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Reconciliation & Revenge

I was thinking about doing a digest for this, but then thought the better of it. Too confining. So  on this Sunday night as Son #5 watches The Hobbit in the next room, I’ll just chat about the weekend.

(He wasn’t a super-early Tolkein freak, but now, at the age of 14, he’s in the midst of reading the trilogy, has immersed himself in the watching of them all on film, and tonight decided he’d take a look at the film of The Hobbit (“even though I’ll probably get disgusted after half an hour.” We’ll see. Update: 90 minutes later – not disgusted.)

The latter part of our weeks are hamstrung – although that phrase gives too negative a light on it, since all that we have is good  – by Wednesday night church activity, Thursday morning high school biology classes, Thursday afternoon jazz classes, Saturday morning volunteer work and frequent Saturday evening/Sunday morning responsibilities (serving, music). A space came free this weekend, so we took advantage of it.

Friday afternoon was Ruffner mountain. About fifteen minutes from our house and a favorite hike/walk of his, a mountain yes, but also a former mining site (as are most mountains around here) Not a favorite of  mine – it’s fairly boring with no water or other features – but that’s not the point, is it? He asked to go, he wanted to walk, explore and talk,  so off we went.

 

 

The overlook is into the former quarry. In the photo on the right, the tiny lump on the horizon is the Birmingham skyline.

After that, to a local beer/wine store – Hop City – at which an English double decker/food truck called Little London Kitchen was parked. They’ve been around for some months, but this was the first time we’d had to sample their wares, and they were excellent! What is it about English fish and chips?

Saturday morning, he did his volunteer work (a religious education program for developmentally disabled children and young people), came home, practiced piano, and we were off to Montgomery. The final destination of the day would be the Alabama Shakespeare-sponsored production of Hamlet at 7, so that was our parameter.

First stop was the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Otherwise known around these parts as “the lynching museum.” Sorry, but it is. So, yes – go Alabama. But actually – yes. For all of the state’s faults, this is also the state in which you can find this space in which the dreadful past is acknowledged, gathered up, and contemplated.

The Equal Justice Institute is the organization associated with Bryan Stephenson, the author of Just Mercy and of course the force behind EJI.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to the museum on Saturday, so we simply went to the memorial. We have several other must-sees in the Montgomery area, and we’ll add the museum to that list. (We – including he – have actually been to many of those “must-sees” – but it was at the beginning of our homeschooling years, so he doesn’t remember them. We’ll return to the Rosa Parks museum, the Alabama state archives/museum and the Fitzgerald House – Zelda was from Montgomery and they lived there for about a year.)

The memorial calls to mind the thousands of African-Americans killed by lynching in the United States. It is a sobering and thought-provoking space, and done in exactly the right spirit – of honesty and reconciliation: this is what happened  – and we must admit it, and move forward. 

 

 

Most lynching victims were male, of course, but I am always interested in finding female victims – and I found one –  Elizabeth Lawrence, right in my own present home of Jefferson County, Alabama, killed in 1933:

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Then, since it was on the way to church and he’s a musician, a quick turn up to the cemetery where Hank Williams is buried:

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Again – he’d been there before, but had no memory of it.

More interesting to me than Hank’s grave is the grave – right next to it – of several dozen RAF and French Air Force personnel who died while training at the nearby Maxwell Air Base during World War II. 

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Between June 1941 and February 1943, when the RAF terminated what became known as the Arnold Plan, 4,300 of more than 7,800 RAF cadets sent to the United States completed the three-phase AAF flight training program. Within three months, some of the same schools, including the phase 2 school at Gunter Field, began training Free French Air Force flight cadets. By November 1945, when the US government terminated the French training program, 2,100 French flight cadets out of the 4,100 who came to the United States had received their wings. 

Then to Mass, here. 

An energetically-delivered, substantive homily on the Gospel, and a cantor with a lovely voice, unaccompanied, although there was an organ nearby (and a piano and a drum kit…)

Then….a quick stop at Chick Fil A, and off to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for Hamlet. 

It was very enjoyable and, for the most part, the perfect first live performance of this play for a 14-year old.

First off – this was not a production of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Their season doesn’t begin for some weeks. This was a production of New York’s Bedlam Theatre – performing this and Saint Joan in repertoire for the next month. 

The conceit? The gimmick, if you will? There are four actors – period. Four actors performing all the roles.

The theater was small – it was the “Octagon” theater of the facility, which is downstairs and perhaps about a hundred seats. In addition, there is some creative staging with this production, so for the first act, for example, there are about two dozen chairs positioned more closely about the performing space – and we grabbed a couple of those for ourselves (since I’d purchased tickets only that morning, our seats weren’t together – but this way, it worked out). Then for the second section (after acts 1-3), seats were re-arranged, and so on.

 

The actors wore ordinary clothes – pants, vests, shirts – for costumes, as well as a hat or two and some glasses. There were three men and one woman. The actor played Hamlet played only Hamlet – everyone else switched around and traded up. There were no other scenes or props other than flashlights and some drapes and chairs.

I’d say that 3/4 of it was absolutely mesmerizing and marvelous. The actors were fantastic, with smooth and impressive transitions between characters. It was the perfect introduction to a live production of Hamlet for a 14-year old boy, what with actors right in his face, even speaking right to him – the actor who played Polonius also played Laertes, which worked fine for most of it, but for the neither a borrower nor lender be speech – he went full Polonius –  and designated Michael as Laertes, directing the entire speech right to him. I’m really hoping that the words –  To thine own self be true will resonate in a particularly personal way for a very long time as a result…

But then?

Ah, that last act. It just didn’t work. I think their mistake was incorporating a bit of comedy in the wrong way. I watched the Mel Gibson version this evening (as I’ll talk about in a moment), and there is some comedy – but very slight and almost bitter – in the combat. What happened here, though,  was some business having an audience member “be” the table on which the poisoned cup sat – and it just broke the entire drama of the moment. Which, I have to say, had been sustained very well up that point, with some moving aspects and powerful speeches. But this, as I said – broke it, and it was unfortunate, as was the production’s ultimate way of interpreting the final set of deaths. It just didn’t work – everyone writhing on the floor, shouting their lines at the same time – but then, oh, the production fell back into an excellent place with the very final lines, uttered in near-darkness by the actors prone on the floor as Fortinbras and Horatio.

They just need to work, I think, on the actual Final Combat. Smooth that out, dispense with the comic business, and you’ve done it.

What was lost, I think, was the central drama of the piece, which was about Hamlet himself, of course. What was he about? And what is thread that takes us from the young man’s first hints that something is wrong and perhaps should be righted to the final irony of the one who had, for whatever reason, decided not to take revenge – almost accidentally wreaking havoc.

We hadn’t finished reading Hamlet by the time we saw it Saturday night, and I found the whole presentation of the final scenes so confusing, I thought he could use another version – and the only free version on any of the streaming services was the Gibson version.

As I said before, this is not *ideal* because Zeffirelli condenses and summarizes, and th age difference between Gibson and Glenn Close is…awkward. But that final scene? Oh, so well done, and so, so moving. 

So yes, we watched that this evening. 

(He was gone all day with a friend, to a swimming hole about 90 minutes away called Martha’s Falls.)

And then I remembered – well, thanks Netflix for reminding me – that Bill Murray had been Polonius in the Ethan Hawke version, and his “to thine own self be true” speech was very good – natural and unaffected, but somehow …effective.


 

I tried to think – what is it that binds all of this together? In fact, I had decided I would ask him to consider this for a writing project this week. Twenty-four hours spent:

  • Walking paths that hard-working miners had trod decades ago
  • Accompanying a differently-abled child, trying to help  him  understand Jesus’ love for him
  • Going to a memorial to the victims of racial injustice  – women and men who’d suffered and been terrorized, among other places, just scant miles from our house
  • Visiting the grave of a genius who’d self-destructed
  • Seeing the graves of men who’d died during a war, far from their homes, but not even in combat
  • Being witness to actors pouring out their hearts, in service to words written hundreds of years ago, meditations on the purpose of life, the specter of death, the response to injustice and the impact of the past on the present
  • Hearing a Gospel of mercy, bound in prayer, sharing the Body of Christ with other disciples all over the world

 

What is it we do when we teach, when we bear the gift of forming a child? To teach “values?” Skills? Prepare for a profession, for life?

All of that, but it seems to me that the most important thing I can do in teaching, raising and forming is sharing bad and good news with that young person. Or just news. It’s just the news, and the news is this: Human beings are beautiful and broken. Created in the image of God, shattered. Some of the brokenness is so deep within it seems as if it is just you, bound up, born that way. Some of the brokenness is manifest in your body, some of it in your spirit. Some of the brokenness comes through things that happened to your family yesterday or your people long ago. Some of your brokenness comes from the way you were raised, and then from your own choices.

And your task, your mission, your purpose as a human creature is to listen, watch and learn. It’s to walk as a broken creature – not deceiving yourself into thinking you are anything but –  in this broken world, listening and trusting. Trusting that despite the brokenness, despite evidence to the contrary, you and every other creature were made by a loving God in his image, who calls you even now. What does that voice sound like? How can you recognize it and not be deceived by imitators?

The walls are high and thick, the few windows in that wall are cracked and dim, the light on the other side seems far away, the music muffled and every other person you see on this side seems like a stranger and even, sometimes, like an enemy, but there is truth about this world, about all of us, about each of us that can heal these wounds, truth to be found, explored, listened to and lived – but we must learn how to recognize it, how to see and how to listen.

What a hard life this is on earth, what suffering we endure and inflict on others. To educate, it seems to me, means to be honest and real about all of this, not hiding a bit of it, to teach a young person to accept all of the brokenness within and without, past and present – but refuse to be defined or controlled by it –  and then, every day, point to the thin places in the wall, polish the glass so the light can shine brighter and crack the door a little wider so when the voice calls and invites us to that healing, nourishing feast – we’ll recognize it.

 

 

 

 

 

An Awfully….

Yeah, I’m not going to recommend this one to you.

Well, long-time readers know full well that I try to avoid “recommending” art or culture to anyone, period. Chacun a son gout and all that.  What means something to you might be ridiculous to me, and vice versa. I also learned a long time ago that recommending culture products in the Catholic world is fraught. I mean – I don’t care if you think I’m a heathen for liking The Sopranos, but really, if you can avoid it, who needs that hassle?

But I’d also guess that any time I write vaguely positively about something, folks might take it as a recommendation of sorts, even a tacit one.

So, for this, I’ll be a little more straightforward –  this seemingly jaunty little coming-of-age tale about theater life in post-War England (like catnip for me) comes with a very dark plot twist. I’m pretty tough about things like this, and will watch and read a lot without issue, but this one had me putting the book down and saying…no…..WHAT? Ew…really…no.

Now, some of you may have seen the movie, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. I haven’t seen it and didn’t even know it existed – and without this particular plot twist, a film about post-War English local theater starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant might be, well, like catnip to me. But after reading the book, I have no desire to see the film and the trailer is just…bizarre.

Although I might try to find just that twist-revealing scene, since it involves Rickman, I adore(d) him, and would be very interested to see how he handles it. Who knows.

So. (If you know the plot twist, feel free to discuss it with me in the comments.)

This is what I’ll say, though.

This plot twist, as dark and, in one sense, unrealistic as it is, does serve a purpose. It, sadly, fits. For this slim novel is really, in my opinion, about abuse,exploitation and indifference to the humanity of your fellow humans and as such, it’s excellent and absolutely on point, twist included.

I can’t say that even without that particularly dark twist I actually liked this book, though. I found it terrifically confusing – not just because it sort of begins at the end (I figured that out soon enough, and it does work), but because there are quite a few characters, it’s a short book, so there’s not a lot of time or space to delineate them. So no, Image result for awfully big adventure moviethere’s not much depth here. Some points are very clear early on (spoiler alert) – the older troupe producer/director on whom our heroine has a mad crush (played by Hugh Grant in the film) is obviously homosexual – she just doesn’t have the life experience to be able to see what’s very clear to the rest of humanity. But the ins and outs of other relationships are fuzzier and hard to keep straight.

So to speak.

But – but  – in terms of what Beryl Bainbridge is saying about institutions, mental and emotional blindness and young people – she’s not wrong.  Almost every character in this book is a terrible person. Some of them intentionally target younger, vulnerable, aspiring theater hopefuls for exploitation and abuse. Others just willingly stomp over anyone else for…what? For a slightly bigger part in a regional production of Peter Pan? Really?

And others are just willfully ignorant, washing their hands of it all.

This horrible plot twist to which I keep alluding is in some ways contrived, but in other ways, it’s an almost organic consequence of the selfish, exploitative, blind and deeply inhumane nature of this world. Ironic since art is supposed to make us all more profoundly aware of our humanity, eh?

But we can’t and won’t just stick it to the massively screwed up artistes here, will we? Because it’s not as if there are other institutions embodying high ideals that are, as a consequence, open season playgrounds for the sharp-eyed, smooth opportunist….are there? 

 

Sacrifice and Sorrow

This is a bit of a repeat from the earlier post, but the entirety of B16’s talk here struck me as not only typically rich and pastoral, but quite pertinent to points I’ve been trying to make over the past couple of weeks, both in this essay and in various blog posts.

And so reflecting on these two days – the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows and today’s Gospel, I thought I’d pull some ideas together.

The question I’ve been asking is: How do the modes of contemporary media that we use to communicate faith affect the shape and experience of faith – both of the speaker and the listener?

This, as you recall, was the question in the novel The Hack – and I spent some time exploring that and attempting to apply it to the present moment.

In short – contemporary modes of communication enable each of us to be a creator, a producer, a publisher and the star of whatever we make. It’s persona-based communication – put an attractive persona out there with a compelling personal narrative for people to get caught up in, and then they’ll hear your message.

In this post, I suggested that, in looking at this landscape, we remember that a product reflects its producer’s concerns. So someone who puts a lot of time and energy into putting herself out there is (to be circular about it) probably going to be a person whose understanding of success and goal-meeting and fulfillment is – putting herself out there. Joy = creating something and getting attention for a media product and message that centers on them. Oh sure, to encourage and inspire you, but still.

Yes, I know it’s circular. But then – the process is circular. It just is.

All I’m saying is that if the Spiritual Guru Flavor of the Season is telling you to that fulfillment and joy happens when you Wash Your Face and Claim Your Awesomeness – they’re just telling you about what gets them jazzed and hoping that by…putting themselves and this narrative out there – they can make a living.

Even if it’s couched in religious or vaguely spiritual terms – bottom line, yeah, it’s marketing and trying to make a living.

While – as Bert Flax’s story reminds us – doing some good along the way. He’s doing so much good. 

So the question worth asking is – does any of these overwhelming message of self-actualization and fulfillment and worldly happiness have anything to do with the Gospel?

Not really. Not at its core. The fruit of faith can certainly be self-acceptance and peace and even worldly “success” or prosperity – as we get our lives together, try to stop being a jerk and see ourselves and the world more clearly, sure. Who knows what can happen?

But as a spiritual goal? As a test of faith? Nope.

And here we come to the issue – an important question. Or, as Paul says, the opportunity to test everything. 

In a persona-soaked spiritual landscape in a privileged, materially prosperous culture, what is lost?

Marian devotion focuses on contemplation of the relationship between the Mother and her divine Son. In their prayers and sufferings, in their thanksgiving and joy, the faithful have constantly discovered new dimensions and qualities which this mystery can help to disclose for us, for example when the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is seen as a symbol of her deep and unreserved loving unity with Christ. It is not self-realization, the desire for self-possession and self-formation, that truly enables people to flourish, according to the model that modern life so often proposes to us, which easily turns into a sophisticated form of selfishness. Rather it is an attitude of self-giving, self-emptying, directed towards the heart of Mary and hence towards the heart of Christ and towards our neighbour: this is what enables us to find ourselves.

 

In other words, in other paradoxical words:

If this is not your thing, if your life seems too quiet and humble and even painful to boast about, if, on a daily basis, you put aside your own desires so you can serve others, and the current flow makes you wonder about that, prompts you to wonder sometimes if you’re actually living an “authentic” “vibrant” “fulfilling” “faith-filled” life?

Well, hang on – and it’s not me saying this. It’s the Catholic spiritual tradition, from Jesus himself on. Be assured:

In your sacrifice and, when it comes, in your sorrow, you are close – very close – the heart of Christ. 

And so in that, peace. 

Sorrow and Two Sons

Yes, yes, it’s Sunday. But it’s still September 15, the date for remembering Our Lady of Sorrows. Here’s a related entry from one of my recent books – You can see, on the right facing page, the Seven Sorrows listed, in this entry on the Immaculate Heart of Mary from the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

For more on the book, go to the Loyola site here. 

Also here

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from 2008:

Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

And from 2011, from a visit to Germany:

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down. Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

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A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord’s body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary’s heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

And then, today’s Gospel, from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories:

(The first and last pages of the entry – so you can have a sense of the structure.)

 

 

We can see ourselves in this story, can’t we? Sometimes we feel like the younger son who gets into trouble and has to come home. Sometimes we feel like the older brother who stays out of trouble but doesn’t love others very well. And sometimes we feel like the father, when someone has hurt us but asks us to forgive them.

God is our Father, and with him, every day is a chance to say we are  sorry for the times we have done the wrong thing. Or we can admit that we’ve done the right thing but with a bad attitude. Notice how the father doesn’t even wait for the son to come all the way home. He runs out to meet him! He loves his son that much!

Every day, God waits for us. During Lent, we have a chance to think more carefully about our lives. How have we wandered away from God? How have we wasted what God has given us? And when have we been jealous because God showed mercy to someone else? We have a chance to come close to him and admit what we have done. We can tell God how much we want to change. Through this story about the two sons, Jesus shows us that even when we sin, God loves us and wants us close to him, not far away. We’re on our way back to God, and God is waiting with open alms.

For the whole story, go to Luke 15:11-32.

Think Quietly: What gifts has God the Father given me? Have I used those gifts in good ways? Have I wasted them?

Pray Together: God, you are our loving Father. Thank you for your merciful love.

…is kind of a big deal.

It’s a feast, not just a memorial. That means that there are Sunday-like three readings at Mass, rather than the usual daily two. You can read them here. 

More:

This day is also called the Exaltation of the Cross, Elevation of the Cross, Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day, or Roodmas. The liturgy of the Cross is a triumphant liturgy. When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Mother Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross.

We made the Sign of the Cross before prayer which helps to fix our minds and hearts to God. After prayer we make the Sign of the Cross to keep close to God. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross. At Baptism we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, signifying the fullness of redemption and that we belong to Christ. Let us look to the cross frequently, and realize that when we make the Sign of the Cross we give our entire self to God — mind, soul, heart, body, will, thoughts.

O cross, you are the glorious sign of victory.
Through your power may we share in the triumph of Christ Jesus.

Symbol: The cross of triumph is usually pictured as a globe with the cross on top, symbolic of the triumph of our Savior over the sin of the world, and world conquest of His Gospel through the means of a grace (cross and orb).

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14 marks one of the Ember Days of the Church. See Ember Days for more information.

In 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI signed a post-Synodal exhortation for the Synod of the Bishops of the Middle East on this date. He said – and note what I’ve bolded:

Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East in 335, following the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection built over Golgotha and our Lord’s tomb by the Emperor Constantine the Great, whom you venerate as saint. A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: “In this sign you will conquer!” Later, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, and gave his name to Constantinople. It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word “Christos”. Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion. Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

Source

Jump back to 2006, and the Angelus on 9/14:

Now, before the Marian prayer, I would like to reflect on two recent and important liturgical events: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on 14 September, and the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated the following day.

These two liturgical celebrations can be summed up visually in the traditional image of the Crucifixion, which portrays the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, according to the description of the Evangelist John, the only one of the Apostles who stayed by the dying Jesus.

But what does exalting the Cross mean? Is it not maybe scandalous to venerate a shameful form of execution? The Apostle Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (I Cor 1: 23). Christians, however, do not exalt just any cross but the Cross which Jesus sanctified with his sacrifice, the fruit and testimony of immense love. Christ on the Cross pours out his Blood to set humanity free from the slavery of sin and death.

Therefore, from being a sign of malediction, the Cross was transformed into a sign of blessing, from a symbol of death into a symbol par excellence of the Love that overcomes hatred and violence and generates immortal life. “O Crux, ave spes unica! O Cross, our only hope!”. Thus sings the liturgy.

In 2008, Benedict was in Lourdes on 9/14:

“What a great thing it is to possess the Cross! He who possesses it possesses a treasure” (Saint Andrew of Crete, Homily X on the Exaltation of the Cross, PG 97, 1020). On this day when the Church’s liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that men might be saved (cf. Jn 3:16). The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:8). By his Cross we are saved. The instrument of torture which, on Good Friday, manifested God’s judgement on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace. “In order to be healed from sin, gaze upon Christ crucified!” said Saint Augustine (Treatise on Saint John, XII, 11). By raising our eyes towards the Crucified one, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified one for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew. On this wood Jesus reveals to us his sovereign majesty, he reveals to us that he is exalted in glory. Yes, “Come, let us adore him!” In our midst is he who loved us even to giving his life for us, he who invites every human being to draw near to him with trust.

This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.

The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is he who will make us free to love as he loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.

Of course, this feast is related to St. Helena:

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints….first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

Also – check out this thread on St. Helena from one of the few useful and interesting Twitter accounts – Eleanor Parker/the Clerk of Oxford. 

St. John Chrysostom

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, about whom Mike Aquilina posts here.

It was his fame as a preacher, however, that brought him to the attention of the wider Church, and especially the imperial court. Thus, when the patriarch of Constantinople died, the emperor unexpectedly summoned John from Antioch to the most powerful bishop’s throne in the East. John declined the honor. But the emperor ordered that John be taken by force or subterfuge, if necessary, and so he was.

John’s habitual honesty and integrity did not serve him well, by capital standards. He was a reformer and an ascetic, demanding much of others, but even more of himself. The clergy of Constantinople were not, however, eager to be reformed or to imitate John’s spartan lifestyle. Nor was the imperial family — especially the empress — interested in John’s advice about their use of cosmetics, their lavish expenses, and john chrysostomtheir self-aggrandizing monuments. John found it outrageous that the rich could relieve themselves in golden toilet bowls while the poor went hungry. He reached the limits of his patience when the empress went beyond the law to seize valuable lands from a widow, after the widow had refused to sell the property. (John did not miss the opportunity to cite relevant Old Testament passages, like 1 Kings 21.)

Ordinary people found inspiration, solace, and — no doubt — entertainment in the great man’s preaching. But the powerful were not amused. They arranged a kangaroo court of bishops to depose John in 403. In fact, a military unit interrupted the liturgy on Easter Vigil, just as John was preparing to baptize a group of catechumens. Historians record that the baptismal waters ran red with blood.

Fr. Steve Grunow:

Yet St. John was not flattered by the presence of celebrity, nor was he impressed by wealth. He saw himself as a servant of God’s truth in Christ and therefore repeatedly called for the transformation of the society of his day, reminding the wealthy of their responsibility to aid the poor, and all Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in whom they had been saved.

 

From today’s Office of Readings:

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.

What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.
Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!
If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web. Indeed, unless you, my brothers, had detained me, I would have left this very day. For I always say “Lord, your will be done”; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.
Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people.
You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. For what can the rays of the sun bestow on me that is comparable to your love? The sun’s light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.

And then to B16:

The first two were general audience talks.  As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time. (these were, of course, collected and published by various publishers.)

So, 9/19/2007 he concentrates on biographical material:

It was here that he reached the crucial turning point in the story of his vocation: a full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated in his years at the hermitage, had developed in him an irresistible urge to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he himself had received in his years of meditation. The missionary ideal thus launched him into pastoral care, his heart on fire.

Between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, and became a famous preacher in his city’s churches. He preached homilies against the Arians, followed by homilies commemorating the Antiochean martyrs and other important liturgical celebrations: this was an important teaching of faith in Christ and also in the light of his Saints.

The year 387 was John’s “heroic year”, that of the so-called “revolt of the statues”. As a sign of protest against levied taxes, the people destroyed the Emperor’s statues. It was in those days of Lent and the fear of the Emperor’s impending reprisal that Chrysostom gave his 22 vibrant Homilies on the Statues, whose aim was to induce repentance and conversion. This was followed

by a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).

Chrysostom is among the most prolific of the Fathers: 17 treatises, more than 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and on Paul (Letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Hebrews) and 241 letters are extant. He was not a speculative theologian.

Nevertheless, he passed on the Church’s tradition and reliable doctrine in an age of theological controversies, sparked above all by Arianism or, in other words, the denial of Christ’s divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development achieved by the Church from the fourth to the fifth centuries.

His is a perfectly pastoral theology in which there is constant concern for consistency between thought expressed via words and existential experience. It is this in particular that forms the main theme of the splendid catecheses with which he prepared catechumens to receive Baptism.

Then, the next week:

Against this background, in Constantinople itself, John proposed in his continuingCommentary on the Acts of the Apostles the model of the primitive Church (Acts 4: 32-37) as a pattern for society, developing a social “utopia” (almost an “ideal city”). In fact, it was a question of giving the city a soul and a Christian face. In other words, Chrysostom realized that it is not enough to give alms, to help the poor sporadically, but it is necessary to create a new structure, a new model of society; a model based on the outlook of the New Testament. It was this new society that was revealed in the newborn Church. John Chrysostom thus truly became one of the great Fathers of the Church’s social doctrine: the old idea of the Greek “polis” gave way to the new idea of a city inspired by Christian faith. With Paul (cf. I Cor 8: 11), Chrysostom upheld the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as such, even of the slave and the poor person. His project thus corrected the traditional Greek vision of the “polis”, the city in which large sectors of the population had no access to the rights of citizenship while in the Christian city all are brothers and sisters with equal rights. The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that it is truly by starting with the person that the city is built, whereas in the Greek “polis” the homeland took precedence over the individual who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. So it was that a society built on the Christian conscience came into being with Chrysostom. And he tells us that our “polis” [city] is another, “our commonwealth is in heaven” (Phil 3: 20) and our homeland, even on this earth, makes us all equal, brothers and sisters, and binds us to solidarity.

At the end of his life, from his exile on the borders of Armenia, “the most remote place in the world”, John, linking up with his first preaching in 386, took up the theme of the plan for humanity that God pursues, which was so dear to him: it is an “indescribable and incomprehensible” plan, but certainly guided lovingly by him (cf. On Providence, 2, 6). Of this we are certain. Even if we are unable to unravel the details of our personal and collective history, we know that God’s plan is always inspired by his love. Thus, despite his suffering, Chrysostom reaffirmed the discovery that God loves each one of us with an infinite love and therefore desires salvation for us all. For his part, throughout his life the holy Bishop cooperated generously in this salvation, never sparing himself. Indeed, he saw the ultimate end of his existence as that glory of God which – now dying – he left as his last testament: “Glory be to God for all things” (Palladius, op. cit., n. 11).

That same year, he issued a letter on the occasion of the 1600th anniversary of the birth of the saint:  It is well worth reading.

Chrysostom’s faith in the mystery of love that binds believers to Christ and to one another led him to experience profound veneration for the Eucharist, a veneration which he nourished in particular in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, one of the richest forms of the Eastern Liturgy bears his name: “The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom”. John understood that the Divine Liturgy places the believer spiritually between earthly life and the heavenly realities that have been promised by the Lord. He told Basil the Great of the reverential awe he felt in celebrating the sacred mysteries with these words: “When you see the immolated Lord lying on the altar and the priest who, standing, prays over the victim… can you still believe you are among men, that you are on earth? Are you not on the contrary suddenly transported to Heaven?”. The sacred rites, John said, “are not only marvellous to see, but extraordinary because of the reverential awe they inspire. The priest who brings down the Holy Spirit stands there… he prays at length that the grace which descends on the sacrifice may illuminate the minds of all in that place and make them brighter than silver purified in the crucible. Who can spurn this venerable mystery?”[59].

With great depth, Chrysostom developed his reflection on the effect of sacramental Communion in believers: “The Blood of Christ renews in us the image of our King, it produces an indescribable beauty and does not allow the nobility of our souls to be destroyed but ceaselessly waters and nourishes them”[60]. For this reason, John often and insistently urged the faithful to approach the Lord’s altar in a dignified manner, “not with levity… not by habit or with formality”, but with “sincerity and purity of spirit”[61]. He tirelessly repeated that preparation for Holy Communion must include repentance for sins and gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice made for our salvation. He therefore urged the faithful to participate fully and devoutly in the rites of the Divine Liturgy and to receive Holy Communion with these same dispositions: “Do not permit us, we implore you, to be killed by your irreverence, but approach him with devotion and purity and, when you see him placed before you, say to yourselves: “By virtue of this Body I am no longer dust and ashes, I am no longer a prisoner, but free; by virtue of this, I hope in Heaven, and to receive its goods, the inheritance of the angels, and to converse with Christ'”[62].

Of course, he also drew from contemplation of the Mystery the moral consequences in which he involved his listeners: he reminded them that communion with the Body and Blood of Christ obliged them to offer material help to the poor and the hungry who lived among them[63]. The Lord’s table is the place where believers recognize and welcome the poor and needy whom they may have previously ignored[64]. He urged the faithful of all times to look beyond the altar where the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered and see Christ in the person of the poor, recalling that thanks to their assistance to the needy, they will be able to offer on Christ’s altar a sacrifice pleasing to God[65].

7 Quick Takes

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This might be the most random 7QT ever. Sorry about that.

So – be sure to check out my posts over the past week on medium, message and evangelization. Here’s one.

UPDATE:

I wrote this post last night, so here are some morning links that caught my eye:

I go back and forth on Ann Althouse, She is one of the few bloggers I try to look at every day, but sometimes her fixations on whatever minutiae catches her eye gets boring and I definitely think she’s become less interesting since retiring from teaching law. But this is a good, very classic Althousian post – on last night’s Dem debate:

4. Elizabeth Warren was there on the other side of Biden. She and Bernie were double-teaming Joe, and that worked… for Joe. He linked Warren to Bernie: She’s for Bernie/I’m for Barack. I remember Warren reacting to every question with “Listen…” Like we’re the slow students in her class and we haven’t been paying attention and she’s getting tired of us. We should already know what she’s been saying on whatever the question happens to be. She was sunny and bright with enthusiasm when she talked about her early career as a school teacher and how when she was a child she lined up her “dollies” for a lesson. She was, she said, “tough but fair.” I love whatever love there is for tough but fair teachers. Maybe more of that, but we’re not in her class, and our responsibilities are to people and things in our own lives, not in keeping track of whatever her various policies and positions are. 

7. Andrew Yang. I kept wanting him to talk more. His father was a peanut farmer. We made some Jimmy Carter jokes. He wasn’t wearing a tie, but he had on a shirt that — buttoned on the second button — seemed to be strangling him more than a tie. That’s got to be a metaphor for change. It seems like a good idea, making life freer and more pleasurable, but in practice it’s constricting and distracting. Yang said something about picking out 10 families to give $1000 a month. Was that an offer to hand out his own money? I don’t know. He ought to try to seem less weird, not more weird. Unless that’s his goal: to become the most famous weird guy. Sorry, you can’t win that prize. The most famous weird guy is Donald Trump.

Carl Olson on the passive-aggressive papacy:

First, yes, let’s readily admit that Francis has critics who are outrageous, emotional, strident, and even slanderous. So did his predecessors, even if the current criticism has been amplified because of the internet and social media. Criticism comes with the territory, and being thin-skinned, snarky, and even petty about it is not a good look, especially for a pope.

But, secondly, there have been respectful and reasonable concerns—some expressed in critical but not outrageous ways—that Francis has pointedly ignored. The famous dubia submitted by four cardinals (two of whom now deceased) is an obvious example. The dubia were submitted in writing, the cardinals asked respectfully for a response, and they wanted an answer. None came, and none will, I’m convinced. As I noted in June 2017: “I’ll be shocked—and I don’t use that term lightly—if Francis agrees to meet with the four cardinals, or if he formally responds to the dubia. I believe Francis is content to create the mess that is currently spreading throughout the Church, and even, at times, to encourage it even more by way of dubious assertions.” (For more thoughts on the dubia and Francis’ silence, see my November 2016 essay “The Four Cardinals and the Encyclical in the Room”.)

Thirdly, while Francis makes distinctions between good and bad critics, he and his closest collaborators (not to mention his defenders on Twitter, who are equal parts passive and aggressive) rarely, if ever, really address or consider good criticism in a mature, pastoral manner. In many cases they misrepresent it or attack those who put it forward in good faith. Put another way, Francis and company make it quite clear, in the end, that any and all criticism is motivated by some irrational, ideological, political, and unCatholic hatred of Francis. They would rather stonewall, deflect, and even insult rather than actually dialogue. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it several dozen times.

 

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We are currently talking about a trip to Honduras. One of the rabbit holes I fell into the other night in doing so was this day-by-day account of a retired engineer’s bike journey from Mexico City to Costa Rica. No, it didn’t make me want to take up that means of transportation, but it did ease whatever concerns I might have had about going to Honduras (not much, but still a nudge here and there) and it was just so interesting – and lovely to read about his encounters with folks along the way.

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Ah – I just discovered a couple of links I’d saved for this space, but forgotten about.

This one touches on some aspects of my rants from the past week or so:

Bonhoeffer Convinced me to Abandon My Dream:

The pastor’s first call is not to envision a church but to receive one. We lead by discerning how Christ is forming a community and by being one of the first to accept that fellowship with gratitude.

The pastor is not an entrepreneur. We are called to a project already underway. So, I would like to offer a dramatically reinterpreted concept of pastoral vision: True visionary leadership is being first to recognize what God has already formed. The starkness of Bonhoeffer’s warning opened my eyes to this new kind of pastoral vision. It forced me to finally see the congregation already in front of me. How had I missed it? While I was dreaming of some other place, God was planting a church in that basement, and he was calling me to pastor it. To my shame, most of our participants recognized it long before me.

Bonhoeffer convinced me to abandon dreaming. A church is never abstract. A congregation is never a demographic goal or an imaginary gathering. We are not called to a possibility, but to God’s work at a specific moment, in this place, with these people.

God is building his church; our gratitude comes from the joy of being in on it. The weight of forming and building a church is more than we can bear—the stories of pastors crushed beneath the work they’ve constructed are endless—but being called to a work God has initiated is a wonderful grace. Pastoral ministry is a gift, not an achievement. The moment we shift our eyes from God’s particular work to future abstractions, we are no longer pastors.

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Here’s Daniel Mitsui’s September newsletter. Always worth your time to see samples of his latest work and read his thoughts – and perhaps start thinking about Christmas gifts.

Our Lady of Seattle

 

This drawing (Our Lady of Seattle)  was commissioned by a church near Seattle. In it, I combined iconographic elements from the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady, Undoer of Knots with decorative elements from the art of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest.

Its shape suggests a copper shield. In the border, pairs of animals approach Noah’s Ark. This is a reference to Chief Seattle, who took the baptismal name Noah. The Ark I based on a Tlingit bone carving of a spirit canoe.

The figure of Mary is dressed similar to a statue in the church, but carrying the Christ Child in a sling. She stands on a crescent moon, a snake underfoot, with twelve stars about her head. The Greek nomina sacra inscriptions are abbreviations for Jesus Christ and Mother of God.

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Via Daniel – the Catholic Artists Directory. 

 

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Thomas McDonald of Weird Catholic takes a look at a new biography of St. Nobbit  Norbert:

There’s a strange comfort to be found in the dysfunctional corners of Church history. It’s not that the clerical corruption, lax discipline, bad theology and miserable leadership of the past allows us to shrug our shoulders, mutter a world-weary, “’Twas ever thus,” and wonder what’s a body to do when we encounter the same problems today. Rather, it’s the realization that challenges of the past produced saints to meet them — those men and women who looked at Christ and at his Church and said, “We must do better.”

And, fired by the Holy Spirit, they did.

Among the founders of enduring religious orders, St. Norbert of Xanten is the forgotten man. Part of this is due to the currents of history, which battered his reputation and the order he left behind — the Premonstratensians, colloquially known as the Norbertines. At his death in 1134, more than 100 abbeys and other foundations existed throughout Europe, with the strongest presence in France, Germany and Belgium, where Norbert himself lived, worked and preached. Within 200 years of his death, there may have been 1,000 Premonstratensian institutions, yet he wouldn’t be canonized until the Counter-Reformation needed a strong witness to the Real Presence.

As the Norbertines grew, their founder’s reputation was eclipsed by the very men he inspired. First St. Francis and then St. Dominic met the challenges of their days with his sense of boldness, fiery faith and Christlike simplicity. Indeed, it’s impossible to read Thomas Kunkel’s new book on the life of Norbert, Man on Fire, without seeing it as a kind of template for the life of Francis.

A noted biographer (Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of The New Yorker and Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker), as well as the president emeritus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, Kunkel is well-equipped for the task of writing a fresh and engaging life of the great saint for a general readership.

(For an explanation of the strikethrough – go here)

 

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Reminders:

I have books for sale here.

Planning Advent? Check out the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications.

And the booklet on St. Nicholas I wrote for them. 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

Wonders Of His Love

No: no royalties are made from sales of these booklets or the 2020 devotional. They were written as works-for-hire. 

Check out my son’s writing here – all about the Marvel movies recently. And one of his novels here. 

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

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