It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.

– Psalm 119:71

My friend fought cancer for years and years. Every part of her body, it seems, was afflicted. At some point in the midst of all of it–halfway between her diagnosis and her death–she said to me, with complete conviction, “Thank God for my cancer.” She explained that she felt–no, she knew–that before her cancer, she had been living on what she now saw as a superficial level. Cancer had ravaged her body and was cutting her physical life short, but my friend felt strongly that cancer had opened her eyes to grace, deepened her capacity for love and brought her closer to God.

If I am honest, if I look at my own life, I really can’t deny that it’s mostly through suffering that my soul expands and my embrace widens. Admitting that is a challenge. Why? Because, as I pray with the psalmist, I’m opening myself to take the cup and drink in more lessons learned in this way, which is nothing less than the way of the cross.

365 of this sort of thing in The Catholic Woman’s Book of  Days

Today is also St. Bruno. Here’s B16 reflecting on him from 2010, in a visit to the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno:

“Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare”: to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp that which is eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph, n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.

Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Every monastery — male or female — is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. “I live in a rather faraway hermitage… with some religious brothers”, is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4). The Successor of Peter’s Visit to this historic Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today’s world.

Technical progress, especially in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frenetic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always background noise, in some areas even at night. In recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality risks predominating over reality. Unbeknownst to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.

The youngest, born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, out of fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer able to remain for long periods in silence and solitude.

I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most real Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every creature: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones…. God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

The monk, in leaving everything, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living on the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.

Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in a life-long search. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door to him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church "amy welborn"consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that particular state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.

In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery of which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has reminded us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life to our mortal bodies also (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.

This is why I have come here, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno, to tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church! Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated with his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.

Also from 2010, an Angelus reflection on today’s Gospel:

Christ’s words are quite clear: there is no contempt for active life, nor even less for generous hospitality; rather, a distinct reminder of the fact that the only really necessary thing is something else: listening to the word of the Lord; and the Lord is there at that moment, present in the Person of Jesus! All the rest will pass away and will be taken from us but the word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily actions.

Dear friends, as I said, this Gospel passage is more than ever in tune with the vacation period, because it recalls the fact that the human person must indeed work and be involved in domestic and professional occupations, but first and foremost needs God, who is the inner light of Love and Truth. Without love, even the most important activities lose their value and give no joy. Without a profound meaning, all our activities are reduced to sterile and unorganised activism. And who, if not Jesus Christ, gives us Love and Truth? Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us learn to help each other, to collaborate, but first of all to choose together the better part which is and always will be our greatest good.

velasquez martha mary

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Velázquez)

Today is the memorial of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, C.S.Ss.R., whose story and tireless ministry is amazing to read about:

His availability and innate kindness in understanding and responding to the needs of the faithful, quickly made him well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighboring towns. Faithful to the Redemptorist charism, he practiced a simple lifestyle and a simple manner of expressing himself. The themes of his preaching, rich in biblical content, were always heard and understood even by everyone, regardless of education, culture, or background. A constant endeavor in this pastoral activity was instructing the little children in the faith. He not only favored this ministry, he held it as fundamental for the growth of the Christian community in the parish. In 1854, he was transferred from Pittsburgh, to Baltimore, then Cumberland in 1857, and to Annapolis (1862), all the while engaged in parish ministry and serving in the formation of future Redemptorists as Prefect of Students. Even in this post, he was true to his character remaining always the kind and happy pastor, prudently attentive to the needs of his students and conscientious of their doctrinal formation. Above all, he strove to instill in these future Redemptorist missionaries the enthusiasm, the spirit of sacrifice and apostolic zeal for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the people.

In 1860 he was proposed as a candidate for the office of Bishop of Pittsburgh. Having been excused from this responsibility by Pope Pius IX, from 1863 until 1866 he dedicated himself to the life of an itinerant missionary preaching in English and German in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

After a brief period of parish ministry in Detroit, Michigan, he was assigned in 1866 to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here also, as pastor of the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, he was known as a pastor who was joyously available to his faithful and singularly concerned for the poorest and the most abandoned. In God’s plan, however, his ministry in New Orleans was destined to be brief. In the month of September, exhausted from visiting and caring for the victims of yellow fever, he contracted the dreaded disease. After several weeks of patiently enduring his illness, he passed on to eternal life on October 4, 1867, at the age of 48 years and 9 months.

A few years ago, we visited the Seelos shrine in New Orleans. I tell the story here and here, including why this…

"amy welborn"

More here…

This statue of Our Lady of Sorrows was at the shrine. It was blessed by Fr Seelos. I find it really lovely

"amy welborn"

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Francis in advance, especially since it’s on Sunday, and therefore not celebrated.   I wrote/reprinted a longish post about St. Francis earlier this week. It’s here. Let’s just say that reading Fr. Augustine Thompson’s biography of the saint has made me passionate about encouraging people to try to get to know and understand St. Francis as he was  – (the best we can establish) – not as we would have him to be. It is not a simple story, and looking at it with fresh eyes, free from preconceptions, can be bracing. Even to answer the seemingly simple question of what, to St. Francis, did it mean to be “poor?”  can bring out some challenging possibilities.

— 2 —

We were in Assisi three years ago next month. It’s odd to think that trip was that long ago. It doesn’t seem like it.  Here are a few photos. 

"amy welborn" "amy welborn" "amy welborn"

— 3—

And then, of course…the book! 

(The first is an image that Ann made comparing photographs of Assisi with the paintings she did for the book.)

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

More here.

— 4 —

This past Wednesday, this is what happened:

First part of the morning: schoolish things.  Copywork, writing, Latin, Math.

Late morning – early afternoon, the ten-year old served Mass at Casa Maria. The Mass was the celebration of the 75th anniversary of ordination of Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. Fr. Lambert, age 98 now, has been in residence at Casa Maria for 18 years. Born in Ireland, he was the first editor of the English-language edition of L’Osservatore Romano. You can read more about his vocation story here.

(I was not able to go to the Mass – the chapel is small, and with all the sisters, the clergy and friends, there just wasn’t going to be room for Moms-of-Servers.)

(He served as the vimp – for the first time.)

Then afterwards, speed up to northish Alabama to pick up chickens. I’m part of a group here in Birmingham that makes a once-a-month purchase of free-range chickens from this farm, and it was my turn to drive up there and get them.

"amy welborn"

So, a Catholic Alabama Homeschool kind of day.

— 5 —

Earlier in the week, we helped out at the reading center  – here’s an article in the local paper about it and here’s the pastor’s blog post on the dedication. It’s a great ministry and we really enjoy helping out.

(Although I will say that this week while listening to the I do not like green eggs and ham litany, I realized that my relief of about, say, 8 years ago that I would never have to read another Dr. Seuss book again…did not last a lifetime. Oh, well. It’s all for the cause!)

"amy welborn"

The Salesian religious order for decades ran an urban ministry program out of the church, but the Salesians pulled out of Birmingham on Feb. 1, 2014.

“They were no longer able to staff Holy Rosary,” Jerabek said. “We’re moving back in the direction of being able to offer more programs.”

Now run by the diocese, the opening of the learning center signals a commitment to continue serving the needy, Jerabek said.

“We recognized there was a need for literacy program to help the students in the area improve their reading,” Jerabek said. “We had 3rd and 4th graders who had trouble reading.”

The new learning center is in an updated office building. “It’s a remodeled building with two rooms and bathroom, where children can do homework and receive tutoring assistance,” Jerabek said.

It opened Sept. 8, with after-school tutoring on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “It’s a very beautiful, welcoming environment,” Jerabek said.

Holy Rosary also hosts a soccer program on its athletic field with 34 youth from Gate City and Woodlawn playing on three teams, and youth also play on the church’s basketball court.

The church also hosts a food bank for residents of Woodlawn and Gate City. The food pantry is open on

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon. It helps feed 350 families a month.

Holy Rosary has a Mass every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. that draws about 40 people, which is about all Holy Rosary can comfortably seat.

I have seen so many Catholic parishes in neighborhoods that have transitioned away from its original largely Catholic population, and it is rare to see one actually doing this kind of outreach – it’s a model, if you ask me!

— 6 —

Do you run an adult education program in a parish? You might want to gear up for the release of Silence, Scorcese’s take on Endo’s novel. Here’s a column on it and the first still I’ve seen.  It also links to a new book of essays on the novel, which is complex and controversial – and challenging.

More about Shusaku Endo here. 

A parish reading group might take on Silence, The Samurai and Wonderful Fool in three successive months, coordinated with the release of the film (and I don’t know when that will be. Since it’s “serious” – I’m presuming it might be next fall).

Here’s a very short piece I wrote years ago about Silence 

— 7 —

What do you read on the InterWebs?  Aside from the usual time-suckers, I try to do a daily read of at least one article from whatever academic religious history journal I can find online for free and grabs my fancy. Right now, I’m reading through some articles from Catholic Southwest  – you can dig into yourself here. Last night, for example, I read about 20th century artist Jean Charlot, and ended up adding several more out-of-print children’s books to my wish list – he illustrated a version of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a biography of St. Martin de Porres, and some others. Charlot did the original art for And Now, Miguel. And a lot of other work over a long career. You can read a bit more about him here at this GREAT site I discovered during last night’s rabbit hole journey (which is why I can’t read more than one article in an evening…rabbit holes.) about sacred art. 

"amy welborn"

amy-welborn3 amy-welborn4

Charlot was a muralist, and painted several for the University of Georgia back in the 40’s – I don’t know if they are still extant – anyone know? Anyway, via archive.org, you can peruse a book published about the murals by the UGA press. Very interesting!

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

Therese of Lisieux

Today’s her feastday!

She’s in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

amy-welborn amy-welborn2

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

"therese of lisieux"

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

St. Jerome

My kids know all about St. Jerome because we frequent art museums, and St. Jerome is a very popular subject. I don’t think you can hit a museum with even the most meager medieval or renaissance collection and not encounter him. And since the way I have engaged my kids in museums since forever  – besides pointing out gory things – is to do “guess the saint” and “guess the Bible story” games -yes, they can recognize a wizened half-naked skull-and-lion accompanied St. Jerome from two galleries away.

amy-welborn2 amy-welborn3

"amy welborn"


Good children’s books on St. Jerome:

Oh my gosh!

Margaret Hodge’s version with paintings by Barry Moser is..OUT OF PRINT?!

Well, thank goodness we have a copy, and hey, publishers…somebody pick this up and bring it back into print. Free advice, no charge.

Not surprisingly, Rumer Godden’s version is also out of print. 

Oh well…maybe you can find them at the library? Again…Catholic publishers..get on this!

I have St. Jerome in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who help us understand God.”

And now…from 2007. Two GA talks devoted to Jerome. From the first:

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

And from the second

Truly “in love” with the Word of God, he asked himself: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, through which one learns to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” (Ep. 30, 7). The Bible, an instrument “by which God speaks every day to the faithful” (Ep. 133, 13), thus becomes a stimulus and source of Christian life for all situations and for each person. To read Scripture is to converse with God: “If you pray”, he writes to a young Roman noblewoman, “you speak with the Spouse; if you read, it is he who speaks to you” (Ep. 22, 25). The study of and meditation on Scripture renders man wise and serene (cf. In Eph.,Prol.). Certainly, to penetrate the Word of God ever more profoundly, a constant and progressive application is needed. Hence, Jerome recommends to the priest Nepotian: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; rather, may your hands never set the Holy Book down. Learn here what you must teach” (Ep. 52, 7). To the Roman matron Leta he gave this counsel for the Christian education of her daughter: “Ensure that each day she studies some Scripture passage…. After prayer, reading should follow, and after reading, prayer…. Instead of jewels and silk clothing, may she love the divine Books” (Ep. 107, 9, 12). Through meditation on and knowledge of the Scriptures, one “maintains the equilibrium of the soul” (Ad Eph., Prol.). Only a profound spirit of prayer and the Holy Spirit’s help can introduce us to understanding the Bible: “In the interpretation of Sacred Scripture we always need the help of the Holy Spirit” (In Mich. 1, 1, 10, 15).

A passionate love for Scripture therefore pervaded Jerome’s whole life, a love that he always sought to deepen in the faithful, too. He recommends to one of his spiritual daughters: “Love Sacred Scripture and wisdom will love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honour it and you will receive its caresses. May it be for you as your necklaces and your earrings” (Ep. 130, 20). And again: “Love the science of Scripture, and you will not love the vices of the flesh” (Ep. 125, 11).

For Jerome, a fundamental criterion of the method for interpreting the Scriptures was harmony with the Church’s Magisterium. We should never read Scripture alone because we meet too many closed doors and could easily slip into error. The Bible has been written by the People of God and for the People of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God do we truly enter into the “we”, into the nucleus of the truth that God himself wants to tell us. For him, an authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmonious accord with the faith of the Catholic Church. It is not a question of an exegesis imposed on this Book from without; the Book is really the voice of the pilgrim People of God and only in the faith of this People are we “correctly attuned” to understand Sacred Scripture.

Finally, Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical about St. Jerome on the 1500th anniversary of his death, and in it declared him the patron of all who study Sacred Scripture. You can read it here. 

Immense, then, was the profit Jerome derived from reading Scripture; hence came those interior illuminations whereby he was ever more and more drawn to knowledge and love of Christ; hence, too, that love of prayer of which he has written so well; hence his wonderful familiarity with Christ, Whose sweetness drew him so that he ran unfalteringly along the arduous way of the Cross to the palm of victory. Hence, too, his ardent love for the Holy Eucharist: “Who is wealthier than he who carries the Lord’s Body in his wicker basket, the Lord’s Blood in his crystal vessel?”[128] Hence, too, his love for Christ’s Mother, whose perpetual virginity he had so keenly defended, whose title as God’s Mother and as the greatest example of all the virtues he constantly set before Christ’s spouses for their imitation.[129] No one, then, can wonder that Jerome should have been so powerfully drawn to those spots in Palestine which had been consecrated by the presence of our Redeemer and His Mother. It is easy to recognize the hand of Jerome in the words written from Bethlehem to Marcella by his disciples, Paula and Eustochium:
What words can serve to describe to you the Savior’s cave? As for the manger in which He lay – well, our silence does it more honor than any poor words of ours. . . Will the day ever dawn where we can enter His cave to weep at His tomb with the sister (of Lazarus) and mourn with His Mother; when we can kiss the wood of His Cross and, with the ascending Lord on Olivet, be uplifted in mind and spirit?[130]

Filled with memories such as these, Jerome could, while far away from Rome and leading a life hard for the body but inexpressibly sweet to the soul, cry out: “Would that Rome had what tiny Bethlehem possesses!”[131]

68. But we rejoice – and Rome with us – that the Saint’s desire has been fulfilled, though far otherwise than he hoped for. For whereas David’s royal city once gloried in the possession of the relics of “the Greatest Doctor” reposing in the cave where he dwelt so long, Rome now possesses them, for they lie in St. Mary Major’s beside the Lord’s Crib. His voice is now still, though at one time the whole Catholic world listened to it when it echoed from the desert; yet Jerome still speaks in his writings, which “shine like lamps throughout the world.”[132] Jerome still calls to us. His voice rings out, telling us of the super-excellence of Holy Scripture, of its integral character and historical trustworthiness, telling us, too, of the pleasant fruits resulting from reading and meditating upon it. His voice summons all the Church’s children to return to a truly Christian standard of life, to shake themselves free from a pagan type of morality which seems to have sprung to life again in these days. His voice calls upon us, and especially on Italian piety and zeal, to restore to the See of Peter divinely established here that honor and liberty which its Apostolic dignity and duty demand. The voice of Jerome summons those Christian nations which have unhappily fallen away from Mother Church to turn once more to her in whom lies all hope of eternal salvation. Would, too, that the Eastern Churches, so long in opposition to the See of Peter, would listen to Jerome’s voice. When he lived in the East and sat at the feet of Gregory and Didymus, he said only what the Christians of the East thought in his time when he declared that “If anyone is outside the Ark of Noe he will perish in the over-whelming flood.”[133] Today this flood seems on the verge of sweeping away all human institutions – unless God steps in to prevent it. And surely this calamity must come if men persist in sweeping on one side God the Creator and Conserver of all things! Surely whatever cuts itself off from Christ must perish! Yet He Who at His disciples’ prayer calmed the raging sea can restore peace to the tottering fabric of society. May Jerome, who so loved God’s Church and so strenuously defended it against its enemies, win for us the removal of every element of discord, in accordance with Christ’s prayer, so that there may be “one fold and one shepherd.”

And finally, Fr. Steve Grunow:

There is another quality of St. Jerome’s character that will console many of us who struggle to be virtuous and holy, a quality which surprises many whose image of sanctity lacks a sense of how Christ’s holiness transforms human character. Jerome was known for being a cantankerous fellow. He struggled at times with the virtue of patience, could be overbearing with those who disagreed with him, and had a reputation for being cranky. One commentator on Saint Jerome’s life noted that perhaps Jerome chose to be a hermit, not so much as a heroic act of sacrifice, but because had he not lived alone, he most assuredly would not have been a saint! 

The spiritual lesson for us in this might be to remember that saints are not born with perfect characters and that even the holiest among us has become that way over time. This means that saints have shared with us all the qualities and weaknesses that vex us. However, flaws in character did not assuage them from seeking to know Christ and to live in such a way that their relationship with him was evident in their way of life. 

Therefore we should never believe that our weaknesses be justified as an excuse that exempts us from living as disciples of the Lord Jesus. The saints know their weaknesses and can readily admit them, but they also accept them as opportunities to for conversion and humility. 

We all love St. Francis, and most of us know a bit about him, too.

But as many have noted over the years, St. Francis is like Jesus in more ways than one. Like Jesus, he’s put to many uses by people with sometimes wildly varied agendas.

In general, though, we all agree that in essence, Francis of Assisi decided to follow Jesus by giving up material things and living with and for the poor, he really loved nature and he founded a religious order in order to spread his message.

There’s truth in that common portrait, but there are also distortions and gaps.

Because Francis lived so long ago and because the written record is challenging to interpret, the search for the “real Francis” is a fraught one. A few years ago, Fr. Augustine Thompson set to the task, and produced a biography that anyone seriously interested in Francis should read.  I’ve written about it a couple of times, including here. Also here, and I’ll quote from it. Well, I’ll just repost most of it. #lazy

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

  • Francis didn’t have a plan.  He did not set out to form a band of brothers – at all.   His conversion was a personal one, and the life he lead for the first couple of years after it was the life of a penitent, pure and simple.
  • What was his conversion, exactly?  This actually is a knottier problem than we assume.  It wasn’t simply rejecting a life of relative wealth for a life lived in solidarity with the poor, through Christ.  In fact, well, it doesn’t seem to be fundamentally about that at all.
  • Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 11.50.50 PMFrancis doesn’t say much about this at all himself.  He refers to being “in his sins.”  After his traumatic battle experiences, Christ drew him closer, he abandoned all for Christ, lived as a rather sketchy hermit-type penitent on the outskirts of Assisi, and then, in a crucial moment, encountered a leper.
  • As he describes it himself, lepers had been figures of particular horror to him when he was “in his sins.”  But now, God intervened, converted him, and the leper became a person through whom Francis experienced peace and consolation.
  • Francis sought to do penance, live the Gospel and be a servant.  He did not intend to draw followers, but did, and their initial way of life was simply living in this same way, only in community.
  • It wasn’t until their form of life was approved by Pope Innocent that preaching entered the picture – it was an element that the Pope threw into his approval.  This was a surprise to Francis.

Okay, break time.

To me, this is most fascinating because, as I mentioned in the other blog post, when we read history, we often read it with the eyes of inevitability.  As in:  everything unfolds according to intention and human plan.  Just as it is with life in general, this is not the way history is, and it’s not the way the life of Francis was – well, not according to his plan.  For he didn’t have one.

But this interesting turn of events shows how the Spirit shakes us up and turns us in a slightly different direction from where we thought we were going.  It happened to Francis.  He adapted, shakily and slowly.  It happens to us.

Back to bullet points.

  • When you actually read Francis’ writings, you don’t see some things that you might expect.  You don’t, for example, read a lot of directives about serving the poor.   You don’t see any general condemnations of wealth.  You don’t read a call for all people, everywhere, to live radically according to the evangelical counsels.
  • You do read these sorts of things – although not exactly – in the early guidelines for the friars and the few letters to fellow friars that have come down to us.
  • But surprisingly, it’s not what is emphasized.  So what is?
  • Obedience. 
  • When Francis wrote about Christ embracing poverty, what he speaks of is Christ descending from the glory of heaven and embracing mortal flesh – an act  – the ultimate embrace of poverty – not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty – the ultimate act of obedience.
  • Through this act of obedience, Christ is revealed as the Servant of all.
  • So, as Francis writes many times, his call was to imitate Christ in this respect:  to empty himself and become the lowly servant of all.  To conquer everything that is the opposite: pride, self-regard, the desire for position or pleasure.
  • Francis wrote that the primary enemy in this battle is our “lower nature.”  He wrote that the only thing we can claim for ourselves are our vices and all we have to boast about is Christ.
  • Francis also emphasized proper celebration and reception of the Eucharist – quite a bit.  He had a lot to say about proper and worthy vessels and settings for the celebration of Mass.  He was somewhat obsessed with respectful treatment of paper on which might be written the Divine Names or prayers.  He prescribed how the friars were to pray the Office.
  • The early preaching of the Franciscans was in line with all of this as well as other early medieval penitential preaching: francis of assisithe call to the laity to confess, receive the Eucharist worthily, and to turn from sin.
  • Praise God.  Whatever the circumstances – and especially “bad” circumstances – praise God.
  • Accept persecution.  It’s interesting that Francis routinely resisted church authorities affording his order any privileges or even writing them letters allowing them to preach in a certain vicinity.  He felt that if they entered an area and were rejected, this was simply accepting the Cross of Christ, and should not be avoided.
  • Begging was not a core value for Francis, as we are often led to believe.  He and his friars did manual labor.  In the early days, begging was only allowed on behalf of sick and ailing brothers, and then only for things like food.  No money, ever.
  • He really didn’t like telling people what to do.  Well, my theory was that he actually did – what we know about his personality, pre-conversion, indicates that he was a born leader.  Perhaps his post-conversion mode was not only an imitation of the Servant, but a recognition that his “lower nature” included a propensity to promote himself and direct others.
  • That said, Francis’ emphasis on servanthood meant that his writings don’t contain directions for others beyond what the Gospel says (repent/Eat the Bread of Life) unless he’s forced to – when composing a form of life and so on.   This tension, along with ambiguities in the Franciscan life, made for a very interesting post-Francis history, along with problems during his own lifetime as well.

To me, Francis is a compelling spiritual figure not simply because he lived so radically, but, ironically, because the course of his life seems so normal. 


Because he had a life.  That life was disrupted, and the disruption changed him.  Disoriented him.  He found a re-orientation in Christ: he found the wellspring of forgiveness for his sins and the grace to conquer them (a lifetime struggle).  His actions had consequences, most of which were totally unintended by him, and to which he had to adapt, as he sought to be obedient to God.  His personality and gifts were well-equipped to deal with some of the new and changing circumstances in his life, and ill-equipped for others.  He died, praising God.

Yes, Francis was all about poverty. All about it.  He was about the poverty of Christ, who was obedient and emptied himself.

“I am the servant of all”  


SO…I decided to write a book trying to communicate this to kids.  I worked, of course, with my friend Ann Engelhart, and the result is Adventures in Assisi, in which two contemporary children travel in Francis’ footsteps, confront their own need for greater charity and humility, and experience the fruit. It’s intended to be a discussion-starter, to get kids talking and thinking and praying about how they treat each other, and how they think about Christ in relationship to their own lives.

I mean..it’s not hard to get kids to get into animals or Christmas creches.  But St. Francis of Assisi was fundamentally about imitating Christ in his poverty of spirit, and I thought that aspect of the saint’s life was woefully underrepresented in Francis Kid Lit.

I’ll have more about it in the next couple of days, but we’ll start with an interview Ann and I did with Lisa Hendey:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"amy welborn"


(Click on any of the images in this post for a larger, clearer view. Do it with this old-school vintage infographic in particular. From a 1947 Catholic high school textbook) 

Warning: this is long and wordy and convoluted, but I really do have a point. Take it or leave it.

Is it a good thing that people proclaim that they are inspired by Pope Francis?

It’s hard to say “no” – so  won’t.  But I’ll still say something I’ve said before.  I find a lot of the purported “inspiration” I’m reading and hearing about a little odd.

Not to mention hyperbolic. This morning, John Allen’ Crux article says that yes, only “time will tell” if Pope Francis’ visit “changed America.”


And when I consider the ways that Catholic institutions and entities have been playing off the surge of #PopeisHope, most of it strikes me as theologically and spiritually short-sighted and even sort of weird. Unfortunate, even.

Circling back. Why do I find it “strange?”

Well, as have written before, I am at a loss to understand how Catholics, life-long or converts, can just now be learning, since the election of Pope Francis, that one of the virtues is charity. That, you know, as someone once said, “the greatest of these is love.”

Even without considering the possibility of daily prayer, devotions or spiritual reading and just assuming that most of us do the minimum, spiritually, I still have to ask: Do you people just not listen in church? At all? 

Why does it take Pope Francis to clue you into the nature of Christian discipleship and light your fire – don’t you ever listen to, you know, JESUS? 

What makes it all especially bizarre to me is that catechesis since the Second Vatican Council has had three basic themes: 1) God is Love  2) Help others  and (since, say, the early 90’s) 3) Catholic identity is awesome, you guys!

What I’m saying is that even in the desert of late 20th-century Catholic formation, the duty to live out the virtue of charity has not been exactly neglected.

So, okay, that’s the way it is. If Jesus’ words weren’t strong enough to nudge your conscience on how you spend your material resources and brief time on earth God has gifted you with, then hooray for the present moment.

But you know, being me, I can’t let go of this.  I keep trying to figure it out. Let me tease some of this out and think about history.

Supposedly, we are now all on high alert to the value of simplicity and a modest lifestyle and one which is harmony with the earth.  And this, apparently is a new thing and an amazing new direction for ..who? Catholics? Christians? The World? I’m not sure.

But was there ever  time in which Catholics were advised otherwise? Was wastefulness and exploitation of earthly resources ever deemed a virtue for Catholics? Were those kinds of decisions ever seen as matters irrelevant to the moral life?

The answer, of course, is no.  And if you want to understand how Catholics were expected to live out these values, look at the saints. Our saints live lives in imitation of Christ, which means emptying oneself and living, as He did, in humility. Yes, there have been wealthy and powerful people celebrated as saints, but their virtues always include heroic charity and, quite often, a turning away from that wealth and position.

(This is not to say this ideal was always lived out, even by the institution or church people themselves, who have been known to, er, enjoy the comforts of the culture in which they lived.)

So my puzzle is this: It used to be that everyone understood, even as they lived it out in the flawed way humans do, that the ideal Christian life was marked by humility, modesty, simplicity, and even asceticism. A Catholic life was ideally organized around practicing the virtues and the Works of Mercy.  To give a concrete example, I have below reproduced some scans from a mid-century (1947)  American Catholic high school religion textbook – this is book 4, so it’s for seniors.  The last half of the book is concerned with issues of Justice, and then apologetics.  The justice section is even longer than the apologetics section and contains a detailed outline of Quadragesimo Anno. 

I’d invite you to take a look at these pages – and to see if you think, even from these brief excerpts, whether these young people were being taught that the ideal Catholic life was closed-in, self-referential and narrow in 1947, before the Light Shone Forth.

In fact, it is the opposite.  The Catholic was taught he or she had a DUTY to live out the virtues and the Works of Mercy. To not do so was a SIN. 

So what is it that happened so that 70 years after this textbook was published, and fifty years after the Council that supposedly shot the Catholic laity straight into the world with all that Peace and Justice ammunition to “build the Kingdom,” there’s this massive, joyfully shocked reaction to Pope Francis’ emphasis on mission and outreach: Now I get it! Poor People! Peripheries! #WalkWithFrancis!

I’ve settled on three points of explaining this to myself.

  • Prosperity.  There’s more general prosperity now than ever before in human history, and you know what The Man said about wealth, needles and camels.  It’s true, and it doesn’t just apply to billionaires.  The satisfaction that we find in our stuff deafens us, and what does get through is rationalized: As long as I’m not too attached. Ach, taxes. I pay taxes that pay for food stamps for Those People Over There. Doesn’t that count? 
  • Social and economic segregation. A lot of people who are economically comfortable are able to live most of their lives without regular, meaningful encounters and relationships with others outside their class and that includes in the workplace, school, neighborhood and most significantly, modern parish.

Both of these act as enablers to our blindness.

And…I actually think, for 21st century Catholics, this next one is key. Let’s see if I can explain it in a way that makes sense because it’s kind of a mess in my head:

  • The emphasis of post-Vatican II formation of both children and adults has been freedom and the individual relationship with God, mediated to some extent through the Church, but mostly through the sacraments, rather than the bigger, thicker tradition.  The “old” mode of formation in discipleship was about sharing the love of Christ, but it was articulated within a bigger philosophical and theological framework and a framework of responsibility and duty to norms articulated by the Church in the name of Christ and visible in the lives of the saints.

So what happened? That was dispensed with. Boom. Gone. All the talk of “the virtues” and the “works of Mercy” was mostly abandoned because it was seen as at best irrelevant to and and worst constrictive of the spiritual freedom and individuality of each person’s journey. We don’t do those things because a “rule” tells us to or because we are “fearful” of the consequences or because we are children who have to be directed how to act by the patriarchal Church.  We give freely out of love, rooted in our own individual story, responding to the Spirit at any given moment, inspired by the example of Jesus our brother. And moreover, we’re all about the new and what was old is of no value any more.

What’s left is us, some other people who live in another part of town and are “poor,” some idealistic words that we know Jesus said that really aren’t that much different from what other good and noble leaders have said, so hey, take your pick and do what you’re moved to do.

There’s no comprehensive understanding of what the world really is, organically developed over two thousand years, articulated in a common and fairly well-understood philosophical and theological language. (read the excerpts below to see the difference).

I especially like the reminder, regarding the virtues: But the world hardly knows them, but it must be told about them, and as it will hardly listen to the Church, you must do the preaching by your lives. 

An interesting recognition of reality!

And of the importance of the lay role in the world.  No, it wasn’t invented in the last few decades.

For the next few pages, I’m interested in the treatment of covetousness. (starts at the end of the right-hand page below)  It covers a host of issues that people seem to think are just being raised by Pope Francis, like, today. #freshair #newspiritblowing

Now, if you read through the material on covetousness, perhaps you can see more of what I’m grappling with.

The Church’s treatment of this issue is comprehensive, detailed, and aware of the realities of human life. Today, what we mostly hear regarding a Christian’s relationship to material goods is, “Jesus said to the rich young man….!” or “St. Francis gave up stuff!”

And not much else.

Do you see the difference between that and the past articulation of these issues? The reasons for the proper Christian attitude toward stuff is articulated in a context which is rooted in truths about the nature of the human person, the nature of created things, and our proper relationship to those things in light of our final end and the purpose of our life on earth.


Perhaps this was inadquate. Perhaps, in reality, it did come across and was lived as one big game of Chutes and Ladders with randomly established rules by a distant authority, as David Lodge described it in his novel, How Far Can You Go?

The American title is Souls and Bodies, which is fine but clearly inferior to the British title, which conveys Lodge’s subject ingeniously: The young Catholics growing up in the 50’s were obsessed with the question of how far could they go sexually before reaching a certain level of sin, but then the question of “how far can you go” took on another sense as the Church they had chafed in did in fact change and the question turned – how far can you go with all of these changes until what’s left is no longer recognizable?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And I’m for sure not looking at all of this through nostalgic glasses. I’ve written about this before a great deal.  There was obviously a big problem in the pre-Vatican II Church if things fell apart so quickly afterwards. Obviously.


My point, for the few who are still reading, is that as it evolved over the centuries, the Catholic sense was that the individual’s moral life was oriented towards living in imitation of Christ, and the framework for that was clear: virtues/works of mercy lived by people most of whom did not have a lot, if anything to spare, materially.

The idea that a Catholic life was visibly marked, above all, by living out the virtues in a sacrificial way and living humbly and simpy IS NOT NEW.

It is in the Gospel. 

Read it.

It is in the lives of the saints. 

Get to know them. Imitate them.

It is articulated in Tradition. Which, you know, is still in effect.

Study it.

Now – one more thing. In a way I suppose I am saying, “Don’t be startled by what Pope Francis says about this. He’s not saying anything different from what the Church has always taught!”

But in a way I’m also not saying that.

Because one of the problems with Pope Francis’ rhetoric has been its fairly consistent independence as articulated from the traditional Catholic-talk language and framework used to talk about these matters. Or much of anything. His mode of expression does not explicitly rest in this framework or refer to it very often. It’s usually centered on “Jesus says…” and then “I say to you…”  without reference to theological or spiritual principles that, like it or not, provide the scaffolding for Catholic thinking on these matters.

His rhetoric does not explicitly lead one to consider that what is being said rests in a broader tradition rooted in Christ and developed, through the guidance of the Spirit, over time, and still pertinent today. His rhetoric leads many listeners to the conclusion that the value of what is being articulated lies mostly in the fact that the present Pope is saying it.

This is a problem because then the strength of the teaching rests, from the listener’s perspective, on the personal perspective of the speaker, with all of his limitations,  rather than the deeper, broader wisdom tradition and authority of the Church, big, deep, complex, and rooted in the authority of Christ.  It’s a problem for a lot of reasons, among them, the implications for the listener’s understanding of the role of the papacy in the Church.

We don’t do good stuff because The Pope Wants Us To.  We follow Christ because we are baptized and he calls us. If the witness of a Pope or the way he articulates the faith he is charged with protecting and teaching helps  and energizes us, fantastic! But #walkwithFrancis? No. #WalkWithJesus. Period.

My point is that it might seem like a good thing that people are inspired by Pope Francis’ articulation of these values, but what is problematic is that the response at this point, seems weirdly focused on personality  and so ignorant of the Gospel and the Church’s articulation of the Gospel over the centuries, it makes me go all:

Because #ifyouwantpeaceworkforjusticeetc

Oh, and let me address – before it’s raised – the assertion that: “Speaking as a pastor is so great. That’s what we need! Not that…theology!”  Well, the problem with that is obviously, the minute you start trying to put the words of Jesus into practice, you run into complexities:  What does it mean, Jesus’ answer to the rich young man? Does that mean I shouldn’t have anything? Should I not spend resources to go to law school? Is it immoral for me to make money from working in a restaurant that sells food for more than the cost of production? What *is* a living wage? What *is* the responsibility, concretely speaking of a community towards the poor? What is *my* responsibility, as a parent or as a vowed religious, as a old person as a child?

The questions multiply very quickly, and “pastoral” talk just as quickly shows itself to be inadequate as a sole response. Theological, spiritual and philosophical conversations happen for a reason. The Catholic tradition takes those conversations into account in formulating expressions of what is True, and it is part of the role of Church authority to explicitly bring those conversations and answers into the world.

And finally, if your rhetoric is not enmeshed in, informed by and dependent on that greater Revelation and Tradition, explicitly and at all times, the impression is given that the authority for what you are saying rests on you, your personality and your perspective. Not what Catholic catechesis, the presbyterate, episcopacy or papacy is supposed to be about

Tomorrow: On welcoming, closed up churches, narrowness and accompanying. #SaintStyle

%d bloggers like this: