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And now, moving to Book #3 in our collection…

"amy welborn"The story for Bambinelli Sunday was Ann’s idea.  She had been long intrigued by the intricacy and liveliness of Neapolitan nativity scenes, and came up with the notion of a story focused on a little boy who’s part of a family of presepe makers from Naples, and who travels to Rome for the (newish) traditional blessing of Infant Jesus figures by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Franciscan Media picked it up, and last year it was published.

(It’s not too early to order copies for your parish or school catechists….we have an instructional flyer for a catechetical session centered around the story here and detailed instructions at the link. Pastors and parish ministers? What about your own Bambinelli Sunday?)

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This is a link to the group in Rome that sponsors Bambinelli Sunday in St. Peter’s Square.

This is a link to a 2013 blog post with an ongoing list of parishes doing their own Bambinelli – I can’t vouch for the links since most of them are to parish bulletins which may no longer be online  

Pope Benedict’s words at the 2008 event:

The blessing of the “Bambinelli” [Baby Jesus figurines] as they are called in Rome, reminds us that the crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having many things but in feeling loved by the Lord, in giving oneself as a gift for others and in loving one another. Let us look at the crib. Our Lady and St Joseph do not seem to be a very fortunate family; their first child was born in the midst of great hardship; yet they are full of deep joy, because they love each other, they help each other and, especially, they are certain that God, who made himself present in the little Jesus, is at work in their story. And the shepherds? What did they have to rejoice about? That Newborn Infant was not to change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helped them recognize the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” as a “sign” of the fulfilment of God’s promises for all human beings, “with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2: 12, 14).

This, dear friends, is what true joy consists in: it is feeling that our personal and community existence has been visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God’s love. In order to rejoice we do not need things alone, but love and truth: we need a close God who warms our hearts and responds to our deepest expectations. This God is manifested in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. Therefore that “Bambinello” which we place in a stable or a grotto is the centre of all things, the heart of the world. Let us pray that every person, like the Virgin Mary, may accept as the centre of his or her life the God who made himself a Child, the source of true joy.

If you are a priest or deacon offering this blessing, you might use Pope Benedict’s blessing from 2008 (it’s also in the book) 

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

Books for teens

 Some of my other books for children.

Books for adult faith formation.

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"amy welborn"

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As part of his General Audience series on the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke twice about St. Jerome, whose feast is today:

First:

What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture. This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us. However, to avoid falling into individuali"amy welborn"sm, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ’s Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

The next week:

For Jerome, a fundamental criterion of the method for interpreting the Scriptures was harmony with the Church’s Magisterium. We should never read Scripture alone because we meet too many closed doors and could easily slip into error. The Bible has been written by the People of God and for the People of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God do we truly enter into the “we”, into the nucleus of the truth that God himself wants to tell us. For him, an authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmonious accord with the faith of the Catholic Church. It is not a question of an exegesis imposed on this Book from without; the Book is really the voice of the pilgrim People of God and only in the faith of this People are we “correctly attuned” to understand Sacred Scripture. Therefore, Jerome admonishes: “Remain firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that you have been taught, so that you can preach according to right doctrine and refute those who contradict it” (Ep. 52, 7). In particular, given that Jesus Christ founded his Church on Peter, every Christian, he concludes, must be in communion “with St Peter’s See. I know that on this rock the Church is built” (Ep. 15, 2). Consequently, without equivocation, he declared: “I am with whoever is united to the teaching of St Peter” (Ep. 16).

Obviously, Jerome does not neglect the ethical aspect. Indeed, he often recalls the duty to harmonize one’s life with the divine Word, and only by living it does one also find the capacity to understand it. This consistency is indispensable for every Christian, and particularly for the preacher, so that his actions may never contradict his discourses nor be an embarrassment to him. Thus, he exhorts the priest Nepotian: “May your actions never be unworthy of your words, may it not happen that, when you preach in church, someone might say to himself: “Why does he therefore not act like this?’. How could a teacher, on a full stomach, discuss fasting; even a thief can blame avarice; but in the priest of Christ the mind and words must harmonize” (Ep. 52, 7). In another Epistle Jerome repeats: “Even if we possess a splendid doctrine, the person who feels condemned by his own conscience remains disgraced” (Ep. 127, 4). Also on the theme of consistency he observes: the Gospel must translate into truly charitable behaviour, because in each human being the Person of Christ himself is present. For example, addressing the presbyter Paulinus (who then became Bishop of Nola and a Saint), Jerome counsels: “The true temple of Christ is the soul of the faithful: adorn it and beautify this shrine, place your offerings in it and receive Christ. What is the use of decorating the walls with precious stones if Christ dies of hunger in the person of the poor?” (Ep. 58, 7). Jerome concretizes the need “to clothe Christ in the poor, to visit him in the suffering, to nourish him in the hungry, to house him in the homeless” (Ep. 130, 14). The love of Christ, nourished with study and meditation, makes us rise above every difficulty: “Let us also love Jesus Christ, always seeking union with him: then even what is difficult will seem easy to us” (Ep. 22, 40).

Prosper of Aquitaine, who defined Jerome as a “model of conduct and teacher of the human race” (Carmen de ingratis, 57), also left us a rich and varied teaching on Christian asceticism. He reminds us that a courageous commitment towards perfection requires constant vigilance, frequent mortifications, even if with moderation and prudence, and assiduous intellectual and manual labour to avoid idleness (cf. Epp. 125, 11; 130, 15), and above all obedience to God: “Nothing… pleases God as much as obedience…, which is the most excellent and sole virtue” (Hom. de Oboedientia: CCL 78, 552). The practice of pilgrimage can also be part of the ascetical journey. In particular, Jerome promoted pilgrimages to the Holy Land, where pilgrims were welcomed and housed in the lodgings that were built next to the monastery of Bethlehem, thanks to the generosity of the noblewoman Paula, a spiritual daughter of Jerome (cf. Ep. 108, 14).

Lastly, one cannot remain silent about the importance that Jerome gave to the matter of Christian pedagogy (cf. Epp. 107; 128). He proposed to form “one soul that must become the temple of the Lord” (Ep. 107, 4), a “very precious gem” in the eyes of God (Ep. 107, 13). With profound intuition he advises to preserve oneself from evil and from the occasions of sin, and to exclude equivocal or dissipating friendships (cf. Ep. 107, 4, 8-9; also Ep. 128, 3-4). Above all, he exhorts parents to create a serene and joyful environment around their children, to stimulate them to study and work also through praise and emulation (cf. Epp.107, 4; 128, 1), encouraging them to overcome difficulties, foster good habits and avoid picking up bad habits, so that, and here he cites a phrase of Publius Siro which he heard at school: “it will be difficult for you to correct those things to which you are quietly habituating yourself” (Ep. 107, 8). Parents are the principal educators of their children, the first teachers of life. With great clarity Jerome, addressing a young girl’s mother and then mentioning her father, admonishes, almost expressing a fundamental duty of every human creature who comes into existence: “May she find in you her teacher, and may she look to you with the inexperienced wonder of childhood. Neither in you, nor in her father should she ever see behaviour that could lead to sin, as it could be copied. Remember that… you can educate her more by example than with words” (Ep. 107, 9). Among Jerome’s principal intuitions as a pedagogue, one must emphasize the importance he attributed to a healthy and integral education beginning from early childhood, the particular responsibility belonging to parents, the urgency of a serious moral and religious formation and the duty to study for a more complete human formation. Moreover, an aspect rather disregarded in ancient times but held vital by our author is the promotion of the woman, to whom he recognizes the right to a complete formation: human, scholastic, religious, professional. We see precisely today how the education of the personality in its totality, the education to responsibility before God and man, is the true condition of all progress, all peace, all reconciliation and the exclusion of violence. Education before God and man: it is Sacred Scripture that offers us the guide for education and thus of true humanism.

And why is a lion one of Jerome’s attributes in art?

St. Jerome was quite a popular subject for artists – the inherent drama of his situation – out there in the wilderness, surrounded by his texts, translating and writing  – was quite attractive to artists.

And what of that lion? The imagery is rooted in early medieval hagiography which told a story  – inspired most assume by Aesop, but others draw connections to nother saint, >Gerasimus, whose legend includes a similar tale. The story is of a lion, rescued from a wound by Jerome, who is brought into the monastery to watch and protect the monks’ donkey. One day, the donkey is lost, and the monks (not Jerome) assume the lion has killed him, and punish him with menial tasks as a consequence.

The donkey, however, had been stolen by traders, and one evening the lion sees the donkey, returning with the traders, and he alerts the monastery. The monks, so quick to rush to judgment, are chastised by Jerome, and the lion lives out his days, faithful to his friend.

Goddenstjerome_1There are at least two versions of this story retold for children. The more contemporary version was written by Margaret Hodges, who has quite a few saints’ books under her belt, and illustrated by Barry Moser.

Then there’s the Rumer Godden version which is a little longer than the modern telling, and is of course, by Rumer Godden.

 

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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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This coming Sunday, the 87 (!) – year old Pope Emeritus Benedict will attend an event for grandparents – the elderly – in St. Peter’s Square.   It’s a good opportunity to revisit some remarks he made in 2012 when he visited a home for the elderly run by the Community of San’Egidio. 

I come to you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an old man visiting his peers. It would be superfluous to say that I am well acquainted with the difficulties, problems and limitations of this age and I know that for many these difficulties are more acute due to the economic crisis. At times, at a certain age, one may look back nostalgically at the time of our youth when we were fresh and planning for the future. Thus at times our gaze is veiled by sadness, seeing this phase of life as the time of sunset. This morning, addressing all the elderly in spirit, although I am aware of the difficulties that our age entails I would like to tell you with deep conviction: it is beautiful to be old! At every phase of life it is necessary to be able to discover the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches they bring. We must never let ourselves be imprisoned by sorrow! We have received the gift of longevity. Living is beautiful even at our age, despite some “aches and pains” and a few limitations. In our faces may there always be the joy of feeling loved by God and not sadness.

In the Bible longevity is considered a blessing of God; today this blessing is widespread and must be seen as a gift to appreciate and to make the most of. And yet frequently society dominated by the logic of efficiency and gain does not accept it as such: on the contrary it frequently rejects it, viewing the elderly as non-productive or useless. All too often we hear about the suffering of those who are marginalized, who live far from home or in loneliness. I think there should be greater commitment, starting with families and public institutions, to ensure that the elderly be able to stay in their own homes. The wisdom of life, of which we are bearers, is a great wealth. The quality of a society, I mean of a civilization, is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life. Those who make room for the elderly make room for life! Those who welcome the elderly welcome life!

From the outset the Community of Sant’Egidio has supported so many elderly people on their way, helping them to stay in their own living milieus and opening various “casa-famiglia” in Rome and throughout the world. Through solidarity between the young and the old it has helped people to understand that the Church is effectively a family made up of all the generations, where each person must feel “at home” and where it is not the logic of profit and of possession that prevails but that of giving freely and of love. When life becomes frail, in the years of old age, it never loses its value and its dignity: each one of us, at any stage of life, is wanted and loved by God, each one is important and necessary (cf. Homily for the beginning of the Petrine Ministry, 24 April 2005).

Today’s visit fits into the European Year of Active Aging and of Solidarity between the Generations. And in this very context I would like to reaffirm that the elderly are a value for society, especially for the young. There can be no true human growth and education without fruitful contact with the elderly, because their life itself is like an open book in which the young generations may find precious indications for their journey through life.

Dear friends, at our age we often experience the need of the help of others; and this also happens to the Pope. In the Gospel we read that Jesus told the Apostle Peter: “when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). The Lord was referring to the way in which the Apostle was to witness to his faith to the point of martyrdom, but this sentence makes us think about that fact that the need for help is a condition of the elderly. I would like to ask you to seek in this too a gift of the Lord, because being sustained and accompanied, feeling the affection of others is a grace! This is important in every stage of life: no one can live alone and without help; the human being is relational. And in this case I see, with pleasure, that all those who help and all those who are helped form one family, whose lifeblood is love.

Dear elderly brothers and sisters, the days sometimes seem long and empty, with difficulties, few engagements and few meetings; never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness. And this phase of life is also a gift for deepening the relationship with God. The example of Blessed Pope John Paul II was and still is illuminating for everyone. Do not forget that one of the valuable resources you possess is the essential one of prayer: become interceders with God, praying with faith and with constancy. Pray for the Church, and pray for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, so that there may be no more violence in the world. The prayers of the elderly can protect the world, helping it, perhaps more effectively than collective anxiety. Today I would like to entrust to your prayers the good of the Church and peace in the world. The Pope loves you and relies on all of you! May you feel beloved by God and know how to bring a ray of God’s love to this society of ours, often so individualistic and so efficiency-oriented. And God will always be with you and with all those who support you with their affection and their help.

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Elizabeth Foss has published a lovely review of Adventures in Assisi – written by her 8-year old daughter!  Go check it out!

And…tomorrow morning at 7:35 am Eastern, I’ll be interviewed on the Son Rise Morning Show with Matt Swain, on EWTN radio – listen if you have a chance. 

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Well, the feastday of St. Francis is a bit more than a week away, so it’s time to start talking about the new book!

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Adventures in Assisi is the fruit of my interest in St. Francis as well as trips both Ann and I have taken to the town.  Ann has been twice, and I traveled there two years ago with my two youngest, on our epic 3-month stay in Europe.

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There are, of course, many books on St. Francis for children, but ours is different in several ways:

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(Click for full size)

1) It’s set in the present. There are regular allusions to and illustrations from St. Francis’ life, but the children at the center of the story are contemporary children, interacting with St. Francis, his life and his message, in the context of their own lives.

2) It’s not about the wolf of Gubbio or the creche or St. Francis and creation – as great as those are, those stories are the subjects of most of the books about Francis out there, and really, do we need one more?

3) The children, we hope, are physically more representative of most children you see in picture books in general, and in picture books for Catholic in general, who tend to be pretty much all Caucasian.  This was quite important to me.  Given the makeup of the Catholic Church, even just in the US, it’s ridiculous that the demographics of children’s book illustrations don’t reflect that.  The models for these children, incidentally, are Ann’s family members.

More tomorrow!

More info here – with some inside views.

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— 1 —

Last weekend was mostly lived without the boys around – they were camping – so in their absence I did things like extended my exercise time (fun!), watched a Fellini film, went to Mass on a Saturday during college football season and ate at a restaurant that doesn’t have chicken fingers or pizza on the menu.

— 2 —

I also hit an estate sale. Now, the boys don’t mind going to estate sales.  Most of the time, in fact, when I offer, they choose to come along.  Joseph is always on the lookout for sports cards and Michael for…anything, Mexican themes preferred.

But this one – one of the few this weekend (estate sales really slow down around here during college football season – see #1) was kind of far out of town, and not one that I’d have dragged them to.

About 2/3 of the estate sales I go to are in homes that have been fairly well kept up, some spectacularly so.  The other 1/3 are thought-provoking, sad and sometimes horrible.  This was one of those.

It was in a fairly large Tudor in what was one of the “better” neighborhoods of this outlying community. The area was probably fairly sharp in the 80’s, but, well, it’s not the 80’s.  And this home was a wreck.  No serious cleaning in probably 30 years, threadbare, filthy carpet, piles of stuff everywhere, general decrepitude and worse, really. The house was for sale, but honestly, you’d have to gut it to even begin to make it livable.

It only took a quick look to see that there wasn’t anything I’d be interested in (often even in those situations I can find a small bookshelf or table that’s great for a quick, cheap, colorful redo – not here), and then lingered at the top of the stairs to the basement,listening to the fellow running the sale relate the late owner’s story – a 95-year old woman who’d fallen outside while taking down her flag. Broke her hip, complications ensued, and she died.

I always wonder..she was living in this?  Was she so stubborn that she wouldn’t allow anyone to help her?  Did she have children, grandchildren or other relations? Were they all awful people, had she alienated them, had they just drifted apart?

And just as the estate sales are reminders to me about where my real treasure lies, they’re also reminders to…try very hard not to be that 95-year old woman living in squalor.  Five kids…my chances are decent that one of them will still like me enough in forty years, right?

Anyway, after I finished eavesdropping looking upstairs, I headed to the basement and was stopped short by what greeted me on the stairway.  Papering the walls of the stairway, one side even backlit somehow, were pinups from no later than the 60’s – torn and cut out from magazines and calendars, I suppose, most very demure – and at the bottom of the stairs a basement full of what you would find in a basement workshop, much of piled up, some surprisingly organized.

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Hard to take this shot without looking creepy.

What a sight, from top to bottom.

— 3 —

After that, I went church-hunting.  I wanted to find the original St. Mark’s Catholic Church - one of the first Catholic churches built in Birmingham after the (now) Cathedral of St. Paul.  It was constructed for the Italian immigrants who peopled the area, immigrants who have long since moved to other sections of the city.  There is a new St. Mark’s now, built twenty miles south of this, in a well-off section of the county.

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It’s now a Protestant church of some type.

I’m really looking forward to a new exhibit at our Vulcan museum, one that starts this weekend, focusing on the Italian community.

vulcan italian exhibit

Unfortunately, we’re missing the St. George Melkite Catholic Middle Eastern Food Festival this weekend – maybe we’ll catch the Greek Festival the following weekend...and the Jewish Food Festival later in October or the Russian/Slavic Festival in November….

— 4 —

The week has proceeded as normal – school(s), music classes, science center class (no boxing this week), and an outing to Moss Rock Preserve, just about 20 minutes from our house when the traffic cooperates.

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— 5 —

It seems as if “Book Week” is turning into “Book Month” as I post about my books at this surprisingly glacial rate.  This week, I got to my books for teens and young adults – here. 

(Also earlier this week, in case you missed it, I wrote about my first solo trip to New York City, when I was 18.)

— 6 —

BBC podcasts?

Since In Our Time is still on its summer hiatus, I’ve had to fill the gap mostly with science documentaries and what other history I can find over there.  One series that has caught my interest has been Great Lives, in which the host is joined by one enthusiast who has chosen the “great life” to discuss, and then an academic expert on said great life.

I particularly enjoyed this episode – punk poet John Cooper Clarke on Salvador Dali, whom, he says, “entered my life as a Catholic mystic.”

There’s an audio excerpt of that section here  – less than 2 minutes.  And an interview with Clarke here. Amidst all the drug and punk culture talk, there’s this:

Clarke grew up a Catholic and still has faith. “People who believe in God are happier than those who don’t. I’ve never met a happy atheist.”

I was intrigued in a different way by this episode with the almost always irritating and pretentious Naomi Wolf on her pick, Edith Wharton.  What was interesting to me about the program, the picture of Wharton that had evolved was of a not-very likable person whose “revolutionary” sensibilities had nothing to do with women – she opposed suffrage and refused to fund scholarships for women particularly since doing so might risk funding an education for a Jewish woman)  in general but were really only about Edith Wharton.  The host raised the spectre of selfishness at the very end of the program, but Wolf did her best to wave it away…

— 7 —

All right.  Next week – my books with Ann Englehart, with special attention paid to Adventures in Assisi, of course!

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Some photos from one of the inspirations for the book – my own trip to Assisi with the boys two years ago…..sigh.

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Oh, and I did cook this week, but instead of talking about that, I”ll point you to this. It’s the most true thing I read on the Internet today.  Just don’t read it in a hotel room with children who are trying to go to sleep. 

“I don’t have any of these ingredients at home. Could you rewrite this based on the food I do have in my house? I’m not going to tell you what food I have. You have to guess.”

“I don’t eat white flour, so I tried making it with raw almonds that I’d activated by chewing them with my mouth open to receive direct sunlight, and it turned out terrible. This recipe is terrible.”

“Could you please give the metric weight measurements, and sometime in the next twenty minutes; I’m making this for a dinner party and my guests are already here.”

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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