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7 Quick Takes

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Well, here we are, just about one week and counting from, we hope, The Return to College. Out of five classes, all but one will be (as far as we can tell) face-to-face, and I don’t mind paying for that.

What a ride.

So, next week: Hopefully get his old car sold (anyone in Alabama want a 2006 Mazda Miata?) get serious about lists and shopping and such. I’m not anxious about it because he’ll have a car with him and in case he needs toothpaste, he can just pop out to Wal-Mart and…go get some. There isn’t that concern to Buy All The Things because he won’t be able to restock for weeks or months.

But we do want to get most of the stuff before we go. Added to the usual this year: Masks? Check. Sanitizer? Check. Thermometer? Check. Etc. He has all of this textbooks. He’ll be in a single room, so no roommate concerns, and that also lessens the Pandemic Prevention Pressure.

— 2 —

I’m in Living Faith today. Here ’tis. 

Before this – here. 

— 3 —

My new favorite Twitter account. Language alert, blah, blah, blah.

 — 4 —

Working hard here, every day. Process?

In the evening, take a look at the material to be written about the next day. Read any unfamiliar Scripture passages. Let it simmer.

Get up the next morning, first thing revise the two or three chunks written the day before. Then write two-three new chunks.

Done by 10 am, usually.

Onward!

— 5

In case you missed it earlier this week:

I’ll Fly Away – The Sister Servants from Sister Servants on Vimeo.

Learn more about the Sister Servants here. 

 

6–

Here’s a really excellent article on Hemingway and O’Connor, turning on the imagery of blood and yes, bulls. It’s very, very good. 

It is also noteworthy here that Mrs. May is described as being “pierced”—that word associated with suffering and with the cross—and that the piercing coincides with a kind or rapture or “ecstasy,” a word whose Greek root means “to stand outside of oneself” and suggests a transcendence of self. O’Connor’s heroine is cast as a modern-day version of Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy, who is pierced, in the midst of her visionary rapture, by a visiting angel.

Along similar lines, Hemingway associates the violence of the bullring with ecstasy, particularly the faena—the final third of the bullfight wherein the matador performs his capework with the bull before killing him. In Death in the Afternoon he writes of this rapture, describing the faena as a ritual

That takes a man out of himself and makes him feel immortal while it is proceeding, that gives him an ecstasy, that is, while momentary, as profound as any religious ecstasy; moving all the people in the ring together . . . in a growing ecstasy of ordered, formal, passionate, increasing disregard for death (206-207).

The ecstasy O’Connor and Hemingway describe—and that Bernini depicts— is the culmination of intense bodily sensation leading to enlightenment of the soul. The natural leads to the supernatural. Time becomes one with eternity. Suffering is redeemed. It is mystical, transcendent, and deeply Catholic.

The uses of violence by both Hemingway and O’Connor remind us of the reality human life is grounded in: we are all living “on the verge of eternity” (O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, 114), and the way we conduct our lives in the here and now has a spiritual dimension. Violence reminds us of our unceasing proximity to death, and this knowledge can serve as a conduit to grace.

 

— 7 —

Tomorrow? St. Dominic, here in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  Only a page is available  online, so here it is. He’s in “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray” section.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

This fits with the theme of a previous post. Perhaps I should have waited and composed yet one more long, drawn-out faux Think Post drawing the two experiences together. Probably good that I didn’t.

Gattaca, a movie released in 1997 and starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman among others (Gore Vidal?) is a futuristic piece about human control over creation and Film: GATTACA · Halperin Buildingreality. I’d never heard of it before last week. You might have seen it in a biology class somewhere along the way – a brief search about reactions to the film tells me that this is the case for many.

It begins, tellingly, with a verse from Ecclesiastes:

Consider God’s handiwork: who can straighten what He hath made crooked?’

Set up:

At this indeterminate point in history, most human beings are conceived in petri dishes via selection of their most desirable traits. This has become the “natural” way to conceive.

Of course, others slip through. Our central character, played by Ethan Hawke, is one of those, called an “In-Valid,” conceived by his parents really naturally.

As an In-Valid, he would naturally be consigned to the lowest rungs of society, but he’s determined to reach the stars.

I’m not going to summarize the rest of the plot here – that’s not my interest.

No, my brief mention of this film is all about the assumption running through it that there is not something quite right about this world, that it’s soulless and cold, and that to bring human beings into the world without human manipulation is an act that’s connected to God. And that there is actually a God.

When Vincent’s mother gives birth to him, she’s clutching a rosary in her hand.

And when he’s forced to reveal is origins to Uma Thurman, she asks him, for clarification, quite simply,

You’re a God-child?

The storylines of Vincent and the Jude Law character, Jerome, whose identity he elaborately assumes in order to reach his dream of going to space, play out the theme of the destructive nature of trying to play the Creator.

Vincent combats prejudice – that is, literally – pre-judging, and assumptions about who he is because of his identity. He rises despite the conviction that genetics make the man. And he’s convinced, in a way that could even be taken as a spiritual metaphor – that he wasn’t made for this world. He can’t help looking up. There are many daily launches of spacecraft, and, as the Uma Thurman character observes, he’s the only person around who stops to watch each one.

You’re a God-child? 

The fate of Jerome is disturbing, but upon reflection, I could see how it expresses the broader theme. I won’t spoil it, but while tragic, it also makes perfect sense, given the society in which Jerome was born (as a Valid) and has lived – he, as a now imperfect thing, is worth less than nothing.

It’s not brilliant, but it’s certainly a thoughtful film with, I’ll add, a really interesting aesthetic – a mix of typical cold futurism with a bit of retro vintage flair.

You’re a God-child?

Today is the memorial of St. John Vianney, patron of priests.

We can start with his own words, from the Office of Readings in years on which the memorial doesn’t fall on a Sunday.

My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
  Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
  As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask.
  And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.
Then move on to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who gave much attention to the saint in his declaration of the Year for Priests:

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there”. As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ’s presence and to bear witness to his saving mercy: “[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!”: with this prayer he entered upon his mission.[7] The Curé devoted himself completely to his parish’s conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ’s saving activity was, and is, an expression of his “filial consciousness” which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to his will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Curé of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonizing his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to “live”, physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: “Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed”.[8]

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Curé also knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

….This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence

…..

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite”.[24] From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the “dialogue of salvation” which it entails. The Curé of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God’s forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God’s love in these beautiful and touching words: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!”.[25] But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how “abominable” this attitude was: “I weep because you don’t weep”,[26] he would say. “If only the Lord were not so good! But he is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!”.[27] He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence: “Everything in God’s sight, everything with God, everything to please God… How beautiful it is!”.[28] And he taught them to pray: “My God, grant me the grace to love you as much as I possibly can”.[29]

In his time the Curé of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love: Deus caritas est (1 Jn: 4:8).

From a 2009 General Audience

His testimony reminds us, dear brothers and sisters, that for every baptized person and especially for every priest the Eucharist is not merely an event with two protagonists, a dialogue between God and me. Eucharistic Communion aspires to a total transformation of one’s life and forcefully flings open the whole human “I” of man and creates a new “we” (cf. Joseph Ratzinger, La Comunione nella Chiesa, p. 80).

Thus, far from reducing the figure of St John Mary Vianney to an example albeit an admirable one of 18-century devotional spirituality, on the contrary one should understand the prophetic power that marked his human and priestly personality that is extremely timely. In post-revolutionary France which was experiencing a sort of “dictatorship of rationalism” that aimed at obliterating from society the very existence of priests and of the Church, he lived first in the years of his youth a heroic secrecy, walking kilometres at night to attend Holy Mass. Then later as a priest Vianney distinguished himself by an unusual and fruitful pastoral creativity, geared to showing that the then prevalent rationalism was in fact far from satisfying authentic human needs, hence definitively unliveable.

Dear brothers and sisters, 150 years after the death of the Holy Curé of Ars, contemporary society is facing challenges that are just as demanding and may have become even more complex. If in his time the “dictatorship of rationalism” existed, in the current epoch a sort of “dictatorship of relativism” is evident in many contexts. Both seem inadequate responses to the human being’s justifiable request to use his reason as a distinctive and constitutive element of his own identity. Rationalism was inadequate because it failed to take into account human limitations and claims to make reason alone the criterion of all things, transforming it into a goddess; contemporary relativism humiliates reason because it arrives de facto at affirming that the human being can know nothing with certainty outside the positive scientific field. Today however, as in that time, man, “a beggar for meaning and fulfilment”, is constantly in quest of exhaustive answers to the basic questions that he never ceases to ask himself.

Pope John XXIII wrote an entire encyclical on St. John Vianney – on the 100th anniversary of his death.  It’s an interesting read from an historical perspective – published on August 1, 1959..it’s sort of hard to see why it’s an encyclical, exactly, rather than some other sort of papal document, but that’s not the first or last time that question could be posed.

It’s definitely worth your time, not only for what you might learn about St. John Vianney, but also for what it tells us about Pope John XXIII’s thinking on the priesthood on the cusp of the Second Vatican Council.

It is not Our intention at this time to enter upon a lengthy treatment of the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and on the Eucharistic Sacrifice as it has been handed down from antiquity. Our predecessors Pius XI and Pius XII have done this in clear and important documents and We urge you to take pains to see to it that the priests and faithful entrusted to your care are very familiar with them. This will clear up the doubts of some; and correct the more daring statements that have sometimes been made in discussing these matters.

52. But We too hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honored by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of St. John Vianney.

53. For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God.” (64) There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.

From Fr. Steve Grunow:

In 1818, John Vianney was sent by his bishop to the parish of Ars, a godforsaken place with maybe 230 inhabitants. The place was basically a ruin. His bishop told him that “there is little love of God in that parish; you will have to the one who puts it there”.

That he did.

By 1855, 4 years before John Vianney’s death, some 20,000 pilgrims flocked to Ars in hope of just getting a glimpse of the holy priest.

John Vianney was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in the year 1925.

The lesson?

In my limited experience there are two approaches that characterize the way that parish priests will approach their vocation- one that is oriented towards the administrative and the other that it ordered towards the ascetic or to the athletic. MORE

Finally, French Catholic Novelist Georges Bernanos wrote a novel called Diary of a Country Priest, based on at least the spirit of the ministry of the Cure d’Ars.  I wrote a teeny-tiny article on the novel (why it was so short is at the link) for Liguorian ages ago. You can read it here. 

In the late 19th and early 20th century a philosophical perspective called positivism ruled the  intellectual climate in France.  Positivists like Emile Durkheim and Auguste Comte claimed that all one can know about human life is what can be observed and that the laws of behavior and society discerned from these observations should be used to organize human life.

Into this scientifically-based and utterly materialistic mileu stepped, one by one over the decades before and just after the First World War, a group of writers who formed what we now call the French Catholic Literary Revival.  Francois Mauriac, Charles Peguy, Julien Green and Leon Bloy  rejected positivism and reclaimed a vision of human beings essentially defined, not by scientific law, but rather by our relation to God and struggle with evil.  One of the finest writers of this group was George Bernanos, author of Diary of a Country Priest.

Diary of a Country Priest, first published in 1936, is just what the title suggests:  the fictional journal of a young curate in rural France.  The premise may seem simple, but in Bernanos’ hands it emerges as a rich work in which the reader encounters the injustices of French society, the emptiness of an intellectual system that rejects God, the failure of the Church to fully embody Christ’s love for the poor, and above all, the power of a life dedicated to God.

The Wonders

How often do I write a post and say to you (and myself), “I’ll write more about that later.” krhXl8X2_400x400And of course, proceed to just move on and never mention it again? Too often. Let’s fix that.

So, when last we met, I mentioned The Wonders as one of the books I read last week, promising to write a bit more about it. Here we go.

Full title: The Wonders: The Extraordinary Performers who Transformed the Victorian Age. 

Not radically new territory, of course. Freak shows and side shows have been written about many times, as have the individual performers at the heart of the business. But Woolf writes very well (a pleasant contrast to the rather digressive slog of Chanel’s Riviera) and I really appreciated his point of view: centering the experiences of the performers.

This isn’t going to be lengthy, because I simply want to highlight one point. And, you won’t be surprised to see, that I do so mostly because it affirms my own point of view on certain matters

As in: That Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution you love so much? Maybe not the unmitigated good you keep preaching that it is. 

Woolf’s point could probably be scrutinized and found flawed, as all points and conclusions can be, but I found it rather thought-provoking.

Basically:

Up until the 19th century scientific revolution, including Darwin and Darwinism, people with physical anomalies were largely understood as being strange, sometimes monstrous, but still wondrous aspects of God’s creation.

But once we came to understand nature in mechanistic, evolutionary terms…well, you can see what happens, right?

Indeed, as scientists began explaining away God’s Creation, the monster was transformed into a deviant and a defect; what once provoked wonder and fear came to provoke horror and disgust. 

That’s from a discussion of Julia Pastrana, a Mexican woman with excessive facial hair and a jaw and dental abnormality, who toured, was celebrated, and, rather horrifyingly, was embalmed and displayed for decades after her death – up until the 21st century.

Woolf highlights the reaction of naturalist Francis Buckland in this chapter, who wrote extensively about Pastrana, and stood in opposition in his views to the au courant rage for Darwinism. As Buckland said himself, “I am not a disciple of Darwin or the development theory. I believe in the doctrine — I am sorry to say no old fashioned – that the great Creator made all things in the beginning, and that he made them good.”

More:

As freak performers increasingly found themselves confined or cared for in medical institutions, the freak body shifted from being a show-stopping wonder to a pathological scientific specimen, non-sensationalized and demystified under the medical gaze (302)…the eugenics and advent of Social Darwinism turned freak performers into a national menace. How could you celebrate a freak show marriage, which could lead to ‘freak’ children, if you believed that physical anomalies were inherited and would cascade down the generations and ultimately enfeeble the nation? (305) ….Increasingly, the likes of the Aztecs, Maximo and Bartola – discussed as dwarfish, degenerate and idiotic — were not to be celebrated but feared. Increasingly, the other side of evolution – devolution – panicked the late Victorians. Degenerates, it was increasingly thought, would block the evolutionary advance…..(306)

Of course, there is more of interest in the book than this, ranging from the details about the performers to the exploration of the growth of popular culture as a business, to the fascination of Queen Victoria herself with freak performers.

For example, I knew a bit about Chang and Eng Bunker, the famed “Siamese Twins” – but I had no idea they had settled in North Carolina, become very successful landowners – which, in antebellum North Carolina included owning slaves –and have hundreds of descendants who regularly gather, both here in the United States and have even made a journey or two back to Thailand. 

 

 

Monday Digest

Kid #5 back from camp, Kid #4 on his last week of work here, and we’re readying to get Mondayhim back to college in less than two weeks. Watching all of the back-to-school chaos across the country and praying that it’s only short term. More on that later.

Let’s start the digest with some listening, and one that might lift your spirits.

Listening:

The Sister Servants of the Eternal Word are a local order whose home is Casa Maria,where for many years my two youngest regularly served Mass, and where, as it happens, my high school best friend and college roommate is a sister. Their primary ministry is retreats as well as other types of spiritual outreach (working with rural parishes in catechesis, days of recollection). The liturgies there are traditional, and the sisters chant beautifully.

So here’s a change-up for you! This is absolutely wonderful, and maybe we can see a joint effort between these sisters and the Hillybilly Thomists? 

I’ll Fly Away – The Sister Servants from Sister Servants on Vimeo.

Also listening to:

Son-in-law, and his “New Music Monday” tonight. 

His YouTube Channel

Also, Beethoven at 11:30 at night. 

Reading:

So much reading. All the reading. Libraries! Re-opening!

A major branch not far from me reopened last week, and then on Thursday, I discovered that another large branch close to where I’d gone to go pick up my son from his camp ride had been open for two weeks!

Unduly excited about all of that.

So – here’s what was read over the past week or so. I am going to try to write more about these in individual posts, but you know how that goes.

Chanel’s Riviera written about here.

The Wonders was very good – a survey of Victorian freak-centered entertainment. I’ll have more to say later today.

The Motion of the Body Through SpaceLionel Shriver’s latest novel. I had some quibbles with it – at times, it seemed as if it was mostly an opportunity for Shriver to vent her disagreement with various aspects of contemporary political and cultural life through the mouths of her characters. But at other times, well, to use a current phrase, I have never felt so seen. 

Currently reading Nothing to See Herewhich I’m liking quite a bit more than I thought, since I did not join the chorus’ high praise of the author’s previous novel, The Family Fang

I’m about a quarter through this one, hope to finish it today, and as I said, I’m liking it more than expected, and not only because it’s set in somewhat familiar territory, outside Nashville. It has a crazy premise, which is why I had originally demurred on reading it (too precious?), but so far I’m impressed with the skill in which the author has managed to get me to suspend my disbelief.

Writing: 

Still at it. Keeping up the pace. Going well. Reading all the fiction has made me all the more determined to get through the current project and move on to different types of writing.

Watching: 

Okay.

Last week: Hail, Caesar!; Logan Lucky; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; Office Space. All of those were just with the 19-year old, as the other was at camp.

This week so far:

Joe Versus the Volcano – a largely neglected gem, directed and written by John Patrick Shanley. I love, love, love this movie. Will write more about it later.

Key Largo:  Very good, not quite what I expected. An interesting post-war reflection on heroics and courage, really, with a most unexpected recurrent theme of American treatment of Native Americans, here, specifically, the Seminole.

Also, the Edward G. Robinson whispering to Lauren Bacall has got to be one of the creepiest, most effective scenes in movie history – and a textbook example of the power of the indirect and implied over the obvious and explicit.

Gattaca – pretty good, not great, but it had Jude Law, so yeah. A timely reflection on hubris and creation. I might say a bit more about this.

And…..uh…Wayne’s World 2. Which I think is a better movie than the first one, and just…pretty hilarious.

I have several more movies I want to get to (not that Wayne’s World was on the list…it just happened…) before College Kid goes back (he’s convinced for no more than a month, but I’m more optimistic)..but between some people socializing, others riding bikes in the early evening and work, don’t know how many we’ll get make it to.

Cooking: 

Again, because of all of the early-evening busyness, I am hesitant to commit to meals, but last night, I did do a Penne with chicken and vodka sauce, from this recipe.And some baking has happened.

 

 

 

That’s today.

(If you ever go to Assisi and arrive by train, your station is at Santa Maria degli Angeli, and you then take some other means to get up the hill.)

 

EWTN Vatican correspondent  Joan Lewis gave a good explanation of both the Porziuncola and the Pardon of Assisi a few years ago:

Having prayed and meditated and discovered his vocation here in 1209, St. Francis founded the Friars Minor and eventually obtained the chapel from the Benedictines as a gift to be the center of his new Order.

Here, on March 28, 1211, Clare, the daughter of one Favarone di Offreduccio received the habit of the Poor Clares from Francis, thus instituting that Order.

And now we come to 1216 when St.Francis, in a vision, obtained what is know as the Pardon of Assisi or Indulgence of the Porziuncola (also written Portiuncula), approved by Pope Honorius III. This special day runs from Vespers on August 1 to sundown of August 2.

According to the official Porziuncola website, one night in 1216 Francis was immersed in prayer when suddenly the chapel was filled with a powerful light, and he saw Christ and His Holy Mother above the altar, surrounded by a multitude of angels.

They asked him what he wanted to be able to save souls and Francis’ answer was immediate: “I ask that all those who, having repented and confessed, will come to visit this church will obtain full and generous pardon with a complete remission of guilt.”

The Lord then said to Francis: “What you ask, Brother Francis, is great but you are worthy of greater things and greater things you will have. I thus accept your prayer, but on the understanding that you ask my vicar on earth, in my name, for this indulgence.”

Francis immediately went to Pope Honorius who listened attentively and gave his approval. To the question, “Francis, for how many years do you wish this indulgence?” the saint replied: “Holy Father, I do not ask for years, but for souls.”

And thus, on August 2, 1216, together with the bishops of Umbria, he announced to the people gathered at the Porziuncula: “My brothers, I want to send all of you to Heaven.”

Francis gathered his brother Franciscans here every year in a general chapter to discuss the Rule of the Order, to be renewed in their work and to awaken in themselves a new fervor in bringing the Gospel to the world.

It is also the site of St. Francis’ death. 

” He was at that time dwelling in the palace of the Bishop of Assisi, and therefore he asked the brethren to carry him with all speed to the “place” of St. Maria de Portiuncula, for he wished to give back his soul to God there, where (as has been said) he first knew the way of the truth perfectly….

…Then, for that he was about to become dust and ashes, he bade that he should be laid on sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes. All the brethren (whose father and leader he was) came together, and, as they stood reverently by and awaited his blessed departure and happy consummation, his most holy soul was released from the flesh and absorbed into the abyss of light, and his body fell asleep in the Lord. But one of his brethren and disciples, a man of no small fame, whose name I think it right to suppress now because while he lives in the flesh he chooses not to glory in such an announcement, saw the soul of the most holy father ascending over many waters in a straight course to heaven, and his soul was as it were a star having in some sort the bigness of the moon and possessing somewhat of the brightness of the sun, and borne up by a little white cloud.

It is also the spot where, according to her Spiritual Autobiography, Simone Weil prayed for the first time. From John Paul II’s letter on the occasion of the re-opening of the Porziuncola after the 1996 earthquake. 

The little church of the Porziuncola preserves and hands on a message and a special grace deriving from the actual experiences of the Poverello of Assisi. Message and grace still continue, and form a powerful summons to any who will allow themselves to be drawn by his example. This is borne out by the witness of Simone Weil, a daughter of Israel who fell under the spell of Christ: “Alone in the tiny romanesque chapel of St Mary of the Angels, a unique wonder of purity in which Francis had often prayed, I experienced a force greater than myself that drove me, for the first time in my life, to my knees”

 

The Porziuncola plays a part, naturally, in Adventures in Assisi It provides a climax of sorts, in the story in which the two children have walked in the footsteps of St. Francis, both literally and spiritually, having learned some lessons about humility and poverty of spirit.

Ann Engelhart found it a challenge to do a painting in which the scale of the small chapel in the huge basilica was evident, but still include the children. But I think she did a great job!

amy-welborn

 

 

Don’t be put off by the wall of text!

Take some time, scroll down, poke around. I’m offering you all the words with the hope that you can see – as is my constant mission – how the past can illuminate the present.

 

First: Who is he? From B16:

Belonging to a rich noble family of Naples, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori [known in English as Alphonsus Liguori] was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that was ruining the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided to become a priest despite the opposition of his father.

He had excellent teachers who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, of the Church history and of mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture which he put to good use when, after a few years, he embarked on his work as a writer.

He was ordained a priest in 1726 and, for the exercise of his ministry entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest classes of Neapolitan society, to whom he liked preaching, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these people, poor and modest, to whom he addressed himself, were very often prone to vice and involved in crime. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life.

Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city there were an increasing number of groups that would meet in the evenings in private houses and workshops to pray and meditate on the word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and by other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When at the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they came to be known as “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social improvement and of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution ended by almost disappearing.

Even though the social and religious context of the time of St Alphonsus was very different from our own, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we may draw inspiration today too, for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive coexistence. Priests were entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-trained lay people could be effective Christian animators, an authentic Gospel leaven in the midst of society.

Another talk on the saint from B16. 

Next some insights from his letters.  You can find his writings all over the place, but for some old-school reading time, head to archive.org. His letters are particularly interesting. I always like reading the letters and journals of saintly figures. They tend to be a little more revelatory than carefully written, re-written and edited works made for public consumption, approved by authorities.

What I’m hoping that you might see through a bit of poking around in these readings is the value – as Adam DeVille has pointed out – of being familiar with history. It teaches us many things, but I think in this present moment, two points in particular, both reflecting the theme “nothing new under the sun.”

  • The Church has always been a messy place in a messy world, full of human beings who are, at best, weak reflections of the faith they (we) claim to profess.
  • The Church, in obedience to Christ, has always reached out to the “peripheries” and margins, has always offered the mercy of Christ as the core of its mission. Always. This is nothing that was just discovered in 2013. Really.

So three areas of interest from the letters:  missions/preaching, liturgy and, yes…publishing.

I was interested in two lengthy letters – almost pamphlet-length, really – one about preaching and the "amy welborn"other about the usefulness of missions. (Remember Alphonsus Liguori founded the Redemptorists, an order originally dedicated to the preaching of parish missions.)

The letter on preaching begins on page 359, and might be of interest to..preachers, of course.  He is making the case for simplicity and directness of language in preaching, in opposition to those who would preach in flowery, self-indulgent or abstruse ways.

I was really interested in his letter to a bishop about the preaching of missions.  The bishop was supportive of missions being preached in his diocese, but had apparently written to St. Alphonsus seeking answers to the objections that others had voiced.  It begins on page 404.

A modern reader (like me) might read this as a reflection on evangelization, period.

 

But, it will be asked, are there not over the poor in the villages pastors who preach every Sunday? Yes, there are pastors who preach ; but we must consider that all pastors do not, or cannot break the bread of the divine word to the illiterate in the manner prescribed by the Council of Trent. ” They shall feed the people committed to them with whole some words, according to their own capacity, and that of their people, by teaching them the things which it is necessary for all to know unto salvation, and by announcing to them, with briefness and plainness of discourse, the vices which they must avoid, and the virtues which they must practise.”

2 Hence it often happens that the people draw but little fruit from the sermon of the pastor, either because he has but little talent for preaching, or because his style is too high or his discourse too long. Besides, many of those who stand in the greatest need of instruction do not go to the sermon of the parish priest. Moreover, Jesus Christ tells us that No prophet is accepted in his own country  And when the people always hear the same voice, the sermon makes but little impression upon them.

But the sermons of the missionaries who devote their lives to the missions are well arranged, and are all adapted to the capacity of the ignorant as well as of the learned. In their sermons, as well as in their instructions, the word of God is broken. Hence, in the mission, the poor are made to understand the mysteries of faith and the precepts of the Decalogue, the manner of receiving the sacraments with fruit, and the means of persevering in the grace of God : they are inflamed with fervor, and are excited to correspond with the divine love, and to attend to the affair of salvation.

Hence we see such a concourse of the people at the missions, where they hear strange voices and simple and popular discourses.

Besides, in the missions, the eternal truths which are best calculated to move the heart, such as the importance of salvation, the malice of sin, death, judgment, hell, eternity, etc., are proposed in a connected manner, so that it would be a greater wonder that a dissolute sinner should persevere in his wickedness, than that he should be converted. Hence, in the missions, many sinners give up their evil habits, remove proximate occasions of sin, restore ill-gotten goods, and repair injuries. Many radically extirpate all sentiments of hatred, and forgive their enemies from their hearts; and many who had not approached the sacraments for years, or who received them unworthily, make good confessions during the missions

His concern, over and over, is for the poor, the illiterate, particularly those in rural areas and villages.

Speaking of the missions given by the venerable priests of the Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul, the author of his Life says that, during a mission in the diocese of Palestrina in 1657, a young man whose arm had been cut off by an enemy, having met his enemy in a public street after a sermon, cast himself at his feet, asked pardon for the hatred he had borne him, and, rising up, embraced him with so much affection that all who were present wept through joy, and many, moved by his example, pardoned all the injuries that they had received from their enemies.

In the same diocese there were two widows who had been earnestly entreated but constantly refused to pardon certain persons who had killed their husbands. During the mission they were perfectly reconciled with the murderers, in spite of the remonstrance of a certain person who endeavored to persuade them to the contrary, saying that the murders were but recent, and that the blood of their husbands was still warm.

The following fact is still more wonderful: In a certain town, which I shall not mention,* vindictiveness prevailed to such an extent that parents taught their children how to take revenge for every offence, however small : this vice was so deeply rooted that it appeared impossible to persuade the people to pardon injuries. The people came to the exercises of the mission with sword and musket, and many with other weapons. For some time the sermons did not produce a single reconciliation; but on a certain day, the preacher, through a divine inspiration, presented the crucifix to the audience, saying: ” Now let every one who hears malice to his enemies come and show that for the love of his Saviour he wishes to pardon them : let him embrace them in Jesus Christ.” After these words a parish priest whose nephew had been lately killed came up to the preacher and kissed the crucifix, and calling the murderer, who was present, embraced him cordially.

By this example and by the words of the preacher the people were so much moved that for an hour and a half they were employed in the church in making peace with their enemies and embracing those whom they had before hated. The hour being late, they continued to do the same on the following day, so that parents pardoned the murder of their children, wives of their husbands, and children of their fathers and brothers. These reconciliations were made with so many tears and so much consolation that the inhabitants long continued to bless God for the signal favor bestowed on the town. It is also related that many notorious robbers and assassins, being moved by the sermon, or by what they heard from others of it, gave up their arms and began to lead a Christian life. Nearly forty of these public malefactors were converted in a single mission.

 I have said enough ; I only entreat your Lordship to continue with your wonted zeal to procure every three years a mission for every village in your diocese. Do not attend to the objections of those who speak against the missions through interested motives or through ignorance of the great advantages of the missions. I also pray you to oblige the pastors and priests of the villages to continue the exercises recommended to them by the missionaries, such as common mental prayer in the church, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, familiar sermons every week, the Rosary, and other similiar devotions. For it frequently happens that, through the neglect of the priests of the place, the greater part of the fruit produced by the mission is lost. I recommend myself to your prayers and remain,

From this section, I could only conclude…my. That’s a lot of violence happening….

Creativity. Zeal. Compassion. Inclusivity. Reaching to the margins and the peripheries.  Mercy.

Now, to liturgy:

This is from letter 345, to the clergy of Frasso, after a visitation:

 In the first place, we learn with deep sorrow, that there is not in the collegiate church of this place the proper distribution of the Masses on Sundays and feasts of obligation, as also on days of devotion when there is usually a great concourse of people. All the Masses, we are informed, are said, so to speak, at once, and in the early hours of the morning. In consequence, the people have, no opportunity of hearing Mass in the later hours, and particularly during summer when not only the choral service, but every other ecclesiastical function, also, is over at eight o clock.

We, therefore, ordain that, on all those days, Sundays and festivals, the Masses shall be celebrated two at a time and not more, and for this purpose the chief sacristan shall see that on those days only two chalices and two sets of vestments are prepared for the Masses. Moreover, the members of the collegiate body shall go to the choir on those days one hour later than usual, so that all the people who wish may be able to go to confession ; for experience teaches that the confessors, as well as the rest, leave the church after the Office is finished, even though they are wanted in the confessionals.

So basically, what it seems was going on was that all the Masses and confessions got it all done and over with super early so they could get out of there.

From 346:

  As there is nothing which so effectually hinders the reformation of manners and the correction of abuses that have been introduced among the people, as the bad example of the clergy, “whose manner of living,” says the Council of Sardis, ” being exposed to the eyes of all, be comes the model of either good or wicked lives”, we take very much to heart the gravity of the obligation incumbent upon us of removing from our clergy and keeping at a distance from them, as far as lies in our power, whatever might be an occasion of scandal or bad example to the faithful. We are, likewise, solicitous that we should not have to render an account to Almighty God for the offences of ecclesiastics connived at or uncorrected by us.

Considering, therefore, the innumerable evils and sins that arise from certain classes of games, which have been prohibited with good reason by the sacred canons, we desire to apply a prompt and efficacious remedy to these abuses. Accordingly, we forbid all the ecclesiastics of this our city and diocese, under pain of suspension a divinis, reserved to ourselves, and to be incurred ipso facto, and other punishment at our discretion, to play at any game of chance whatever, be it with cards or dice, and in particular, basset, primero, Ouanto inviti, paraspinto, or by whatever names such games may be called. At the same time, we warn all that we shall be most diligent in pursuing those who dis obey this ordinance, and unrelenting in punishing them with necessary severity.

We desire, therefore, that the present regulation be made public and put up in the usual places, so that no one may be able to excuse himself on the plea of ignorance.

From letter 334 – this admonition that saying Mass in less than fifteen minutes is…a problem… reoccurs many times in the letters.

Everyone knows the great reverence which the holy sacrifice of the Mass demands. We, therefore, earnestly recommend to our priests attention in celebrating- this august sacrifice with all the ceremonies prescribed by the rubrics, and with the gravity befitting this sublime mystery, as well on account of the reverence due to God, as for the edification that may thence derive to the faithful. It was to secure this end that the Council of Trent imposed upon bishops the express obligation of preventing by every means all irreverence in the celebration of this sacred function ; irreverence which can scarcely be distinguished from impiety,….

Now , as grave irreverence must be understood any notable omission of the ceremonies prescribed in the missal, which in so far as they pertain to the celebration of holy Mass, are of precept, also the saying of Mass in a hurried manner. The common opinion of theologians is, that he is guilty of grievous sin who says Mass in less than a quarter of an hour; because to celebrate with becoming reverence not only must the prayers of the missal be pronounced distinctly, and the prescribed rubrics duly observed, but all this must be done with that gravity which is befitting, a thing that cannot be done in less than a quarter of an hour, even in Masses of requiem or in the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin.

This is really interesting to me, and is an admonition that occurs regularly in the letters. From 343

 To afford perfect freedom of conscience, pastors are exhorted to procure a strange confessor for their people once a month, and to abstain from hearing confessions themselves on those day

There’s a lot more, but I’ll end this post with this. As best I can work out, it’s a description of how to add instruction to the Mass, particularly for children.  It seems to call for a reader to read aloud certain meditations at various points of the Mass.  Take a look at letter 339 for the whole thing, and share your observations:

The subjects of these meditations shall be, for the most part, the eternal truths and sin. On Fridays, however, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and on Saturdays, the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, shall form the topics of the medita ion. The children shall be taught to keep their eyes cast down, or to cover them with their hands, so as to pay attention to what has been read. The second point of the meditation shall be read after the Sanctus.

2. As soon as the reading of the first point is finished, the Mass shall begin. At the Offertory the reader shall say: ” Let us make an act of love: O my God, how good Thou art ! I wish to love Thee as much as all the saints love Thee ; as much as Thy dear Mother Mary loves Thee. But if I cannot love Thee so much, my God, my all, my only good, because Thou art worthy of all our love, I love Thee above all things, I love Thee with my whole heart, with my whole soul, with all my mind, with all my strength. I love Thee more than myself, and could I do so, I would make Thee known and loved by all men even at the price of my blood.” During the meditation, one or the other priest who is present may go around suggesting some brief reflections on what has been read.

3. After the Sanctus, the second point shall be read. It shall be on the same subject as the first, and read in the same manner.

4. After the elevation of the chalice, the reader shall say: “Let us make an act of love to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and also an act of contrition : My Jesus, who for love of me art present in this Sacrament, I thank Thee for so great love, and I love Thee with my whole heart. Eternal Father, for the love of Mary, for the love of Thy dear Son Jesus dead upon the cross, and present in this Sacrament for love of us, pardon me all my sins, and all the displeasure I have caused Thee. I am heartily sorry for them, O my God, because I love Thee with my whole heart.”

5. After the Pater noster, the reader shall say: “Let us renew our resolution of never more offending Jesus Christ My Jesus, with the help of Thy grace, I desire to die rather than offend Thee again. As the fruit of this me ditation, let us make some particular resolution that will give pleasure to Jesus Christ, especially to rid ourselves of the fault we most frequently commit.” After a brief pause : ” Let us ask Almighty God for the love of Jesus Christ to give us the grace to fulfil the promise we have made.”

6. When the celebrant has said Domine non sum dignus or after the Communion of the people, if there are any com municants, the reader shall say: “Let us have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and ask her for some special grace: O Mary, my hope, I love thee with my whole heart. I would wish to die for thy love. My dearest Mother, take me under thy mantle, and there let me live and die. For the love of Jesus Christ, my dear Lady, obtain for me the grace which I now ask of thee.” Here each one shall ask of Mary with the utmost confidence the grace desired. After Mass, all shall recite the Hail, holy Queen, with the proper pauses, and add the prayer “Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord”.

And while the content of what follows might bore some seeking out more elevated conversations, I was delighted, for it involves correspondence from the saint to his publishers, as well as others with an interest in the books he was writing and publishing.

There’s some theological material, as he explains why he is deleting this or that portion of a manuscript, but it’s mostly (so far) totally prosaic, and focused on practical matters of communication, orders and pricing.

The letters reflect quite a bit on his concern to get this books out there to people who will read them – Naples is always out of copies, but that’s one of the few places he has an interested audience, and the priests, well….

I am glad that the History of the Heresies is finished. Once more, I remind you not to send me any copies for sale, as the priests of my diocese are not eager for such books; indeed, they have very little love for any reading whatsoever.

Besides, I am a poor cripple, who am Hearing my grave, and I do not know what I should do with these copies.

Rest assured, that I regard all your interests as though they were my own. If I could only visit Naples, I might be able to do something personally. But confined here in this poverty-stricken Arienzo, I write letters innumerable to people in Naples about the sale, but with very little result. I am much afflicted at this, but affliction seems to be all that I am to reap from these negotiations.

So, writers….you’re not alone!

 

7 Quick Takes

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

It’s July 31 – the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

 

— 2 —

 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

— 3 —

Depicting Dante’s heaven:

“Dante is often presented in a very secular way,” Schmalz said, noting the obsession that universities, artists and writers have had with the Inferno, ignoring the rest of poem.

According to Schmalz, limiting the poem’s scope to the Inferno means “not giving the proper representation of Dante and also the Christian ideas that are in the ‘Divine Comedy.’

“As a Catholic sculptor I have been very angry about this for many years,” he said.

An example of the fascination Dante’s Inferno has had on artists throughout history is the famous “Thinker” by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The popular image was originally meant to portray Dante as the “Poet,” and a miniature version of it can be found atop Rodin’s massive representation of “The Gates of Hell.”

“Because I am a Christian sculptor I will right this wrong,” Schmalz said. “I will do what has never been done before in the history of sculpture, which is to create a sculpture for each canto of the ‘Divine Comedy.’

 

 — 4 —

On a biography of Charles Peguy

In a way, Péguy preserved and cherished each of these influences: He would maintain an obsessive concern for the dispossessed, an ardent passion for France, and an unyielding faith in God all his life. But his intensity of belief did not prevent him for recognizing and pointing out the flaws in that which he loved. Péguy deplored the Catholic Church’s reactionary excesses and the Third Republic’s racialist conception of citizenship, and his unorthodox view of socialism rejected Marx’s enforced equality and anti-religious undertones. To him, solidarity — and politics itself — began with the “mystical,” that is, the set of myths and shared transcendent beliefs that underpin the construction of communities. Resolutely anti-cosmopolitan, he did not believe in the transnational alliance of workers that would become central to the Soviet project. For him, to reject the centrality of local attachments was to abstract away the suffering of people close-by; only cold-hearted bourgeois were rootless enough to live in multiple cities at once, to oscillate between cultures and languages, to detach themselves from the warmth of traditions and communities. The very small and the transcendent were the scales that mattered. Real change would not come through centralized Jacobin putsches, but through local micro-revolutions.

Péguy abhorred all attempts to demystify life’s mysteries. He rejected the scientism of his era, and laughed at the claim — seemingly blind to its own metaphysical assumptions — that empirical science would ever supersede the need for metaphysics. He thought that Adam Smith and Karl Marx had equally simplistic views of history, views that sacrificed transcendence on the altar of materialism. Yet he did not believe that the Bible had all the answers, either — or, at least, he did not believe that any human being could ever access all the answers. In fact, he fervently opposed what he saw as a conservative attempt to weaponize scripture. In a way, he thought, both sides emptied metaphysics of their significance; the Left reduced religion to “the opium of the masses,” and the Right relegated faith to a mere political tool. Like Dostoevsky, Péguy thought that in the absence of God, men would devolve into beasts; unlike Dostoevsky, he also believed that if God were too present in human affairs, the same degeneration would ensue.

— 5 

Watch out. This Sunday brings us the Miracle of Sharing….

6–

One of the newsletters I enjoy reading is The Convivial Society..about tech and life and such. This is from a recent edition – not from the author of the newsletter itself, but from a writer named Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (1981). See if you can relate.

Rather than creating communication, [information] exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning. A gigantic process of simulation that is very familiar. The nondirective interview, speech, listeners who call in, participation at every level, blackmail through speech: ‘You are concerned, you are the event, etc.’ More and more information is invaded by this kind of phantom content, this homeopathic grafting, this awakening dream of communication. A circular arrangement through which one stages the desire of the audience, the antitheater of communication, which, as one knows, is never anything but the recycling in the negative of the traditional institution, the integrated circuit of the negative. Immense energies are deployed to hold this simulacrum at bay, to avoid the brutal desimulation that would confront us in the face of the obvious reality of a radical loss of meaning.

 

 

— 7 —

Tomorrow is the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, whom I wrote about here. Just a brief excerpt – related to the travails of writers, which he shared:

The letters reflect quite a bit on his concern to get this books out there to people who will read them – Naples is always out of copies, but that’s one of the few places he has an interested audience, and the priests, well….

I am glad that the History of the Heresies is finished. Once more, I remind you not to send me any copies for sale, as the priests of my diocese are not eager for such books; indeed, they have very little love for any reading whatsoever.

Besides, I am a poor cripple, who am Hearing my grave, and I do not know what I should do with these copies.

Rest assured, that I regard all your interests as though they were my own. If I could only visit Naples, I might be able to do something personally. But confined here in this poverty-stricken Arienzo, I write letters innumerable to people in Naples about the sale, but with very little result. I am much afflicted at this, but affliction seems to be all that I am to reap from these negotiations.

So, writers….you’re not alone!

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Today is the optional memorial of Blessed Solanus Casey, beatified in 2017. 

When we lived in Fort Wayne in northern Indiana, we would often find our way to the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit – either because we were going to Detroit for some Solanus Casey Beatificationreason or we were on our way to Canada.  Solanus Casey has been important to our family, and I find him such an interesting person – and an important doorway for understanding holiness.

For that is what Solanus Casey was – a porter, or doorkeeper, the same role held by St. Andre Bessette up in Montreal.  They were the first people those in need would encounter as they approached the shrine or chapel.

And it was not as if Solanus Casey set out with the goal of being porter, either. His path to the Franciscans and then to the priesthood was long and painful and in some ways disappointing. He struggled academically and he struggled to fit in and be accepted, as one of Irish descent in a German-dominated church culture. He was finally ordained, but as a simplex priest – he could say Mass, but he could not preach or hear confessions – the idea being that his academic weaknesses indicated he did not have the theological understanding deemed necessary for those roles.

But God used him anyway. He couldn’t preach from a pulpit, but his faithful presence at the door preached of the presence of God.  He couldn’t hear confessions, but as porter, he heard plenty poured from suffering hearts, and through his prayers during his life and after his death, was a conduit for the healing grace of God.

This is why the stories of the saints are such a helpful and even necessary antidote to the way we tend to think and talk about vocation these days, yes, even in the context of church. We give lip service to being called and serving, but how much of our language still reflects an assumption that it’s all, in the end, about our desires and our plans? We are convinced that our time on earth is best spent discovering our gifts and talents, nurturing our gifts and talents, using our gifts and talents in awesome ways that we plan for and that will be incredible and amazing and world-changing. And we’ll be happy and fulfilled and make a  nice living at it, too. 

I don’t know about you, but I need people like Solanus Casey to surround me and remind me what discipleship is really about.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. Here’s the first page. 

(Someday, Loyola might revise both of my saints book, updating them to reflect the status of the various causes which have advanced since their publication…but I’m not hopeful. That’s expensive to do….)

Solanus Casey Beatification

 

For the most up-to-date news on the cause, check out the Fr. Solanus Casey Guild Facebook page. 

 

Wednesday Digest

A relatively quiet week around these parts. One of the housemates is off at a camp for a few days, the other is back, working and beginning to sort things out for a return to college life.

amy_welbornWhich, God willing and the Covid don’t rise, looks like it’s happening. Our state stayed off the college-state’s travel quarantine list again for this fortnight. Our numbers do seem to be sloping downward a bit while college state’s numbers are….not. Unfortunately for them and all the sick. But what it means is that the proportion of Our Bad to Their Bad continues to float at either the same level or in our favor.

Everyone’s ready. Time to get this thing really going, and not online, either.

As I keep saying, I have many thoughts on education and the present moment. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some of them down in this space soon. But then everything will change the next day, so really, why bother?

Anyway, let’s digest.

Writing: Hitting a good pace on the current project. Get up, write 2-3 thousand words, let it sit until the next morning. Get up, revise what I wrote the previous day, and then start the next chunk.

Not much else getting done besides that because something momentous happened yesterday…

Reading:  Yes, one of our library branches actually re-opened. As in, letting people in to walk around inside, instead of just driving by for curbside pickup. There have been a few branches out in rural areas that have been open for a few weeks, but none of our major branches here in town have. This was the first one, and of course, it’s strict. Open only from 10-2, only 30 permitted in a time, children’s play areas closed and unavailable, chairs and computers blocked off – no hanging out, just look for books and get yourself outa there.

As I released my huge sigh of delight and relief at finally being able to browse library shelves again, I couldn’t help but think…yeah…they could have been open on these terms the whole time. There was no reason to shut the public libraries down except for curbside pickup for four months. None.

So anyway, I came away with a stack, a mix of nonfiction and fiction and some travel guides (Yellowstone coming up!), and yeah, yeah. I do own plenty of books. There have been open bookstores in this town for a while. I could order real books online. I know. But I’m a library rat. I adore libraries – they are the space in which I first felt like a grown-up, really.

So first up, for no particular reason except that it was on the shelf, I liked the cover and the concept intrigued me: Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944. 

Now, I did not waste the few hours over the past day I spent reading this book, but neither can I recommend it. It’s kind of a mess – a good idea that clearly didn’t quite result in enough material for a book, and that had to be padded a bit.

The 3-star reviews on Goodreads capture the problems:it’s disjointed and strays a great deal from the stated subject matter. It’s almost as if it’s at least two distinct books: one featuring the exploits and scandals of the wealthy and cultured on the Riviera between the wars – and then a more general history of Vichy France. The threads do come together in a bit more focused final section which details the course of the last part of the war in the Riviera – most interesting to me was the fact that in areas and times in which Italians occupied, Jews could rest easy and live freely, in contrast to the increasingly horrific treatment by the Vichy regime.

There are, indeed, books about French intellectuals and artists during the German occupation. It’s not as if it hasn’t been examined. But as I read this, what I wanted, and never got, was a clearer and more intimate point of view. This gave me a decent survey, but the title really isn’t accurate. Coco Chanel plays a minor role here. She looms large in the first part of the book, as we trace her rise and get to know her strong personality – and the sources of that – but once the decamps to Paris for the duration of the war, there isn’t a lot to say, other than, “She was one of the privileged whose life didn’t actually change much because of her social connections and her connections to the German occupiers. And maybe she was a collaborator? I won’t commit to that, though.”

I did learn a lot, though, and had some good reminders. How screwy artists are and the strange places art of all kinds emerges from – good, brilliant and mediocre. What oppression, war and hatred look like and how quickly it can explode and how tempting it is to hide or even cooperate. How spoiled so many of us are. How adaptable and resilient human beings are – after all, following years of privation, war and fear, what happened on the Riviera in 1946, barely two years after Jews were being rounded up off the streets and anyone left along the coast was scrounging for food because almost everything was sent to Germany? The first Cannes Film Festival, that’s what.

It’s not a cheery story, though, this story of resilience. At least to me, it’s not. It’s a persistent tragedy, this human cycle of self-delusion, chasing pleasure and then being slammed back into the earth, bloodied and stricken – or watching from our room in the Paris Ritz, champagne glass in hand, as others, down below are rounded up and driven away to the east.

 

Watching: 

Three movies this week w/the 19-year old, since 15-year old is gone into the woods.

Hail Caesar! Which I’d seen before and liked a lot. I find the Coen brothers fascinating artists. These very Jewish brothers have some of the clearest insight into Christian spiritual perspectives than any other filmmakers. The scene where the religious leaders are brought in to vet the big Biblical epic is just spot-on, and, at a deeper level, the whole theme of the film – which is, first, about vocation and the value of trying to fix things and make things right and good, and secondly, on a deeper level, about religion, reality, revelation and film. This post does a great job unpacking it. 

As Mannix takes on the sins of the world, or in this case, the studio backlot, he is tempted three times by a satanic aerospace company man, offering him worldly power (the power to destroy the world) and cigarettes, though like Christ in the desert, Mannix does not eat anything at the deep red-colored Chinese restaurant where the meetings takes place. As he goes about his day he shows compassion for fallen women (a young ingénue taking cheesecake pictures, a starlet pregnant out of wedlock) and even resurrects the (almost) dead, in the form of a film editor, inside a tomblike editing suite, whose scarf is caught in between the reels of her splicer.

That this same resurrection scene serves as a cameo for Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand, a commentary on the subservient status of women in Hollywood, a way to advance one of the many subplots, and a macabre sight gag makes it that much clearer just how many levels the Coens are working on at once.

One blogger writes “I might be mistaken, but I believe this is the first time the brothers have dipped their toes into New Testament waters.” Indeed he is mistaken. The Coens love the New Testament as only secular Jews can.

Logan Luckywhich son had seen, but I had not. I liked it – it’s the kind of shaggy piece set in a familiar place (the South) with loads of great actors I enjoy spending time with. But – perhaps because I’d just watched Hail Caesar – I wished for a slightly sharper, darker Coenesque edge.

And then, that same night, even though it was late, what the heck. We watched Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Ended at 1:30 am, so perhaps my reaction was a little shaped by fatigue, but I’m glad I saw it, and I found it so almost unbearably sad.

When I first heard about the movie, I got fairly angry and resolved to never watch it. Not a Tarantino fan anyway. No loss. Why was I angry? Because it struck me as an exploitation of the real suffering of real human beings – let me play around with the murder of real people, including a child in the womb,  for my slick counterfactual. I couldn’t see the point, I couldn’t see the use, the whole concept struck me as just wrong.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I won’t say I loved it. I found much of it, on the pop culture level, very enjoyable only the way someone raised on 60’s television could. And I’m still not completely sold on the idea, and I’m not sure I really do understand Tarantino’s purpose. Is it about the shift in popular culture brought on by the countculture and the 60’s? About masculinity and manhood? About loyalty?

I suppose it’s about all of those things. But as I watched that final scene, with the cheerful, still pregnant, still alive Sharon Tate, so delighted with her life, there in her driveway with her friends greeting her neighbor who’d just helped blow away those, who, in reality, brutally and randomly murdered all of them, I just wanted to grieve. Hard.  Not grieve for some magical lost time, which 1969 wasn’t – nor was 1959 or 1259….but for us. All of us. Perhaps it’s because  I was just off writing about Genesis, perhaps it because I was in the midst of reading about genocidal murderers and those who winked at them. Perhaps it’s because of all of that, but all I could think of was simply Why why why are we so fucked up? Why can’t we just be good? God. Help. Us. 

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