Archive for May, 2022

It’s the Feast of the Visitation.

As with any feast, today gives layers and layers for our contemplation – John’s recognition of Jesus – the first person to recognize Jesus was an unborn child, remember – to Mary’s hymn of praise, giving glory to God and celebrating that His ways are not at all the world’s ways.

From my book, Mary and the Christian Life:

For Mary, life has changed. You might even say it’s turned upside down. Elizabeth’s world is a bit different too, weighted by an unexpected, unlikely, growing baby boy. In that small village in the hill country of Judah, the two women met, embraced, shared their good news, marveled, and wondered what it all could mean.

Then, like faithful women everywhere, past and present, they praised God…..

…..Being with Elizabeth inspires Mary. All of these things she’d been mulling over, the amazing news she’d received come together at last through Elizabeth’s response to her. The same is often the case with us. Our news—good or bad—takes on another shade of meaning when it’s affirmed by the presence of someone who shares that experience. What we’ve been thinking about can’t be contained any longer; and so, like Mary in the presence of her once-barren cousin with a baby leaping in her womb, as David leaping before the ark on the way to Jerusalem, we exult.

When we are part of something astonishing and new, we know that we’re in the middle of something bigger than ourselves, something miraculous and true, and this is what Mary expresses. We can almost hear the words tumbling out of her in that way of chanting and singing so typical of ancient prayer. In her soul, in what is happening to her, in her small, humble self, God is magnified. He looms large and powerful because the promise is finally being fulfilled.

What promise?

The ancient promise of redemption: of healing of a broken world; of mercy flowing; of the poor, those who know that their lives depend on God, being rewarded; and the haughty, proud, and rich, who think they need nothing except their own powers, being sent away.

The world, damaged by sin so that it values power and domination, is saved and set right by the small, the unnoticed, and even the despised. Mary, in awe that she’s a part of this, praises God.

Of course!


Mary’s Magnificat might help us think about our own prayer lives.

What is that like? What is it like for you to pray? What does God hear on his end of things?

Jesus tells us over and over to bring all of our needs to God. No matter how small our request, no matter how small we think of ourselves, like the widow coming before the judge, the neigh-bor needing help in the middle of the night, Jesus tells us to bring him all, whenever we feel so moved and however often we need.

But he also gave us a commandment. A first commandment. A greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart.

What is love if it is not expressed? In our prayers of praise and gratitude, we live in obedience to the greatest commandment. After all, how authentic would we judge the affection of another from whom we only heard requests and needs?

To praise, to thank, to bless. This is at the heart of prayer. If you look at traditional Jewish and Christian prayer, you will find some very interesting and perhaps startling things. You’ll find that traditionally, Jews and Christians throughout history haven’t conceptualized prayer primarily as “making stuff up in your head and spilling it out to God.”

No, when the ancient spiritual writers thought and wrote about prayer, they were thinking first of all of praise—of what we as creatures owe the Creator every day. Both Jews and, follow-ing in their stead, Christians divided the day into hours marked by prayer that were always sung, chanted, or spoken aloud, and that were overwhelmingly prayers of praise. All of creation grew, moved, and breathed in gratitude for its existence, and we join in the song.

Look carefully at Mary’s prayer. For what is she praising God? Satisfying her needs, making her personally “happy,” or fixing her problems?

Not really. It seems as if she is praising and thanking God for his power and his mercy and that she, his handmaid, is playing a role in his plan of redemption, of shaking the world out of its self-satisfaction and self-reliance, turning that world radically, like the poor, back to dependence on God.

Mary sings that her soul “magnifies” the Lord. In the words of Joseph Ratzinger, to magnify the Lord means

not to want to magnify ourselves, our own name, our own ego; not to spread ourselves and take up more space, but to give him room so that he may be more present in the world. It means to become more truly what we are: not a self-enclosed monad that displays nothing but itself, but God’s image. It means to get free of the dust and soot that obscures and begrimes the transparency of the image and to become truly human by pointing exclusively to him.

Our spiritual lives, our lives with God, really are journeys. Like Mary, we travel along the road, trying to piece it all together. We’ve not yet reached our destination. Our prayer reflects that when it is small, self-referential, anxious, crabby, and resentful that life is not going according to our plan and that the world is not making us happy. Mary’s prayer teaches us another way. It points to the destination: a joyful spirit that understands, no matter how small we seem, that God has put us here for a reason. In that fact and in our efforts to let God love the world in our daily choices and encounters, God is magnified. In the midst of the cosmic drama of passionate love, our hearts are joined to Mary, and we praise.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

Recall the structure: Stories organized according to when they are normally heard in Sunday Mass during the liturgical year. Each story is retold, and each ends with a tie-in to some aspect of Catholic faith or practice, a reflection question and a prayer.

Parenting and indeed, just living, is hard. We are not made to do it alone, to go solo, to do everything ourselves, despite what American individualism preaches. Why is it that human children are born so much more helpless than other newly-birthed creatures? My imaginative spiritual take is that this indicates an important aspect of human nature: our Creator intends for us to learn what we need to learn from other human beings – from their touch, their voice, their smiling faces. Our social nature is built into the way we must learn if we are to mature properly. We can’t avoid it.

So it is with just living and especially living in families and well, communities. Years ago, as a young parent, it was reading Germaine Greer’s stimulating mess of a book Sex and Destiny that blew up the ideal of the atomized, independent, self-sufficient nuclear family for me: traditional societies just did not have the expectations of the singularity of parents that we have – it did, indeed take a village, and that was good.

And what does this have to do with the feast of the Visitation?

The encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is celebrated, rightly, as a model of women reaching out, assisting, and encouraging each other. But, as with everything else, it’s also an opportunity to pause and discern. It’s a tiny thing really.

In contemplating and applying the dynamic of the Visitation into our lives, are we focused on what we can give or what we want to receive?

A lot of that Visitation-parent-helping-parent energy is articulated these days in the concept of that village. A true and worthy ideal, but as everything else, susceptible to manipulation, selfishness and narcissism.

Are we about – I’m building the village as I reach out, bearing Christ, to help parents (and others!) who are struggling, drowning, and desperately need help.

or is it – I’m building the village so I can find someone to do the family and home stuff I don’t want to do so I can do my own thing which is a helluva lot more fun amiright ladies?

Moms (always moms…) are encouraged: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Don’t think you need to do it on your own!

But perhaps more in line with a spirit of discipleship would be, while granting that first point, to emphasize: Don’t be afraid to offer help.

In this life, ideally, we’re not too selfish or proud to acknowledge our moment in either spot when life calls for it – we give and we receive.

We welcome the visitor who’s come to lend a hand and we race to visit, bearing good news.

No matter where we are, though, keeping the great things the Almighty has done for us at the center, fundamentally energized less by our own needs and wants than by that sacrificial – sacrificial – love we bear within us.

From a poem by Thomas Merton, “The Quickening of John the Baptist:”

It’s a marvelous poem, drawing a connection between John recognizing Christ from deep in the dark of Elizabeth’s womb, to contemplatives past and present, who likewise live in a sort of darkness and silence waiting:

Her salutation
Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother’s body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery.

Sing in your cell, small anchorite!
How did you see her in the eyeless dark?
What secret syllable
Woke your young faith to the mad truth
That an unborn baby could be washed in the Spirit of God?
Oh burning joy!

What seas of life were planted by that voice!
With what new sense
Did your wise heart receive her Sacrament,
And know her cloistered Christ?

You need no eloquence, wild bairn,
Exulting in your hermitage.
Your ecstasy is your apostolate,
For whom to kick is contemplata tradere.
Your joy is the vocation of Mother Church’s hidden children –
Those who by vow lie buried in the cloister or the hermitage;
The speechless Trappist, or the grey, granite Carthusian,
The quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare, Planted in the night of
contemplation, Sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.

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Next up:

Stay tuned…..

And no, it’s not a tour. I’m not leading a freaking tour. I cannot think of many things I would want to do less than be a part of a tour. As a participant, as a leader, as an attraction. I spent years watching in horror as fellow teachers pulled together their

tours to Europe, and nothing’s changed. I love traveling with my family – or alone – , thnx. #teachablemoment #insufferable.

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St. Joan of Arc

Today’s the memorial of St. Joan of Arc.  Here are the first and last pages from the entry on her  from The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

(Clicking on each page will bring up a larger, readable version.)


Clip from Carl Theodore Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. My film-buff older son’s #1 favorite film of all.


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What do we do now?

Well, that’s a wrap.

Not just on the piano, but all of it.

Oh, I’m still involved. I pay the bills. I’m engaged, curious and nosy. I’ll read a paper if you need another set of eyes, I’ll discuss your reading – even if you don’t want me to, probably. I’ll listen to what you have to say about work. I’ll ask you, for the hundredth time, now what is it you do in your job, exactly? And probably ask again next time I see you because data analysis, what is that, anyway?

But what I’m feeling right now?

It’s similar to what I’d feel about 15 years ago, strolling by the baby-item aisle in the store, and not having to stop, pause or even think about it. An odd mixture of nostalgia and relief – but mostly relief.

Not my problem, not anymore.

Or, after we started homeschooling – you’ll think this is weird – when I’d walk by the Valentine’s section in the store. Wow. That felt ridiculously – great!

Not my problem, not anymore.

I can unsubscribe from the homeschool lists, groups and discussions. Camps, classes, requirements, credits, electives, applications, test dates:


Oh, certain things will remain on my radar, partly out of curiosity, partly out of my general interest in education and partly for the rising generation of grandchildren. But in general:


After the recital on Friday night, my son has been wandering around, a little at sea. You know how it is, you’ve been there: after you’ve finished a big project, completed a semester of school or your degree or written a book or taken a huge exam for which you’ve spent months preparing…

What do I do now?

I feel just a little bit of that, too, although the next two months will, indeed be busy, and moreover, I take nothing for granted. You never know what will happen to upend any plans you’ve made. A diagnosis, an accident, a pivot, a crisis – you just never know.

Not that the engagement ever ends either, of course. In some ways, the issues and problems that come your way as an parent of adults are more emotionally demanding and even more time-consuming than those you thought were the end of the world when they were younger. More distressing, for the most part, too. You still have sleepless nights, believe me.

So there’s that.

But that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Not just for our family members, but for everyone. This thing we call love takes different forms in various circumstances, but always at the heart of it, it seems to me, are two things: presence and self-gift. That’s where the decision starts, the answer to the question begins.

Whatever you have, whatever you can give to who needs it at that moment…

…that’s what you do now.

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Ascending the Catholic Ladder


Click on graphic for link to Daniel Mitsui’s page and more information about the art.

 Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking at the sky?

As I mentioned on Ascension Thursday, that question up there from the first reading for the feast, is one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture. 

Why the heavenly messengers challenge those of us still on earth, are you just standing here? He’s told you what to do …move on and out and get going!

So it’s an appropriate day, it seems, to talk about a unique way in which evangelists in the past took that challenge to heart and, instead of just sitting around wondering what to do – actually did something creative to share the Good News.

***Spoiler alert: it’s a method that was eventually banned by bishops. Of course. ***

It’s appropriate, not just because it’s a creative way of getting out the Word out there, but because, in a way, it evokes the feast today, since ladders are a means for us to go up and down in space, to reach a goal, with even a Biblical connection (Jacob’s ladder, of course.)

I ran across this method in a comment on a post on pictograph catechisms:

The first Catholic missionaries to the Pacific Northwest brought their “Catholic Ladder” depicting all of history from creation to the final judgement. It started as fairly rudimentary with lines and blocks representing various events like the Flood, the Passion, and the like , but eventually became incredibly ornate — follow the links at this page for some high-quality scans from the 1870s and earlier .

Up in British Columbia, the Protestants didn’t like how effective the ladder was as an evangelization tool and soon produced their own version, complete with the Pope being thrown head-first into Hell .

And there you go! Do follow the links to the Marquette site – I believe the author, who works in the Marquette archives, is the author of this article from U.S. Catholic Historian: “Catholic Ladders and Native American Evangelization.”  This one is via JSTOR, which means you must sign up in order to read it – but it’s free to sign up. 

An excerpt on the origins of the Catholic Ladder:

 The next spring. from March 17-May 1, Blanchet held a mission event primarily for French Canadians, downriver from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia. He had expected few Native Americans to attend because he had not begun to actively evangelize them. Nonetheless, several contingents came from the Coast Salish tribes. Among them was an exhausted delegation of twelve from Puget Sound, who had traveled for five days by canoe and on foot.”

On the first day, Blanchet preached through translators about the “God of the Incarnation and the Redemption.” He recognised immediately that his efforts were ineffectual and that he had to revamp his preaching if he was to retain the attention of the large Native American presence. He knew that his problem was more than just traversing the region’s linguistic diversity.” Like Le Jenne two hundred years earlier. Blanchet saw that the natives did not understand the Christian need for salvation. But contrary to him, Blanchet saw the importance of presenting Christian beliefs matter-of-factly.

Using a white squared rule, a sharp knife, and a translator. Blanchet began anew the next day. In chronological order, he focused on the Christian essentials in plain language without complex theology. He explained creation, the fall of the angels. Adam and the promise of a savior, Christ’s life and crucifixion, and the mission of the apostles. He began at the bottom and progressed to top; he cut two series of hash-marks the width of the rule and two series of small points bisecting its width at the center. Thirty-three hash-marks represented the forty centuries before Christ; thirty-three points and a crass represented the thirty-three years of Christ’s life and crucifixion; and eighteen hash-marks plus thirty-nine points represented the subsequent eighteen centuries plus thirty-nine years to the current year of 1839.

Blanchet’s audience watched and listened intently and respectfully. These people were visual learners and woodworkers familiar with specially designed staffs, planks. and totem poles.”‘ Furthermore, Tslalakum, the Swinomish chief of a Puget Sound delegation, requested clarity on some points and he requested that Blanchet add special signs to denote Noah’s ark and the deluge. the Ten Words or Commandments, and Blanchet’s arrival to instruct them. This exchange too, became part of the gestational process and then the sahalc stick was born.

The stick became an immediate success. It enabled neophytes to memorize summaries of the Bible’s principal events in a mere eight days, in spite of the language diversity among them. Blanchet appointed Tslalakum his first catechist and gave him a sahale stick with procedural instructions on teaching others. During the next two months Blanchet made and distributed copies to several new catechists. In turn, these catechists. from Oregon to British Columbia, made and distributed more copies. some of which were still cherished over 70 years later.

Meanwhile, Blanchet realized that the sahale stick did not lend itself to visual improvements, flexible use, and fast reproduction. Using locally available materials, he developed a chart or scroll for evangelizing groups. He brushed India ink onto durable yellow wrapping paper and he backed it with white linen affixed with paste. Blanchet’s first ladder reportedly measured 72 x 18 inches. He replaced the stick’s hash-marks and points with a vertical time line of bars and dots, and at the mid-point, he replaced the single cross for the crucifixion with a mound and three crosses. He also added several new but simple pictures on both sides of the time line. Most notable from bottom to top, were: six circles for the six days of creation, a boat for Noah’s ark, a tower for the Tower of Babel, an open book for the ten words or commandments of the Old Testament, a church building for the Catholic Church, another open book for the Gospel of the New Testament, and a withered branch for the Protestant reformation.

That summer Blanchet introduced the Catholic ladder to Native crowds, first on the Columbia River in July-August and then at Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound in August-September. During the daylight hours, he instructed outdoors by hanging it vertically from a tent pole or tree branch and pointing to specific symbols with a stick. Then. during the evenings, chiefs and head men continued to instruct by campfire. But while they attracted native crowds, satisfying native doubts on the need for redemption remained the greater challenge.

The 1840s were a decade of expansion for Catholic missions and Blanchet’s ladder. In Oregon Country and elsewhere, Blanchet’s ladder was in demand wherever missions were in their formative stage on the U.S. and Canadian frontiers. When Blanchet conducted his itinerant mission events, he found himself making several ladders at night by candlelight. Soon requests for copies became daily occurrences and entailed significant time commitments to honor and special copies were made up to ten feet in length for use by larger audiences.

In February, 1842. Blanchet initiated arrangements to publish his ladder through Archbishop Joseph Signay of Quebec. In November, he sent the finalized and corrected manuscript with an explanation for all symbols, which included new innovations such as the tree and serpent from the Garden of Eden suggested two years before by the Jesuit priest Pierre-Jean de Smet. Blanchet wrote that he needed large and small copies. In the following April. Signay sent word that he would be sending Blanchet 2,000 ladder copies by canoe and sea, and that others would be sent to the missions on the Red River, in present-day Minnesota and North Dakota, and to the missions in western Canada. Titled Echelle Chronologique et Historique de la Religion, it was published on coarse grained paper and measured approximately thirty-four by seven inches. It was also appeared within the 1843 annual report of the diocesan Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Revisions of Blanchet’s ladder began immediately in Quebec City and the Willamette Valley. The next year, h is believed that Aubin, a Quebec diocesan priest, made the first revisions approved by Blanchet. He rearranged slightly the order of symbols and added a few new ones such as hell, heretics and schisms. At St. Paul’s Mission in the Willamette Valley, the newly arrived Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.'” continued to produce specialty manuscript copies. such as a pocket-sized version with a wooden spindle at one end and a protective cowhide sheath on the other, and a Sister Aloysia created intricately hand-drawn copies in color.

The banning?

In 1881, the regional group of the Catholic bishops banned their use, having decided that “specialized catechisms” were no longer necessary and that “standardized text-book approaches were superior.”

Catholic mission, outreach and evangelization efforts always seem to dry up when we hear “Word made flesh” and then decide that privileges words. 

It was still used, though, as this photo of a 1941 catechism class from Washington state shows:

Anyway, here are some images, but do go to the Marquette site for more, and, if you’ve the time and inclination, to the article itself:

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Today’s the memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, evangelizer of England and the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

We can talk about legends, but we won’t. We’ll adopt influencer and life coach lingo instead, and talk about pivoting.

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And this will end up being more about Gregory the Great than Augustine, so sorry.

The question, naturally, is evangelization. We know little about what actually happened on the ground in England at this time, and most of what we know comes from the histories of the Venerable Bede (whose memorial was earlier this week) and the letters of Pope Gregory the Great.

Specifically, in England, the first assumption was that of course about pagan shrines: Augustine and his missionaries would suppress, destroy and in general wipe them out. Gregory indicated as much in an initial communication to England. But a month later, he…pivoted. Rather dramatically, too.

From his letter to Abbot Mellitus, who had left Rome and was on his way to join Augustine – the pope clearly expected for the letter to reach Mellitus on the way:

Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.

Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting. They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated.

Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones.

For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds…. Mention this to our brother the bishop, that he may dispose of the matter as he sees fit according to the conditions of time and place.

Why? Who knows, really. But influential in understanding why is a 1970 lecture/article by historian R. A. Markus who wrote, admittedly speculating:

(Originally, this was mostly a single paragraph. I’ve broken it up for ease of reading. Sorry Professor Markus)

We need only visualize the Pope in June 601, up to now almost entirely ignorant of conditions in Britain, receiving Augustine’s messengers in Rome. Overjoyed by their reports of his success, he dispatches a further band of missionaries under Abbot Mellitus’s command. At the same time, he has heard about the slow headway the mission is making in England; perhaps the king has not put his weight behind its work as much as a king should? At any rate, a little exhortation to this and can do no harm, and Gregory had a whole pile of precedents in his own correspondence for writing to him in the vein he now adopted.

The first thought to come into his mind was to apply, once again. the customary missionary methods deployed on previous occasions, the mission backed by coercive power. With their brief framed in these terms, Mellitus and his men depart, with every appearance of haste, within the month.

… The Pope had little information, and the little took some time to sink in. Did he perceive its implications as soon as Mellitus was gone? Gregory took pause to think, and he had second thoughts: perhaps he had not quite understood the reports about the king’s reluctance: perhaps his admonitions to the king had been somewhat unrealistic? If such were his thoughts—and we can only conjecture this—they were undoubtedly right.

We know, as Bede knew, the entrenched strength of English paganism which forced the Kentish king to proceed with tact and caution and prevented him from taking the path of coercion;’ we know, as Bede knew, the tenacity of the old religion shown in its resurgence in Kent and Essex on the death of King Aethelberlitt. It is not impossible that in the weeks after Mellitus’s departure the realities of this situation gradually dawned on Gregory.

He had after all, as he himself says in his letter. ‘thought long and deeply’ on the matter. And if my conjecture is the right reconstruction of his thought during that month, then we need not be surprised by his change of mind and his urgent, dramatic dispatch, of the letter containing his second thoughts to Mellitus, now on his way, somewhere in Gaul. ..

Here was a real turning point in the development of papal missionary strategy. The settled, almost unquestioned policy of reliance on coercion by the secular authorities suddenly, under the pressure and the demands of a new situation, gave way to quite another conception.

More than a century later, writing within a milieu in which Bede’s work was well known, Bishop Daniel of Winchester gave advice to Boniface, then labouring among the Germans: argue with them, he said, ‘ without insulting or irritating them, but gently and with great tact’.’ Here was a man who, though remote from the missionary situation, had learnt the lesson which the consciousness of a new situation had forced upon Gregory.

Listen. Observe. Let go of assumptions. And just remember…

Wahoo FUMC | Pivot Sermon Series

Source. Randomly pulled from the totally unsurprising wealth of “Pivot” sermon series graphics out there.

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St. Philip Neri

It’s Ascension Thursday, but by date it’s the feast of St. Philip Neri, so here you go.

Here’s a post from many  years ago (2008) – when I traveled to Rome to visit Son #2 who was teaching English there at the time – related to today’s saint.

Friday morning, after I’d finished at St. Peter’s, I had some time to kill before meeting my son at 11 in front of S. Maria di Trestavere. So, over to the Center for a bit. I disembarked in front of the Chiesa Nuova, which is the church of S. Philip Neri.

It was about 9 o’clock, and drizzling, a foretaste of the rest of the day during which we would do battle with occasional blasts of rain and even hail. I noted a bakery across the road for a later visit.

The church, cavernous and thick with paintings and decoration, was practically empty. As my eyes grew accustomed to the half-light and I searched for the typical wall-chart explaining the interior, a voice echoed through the space. I checked the schedule – it must be Mass.

And it was. Up to the left, at a side chapel, which turned out to be the resting place of St. Philip’s body. One priest, one congregant with backpack and umbrella and very much the air of a pilgrim, I decided as I observed him walking around later, and then me.


The priest finished proclaming the Gospel, then turned quickly to begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  There was so much going on in the world, so much suffering and weeping that was not absent from his place, but was instead quietly confronted and humbly offered up,  the mystery of a small, yet persistent light penetrating that darkness, borne in a Body, born in the bodies of those who embrace, suffer and bear the light of the Risen One.

Corpo di Cristo.

And we walked back out into the rain, the pilgrim and I, he going one way,  another, but both, I sensed, journeying in the same direction.

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Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?

…might just be one of my favorite Scripture verses. An arresting, pointed reminder.

Why are you standing around? What are you looking at?

In leaving, Jesus is profoundly present. Just before he left this earthly realm, he gave quite specific instructions…be my witnesses…make disciples of all nations. 

A reminder:

In this age of easy global media reach, in this age that celebrates individual achievement and impact, we are tempted to think that of course the ideal way to be obedient to Jesus’ instructions is to make a difference and set the world on fire.

Well, yes. Sort of.

But don’t forget where that starts.

It starts in our lives, in our particular state in life. It begins with, first, our own relationship with God, our own stance, our own openness, our own humility. And then the circles widens: family, neighbors, fellow workers.

To fulfill our duties in ordinary life, letting the love of Christ live and grow in us, bringing Christ to each and every interaction whether it be washing dishes, conducting a meeting, comforting a child, hammering a nail?

To do that? Even those quiet, ordinary tasks are ways to be his witnesses to all nations. 

That’s where it begins. But don’t be tempted to believe that because the witnessing begins in such an ordinary, small, quiet place, it ends there. It doesn’t. It never does. 

We all live hidden, “unhistoric” lives, lives hidden from the world, yet lives that change the world around us for good or ill in untold unknown ways. We have a choice—to live a hidden life of deceit or of integral holiness. Nothing is hidden from God, nor even man entirely.

The retelling from my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Click on each page for a fuller look. You can get the book here (not an Amazon link, btw).

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Read Bede



Today is the memorial of the Venerable Bede, the author of The Ecclesiastical History of England. But there’s more, of course. 

The Saint we are approaching today is called Bedeand was born in the north-east of England, to be exact, Northumbria, in the year 672 or 673. He himself recounts that when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the Abbot of the neighbouring Benedictine monastery to be educated: “spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery”. He recalls, “I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of the monastic Rule and the daily charge of singing in church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing” (Historia eccl. Anglorum, v, 24). In fact, Bede became one of the most outstanding erudite figures of the early Middle Ages since he was able to avail himself of many precious manuscripts which his Abbots would bring him on their return from frequent journeys to the continent and to Rome. His teaching and the fame of his writings occasioned his friendships with many of the most important figures of his time who encouraged him to persevere in his work from which so many were to benefit. When Bede fell ill, he did not stop working, always preserving an inner joy that he expressed in prayer and song. He ended his most important work, the Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, with this invocation: “I beseech you, O good Jesus, that to the one to whom you have graciously granted sweetly to drink in the words of your knowledge, you will also vouchsafe in your loving kindness that he may one day come to you, the Fountain of all wisdom, and appear for ever before your face”. Death took him on 26 May 737: it was the Ascension….

….Bede was also an eminent teacher of liturgical theology. In his Homilies on the Gospels for Sundays and feast days he achieves a true mystagogy, teaching the faithful to celebrate the mysteries of the faith joyfully and to reproduce them coherently in life, while awaiting their full manifestation with the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we shall be admitted to the offertory procession in the eternal liturgy of God in Heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ”. Indeed, every time that a faithful soul lovingly accepts and preserves the Word of God, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ anew. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments the Church “reproduces herself” or, to use a more daring term, the Church becomes “Mother of God”, participating in the generation of her children through the action of the Holy Spirit.


And since we’re approaching Pentecost, how about looking at what one of my favorite accounts, A Clerk at Oxford, has to share about Bede and one of his Pentecost homilies:

A person who trusts that he can find rest in the delights and abundance of earthly things is deceiving himself. By the frequent disorders of the world, and at last by its end, such a one is proven convincingly to have laid the foundation of his tranquility upon sand. But all those who have been breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, and have taken upon themselves the very pleasant yoke of the Lord’s love, and following his example, learned to be gentle and humble of heart, enjoy even in the present some image of the future tranquility.

(She doesn’t blog much anymore – she’s got quite a library of posts – but she is on Twitter. Worth a follow if you do such things. )

Amazon.com: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The ...

So take a look at An Ecclesiastical History. Here’s a bit of a takeaway from me:

We can never sit still. In matters of evangelization and formation in faith, we might be tempted to say, There. Baptized. Confirmed. Got a parish. Built a church. Good for us. We’ve got this now. 

As Bede’s History makes clear, we are foolish to believe this. The people of his time didn’t believe it. The History is one of progress and regress, of baptism and apostasy.

Never take faith for granted. The darkness that seeks to pull us away doesn’t rest, and neither should we.

A couple more notes:

  • Much of the focus in evangelization of the peoples of this island involves, of course, pointing out the folly of worshiping idols.

For Sigbert, 414 who reigned next to Sigbert surnamed The Little, was then king of that nation, and a friend to King Oswy, who, when Sigbert came to the province of the Northumbrians to visit him, as he often did, used to endeavour to convince him that those could not be gods that had been made by the hands of men; that a stock or a stone could not be proper matter to form a god, the residue whereof was either burned in the fire, or framed into any vessels for the use of men, or else was cast out as refuse, trampled on and turned into dust. That God is rather to be understood as incomprehensible in majesty and invisible to human eyes, almighty, eternal, the Creator of heaven and earth and of mankind; Who governs and will judge the world in righteousness, Whose eternal abode must be believed to be in Heaven, and not in base and perishable metal; and that it ought in reason to be concluded, that all those who learn and do the will of Him by Whom they were created, will receive from Him eternal rewards.

King Oswy having often, with friendly counsel, like a brother, said this and much more to the like effect to King Sigbert, at length, aided by the consent of his friends, he believed, and after he had consulted with those about him, and exhorted them, when they all agreed and assented to the faith, he was baptized with them by Bishop Finan, in the king’s township above spoken of, which is called At the Wall,415 because it is close by the wall which the Romans formerly drew across the island of Britain, at the distance of twelve miles from the eastern sea.

Note who’s doing the reasoned evangelization here: not a cleric, but a lay person – King Oswy.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..(1 Pt. 3:15) isn’t just for the ordained or the consecrated.

And, of course, while not many we encounter will be worshiping actual pagan idols, anything of the earth that we rely on for ultimate happiness, hope and peace  – even physical earthly life itself, even freedom from earthly discomfort, even good health – functions as an idol.

Among other lessons in holy living,Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practise in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whom he met whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.

His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to the king’s table, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a little food, made haste to be gone, either to read with his brethren or to pray. At that time, many religious men and women, led by his example, adopted the custom of prolonging their fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, till the ninth hour, throughout the year, except during the fifty days after Easter. Never, through fear or respect of persons, did he keep silence with regard to the sins of the rich; but was wont to correct them with a severe rebuke. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only food, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed, as has been said, for the use of the poor, or bestowed in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to priest’s orders.

It is said, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the Word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more harsh disposition, who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition. They then, it is said, held a council and seriously debated what was to be done, being desirous that the nation should obtain the salvation it demanded, but grieving that they had not received the preacher sent to them. Then said Aidan, who was also present in the council, to the priest in question, “Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.” Having heard these words, all present turned their attention to him and began diligently to weigh what he had said, and they decided that he was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues. So they ordained him and sent him forth to preach; and, as time went on, his other virtues became apparent, as well as that temperate discretion which had marked him at first.


This ideal is one we encounter over and over in our history. The ideal of absolute commitment to the evangelical counsels on the part of the consecrated, the ideal held up to be lived, as much as possible, by those dwelling in the world as well – to be focused, ultimately, on Christ and let your life reflect, not your own desires, but his love. We strive, we fail, but, as the last part of that passage indicates, we’re gently brought along according to our capabilities, but – with the ideal always in sight, not as judgment, but as a promise. For nothing else we rest our eyes on can promise anything that lasts, can it?

Well, as I said at the beginning – we read history these days, trying to figure out the present in light of the past. Because it’s all there: uncertain times, the threat of collapse and death, looking to earthly idols for solace, the constant struggle to be faithful, religious leaders who might or might not be actually focused on Christ.

And somehow, the answers always end up being the same. Somehow, that always happens, doesn’t it?

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Here we go!

These days, my mind is swirling with variations on, I’d say, three themes:

Okay, today, gotta call….make that appointment…change that appointment…when are you working? Do you need to go practice?

And then:

Let’s see, Oxford, York, Hadrian’s Wall…can we get Lindisfarne and the other Farne Islands in on one day….Edinburgh…back to London….Canterbury…Portsmouth maybe? ….train…bus…inn…guesthouse…check the weather….

And then:

One month from now, we’ll be…..two months from now, we’ll be…


It’s flying, time is.

We had a possible – major hiccup in the two months from now plans last week, but that was cleared up, so at this point, we are still good to go.

But as I was telling the 73rd person who’s asked me about my “empty nest” thoughts last week…you never know what’s going to happen, so I’m not so much thinking and planning for that empty nest as I am trying to be prepared for anything.

Oh, and in other news, my forthcoming book from Loyola is finished with copyediting and is, I presume, going to design. I would imagine I’ll have a cover by fall – hopefully early fall. I’m excited about this book. It’s part of a series, but the specific topic was suggested to me by a local reader, someone I barely know who had purchased a few of my books after a talk. He said offhandedly, You should do a book about XXXX for this series. And when he said that it was a smack-my-forehead moment, for sure: of course! It was a natural fit, and Loyola agreed. So thanks to that random encounter, what I hope is a helpful new book is coming out next spring!

But before that…

when’s that appointment? Do you need the car this afternoon…..should I go ahead and get those train tickets….two months from now…..

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