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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Just a bit more travel before the gates clang shut. M and I went down to south Alabama last DSCN0786Saturday (blogged about here) and today we’re in Charleston. I had thoughts of seeing Some Things, but dear heavens, it’s hot. I have an enormous tolerance for and affection for hot weather, but 96 degrees in the city while leading a posse of an 11-year old, 15-year old, 24-year old and 2.5 year old…..is too much.  No complaining, but the red faces and general discomfort made anything beyond an hour downtown not enticing. Tomorrow we might try the beach or an indoor museum…

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(Snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

— 2 —

Recent reads:

Still working on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which my high schooler is doing for school summer reading. I had never read it, so this was a good opportunity.

My advice? You should read it. I’ll blog more about it when I’m finished, but the bottom line is that it’s such an important part of American history (sold 300,000 copies the first year – galvanized the nation), is a fascinating exercise in social activism – in a time in which social issues of different sorts still divide our country – and is very easy to read. I had envisioned a lot of dense Victorian text, but Stowe had written for newspapers and magazines before she started this novel, and wrote in a very accessible, popular style – too popular  – as in sentimental – at times. The treatment of the races is challenging to get through. I am not sure I would require young people who are black to read it. It’s hard.I’m an advocate of Huckleberry Finn, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin is different. Twain’s writing was more layered and his authorial point of view does not strike me as racist at all, but with Stowe, even though she was an abolitionist and wrote to convince the reader of the humanity of slaves, much of the narrative perspective is tinged in our contemporary eyes, with racism – all slaves are human, we are told, but the norm of what it means to be human is presented primarily in a European paradigm – how can you not accept Eliza’s humanity? She has such lovely light skin!

But…more later.

 

— 3 —

Rachel Ray, which is not a biography of a Food Network star, but rather an 19th century novel by Anthony Trollope. It was talked up on some blogs I ran across as an undiscovered gem, and it was, of course, free, and I do like Trollope, so I dug in.

 

 — 4 —

 

It’s a very simple story – of a young woman’s rocky engagement to a young man.  So what else is new in 19th century literature? It wasn’t the most fascinating book I’ve ever read – and it’s not among even the better half of Trollope, but it was fairly entertaining in parts.  What made it a challenge was that its original serial nature was quite evident in protracted passages in which characters contemplate – in detail – the events that were related – in detail – in the previous chapter. I did a bit of skimming.

— 5 

But making it worthwhile were Trollope’s insight into human nature and motivation – even if we do get a character’s motivations described several more times than necessary.  In this story, the community – family, church and town – play an enormous role in managing expectations and behavior between a man and a woman.  The balance Trollope creates is pretty interesting – yes, the young man and woman, it is implied, need and deserve more freedom than the community wants to give them – but also, yes, perhaps the restraint and boundaries have some value.

I was most interested in two specific areas that Trollope brings into the novel – beer and religion. For one of the families involved in the story runs the local brewery, which, it is universally agreed, produces just terrible beer.  But that is just the way it is – and Luke Rowan the young man who wins Rachel’s heart – has, by inheritance, obtained a share of this brewery run by Mr. Tappitt, and wants more for the purpose of actually making decent beer. The tussle over this issue was very amusing, and, of course, a metaphor for the young people at the heart of the story, straining for freedom from the community’s restraints, for reasons that no one can really fathom, because isn’t everything working so smoothly now?

The tantrums spoken of were Rowan’s insane desire to brew good beer, but they were of so fatal nature that Tappitt was determined not to submit himself to them. 


…That anything was due in the matter to the consumer of beer, never occurred to him. And it may also be said in Tappitt’s favour that his opinion — as a general opinion — was backed by those around him. His neighbours could not be made to hate Rowan as he hated him. They would not declare the young man to be the very Mischief, as he did. But that idea of a rival brewery was distasteful to them all. Most of them knew that the beer was almost too bad to be swallowed; but they thought that Tappitt had a vested interest in the manufacture of bad beer — that as a manufacturer of bad beer he was a fairly honest and useful man — and they looked upon any change as the work, or rather the suggestion of a charlatan.


Mr Tappitt was not a great man, either as a citizen or as a brewer: he was not one to whom Baslehurst would even rejoice to raise a monument; but such as he was he had been known for many years. No one in that room loved or felt for him anything like real friendship; but the old familiarity of the place was in his favour, and his form was known of old upon the High Street. He was not a drunkard, he lived becomingly with his wife, he had paid his way, and was a fellow-townsman. What was it to Dr Harford, or even to Mr Comfort, that he brewed bad beer? No man was compelled to drink it. Why should not a man employ himself, openly and legitimately, in the brewing of bad beer, if the demand for bad beer were so great as to enable him to live by the occupation? On the other hand, Luke Rowan was personally known to none of them; and they were jealous that a change should come among them with any view of teaching them a lesson or improving their condition.

6–

As for religion. It plays a great role in the book, as Rachel’s mother turns to her pastor, Rev. Comfort, for advice on her daughter’s situation, and her other daughter – a widow – spends much of the novel contemplating a more permanent alliance with another clergyman – a Dissenter – whom she respects but does not quite trust. She has her own money and a marriage would require her to give control of this money over to her new husband…which she is not quite comfortable with.

Trollope has much to say about religion, but I particularly liked this passage, in which he digs into the tormented soul of Mrs. Ray, Rachel’s mother. Has this type of spiritual response disappeared with the genteel 19th century novel? I don’t think so..

And it may be said of Mrs Ray that her religion, though it sufficed her, tormented her grievously. It sufficed her; and if on such a subject I may venture to give an opinion, I think it was of a nature to suffice her in that great strait for which it had been prepared. But in this world it tormented her, carrying her hither and thither, and leaving her in grievous doubt, not as to its own truth in any of its details, but as to her own conduct under its injunctions, and also as to her own mode of believing it. In truth she believed too much. She could never divide the minister from the Bible — nay, the very clerk in the church was sacred to her while exercising his functions therein. It never occurred to her to question any word that was said to her. If a linen-draper were to tell her that one coloured calico was better for her than another, she would take that point as settled by the man’s word, and for the time would be free from all doubt on that heading. So also when the clergyman in his sermon told her that she should live simply and altogether for heaven, that all thoughts as to this world were wicked thoughts, and that nothing belonging to this world could be other than painful, full of sorrow and vexations, she would go home believing him absolutely, and with tear-laden eyes would bethink herself how utterly she was a castaway, because of that tea, and cake, and innocent tittle-tattle with which the hours of her Saturday evening had been beguiled. She would weakly resolve that she would laugh no more, and that she would live in truth in a valley of tears. But then as the bright sun came upon her, and the birds sang around her, and someone that she loved would cling to her and kiss her, she would be happy in her own despite, and would laugh with a low musical sweet tone, forgetting that such laughter was a sin.

And then that very clergyman himself would torment her — he that told her from the pulpit on Sundays how frightfully vain were all attempts at worldly happiness. He would come to her on the Monday with a good-natured, rather rubicund face, and would ask after all her little worldly belongings — for he knew of her history and her means — and he would joke with her, and tell her comfortably of his grown sons and daughters, who were prospering in worldly matters, and express the fondest solicitude as to their worldly advancement. Twice or thrice a year Mrs Ray would go to the parsonage, and such evenings would be by no means hours of wailing. Tea and buttered toast on such occasions would be very manifestly in the ascendant. Mrs Ray never questioned the propriety of her clergyman’s life, nor taught herself to see a discrepancy between his doctrine and his conduct. But she believed in both, and was unconsciously troubled at having her belief so varied. She never thought about it, or discovered that her friend allowed himself to be carried away in his sermons by his zeal, and that he condemned this world in all things, hoping that he might thereby teach his hearers to condemn it in some things. Mrs Ray would allow herself the privilege of no such argument as that. It was all gospel to her. The parson in the church, and the parson out of the church, were alike gospels to her sweet, white, credulous mind; but these differing gospels troubled her and tormented her.

 

 

— 7 —

And now, for the first time in many years, I’m returning to Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means. Tight, dense and acerbic. I’ll report when I’m done. If I don’t melt in Charleston on Friday.

Follow on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) to see how that turns out…

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Happy feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. In case you haven’t been around, all week, I have been posting big chunks of the book I wrote on her a while back (now out of print, so it’s okay), De-Coding Mary Magdalene.  

Chapter one: Introducing Mary Magdalene in the Bible

Chapter two: Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection

Chapter three: Mary Magdalene in Gnostic writings

Chapter four: Mary Magdalene in Patristic writings

Chapter ten: Mary and the Mystics

— 2 —

You can access the entire book, in pdf form here. 

As far as I know, it’s the only book-length popular treatment of Mary Magdalene put out by a Catholic publisher in recent years, and I remain mildly bitter that it was put out of print. A little more creative marketing and a title that wasn’t so tied to a particular moment (The Da Vinci Code) might have helped.

— 3 —

Summer chugs along. For us, the end is sadly near – school in the South starts super early – August 8 for the high school, which means the week before for orientation and so on.

So, because of that and a couple of scout trips our family travel has been pretty low-key. Memphis last week for me and the kid left at home, next week a couple of days in Charleston, and that will be about it.

 

 — 4 —

That same younger son has been given most of his piano repertoire for the coming year, and I’m buying stock in Kleenex or Puffs or something. I mean…his teacher has been instructing him for two years and has a Master’s in this stuff and knows what he’s doing (M won the state concerto competition in his age group last spring) but still. Is he really going to be able to play this in eight months or so? Plus other stuff??

So weird (and good)  when your kid surpasses you in things like this…

— 5 

Here’s a new book!  Colleen C. Mitchell’s Who Does He Say You Are? is very good – honest and true and substantive. It would be great for a parish study group this fall..or any time.

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6–

Oh, we did go to a water park this week. I am not a fan of such places – I don’t like to spend the money, the concrete and the mess get to me – it was so hot, the pool of which we are a member had lost its appeal for that day, and we hadn’t been in a couple of years, so…off we went.

It was fine. The place has come under new ownership since the last time we had gone. It was much cleaner, they didn’t charge for parking (that always sets me off), and they had somehow gotten a handle on the wasp issue, which was huge last time we were there – attracted by both the water and trash, it was a big, annoying problem.

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— 7 —

Tomorrow I think that the younger son and I (since older son is off scout-ing) will head down to the southern part of the state for a little adventure. Follow on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) for more of that..

 

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— 1 —

Some of you might have heard an NPR story that ran last week about the town of Geel, Belgium. For hundreds of years, Geel has practiced radical hospitality towards the mentally ill and mentally disabled:

The integration of people with mental disorders into Geel society has fascinated scholars for centuries. In 1862, Dr. Louiseau, a visiting French doctor, described it as “the extraordinary phenomenon presented at Geel of 400 insane persons moving freely about in the midst of a population which tolerates them without fear and without emotion.” Nearly 100 years after that, an American psychiatrist named Charles D. Aring wrote in the journal JAMA, “The remarkable aspect of the Gheel experience, for the uninitiated[,] is the attitude of the citizenry.”

Early psychiatrists who observed Geel noticed that the treatment prescribed for mental patients was, in fact, no treatment at all. “To them, treating the insane, meant to simply live with them, share their work, their distractions,” Jacques-Joseph Moreau wrote in 1845. He and others advocated for that communion. “In a colony, like in Geel, the crazy people … have not completely lost their dignity as reasonable human beings.” In the next half-century, many would uphold Geel’s model as the best standard of practice for mental disorders.

This story is a very useful antidote to the current popular notion that it’s only recently that Catholics have learned how to be merciful, that in the past, the Church was all about building walls and elevating doctrine above pastoral care and looking inward.

How interesting that somehow, in this doctrinally “strict” culture in which no one supposedly understood what it really meant to follow Christ because the Mass was in Latin said quietly by the priest with His! Back! To! The! People!...this happened.

In the mid-14th century, Geel erected a church in Dymphna’s honor; it was built on the spot where she was buried. Around this time, rumors spread about disturbed individuals who were cured upon visiting Geel. As these accounts circulated, people began bringing disturbed family members, hoping for their own miracle. And many embattled souls made it to Geel on their own.

A building contiguous to St. Dymphna Church was built to accommodate the troubled pilgrims. Soon enough, the capacity of this structure was exceeded. Church authorities appealed to the citizens of Geel, who responded in a way that would eventually designate Geel as “the charitable city”: They welcomed mentally ill strangers into their homes.

The Geel community showed remarkable compassion, particularly for an era when most any sort of psychological aberration was viewed as being due to demonic influence or possession. Ronald J. Comer’s Abnormal Psychology mentions the typical techniques of the time for dealing with the psychologically aberrant. Exorcisms, of course, were performed. “Holy water” or “bitter drinks” might be administered. If these remedies failed to produce results, the ensuing therapy could consist of flogging, scalding, stretching of limbs, or starvation. It was hoped that these extreme measures might expunge the iniquity.

In contrast to these measures was the Geel way, in which the mentally ill, who were called “boarders” instead of “patients,” became a valued part of the community. Many of the boarders helped with agricultural labor. They were allowed to go about the village, and some even became regulars at local taverns. Some boarders stayed in Geel for only a few months; others stayed for the rest of their lives.

The boarder population peaked in the year 1938, when the number reached 3,736. About 1,600 remained by the late 1970s. Geel now has some 500 boarders and a total population of about 35,000.

For hundreds and hundreds of years, Geel was heavily influenced by purported miracles and the supernatural influence of Dymphna. This changed when St. Dymphna Church was closed by French revolutionary armies in 1797. Although the church would reopen, there was a paradigm shift after the French Revolution, as mental illness became the “concern of doctors, and not of pastors,” according to Eugeen Roosens, author of Mental Patients in Town Life: Geel — Europe’s First Therapeutic Community.

 

— 2 —

Here’s a nugget for the New Evangelization:

Southern Baptist congregations are also losing members who are leaving the faith altogether. The losses here are worse than to evangelical churches. Sure, some people who grew up with no religion convert and join an SBC church. But for each convert, the SBC loses three of its youth who grow up to have no religious affiliation.

Not all who leave the SBC do so for other conservative or moderate churches. There is about three percent who join liberal Protestant churches. There is also a couple percent who join a non-Christian religion. Southern Baptists rarely bring in members from either group.

The only net-gain for the SBC are from Catholics. Very few who grew up in an SBC church convert to Catholicism. Southern Baptists are able to bring in about two Catholics for every one they lose to the Catholic Church.

 

— 3 —

I may have mentioned this before, but if you are on Instagram, consider adding the African Catholics account to your feed. It will greatly expand your churchy vision.

 — 4 —

Earlier this week, we took a little Georgia foray. The boys had spent the Fourth in Florida and I went to fetch them. On the way back we stopped in Albany and Columbus.

We had stopped in Albany last year  – after our Warm Springs visit – at the Ray Charles memorial downtown. It was blistering hot, so we didn’t linger. This time, after a meal at the Yelp-recommended Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking – super friendly have a blessed day service –  we stopped at the Chehaw Park, which featured a small zoo.

And again – shockingly for midday in the beginning of July – it was super hot and the animals responded in kind. But – we didn’t pay any admission because of our zoo membership here, and I wouldn’t have stopped if we had to pay, anyway.

So it was worth a 30-minute stop that wasn’t out of the way on the journey somewhere else to see a bunch of gators, some chameleons, two beaded lizards, a few other interesting reptiles, some meerkats and a rhino. But not worth a separate trip, for sure. Especially if you ever, you know, visited a zoo before.

— 5 

Then Columbus. Well, let me explain something first.

If you are traveling from Birmingham to the not-panhandle of Florida, there are three ways you can go.

First, you can head down 65 to Montgomery, then take a state highway to Troy, then Dothan, then cross over to Florida, catch I-10 and drive east. I did that once and swore never again. Horrible. The road between Montgomery and Dothan is slow and going around Dothan is hellish. I’m convinced the Dothan city fathers and mothers keep it that way to encourage you to just give up on driving, stay a while and spend some money.

Secondly, there is a more diagonal path out of Birmingham on a highway 280 that takes you down towards Auburn, then across the border to Columbus, by Albany and then catching I-75 somewhere, perhaps Tifton. I had never taken this way because I didn’t know how fast the state roads were. I had visions of stopping at stoplights in small towns every five miles.

Last, there is straight interstate. This is the longest, mile-wise, and Google Maps hardly ever recommends it, but it’s also usually the fastest. I-20 across to Atlanta, the 75 down to Florida. Because you can go, er, 70 mph, it’s quicker than any of the others if there are no traffic issues. Recently, though, they have been doing construction south of Atlanta, and that Google Maps shows lots and lots of red in that area, which I experienced when I took them down last week, so when I returned with them, I thought we’d go the Columbus way, not only because I thought it was time to give it a chance, but also because I wanted to see Columbus.

(I had thought about doing Andersonville this trip – but ultimately decided it needed more context and time to process the awfulness, and this wasn’t the moment for that.)

As it turns out, you can go pretty fast on much of the route -the speed limit is 65 for big stretches of it. The only aggravating part of it to me was between Albany and 75, which seemed interminable on the way down, but that might be because it was dark and I was ready to stop.

6–

Anyway, Columbus.

Columbus is on the Chatahoochee River, which also flows up around Atlanta…a big river. It’s also the home of the huge Fort Benning, so there’s a substantial military presence and identity in the town. Our primary destinations were two this time: the National Infantry Museum and the riverfront.

The first is large and designed to impress. The exhibits are very well done, absorbing and not jingoistic at all. We didn’t see all of it because we didn’t arrive until 3:45 and they close at 5, but we did get a good look at their most well-known exhibit “The Last 100 Yards” and exhibit halls that traced the history of the infantry. I learned a few things – like in the days of the calvary, horses were sorted by color for different units to better identify them.

Part of “The Last 100 Yards” exhibit

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The WWI Trench exhibit was very good and helpful for understanding. 

(Note – the museum is free, but donations encouraged)

There’s also a Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, which I would like to hit next time.

Then it was down to the Riverfront, and we saw once again how the presence of water really helps a downtown – something we don’t have here in land-locked Birmingham. It’s not as park-like as the Greeneville, South Caroline riverfront and not as busy and commercially vibrant as Chattanooga, but it’s not dead either, by any means. There’s a whitewater rafting service that runs the rapids – but it didn’t seem like a very long course, unless I wasn’t understanding the set-up. The same service runs a zipline across the river, so you can zip from Georgia to Alabama, if you like.


Riverfront, white water course..on right, turbines and in background one of the many former cotton warehouses and mills that lined the river. 

 

It was nice – we might return – it’s only 2.5 miles from Birmingham, and there’s a state park nearby: Providence Canyon, which is apparently impressive, but also educational since it’s not the result of millenia of natural erosion, but of poor 19th and early 20th century farming practices. It’s also (they say) best to see it when the leaves are off the trees. And probably not so damn hot. So we’ll wait for late fall/winter for that…

— 7 —

We’ll be on another short day-or-two trip next week, so stay tuned on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) for that.

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

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— 1 —

Over the past couple of days, I picked up – via the Kindle app on my 4-year old, cracked-up Ipad – a book I’d started reading several months ago, and then forgotten about. I think what probably happened is that early on, I decided I needed to have more background before I continued…and then I just…forgot.

But I returned to it this week, and so I’m going to let the author dominate my 7 Quick Takes this week for several reasons. First, these are thought-provoking quotations that are worth your time and you might find helpful. Secondly, they concern the papacy, which is of great interest these days.

The book is De Consideratione by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. It is really a set of letters written to Pope Eugenius III by the saint. Here’s some background before we get to the quotes.

St. Bernard was the great Cistercian preacher, reformer and theologian. From a Benedictine website:

Bernard’s spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations…Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. …

 

— 2 —

In 1145, one of Bernard’s students and a fellow Cistercian was elected Pope, taking the name Eugenius III. These were quite tumultuous times for the papacy. A very, very short version:

Eugenius was elected on the same day Lucius II,  his predecessor,  died – killed, a contemporary historian tells us, in the midst of a battle against opponents of the pope’s temporal power. Elements of Roman society – primarily merchants and craftspeople – had been attempting to resuscitate the Roman Senate and diminish papal temporal powers. This was an intense, years-long struggle which came to involve other European rulers. After Lucius’ death, the conclave gathered and elected a Cistercian monk who had Bernard of Clairvaux behind him, an indication, I suppose, of what they thought it was going to take to fix the mess.

And so Bernard wrote this treatise for his student over several years, advising him on how to conduct himself as Pope. It reflects all of these controversies and tensions, but at the core of it is a very simple call: remember you are dust.

So why care about these almost 1000-year old words of advice to a pope? A few reasons, I think.

First, Bernard was a spiritual writer giving spiritual advice to a man seeking to maintain stbernardhis focus on Christ and the essence of his vocation in a landscape in which his office had been corrupted and temptation to give in to that corruption was strong. I think that’s a tension many of us experience: how do I keep my eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of distractions and temptations? How do I know when to act, when to listen, when to withdraw, when to engage? How many times have you thought, You know, I could be a much better Christian if I were in different circumstances…..

Well, then.

Secondly, it’s just interesting and always valuable to see the mess the Church  – and the papacy – has been in the past.  While it can certainly be scandalous and challenging to understand, it also..helps us understand. It can help us distinguish between rock and sand in the present moment.

Third, it gives us a look at some papal criticism. Yes, Bernard was a saint, spiritual master and Eugenius’ spiritual father, in a way, so he had standing. But even if none of us stand in that position to this or any other pope or even bishop, it’s helpful to read and study what Bernard says to Eugenius – what he deems fair game for challenge and examination, how he goes about it, and what he thinks it’s important to warn Eugenius about.

You can find the text here. 

One more thing: sometimes when people allude to historical problems with the Church and papacy, it becomes a silencing weapon: Calm down! See! The Spirit always brings us through!  Well, here’s the thing: The life of the Church is not a performance with the Holy Spirit pulling strings and waving wands, and the rest of us watching from the audience.  The Holy Spirit works to preserve the Church through reformers, annoying critics, weird historical events and who knows what else.

Learning a bit of history does not offer any prescriptions for the present, nor does it define the present moment in either positive or negative ways. What I hope learning a bit of history does is disrupt the current of ideological narratives and root us a bit more firmly in events, actions and possibilities, both past and present.

— 3 —

These first two certainly specifically apply to the distractions of the papal office, but also can apply to any of us. Have peace from distractions, but don’t make peace with them. Meme-worthy, Bernard!

The second quote intrigues me as he advises Eugenius to not get complacent – you might feel all right now, but don’t take that for granted.

I desire indeed that though shouldst have peace from distractions, but I do not want thee to make peace with them, that is, by learning to love them: there is nothing I fear more for thee than this.   1:1

Rely not too much on thy present disposition for there is nothing in the soul so firmly established as that it cannot be removed by time and neglect. A wound grows callous when not attended to in time and becomes incapable of cure in proportion as it lose sensibility. Furthermore, pain that is sharp and continuous cannot long endure : if not otherwise got rid of, it must speedily succumb to its own violence. mean to say : either a remedy will soon be found to assuage it, or from its continuance a state of apathywill result. What disposition cannot be induced, or destroyed, or changed to its contrary by the force of habit and usage ? How many have come by use to find pleasure in the evil which before inspired only horror and disgust ? 

After a while, when thou hast become a little accustomed to it, it will not appear so very dreadful. Later on it will shock thee less; later still it will have ceased to shock thee at all. Finally thou wilt begin to take delight in it. Thus, little by little, mayest though proceed to hardness of heart and from that to a loathing for virtue. And in this way, as I have said, a continuous pain will soon find relief either in a complete cure or in utter insensibility.  1:2

 — 4 —

Some firm reminders of what humility means – and remember the political and social context, which involved the question of the pope’s role:

That thou has been raised to the pinnacle of honour and power is a fact undeniable. But for what purpose hast thou been thus elevated? Here is a question that calls for the most serious consideration. It was not, as I suppose merely that thou mightiest enjoy the glory of lordship…..Consequently let us likewise, that we may not think too highly of ourselves, always bear this in mind ,that a duty of service has been imposed on us, and not a dominion.  2:6

 

Go forth into the field of thy Lord, and consider diligently with what a wild luxuriance of thorns and thistles it is covered even today from the ancient malediction. Go forth, I say, into the world, because the world is the field that is committed to thy care. Go forth, then, into this field, not however as the owner, but as the steward, in order to supervise and look after the things wherof thou shalt one day have to render an account. Go forth, I repeat, with the two feet, as it were, of attentive solitude and solicitous attention…. 2:6

For where is the man to whom something is not always wanting? Indeed he who considers that he is wanting in nothing proves himself thereby to be wanting in everything. What if thou art the Sovereign Pontiff? Dost thou think that, because thou art supreme in authority, thou art likewise supreme in every respect? 2.7

Can there be any doubt that thou art more a man than a bishop? ….Thinkest thou that thou didst enter the world wearing the tiara? Or glittering with jewels? Or clothed in silk? Or adorned with plumes? Or bespangled with gold? No. If, then, from before the face of thy consideration thou wilt with a breath, so to speak, blow away these things as morning mists that quickly pass and disappear: thou shalt behold a man, naked and poor, and wretched and miserable; a man grieving that he is a man, blushing for his nakedness, lamenting that he is born, complaining of his existence..and hence living in alarm. 2:9

Whenever thou rememberest thy dignity as Sovereign Pontiff, reflect also that not only wert thou once, but that thou art still nothing better than the vilest slime of the earth.  2:9

— 5 

He offers various pointers for the Pope as an leader of an organization and of his own household, observations which are startling in their continued applicability. First – the problem of leaders believing too easily what they are told by those who surround them.

The fault to which I refer is excessive credulity, a most crafty little fox, against whose cunning wiles I have never known any of those in authority to be sufficiently on their guard. Hence the indignation which they so often exhibit without any reasonable cause; hence the frequent verdicts given against the innocent; hence also the condemnations pronounced against the absent. 2:14

Then…how to speak.

Thy lips have been consecrated to the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is unlawful for thee now to use them for jesting, and a sacrilege to have them thus habitually employed…Observe that it is not jests or fables but the law of God that is to be sought from the mouth of a priest. 2:13

An interesting complaint about how supplicants use the Pope to their own advantage, bypassing the local authorities, going straight to the Pope, telling their side, and then waving the flag of papal approval:

“…has recourse to thee, and returns in triumph ,boasting of thy protection, whose avenging justice he ought rather to have experienced.” 3.2

How the Pope should relate to his household. Before this, Bernard tells Eugenius to trust the details of the household to others, but…

But keep informed of ….the character and conduct of each member of thy household. Thou shouldst not be the last to know the faults of thy domestics, which, as I have reason to believe, is commonly enough the case with bishops…charge thyself personally with the discipline of thy house…

….I would not have thee to be austere in thy manner, but only grave. Austerity is wont to repel the timid, whereas the effect of gravity is to sober the frivolous. …Be the Pope in the palace, but at home show thyself more as a father. Make thyself loved, if possible, by thy domestics; otherwise let them fear thee. It is always good to keep a guard over thy lips, yet not so as to exclude the grace of affability.  4:6

I do love the distinction between austerity and gravity and his observation on the effect of both. So wise and still true.

6–

Now here is a great quote. Fascinating. First, Bernard lets loose on “the Roman people” who have been giving popes such fits. Hmm. He might want to work on his accompanying skills.

But then..the second part of the quote is applicable to all of us..well, me at least. These are very wise words about how we should view our own efforts in relation to God’s will and power. Stick that in your Ministry Fruits Evaluation Pipe and smoke it.

But what shall I say of thy people? They are the Roman people! I cannot express what I think of them more briefly and forcibly than by giving them this title. What fact has been so well known to every age as the arrogance and pride of the Romans? They are a people who are strangers to peace and accustomed to tumult; a people ferocious and intractable even until now; a people that know not how to submit whilst resistance is possible. Behold thy cross…..nevertheless do not lose heart. What is required of thee is not the cure of the patient but the solicitous care of him. “Take care of him,” said the Good Samaritan to the innkeeper, not “cure him” or “heal him”.[what follows are several Pauline references to the point that ‘success’ is not the goal, for we don’t know what ‘success’ means in God’s eyes, but rather our dedication and labor] .   I beseech thee, therefore, to do what is thy part. As for the rest, God will be able to accomplish what appertains to Him without any need of thy care and solicitude. Plant, water, spare no pains, and thou has discharged thy duty. It belongs not to thee, but God to give the increase whenever it pleaseth him. 

— 7 —

Finally, this, which is just beautiful:

We must still go on seeking Him Who has not yet been sufficiently found and Who can never be too much sought. But perhaps it will be more becoming to seek Him, yea, and more easy to find Him, by fervent prayer than by argumentation. Therefore let me now put an end to the book, although not to the seeking. 

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The talented pilots and cinematographers of France’s BigFly skillfully piloted a camera-equipped drone through the sanctuary of the 137-year-old Église Saint-Louis de Paimbœuf.

— 2 —

How fascinating. Terrence Malick’s next film will be about beatified Catholic conscientious objector Blessed Franz Jagerstatter:

He’ll next be directing Radegund, which will depict the life of Austria’s Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector during World War II who was put to death at the age of 36 for undermining military actions. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared Jägerstätter a martyr, and he was beatified in a ceremony. Set to play Jägerstätter is August Diehl(Inglourious Basterds, The Counterfeiters), while Valerie Pachner will also join.

This was first announced via Medienboard Förderzusagen’s posting that they are giving 400,000 Euros to the project, and a number of German news sources followed up that it will be Malick’s next film. The drama is set to begin production in Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, Germany this summer, but it will also expand to other parts of Europe. The casting agency Han & Oldenburg also reports a shoot in South Tyrol, located in Northern Italy, will occur from July 11 through August 19.

The film will find Malick returning to the World War II era following The Thin Red Line, but of course taking on what looks to be a smaller scope. As for the title, Radegund: it refers to the Thuringian princess and Frankish queen from the 6th century who found protection under the Church after fleeing her marriage when her husband had her brother murdered.

More on Jagerstatter:

Around the year 1936, Franz wrote these bold words to his godchild: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living.” And he poignantly adds: “Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must became heroes of the faith.”

 

— 3 —

Here’s a great story from Birmingham. From the local public radio station, a story about Holy Family, a high school in the Cristo Rey network. As is the case with all of those schools, the students spend a day a week working in local businesses. Most are in offices of one sort or another, but I’ve seen them at the library, in the diocesan offices, as well as the bus tooling around in the afternoons, picking them up.

Kirk Mitchell coordinates the more than two-hundred placements. He describes a moment when he knew Cameron had turned a corner:

“He was speaking to a group of eighth-graders considering coming to Holy Family, and he was really open and up-front with these kids. He told them, ‘I’m going to be honest with you-all: I got suspended five times in the eighth grade, and I was proud of it. But my parents saw that this was a better school for me.’ I’m really proud of Cameron, and I think he’s on his way to great things … And we’ve got tons of Camerons in this school.”

Cameron’s favorite subject is calculus. He plays basketball, writes poetry, and dances. He wants to go to Samford University and major in accounting, either to go into that field or to teach math.

“I see what these teachers can do,” says Cameron. “I’m seeing that the counselor, or the principal, and everybody just really care. They really care about your future, and I started to care about my future more ever since I got here. So that’s why I really do love this school so much.”

For kids with strikes against them, that motivation can be half the battle. Connections help too. Cameron hopes to intern at WBRC-Fox 6 over the summer and work at an accounting firm next year. He says being in a work-study program “shows you that, even though I’m young, I can still be mature enough to work.”

 

 — 4 —

In other Birmingham Catholic news, I was excited to see that the Winter Sacred Music Event for the Church Music Association of America will be held in Birmingham, at the Cathedral of St. Paul. I’m looking forward to some beautiful liturgical music (not that we don’t already enjoy that at St. Paul’s) and the encouragement for other local parishes to turn in that direction – of sharing the deep tradition of Catholic sacred music with their parishioners, a tradition that is also, as it happens, a powerful tool for evangelization.

I saw the announcement at the Chant Cafe blog, which is currently reporting on the 2016 CMAA Colloquium, wrapping up in St. Louis today.

— 5 

I ran across this blog by accident somehow, but can’t help but be moved by the story of Emily Meyers, aka the Freckled Fox, mom of five children under six years old, whose husband Marty died last week after battling melanoma. 

 

6–

Happy feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist! A few words from B16:

2006:

Yesterday, the liturgy enabled us to celebrate the Birth of St John the Baptist, the only saint whose birth is commemorated because it marked the beginning of the fulfilment of the divine promises:  John is that “prophet”, identified with Elijah, who was destined to be the immediate precursor of the Messiah, to prepare the people of Israel for his coming (cf. Mt 11: 14; 17: 10-13). His Feast reminds us that our life is entirely and always “relative” to Christ and is fulfilled by accepting him, the Word, the Light and the Bridegroom, whose voices, lamps and friends we are (cf. Jn 1: 1, 23; 1: 7-8; 3: 29). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3: 30):  the Baptist’s words are a programme for every Christian.

Allowing the “I” of Christ to replace our “I” was in an exemplary way the desire of the Apostles Peter and Paul, whom the Church venerates with solemnity on 29 June. St Paul wrote of himself:  “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20).

2007:

Today, 24 June, the liturgy invites us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, whose life was totally directed to Christ, as was that of Mary, Christ’s Mother.

John the Baptist was the forerunner, the “voice” sent to proclaim the Incarnate Word. Thus, commemorating his birth actually means celebrating Christ, the fulfilment of the promises of all the prophets, among whom the greatest was the Baptist, called to “prepare the way” for the Messiah (cf. Mt 11: 9-10)….

 

As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God’s commandments, even when it was the powerful who were responsible for them. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodias of adultery, he paid with his life, sealing with martyrdom his service to Christ who is Truth in person.

 

— 7 —

If you are still wondering whatever in the world the Snapchat app could be good and useful for in the adult world, take a look at these accounts (and unlike most other apps, you do have do download and join in order to see what people are doing..and it’s hard to actually *find* people on it. So it’s actually a more “social” social media than most others.)

Mountain Bouterac, aka the Catholic Traveler, took a 3AM stroll through Rome. It was fascinating and haunting. A brilliant idea and fantastic use of the app. He downloaded the whole story and it’s on his Facebook page. 

Mountain Bouterac on Snapchat. 

Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz has become an avid Snapchatter, and it’s so fun to follow him through his day as he shops at the markets, visits lovely bakeries and cooks up his own recipes.

And yes…me on  Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2). I’m currently in Charleston, and hopefully will get a few good photos and Snaps out of it, although most of our time will be dedicated to Toddler Rangling!

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Having returned late on Friday night, we recovered Saturday and Sunday, and then Sunday night headed out to the Weird Al Yankovich concert…which was great. 

I’m not a Hawaiian-shirt, tin-foil-hat-wearing SuperFan, but I have listened to him since Doctor Demento days and really appreciate his talent, which was on full display Sunday night. Great energy, the tightness of a band that’s been together since forever and enough mix of familiarity and creativity to keep in interesting. We were actually pretty close to his entry point – he starts the show with “Tacky” – beginning, as he does the video, outside the venue, and you watch him make his way around and about and in on the screen inside – we were only about three rows up from the door he came in, which was pretty exciting for the boys.

I actually left my phone at home – accidentally, but still. I was aggravated at first, but came to acceptance. It would have nice to have a pre-concert photo of the boys in front of the “Mandatory Fun” image on the screen, but oh well. We have it…in our minds. 

— 2 —

I witnessed a really sweet moment during the concert – right in front of us sat/stood an about 11-year old boy in between his parents. Near the end, when Weird Al’s doing “The Saga Begins” and “Yoda” and the energy is really at its height, the boy just turned and grabbed his mom in a big hug, then wheeled around and did the same to his dad – he was just so happy  to be there!

— 3 —

Reading: I’m currrently reading Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool. Oh, what a disappointment so far. I love so much of what Russo has written, and Nobody’s Fool is one of the great 20th century novels, I think. This…isn’t. I’m about a quarter through it and what strikes me the most is the amount of interior..what? Contemplation, perhaps. Plot doesn’t move as much as characters are depicted thinking about what happened in the past. It’s very odd and my interest is dropping by the page, but I’ll soldier through, since I paid for it, after all….

 

 — 4 —

As I posted earlier in the week, I now have four free books available for you  – in pdf form, sure, but you know? You can read them. And they’re free. Go check out the post, and get revved up for Mary Magdalene on July 22 by reading all about her. 

— 5 

It was nice to discover that blogger and youth minister Mike Landry is embarking on a series on prayer on his blog that is partly inspired by my book The Words We Pray.   Go check it out! 

6–

In the week since our return, my younger son has spent his time in a day-long, yet very fun music camp every day, I’m trying to get some work done, and my older son is…relaxing. He does odd jobs, he figures out solutions to problems, and every day, we do my least favorite thing as a parent…least.  Yup. We get on the road….but I’m in the passenger seat.

— 7 —

Oh, another moment from Sunday night. We were waiting in line to get in and the people behind us were talking all kinds of culture-of-the-moment topics – Ira Glass, who’d been in Birmingham the night before, various movies, television shows, when Hamilton came up – and one guy – the guy who’d been talking the most – said, “What’s that? Hamilton?”  His friends attempted to fill him in. I could almost hear him shrug. “Nope, don’t know about it.”  I was amazed, but also comforted as I saw in my memory, the constant Hamilton posts that stream across my various news feeds and the fact that I have never been able to get interested, poisoned, I suppose, by a (perhaps unfair) characterization of the show I read  when it was still off-Broadway of “Well, it’s basically a really long hip-hop Schoolhouse Rock episode….”

*Ducks* 

Remember…I’m still on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2). It’s not super interesting these days, but who knows what’s coming….

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I’m typing this on Friday morning in a regular, American-style hotel room – the AC Marriot hotel in Pisa. It was the first accomodation I had booked when I planned the trip, mostly to be sure that we had accomodations the night before our flight, and also to know that we would wrap up the trip comfortably.

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Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had good accomodations, but there’s been some quirkiness and some that initially looked great turned out to be not that comfortable – the loft area in Ferrara, for example,  didn’t get any of the air conditioning and there was no fan. And all of them, of course, have European-style showers, which are like lockers.

So I knew we’d be ready for this – although we weren’t so desperate that we needed a double shower. But we got it.

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Ready for the road to take us all the way to Alabama

— 2 —

Our flight is relatively late for a Europe -US flight – it doesn’t leave until 1, which is good from my perspective, “I” being the one who has to get everyone up and going. We get to Atlanta about 8, and depending on how long customs takes, I hope we’re home by 10.

We’re ready. We’ve had a great trip, but we are all definitely ready to be home with our own beds, a washing machine and familiar roads.

Stages of Relationship to a Rental Car in Italy:  1. This is GREAT! We’re free from bus and train schedules we can go where we want in this cute little Fiat flying through the Italian countryside  ………(six days later) 2. I cannot WAIT to get rid of this damn car and be DONE driving on this stupid winding Italian roads…

 

— 3 —

So on Thursday, we left our outside-of-Florence (because I don’t really know where it was other than that) apartment and drove to Pisa. Got here around 11, dropped off the luggage at the hotel, then drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and then took a cab to …..

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 — 4 —

It is not, of course, the only thing to see in Pisa, but with our limited time, it was our focus. We did end up doing a bit of walking – mostly because we couldn’t find a taxi station (for returning to the hotel) and ended up doing a circuit that eventually took us to the train station, which I should have thought of at the start….So yes, we saw a lot of Pisa.

 

 

— 5 

It’s kind of a mob scene, but not that bad, and it’s just fun to be with hundreds of other people also experiencing the same “Wow! It really does lean!” response and just enjoying time in a new place and time together, whether it’s family, friends or tour groups.

Walking up is kind of crazy because you really do feel the tilt.

6–

The duomo was beautiful and fascinating. The font was constructed, as others we have seen, to accomodate several priests baptizing lots of babies at once, since baptisms only occurred at most twice a year.  While we were there, the employees demonstrated the sonic properties of the building – one stands at the center at sings a tone – the tone then takes so much time to echo that he has time to sing another a third up, and then another a third up from that, so the effect is of him singing a three-tone chord all by himself. Lovely.

 

— 7 —

Notes on returning: Next week is a music camp for one of the boys, and chilling out for the other. I will be consolidating photos and working on printing and making a book – it’s not going to wait two years this time. I also have a book proposal to whip up. The rest of the summer is open at this point, except for family visits. We’ll see!

See you on the flip side of the world…

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Remember…I’m still on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2).

 

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