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Archive for the ‘7 Quick Takes’ Category

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Happy feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  In 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke about him to…Jesuits!

St Ignatius of Loyola was first and foremost a man of God who in his life put God, his greatest glory and his greatest service, first. He was a profoundly prayerful man for whom the daily celebration of the Eucharist was the heart and crowning point of his day.

Thus, he left his followers a precious spiritual legacy that must not be lost or forgotten. Precisely because he was a man of God, St Ignatius was a faithful servant of the Church, in which he saw and venerated the Bride of the Lord and the Mother of Christians. And the special vow of obedience to the Pope, which he himself describes as “our first and principal foundation” (MI, Series III, I., p. 162), was born from his desire to serve the Church in the most beneficial way possible.

This ecclesial characteristic, so specific to the Society of Jesus, lives on in you and in your apostolic activities, dear Jesuits, so that you may faithfully meet the urgent needs of the Church today.

Among these, it is important in my opinion to point out your cultural commitment in the areas of theology and philosophy in which the Society of Jesus has traditionally been present, as well as the dialogue with modern culture, which, if it boasts on the one hand of the marvellous progress in the scientific field, remains heavily marked by positivist and materialist scientism.

Naturally, the effort to promote a culture inspired by Gospel values in cordial collaboration with the other ecclesial realities demands an intense spiritual and cultural training. For this very reason, St Ignatius wanted young Jesuits to be formed for many years in spiritual life and in study. It is good that this tradition be maintained and reinforced, also given the growing complexity and vastness of modern culture.

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St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

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Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

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For more information on these and other books, go here, to yesterday’s post. 

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Earlier this week, we tagged along on a tour of the Mercedes plant – it’s between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, and is the only Mercedes plant in North America.

Did you know that Mercedes doesn’t mass-produce these cars in bulk, but rather builds each car to order? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. It was interesting to observe and later discuss the distinctions between what part of the process is automated and which still must be left in human hands – for example, putting the panels in the doors and the flexible tubing stuff around the windows.

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Over the past week, I’ve been reading some of the letters of St. Francis de Sales, found here in this book on the Internet Archive – the place to go for out-of-print books of any kind, usually offered in a number of different formats.  I usually pick the Kindle option and read it on the app on my Ipad.  A couple of excerpts of passages I particularly appreciated:

Those who are simply good people walk in the way
of God ; but the devout run, and when they are very
devout they fly. Now, I will tell you some rules which
you must keep if you would be truly devout.

Before all it is necessary to keep the general com-
mandments of God and the Church, which are made
for every faithful Christian ; without this there can be
no devotion in the world. That, every one knows.

Besides the general commandments, it is necessary
carefully to observe the particular commandments
which each person has in regard to his vocation, and
whoever observes not this, if he should raise the dead,
does not cease to be in sin and to be damned if he die
in it. As, for example, it is commanded to bishops to
visit their sheep, — to teach, correct, console; I may
pass the whole week in prayer, I may fast all my life,
if I do not do that, I am lost ….

*********************

Be on your guard not to let your carefulness turn
to solicitude and anxiety ; and though you are tossed
on the waves and amid the winds of many troubles,
always look up to heaven, and say to our Lord : O
God, it is for you I voyage and sail : be my guide,
and my pilot. Then comfort yourself in this, that
when we are in port, the delights we shall have there
will outbalance the labours endured in getting there.
But we are on our way there, amid all these storms, if
we have a right heart, good intention, firm courage^
our eyes on God, and in him all our trust.

And if the violence of the tempest sometimes disturbs
our stomach, and makes our head swim a little, let us
not be surprised ; but, as soon as ever we can, let us
take breath again, and encourage ourselves to do better.
You continue to walk in our good resolutions, I am
sure. Be not troubled, then, at these little attacks
of disquiet and annoyance which the multiplicity of
domestic affairs causes you ; no, my dearest child, for
this serves as an exercise to practise those most dear
and lovely virtues which our Lord has recommended
us. Believe me, true virtue does not thrive in exterior
repose, anymore than good fish in the stagnant waters
of a marsh. Vive Jesus ‘

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Coming soon….. Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. The show starts next week.

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!

amy-welborn3

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

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Keeping with our series of interesting saints from all over…here’s Bridget of Sweden.  We’re lucky because the last two popes have written and spoken about her, John Paul II because he named her a co-patroness of Europe in 1999:

Accordingly, during the celebration of the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, it has seemed to me that the Christians of Europe, as they join their fellow-citizens in celebrating this turning-point in time, so rich in hope and yet not without its concerns, could draw spiritual benefit from contemplating and invoking certain Saints who are in some way particularly representative of their history. Therefore, after appropriate consulation, and completing what I did on 31 st-brigidDecember 1980 when I declared Co-Patrons of Europe, along with Saint Benedict, two Saints of the first millennium, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, pioneers of the evangelization of the East, I have decided to add to this group of heavenly patrons three figures equally emblematic of critical moments in the second millennium now drawing to its close: Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. Three great Saints, three women who at different times—two in the very heart of the Middle Ages and one in our own century—were outstanding for their fruitful love of Christ’s Church and their witness to his Cross.

…..

The first of these three great figures, Bridget, was born of an aristocratic family in 1303 at Finsta, in the Swedish region of Uppland. She is known above all as a mystic and the foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour. Yet it must not be forgotten that the first part of her life was that of a lay woman happily married to a devout Christian man to whom she bore eight children. In naming her a Co-Patroness of Europe, I would hope that not only those who have received a vocation to the consecrated life but also those called to the ordinary occupations of the life of the laity in the world, and especially to the high and demanding vocation of forming a Christian family, will feel that she is close to them. Without abandoning the comfortable condition of her social status, she and her husband Ulf enjoyed a married life in which conjugal love was joined to intense prayer, the study of Sacred Scripture, mortification and charitable works. Together they founded a small hospital, where they often attended the sick. Bridget was in the habit of serving the poor personally. At the same time, she was appreciated for her gifts as a teacher, which she was able to use when she was required to serve at Court in Stockholm. This experience was the basis of the counsel which she would later give from time to time to princes and rulers concerning the proper fulfilment of their duties. But obviously the first to benefit from these counsels were her children, and it is not by chance that one of her daughters, Catherine, is venerated as a Saint.

But this period of family life was only a first step. The pilgrimage which she made with her husband Ulf to Santiago de Compostela in 1341 symbolically brought this time to a close and prepared her for the new life which began a few years later at the death of her husband. It was then that Bridget recognized the voice of Christ entrusting her with a new mission and guiding her step by step by a series of extraordinary mystical graces.

5. Leaving Sweden in 1349, Bridget settled in Rome, the See of the Successor of Peter. Her move to Italy was a decisive step in expanding her mind and heart not simply geographically and culturally, but above all spiritually. In her desire to venerate the relics of saints, she went on pilgrimage to many places in Italy. She visited Milan, Pavia, Assisi, Ortona, Bari, Benevento, Pozzuoli, Naples, Salerno, Amalfi and the Shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Mount Gargano. Her last pilgrimage, made between 1371 and 1372, took her across the Mediterranean to the Holy Land, enabling her to embrace spiritually not only the many holy places of Catholic Europe but also the wellsprings of Christianity in the places sanctified by the life and death of the Redeemer.

Even more than these devout pilgrimages, it was a profound sense of the mystery of Christ and the Church which led Bridget to take part in building up the ecclesial community at a quite critical period in the Church’s history. Her profound union with Christ was accompanied by special gifts of revelation, which made her a point of reference for many people in the Church of her time. Bridget was recognized as having the power of prophecy, and at times her voice did seem to echo that of the great prophets of old. She spoke unabashedly to princes and pontiffs, declaring God’s plan with regard to the events of history. She was not afraid to deliver stern admonitions about the moral reform of the Christian people and the clergy themselves (cf. Revelations, IV, 49; cf. also IV, 5). Understandably, some aspects of her remarkable mystical output raised questions at the time; the Church’s discernment constantly referred these back to public revelation alone, which has its fullness in Christ and its normative expression in Sacred Scripture. Even the experiences of the great Saints are not free of those limitations which always accompany the human reception of God’s voice.

Yet there is no doubt that the Church, which recognized Bridget’s holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience. She stands as an important witness to the place reserved in the Church for a charism lived in complete docility to the Spirit of God and in full accord with the demands of ecclesial communion. In a special way too, because the Scandinavian countries from which Bridget came were separated from full communion with the See of Rome during the tragic events of the sixteenth century, the figure of this Swedish Saint remains a precious ecumenical “bridge”, strengthened by the ecumenical commitment of her Order.

A bit more from JPII on the 700th anniversary of her birth, in 2002:

Here, at the tombs of the Apostles and in the places sanctified by the blood of the martyrs, St Bridget spent many hours in prayer during the time she was in Rome. Here she drew strength and steadfastness in order to be able to fulfil that extraordinary charitable, missionary and social commitment which made her one of the most notable people of her day.

Contemplating the crucified Lord and in intimate union with his Passion, she was able, with prophetic determination, to complete the mission which Christ had entrusted to her for the good of the Church and society at that time.

The marble statue situated on the outside of the Vatican Basilica, near the entrance commonly called the “Door of Prayer”, aptly expresses the ardour of her life and of her spirituality. St Bridget is portrayed in an attitude of pryaer, with the book of her “Revelations” open, carrying a pilgrim’s staff and scrip, intent on contemplating the crucified Christ.

And then in a 2010 GA, B16:

We can distinguished two periods in this Saint’s life.

The first was characterized by her happily married state. Her husband was called Ulf and he was Governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted for 28 years, until Ulf’s death. Eight children were born, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as a Saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget’s dedication to her children’s education. Moreover, King Magnus of Sweden so appreciated her pedagogical wisdom that he summoned her to Court for a time, so that she could introduce his young wife, Blanche of Namur, to Swedish culture. Bridget, who was given spiritual guidance by a learned religious who initiated her into the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her family which, thanks to her presence, became a true “domestic church”. Together with her husband she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She generously practiced works of charity for the poor; she also founded a hospital. At his wife’s side Ulf’s character improved and he advanced in the Christian life. On their return from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which they made in 1341 with other members of the family, the couple developed a project of living in continence; but a little while later, in the tranquillity of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf’s earthly life ended. This first period of Bridget’s life helps us to appreciate what today we could describe as an authentic “conjugal spirituality”: together, Christian spouses can make a journey of holiness sustained by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. It is often the woman, as happened in the life of St Bridget and Ulf, who with her religious sensitivity, delicacy and gentleness succeeds in persuading her husband to follow a path of faith. I am thinking with gratitude of the many women who, day after day, illuminate their families with their witness of Christian life, in our time too. May the Lord’s Spirit still inspire holiness in Christian spouses today, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived in accordance with the Gospel values: love, tenderness, reciprocal help, fruitfulness in begetting and in raising children, openness and solidarity to the world and participation in the life of the Church.

The second period of Bridget’s life began when she was widowed. She did not consider another marriage in order to deepen her union with the Lord through prayer, penance and charitable works. Therefore Christian widows too may find in this Saint a model to follow. In fact, upon the death of her husband, after distributing her possessions to the poor — although she never became a consecrated religious — Bridget settled near the Cistercian Monastery of Alvastra. Here began the divine revelations that were to accompany her for the rest of her life. Bridget dictated them to her confessors-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in eight volumes entitled Revelationes (Revelations). A supplement followed these books called, precisely,Revelationes extravagantes (Supplementary revelations).

St Bridget’s Revelations have a very varied content and style. At times the revelations are presented in the form of dialogues between the divine Persons, the Virgin, the Saints and even demons; they are dialogues in which Bridget also takes part. At other times, instead, a specific vision is described; and in yet others what the Virgin Mary reveals to her concerning the life and mysteries of the Son. The value of St Bridget’s Revelations, sometimes the object of criticism Venerable John Paul II explained in his Letter Spes Aedificandi: “The Church, which recognized Bridget’s holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience” (n. 5). Indeed, reading these Revelations challenges us on many important topics. For example, the description of Christ’s Passion, with very realistic details, frequently recurs. Bridget always had a special devotion to Christ’s Passion, contemplating in it God’s infinite love for human beings. She boldly places these words on the lips of the Lord who speaks to her: “O my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that were it possible I would die many other times for each one of them that same death I suffered for the redemption of all” (Revelationes, Book I, c. 59). The sorrowful motherhood of Mary, which made her Mediatrix and Mother of Mercy, is also a subject that recurs frequently in the Revelations.

In receiving these charisms, Bridget was aware that she had been given a gift of special love on the Lord’s part: “My Daughter” — we read in the First Book of Revelations — “I have chosen you for myself, love me with all your heart… more than all that exists in the world” (c. 1). Bridget, moreover, knew well and was firmly convinced that every charism is destined to build up the Church. For this very reason many of her revelations were addressed in the form of admonishments, even severe ones, to the believers of her time, including the Religious and Political Authorities, that they might live a consistent Christian life; but she always reprimanded them with an attitude of respect and of full fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and in particular to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

In 1349 Bridget left Sweden for good and went on pilgrimage to Rome. She was not only intending to take part in the Jubilee of the Year 1350 but also wished to obtain from the Pope approval for the Rule of a Religious Order that she was intending to found, called after the Holy Saviour and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of the Abbess. This is an element we should not find surprising: in the Middle Ages monastic foundations existed with both male and female branches, but with the practice of the same monastic Rule that provided for the Abbess’ direction. In fact, in the great Christian tradition the woman is accorded special dignity and — always based on the example of Mary, Queen of Apostles — a place of her own in the Church, which, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood is equally important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Furthermore, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect for their specific vocation, is of great importance in the contemporary world. In Rome, in the company of her daughter Karin, Bridget dedicated herself to a life of intense apostolate and prayer. And from Rome she went on pilgrimage to various Italian Shrines, in particular to Assisi, the homeland of St Francis for whom Bridget had always had great devotion. Finally, in 1371, her deepest desire was crowned: to travel to the Holy Land, to which she went accompanied by her spiritual children, a group that Bridget called “the friends of God”. In those years the Pontiffs lived at Avignon, a long way from Rome: Bridget addressed a heartfelt plea to them to return to the See of Peter, in the Eternal City. She died in 1373, before Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome definitively.

If you would like to take a dip into the Revelations, they are here in various formats. Even a quick look at the pertinent section will disabuse you of the fantasy problems in the Church are a recent development, if you still believed that…

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A few years ago (several…more than ten….), I wrote a few back-of-the-book one page pieces on Franciscan-related saints for Steubenville’s Franciscan Way magazine.  I recently found them online, and thought I would reprint them here.  First up:


In the modern world, we make much of personal initiative. The praiseworthy person, we’re told, is one who goes out there, sees what he wants, and grabs it. Our drive for action, our motivating center is supposed to  be  all about expressing   our personal vision.

Have we forgotten how to listen? For it seems to me that a really complete life isn’t about us charging through, imposing our lovely selves on a breathlessly waiting world. No, isn’t it more about watching the world, listening  to  it,  sensing  needs,  and  responding  in kind?

The saints seem to tell us  this is so, among them, St. Benedict the Black.

St. Benedict has been called “the Moor” at times, but while his parents were indeed African, they  were not, in fact, Moors (an ethnic group from western Africa). Over time,  he came to be called “the Moor” as a mistranslation of the nickname he earned during his life, “il moro santo ,”which means  “the  black saint.”

stbenedictblackBenedict’s parents converted to Christianity after they were brought from Africa to Sicily as slaves. Their owner promised to free their oldest son when he reached manhood, so on his eighteenth birthday, Benedict was released from slavery.

He took work as a day laborer,  and working in the fields one day, he was subjected to mockery from a passer- by, who insulted his race and the fact that his parents were slaves. Benedict responded  to  the  taunts,  not  out   of revenge or anger, but in the spirit of Christ who calls us to love our enemies.

Benedict’s  response  drew  the attention of a hermit named Lanzi, who was living in loose association with others nearby in the spirit of St. Francis. He told those who had spoken the harsh words, “You ridicule a poor black now; before long you will hear great things of him.” He invited Benedict to join him and his associates. Benedict listened and responded. He sold what possessions he had, gave the money to the poor, and joined the hermits.

The group of hermits moved several times over the years. When Lanzi, the group’s superior died, they elected Benedict to replace him. In 1564, however, Pope Pius IV ordered all groups of hermits to either associate themselves with an established religious order or disband. Benedict joined the Friars Minor of the Observance and became a lay brother at a friary in Palermo, where he was given the  role  of cook.

The  mid-sixteenth  century  was a time of great upheaval in the Church. The Franciscans had, of course, engaged in many reforms and realignments already over the course of the order’s 300-year life. Benedict’s convent was already part of the stricter element of the order—the Observants, and in 1578, it voted to participate in more reforms to bring it even  closer to the Franciscan ideal. Benedict was elected guardian of the convent—the one who would oversee the   reforms.

Since he could neither read nor write, and was not even a priest, Benedict was initially unhappy with his election, but in the end, bound by obedience, had no choice but to  listen and accept. He might not have seen his own gifts as particularly suited to this office, but his brothers obviously did, and their call to Benedict proved a wise one. Benedict led the reform with wisdom and prudence. He responded in the same way to the next call—to be novice master—saying yes to God’s call through the needs of his community. His reputa- tion for holiness spread beyond the convent walls as well, as he directed his energy towards helping the poor.

At last, his administrative duties at an end, Benedict requested and was granted a return to the friary kitchen. There he spent the rest of his days, not only helping to nourish his brothers, but also sharing the love of Christ with all who came to him for help. The poor and the sick flocked to the friary kitchen, knowing that there they would meet the compassion of Jesus, working through the hands and heart of Benedict, a holy man who would listen to them speak of their needs and would always respond.

We all have our plans, it  is true. We can’t help but make them. But when we listen to God’s voice as he speaks through a world in need, we might hear hints that God has some- thing else in mind. Something even better.

benedict

For more from me on saints, (for children) try this. 

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Not much reading this week. In fact, I didn’t crack a book open at all.  Yikes.  Traveling, plus a work deadline which occupied me until this morning.  Well, I did start reading Jane Eyre, as promised.  Just got one chapter in before other concerns took over, though. I’ll get back to that, as well as a couple of books I checked out earlier this week, including Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle. It’s a subject that interests me not only as a writer, not only as a Catholic writer who was told she had to get ICEL’s permission to have the text of the Hail Mary and the Our Father in a book (to be fair, the fellow at ICEL’s response was the polite written equivalent of, “Er….sure. Wait, what?”, but also as the former editor of the Loyola Classics series.  One of my responsibilities in that was researching and obtaining permissions, a task I really enjoyed for some odd reason.  Librarian and researcher genes, I guess.

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We saw a really excellent production of The Music Man this evening at one of our local theaters."amy welborn" Mostly great cast, including a Harold Hill who echoed Robert Preston rather brilliantly without slavish imitation.  Not that referencing Preston is necessary, but it’s probably a challenge to skirt his influence completely, since the identification between actor and part is so close in this case.  That imbalance between first and second act, though, in which the first act is stuffed full of non-stop great music, while the second act must pause and Do Plot so all can be resolved – it’s in The Music Man and almost every other musical I can think of.  Are there exceptions?

— 3—

It brought back a couple of memories – first, my daughter’s 8th grade class doing a “junior” version of the play (she was one of the Pick-a-Little ladies), and then at some point in middle school, I think, one of my older sons had to learn “Rock Island” for music class – I think all the boys had to do it or something, maybe? I was actually impressed with the assignment. And it’s certainly an improvement over the sight (and sound) of struggling through those high notes in “Both Sides Now,” which is one of my more vivid memories of grade school music class. That and the controversy aroused by having us sing “One Tin Soldier.”  Oh, the 60’s and 70’s. Much controversy.  And honestly, even reconstructing it in my hazy memory makes me laugh.  Imagine a bunch of ten year olds pounding out “Go ahead and hate your neighbor! Go ahead and cheat a friend! Do it the name of Heaven! You can justify it in the end!” Imagine some teacher who thought it was awesome and he was such an brave iconoclast.

People. So crazy.

— 4 —

Speaking of school memories, twice this week I’ve had the chance to share the Fun Fact that in my high school in the 70’s – a Catholic high school in the South – we had a smoking pit.  It was a corner of sidewalk where those of age – mostly seniors  – could smoke.  Of course, for most of us today, it’s difficult to imagine a time in which anyone could smoke indoors in any public space, but the concept of having a sanctioned area for high school students to smoke during school seems especially bizarre, doesn’t it?

Anyone else experience that?

(And no, I never smoked.  My father was a lifelong, heavy smoker, it killed him, and I always hated it.)

— 5 —

I had a strange spike in blog hits today.  I discovered that it was because  Fr. Blake linked to my years-old report of a visit to his parish, a visit I was fortunate enough to make during a longish layover at Gatwick. He offered the link as a response of sorts to a ridiculous, agenda-laden Ship of Fools report on the parish.

— 6 —

Today is one of my days in Living Faith. Look for another on July 5.

— 7 —

Speaking of today – it’s July 3 and the feasts of St. Thomas the Twin.  Speaking of St. Thomas, here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict’s General Audience talk on him from 2006. 

Then, the proverbial scene of the doubting Thomas that occurred eight days after Easter is very well known. At first he did not believe that Jesus had appeared in his absence and said:  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20: 25).

Basically, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face. Thomas holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us. In this the Apostle is not mistaken.

St. Thomas July 3

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A decent, different sort of week here.  The boys being otherwise occupied, I’ve had every day, all day, free.  To work.  To some, that might seem like a sad plight, but honestly, this is the first truly alone time since….last summer, I guess.  I used to be able to write at night, even after teaching all day, but those days are long gone, especially since I hit fifty, and especially since we started homeschooling.  I just can’t focus, and my creative energies are spent by the end of the day.  So this week has been exactly what I needed in order to hammer out a first draft of a project that isn’t actually due until next February, but there’s other stuff in the hopper that I will need to be working on this fall (somehow), so it will be good to get a solid draft done early.  I can revise and edit on the fly, just fine, but the initial writing takes a kind of focus I can only achieve when I’m alone for several hours at a time.

— 2 —

Since piano camp has left the camper exhausted every day, and every day has been a full day for him, there were no extra travels this week.  Last weekend, however, we did go to Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia, which was very nice and which you can read about here.  What I didn’t know when I initially wrote the post was that the Hunger Games movies were filmed in part there.  (They were filmed all over Atlanta, of course.  I guess.)

— 3 —

And what of the rest of the summer?  I’m not sure.

What’s weird is that I’m already thinking that summer is almost over, while some of my Facebook friends are just this week posting “last day of school” photos.  What?? We’ve been out for a month!

Of course, school (for the high schooler) also starts a month earlier than those northerners will be returning – orientation is August 6, classes start August 10.  Blah.

There’s only one other *obligation* owed during that time – a scout rafting trip – so we’re contemplating options.  Probably some combination of some local wandering and perhaps one bigger road trip.

— 4 —

Speaking of high school, you might read this very sad local story.  There are some ambiguities in the narrative, and some unanswered questions, but here’s the bottom line for the mother grieving the loss of her 14-year old daughter:

“If I had known then what I know now, one, she wouldn’t have had a smart phone,” Seller said. “She would have had a phone that could make a call, get a call, send a text, get a text. And all of her internet activity would have been in the living room.”

As far as I can tell, we are one of the last holdouts in this regard.  My 14-year old does not have a smart phone and only uses the internet in my presence. I just last week purchased a basic flip phone for them to use when they’re out and need to contact me. I wish more parents were holding firm on this. It makes it very, very difficult to hold the line. I don’t understand why 8-year olds have Instagram accounts.  I wish schools would be proactive, and along with all the other crap they send out on a constant basis, send out a weekly report to parents on the latest internet fads, from Kik to Snapchat to all those apps (which exist) which enable the other apps to remain hidden.

— 5 —

The good thing about not feeling an obligation to follow and comment on Every Catholic Story coming over the Interwebs is that you actually have time to read.

So this week I finished: Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

It’s the story of a small group of mostly writers and performers who were gathered at a Manhattan bar called Pfaff’s by a man named Henry Clapp, the son of New England Congregationalists who found himself in Paris, was besotted with cafe life and returned to the United States, determined to recreate it.  Walt Whitman was the most well-known of the regulars, although he tended to stay on the margins.

It’s a good tale, if padded a bit – without Whitman, the book would probably be half as long, which would make it more of an Atlantiic Monthly article, which would then be bad, since the Boston-based Atlantic was Clapp’s bete noire. There are a slew of vivid, interesting characters whose lives show very vividly that excess and self-indulgence, as well as delusions of grandeur and relentless self-promotion are not unique to the 21st century would-be artiste. 

I was probably most taken by the story of Hugh Ludlow, who became very famous as a very young man because of his drug experimentation and the book he wrote about it called The Hasheesh Eater.  Ludlow couldn’t follow up on that book’s success, took various writing and office jobs, then in 1863, got the opportunity to accompany painter Albert Bierstadt out west.  Bierstadt was going to sketch and paint, and Ludlow would write about their travels, in articles that would be published in the New York Post, and then in a book.

This interested me, not just because of the fact that we’ve just been out West, nor just because of the interesting paths that were crossed on that trip, but because one of Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite – one of the fruits of that trip –  is one of the most treasured pieces of our Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection.  

The trip, however, did not end well.  They returned and Ludlow’s wife left him for Bierstadt, the book’s publication was delayed to the point that when it finally did make it to print, reviewers mocked it for being out of date, since by that time, the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, and going out West was not nearly as exotic a quest as it had been.

If you want a good introduction to the group, head to this comprehensive website – the Vault at Pfaff’s – from Lehigh University.  It’s a treasure trove, and will keep you busy for a while. 

— 6 —

I also finished The Wapshot Chronicle. I had begun it a month or two ago, so I was a little confused at first and required a refresher, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it.  It’s a strange book, and I suppose everyone is correct about Cheever being a stronger short story writer, but there’s some gorgeous writing, nonetheless.  There’s something unreal about the whole thing – it doesn’t feel as anchored in reality as do, say, Updike or Walker Percy – to take two male writers Wapshot Cheeverfrom around the same time – and everyone is fairly miserable and stumbling into things and life choices in the most haphazard way. I never could really picture either Moses or Coverly, the two brothers, in my mind.  They seemed more like two dimensions of the same person, which they probably are.

Just as quick sample, from near the end:

[Leander – the Wapshot father] went to early communion, happily, not convinced of the worth of his prayers but pleased with the fact that on his knees in Christ Church he was, more than in any other place in the world, face to face with the bare facts of his humanity.….Even as the service rose to the climax of bread and wine he noticed that the acolytes’ plush cushion was nailed to the floor of the chancel and that the altar cloth was embroidered with tulips but he also noticed, kneeling at the rail, that on the ecclesiastical and malodorous carpet were a few pine or fir needles that must have lain there all the months since Advent, and these cheered him as if this handful of sere needles had been shake from the Tree of Life and reminded him of its fragrance and vitality.

To no good end, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes.  I’ve never read Cheever but for a few of the stories, and while reading the novel, I also read up on his famously sad and fractured life, and was confronted once more with the paradox of such a mess of a human being producing art that really does, in some admittedly imperfect way, reflect truth. Not that a mess of a human being wouldn’t be able to see truth – we are a mess, and we all have the capacity – but it’s the discipline required to express it in an artful way in the midst of the mess, which for Cheever included being drunk much of the time, that confounds me.

And what of all these lost, post-war, mid-century men?

— 7 —

Mill ruins, Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta.

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

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from a 2007 General Audience

Continuing our journey among the protagonists who were the first to spread Christianity, today let us turn our attention to some of St Paul’s other collaborators. We must recognize that the Apostle is an eloquent example of a man open to collaboration: he did not want to do everything in the Church on his own but availed himself of many and very different colleagues.

We cannot reflect on all these precious assistants because they were numerous. It suffices to recall among the others, Epaphras (cf. Col 1: 7; 4: 12; Phlm 23); Epaphroditus (cf. Phil 2: 25; 4: 18), Tychicus (cf. Acts 20: 4; Eph 6: 21; Col 4: 7; II Tm 4: 12; Ti 3: 12), Urbanus (cf. Rm 16: 9), Gaius and Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19: 29; 20: 4; 27: 2; Col 4: 10). And women such as Phoebe, (Rom 16: 1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (cf. Rom 16: 12), Persis, the mother of Rufus, whom Paul called “his mother and mine” (cf. Rom 16: 12-13), not to mention married couples such as Prisca and Aquila (cf. Rom 16: 3; I Cor 16: 19; II Tm 4: 19).

Among this great array of St Paul’s male and female collaborators, let us focus today on three of these people who played a particularly significant role in the initial evangelization: Barnabas, Silas, and Apollos.

Barnabas means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4: 36) or “son of consolation”. He was a Levite Jew, a native of Cyprus, and this was his nickname. Having settled in Jerusalem, he was one of the first to embrace Christianity after the Lord’s Resurrection. With immense generosity, he sold a field which belonged to him, and gave the money to the Apostles for the Church’s needs (Acts 4: 37).

It was he who vouched for the sincerity of Saul’s conversion before the Jerusalem community that still feared its former persecutor (cf. Acts 9: 27).

Sent to Antioch in Syria, he went to meet Paul in Tarsus, where he had withdrawn, and spent a whole year with him there, dedicated to the evangelization of that important city in whose Church Barnabas was known as a II-Barnabasprophet and teacher (cf. Acts 13: 1).

At the time of the first conversions of the Gentiles, therefore, Barnabas realized that Saul’s hour had come. As Paul had retired to his native town of Tarsus, he went there to look for him. Thus, at that important moment, Barnabas, as it were, restored Paul to the Church; in this sense he gave back to her the Apostle to the Gentiles.

The Church of Antioch sent Barnabas on a mission with Paul, which became known as the Apostle’s first missionary journey. In fact, it was Barnabas’ missionary voyage since it was he who was really in charge of it and Paul had joined him as a collaborator, visiting the regions of Cyprus and Central and Southern Anatolia in present-day Turkey, with the cities of Attalia, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (cf. Acts 13-14).

Together with Paul, he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the Elders decided to discontinue the practice of circumcision so that it was no longer a feature of the Christian identity (cf. Acts 15: 1-35). It was only in this way that, in the end, they officially made possible the Church of the Gentiles, a Church without circumcision; we are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.

The two, Paul and Barnabas, disagreed at the beginning of the second missionary journey because Barnabas was determined to take with them as a companion John called Mark, whereas Paul was against it, since the young man had deserted them during their previous journey (cf. Acts 13: 13; 15: 36-40).

Hence there are also disputes, disagreements and controversies among saints. And I find this very comforting, because we see that the saints have not “fallen from Heaven”. They are people like us, who also have complicated problems.

Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness.

So it was that Paul, who had been somewhat harsh and bitter with regard to Mark, in the end found himself with him once again. In St Paul’s last Letters, to Philemon and in his Second Letter to Timothy, Mark actually appears as one of his “fellow workers”.

Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness. In any case, Barnabas, together with John Mark, returned to Cyprus (Acts 15: 39) in about the year 49. From that moment we lose track of him. Tertullian attributes to him the Letter to the Hebrews. This is not improbable. Since he belonged to the tribe of Levi, Barnabas may have been interested in the topic of the priesthood; and the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus’ priesthood for us in an extraordinary way.

And, Fr. Steve Grunow:

One of the greatest desires we have is to be remembered, to be able to rest in a sense of accomplishments and receive recognition. True holiness delivers us from this inclination. For we are not called by the Lord to receive honors or even to see the great work of our lives to fruition. We give generously of what the Lord has given us, not because we will necessarily get something in return, but becasue in doing so we give praise to God and imitate the love by which he saved us.

Any memorial we seek for ourselves in this world passes away. What endures are faith, hope and love.

This spiritual truth should not only challenge us, but encourage us, for it means that everything is not simply dependent upon us. We are part of a greater purpose than our own ego, and a greater power than our own will moves us, shapes us and directs us toward our ultimate destiny.

On this feast of Barnabas, let us give praise to God for the life and destiny he has given us in Jesus Christ.

Looking ahead on the calendar a couple of days, you can read my entry for St. Anthony of Padua (June 13) from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here. 

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— 1 —

We’re back. Got back last Saturday, with no issues. I’m very slowly but definitely surely blogging my way through the trip.  Hey, I’m up to the evening of the second day.  Go me!

Just go backwards to catch up.

"amy welborn"

The Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley.  Those are dried, hard, sharp salt formations. 

— 2 —

Back to the podcasts. This week, I have started catching up with my BBC radio podcasts once again. The first I cracked open was an excellent program on Matteo Ricci – if you go here and scroll down to April 16, you’ll find the downloadable version. 

It was balanced in a way that you so rarely find in either American media or among Catholics in discussing figures like Ricci, who would most of the time be placed in either a contemporary black or white hat, his missionary techniques evaluated in terms of modern ideologies and sensibilities.  This program doesn’t fall into that trap, and as a result, was quite illuminating. In short, people who don’t know much might fling about Ricci’s story as a model for Excellence in Inculturating Missionaries, but when you look at the whole picture…perhaps not.  He did what he did for his own reasons, and they weren’t terrible reasons, but he actually wasn’t as radical as is often implied and there were legitimate questions about his angle that aren’t simply about “fear” or Latin-centric bigotry.

— 3 —

I also listened to a program on the California Gold Rush (scroll down to April 2), which meshed well with one of this week’s reads – The Rush by Edward Dolnick.  So yes, I learned a lot about the California Gold Rush this week, thanks much.

The book is an easy, absorbing read. It’s a history told mostly through focusing on first-person narratives left by gold seekers themselves, so don’t go to it looking for a comprehensive economic, political and social history – although all the important points are certainly covered. As in the best books of this kind, there are delightful surprises, as in the story of Jennie Megquier, who left Maine with her husband in response to the Call of Gold, leaving three (not tiny, but still) children behind with friends and family. They took the sea route, sailing down to Panama, crossing the isthmus, then waiting for another ship to take them up to California. Unlike many others who found the Panamanian element of the journey horrific, she loved it and gleefully reported each monkey and snake sighting, each odd meal, in letters to her children back in Maine.

Other stories of the journey – those going overland – are filled with much more hardship and tragedy. And yes, foolishness, but, in the context of the time, understandable foolishness.

It’s a fascinating story, this tale of Gold Fever.  It drew people from all over the world, including China, Hawaii, Ireland and Australia. It created the myth of California.  The Gold Rush impacted California’s statehood, voted on just two years after the territory had been wrested from Mexico, and the course, in the future, of the Civil War, as it broke the then-balance and was voted in as a free state. The environmental impact was devastating, as noted even at the time, as were the consequences for Native Americans.

A picky note, though.  The California Gold Rush wasn’t the first in the history of the United States. Preceding it by twenty years was a smaller, but still powerful rush for gold in the lower Appalachian mountains, especially in Georgia – Dahlonega and Villa Rica both claim “first, ” although I think the former has the stronger claim.  Thousands came to mine, and a branch of the US Mint was even established in Dahlonega, aBut nd it was there that many of the California miners who returned East brought their gold before the San Francisco mint was opened.  I thought of this because Dolnick writes, in relation to California mining, of the innovation of assaulting hillsides with water in attempts to wash out gold, but this was attempted several years before in Georgia, as well.

But moving on from that regionally-motivated nitpicking, it’s a good read and a useful reminder that human nature doesn’t change.  It’s just that our times magnify and enable the worst parts of us.  Thanks, technology!

— 4 —

One book that I will be writing about at length next week – hey, I even took notes – was a sort-of “lost” 19th century novel called The Damnation of Theron Ware – you can get started by reading Jonathan Yardley’s column on it here. It’s a startlingly contemporary-reading novel about a young Methodist minister who loses his faith. I have said before that one reason I enjoy reading older fiction is that through it, I can get a “contemporary” glimpse into worlds in which I’m interested unfiltered by academic historians’ choices and biases.  So in this novel, a crucial element in his loss of faith is his first real encounter with Catholics and Catholicism. It’s pretty interesting and surprising.  But more on that next week.

Another good thing about these older novels? Free.  Go the Internet Archive, and you can download it and read away.  I download it in Kindle format and read it on the app on my Ipad. 

— 5 —

Planning for your parish for 2015-16?

Maybe this for adult Bible study?

Or The Words We Pray for a study/discussion/prayer group?

Or the Prove It books for youth ministry?

And really thinking ahead….Adventures in Assisi for October? Bambinelli Sunday for Christmas?

— 6 —

Back in business.

"amy welborn"

I figure since he’s slaving away, learning it, I should learn it, too.  I’m only going to be able to keep up this charade for another year or so, I fear.  He’s moving pretty quickly  – ten years old, about to start his third year of piano instruction, and this is where he is? Yeah, I’ll soon be left in the dust.

— 7 —

Read this obituary of a local man who passed away this week.  John Wright, Jr. was one of the first people I remember really speaking with here – that first fall, Mike and I did several adult ed sessions at our parish, and he was one of the coordinators and often taught classes himself, usually on some aspect of social justice.  He had a magnificent voice (he did quite a bit of acting), a huge heart, and, as I said, a passion for justice which lead him on such paths as moving his family to Selma for a time in the 60’s, researching and bringing into brighter light the story of Fr.James Coyle, shot in 1921 on the Cathedral rectory steps for marrying the daughter of a Klansman-minister to a Puerto Rican man , and, this past year, as he lost the ability to drive, coming into the public eye a strong advocate for public transportation. 

Requiescat in pace…

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