This past week my religious congregation, the Daughters of St. Paul, officially closed the centenary year of our foundation. We are one of ten religious institutes of the Pauline Family all founded in the the Twentieth century by Blessed James Alberione (1884-1971). What started as an experience of enlightenment from the Eucharistic Lord during a night of prayer in 1900, grew to a family of religious and consecrated persons dedicated to using the new means of communication and apostolate to proclaim Christ Jesus. Today our institutes make sense, but in those first decades, Alberione’s vision of “writers, technicians, and evangelizers, who were also men and women religious”  seemed quite radical.
Our co founder Venerable Thecla Merlo (1894-1964; seated to the left) along with the first sisters drew the ire of some and the ridicule of others for behavior that was audacious for women to undertake in the 1920s—behavior that was deemed completely unsuitable for women religious at that time. In the early days we wrote diocesan newspaper columns, ran printing presses, sewed books together (literally), and then sold them door-to-door and in bookshops. Was it novel? For the times, yes. Was it faithful to tradition? Yes. Was it an undertaking inspired by deep love? Absolutely! Our first sisters were responding a need of their time, which continues to have relevance today. And yet even within our community the pull to remain faithful to the charism means that we have had to shift our initial self-understanding from being apostles of the good press to being evangelizers in the world of communications media.
The whole long history of religious life in the Church is a story of communities of disciples responding in love to the needs of their time and place. Did Anthony of Egypt think he was doing something new when he decamped to the desert? Who knows! In a sense he was innovating, and yet in another sense he was searching for that completely self-outpouring response to the Gospel which he believed that the Church had lost in a post Edict of Milan Empire where asking for baptism was becoming politically expedient, and martyrdom was less and less likely. I think of the many attempts to found groups of religious women that were not bound by cloister. Was Jane Frances de Chantal attempting something new? Yes as far as the ecclesiastical authorities were concerned; no in terms of fidelity to the Church’s commitment to the works of mercy.
Love is faithful, and yet it is also completely unpredictable. Love is the foundation of all that is true and good, and at the same time deep love is profoundly unsettling.
Love communicates. In the face of new circumstances, love finds a way to keep on loving.
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” —1 John 2:7-8
 James Alberione, Abundantes Divitiae: Charismatic History of the Pauline Family, 45
Photo credits: MediaApostle.com and Daughters of St. Paul archives