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Today is the memorial of St. Denis, bishop and martyr.  You can read about him here:

Missionary to Paris, France. First Bishop of Paris. His success roused the ire of local pagans, and he was imprisoned by Roman governor. Martyred in the persecutions of Valerius with Saint Rusticus and Saint Eleutherius. Legends have grown up around his torture and death, including one that has his body carrying his severed head some distance from his execution site. Saint Genevieve built a basilica over his grave. His feast was added to the Roman Calendar in 1568 by Pope Saint Pius V, though it had been celebrated since 800.

So that legend is why he is often portrayed holding his head, as in the Paris subway near the Basilica of St. Denis, here:

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The Basilica of St. Denis stands outside the usual tourist track in Paris, but was really one of the most memorable sites we visited in our month there.  So absolutely worth the metro ride. It’s of great historical importance, first because it represents one of the first (if not the first) major expression of Gothic architecture, and secondly because of its role as the last resting place of the French monarchy.  

The Abbey of Saint Denis was the burial site of the kings of France for centuries and has thus been referred to as the “royal necropolis of France.” All but three of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here. The abbey church contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs.

The effigies of many of the kings and queens are on their tombs, but during the French Revolution, these tombs were opened by workers under orders from revolutionary officials. The bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby.

Archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir saved many of the monuments from the same revolutionary officials by claiming them as artworks for his Museum of French Monuments.

Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church in 1806, but the royal remains were left in their mass graves. Following Napoleon’s first exile to Elba, the Bourbons briefly returned to power. They ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, which were found on January 21, 1815 and brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt.

So the Basilica today is repository of funerary imagery….Pepin the Short, the Bourbons….everyone.  It’s fascinating.

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The absolutely most intriguing statuary to me were the two or three sets of married monarchs whose monuments had two elements: the king and queen in full worldy regalia, and then, the two of them represented laid out completely nude…as they came into the world, and as they went back into the earth:

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I wrote a Living Faith devotion about it, here:

Louis XII and Anne of Brittany’s tomb is topped by images of them kneeling in prayer, fully dressed, but in a space below, we see them again, lying as in death, completely nude. It is a startling, sobering sight.

It’s also a sight that reminded me that living under the robes of any worldly honor, power or possession is a creature just like me. Only one king–gracefully born into that mortal flesh but wearing the crown of glory forever–deserves my worship, only one is truly Lord of my life now and for eternity.

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI beatified Newman, whose memorial is today, October 9, on his visit to England in 2010.  So naturally, on that visit, he had many interesting things to say about him:

In an interview on the plane to England:

He was a man of great spirituality, of humanity, of prayer, with a profound relationship with God, a personal relationship, and hence a deep relationship with the people of his time and ours. So I would point to these three elements: modernity in his life with the same doubts and problems of our lives today; his great culture, his knowledge of the treasures of human culture, openness to permanent search, to permanent renewal and, spirituality, spiritual life, life with God; these elements give to this man an exceptional stature for our time.

At the prayer vigil before the beatification:

Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.

Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity……more.

And then, of course the homily at the Mass:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

This site offers more quotes from Benedict on Newman:

Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-à-vis the claims of authority in a truth less world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Even more, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: “I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on!” Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak, of his conversion: “No one can have a more unfavourable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics.” Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences – even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds. It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized the priority of truth over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth’s priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups

Our book Be Saints! was inspired by another talk Benedict gave on this visit.  Read more about it here.

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Ann Engelhart did an interview with the Brooklyn Diocese television network – it’s a great introduction to the book, with a peak into her studio.

For more about our books:

On our first, Friendship with Jesus.

The second, Be Saints!

Then last year’s release, Bambinelli Sunday

And finally, more about Adventures in Assisi here and here. 

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Just a reminder about pertinent resources:

First, this small rosary book from OSV.  They are telling me they are going to put it out of print, so get your copy now!

An excerpt:

The Gospels show that the gaze of Mary varied depending upon the circumstances of life. So it will be with us. Each time we pick up the holy beads to recite the Rosary, our gaze at the mystery of Christ will differ depending on where we find ourselves at that moment.

Thereafter Mary’s gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it "amy welborn"would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) [Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 10].


As we pray the Rosary, then, we join with Mary in contemplating Christ. With her, we remember Christ, we proclaim Him, we learn from Him, and, most importantly, as we raise our voices in prayer and our hearts in contemplation of the holy mysteries, this “compendium of the Gospel” itself, we are conformed to Him.

Then, of course, my (definitely out of print!) book on Mary – Mary and the Christian Life – you can find information about it here and download/read it. 

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While The Words We Pray doesn’t address the Rosary as a whole, I do explore the Hail Mary and Hail, Holy Queen in the book of historical and spiritual essays on traditional Catholic prayers. 

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Well, happy feastday!

(In honor of his feastday…try reading some his actual writings.  You might be surprised at what you find.)

I was going to write a post about the genesis of Adventures in Assisi, but Lisa Hendey saved me the trouble by requesting an interview with us.

So here it is!

Q: What prompted you to write/illustrate “Adventures in Assisi” and what will our readers discover in this book?

Amy: I love history and I love to travel and the saints are central to my Catholic spirituality. In my teaching and writing, I’ve always particularly enjoyed bringing Catholic tradition and history to readers and listeners and many of my books reflect that interest.

"amy welborn"St. Francis of Assisi has always interested me not only because his is a truly compelling, radical figure, but also because he is  rather mysterious.  The radical nature of his conversion and the singularity of his journey is unique, but the legends and stories that have grown around him over the past eight hundred years have only added to the mystique and have always piqued my curiosity.  My earliest encounters with Francis were both quite memorable, although both were rooted, I now understand, in more fiction, personal ideology and a cultural moment than fact – reading NIkos Kazantzakis’ St. Francis as a teenager and seeing Brother Sun, Sister Moon with my friends from the Catholic campus ministry in college.  Despite the serious limitations of both, what moved me in these works was my vivid and thought-provoking encounter with the possibility that radical sacrifice was, paradoxically, the path to fullness of life.

In the subsequent years, I encountered St. Francis here and there.  I taught his story when I taught high school theology.  I wrote about him in the Loyola books. I wrote about his prayers in The Words We Pray.  Over the years, I probably read every existing children’s picture book about Francis to my own children, most of which were about either the wolf of Gubbio or the Christmas creche.

And then, a few years ago, I read the new biography of Francis by Fr. Augustine Thompson OP  – Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.  It’s a tight, compact, rich work, and Fr.Thompson’s insights struck me to the core, so once again, St. Francis moved me…. MORE

Q: Ann, please say a few words on the artwork in this new book. How did you conceive of the characters “look”? What type of research do you have to undertake to artfully depict a venue like Assisi?

Ann: I was able to visit Assisi on two occasions, once with my teenage children and another time alone with my husband. I was able to walk the same paths as the characters in this book as they followed St. Francis’ footsteps.

I took countless photos because the style of my work is quite detailed, and I wanted the reader to authentically experience the exquisite Umbrian landscapes, the extraordinary architecture that is both grand and humble, and the simple beauty of the country roads and olive groves that surround St. Francis’ hilltop hometown….

MORE

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NET-TV – the Brooklyn diocese television station – went to Ann’s house this week to interview her about her work.  I hope it is put online, and when it is, I’ll let you know.

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In this age of 24-7, can’t escape information-mongering, it is amazing (or perhaps not) that actually reporting continues to suck.

Take this whole Synod on the Family thing.

Obviously, there is a lot of discussion regarding the Synod, much of that discussion being driven by Cardinal Kasper of Germany, who is just going on and on and on about compassion and mercy and such.

Plenty of people are talking about all of that.  What hardly anyone is doing, however is even trying to move beyond the ideological narratives, and raising questions about  the German church tax.

For that is really the most pressing issue facing the German Catholic Church.  And I really wonder why any of our highly-praised religion journalists are completely ignoring this issue and don’t even seem interested in connecting the dots or even asking Cardinal Kasper directly about how the Catholic Church in Germany understands and practices issues related to Church membership and the sacraments. And taxes.

Here’s the deal. I’m going to use the explanation of the German Church Tax that I found on a Mormon blog.  It’s clear and helpful:

…religious organizations in Germany can qualify to be treated as public law corporations. Public law corporation status provides a number of benefits, including exemption from income, inheritance, and gift taxes, the right to employ clergy as civil servants in various public facilities, and exemption from bankruptcy laws. In addition, public law corporations can impose the Church Tax on their members.

Churches actually get to draft their own tax ordinances (though the ordinances must be approved by the state). Generally, state statutes provide forms that these Church Taxes can take, including income, wealth, and property taxes. Though churches are technically responsible for collecting the tax themselves, they can—and usually do—enlist the state’s help. The government collects the tax through its wage withholding, then, after keeping a service fee, remits the rest of the Church Tax to the relevant church. When the Church Tax is imposed on a member’s income, it’s levied as 8 to 9 percent of her federal income tax liability, which amounts to between 3 and 4 percent of her income.

Recent changes have raised awareness of the tax and the exodus from formal church affiliation has been growing:

…in 2012, a German court held that churches could bar people who stopped paying the tax (by civilly withdrawing from the church) from participating in church activities, including becoming godparents and joining church-run clubs.

Second, church members will no longer be able to avoid paying the Church Tax on their capital gains. While technically it has always been imposed on capital gains, in the past, banks waited for customers to volunteer their religious affiliation. Under new rules, banks are required to report their customers’ affiliation, rather than wait. That is, while the underlying law hasn’t changed, the enforcement mechanism has just improved.

From the TaxProf Blog, quoting from a WSJ article:

German church members must pay an additional 8% to 9% of their gross annual income tax and capital gains tax bills to the church. That is typically steeper than in many other parts of Europe. A registered believer, for instance, paying a 30% income tax rate, or €30,000, on an income of €100,000, would pay another €2,400 to €2,700 in church tax. …

While the church tax had officially always been due on capital gains, it had never been properly enforced. Under the new rules, which the churches lobbied for, banks will be required to report their customers’ religious affiliations, rather than wait for customers to volunteer the information. “We’re not doing it for the additional revenue,” said Thomas Begrich, finance chief for the Protestant Churches of Germany, or EKD, defending the change. “The wealthy need to pay their fair share.”

The WSJ article is here.  I’m not sure if it’s behind a firewall or not for everyone, so I provide the link to the TaxProf blog as well.

So far this year, the number of Germans leaving the country’s Protestant and Catholic churches has reached its highest level in 20 years, twice last year’s level—a surge many clergy and finance experts blame on the changes in how the tax is levied.

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More from Reuters on the recent changes:

German tax authorities collect an 8 or 9 percent premium on churchgoers’ annual tax bills and channel it to the faiths to pay clergy salaries, charity services and other expenses. Members must officially leave the church to avoid paying this.

Under a simplified procedure starting next year, banks will withhold that premium from church members earning more than 801 euros ($1,055) in capital gains annually and pass it on to tax authorities for distribution to the churches.

Letters from banks announcing the new procedure this summer and asking clients for their religious affiliation — so they can earmark funds to the right churches — have worried many members. Churches have scrambled to explain the changes.

“Nobody has to get angry and leave the church,” the Lutheran diocese of Braunschweig pleads on its website.

“I’m surprised because this isn’t a tax rise but just a new procedure,” Rev. Karl Juesten, the Catholic liaison official with parliament in Berlin, told the magazine Christ & Welt this week. “We should have become active earlier.”

Discussing the large sums involved is difficult for the churches, maybe more so now for Catholics because Pope Francis says he wants “a poor church for the poor” and makes a point of living in a simple apartment and riding in ordinary cars.

EMPTYING PEWS

National statistics are not yet available, but individual cases reported in recent weeks illustrate the problem.

For example, both the Lutheran diocese in Berlin and Stuttgart’s Catholic diocese reported a 50 percent jump in departures in the first half of 2014. That means about as many quit in only six months as had left in a full year before.

Some clergy have accused financial advisers of telling clients to quit their churches if they don’t want to pay up, a step that would have them barred from receiving the sacraments, being married in church or having a religious burial.

The banks replied with prompt and sharp denials.

“The churches are trying to get off easy. They should ask themselves why such a personal decision as belonging to a church is reduced to the issue of capital gains tax,” said Thomas Lange of the local banking association in Duesseldorf.

From a column at the Catholic Thing:

Some European journals are also calling for a reconsideration of the close financial link between Church and State in Germany. The Church draws a hefty income from this so-called church tax, and the clergy are paid rather large salaries by the state. Most Americans would be a bit shocked to learn that German bishops make between €8000 ($10,965) and €11,500 ($15,763) a month, depending upon their seniority. That comes to between $131,000 and $189,000 a year. Priests make less – but still far more than their American brother priests.

Der Spiegel is certainly not objective, but when you sort through the biases, you can get a sense of the financial..er…complexity of the Catholic Church in Germany.  The “Bishop of Bling” was only the most excessive of an excessive, wealthy bunch.

All right, then, you get the picture.  The German Catholic Church is a big business (the country’s second-largest employer) and it’s income is considerable.  There are various sources for that income, but a huge part of it is the church tax.  Fewer registered members?  Less income.

That’s one thing But here’s the other thing to keep in mind as you hear Cardinal Kasper talk. And talk and talk.

(Well, first you should be wondering why the head of a national church that is dying should have this constantly-turned on microphone on this issue.  Why are we even listening to him?  Aren’t we supposed to be listening to the Church from places where it is actually alive and growing? What happened to We’re-not-a-Western-European-Church-We’re-a-Global-Church?)

Okay, back to Germany.  Here’s how the German bishops responded to the growing exodus.  Back in 2012, they issued a decree.

This decree declared that if you’re Catholic, and you un-register with the German government and don’t pay the church tax…you’re basically excommunicated.  From, you know, the Eucharistic Table of the Lord.  You can’t be buried out of the Church unless you’ve repented. Heck, you can’t even chair the social committee:

From CNS:

“Conscious dissociation from the church by public act is a grave offense against the church community,” the decree said.

“Whoever declares their withdrawal for whatever reason before the responsible civil authority always violates their duty to preserve a link with the church, as well as their duty to make a financial contribution so the church can fulfill its tasks.”

The document added that departing Catholics could no longer receive the sacraments of penance, holy Communion, confirmation or anointing of the sick, other than when facing death, or exercise any church function, including belonging to parish councils or acting as godparents.

Marriages would granted only by a bishop’s consent and unrepentant Catholics would be denied church funerals, the decree said.

So yes, the de-registration is being interpreted as a formal defection from the Church.  Of course then, one does not receive the sacraments if one has taken this step.  But in the German context, there might be other reasons a Catholic would de-register which might have to do with, say, distrust of the national Church’s structure and unwillingness to support it, from either a liberal or conservative perspective.

Update:    I am fuzzy on whether the 2012 decree is actually in force. The German bishops at the time declared it was approved by the Vatican, which had, a few years previously declared that the practice was not valid.  Rome had declared in 2006, but this digging-in-the-heels German statement was in 2012. A discussion of it here.

Does all of this invalidate anyone’s statements or perspective?  Of course not.  But it is all very interesting, and seems to me very important context.

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All right…after Friendship with Jesus was published by the Catholic Truth Society, Pope Benedict visited England.  During that visit, he gave a talk to school children at an event called “The Big Assembly,” and like all of the talks and homilies he gave at such events,  it was rich and so expressive of his skillful way of teaching, which is profound, yet simple..and yet again, not watered down…so…26811_W

Another book!

Again, CTS was a joy to work with.  In structuring this book, we combined the pope’s words with quotations from various saints.  The images are mostly of contemporary children engaged in activities that illustrate the call of Pope Benedict and the saints to follow Christ.  Here’s the text of the entire talk. Some images:

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Ann was interviewed about her work on this book here. 

The book was also picked up by Ignatius and is available here.  A beautiful introduction to the life of a disciple…IMHO.

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