother to everybody.” On Molokai he found real peace and joy. One peer recalled: “Dutton had a divine temper; nothing could ruffle it.” At 83, Joseph wrote: “I am ashamed to think that I am inclined to be jolly. Often think we don’t know that our Lord ever laughed, and here my laugh is ready to burst out any minute.”

He never left Molokai; he never wanted to. “Seek a vacation?” he asked. “Anything else would be slavery . . . The people here like me, I think, and I am sure I like them.” He added: “I would not leave my lepers for all the money the world might have.” The one exception was in 1917, when the 74-year-old patriot tried “to buckle on my sword-belt again” and re-enlist. His application was rejected, but he wasn’t heart-broken.

Before his death on March 26, 1931, he said: “It has been a happy place—a happy life.” It had been a restless life until he found happiness among the lepers of Molokai. At the time of his death, the Jesuit magazine America noted: “Virtue is never so attractive as when we see it in action. It has a power to believe that we too can rise up above this fallen nature of ours to a fellowship with the saints.”

Read more from the Patheos Year of Faith series here.

Father Richard Rohr, OFM


Rudolph Otto in his book The Idea of the Holy says that when someone has an authentic experience of the Holy, they find themselves caught up in two opposite movements at the same time: the mysterium tremendumand the mysterium fascinosum, a scary mystery and a very alluring mystery. We both draw back from and are pulled forward into a kind of liminal space where we are not at home at all and yet totally at home for perhaps the first time.

In the mysterium tremendum, you know God as far and beyond—unreachable and beyond description! Here you experience God as dreadful and fearful, as the one who has all the power, and in whose presence I am utterly powerless. People at that stage tend to become overwhelmed by a sense of separation or alienation. If you stop there, you either become an atheist, an agnostic, or a loyal but distant soldier. The defining of sin and sin management becomes the very nature of religion.

But simultaneously with this dimension is an opposite feeling of fascination, allurement, and seduction, a being pulled and drawn into something very satisfying and inviting. This is the mysterium fascinosum. If you only have the alluring part without the deep reverence for this mystery, you get merely sentimental and emotional religion, usually without any real social consequences (“Sweet Jesus” Christianity, as it is sometimes called). Otto says if you don’t have both, you have not had a true or full experience of “The Holy.”

Loving the Church

Loving the Church often seems close to impossible.  Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless,  conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared.  When we remember that, we may be able to say,  “I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it.”


Loving the Church is our sacred duty.   Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace.  And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.