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This is my contribution for today to Living Faith Lent.  I figured that since the season is about over, I won’t be depriving them of any sales by reprinting this.

March 29

I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting. 
Is. 50:6

Left to my own devices, and within the context of my responsibilities, I can essentially design – or, as the fashionable say these days, “curate”  my own life.  I can listen to what I want, turn off what disturbs me and tune out what don’t want to see or hear.  I can, if I choose, live in a bubble, as clear or opaque as I want it to be.

But not this week.

This week, this Holy Week, I am thrust into the crowds.  Crowds that welcome, then condemn.  I must encounter the questioning, the faithful, the confused and the fearful.  I lurk with the sinners and the saints.  I hear the questions, the answers and the silence.

I can’t shut out the false accusations, the betrayals, and the blood.  I can’t be selective, I can’t choose my own adventure, I can’t pick and choose what I think is right for me according to my own style, personality type, preferences or priorities.

This week, I am with Jesus.

"amy welborn"

(Regular Living Faith devotional page here.)

Palm Sunday

A few nuggets from past Palm Sunday homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  For more, go here. 

2012:

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations.  The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. …

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel?  Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act.  Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse.  The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel.  This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too.  Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us?  What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God?  It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne.  We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the "amy welborn"happiness of heaven, divine beatitude.  So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations?  What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

….Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love.  But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us.  The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord.  Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration.  As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.  Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994).  Amen!

2006:

Inner freedom is the prerequisite for overcoming the corruption and greed that devastate the world today. This freedom can only be found if God becomes our richness; it can only be found in the patience of daily sacrifices, in which, as it were, true freedom develops. It is the King who points out to us the way to this goal:  Jesus, whom we acclaim on Palm Sunday, whom we ask to take us with him on his way.

The second thing the prophet shows us is that this king will be a king of peace:  he will cause chariots of war and war horses to vanish, he will break bows and proclaim peace.

This is brought about in Jesus through the sign of the Cross. The Cross is the broken bow, in a certain way, God’s new, true rainbow which connects the heavens and the earth and bridges the abysses between the continents. The new weapon that Jesus places in our hands is the Cross – a sign of reconciliation, of forgiveness, a sign of love that is stronger than death.

Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we should remember not to confront injustice with other injustice or violence with other violence:  let us remember that we can only overcome evil with good and never by paying evil back with evil.

2008

And then there are children who pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David and acclaim him the Hosanna. Jesus had said to his disciples that to enter the Kingdom of God it was essential to become once again like children. He himself, who embraces the whole world, made himself little in order to come to our aid, to draw us to God. In order to recognize God, we must give up the pride that dazzles us, that wants to drive us away from God as though God were our rival. To encounter God it is necessary to be able to see with the heart. We must learn to see with a child’s heart, with a youthful heart not hampered by prejudices or blinded by interests. Thus, it is in the lowly who have such free and open hearts and recognize Jesus, that the Church sees her own image, the image of believers of all ages.

Dear friends, let us join at this moment the procession of the young people of that time – a procession that winds through the whole of history. Together with young people across the world let us go forth to meet Jesus. Let us allow ourselves to be guided toward God by him, to learn from God himself the right way to be human beings. Let us thank God with him because with Jesus, Son of David, he has given us a space of peace and reconciliation that embraces the world with the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray to him that we too may become, with him and starting from him, messengers of his peace, adorers in spirit and truth, so that his Kingdom may increase in us and around us. Amen.

2007

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

A little over a week ago in Madrid, we happened upon an exhibit in honor of the 500th birthday of St. Teresa of Jesus.

It was at the Biblioteca Nacional - the national library of Spain.  The excellent National Archaeological Museum is located on the other side of the building.

Here’s a nice, short video on the exhibitions’ set-up:

It was absolutely lovely.  All the placards were in Spanish, but as far as I could tell, the presentation was straightforward, without revisionary or contemporary diversions. It features lovely statuary and paintings, and lots and lots of editions of her work, including manuscripts written in her own hand.  I was overwhelmed.

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A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” in Teresa’s own hand. Gulp.

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Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

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Read St. Teresa herself…not necessarily what others say about her…but more on that later.

Teresa of Jesus

Today, March 28, is her birthday.  Let’s begin with some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

It is far from easy to sum up in a few words Teresa’s profound and articulate spirituality. I would like to mention a few essential points. In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water. Then we should not forget the human virtues: affability, truthfulness, modesty, courtesy, cheerfulness, culture.

Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, "amy welborn"loves us” (Vida 8, 5). St Teresa’s idea coincides with Thomas Aquinas’ definition of theological charity as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum”, a type of human friendship with God, who offered humanity his friendship first; it is from God that the initiative comes (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.

Rather than a pedagogy Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy” of prayer: she teaches those who read her works how to pray by praying with them. Indeed, she often interrupts her account or exposition with a prayerful outburst.

Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.

She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending the “Holy Roman Catholic Church”, and was willing to give her life for the Church (cf. Vida, 33,5).

A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine which I would like to emphasize is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole of Christian life and as its ultimate goal. The Saint has a very clear idea of the “fullness” of Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the route through The Interior Castle, in the last “room”, Teresa describes this fullness, achieved in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.

This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.

Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.

And on a completely…er..different level, you can access my chapter on St. Teresa from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here. 

I have a lot of copies of the picture books on hand:

Bambinelli Sunday (thinking ahead!)

Adventures in Assisi

Friendship with Jesus

Be Saints"amy welborn"

At this point, I still have copies that will be signed by both illustrator Ann Engelhart and me.  

Let me say a word in support of the last two books. Potential purchasers and gift-givers might be hesitating to purchase these books because they feature, not the current Pope, but Pope Emeritus Benedict, and hence seem dated.

They’re not!

The content is simply the words of Benedict – in the case of Be Saints  – interspersed with quotes from saints – go to the link to see sample pages  – explaining the Eucharist or holiness.  The illustrations center on contemporary children doing things children do – playing, learning, praying.

So take a look!

Also, if you would are interested in buying any of these books in bulk, email me and we can talk about special pricing.

(Also…new Catholic gift? Confirmation? Mother’s Day?)

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Traveling is so odd.  You go, you see places that you will probably never see again, and you walk in strange places.   A completely different experience of the world becomes a part of your experience, your worldview, your frame of mind.

And then you come back, and it’s as if you never left, and what happened a week ago floats somewhere between the distant past and a dream.

But it’s all still there, in your head, in your life.

Bigger now.

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

We’re back, but we don’t stay still.  We returned Monday night, the 13-year old went back to school on Tuesday, the 10-year old did a bit of school, had his homeschool boxing session, then they both had server practice for the Triduum in the afternoon. Wednesday, the 10-year old and I took a walk on a trail that’s not too far from my house but, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never even heard of before this week: The Irondale Furnace trail.

There’s a bit of a ruin along the trail, the ruin of an iron..processing? furnace, which was a part of a 2,000 acre mining and processing property that was burned up by the Yankees in 1863, rebuilt after the Civil War and used for about 15 years.  And now it’s a wall, a trail along a creek surrounded by a lot of high-end homes.

Talk about the distant past and dreams….

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

— 3 —

Today, we went up 59 towards Gadsden to Tigers for Tomorrow. It’s a refuge for rescued animals, mostly cats, but also a few bears, wolves, and even some cavy.  I’d heard about it, and had been meaning to go for ages, but they are generally only open to the general public on weekends. But when Michael, still on Europe time, popped up awake super early, I decided we needed to go somewhere.  I looked this up and saw that they were doing some special Spring Break tours during weekdays, and for a reduced price, so we jumped in the car and drove up.

It was quite educational for both of us, and offered food for thought on issues related not only to endangered animals, but also animals in captivity and the relationship between animals and human beings.

(The animals come mostly from zoos, other refuges that close, and from people who had attempted to keep wild animals as pets. Always a grand idea.)

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

— 4 —

We went to Mass on two Sundays in Spain.  Both had congregations of about thirty in attendance, minimal music,  fairly perfunctory ritual and (I just happened to notice) in both the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene was prayed.

"amy welborn"

We just peaked into this church on the way to the museum on Sunday…don’t remember what it was.

— 5 —

Speaking of churches and such….check out this post from the New Liturgical Movement on veiling statues during Passiontide…two Birmingham churches are in the mix.

— 6 —

I did something new on this trip: I rented our apartment through AirBNB, and I was very pleased with the experience.

In previous trips both to Europe and in the US, I’ve rented via VRBO and just independently through owners and managers. I’ve never had a bad experience with any stay  – except that one time in Sicily, but that wasn’t an apartment, it was a B & B, sort of, and I violated by policy of not renting when there were no reviews, so it was pretty much my own fault, and in retrospect…the whole thing was pretty wacky.

With the apartments, everything has been fine, but I’ll say that the Airbnb process strikes me as a level above what I’ve previously experienced.  The owner/ manager has a full profile and reviews – and the profile is more substantive than the minimal VRBO profile.  If he or she has used Airbnb as a traveler, the reviews of those places are posted as well. You, as a renter have to provide enough information to prove that you do, indeed, exist as well, and the owner is given an opportunity to review you as well, sort of like Uber.

I understand there are issues with the growing business of vacation rentals. I’ve read of people essentially buying out entire apartment buildings and transforming them into Airbnb properties, which isn’t right, because you’re then running a hotel without having to abide by appropriate regulations and taxation requirements.  If I lived somewhere and my neighborhood was slowly but surely turning into party central because of vacation rentals, I’d be upset.

But. All I’m saying is that the process of renting through Airbnb gave me an added sense of security above what I’d experienced with VRBO or independently, and I will definitely use them again!

(One of my older sons had used Airbnb the week before our trip, and had similar observations about the process. He was pleased.)

"amy welborn"

Some teachers give homework over spring break….

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…but the nice ones don’t.

— 7 —

Do you want books for Easter gifts? For First Communion? For a new Catholic?

Got it!

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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

And….Sunday

Our last full day in Madrid….having said goodbye to our daughter/sister the day before (crazy girl got back to her abode Saturday night, worked on Sunday, then jumped back on the train to Munich Sunday night to catch Birmingham-rooted band St. Paul and the Broken Bones in a concert there….)

I had hoped to get up early and perhaps hit an 8:30 Mass, purportedly being celebrated at San Francisco el Grande…

(The earliest Mass I could find even sort of close in Madrid….it seemed to me that in most churches, the earliest Sunday morning Mass was 11.)

But you know what happened, right?

Madrilenos streaming in waves under my window until 3AM…all about that bass from that club down the block…so I didn’t awake until 9 or so.  Oh, well…what happens, happens, and there’s always a reason. I don’t get stressed (much) about scheduling and plans during travel anymore. There’s so much to see, and if you miss what you planned to see…there’s always something else to see, isn’t there? And it’s not as if there’s only one interesting church in Madrid, Spain.

So, once I roused everyone, we headed to ……another church on my list. San Antonio de los Alemanes.  Every wall and the ceiling was extravagantly painted, which was a bit of a change from the usual Spanish baroque pattern of carved, decorated main and side altars.  We arrived about ten minutes after the schedule Mass time, at which point, the priest was well into his homily, which he continued for quite a while.  There were, as was the case the previous Sunday at another church, about thirty in attendance.

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They must be restoring the sanctuary.

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We made a brief stop back at the apartment, then continued on (walking) to the National Archaeological Museum (in the same building as the Biblioteca Nacional). It was a free admission day, so the line to get in was quite long – about halfway down the block – but moved quickly, so in about twenty minutes, we were in. (Which was good, because it was after noon, and the museum was to close at 3).

It was an excellent museum.  One of the best of its type I’ve ever visited.  I’m not kidding – it’s a model for others, I’d say.

You begin (if you like) by gathering in front a large relief map of Spain.  Above the map, a series of slides is shown, slides that move through all the eras covered in the museum.  As an era and its characteristics are flashed on the screen, the relevant sites light up on the map.  From prehistory through the Bronze Age through Roman Hispania through the modern era, it was an engaging overview.

From there, you tour the quite extensive collection which is curated and displayed with an eye to historical progression and clarity.  All placards are offered in both Spanish and English.  The video offerings which introduce each era are quite sophisticated and not at all lame, as you might sometimes find in a museum.  Honestly, if you’re going to Madrid, I’d make this museum your #2 stop after the Prado, even before the other art museums. It’s that well done, and it gives you such a valuable understanding of Spanish history and the Spanish self-understanding.

"amy welborn"

These were bronze tablets erected in towns by Romans displaying various laws and statues.

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We could have stayed longer, but of course the place closed at 3. I wish we’d gone earlier in the week and had given it more time – we saw probably 3/4 of the place.  So we ate lunch, then headed back to the Prado.  I had purchased a “visit twice in one year” ticket the first time, and children are free, so why not?

We caught some pieces we’d missed, primarily the wing dedicated to Venetians, revisited Ribera, Velasquez and Bosch, and found the back hallway dedicated to an exhibit called, “Hoy Toca el Prado,” in which a few paintings from the collection are reproduced in a sort of relief, for the benefit of the blind. It’s received some international press, but was actually quite small, and, as I said, off in a side hallway, so…good work, Prado marketing!

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Appropriately, a painting about Vulcan. (there’s a Birmingham connection…look it up.)

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Then…..back to the Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor and parts around and in between to pick up some more souvenirs and just soak it all in….

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The big stuff is great, but it’s the smaller corners that say “Europe” to me, and that I remember most.

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