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Today’s her feastday!

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

For more on that book go here. They’ve created a matching game with some of the images from the book here. 

(St. Jerome images from the book in yesterday’s post)

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:

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

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.

Wednesday

Hey, folks, yes, a lot going, a ton going on, Hot Takes everywhere you look, but as strongly as I feel (and I do) and as interested as I am (and I am – I’m a

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Political Animal from genus to species), I just can’t get myself up for engaging in all that in this space. I’ve explained why often, but it all comes down to the limits of mental and emotional space. Once I get going, I’d be all in and on the Internets all day, fighting those battles, and all I have to do to fight the temptation is to do a quick scroll-through of Facebook and Twitter and see the same names posting all freaking day and into the night. No thanks. Don’t want to go there, don’t want to be that. I mean, who knows. But it’s a good check on that temptation when it strikes.

So, to digest instead.

Note: I started this post this morning with the best of intentions. What intervened? I am honestly not sure….

Reading: Just finished Dirt by Bill Buford, which I liked a lot. If you are interested in food, history, the history of food, travel, life in Europe and the life of an ex-pat, especially with a family, you’ll probably like this, as well.

Buford, writer, editor, the author of an earlier foodie memoir called Heat

(which I have not read), decided in 2007 to take his family – wine expert wife Jessica and their then-toddler twin sons – to Lyon.

Many of us think of Paris as the center of French food culture, but a strong, if not stronger argument can be made to give that crown to Lyon and its great tradition that began with the meres – the women who established the core of Lyonnaise cuisine in the early 20th century and expanded through the decades to include the beginnings of nouvelle cuisine decades later.

Buford is not a professional chef, but a dedicated, even obsessed amateur who decides to explore a cuisine from the inside – to be trained with the best, if possible, and to work with the best, if possible. If they’ll let him.

So Dirt is that story. It’s the story of what Buford learned about Lyonaisse cooking and how – it’s about both the cost and the fruit of a deep involvement in the professional French kitchen. It’s about a family’s adaptation to this new place, and how this new place begins to feel like home. It’s about all the characters, past and present, who make Lyonnaise cuisine what it is.

It’s also about creativity. For French cooking is rooted in knowing, first of all, every iota and atom of the tradition of ingredient and technique. Then you can think of something new.

And most of all, it’s about the connection between cuisine and place – hence the title – and while it might inspire you (as it did me), it also might grieve you as you take out your highly-processed lunchmeat to lay out on bread from an industrial bakery and top it with cheese that shines like plastic. Where does this come from? What does it say about…anything?

If anything, Dirt reanimated my travel bug, not just in general, but very specifically. No, I don’t care about going to Paris or London or Rome (okay maybe Rome) again, but I yearn – deeply – for that experience of the deeply-lived local, a small or mid-sized town like Uzes or Pavia, rich in history, confident, somewhat unwelcoming to the outsider, but in the cool of an evening, lingering over a meal, a place that permits me, even in my strangeness, to be surrounded by ancient stones piled high by hands long gone, but hands of men and women who probably sat in this same place, lingering over meals and a welcome cup of wine, as well, gazing up at the same stars and wondering what could possibly come next.

Uzès, France. 2012.

Next up: Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. It’s very well reviewed, and I’m looking forward to it, but I can’t help but ask, even ahead of time, what fools thought Karen King was on the right track at all? I mean…I sure didn’t at the time. It was obviously nonsense from the beginning, and what I’m mainly interested to see is whether King’s involvement is all innocent – in which case…can I teach at Harvard, please? …..or in the least opportunistic. We’ll see.

Watching:

Fargo! Season 4!

I’ve written about Fargo several times – here, for example.

This season seems to be a bit different. We’ll see. I mean, Noah Hawley is at the helm, and he does have his themes: mainly – the role of the serendipitous coincidence in human affairs, and the reality of good and evil and the fact that they don’t get along. Neither seems to be much in evidence as yet – yes, there is a weird incident that sets all subsequent destruction in motion, but what I’m not picking up is a strong moral center – which is a key element of all previous seasons, not to mention the Coen movie that’s the inspiration for it all. Yes, there’s a good, interesting character who’s got our attention from the beginning – Ehthel, the 16-year old biracial daughter of a white father and black mother – but, well, she’s just a teenage girl. Who is for sure seeing interesting things and asking questions about them, but she’s not a cop or other adult figure with some authority to really make things happen, move things along and take down the bad guys.

We’ll see.

I did enjoy it, though. It’s received mixed reviews, but no matter. A lot of those same folks say that season 3 was their least favorite, while it might just be my most favorite. I love everything about the setting: Kansas City, where I’ve spent a lot of time, both in my childhood (my dad taught at KU in Lawrence for five years) and recently, as my son’s college is nearby. I know the series hasn’t been filmed there – it’s filmed in Chicago – but the long scene setting shots are of course of Kansas City, the downtown of which maintains a distinct mid-century feel.

Update! Update! It’s 11:47 pm! Can I finish before midnight??? People keep calling me, responsibilities keep calling…..

Starts sprinting…

I like it. I don’t know where it’s going, but I like it. I like the questions Hawley is asking about America – about what makes an American, about how America is a weird mix of high ideals and outright criminality. I like the forthrightness about race and ethnicity. I like the straightforward oddness.

I’m in. I doubt I’ll love it, as I loved seasons 1 & 3 (liked season 2, but didn’t love it), but you never know…

Listening: Same. You know the drill.

Right now though? Jazz playlist.

Cooking: Varia. Best scones I’ve ever done this morning – using this recipe, but subbing a mix of strawberry-flavored Greek yogurt and milk for the buttermilk. Sticking the mix in the freezer at every pause in the process.

This Chicken Tortilla soup, which was fantastic. Believe what he says about the cilantro. Yes, you dump a lot in it, but it doesn’t taste like cilantro – just rich. BTW, I use a Rotel-like tomato thing for the tomato in the recipe.

Tonight – a chicken breast filet pounded and panko-breaded, alongside a variation on this pasta dish from a favorite site. Pretty basic, actually, but good. Vegetables (spinach) and starch in one dish.

Also this week was a steak – get a prime or premium cut, cook it this way, and you will never, ever be tempted to go out for steak again, as if you still were.

(Bone-in ribeye is my choice cut. Fresh Market never does me wrong. Wow.)

11:57

MADE IT.

St. Jerome

First of all, let’s look again at the startlingly jacked-up St. Jerome I saw last year in Seville, at the Museo de Bellas Artes

From a Reddit thread on the sculpture and the sculptor:

Torrigiano was an Italian sculptor best known for his work in painted terracotta. As a young man he broke Michelangelo’s nose, an event which critic Waldemar Januszczak (citing Vasari) sees as a pivotal moment in art history. Torrigiano left Florence in disgrace and spent the rest of his life wandering Europe, leaving Michelangelo (according to Januszczak’s grandiose analysis) unchallenged for the title of Italy’s greatest sculptor. As a result, the history of sculpture was defined by marble rather than clay, and more crucially by monochromatic forms.

One can see, maybe, why Jerome’s personality might have appealed to this sculptor…..

Anyway….

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

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.

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Good children’s books on St. Jerome:

It’s tragic, but….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.”

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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. 

Angelic

First, take yourself over to the site of Daniel Mitsui and explore his images of angels.

And maybe start your Christmas shopping….

Some years back, I read a blog post from someone I know a bit. Exploring the possibility of revisiting the Catholic faith of her childhood, she had gone to Mass. But she had left with her needs not met, she felt, because the priest’s homily had utilized battle themes. This disappointed her.

What struck me though, was that in reading this person’s writing for a few years, it was clear she had been fighting deep, painful battles, mostly related to her children. She was not fighting against them as much as fighting for them in their struggles with addiction and self-worth and calling. Yes, she had been fighting and she was exhausted by it, but she would not give up on her children.

It was too bad that she couldn’t see the connection. It was too bad that a combination of perhaps the priest’s failure to connect the battle imagery with personal battles or the walls she had put up to understanding had worked so that she could not see that yes, she and her children were fighting battles and that here in that place, God’s strength was available to her, light ready to be taken up against the darkness.

I have always thought of it this way. God created us in His image and our destiny is eternal life with Him. Darkness is fighting against that, is fighting to win us. It is Temptation 101, yes? But when we leave the battlefield image out of this dynamic because we are uncomfortable with it or think we have progressed beyond it, and we much prefer to talk of “journeys” and “seeking,”  we profoundly misunderstand the nature of the journey to Peace. Darkness doesn’t want you to live in the light of God’s accepting, constant, trustworthy love, and throw everything in its power to keep you out.

Yes, it is a battle.

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In my son’s prayer corner. I wrote about this piece a few years ago. Daniel Mitsui, the artist, seems to no longer have the cited explanation up on his website, but here it is nonetheless from another website:

This ink drawing (with gold leaf details) of St. Michael fighting the devil was commissioned by a priest of the Maryknoll Missionaries, an order with a long history of missionary activity in Japan. He asked whether I thought it possible to create an image of the archangel in the style of traditional Japanese art without the result being kitsch.

I was certainly willing to make an attempt. While inculturation is not something that I have consciously attempted in the past, I was eager to explore some of the illustrative ideas in Japanese woodblock printing. Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of my favorite artists, provided most of the inspiration here.

I was also curious to see how successfully I could maintain the western iconographic traditions in the content and arrangement of religious pictures while using an eastern style of illustration.

From another part of the world, in 2010 on our parish mission trip, in Saltillo, Mexico:

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Here’s a bit about the prayer of St. Michael from my book, The Words We Pray:

St. Vincent de Paul

Today’s the feastday of St. Vincent de Paul:

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

An account of his life:

Thus, although he had no advantages of birth, fortune, or handsome appearance, or any showy gifts at all, Vincent de Paul’s later years became one long record of accomplishment. In the midst of great affairs, his soul never strayed from God; always when he heard the clock strike, he made the sign of the cross as an act of divine love. Under setbacks, calumnies, and frustrations, and there were many, he preserved his serenity of mind. He looked on all events as manifestations of the Divine will, to which he was perfectly resigned. Yet by nature, he once wrote of himself, he was “of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger.” Without divine grace, he declared, he would have been “in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed.” With grace, he became tenderhearted to the point of looking on the troubles of all mankind as his own. His tranquillity seemed to lift him above petty disturbances. Self-denial, humility, and an earnest spirit of prayer were the means by which he attained to this degree of perfection. Once when two men of exceptional learning and ability asked to be admitted to his congregation, Vincent courteously refused them, saying: “Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penitence, and to plant the Gospel spirit of charity, humility, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.” One of his rules was that, so far as possible, a man ought not to speak of himself or his own concerns, since such discourse usually proceeds from and strengthens pride and self-love.

From his own words, in today’s Office of Readings:

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.


The writings that St. Vincent left behind are mostly in the form of correspondence and conferences, which are in print today and easy to find. Some of these thoughts were collected in a small volume of “Counsels” which you can access via archive.org. For example, here.

I find reading works like this instructive for a number of reasons. First, naturally, because they are the thoughts and advice of a great saint, and that’s always good to put in your brain and fill your time with.

But secondly – what a contrast. What a contrast to the contemporary spiritual gestalt and yes, I’m talking about Catholic gestalt, too. Perhaps especially.

I am ever intrigued by popular spirituality, no matter what era, and in particular by the give and take, ebb and flow between Catholicism and secular thought and culture. When does the latter help illuminate the former? When does it obscure, distract and point us away from Christ? When we tease it apart, what should be retained, and what should be tossed?

When you read these Counsels of St. Vincent de Paul, you might start suspecting that much of what you’re encountering in contemporary Catholic spiritual and pastoral efforts falls into that latter category.

Harsh!

But why?

Because traditional Catholic spirituality, from St. Paul on, has been about humility and emptying the self and allowing Christ to fill you. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. 

Consider what you’re being sold these days, even from Catholics. In every way, in every corner, it seems to be about you and yourself. We are constantly told that the core of spiritual seeking is to discover who you really are, with gifts ‘n’ talents at the ready, accept who you really are, accept that God accepts you as you really are, arrange your life around the self you have accepted, be passionate about that self and its potential for greatness, find a church community that accepts you as you really are, and then get upset if you feel that you’re not being accepted as you really are. Lather, rinse, repeat.

There’s that concept of being stuck in perpetual adolescence, and this seems to me to be one manifestation of it – that unrelenting focus on and anxiety about the self and how well we are understood and accepted. As well as a spirituality formed in a context of relative material prosperity and social segregation. Does it nudge us in the proper direction, open us to the fullness of the Gospel? Sometimes, perhaps. God can work through anything, no matter how weird and odd and even bad, and does. But really, this moralistic therapeutic deism, as it’s commonly called in this, yes, culture of narcissism –  and what St. Vincent is preaching – to not speak of oneself and one’s own concerns –  are…different.  It’s good to pay attention and question your spiritual paradigm, not just once in a while, but every day.


Here’s my tonic for that temptation. From the Counsels:

The methods by which God chooses to work are not in accordance with our ideas and our wishes. We must content ourselves with using those small powers which He has given us, and not be distressed because they are not higher or more far-reaching. If we are faithful in a little, He will give much into our charge ; but that is His province, and does not depend on efforts of ours. We must leave it to Him, and try and fill our own niche.

The spirit of the world is restless, and desires to be active in all things. Let it alone. We must not choose our paths, but follow those into which it is God’s pleasure to direct us. So long as we know ourselves unworthy to be used by Him, or to be esteemed by other men, we are safe. Let us offer ourselves to Him to do or to suffer anything that may be for His glory or for the strengthening of His Church. That is all He asks. If He requires results, that is in His hands and not in ours ; let us spread out heart and will in His presence, having no choice of this or that until God has spoken. And, -‘meanwhile, pray we may have grace to copy our Lord in those virtues that belonged to His hidden life.

Remember always that the Son of God remained unrecognised. That is  our aim, and that is what He asks of us now, for the future and for always, unless He shows us, by some method of His which we cannot mistake, that He wants something else of us. Pay homage to the everyday life led by our Lord on earth, to His humility, His self-surrender, and His practice of  the virtues such a life requires. But chiefly pay homage to the limitations our Divine Master set on His own achievements. He did not choose to do all He might have done, and He teaches us to be content to refrain from undertakings which might be within our power, and to fulfill only what charity demands and His will requires.

I rejoice at this generous resolve of yours to imitate our Lord in the hiddenness of His life. The idea of it seems as if it must have come from God, because it is so opposed to the ordinary point of view of flesh and blood. You may be quite sure that that certainly is the state befitting children of God. Therefore be steadfast, and have the courage to resist all  the suggestions that are against it. You have found the means by which you may become what God asks you to be and learn to do His holy will continually, and that is the goal for which we are striving and for which all the saints have striven.

Another way to think of this, traditionally, is in terms of will. One of St. Benedict’s rules is “to hate one’s own will.” Again – harsh! Isn’t happiness about fulfilling our deepest yearnings?

Well, yes and no, and of course it all comes down to definitions.

We all suffer because we believe that happiness lies in fulfilling our will. But if we have the gift to reflect on our past, we quickly come to the realization that much of what we “will” does not bring us happiness and in fact is quite fleeting and arbitrary–changing with the wind.

To fight “our will” does not mean going off into another direction but rather facing reality. Our “will” often pulls us away from what most needs our attention. We often will to be somewhere other than where we are, to be doing something other than what needs to be done and to be with someone other than the one we are with at the present moment. These are exactly the moments when we are to “hate” our own will and seek to do the will of God.

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

I was in Living Faith yesterday. And here’s a post with photos to illustrate the point of that entry. 

— 2 —

Here’s a forthcoming book that looks great!

The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science

In this book, we walk the path of medieval science with a real-life guide, a fourteenth-century monk named John of Westwyk – inventor, astrologer, crusader – who was educated in England’s grandest monastery and exiled to a clifftop priory. Following the traces of his life, we learn to see the natural world through Brother John’s eyes: navigating by the stars, multiplying Roman numerals, curing disease and telling the time with an astrolabe.

We travel the length and breadth of England, from Saint Albans to Tynemouth, and venture far beyond the shores of Britain. On our way, we encounter a remarkable cast of characters: the clock-building English abbot with leprosy, the French craftsman-turned-spy and the Persian polymath who founded the world’s most advanced observatory.

An enthralling story of the struggles and successes of an ordinary man and an extraordinary time, The Light Ages conjures up a vivid picture of the medieval world as we have never seen it before

Well, a bit overwrought, but if it enlightens folks, have at it!

The Light Ages by Seb Falk | Penguin Random House Canada
Available in the US in November.

— 3 —

Speaking of books, as I mentioned before, I’ve been tracking my book sales since the Covid-soused pre-Easter plunge. (Tracking in the only way I can, through the metric Amazon provides authors, which tracks…something. I really have no idea what. I think it’s more than Amazon sales, but I’m not sure).

The cratering reached its worst point the last week of April, when sales this year were about a tenth of what they were last year. Maybe an eighth. No First Communions, no Confirmations, not much Easter visiting and associated gifting from grannies. This year’s sales lagged behind last’s until the second week of May when the tables began to turn.

All summer, slowly but surely, this year’s sales started to surpass last year’s. By mid-summer this year’s cumulative sales of all my titles (as recorded by this metric) were regularly double or triple what they were last year each week.

It’s interesting to me because it’s my way of tracking parish life – obviously what was happening was that parishes were slowly opening back up and beginning to celebrate these sacramental milestones again. And then, as summer waned, folks started looking for religious education materials and supplements. This week’s big sellers were Prove It God, Prove it Prayer (both with sales about ten times the usual – it seems to me that they were required by some classes or schools) and the book of Heroes (sales 7 x what they were the same week last year) and Sign and Symbols (3 x this week last year).

It’s fascinating because at this rate, my sales during this six month royalty period are probably, after a disastrous start, going to even out and end up being commensurate with last year’s.

As I said, it’s mostly interesting to me as a sort-of concrete way to “measure” Catholic parish and catechetical life in these very weird times.

And guess what – you don’t even have to pay a dime for this title!

Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies – normally priced at an exorbitant .99 – is absolutely, positively free through Saturday midnight.

Pretty exciting stuff, all around.

— 4 —

Speaking of Catholic parishes and the pandemic, if you know of a parish that’s truly worked hard to serve the needs of its people and the community during this time – nominate them to be recognized for this! Here’s an article about the effort, and here’s the site.

— 5 –

Yes, there’s good news out here in Catholic land – I’ve tried to highlight some local parishes that I believe have really stepped up – but I also will co-sign Phil Lawler’s stance here:

As much as I applaud him for bringing our Eucharistic Lord out onto the streets of the city…

As much as I thank him for taking the lead (when so many other prelates remain silent) in insisting that religious worship is “essential activity”…

As fully as I agree with him that the response from city officials—or rather, their failure to make any response—is an insult to Catholics…

Still I wonder: If the archbishop thinks that the city’s restrictions are unreasonable—if he thinks that it would be safe to celebrate Mass for a larger congregation in the city’s cathedral—why doesn’t he take the obvious action? Why doesn’t he go into his own cathedral, invite the public, and celebrate Mass?

Before I go any further let me emphasize that I do not mean to single out Archbishop Cordileone for criticism here. On the contrary, I mean to praise him. The question that I ask of him could apply, far more pointedly, to all the other bishops and priests who have meekly accepted unreasonable restrictions on the administration of the sacraments—to the bishops and priests who have not raised public objections, have not mobilized the faithful, have not organized Eucharistic processions.

Give Archbishop Cordileone full credit for speaking truth to power: for telling the faithful who joined him last Sunday outside the cathedral that city officials “are mocking you, and even worse, they are mocking God.” Credit him, too, for the public campaign that has urged faithful Catholics to call San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed, and has already raised 17,000 signatures on a petition “asking the City of San Francisco to free the Mass.

But again: Why ask city officials to “free” the Mass? There is only one man who has the rightful authority to restrict and regulate the liturgy of the Catholic Church in San Francisco, and his name is Cordileone. If he wants to celebrate Mass for the public in his cathedral, he can do it.

But wait, you say. He can’t celebrate Mass for the public in his cathedral. It would be against the law.

To which I respond: what law?

— 6 —

Looking for a movie to watch or argue about? Check out Movie/Writer Son’s “Definitive Ranking of David Lean Films” here.

David Lean was a great filmmaker who grew up in the British studio system preceding the outbreak of World War II and became a director, hitched to Noel Coward, during the conflict. After working directly with Coward for four films, he broke out on his own and became one of the most important British filmmakers. His great epics tend to overshadow his smaller films, some of which are pretty much just as great, and that’s really why I do these exercises of running through entire filmographies.

Looking for a quick Halloween craft? Pick up this kit from my daughter’s Etsy shop!

Trio Halloween  Witchs Hat Jack O Lantern and Bat  image 1

— 7 —


Speaking of books, again – a few lists if you are poking around for something to read either now or in the future.

Micah Mattix’s ongoing bookshop of interesting forthcoming titles.

Looking backwards, the #1956Club – from my favorite “The Neglected Book Page”

For about five years now, Karen Langley (Kaggsy of Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambles) and Simon Thomas (of Stuck in a Book) have instigated a semi-annual event in which people around the world take a week to read and write about books published during a particular year. The next round, coming up the week of 5-11 October, will look at books from the year 1956.

1956 was a terrific year for what I might call good but not stuffily great books. Perhaps the best example is Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, which won her the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and which is much loved for the spirit embodied in its opening line: “‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” This was Macaulay’s last novel; also appearing in 1956 is Anthony Burgess’s first novel Time for a Tiger, the first book in his Malayan Trilogy.

To encourage folks to take advantage of the #1956Club while also discovering something beyond what’s readily available for instant download or overnight delivery, I’ve put together this list of 10 long-forgotten and out of print books from 1956.

Go here for the list.

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

Vanitas

I’m in Living Faith today.

No, I didn’t take a photograph of the tiny, wizened elderly lady who sat at the door of the sweet shop every day, but I did take many other photos of Copan, Honduras, of course. Here are some.

Mainly so I can experiment with this still new-to-me WordPress gizmo system.

Pardon the different types of photo arrangement while I explore:

Okay, I think I’ve got it. Thanks for waiting. Okay, one more – let’s see what this is like:

Hundreds of years ago, kings and priests looked down at their subjects here from the heights of Mayan palaces, sure of their importance, confident in their legacy. Now, children scramble over the crumbling stones…..

Change of Seasons

And by the way, when people – mostly women, and mostly women with children, natter on about accepting a different “season” of life, for some unreasonable reason, it makes me want to punch someone. So, sure. go ahead. Have at me!

But, hey, it is a decent play on words. This time.

The change might not appear drastic to you, but to me, it’s sort of ….drastic.

Here, try this one:

I finally acknowledged reality and did a serious clean-out of what had evolved into the Science Corner and the Art Corner of our front room – where most of the homeschool books and other materials have been kept over the past few years.

The reality to be acknowledged and admitted? Those days are over. Not the homeschooling days, period, in toto, but the days when homeschooling meant “doing fun projects and experiments at home” – “fun” being of course, relative to whom was declaring it and hearing it declared.

For when all you’ve got left is an almost 16-year old who’d rather be on his bike, is doing a science class elsewhere and will probably be taking college classes next year and whose artistic outlet is his music …

….yeah, you can ditch the random chemicals and pipettes and oil pastels. And don’t give into the temptation to think, I might still make something with this someday….

Not going to happen. Just admit it.

Sure, I kept the glue gun and various other useful tools – don’t get rid of your glue gun! – but almost everything else, except some markers, colored pencils and the microscope (which still gets used when, for example, feathers or interesting dead bugs are found) – is bagged up and will be passed on to another homeschooling family tomorrow.

I’m not one to hang on, yearning for a particular stage of growing-up to never end. When your oldest is 38 years old, you had best be long over that temptation, or no one will ever come to visit you, probably.

But yes, scooping all that up and packing it to leave the house does make me a little wistful. I entered homeschooling unwillingly, but also enthusiastically, if that makes sense. Basically: I really don’t want to, but if we’re going to do this, we are going to do it right and show those stupid schools what’s possible. Like many of you, I had that experience of spending hours, late into the night, researching, researching and researching even more with a combination of excitement, engagement and usually, finally – despair, amiright?

But we plunge through and emerge on the other side full of ideas, projects, games, mini-courses, living books and lists for the library and Michael’s, full of optimism and high expectations.

And, as per usual with life, the high expectations aren’t reached, but on the way, different milestones and moments stand out, and something – something – was learned by all.

So to go through those wicker drawers and pull out the paints and oil pastels that were carefully chosen but then barely used, to thumb through the notebooks with the first three pages faithfully and cleverly written in and the rest absolutely blank, to toss the tubing and pipettes that were used once in a bag and discover the Gallium I completely forgot I’d purchased – evokes both gratitude and regret. It’s a reminder of good times, high hopes and a nagging suspicion that no, I didn’t do all I could, but I did try and hopefully didn’t do too much damage.

(We’ll keep the Gallium, btw. 16-year olds will still get a kick out of that, at least.)

There’s the introduction, then, to This Week in the Homeschool. What’s the sophomore doing?

  • Math: Algebra II, with a tutor. Meeting once a week during the day at this point, might kick it up to twice a week once things get more complicated. It’s going fine. She works with him for an hour, gives him homework, which we either take a picture of and text back to her or drop off at the school in which she teaches if we’re back in the neighborhood.
  • Science: Chemistry at the local Catholic homeschool co-op, instructor is a Ph.D. from a local university. Once a week until November, break, then continuing in January for another 12 weeks. Two classes so far, seems to be going fine.
  • Spanish: On his own. I’m not sure what he’s doing except watching videos about mapaches and tacos. No, seriously, he does use a textbook and a Great Courses Spanish II class. He claims that when his native-speaker (mostly Mexican) friends speak to their families and each other he can understand them perfectly. I guess I believe him.
  • Latin: Latin II, Latin for the New Millenium. Mostly worked out between us, and things are definitely looking up because the hellscape of the subjunctive is almost behind us. I mean – it will always be with us, but learning it for the first time is almost over. Occasional meetings with a tutor.
  • History: On his own. He’s working his way through ancient Greek history at the moment, reading and watching a Great Courses course. As I have said many times, he has a very good grasp of the Big Picture, appropriate to his level, and so is free to explore whatever area he chooses in depth.
  • Literature: American Literature, directed by me, who actually made out a detailed syllabus and everything. We are almost done with pre-Revolutionary times. So far, he’s read excerpts from Verrazzano, de Vaca, Champlain, John Smith, William Bradford, John Winthrop, Roger Williams and Anne Bradstreet, with Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of her captivity this week, then Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards next, and then wrapping it up with de Crevecoeur and Phillis Wheatley. Then on to Franklin, Paine, Jefferson, Federalist Papers, etc.

This is the primary text.

At the same time, he’s reading The Scarlet Letter. Finishing it up by next Monday. He reads, we discuss. I’m using these questions as a guide – he has to be able to answer all of them in discussion, and I mark five or so for each chunk of reading that he answers in writing.

I’m contemplating what longer works to use next. We might just do The Last of the Mohicans.

  • Music : Same as I’ve been telling you for a while. Mostly Beethoven and Gershwin with, of course, antiphons for Mass and short organ preludes and postludes. (still no congregational singing at the parish in which he plays).

Some day things will open again and we’ll perhaps even get to the theater.

Literature Supplement:

Before we read Bradstreet, we read Sally Thomas’ introductory chapter on “How to Read a Poem” from Thirty Poems to Memorize (Before It’s Too Late) – a book we’ll be using all year and beyond.

Read Bradstreet, and then took some time with Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – it plays a big part in the movie Interstellar, which we watched last week (him for the second time, me for the first), so it made sense to read, talk about it and then listen to various readings – most notably fellow-Welshman-to-Thomas Richard Burton.

And then today, the day after the Autumn Equinox, we got in the spirit by reading To Autumn by Keats, listening to another reading on YouTube, discussing it and reading a bit of analysis.

History Supplement: Surprise, surprise, earlier this week, we talked about…. the American judicial system, the process for selecting a Supreme Court justice, and so on.

Yes, the felt and petri dishes may be gone, but the Teachable Moments remain!

Bcs S5 GIF by Better Call Saul

Padre Pio

Padre Pio today – he’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints:

More here about the book – and the other books in the series. Which you might consider ordering for yourself or others to support your home-based religious education efforts!

 

Monday

Greetings.

Usually, in normal times, when my brain is sucked down a rabbit hole, it’s because of travel. That is – when you see the absence of super-original content here for a bit, you can assume, “Oh, she’s planning a trip and is

Monday

spending all her mental energies researching airfare, lodging and weird things to see on Atlas Obscura and Roadside America.”

Well, we all know that’s not the case right now – although I do check various South-of-the-Border travel forums every day, to see what the story is down there in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica – since when we do travel again outside the country, our first destinations will probably be one of those countries, not just because it will be more possible than Europe, and not just because we enjoy going to them, but also because of Education – as in, got to work on that Spanish. (Although, I hasten to say, it does get worked on up here, every day, academically, through watching and listening, and talking with his native-speaker friends in Spanish.)

Ah, so back to the topic. No, it’s not been travel – it’s been car. No problems or tragedies, it’s just that my lease on this current vehicle ends this fall, and I’m figuring out what to do next. Basics: I would very much like this to be the last car I ever buy (and yes, buy – never leasing again. The stress of the mileage limitation makes it not worth it at all for me), not because I’m being morbid, but just because I think it should be possible. I’m 60, and in ten years (or less) hopefully I’ll be living somewhere, at least most of the time, where I won’t need a car – NYC, Europe, nursing home…who knows.

So yeah, I’m obsessing, and just as with travel research, I’ve reached the point at which I need to just go ahead and pin something down so I’ll stop .

Hopefully that will happen over the next day or so.

(And in case you are wondering what is, actually happening with travel to those countries mentioned above – at this point, Mexico is the most open to US travelers – yes, folks are back to piling into Cancun and Cabo – but the situation is still iffy enough and not enough is back to normal in terms of things to do and places to see down there to make it worth it. Plus, language schools don’t seem to be operating in-person yet, and since that would be the major reason for the trip, well…no reason to go at the moment. )

Digest:

Writing: As noted, the car research has dominated my already limited brain power of late. Also having an impact is the combination of just completing a large project and then unexpectedly having large chunks of time available to me. I’m still adjusting to College Guy getting back to school, and the space that’s left after his unexpected six months return. It’s not just a space that’s there because of the difference between him being in the house and not – it’s a mental space left open by the diminishment of concern about The Future. These months have been filled with a bit of anxiety and uncertainty about what would happen with the school, and what he’d do if any of the less than optimal possibilities occurred. But as of last week…it seems that everything’s going to be okay. The school, it seems to me, is going to make it through the semester with the students on campus and the majority of classes in person. (He only has one that’s remote, and he thinks it’s because it’s a large class, with no where on campus available to spread the group out).

So…that’s it. After months of my mind being focused on that issue, the busy-ness of having the two around, my working on a project, less for Kid #5 to do because, well, it was summer and Covid had shut so much down – last week that all shifted. I stopped worrying about College Kid’s situation, Kid #5 got busy, project finished…and here I was with what I’d been complaining I didn’t have for months – mental space and quiet.

So what do I do?

Decide it’s time to buy a car.

Typical.

Anyway – I did look at one of my novel ideas and beginnings and decide to go with it. This week, I’ll start, seriously guys. Seriously.

Of course, there are also innumerable essay and blog post ideas churning in my head. Which I can’t pin down. Of course.

Reading: I read two novels last week, and I meant to write about both, but I think that moment has passed.

Work Shirts for Madmen – an antic romp through the brain of an alcoholic outdoor metal sculptor. The author is from North Carolina, but is a favorite in these parts, regularly giving readings at a local literary gathering – and Birmingham figures in this novel. I enjoyed it – very funny with a ton of acute, accurate observation – but it felt a little too antic and forced in the Quirk Level. Tiring.

The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha. I read one of his previous novels Arts & Entertainment – and reviewed it here.

I think this is an astute observation, but I think that Beha actually doesn’t cut deeply enough here.  In confining his characters’ hijinks to the world of television-and-movies celebrity and reality TV, he lets the rest of us off the hook.

I say this because “the audience” isn’t just people who watch TV and peruse gossip sites. The “audience” that must be pleased is composed of our blog readers, Facebook friends, Instagram and Twitter followers…all of which feeds the human temptation to make choices and behave for God’e sake of others’ opinions rather than God’s will.

It’s the temptation to perform instead of just live.

Hahaha. Written five years ago…I obviously have a horse around I like to beat, regularly.

Anyway, in this novel – quite a bit longer and more ambitious – Beha traces the fates of several characters whose lives are intertwined by accident and intent, and who all end up – as the title indicates – in spirals of self-destruction.

I did enjoy reading it and spent the better part of a day last week contentedly immersed in that world, but…it didn’t stick. I’ll be lazy, and quote from an Amazon review with which I agree:

Then, as I got further in, I realized that everything I needed to know about this novel was right there in the title. Every single character was going to have a serious fall because of a self-destructive act. I won’t spoil anything by outlining every character’s downward arc but, needless to say, the book became simply the experience of watching a multi-car trainwreck unfold in slow motion. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, Mr. Beha wasn’t quite up to the task of making it interesting.

I fell in love with the idea, actually. Drawn from the analytics that have made Sam’s name, the index of self-destructive acts is the measure of the things a pitcher does on his own to cause his own downfall—wild pitches, balks, etc. It’s a clever metaphor brought up early on in the novel to foreshadow what was to come. Mr. Beha ruins it, however, by making every single major character a victim of it. Instead of creating something that feels like real life, the reader feels manipulated, especially since the self-destructive acts are, for the most part, obvious and “topical” (racism, insider trading, etc.).

It’s too bad because this novel ends up feeling like a good idea wasted. Mr. Beha clearly has some skills as the story was initially very engaging and his prose, except for a couple of painfully poor set pieces late in the novel, very readable. It just feels like he got so enamored of his clever idea that he let it take over, instead of letting his characters run the show and become real people.

Now? I haven’t been able to get to the library the past few days, so I’m back to their digital offerings, which I discovered include several Peter de Vries novels. I feel like swimming in cool mid-century waters right now, so why not?

(His Blood of the Lamb reviewed by me here.)

I’m starting with this one. Should be a quick read.

I’m also looking at some of the many titles suggested by folks in this Facebook post from Jody Bottum:

What’s your favorite novel among those you sense that very few—or no—other people you know have read?

Like catnip for me.

Oh, also, the Scarlet Letter. But I’m going to do a school post later today, probably, so more on that then.

Cooking:

Just a bit. Beef stew last week, which did us for two meals, along with cornbread drop biscuits (mixed up in a batch, formed and frozen, two or three taken out when needed and wanted), then pizza dough made on Saturday, which will make for three dinners or lunches. Ham steak with this nice glaze.

Watching: As noted last week, Interstellar.

Fargo starts this week! Will definitely be watching that.

Listening:

Will be listening tonight to SIL Andy Branton’s livestream – go here for that.

And for our local music-maker? Same as usual: Gershwin Preludes and the Moonlight Sonata, mostly third movement.

With the addition of possible Chopin. Been listening to potential candidates for that addition to the repertoire, mainly one of the ballades. Gulp.

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